Heart In Chains
“We should leave now.” Haldir had let Erestor sleep until dusk and was now growing impatient. Galadriel and Celeborn expected them to return as quickly as possible and they were already late. “Prepare the horses for departure whilst I wake Erestor.” Haldir sat on his heels beside the sleeping Elf and pushed some wayward locks away from Erestor’s face. The blue paint was losing its radiance and left a ghostly impression on the other’s face. He regretted having to wake Erestor, but it would be best to depart now.
“Erestor? Wake up.” He gently shook Erestor’s shoulder and caught the terror in the brown eyes upon awakening. “We are about to leave.” If it were up to him, he would prefer to check to see if the bleeding had stopped, but he knew instinctively that Erestor wouldn’t allow it. “Can you get to your feet?”
Erestor groaned softly, expecting to be hit by a sickening burning sensation when he sat up, but the pain was absent. There was some minor discomfort, but he could deal with that. Recalling Orophin’s accident, his eyes sought out the silver-haired Elf’s form. “How does he fare?”
Haldir understood at once. “Orophin slept peacefully for some hours and seems completely recovered. I want you to know that you have my eternal gratitude for saving his life.”
Erestor nodded absentmindedly. Centering himself, he frowned. His life energy was flowing away from him, into someone else’s mind and suddenly he understood; his life energy was sustaining Elrond, strengthening the half-Elf. He sighed dejectedly, knowing he would never feel whole again now that a part of him was missing. The only way to ever reclaim that feeling of oneness would be to live with Elrond as his bonded mate, but that day would never come. From now on, he had to get used to feeling weak and incomplete.
“Erestor? Do you need assistance?” Haldir grew worried, not receiving an answer.
Erestor shook himself from his musings. “I can manage on my own.” It was seldom that someone had offered him assistance and he wasn’t sure how to deal with that offer now. He slowly pushed himself onto his feet, suddenly growing aware of the supportive arm wrapped around his waist. Hadn’t he told Haldir he didn’t need the help?
“You are still weak,” remarked Haldir softly. “Let me help.”
His first instinct was to shake off the supportive arm, but Erestor didn’t have the strength to spare and allowed himself to be led to his horse. Aiya, he was not looking forward to having to ride on horseback again!
“Rumil? Help me!” Haldir called for assistance.
Erestor blushed fiercely when the two brothers carefully placed him on the horse’s back. His face contorted, because the ache in his lower body was returning. Gritting his teeth, he tried not to show his discomfort, which would grow even worse once they sped up.
“We will ride slowly,” said Haldir, mounting as well.
Tightly clutching the saddle for support, Erestor put up the hood and bowed his head. The fact that they were helping him only added to his embarrassment. Only Maglor and Elwing had ever helped him before. He just didn’t know how to react to them.
Orophin steered his horse closer to Erestor’s. “I wanted to thank you for what you did. You kept my fëa here on Arda. I am not yet ready to leave my brothers behind.”
Embarrassed, Erestor nodded, but remained quiet. What was he supposed to say?
Getting frustrated with Erestor’s shy behavior, Orophin asked, “And how do you fare today?”
Erestor tensed. Why was Orophin asking him these questions? “Fine.” But it was a lie. He was still hurting inside, though the pain no longer compared to the agony he had been in yesterday.
Orophin didn’t buy it, but didn’t call Erestor on it. Instead, he exchanged a questioning look with Haldir. How to proceed from here? “We still have some Lembas left and you have not eaten yet.” He uncovered a piece of the bread and offered it to Erestor. Next, he presented a full water skin to the dark-haired Elf. He felt hurt, seeing the distrust in Erestor’s eyes. “Take it. You need to keep up your strength.”
Erestor gingerly took hold of the Lembas and took a few bites. Then he washed everything down with a few mouthfuls of water, careful not to drink too much. Handing the water skin back to Orophin, he wondered about the displeased look in the sentry’s eyes. What had he done now?
“You can drink more if you want. We have ample supplies of water.” Orophin wished he could offer Erestor something more substantial. Maybe they could go hunting the next time they rested. Knowing Haldir, they would rest again shortly now that Erestor was growing tired again.
Rumil, who was riding on Erestor’s other side, considered everything he had just seen and heard. He was overcome by the need to get to know Erestor better. “You bonded with Elrond half-Elven…” he said in a thoughtful tone, “And yet the Lord and Lady want you to return to ‘Lorien? Would it not be best for you to remain near your bonded mate?”
Erestor was severely startled by that question. Why was Rumil asking him this? He remained silent, not wanting to explain.
“Erestor? Rumil made a valid point,” said Haldir, who now joined them as well. “Why leave?”
Realizing there was no way out, Erestor nervously cleared his throat. “I am only following your Lady’s orders.”
“Which are?” Haldir wondered about Galadriel’s motives.
Erestor fidgeted with the end of a sleeve, not wanting to explain further, but also realizing they wouldn’t leave him alone until their curiosity had been satisfied. “Elrond Half-Elven still has to play some role on Arda and the Lady Galadriel urged me to save him. I complied, of course.”
“Of course,” repeated Haldir thoughtfully. /She probably didn’t give you much of a choice to begin with./
Erestor bit his bottom lip, wishing they would leave him be.
“But I take it you would have preferred to get to know your new mate instead of having to rush back to ‘Lorien.” Haldir’s eyes narrowed, something was wrong with this.
Erestor sighed. “He is not my mate, Haldir. I bonded with him in order to save his life. This is no marriage.”
The three brothers exchanged worried looks. It was Haldir who eventually voiced their thoughts. “A bond was created for life. You are married to him. The two of you are life mates.”
Exasperated, Erestor pushed back his hood and glared at Haldir. “You do not understand. I am bound to him, but Elrond Half-Elven is not bound to me. He does not even know someone brought him back from the brink. As far as he is concerned, I do not exist. He thought he was making love to Gil-galad, not me!” Exhausted – and embarrassed for losing his temper – Erestor averted his eyes.
Haldir couldn’t conceal his shock and disapproval. What had Galadriel and Celeborn been thinking when ordering this? They had condemned Erestor to a half-life, constantly feeding and sensing his mate whilst Elrond remained blissfully unaware of the fact that someone was suffering in his place.
Orophin growled softly, displeased. “I cannot understand why you agreed to such a bargain.”
Releasing a deep sigh, Erestor tried to explain, “I have been confined to my room for three millennia. Long and lonely years with nothing to occupy my mind. I was cut off from life, and never allowed to venture outside.”
Haldir nodded; he and his brothers had guarded Erestor for most of those years and yet they had never given it a second thought, convinced as they were that the Elf deserved that punishment. “So what did they offer you?” He knew very well that Galadriel and Celeborn would never set Erestor free. They would merely throw him breadcrumbs.
Orophin was taken aback, seeing the sudden sparkle in Erestor’s dark eyes.
“I will be allowed to go outside once a week and to read the books in the Lord’s library.” Erestor smiled happily at that prospect. After years of frustration, boredom and loneliness he would be allowed some distraction.
Rumil snorted loudly. “And that is why you let them destroy your life?”
Frozen in shock, Erestor quickly stared at his hands. “You do not understand. My life was ruined the day I met Feanor.” His eyes widened, realizing what he had just said.
“Feanor?” Now Haldir’s curiosity was piqued.
“I do not want to speak about him.” Remembering his childhood brought back too much suffering. Erestor uneasily shifted in the saddle, wondering if they were going to travel to ‘Lorien nonstop. In spite of the pain, he relished being out in the open after so many millennia of confinement.
Haldir was realizing the same thing. He had never asked himself just how Erestor dealt with the constant confinement and now that they were in the woods, the dark-haired Elf seemed more at peace. “Rumil? Scout ahead and find us a place to make camp. Orophin, would you go hunting?” Orophin didn’t appear to be affected by his near death experience, but Haldir remained cautious.
“I will bring back some game,” promised Orophin, also feeling the need to eat more than just Lembas. After exchanging a glance with Rumil, both Elves left, leaving Haldir alone with Erestor.
The sudden departure worried Erestor, who now found himself alone with Haldir. It felt more like he was at Haldir’s mercy now that the other two Elves had gone. /And why did they leave in the first place?/ The three brothers had been told by Galadriel to watch him constantly.
Making sure their trot was slow and not causing Erestor any discomfort, Haldir wondered what subject was safe to bring up in conversation. “Would you enjoy watching the sunset tonight?” Although Erestor’s room had a window, it faced north and it had probably been millennia since the raven-haired Elf had last seen the sun set or rise.
“I would like that,” whispered Erestor gingerly, still feeling distrustful now that Haldir was acting this kindly.
The silence returned, making Haldir nervous. “Did the paste work? Did it lessen your discomfort?” Glancing at Erestor, he easily caught the other’s blush.
“Thank you for gathering those herbs and making that paste. It helped, aye.” Erestor felt at a loss and before he knew it, words he hadn’t wanted to say left his lips. “Why are you being this kind to me? You were not before.”
Haldir felt ashamed of his past behavior. “Seeing you heal Orophin opened my eyes.”
That wasn’t the answer Erestor had expected. “Opened your eyes?”
“You are a healer. I do not know why you killed that guard, but—“
“I never did!” Erestor exploded with emotion. For millennia he had tried to convince them that he hadn’t taken part in the kinslayings; that he had merely tried to help! /I was keeping that knife in place! Rhoss had already lost too much blood and removing it would have quickened his death!/ His fingers had been curled around the hilt, trying to lessen the blood loss. That had been the exact moment Orophin had entered, calling him a murderer. He had tried to explain, but no one had ever listened. In the end, he had stopped trying.
“I wish I could believe you,” whispered Haldir, “but Orophin saw you commit murder.”
/Orophin saw me keeping the knife in place to slow down the blood loss./ But he didn’t bother to protest any more. No one ever listened.
Haldir felt saddened, uncertain what to think of Erestor. The dark-haired Elf had been imprisoned for millennia and maybe it was time to give him a bit more freedom. Were Galadriel and Celeborn planning to keep Erestor locked up forever?
“I found a great spot!” Rumil appeared to their right, a big smile on his face. “And I encountered some Men. I managed to trade part of our Lembas for clean leggings.” A triumphant expression appeared on his face. “Then you won’t have to wear those bloodstained robes any longer.”
Erestor’s face colored red, being reminded of his injury. Uncertain what to say, he just remained silent.
Rumil, who had expected a bit more enthusiasm on Erestor’s part, gave Haldir a questioning look.
Haldir nodded once. He would ensure Erestor changed into those leggings. After Rumil had handed the garment to him, Haldir followed his brother to the campsite.
Half an hour later, Haldir had built a fire and was roasting the rabbits Orophin had managed to catch. Orophin had been slightly disappointed that he hadn’t found any more game, but the rabbits would do.
“Here, change into these.” Haldir offered Erestor the leggings.
Erestor didn’t feel comfortable meeting Haldir’s eyes, but forced himself to accept the leggings.
“You can change behind those bushes,” said Haldir, instinctively knowing Erestor would never change with them present.
“You are letting me out of your sight?” Erestor felt confused. Haldir’s behavior puzzled him, as did Rumil’s and Orophin’s.
“I trust you not to run away,” Haldir replied calmly. “Now go change and then join us for dinner.” He watched closely as Erestor disappeared behind the bushes.
“Muindor?” Rumil placed a hand on Haldir’s shoulder. “What is on your mind?”
“I have the feeling we wronged him.”
“He has slain one of our own kin, Haldir, you can never forget that.” Rumil felt conflicted as well. “But that does not mean we cannot take care of him.”
Haldir nodded and then followed Rumil to the fire, where Orophin was dividing the food into four portions. He smiled, seeing that one portion was bigger than the others.
Erestor hesitantly approached the three brothers. He did feel better now that he had changed into the clean leggings. Uncertain if he was supposed to sit down or to remove himself from the situation, he looked toward Haldir for instructions.
“Sit down and eat.” Haldir gestured for Erestor to sit down beside him.
Erestor gingerly complied, sitting cross-legged. When he had changed into the leggings he had checked on himself. He had been extremely relieved to find that the bleeding had stopped. However, he still felt sore. Haldir then handed him a bowl filled with meat and Lembas, which increased his unease, realizing his bowl was the fullest. The three brothers had taken less.
Rumil, seeing Erestor’s nervousness, met questioning brown eyes. “Eat. You are much too skinny.”
Slowly, Erestor chewed on the roasted meat. He had always been too skinny, thanks to Feanor, Curufin and Celegorm. They had been the reason he had seldom eaten meals regularly. “Thank you for the food.” He was hungrier than he wanted them to know, and before he realized it, he was wolfing down the food.
The three brothers exchanged worried looks. One by one, they placed pieces of Lembas and roasted rabbit into Erestor’s bowl, encouraging him to continue to eat.
But Erestor wildly shook his head. “Nay, I cannot eat your food!”
Rumil covered his bowl with his hand when Erestor tried to put the food back into it. “Nay, you need it more than we do. We did not pull two Elves back from the brink.”
Looking at Orophin and Haldir, Erestor found them nodding their approval. They wouldn’t let him return the food to them. Eating more slowly, he devoured the rest as well.
Haldir, feeling strangely at peace, smiled and pointed out the setting sun at the horizon. “Arien is most radiant tonight.”
Unexpectedly, Erestor dropped his now empty bowl onto the ground, lost in admiration of the golden rays. “Aye, beautiful.” Now that his belly was full and the pain had receded, he could fully appreciate Arien’s warmth.
The rare smile that now graced Erestor’s features made Haldir nod his head. “Beautiful indeed.”
The closer they got to ‘Lorien, the more withdrawn Erestor became. Rumil, who stayed close to Erestor at all times, tried to engage the raven-haired Elf in a conversation, but Erestor barely reacted. In the end, he turned to Haldir. “What is wrong with him?”
Haldir had asked himself the same question, but unlike Rumil, he had also reached a conclusion. “He is bound to Elrond Half-Elven. His life-energy flows to the Peredhel, leaving him perpetually weak. It will probably be like that for the rest of his life.”
“Living like that for all eternity would be… unthinkable,” whispered Rumil in shock.
“We must be careful,” said Haldir, addressing his brothers. “Should our Lady and Lord suspect that we have come to care for our charge, they will appoint new guards and we do not want that, do we?”
Rumil sighed deeply. “We are hugely indebted to him.”
Orophin, who had overheard their conversation, nodded as well. If necessary they would act indifferently toward Erestor whenever Galadriel and Celeborn were close.
Galadriel and Celeborn had seated themselves and were now waiting for Haldir to deliver his report. They already knew that Erestor had bonded himself to Elrond, because tidings of the Peredhel’s miraculous recovery had reached them.
Haldir felt slightly nervous, now that he couldn’t be completely honest with his Lord and Lady, but he would do his best.
“Haldir, tell us why you arrived so late. We expected you to return yesterday.” Galadriel studied her most trusted guardian and sensed that something had changed, but she couldn’t label the sensation.
“As you ordered, we took Erestor to the camp at Mount Doom. We handed Glorfindel the scroll and Erestor was allowed to attend to Elrond Half-Elven.”
“And Erestor bonded with the Peredhel.” Celeborn nodded once.
“Aye.” Haldir considered what to tell and what to keep back. “When we left, Erestor appeared drained and I called for a rest.”
Galadriel raised one eyebrow delicately. “Rest?”
“My Lady, I know you ordered us to return at once, but he was injured and needed the rest.”
“Injured?” Now Celeborn studied Haldir closely as well. What was their guardian not telling them?
Haldir cleared his throat, uncomfortable with addressing this matter. “The Peredhel… claimed… Erestor. He was bleeding internally. Elrond Half-Elven had not been gentle and I thought it wise to let Erestor rest. Most certainly when one considers that it is his life-energy that sustains the Peredhel.”
“You were right then,” said Galadriel eventually. “Erestor must stay alive and strong enough to support Elrond.”
“Did anything else out of the ordinary happen?” Celeborn eyed his sentry. Like Galadriel, he wondered what Haldir was hiding from them.
Seeing their knowing expressions, Haldir caved in. “Orophin took a fall and broke his neck.”
Galadriel released a startled yelp. “But I saw him ride at your side when you arrived!”
Haldir coughed nervously. “Erestor used his healing skills to heal him.”
At that, Galadriel and Celeborn exchanged a surprised look. “I always wondered about Erestor,” said Celeborn eventually. “We are indebted to him, then.”
“Not you, my Lord,” said Haldir carefully. “Rumil, Orophin and I are.”
“And this will not affect your ability to guard him?” Galadriel considered replacing them with other sentries, who would treat Erestor as a prisoner, instead of their ‘charge’. But then again, Erestor had saved Orophin’s life. Taking this duty away from the three brothers would be dishonorable.
Celeborn felt the same way. “Now that Erestor has kept his word, he has earned certain privileges. Once a week one of you will accompany him outside, but he is never to be left alone. He will also be allowed access to the library.” Celeborn frowned, seeing the disapproval in Haldir’s eyes. “Mellon, Erestor has been confined to his room for over three thousands years. Surely you do not begrudge him a weekly walk and reading some books?”
Haldir forced himself to remain calm. Celeborn had misinterpreted his look, and he wasn’t inclined to correct the other Elf. Let them think he wanted Erestor incarcerated. It would give him more leeway when he took the dark-haired Elf outside. “I trust you to know best.”
“Good. You may leave now. Rumil has taken first guard and you will relieve him tomorrow.” Galadriel inclined her head and watched Haldir leave. Once the sentry could no longer hear them, she said, “Something else happened. He is keeping things from us.”
Celeborn nodded, agreeing with her. “But I am pleased that Erestor carried out his part of the bargain.”
“Aye, and it is an eternal pity that he took part in the kinslayings. He is a talented healer.” Galadriel sighed and rested her head on her husband’s shoulder.
“We must keep an eye on Erestor,” said Celeborn thoughtfully. “I have the feeling he also has a very important part to play in Arda’s history.”
Erestor had frozen, now that he stood in his room again. These four walls had been a prison for a long time, but now they almost felt like home after his ordeal with Elrond Half-Elven. He headed into the bathroom, but didn’t bother to fill up the bathtub. Instead, he removed his clothes and quickly cleaned himself up. Once he felt relatively clean, he picked up a sleeping robe and curled up on his bed.
He made the mistake of remembering the treatment he had suffered at Elrond’s hands and tears reappeared in his eyes. He doubted he would ever forget the pain and humiliation he had endured that night. The worst thing was that he could still sense Elrond, the half-Elf’s weakness and constant need for his life-energy. Unable to break the bond, he gave in and let his energy flow down the bond.
His eyes opened, and he was startled to find Rumil in the doorway. “What do you want?” Couldn’t they give him some time to lick his wounds in private?
“I brought you something to eat.” Rumil placed the tray next to Erestor on the bed. “I reckon you are still hungry.”
He was, but Erestor refused to admit to it. “Thank you,” he whispered softly. The freshly baked bread, honey, meats and fruits did look extremely tempting. He blinked in surprise, finding Rumil had also added a carafe of wine. “Thank you,” he repeated again, uncertain why Rumil was still this generous and kind. Orophin was fine and now that they were off the road, he had expected his guardians to return to their normal, distant behavior.
Rumil cleared his throat and Erestor finally looked up, realizing the silver-haired Elf was hiding something behind his back.
“I thought you would want something to read. Lord Celeborn gave me permission to select some books for you.” Rumil placed three books on the nightstand.
Not trusting his voice any longer, Erestor nodded his head. Gingerly, he ate a slice of bread with honey and then indulged himself by eating some meat as well. He expected Rumil to take what was left over back to the kitchens, but the tray stayed on his bed.
“Are you still tired?” Rumil pulled up a chair and seated himself next to the bed, noticing the distressed expression in Erestor’s eyes. The healer still didn’t trust him and he realized it could take centuries for Erestor to come to trust him.
“Aye, I am tired.” But as long as Rumil continued to look at him like that, he couldn’t possibly rest.
Fortunately, Rumil realized that. He rose from his chair, walked over to the window and opened it to let some fresh air into the room. “I will check on you later. Is there anything you need?”
/Aye, my freedom back./ But Erestor didn’t say the words aloud. “Thank you for everything.”
Rumil frowned, disliking Erestor’s timid demeanor. “Haldir will take my place tomorrow and the Lady Galadriel instructed him to accompany you on your first walk.”
Erestor, too tired to continue this conversation, closed his eyes, curled up and wished Rumil would go away.
“I will return later,” whispered Rumil in understanding. He decided to leave the tray in the room, just in case Erestor got hungry again and then left, softly closing the door behind him.
Now that he was finally alone, Erestor released his tears and sobbed softly.
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