Mairen A Life Once Lost - Chapter One - Bait
Author: Fianna (Barrylyn@voyager.net)
Fandom: Haldir/ LOTR
Disclaimer: These characters have been created by JRR Tolkien and I use them without permission but only for the express intent of expanding on a universe I have come to cherish, and only to share with fellow fans his world. No monetary gains will be taken by the following stories.
Warnings: Rated R
Betas: Julie, Jen, Char and Anoriell
Cast: Haldir and OC/ all Lorien elves, Rohirrim ...
Timeline: AU/ during and after the time of Helms Deep
Summary: The path of fate shifts following the whims of the Valar, Haldir of Lothlórien finds his path thrown together with a Rohirran warrior but for what purpose?
A Life Once Lost
Chapter One: Bait
The plains of Rohan stretched out across the southern reaches of Middle Earth. Rolling hills of rocky grass-covered knolls joined mountains of sheer granite reaching upward toward the heavens. It was a place of hardness and strength, a land held for centuries by the people of Rohan. Brave, stalwart, and loyal to their king, these riders of the Riddermark were born horsemen, taking to the saddle at an age when most children still played at their mother's side. With a fierceness respected throughout Arda, they guarded the borders of their lands from the pervasive darkness that crept relentlessly toward them.
Few dared to breach these borders, and those who did traversed the plains with care. The Rohirrim riders could overcome the fiercest band of Orcs, decimating them with lances thrown with a deadly accuracy or crushing them beneath hooves trained to kill. But on this day, there were two sets of outsiders, each in a contest for survival with each other.
The first group to cross into the plain traveled quickly and on foot, leather armor creaking with the clumsy but swift movement of creatures created from shadows. They were Orcs, bearing away south from the devastation they had wrought, their trail of destruction and death reaching far behind them to the north. Uncaring, they ran in good humor, ignoring the inherent threat that came with crossing the Rohan border. They had a meeting ahead, with more of their kind, drawing the unsuspecting followers into a trap that was set to destroy. Bait and hook.
The second group, the Elves following the trail of the Orcs, were well aware that they might be heading into an ambush. They ran smoothly, their long legs eating the distance, running as the Orcs did, without rest. Anger and hatred fueled their pace, emotions that were controlled, but vivid in their minds. The despised shadow creatures had waylaid a group of Lórien elves returning from a visit to Rivendell, killing all five in the troupe. The Orcs had then cut through the border patrol, leaving only ashes in their wake to tell the tale of horror.
But the traces left by the Orcs had been read by the elves sifting through the dust and debris, and they had risen, filled with rage and the desire for vengeance. The wardens of the Golden Wood had set out, intent on tracking their quarry, but the one who led the five elves had one concern foremost in his mind.
Were they following or being led? And if they were being led, how to defeat the enemy?
The concern troubled Haldir of Lórien as he ran, leading his wardens deep into the lands of the Riders of the Mark. That they could defend themselves he was confident, if met squarely in battle. Six elves could defeat a multitude of Orcs, but it was the knowledge that the Orcs knew this land better than he did that caused him unease. Orcs were stupid creatures, but these were led by one who did not travel among them. Whoever he was, his leadership was cunning, and it was this leader who made Haldir continuously scan the land around him. Was he leading his band of elves into certain death?
Still, this menace to Lothlórien's borders must be dealt with, and swiftly. How many more of his people would be lost to the shadow? The Orcs must be stopped. They had no choice.
Mairen heard the faint sounds of battle in the distance, and sharply pulled back the head of her horse, an unusual action for a Rohirrim warrior. Her years of horse-handling notwithstanding, the suddenness of the action surprised her horse. intent as she was on following the other thirty horses ahead of her.
She spun Epona around abruptly; as rear guard, Mairen knew she must investigate quickly. She whistled to alert the band of horsemen ahead of her of her delay, then tightened her knees around the horse and urged Epona forward, riding swiftly back along the ridge line, keeping just below the top of the hill. Pulling up, she slid off the horse to see what was happening, carefully hiding behind a large outcropping of rock.
It had been the sound of arrows she had heard, that peculiar whistle they made as they split the air, her keen sense of hearing somehow telling her that something about this battle was not right. She now knew why. Below her in the rocky chasm was a lone elf, barely able to stand among the boulders. His bow lay a few feet from him, amid the gore-stained bodies of at least thirty Orcs. Wounded gravely, he was still desperately fighting, his blade slowing from what must once have been a deadly swing. How he was still alive and able to fight was beyond her. The thought mattered not as she remounted Epona and thundered back along the ridge, her piercing whistle bringing the Rohirrim cavalry back around in her direction. Willem, her brother, would follow her lead and ask questions later.
They swept over the ridge, horses leaping the drop easily, taking out Orcs as the hooves hit the rocky ground in a bone-crushing shudder only to leap away again. Orcs were carrion and any chance to destroy them was welcome. Mairen pulled her lance from its holder, spinning the long wooden staff over her head and tucking it under her arm. This time she would not throw it but held it ready, advancing on the Orc who had just leaped toward the elf.
The elf staggered and fell back onto the large rock behind him, his sword raised in defense. The Orc above him grinned in anticipation of his killing blow, only to find himself impaled on the long Rohirrim lance an instant later. The Orc flew back from the force of the blow, landing several yards away, his eyes already glazed with death.
Mairen leaped from her horse, pulling the long sword attached to her saddle free, and crouched next to the elf. Her defense was unnecessary as the horseman were easily decimating the remaining Orcs, annihilating the hated creatures under lance and hoof. Aware of his deliverance, the elf had allowed himself to collapse, sprawled on the hard stone, his wounds bleeding profusely.
She knelt next to him, her hands swiftly running over his injuries, knowing there was not much she could do. She looked up when Willem rode over.
"Dead?" he asked.
"Nay, alive but barely."
Dismounting quickly, Willem felt for the elf's pulse and shook his head in amazement. "I do not know how he can be alive!" He glanced around at the riders milling about. "Mairen, we have no time to take him with us, our journey is delayed already. He is too weak to be taken on horseback at the speed we must travel." He reached into the pack on his horse and pulled out a leather bag from which he drew a length of cloth. He wrapped it tightly around the elf's thigh, and the cloth turned quickly red, but Mairen thought the flow of blood seemed to slow.
She frowned, knowing they could not leave him here to die. A warrior was never left to die alone. Elf or no, they needed to get him somewhere where he could be given proper aid. Worried, she glanced at her brother and saw that his face was grim as he finished tightening the bandage on the elf's leg.
"His injuries are appalling," he said. "I do not know if we can get him help in time. We have no skills to heal him. But perhaps an elf is stronger than we know and can survive such wounds. We must take him back to his people."
Mairen nodded in agreement, her eyes fixed on the elf's face.
"You are the best one to return him, Mairen." Willem said gruffly. "I dare not send another, we are already too few. I would not lose you if I knew another way. The road will be dangerous."
Looking at the elf, Mairen could see that his clothing, even amid the blood and gore, was a deep gray green, almost brown against the rock. A long multi-hued green cloak lay twisted behind him, but it was the fan of long silver-blond hair that told her where she must go.
Willem scowled, for it would send her back the way they had just come. "Aye, a full days' ride." He gripped her shoulder tightly, his eyes narrowing with his frustration and concern. "You will have to ride slowly."
Mairen nodded again and rose, whistling for her horse. The roan shook her head, trotting quickly to the side of the rock, and Mairen mounted, bracing her knees against Epona's flanks. Willem lifted the elf, laying him gently on her lap, facedown across her saddle. Her thighs would cushion him somewhat from the saddle, but she knew if he had been awake the ride would have been very uncomfortable. Thank the Valar he was not.
"I will meet you as soon as I am able." She gripped the reins, placing a hand on the elf's back more to reassure herself that he was alive than to steady him.
Willem gathered the elf's sword and quiver and tied them onto the back of her horse's saddle. "You will not reach Edoras alone. Follow the river and we will meet you. If I do not see you in a week, I will assume you are dead." The seriousness of his words were softened by the twinkle in his eyes.
Mairen gripped Willem's shoulder, pulling her brother closer as his blue eyes laughed into hers. "Not amusing, do not make light of this. I will meet as soon as I am able. I would not go if I had any choice."
Willem kissed her hand. "I know, Mairen. Ride carefully and quickly, and be cautious of the elves. I think you will gain entry easily enough, but do not linger. Just leave him. They will find him soon enough." Willem pulled her down so he could whisper in her ear, "Be careful, their magic is powerful."
Mairen hummed an old march tune beneath her breath, her eyes scanning the horizon. Epona picked her way carefully through the maze of rocks, seeming to understand Mairen's concerns regarding the silver-haired elf draped over her lap. He remained motionless, although a few times she had felt him tense, then relax. At least she knew he still lived.
They plodded on, leaving the rocky hills far behind. She rested her hand on the elf's back, feeling the strength in the muscles below her palm. "I am sorry, elf, for your uncomfortable ride, but I fear I have not the strength to hold you seated." She glanced down at him, knowing in this state he was unlikely to hear her. Still, she knew little about elves and what they could or could not do.
She scratched her chin beneath her helm, knowing she would need to reach Lothlórien before nightfall. Alone, on horseback, with an injured elf, she'd be nothing but Orc bait as soon as darkness fell. The thought sent a chill racing down her spine, causing her to finger the sword at her knee, lashed to the saddle. Even with lance and sword, and the deadly hooves of her horse, she would be an easy target. She'd need all the blessings of the Valar to get him there in one piece. But what then? Did she turn and leave? It would be close to dusk when she arrived. Well, she would cross that bridge when she reached it.
She halted alongside a stream, easing out from under the elf to dismount. She checked what she could of his injuries, and found that the thigh wound still bled. She pulled Epona into the stream, the water rushing in a swift but not dangerous current, swirling around the legs of the tall roan. She waded around the horse to where the elf lay, and gently lifted his head.
His face was pale, although elves were pale anyway, but she was sure he was much paler than normal. His long lashes lay against a cheek caked with blood. She ran her fingers over his head, sliding them into his hair to investigate the large gash in his scalp. She ought to stitch that closed, and probably should have done it sooner.
Mairen sighed, aware she didn't have much time to spare, but knowing also that she had no choice. She removed the helm from her head, her sandy brown hair falling well past her shoulders. Tying the helm to her saddle, she reached into her pack and pulled out her sewing kit. Turning back to the elf, she parted his hair again, gently tucking the long blond strands into the back of his tunic. She hated sewing and this was the worst kind.
Several long minutes later she tucked away her kit. Her hands were shaking, which was odd. As much as she hated sewing bloody wounds, she'd never before had a reaction like this. Pushing the thought away, she used her helm to pour a little water over his head and wash the blood from his hair. Next, she used a piece of cloth to wipe away the dried blood on his face, studying his features while she did so.
He was handsome as all elves were handsome, but this one had a strength beneath the elegant features. Absently, she smoothed her fingers over his silky hair. What color were his eyes, she wondered silently. Who was he? And why, blessed Valar, had he been out on the plain alone?
She shook her head. The shadows were beginning to lengthen, the sun edging toward the horizon, and she still had several hours to ride. Plunking the wet helm back on her head, she remounted, easing her legs under the elf once more. Again, she began to hum, her eyes scanning the low plains before her for signs of danger.
It was as much the agonizing pounding in his head as the throbbing pain sweeping through his body that told Haldir he was still alive. Perhaps death would have been kinder. He wanted to groan, but the pressure of lying on his stomach and the very effort itself was beyond him. He couldn't move. Pain wracked his body. Yet he felt movement, and willed himself to focus on his surroundings. He was being carried, most uncomfortably, on a horse. He wanted to open his eyes, but the blinding pain in his head suggested it would not be wise. Where was he? And where were they taking him? They were not Orcs, or he'd be dead.
Hazily, he sorted through his memory of that day, but his mind was blank, the memories just fuzzy, indistinct images. He could not remember. What had wakened him? He pushed aside the pain, the throbbing aches insistently making themselves known, and realized it was the humming. Soft humming, above him. He forced open his eyes, then shut them again quickly. The movement of the horse and the ground passing below him added waves of dizziness to the pain in his head. He was lying on his stomach, and he realized that someone rode with him. Ah, the humming. He felt a hand settle over his back, light touches stroking, sending an uncontrollable shiver through him. The humming stopped, and he felt legs tense beneath him.
"Are you awake, handsome elf?"
Haldir couldn't summon the energy to groan, much less answer. The voice was soft, lilting, Rohirrim? He remembered now. They had come leaping over the rim of the canyon, slaying the Orcs that had ambushed him. He should have been dead. He felt the fingers run up his shoulder, lifting the hair that shielded his face.
"Awake? Perhaps. But too weak to do much more than listen." The soft humming resumed for a moment, and his hair fell back across his cheek.
He felt the thighs tense, and the horse moved accordingly. Definitely Rohirrim. But the voice was too soft to be a male. A female? Surprise echoed amid the pain. He wanted to move, but could only lie there.
"I had to stitch up your head," she said. "I dared not risk leaving an open wound any longer. We should reach your wood in another hour. I can see the river now."
The pain hammered his head. He remembered the Orc's swing now. He'd barely been able to lift his sword, but had somehow managed to deflect the blow. He felt darkness creeping over his senses, and welcomed the oblivion. Wood? She was taking him home? He relaxed, allowing the darkness to fall, filled with a sense of relief.
Mairen sighed her own relief when she felt him relax again. The air had grown chill as the sun slipped low along the horizon; another hour and it would be dusk. She hoped the elves of the Golden Wood watched closely, for she didn't care to ride deep into their forest. The closeness of the woods made her nervous; she would much rather ride the open plains where she had a better chance of seeing any enemy that lurked. She rode in silence, then began to hum again, this time to settle her nerves. The Wood had risen before her, the towering trees distant, but still an intimidating presence.
She had never liked traveling along the border of the wood, although they'd done so many times. She knew they were watched, and the hidden gazes of the elves unnerved her. She felt them, the elves, somehow when she was near, and it was often with an unsteady hand that she guided her horse past the wood. It irked her to know it, and she took great pains to disguise her uneasiness before the other riders. She had fought hard to gain a position in Willem's guard unit. Théoden had not liked the idea, but her skills equaled many of the men, and the intercession of his niece Eowyn had swayed his decision. But Mairen had had to earn the respect of the others. It was a hard won rank.
She flexed her thighs, turning the horse to cross the shallows of the river. Epona's hooves splashed quietly as she carefully picked her way across the stream. The roan's swaying gait made the elf's hair swing back and forth, catching her eye.
Mairen leaned down. "We are almost there, handsome elf. Hold on for a while longer." Was he aware at all? She didn't think so.
She straightened and pulled her sword from its sheath, laying the long blade across the elf's broad back. Then she released the lance from its catch and gripped it firmly, using her knees to guide the horse. She was not taking any chances.
The setting sun's rays glanced off the yellow-green trees of the forest. Green and gold flickered in the mild breeze, leaves rustling quietly as she entered the darkness of the wood. It took a moment for her to adjust to the dimmer light, her nerves clamoring, aware of the unseen danger. How far must she ride? Mairen flexed her knees, gripping Epona tighter, her fingers tapping a nervous rhythm on her lance. She did not go far.
The arrows flew swiftly, from where she could not be certain, but they landed several feet in front of her horse and blocked their path. She halted, holding the lance tightly while she looked around. Where were they? She lifted her chin, refusing to show her unease, but her toes curled inside her boots. Why was she so nervous? She shoved the thought away, concentrating on the solidity of the lance in her hand even though she knew the weapon would do no good. If the elves wanted her dead, she'd have been dead a long time ago.
The elves appeared. One moment shadows, the next, a dozen creatures clad in grey, with gleaming silvery hair. Dangerous adversaries, silent but intent, with their bows nocked and aimed straight at her. Mairen swallowed. Damn. They did not move closer, only stood watching her with eyes that glittered with hostility. Very well, now what? She waited silently for one of them to speak.
"How do you come to have a Lórien elf? Is he dead?"
The voice was smooth, almost crystalline in quality. And it came from behind her. She turned her head to see the elf. Nay, elves. More stood at the rear, their arrows also nocked. She was in their domain.
Mairen shook her head. "Nay, not dead. Yet," she added with emphasis. Epona snorted in seeming agreement.
The elf frowned, his long elegant brows dropping over bright blue eyes. Icy, fearless eyes that held her captive. She tried to control the shiver that ran along her spine.
"He is severely injured," she said. "Ambushed by Orcs. Do you want him? Or shall we spar for another hour while he withers away? The ride has been long and difficult for him."
The elf`s gaze moved beyond her shoulder to the elves in front of her. She faced forward again to see another elf had come forward. He spoke to the one behind her, in their language, his tone sharp. She glanced from one elf to the other, noticing the similarities in their movements and expression. They had to be brothers.
The elf in front strode up to Epona, and grasped of the roan's bridle. Mairen stared in astonishment, for against all training the horse accepted the elf's hold.
The elf from behind her appeared at her side. "I will take him."
Mairen looked down into the icy blue eyes. Did she see a hint of worry in the blue depths? She gripped the lance, suddenly unwilling to give up her burden. But that was why she had come and she was being foolish. The elf needed his own kind, and the healing they could offer him.
Yielding to the inevitable, she spun the lance over her head, imbedding it into the ground beside the elf. He did not flinch, but the elves surrounding her did. Wooden bows creaked as tension was applied. She was glad they did not have her jittery fingers. She felt the stares drill into her back. Careful, do not be unwise, she told herself. Mairen untied the helm, lifting it off her head. And smiled as the icy elf's eyebrow rose slowly.
She sheathed her sword, if a bit reluctantly, earning her another raised brow, this time from the one holding Epona's bridle. She glared at the horse when the elf spoke softly to the animal, which nickered softly in answer. What magic did these elves have to tame a Rohirrim war horse, trained to kill and only obey one master?
The injured elf was drawn from her lap by two elves who laid him with great gentleness upon the ground. The one who spoke her tongue looked up at her with narrowed eyes. "You tended him?"
Mairen settled in her saddle, her legs feeling suddenly empty. "Aye. The wound on his head was great. I dared not leave it, so when I was able, I stitched it closed." She shifted her gaze to the elf holding her horse, then back to the injured elf on the ground. Something about them tickled a memory in the back of her mind, but what was it? She ignored the sensation, noting that the injured elf seemed to be someone important. They elves spoke quietly, but rapidly, and she did not miss the uneasy looks that passed between them.
The elf who bent over the injured one stood to face her. "We need your horse. The way to the city is long, and we need to get him to the Lady of the Wood as quickly as possible. You will have to come with us."
"I cannot stay." Mairen pulled against the reins of her roan, but the elf holding Epona only sent her an inscrutable look. "I have brought him as far as I will," she protested.
Anger flitted across the elf's face. "You have no choice. Night is falling. You cannot travel alone in the darkness, even we dare not. You have come this far, another short distance will make no difference to you. He is weak and will die otherwise."
Mairen's lips tightened with foreboding. She didn't care to stay here any longer than necessary. Willem's words echoed in her head, but on the other hand she had brought the wounded elf this far; she couldn't let him die now. Still, she didn't have to like it.
The elf turned back toward the others, motioning for them to lift the injured elf. He glanced back at Mairen. "It will be better for him to stay upright. You must allow one of us to ride with him."
Mairen shook her head. "Epona will not allow anyone else to ride her."
The elf glanced at the one holding Epona's bridle. "Rúmil can ride her. He has already won your horse's confidence."
Mairen eyed the elf, but could not refute his words, for indeed Epona was nuzzling Rúmil quite fondly. "I see you have some sway over my animal," she said warily. "What magic do you possess to control her? She used to be trained quite well."
Rúmil patted the horse gently, and moved to stand beside Mairen. "I have a way with such beasts. We speak the same language. She is still yours, but understands our needs. She will allow it."
Epona seemed to comprehend and echoed his words with a fierce nod of her head. Giving in, Mairen dismounted and stepped back to allow the elf to leap gracefully onto the roan's back. The elves slid the injured elf in front of him, and Rúmil clasped him firmly around the waist, holding him against his chest.
"He will ride swiftly and meet us at the city."
The elf called Rúmil urged Epona forward, and they sprang away, horse and elves as one, into the long shadows of the forest.