Heart In Chains
“Did you lose your wits, Haldir? How can you want me to ride *that*?” Erestor stared in shock at the big, black stallion standing proudly in front of him, eyeing him with alert, dark eyes. Long powerful legs and a well-muscled chest only added to Erestor’s reluctance to mount the horse. If the stallion threw him off he would most certainly suffer another miscarriage and he didn’t want to do anything to endanger his unborn child. “You cannot be serious!”
“Keep your voice down, lirimaer,” said Haldir, quickly wrapping an arm around Erestor. They were standing in a secluded part of the wood and were getting ready for departure. Celeborn had promised to distract Galadriel long enough for them to escape Lothlorien. But now it seemed Erestor was reluctant to comply.
“Listen to me,” started Haldir, holding Erestor’s apprehensive gaze. “This is Tirith (Vigilance). This horse was trained by Celeborn personally. He has learned to protect his rider and will be extremely careful with you. He won’t throw you off or endanger you in any other way. The very opposite is true. If we were to encounter an enemy he would sacrifice himself for you.”
Erestor blinked, taking in all this new information and then stared at the stallion again. The dark eyes showed intelligence and the animal was studying him in turn.
Haldir, reading Erestor’s reluctant agreement in his chocolate eyes, guided the dark-haired Elf closer to Tirith. “Pat him. He likes being stroked on his nose.”
“I have not been around horses much,” explained Erestor gingerly. “I never learned to properly ride them, and now with this little one to protect I cannot help being cautious.” Gently, he rubbed the warm nose. “Haldir? I visited with Camfael and he examined me. He thinks I am pregnant with only one child. Not twins.”
Haldir was relieved. Carrying twins would have made this even harder for Erestor, who was still afraid that history was repeating itself. “Only one child, then.”
“Aye.” Erestor sighed, distressed. “Do you really want me to mount him?”
“Aye, and we will help you.” Haldir signaled for Rumil to help him and together they managed to get Erestor into the saddle. Tirith remained motionless, instinctively sensing that something was wrong with his charge. The stallion was determined to be very careful around this dark-haired Elf.
Erestor felt awkward, suddenly finding himself high in the air. Looking down at Haldir, he wondered why they hadn’t given him a docile mare instead.
Haldir signaled for his brothers to mount, and Erestor was about to hand the reins of his horse to Rumil, like he had done three thousand years ago.
“Nay, you keep them,” said Rumil with an unreadable expression on his face. He was fighting fierce emotions, being reminded of the moment when Orophin had disappeared into that crevice. If it hadn’t been for Erestor, they would have lost their brother that day. Seeing Erestor’s wondering expression, Rumil added softly, “You are not a prisoner any more, Erestor.”
Erestor blinked, hearing those words. He wasn’t?
Haldir felt he had to explain. He guided his horse next to Tirith, and once they were moving, he said, “Celeborn does not want to keep you here against your will.”
“But Galadriel does,” whispered Erestor knowingly. Then, he shrugged his shoulders once. “It does not really matter. I do not have a place to go if I were allowed to leave. But Imladris should be better than Lothlorien, at least I hope so.” His eyes darkened with worry and his fingers clawed at the leather of the saddle. They were riding at a slow pace, which surprised him. “Should we not speed up?”
Orophin cleared his throat. He was riding behind Erestor and had overheard the question. “You are nearly six months pregnant, Erestor. We won’t run you rugged to get you to Imladris a day early.”
“Then traveling there will take us two weeks at least,” said Erestor softly.
“Does it matter?” questioned Haldir. “I thought you would enjoy being in the open and having our pleasant company.” The stunning smile that Erestor gave him made his heart expand in his chest. Erestor seemed truly happy that moment and he was determined to keep it that way.
“He is asleep,” whispered Rumil. They had traveled for most of the night, and now that Arien was about to rise, it was time to make camp. The cover of night had ensured their unnoticed departure from Lothlorien, and as no one had tried to stop them, they reckoned their flight had been successful. “We should make camp.”
Haldir nodded. “I will look after Erestor. Rumil, make camp. Orophin, scout ahead and make sure we are secure here.” The two brothers began to carry out their assigned tasks whilst Haldir dismounted and then lifted Erestor out of the saddle. The pregnant Elf stirred, but did not wake up.
After carrying Erestor over to the spot Rumil had selected to set up camp, he placed Erestor on the blanket his brother had spread over the ground. Erestor’s eyes unexpectedly regained their alertness and looked questioningly at the march warden. “You are safe, lirimaer. Go back to sleep. You need the rest.”
Erestor nodded absentmindedly and then curled up on the blanket, whilst holding Haldir’s hand in his, making sure his protector couldn’t leave.
Haldir smiled dotingly and gave in, settling down beside Erestor. Stroking the dark hair with his other hand, he watched him sleep.
Rumil sat down beside him and began building a small fire. “What do you think will happen when we arrive in Imladris?”
“His heart will feel lighter for then he will be close to Elrond.” Haldir gave his brother a meaningful look. “Think about it, Rumil. Elrond is without a mate and Erestor is already bound to him. I will do my best to get them together.”
“Even when that means losing Erestor?”
“Rumil, I cannot lose what I never had. Erestor and I lived in borrowed time. We knew it would not last.” Now that he had said the words, he smiled weakly. “I am grateful for his trust and love though. They mean more to me than he will ever realize. I should have guarded my heart better, but he slipped past all defenses.”
Rumil nodded once. “I know what you mean. I greatly care for him as well. At times, it feels like it is the four of us, instead of just the three. He has become like a brother to me. Orophin feels the same way.”
A comfortable silence settled over them. Rumil tended to the fire and Haldir continued to stroke Erestor’s hair.
“I apologize for falling asleep,” whispered Erestor guiltily. “It was not my intention.”
“We understand,” said Orophin soothingly. Haldir had relieved him and was now standing watch, whilst Rumil was reheating the remnants of the game Orophin had caught when hunting. “A pregnancy is very taxing.”
Relieved they understood, Erestor accepted the bowl of food Rumil handed him and began to eat. He was surprisingly hungry and emptied the bowl quickly. His stomach growled loudly, demanding more food and he gave the two brothers an apologetic look. “’Tis the little one who wants more.”
Rumil reached into his well-filled saddlebags and uncovered a sweet cake one of the cooks had prepared at his request. “I think this will fill your stomach satisfactorily.”
Erestor adoringly stared at the cake, smelling the honey and sugars in it. “May I?”
Rumil cut him a generous part, put it in his bowl, and then watched Erestor devour it. It was a good thing another cake was tucked away in Orophin’s saddlebag!
Erestor became aware of the fact that the two brothers were smiling at him, as he pushed the sweet cake into his mouth. “Are you not going to try it?”
“I had it made for you especially,” replied Rumil, smiling warmly. “But we might try it before reaching Imladris… if something is still left of it by then.”
Erestor blushed weakly, but finished the cake at any rate. “And now what?” Arien was beginning to shine stronger.
“Now we rest. Let us go over there.” Rumil pointed out the temporary shelter he had built, made from branches, leaves and blankets he had brought along. “It will provide you with the necessary cover.”
“And what about you?” Erestor didn’t like the extra care they were giving him. It made him feel like a burden.
Orophin realized that and acted quickly. “We will join you.” Haldir was standing watch and would warn them if anything was afoot. Also, the shelter was big enough to hold more than one.
“Lie down,” said Rumil, assisting Erestor in lying down on his side. Then he spooned up behind the dark-haired Elf, who tensed unexpectedly, and Orophin lay down face to face with Erestor. Both brothers reacted instinctively, folding one arm around Erestor’s waist.
“May I?” asked Orophin, as his hand hovered above Erestor’s abdomen.
Shyly, Erestor nodded. “But do not expect to feel much. The little one has not begun kicking yet.” But that would happen within the month. At least the twins had kicked when he was half-term. He guided Orophin’s hand past his robes and placed the palm against his abdomen. The unconditional trust that he felt toward Haldir had long ago been expanded to include Rumil and Orophin. He trusted the three brothers.
Orophin’s eyes widened, feeling the slight distension beneath his fingertips. At that moment, Erestor’s pregnancy became very real to him. Like Haldir, he realized that instant that Erestor’s destiny lay with the baby’s father; Elrond. “Do you have any idea what gender the child will be?” Erestor had been right the last time, when he had been convinced he was expecting two boys.
Erestor’s blush made a return, feeling Orophin’s fingertips tenderly stroke his abdomen. “It feels different this time. I think this little one is female.”
“A girl? A daughter!” called Rumil out in delight.
“I think so,” said Erestor, who was beginning to grow uncomfortable, being the center of attention. “But first she has to be born and I am afraid to think of any complications.”
“Complications?” Orophin, who was face to face with Erestor, saw the distress in the large, chocolate eyes.
“Camfael said there was scar tissue from the… miscarriage… and the baby has less room than the twins had. And then there is the birth. Elrond will have to open my abdomen for the child to be born.”
“A very frightening concept, indeed,” said Rumil, stroking Erestor’s back soothingly. “But you are strong. You are a survivor and you will see this one grow up.”
“I hope so.” Erestor closed his eyes, unable to say this when looking at Orophin. “I vowed to die with my child, should I lose this little one.”
“Aiya,” whimpered Rumil. “Do not say such things. We do not want to lose you. *Haldir* does not want to lose you.”
“And I do not want to leave him behind,” admitted Erestor, who gingerly opened his eyes to look at Rumil over his shoulder. “But I doubt I will survive losing another one.”
“In that case we will have to make sure you won’t lose your baby.” Rumil exchanged a determined look with Orophin. They would tell Haldir of Erestor’s admission, knowing their brother would make sure Erestor stayed with them, even if the baby died unexpectedly.
Seated on Tirith’s back, Erestor easily spotted the small lake to their right. The calm water reflected Ithil’s silver beams and Erestor wanted nothing more than to wade into the cool water and clean himself up. That morning, when Haldir had returned from his watch, he had teasingly remarked he wished they had brought along the bathtub. Haldir had smiled at hearing that, reminding him he could take all the baths he ever wanted once they were in Imladris. But now that he saw the lake this close, he wondered if Haldir would allow for a brief stop.
Haldir, looking over his shoulder, saw that Tirith had come to a stop. Apparently something had caught Erestor’s attention. Following the dark-haired Elf’s gaze, he realized it was the lake and this morning’s conversation returned to him. Signaling for his brothers to stop, he guided his horse close to Erestor’s. “Do you want to go swimming?”
Erestor, who hadn’t heard Haldir join him, startled. Cramps began to build in his lower back and a swim sounded like the perfect solution. “Would you mind taking a break for a few minutes?”
“We will go for a swim, then,” decreed Haldir.
Rumil and Orophin had heard and were looking forward to a bath themselves.
Haldir took the lead and once they had reached the lake, the march warden trained his senses on his surroundings. Finding no potential danger was near, he signaled for the others to also dismount. They quickly removed their clothes and Haldir noticed Erestor’s difficulty in removing his undershirt, not quite managing. “More cramps?” he guessed correctly.
“My lower back,” admitted Erestor in a soft tone.
“Then let us attend to that.” Haldir helped Erestor out of the annoying shirt and smiled warmly, seeing the blush on the dark-haired Elf’s face. Erestor was trying to cover up his private parts with his hands, obviously embarrassed. “I have seen you naked before,” whispered Haldir soothingly. “And so did my brothers when you were in that withdrawn state. There is no need to feel ashamed.”
Erestor slowly raised his hands and settled them on his abdomen instead. He knew they had attended to him when he had mourned the loss of his sons and told himself not to feel embarrassed.
Rumil and Orophin, who had overheard the conversation, gave Erestor some space by running into the water, splashing the other. Soon, they were giggling and trying to pull the other under, which always backfired.
“Come with me,” said Haldir, extending his hand, which Erestor took. He led the pregnant Elf into the cool water until it reached their waist. “Now try to float.” He hoped that once Erestor felt relaxed, the muscle cramps would ease as well.
Erestor eased his body into the water and stared at the star-filled sky once he was afloat. “You were right,” he whispered softly, as the tension in his back began to loosen up.
Haldir nodded, smiled, and remained close to Erestor, making sure the pregnant Elf stayed afloat. His brothers’ delighted yells reached him and he looked at them as they tried to wrestle the other. He briefly wondered who would win, knowing they were evenly matched.
“It feels good,” whispered Erestor, whose eyes were beginning to close. For so long he had lived with tension, fear of Galadriel, and uncertainty, and finally it seemed he would have peace at last. He was looking forward to living in Imladris. He didn’t expect Elrond to greatly care about him, except as a patient, but he was looking forward to exploring the valley, which was said to be beautiful.
Haldir caressed Erestor’s brow and the large eyes opened slowly to look at him. “I hope you will be happy in Imladris.”
A lump of emotion was building in Erestor’s throat. “But you will stay with me, won’t you?”
“Aye, I will. I promised, didn’t I?” Haldir smiled warmly at Erestor. “If we can keep up this pace we will reach the valley in five days. Then you can rest.”
Erestor involuntarily rested a hand on his abdomen. “I want this one to be born alive, Haldir. I cannot lose another one.”
Haldir knew Erestor was deadly serious. If Erestor for some reason lost this baby, they would lose him as well.
The next few days passed in companionable silence. Erestor was busy sorting out his thoughts and feelings where Haldir and Elrond were concerned. He was afraid he would unwillingly hurt the march warden in the end. He was reminded of his conversation with Rumil, when Elrond had left, and admitted to himself that he did have feelings for Elrond. If only things had developed differently.
“Now it is you who is brooding,” said Haldir teasingly. Erestor was an open book to him and he easily read the fears and doubts on the other’s face. /He always worries about others and seldom for himself. Elrond would be lucky to have him as a mate./
“I was thinking,” started Erestor slowly, making sure Rumil and Orophin couldn’t overhear them. “You cannot stay in Imladris forever. Your place is at Celeborn’s side, guarding Lothlorien’s borders. And I could never take you away from your brothers, who, as you told me, will return to the Golden Wood.”
“Do not trouble yourself about that,” said Haldir, ill at ease with this topic.
“But it is the truth. No matter how long it may take, in the end your heart will command you to return to Lothlorien and I want you to know that I understand. I do not want you to waste your life at my side.”
Haldir growled softly. “Being with you is not wasting my life!”
“But it is. You have been stuck with me since they commanded you to guard me. You and your brothers deserve better. You deserve complete freedom.”
Haldir shot Erestor a warning look. “We may not have liked that order in the beginning, and the Valar know we mistreated you, but we have come to care for you. Rumil and Orophin think of you as their brother.”
“But you do not.”
“I think of you as my lover,” said Haldir steadfast.
“But I can never truly be your lover, Haldir.” Erestor’s voice was filled with longing and sorrow. “You deserve better than that – than me.”
“Don’t you ever dare say that again!” growled Haldir displeased. “You are a very special person, warm and caring, and anyone would be fortunate to have your friendship, let alone your love.”
“Ah, Haldir, you are determined to make this hard for me.” Haldir was riding close to him and Erestor cupped the march warden’s cheek in his palm. “I want you to know that I set you free, that you should not consider yourself bound to me in any way. If love comes your way, do not let it slip away.”
“I already have you,” whispered Haldir, loyally.
“Aiya, Haldir.” Erestor caressed the guardian’s face. “You will always have me, but there is enough space in your heart for another, trust me.”
“I do not want another!” Haldir now glared at Erestor. “And I consider this conversation closed.”
Erestor sighed, hoping Haldir would understand one day.
“This is our last evening together,” said Rumil regretfully, whilst they settled down around the campfire. “We will reach the Last Homely House tomorrow.” He cocooned Erestor in a warm blanket, as the night’s chill was creeping over the lands. Now that the Elf was pregnant, Erestor seemed more susceptible to the cold.
Erestor bowed his head and hid his features behind his long hair. The truth was that he didn’t want this trip to end. Not any more. When they had left, he had wanted to reach Imladris quickly, but now he wanted to continue to travel with the three brothers. They had made the trip as pleasurable and comfortable as possible and he didn’t want to part with Rumil and Orophin. But Haldir at least would stay with him.
“Here, eat.” Rumil handed Erestor a large piece of Lembas and a cup of herbal tea, which he had prepared every evening during their trip. Camfael had assured him it would ease muscle cramps and prevent morning sickness and Erestor had been spared the nausea in the morning, for which all three felt grateful.
“I am not hungry,” objected Erestor, but Rumil pushed the food and tea into his hands any way.
“You must eat for both of you,” said Haldir, reminding Erestor that he had to uphold his strength.
Erestor sighed deeply and then nibbled reluctantly on the waybread. Rumil and Haldir were fussing over him, knowing he felt depressed. It was a good thing Orophin was scanning ahead, because he didn’t think he could have survived another mother hen.
Erestor suddenly shivered. “Do you think Galadriel will sabotage her husband’s plan?” Maybe she already had. His greatest fear was that Galadriel would tell Elrond that he was a kinslayer. Even if it was just a lie, the half-Elf would believe his mother in law and shun him for it.
“Maybe,” said Haldir thoughtfully. “But I trust in Celeborn. He will find ways to contain her scheming.”
Erestor nodded unenthusiastically, not really believing the Lord of the Golden Wood could control Galadriel in any way.
“When will Orophin and you leave? Right away?” Erestor searched Rumil’s sparkling eyes. He was truly blessed with such good friends.
“Aye, I think so. Celeborn told us to return at once. You must understand,” said Rumil, holding Erestor’s gaze, “Our borders are still under attack. Sauron is gaining in strength and Celeborn wants to keep our realm safe. He needs every sentry to patrol the borders.” He realized he had said the wrong thing when Erestor’s gaze worriedly shifted to Haldir.
“Then they will need you as well, Haldir.” Haldir had commanded Celeborn’s forces before they had left and he wondered how the sentries would deal with losing their commanding officer. “You should go back with your brothers.”
Haldir had pushed that thought away since they had left the Golden Wood. “Celeborn is a cunning leader. He can do without me.” Celeborn had to do without him, because he refused to leave Erestor’s side in his current condition.
Feeling guilty for keeping Haldir from performing his duties, Erestor’s mood darkened.
Rumil, who sat closest to Erestor, noticed it and leaned against him, pulling the pregnant Elf close. “Haldir makes his own decisions, remember?”
Erestor nodded, fatigued, accepting he couldn’t change Haldir’s opinions.
“That is the Last Homely House where Elrond resides.” Haldir pointed the structure out to Erestor, hoping to spark the other Elf’s interest. Now that they were about to ride into Imladris, Erestor seemed sullen and withdrawn. He wondered if this was the first mood swing connected to the pregnancy and mentally prepared himself for much worse ones.
“Aha,” whispered Erestor, forcing himself to look at the building. Guilt had been clawing at him since he had realized he was keeping Haldir from carrying out his duties as Celeborn’s second in command.
Tirith trod carefully, like the stallion had done for every day these past weeks. Erestor had learned to appreciate the horse’s carefulness and would actually be sorry to part from him.
Rumil stood in the stirrups and scanned their surroundings. “There are guards in the trees around us. They have probably already told Elrond that we are approaching Imladris.”
Erestor felt nauseous, realizing he had to face Elrond shortly. “What if he recognizes me?”
Haldir worried about that as well. “I doubt it,” he said eventually. “He was drugged, and you were wearing face paint. I doubt he will make the connection.”
“I hope so.” Erestor wanted Elrond to find out the truth at one moment, and the next, he prayed to Nienna that the half-Elf would never recognize him. His feelings and desires no longer made any sense to him.
Arien was beginning her daily descent when Haldir led them onto the courtyard, where he found two blond Elves waiting for him. Elrond was nowhere in sight. “Mae govannen! I bring greetings from Lord Celeborn.” Haldir quickly dismounted and studied the two Elves in front of him. One of them was dressed in luxurious burgundy robes, his long, white hair dancing on his back and hands hidden in the sleeves. He was certain that he had never met this Elf before, but the other one, he knew.
Glorfindel was wearing a grey shirt, green leggings and tunic. Long, leather boots reached his knees and he even carried his sword. Meeting the azure eyes, Haldir felt something soften in his heart. The eyes were as blue as the sea and he nearly drowned in them. Glorfindel was stunning. Why hadn’t he noticed that three millennia ago?
“You are most welcome here, Haldir of ‘Lorien. This is Lindir, Lord Elrond’s seneschal.” Glorfindel, amused at seeing the adoring expression in Haldir’s eyes, smiled. Glorfindel flashed back to that one night, three thousand years ago, when Haldir had brought that mysterious healer to them. He had promised Elrond to continue his efforts to find out more about this healer and he hoped Haldir would answer some of his questions. His gaze shifted from Haldir to his two silver-haired brothers and was reminded of receiving a party of four after the Battle of the Last Alliance. Now, as well as back then, they were escorting an Elf, whose features were hidden behind a curtain of raven hair. “And I suppose you are Erestor?” Elrond had informed him that the pregnant Elf would stay with them for quite some time.
Erestor shivered, hearing Glorfindel speak his name. Although the golden-haired Balrog Slayer seemed kind and friendly, old suspicions awoke, reminding him not to trust easily. “Aye, I am Erestor.”
“Rumil? Help Erestor dismount,” ordered Haldir, who found it hard to look away from Glorfindel. He rarely felt nervous, but now he did, looking into Glorfindel’s sapphire eyes.
Rumil and Orophin assisted Erestor when the Elf dismounted and remained close in case Erestor needed their support.
“Erestor, you are most welcome here. Lindir will show you to your quarters, which I hope will be to your satisfaction. Elrond will visit with you in the morning. He felt you should rest for some time.” Glorfindel felt vexed, now that the dark hair kept him from looking at Erestor’s face. Realizing there was little he could do about that, Glorfindel dismissed it for now and concentrated on his duties. “Haldir, I will show you to your rooms. Are your brothers staying as well?”
“For the night, aye,” decided Haldir. “They will leave for Lothlorien in the morning.” His brothers could do with a good night’s sleep.
Erestor eyed Lindir suspiciously now that the white-haired Elf was moving closer toward him and he shot Haldir a pleading glance.
Which Glorfindel noticed at once. His curiosity had already been piqued, learning that the Elf Celeborn was sending here was pregnant. He had never met a male Elf before who was with child.
“I will accompany Erestor,” said Rumil, seeing Erestor’s discomfort. He also realized that Haldir couldn’t refuse Glorfindel’s offer to show him to his rooms. He hoped that his presence would reassure Erestor.
Glorfindel read Erestor’s body language with ease, finding the pregnant Elf afraid and uncertain. He would tell Elrond to proceed with caution when the half-Elf examined their guest, who seemed easily startled.
Erestor sighed, relieved, now that Rumil would stay close to him. When Lindir signaled for him to follow, he reluctantly did.
Haldir watched them leave, and was determined to reassure Erestor later. But for now he had to concentrate on Glorfindel.
“Erestor is in the best hands here,” said Glorfindel soothingly, walking toward the doorway.
Haldir followed Glorfindel into the Last Homely House and felt mesmerized, seeing the golden locks teasingly caress the Balrog Slayer’s face. He couldn’t remember feeling this way before and briefly wondered if love at first sight really existed. Was he experiencing it now?
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