Title: The Promise
Author: Jo Slater
Summary: When Ashk discovers what will be Haldir's fate after her death, she asks for only a promise.
Timeline: Going by the age of the twins, we're just past three years old.
Note: All conversations are conducted in Elven unless noted otherwise.
Closing the door behind me, I paused and listened carefully for any noise in my home. There was nothing and I breathed a bit of relief. It was late and I had not intended on returning home so deep in the night. I was relieved, however, that Ashk had not waited up as she done the night before.
Winter was nearing again and the number of attacks on the borders jumped as they did every year. We were ready for such attacks, for Orcs knew nothing but instinct and routine. However, the hard days had taken me from home for weeks at a time, and even when I was home as the past three days, I was rarely with my family.
I walked into the kitchener and glanced along the counters. After a brief moment, I spotted what I was looking for and smiled slightly.
Gently I picked up the drawn picture that seemed to be a family portrait, even with the cat and the two horses as well. I looked at the sloppy artwork with an adoring gaze for a long moment before catching a glimpse of a short note still on the counter.
Be sure to tell the children goodnight.
Ashk's handwriting was in a loopy Westron text. She was still having the hardest time learning to write Elvish.
Placing the two papers on the counter once more, I turned and crossed the common room quietly. Quietly, of course until the cat, Moss, sprang off the sofa and dove directly into my feet, forcing me to stumble.
I cursed the cat as he brushed against me, purring loudly even as I glared at him. He and I had a very bitter-sweet relationship. I would swear to the Valar he was nothing more than a jealous cat. He acted friendly...but I couldn't help but feel he laughed in his attempts to make a fool of me.
"Keep testing me and you will be nothing more than a mortal's fur hat," I warned him, even as I scratched behind his ear. "And you would be lousy at that, too," I added, straightening and stepping past him.
I first came to Moriana's room. The door was cracked as always and I brushed it aside with my hand. She looked so small on that bed while a shadow box played across her walls and over her face. In her grasp she held a stuffed horse that Orophin had given her for her third birthday only two weeks before.
How fast time had passed.
I felt myself smile softly as I entered her room, moving to the shadow box and blowing out the candle inside.
Darkness fell and Ana immediately shifted, a frown pulling at her sleeping face.
"Ana, my girl," I said softly, walking to the edge of her bed before leaning over her. Her eyes cleared of sleep slowly and she looked at me first in confusion, then in a tired happiness.
"Ada," she said sleepily, and that quiet voice warmed my heart.
"What are you dreaming?" I asked as I did every night I was late enough to wake her.
"Horseses," she slurred and I smiled.
"Not Black, I hope," I said with a melodramatic distaste. Even though that particular horse and I did not enjoy each other's company, I knew Ana, her brother, and her mother all loved that horse.
"I love Black," Moriana said slowly, and she squeezed the toy she had in grasp.
"I know," I told her, my hand brushing by her dark hair.
"I love you," she murmured a moment later, her voice fading with sleep.
"I love you too, my Ana. Sleep now," I said softly, leaning down and placing a kiss on her forehead. She was asleep again even as I straightened.
I spared a look back at her as I went out the door. With a silent smile, I closed it only to leave a bit open before I walked across the hall and opened the door to Onduras's room.
For a moment, I was surprised enough to pause.
My son was on his bed, but he was leaned awkwardly at the sill of the window that loomed over the bed. He looked as though he had fallen asleep looking outside.
Shaking my head, I moved to his bedside. Gently, I eased him to the pillows and he shifted, waking to find me there.
"Morn, Ada," he said quietly.
"Not yet morn, son," I replied, pulling the blankets over his small body and sitting at the edge of his bed. "Have you been taking care of things while I've been gone?" I asked. The Elfling nodded and I smiled slightly at him. "Good boy," I said, ruffling his hair before he laughed and pushed my hand away.
"We went riding today," he said, his toddler dialect strong in his tired voice.
"Did you? Where to?"
"The river pass," he replied.
"What did you do there?"
"Then what did you do?"
"Visited Litia," he told me. "Uncle Orophin knocked down a dress. Litia got mad and Ama laughed."
I chuckled slightly knowing what an oaf my brother was around Litia. I didn't know why he acted such a fool around her. It was not a trait of the family to be nervous around females. Ashk, in fact, often chastised Rumil and Orophin for being suave. Too suave.
"That sounds interesting," I told my son and he giggled, nodding his head. However, his humor suddenly faded and he found interest in fiddling with the blankets on his chest. He often fidgeted when he was in trouble and I braced myself for him to tell me what he had done.
"Is there something you need to tell me, Onduras?"
The child glanced at me quickly before looking back to his hands.
Neither of my children caused problems for the most part. The occasional temper tantrum of all toddlers came and went sparsely, and they usually entertained each other. Their own independence at such a young age, however, was unnerving. There were several times when the two had wondered off alone much to the dismay of whoever was watching them and their parents.
"Will Ama die, Ada?"
The question was abrupt and not at all what I was expecting. I frowned deeply and felt like the breath I was taking had suddenly frozen.
Onduras glanced at me in worry - genuine worry for one so young - and I shook my head. "Why would you ask a thing like that, little one?"
He looked away immediately with a suspicious gleam in his eyes. "I asked Ama...And she said yes."
Ashk...Why would she do something like that?
"So you are asking me now?" I asked, unsure of what answer to give him.
"..Don't want to believe her," Onduras confided, his glassy eyes looking to me with a silent plea in them.
Gently, I pulled my child from his place buried in blankets and held him in my arms. "It is all right," I told him, however I could think of nothing to follow that. I shook my head again in dismay. Ashk should not have told him such a thing. "What did Ama tell you?" I asked then.
Onduras paused before taking a deep breath and saying, "She said one day she will close her eyes and go away...But she said we will still hear her and feel her near."
That wasn't all, I knew Ashk better than that, but I was not going to drag the information from the depths of a scared child.
"That will not be for a very long time, Onduras," I told him quietly. "You needn't worry over such things as death."
He looked at me a moment as if he would say more, but he didn't and instead he only nodded slowly, sleepiness entering his eyes again.
"No worries, my son," I told him, kissing his hair before shifting him back to the safety of his bed and blankets. The child burrowed in the warm sanction and stared at me from the shadows of the night in which we both glowed gently.
"Pleasant dreams, Onduras." He forced a tiny smile and I stood, briefly looking down at him before turning away and walking back to the hallway.
With my son's voice still echoing quietly in my mind, I slowly walked down the hall to the last door and opened it. I felt the cat brush by my legs and enter as well before I closed the door. I, however, was frowning as I spotted the balcony doors were open yet again. The chilly early winter air was cold, and why my wife insisted on keeping those doors open was beyond me.
As I closed the two doors, I glanced out at the pale moon through the trees of Lorien. I paused a moment, finding some comfort there, before I turned and looked to the bed to see Ashk sleeping soundly still. A book was carelessly strewn on the bed with her and it was obvious she had been reading before falling asleep.
Ashk shifted slightly as Moss leapt onto the bed and gently walked over her. When she did not stir past putting an arm around him, I left the bedside and went to the water room instead to wash before joining her.
By the time I reentered the room, Ashk was awake and stroking the cat - much to Moss's delight as he purred contently.
"Sorry to wake you," I said, my voice distant in the distraction of my mind and thoughts. My earlier conversation with my son was still haunting me avidly.
"It is all right," she said softly, a yawn catching her voice a moment later.
I felt her eyes following me as I put away my boots and tossed my dirty clothes into a basket. She said nothing before I finally sat on the edge of the bed on my side.
"Haldir?" she questioned, "Is everything all right?" She shifted to sit up and I glanced at her briefly.
"Did you talk to Onduras about..." I paused, trying to find the right word and ignoring the odd gruffness in my voice. "..mortality? Your mortality?"
She paused in return but I did not spare a glance at her. After a time she said, "Yes, I did. He asked how old I was. When I told him he questioned why I was so young yet you were so old...The conversation went from there."
"He is three years old, Ashk - he does not need to hear about mortality," I replied, a thick layer of distaste over my last word.
"Haldir, for goodness sake, it was nothing."
"You scared him," I bit back. "That is not nothing."
Again she hesitated, obviously unsure how to react to me. And, honestly, I did not even know what warranted this attack. I did not want to pick a fight with her, and especially not over this particular subject. But something inside me was just egging for me to vent on it. I loathed thinking about immortality and mortality. I avoided it avidly.
And now it seemed I wanted to bring it up with my ever-so-mortal wife.
"He deserves to know. So does Ana," Ashk finally said.
"They are too young to worry over anything like that, Ashk - For Valar's sake," I grumbled with a shake of my head.
"Too young? I could catch sick tomorrow and die the next day - What then? They deserve to know that death will not be foreign to them."
Though her voice had started strong, it was meek by the end under the glare I was giving her. Illness, death, all so soon. She talked about it as if it was nothing to pause over. Just another day-to-day occurrence to her.
She frowned in the night's shadow. "Haldir, what's wrong? Why are you acting like this?"
"Like what?" I snapped, looking away.
Ashk scoffed slightly. "This," she replied. "Why are you upset over a conversation I had with our son?"
"I just think it is not something that should be talked about," I told her swiftly, my voice as narrow as it was when I gave orders to Galadhrim.
"Well I think it should be," she replied just as fast. "It's a fact we are going to have to deal with. It has to be told to them eventually."
"Just...Not now, all right?" I grumbled. "They are too young."
Ashk sighed heavily and silence held for a moment. "All right," she finally said, "I'll avoid the subject for now. But don't ask me to lie to them."
She shifted a moment later and laid back against the pillows and when I glanced at her, her back was to me and I could hear that cat purring as he curled into her.
There was no light to put out as so I merely laid against the pillows as well, silent beside her and with no intention of speaking further on the subject that I had already handled badly. Yet, as I tried to sleep, I could not. Instead, I stared up at the ceiling that was painted in a deep blue with the night's stars painted onto it.
I was certain it had been nearly an hour since silence had fallen, but I also knew that Ashk was still awake as well. Her breathing had not eased softly as it should and she shifted every now and then.
But, abruptly she shifted to roll over and face me.
I paused, thinking childishly that I could fake as though I were asleep before I thought better of such a sophomore idea.
I turned my head and looked at her and was slightly surprised by the look in her eyes. She looked as though she was worried, scared even.
"What is the matter?" I asked quietly, frowning in the shadow of the night.
Ashk pushed herself closer to me and propped her head on her hand, looking down at me. "What will you do when I am gone?"
My lungs abruptly felt as though they were weighed with stones and I could not regain any breath to them. I could not even speak enough to answer her. What was I to say to something like that? I had rarely forced myself to think on such a thing.
However, as her eyes deepened in their worry, I managed to take a breath and say, "Many Elves do not survive the death of their better half, Ashk. The grief is fatal. It would not be unlikely for me to join you in the Great Halls."
This did not seem to ease my wife's turmoil at all. Instead, she looked stricken.
"You would die?" she asked, sitting up as though something had stung her in her previous position. I only stared at her in surprise. Did she not know this? It was true, I had not mentioned it before and she had not asked. I'd never found it an appropriate subject.
As the silence stretched into an unbearable amount, I sat up as well. "What is it, Ashk?"
"What is it?" she repeated. "Haldir, for goodness sake! Why did you never tell me?"
I frowned. "It was never something I thought to bring up at the morning table," I retorted before seeing the slight amount of hurt filter in her eyes. At this, I sighed slightly. "I did not mean that as it sounded. I never thought it was...something to commonly bring up, Idril. Why do you become upset over this?"
"You're immortal," she said softly. "You can't die."
I found myself smiling slightly with a bitter taste. "Oh, we can die, Ashk. Blade, fire, water...Even loving someone just as much as I love you. Myth saying we never die is only a fable. Fairy tale of a brighter world."
"But..." She shook her head in dismay. "What about Rumil and Orophin?"
"They would be fine and we would see them again one day. Both of us would see them again," I told her gently.
"Haldir, what about the twins?" she asked, a new fear in her eyes.
I reached for her hand, grasping it lightly. "We would see them again one day as well. In better places than here, Ashk."
"But that would be so long to be alone...They would only be thirty or so. That is still so young to your kind."
I nodded sadly. "Yes, it is," I said, my voice a bit hoarse. I knew what it was to survive in the Elven Kingdoms without entire generations. I did not want that for my own children, but I had little choice. "Rumil and Orophin would look after them."
"Oh, Haldir," Ashk whispered, her voice shuddering suddenly as though she was on the verge of tears. "How can that be? We can't abandon them! To leave them..."
"It is hard for many families, Idril. We would not be the first to suffer such hardships. Some can remain after the loss of a loved one, others cannot," I told her quietly.
Her eyes lifted from her thoughts and looked at me again and I saw as they suddenly lit again, just slightly. "Some remain?"
I paused, unsure of why she seemed suddenly more hopeful than before. Nodding, I watched as relief nearly overtook her eyes.
"Could you not remain with them?" she asked innocently enough.
I jolted in surprise and shock. Stricken, I could say nothing in return for a long moment but she remained quiet. Finally, I shook my head. "I do not believe I would have the choice," I said in return.
"Haldir," Ashk said, tilting her head slightly. "If others can remain after the passing of a wife or husband, I know you can. Your will is stronger than any I know."
"Not th-" I stopped myself, unsure of what I was about to say as she stared at me with a desperate look in her eyes. "You can't ask me to stay."
"Ashk, do you have any idea what it is an Elf feels after losing the one they love most in the world? To see days pass without you among them..." I shook my head and suppressed a shudder. "No," I said simply.
"You have lived hundreds of years without me. You would see me again one day," she argued. "You said so yourself - I would miss you and love you for a thousand eternities ...But they are our children, Haldir. Ana and Onduras, what would they do once we were gone?"
"Living hundreds of years without you has nothing to do with this. I'm not losing you, Ashk - I'm not!"
The last tremble of my hissed words faded and she stared at me in silence, her eyes shining like glass in the shadowed moonlight.
"And what of Ana and Onduras?" she asked softly. "We wouldn't even be here if it was not for them. We cannot just abandon them."
I crossed my arms over my chest, leaning back against the bedframe.
"I don't have a choice, Haldir. You do," Ashk whispered softly, her hand reaching to stroke my face. Yet, her touch felt cold to me and I turned my head away. "I just don't want them to be alone," she told me, curling her hand back to her chest as if I'd burned her.
I said nothing in return and only saw her out of the corner of my eye, staring at me until she shifted, crossing her legs under her and looking out the balcony doors.
"You never told me you would die because of me," she said softly, brushing her hand against her cheek and I loathed the glimmer of tears I saw there.
"My mistake," I seethed, angry that she was crying and for the situation we suddenly found ourselves in. She hiccuped softly, forcing my eyes to her even as she suddenly moved to get up. And I let her leave in silence, the cat trotting after her, before I glared at the door, cursing at myself silently.
I wanted to sit outside, but the air was too cold. Winter was coming and I had nothing to brace against the chilly wind.
So, I sat in the den where the light from the moon was dim as it streamed in the beautiful, Elven carved windows. I sat there and I cried for all I was worth. I had not wept in some months, in a very long time, in fact, and yet I found myself suffocating sobs in the night.
He never told me that would be his fate. He never told me that in my death, I would steal him away from the world that loved him so. I'd rob his brothers, the city, and my own children of him forever.
He was immortal, and he was the only one that comforted me when I thought of the days that my children would live on without me. I somehow found myself to be soothed in knowing he would be here when they found their own loves. He would be at their weddings for both of us, and when their own children entered the world, I'd somehow be there through him.
But now all that was gone. Ana and Onduras would be left behind without us and we would only be a memories hundreds of years later.
The only family they would have would be their uncles, Rumil and Orophin, and no matter how much I loved them, they were not good enough for my children.
I gasped, looking to the hall only to see Onduras standing there, a tiny fist rubbing at his eyes.
"What is it, dear?" I asked softly, brushing uselessly at my tears.
He frowned and stumbled towards me sleepily. And when I drew him into my lap, his small arms opened and wound around my neck, cracking what was left of my already breaking heart.
I tried to suffocate my sobs even as my tears trailed into his hair and wetted his tiny shoulder.
He leaned back then, looking at me and his little hands braced on my cheeks.
"I cried too," he told me and, abruptly, I felt another tug on my hand.
"Me too," said Ana, crawling onto the sofa as well and clinging to me as I pulled them close to me. "You donna have to leave, Ama," Ana told me. "You can stay here."
I kissed my little girl's cheek, and my son's before I leaned against the sofa, feeling their little hearts beating fast against their chests as they clung to me.
I had fallen asleep at some point and was only awoken as the sofa dipped and a warm embrace wrapped around me.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, nuzzling my cheek.
Ana shifted at my side, but did not wake. Her brother remained sound asleep as well, cradled in my lap.
A hand lifted to stroke my husband's cheek as I closed my eyes again, feeling the comfort of his body beside me. His fingers tweaked the dark hair of our son, brushing against the boy's cheek.
"You'll always have a part of me with you as long as they are near," I told him. "See? He has my hair," I said, brushing the brown locks affectionately. "Even if he does look more like you." I smiled sadly, trailing a finger down the nose of my son down to his jaw that would be as square as his father's.
"Perhaps...But Ana will look just as you do."
"No. She will be gorgeous. You will have to keep all the Elves away with a stick."
"A bow and sword, I've been thinking," he replied, forcing me to smile. "She'll be as beautiful as her mother." Haldir kissed my cheek gently.
I frowned a moment later, feeling my itching eyes begin to sting yet again. "I just don't want them to be alone in the world," I said softly, leaning my head to his shoulder.
He was quiet a long moment and his chest rose and fell with a great sigh.
"I would be miserable without you," Haldir told me softly. "They would not know me once you were gone. Elves change, Ashk, in the wake of their love's death."
"...I am terrible for asking, but could you not try to stay with them?" I whispered, feeling as though I was asking him forfeit everything he had in his life when I was truly asking him to save it.
"I couldn't, Ashk," he told me, his voice hoarse.
"Could you not try? For them?" I looked tearfully at my children. "And your brothers? What about the Lady and Lord? They love you like a son."
He remained silent.
"And for me? I'm asking this of you."
I looked up at him to see his eyes were closed and his head was turned away as if to hide his thoughts. My hand reached up, drawing his face towards me even as he did not open his eyes.
Then, his gaze met mine and I was speared with the pain I saw in that gaze. The torment between choosing one road or another. One that led to me beyond mortality, and another that remained here in Lorien; where he would stay even if it broke both our hearts.
And when he looked to the children once again, I would swear I saw his chin tremble for the barest of moments. Yet, such a thing was impossible and I blamed my blurry eyes for such a sick trick.
"I can promise nothing," he told me, his head bowing. "But should I swear anything, it would be that I could try."
I felt myself smile in utter misery as I tugged his head down to kiss him.
He brushed at my cheeks. "No more crying," he said softly. "No more talk of this," he added a moment later, shaking his head. "Not for many, many years."
I nodded, a miserable relief falling over me as I leaned into him.
And in those early morning hours, we finally slept.
And yet, I slept in fits of nightmares and woke to a dreary dawn.
Well, there is that installment. I've been meaning to post it for some time, but as you all know, mass chaos had erupted in the life of Jo. lol! Anyway, I do hope you enjoyed. Please let me know what you think. I really want to continue Haldir and Ashk's story even while The Mage is in the works.
Thanks for all your support and patience - I love you all!