Guilt. Ever since he had seen his captain’s lifeless remains on the Deeping Wall, Olnathron had been consumed by it. He had never spoken of it to anyone, because the burden was his to carry, but he went about his daily doings in a haze, ever tortured by the knowledge that he had as good as murdered Haldir with his bare hands.
Nan Barad. To the Keep. Haldir had ordered his men to safety but refused to retreat himself, searching among the cadavers for lives that might yet be saved. The fool-- the stubborn, careless fool!
Olnathron had tried to reason with him. “Haldir, what are you doing? You can’t save them all! We have to leave them!”
Haldir’s response was as characteristic as it was foolhardy. “No one gets left behind under my watch. Lead them to the Keep, Olnathron; I will be right behind.”
“Haldir, this is insane –”
“Go!” Haldir bellowed in a tone that left no room for negotiation. “That is an order!”
That had been the only time in his many years of service that Olnathron had considered insubordination. He wished with all his heart that he had listened to his instinct and dragged Haldir away from there, consequences be damned.
Haldir lived, but Elbereth’s intervention did nothing to assuage Olnathron’s shame. He had obeyed his captain, that night in Helm’s Deep, but by so doing had failed his friend. The hands holding the axe that felled Lórien’s finest might as well have been his own, and even when they finally met again in Minas Tirith, after the war, Olnathron had but to look at Haldir’s sunken face to be reminded of his failure.
The patrol’s reunion with their old captain was a joyous one, and Olnathron’s more subdued responses went unnoticed initially; but he and Haldir had worked so closely together for such a long time that it didn’t take long for Haldir to pick up on his former lieutenant’s inner turmoil. Olnathron managed to elude him for a while, but one evening, as he was making a solitary stroll through the streets of the White City, Haldir very craftily cornered him-- in a dead end alley.
“Stop blaming yourself, Olnathron,” Haldir said without preamble. “The events at Helm’s Deep were not of your making.”
“Oh, but they were,” Olnathron said bitterly, realizing that they were having this conversation no matter what. “I may not have been the one wielding that axe, but I left you there for the enemy to find. I served you up on a silver platter.”
“No, I did.” Haldir came closer. “I gave an order and you obeyed, as any good lieutenant should. In the end, I brought this on myself, and I put you in this position. In your heart, you know that, and you resent me for it. I don’t blame you.”
Olnathron shook his head, his jaw hardening. “You have it all wrong.”
“Do I?” Haldir now stood directly in front of his fellow Galadhel, who was both taller and much heavier. Haldir was thinner than he used to be, but his stance – feet planted firmly apart, hands in his sides – reminded Olnathron of the old days.
“Look at me,” Haldir demanded. “Before you stands an elf who, by all rights, should be rotting in the foreign ground near Helm’s Deep. The fact that I live and breathe isn’t one I can take credit for, but I do take full responsibility for ending up in that situation in the first place. You could not have persuaded me to stop searching for survivors, Olnathron.”
“Oh, yes, I could have,” Olnathron said grimly. “I would have dragged you to the Keep by your pretty blond hair, if necessary. Could have done it with one hand tied behind my back.”
“Indeed?” Sparks leapt into Haldir’s eyes, sign that Olnathron had said something he shouldn’t have. Slowly Haldir took a step back, assuming a fighting position. “I challenge you to prove it, soldier. Can you overpower your old captain that easily? I think you’ll be disappointed.”
Olnathron met Haldir’s challenging gaze calmly. “I’ll not fight you, Haldir.”
“Yes, you will. For old times’ sake, come on.”
“No.” Olnathron shook his head. “It will prove nothing. You are weak still--”
“But I’m not dead!” The words echoed and bounced against the walls of the abandoned alleyway. Haldir’s face was fierce, and he shoved Olnathron’s shoulder with unexpected force. “I am not dead, damn you, so stop treating me like the first gust of wind will blow me over. If you ever respected me as your captain, ever loved me as a friend, fight me!”
Olnathron had served under the Marchwarden for centuries, had obeyed his every command without question. All that time now took its toll, because his loyalty to his captain prevailed, once again, over his concern for his friend. His arm came up to block the swing Haldir took at him, and another one after that. For a while Haldir was the only one attacking, his frustration lending power to his blows, which Olnathron parried one by one. After a few minutes, however, Olnathron began jabbing as well, enjoying despite himself the familiar sparring with his friend. They had always been evenly matched – Olnathron being the stronger and Haldir the faster one – but today, there was no doubt as to who would come out on top. Already Haldir’s breathing was growing heavy, the delay of his parries becoming noticeable, but there was strength in his body still. That was what he had wanted to prove tonight, to Olnathron as well as to himself.
Olnathron, who had no desire to take his former captain’s dignity, ended the fight by grasping Haldir’s wrists and pressing him into a nearby wall. “Enough. You have made your point. It was your own foolhardiness that got you killed, and I was a fool for letting you persist in your idiocy. Can we at least agree on that?”
Haldir nodded, his breathing erratic. A single tear slipped from his eye and rolled down his cheek, leaving a silvery trail in its wake. “I am Haldir, Marchwarden of Lórien,” he whispered. “And I am not dead. Not dead.”
“No, you are not.” Olnathron sighed, his hands releasing Haldir’s wrists and grasping his shoulders instead. “And I thank the good Lady Elbereth every day for it, my friend. But if you had perished in that godforsaken place, know that the lads and I wouldn’t have left you there to rot in strange soil. We would have brought you home and buried you in Lórien ground. Don’t care if I would’ve had to carry your body every step of the way.”
A second tear rolled down Haldir’s other cheek, following a path symmetrical to the first. He leaned his forehead against Olnathron’s and exhaled a long, deep breath. “Thank you,” he said softly. “Mellon-nîn, thank you.”
Warning: This small story takes place on the Pilgrim timeline and won't make much sense unless you've at least read The Wanderers We Are. Furthermore, the content is quite spoiler heavy, so I beg thee, proceed with caution.
Written for my friend vlredreign.