Walking through the south gate, I was again overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of my surroundings. The trees were larger than anything I’d seen or even imagined.
I strained my ears as we walked, and heard harmonious singing floating down from the trees. Elves dressed in the same sort of uniform as Haldir’s men passed by us on their way out the gate. Ellith also wandered around in groups, draped in fine dresses.
My breathing started to become shallow again as I anxiously looked at all the elves we passed by. They seemed friendly enough, looking our group over curiously as we passed, but I couldn’t shake the phantom ache of fear that coursed through me.
A warm hand suddenly grasped mine, giving me the strength to focus my breathing and concentrate on the present. I glanced up at Legolas’s gentle smile, thankful for the anchor he had provided me.
As Haldir passed by to lead us up the stairs, he paused and glanced down at my hand entwined with Legolas’s, but I couldn’t place the look on his face when he met my eyes. It was curious, but something else too.
I followed the others up a winding set of stairs, my hand in Legolas’s. We passed many flets on either side of the stairs, each softly lit with glowing lamps, but we continued on our way up. When we finally reached the highest talen, I was surprised I wasn’t winded. Or that no one else was either.
A great house stood at one side of the large open talen. Like everything here, it was stately and beautiful, with that same softly glowing light emanating from it. Great ivory colored pillars stood at the edge of the great porch in front of the house. Vines were carved in twining patterns up the pillars. In fact, everywhere I looked, leaves, vines, flowers, and other images of nature and wildlife were capriciously carved into the walls, balustrades, even sporadically carved into the floorboards. The sheer splendor was overwhelming and breathtaking. Then again, I was certain that was part of the goal in the design of their receiving area.
“Bring forth the Fellowship,” a male voice called out, his voice strong and clear.
I looked up to see a tall ellon, regally dressed in flowing silver robes that nearly matched his pale hair. His eyes were focused on the marchwarden at his command, and I could only assume by his stature and commanding presence that this was Lord Celeborn.
Legolas glanced down at our hands, then up to my face. I could see the question and concern in his eyes, so I carefully pulled my hand from his and gestured him forward to the others with my eyes. I may have traveled partway here with the Fellowship, but I wasn’t one of them. Just a stray they’d found and that had tagged along some of the way with them.
The Lord and Lady of Lórien spared a bare glance at where I waited at the back of the platform, but then focused all their attention on the Fellowship.
“I am certain my lord and lady shall speak with you shortly,” Haldir whispered, suddenly appearing beside me with a hand lightly grasping my elbow.
I jumped at his sudden appearance, my focus diverting from the gathering before me to the elf beside me.
“I’m sure they will. I’ve been away for weeks now though, so I’m sure I can wait a little longer. I’m almost more eager for a hot bath at the moment than anything,” I whispered back to him, flicking dried mud from my upper thigh.
He laughed softly in return, and we both returned our focus to the others.
The co-rulers were busy addressing the Fellowship about what happened and inquiring about Gandalf, but having read it in the books, I wasn’t all that interested in a repeat, so I let my attention wander.
Soon, I had absorbed my elaborate and elegant surroundings, and moved on to appraising the gathered elves. I’d stuffed my feelings and emotions deep within myself, and found that I was able to coolly and objectively assess the elves that had escorted us to this talen. Unsurprisingly, they were all tall and gorgeous.
None were as broad as the marchwarden beside me, but I couldn’t help appraising his soldiers’ fine physiques. Most had opened their hooded cloaks, revealing thin shirts that displayed their toned bodies. Not an ounce of fat among them, I thought to myself.
I let myself continue perusing their forms in a detached manner until I realized just how lascivious my thoughts were becoming now that I’d pushed emotion away. Without emotion to cloud my thinking, lust had taken over.
Is it any surprise with the veritable buffet of fine male specimens? Shit, with this array of choices, a woman could fuel fantasies for decades to come, I marveled to myself.
Tinklinglaughter sounded in my mind. I have often considered that our male populace makes quite an impression. Luckily, my own husband quite sustains me.
The words and thoughts suddenly flowing through my mind were starkly different from my own thoughts. For one, they had a unique voice of their own. Feminine. And lovely.
I looked up to see Lady Galadriel watching me intently, a slight smirk tugging at her lips.
Even after a lifetime of listening to the thoughts of others, I was completely shocked at the notion that another being was privy to my thoughts. Stupid—and hypocritical—but the thought had never occurred to me. I’d never come across a telepath before. And even knowing of the powers Galadriel’s ring gave her, I still hadn’t expected my own mind to be breached.
I considered Gandalf, and everything else I knew, and realized I couldn’t allow even the Lady of Light to see my thoughts. However, truthfully, I also loathed the notion of what she might see in my head about myself. Other than me mentally undressing her soldiers that is.
Having never been around another telepath before, I was hesitant about where to start. Finally, I decided that if I could keep stray thoughts from others out of my mind by constructing a barrier around my own thoughts, the same barrier might keep searching minds out too.
I hastily threw the barriers back in place, and shoved the many musical thoughts and voices from my mind.
Galadriel gave a small intake of breath, and took an involuntary half step backwards. Celeborn steadied her by the arm and immediately pinned me with a hard, inquisitive stare.
Looking around, I saw that the Fellowship had started walking back down the stairs, but they—and everyone else—had frozen in place to stare back and forth between Galadriel and me.
“I am fine, my husband,” Galadriel, softly assured Celeborn. “I have simply never felt such a forceful repellant from another’s mind before.” She looked back at me and gave a small smile. “You are certainly a surprising creature.”
I cleared my throat awkwardly. “Sorry. I didn’t know you’d feel it so acutely. I’m just not used to being on the receiving end of mind reading,” I apologized.
Celeborn gestured for the Fellowship to continue on their way, and then motioned me forward. I forced myself to project confidence as I walked towards them. Even if it was a false front.
Haldir matched my steps, watching me from the corner of his eye, somehow both curious and suspicious.
“Why have you come to our lands?” Celeborn asked.
Uncomfortable with, and not knowing how to perform a curtsy, I dipped my head to them politely. “I was hoping that one of you might know how to send me back to my own country,” I explained.
They both stared at me for several long uncomfortable moments. “From where do you hail?” Celeborn finally asked.
I sighed, fearing that my answer would be met with the usual confusion. “Chicago,” I told them.
I wasn’t disappointed. “I have not heard of this land,” Celeborn spoke, looking to his wife.
She shook her head, “Nor have I. However, I have seen your coming of late. Strange are your ways, and strange has been your journey. Given what I have seen, I can agree you are not of these lands, Lady Elaina.”
“Just call me Lane,” I replied, feeling let down. “You know and have seen many things. Is there any way you can see how to send me back where I belong? It was hard enough fitting in back there; I don’t belong anywhere here.”
Celeborn shook his head sadly and once again turned to his wife. After a moment, she thoughtfully spoke, “Give me time and I will see what my mirror shows.”
The Lord of Lórien continued looking intently at Galadriel for several moments more. She laughed, and seemed to be answering an unspoken question, though her eyes never left mine as she spoke. “No. I sensed no evil in the girl. I can sense a haunting darkness, but it does not emanate from her. Her mind is shut to me now, but I do not sense her as being any sort of threat to our people,” she answered, finally looking away from me and back towards her husband.
Something more seemed to pass silently between them, but Celeborn turned and commanded, “For the time being, you will be granted sanctuary within our borders. My lady wife will see if it is indeed possible to return you whence you came. When she is ready, she will call for you to seek her out. You will also answer more of our questions as to how a mortal came into such power as you possess.”
He nodded his head regally, and dismissed me with a flick of his wrist. Haldir lightly touched my elbow and led me back the way we’d come up.
Part of me felt my hackles rise at Celeborn commanding that I’d tell them about my telepathy. In all my life, I’d never spoken to anyone about it. Being telepathic made me enough of a freak growing up, there hadn’t been any sense in talking more about it.
But there was that other part of me—the part that was excited by the prospect of actually talking to someone else cursed with the same affliction. Someone who would understand what it was like, and maybe, even know how to shut it off, or at least control it better.
“What did you do?” Haldir asked suspiciously. “What did you do to make our lady react so strongly?”
I looked up into the accusing eyes of the marchwarden as we wound our way down the huge staircase. I let my fingers trail over the vine carved railing as I considered how best to answer him. An idea came to me, and I said, “I’m a telepath too. I’ve never had someone else look into my own mind, and I guess I pushed her out of my thoughts a bit forcefully. It kinda surprised me I guess.” I’d never told anyone the truth before, and since I would have to tell Galadriel—and likely Celeborn—the truth soon, I decided to experiment with what Haldir’s reaction was.
He almost missed a step in his shock, but regained his footing and asked, “Truly? What a shocking gift for a mortal to possess. Unheard of it is, even for elven kind, save for through a ring of power.”
I snorted, “Believe me, it’s no gift. I’ve learned to use it as a tool, but it’s no gift. And if it were, I’d give it back in a heartbeat. I was just born this way.” I shrugged. “I’ve never known why. I’ve certainly never met or heard of another telepath in my world.”
“Your world?” he repeated.
I kicked myself mentally at my slip. “You didn’t expect someone so strange to actually be from this world, did you?”
“Nay, I suppose not. It would explain much,” he answered, quieting thoughtfully.
“You’re not gonna freak out about all this? That I’m from another world and can hear thoughts?” I wondered.
He laughed. “As I said, being from another world, while strange and farfetched, would explain much about you. And as for hearing my thoughts? I have been the marchwarden of these borders for some time now; I am used to such powers. Nor do I have any thoughts to hide,” he answered with a grin.
We continued down silently again, him still lightly touching my elbow as he escorted me.
Once again, he broke the comfortable silence. “What is it like hearing the thoughts of others? Long have I been curious, but never had the courage to ask our lady.”
I considered that. “Well, it’s not so bad here as it was back in my world. Among you elves especially, it’s actually kinda soothing. I don’t understand your language, so to me, your thoughts are just this soft background noise. Your language is so musical, that it’s surprisingly comforting. In my world, all the thoughts and images were overwhelming. I had to constantly maintain a mental barrier to keep everyone’s thoughts out.”
“Images?” he asked in surprise.
“Well, most people, humans anyway, think quite heavily in images along with their words. It’s part of the reason you elves aren’t so bad to have to listen to. Your thoughts are mostly verbal, with very little imagery. Like I said, they’re actually kinda soothing.”
“I would think such a power would be quite useful,” he pondered, and I knew he was thinking of all the military applications for it.
“Don’t get me wrong, it was very useful in my military career, and as a cop, but growing up was a nightmare. Everyone, my father included, thought I was an imbecile, or mentally retarded because I could never focus on anything. It was impossible to hear what they were saying with their mouths when I was overwhelmed by the thoughts of everyone around me. It wasn’t until I learned to start shutting the thoughts out that I finally knew some sanity.”
“I understand being a soldier, but how did you come to be one as a woman, and what is a ‘cop’?” he asked.
As we slowly strolled downward, I briefly explained how I’d become a Marine and then a cop, trying to explain the duties of each.
I was surprised at how easily elves seemed to accept the idea of a woman having weapons training, while the men here found the idea so abhorrent. At least they did initially; I think they had slowly grown used to the idea. The elves—at least Haldir and Legolas—were surprised by my chosen professions, but quickly accepted it.
Haldir stopped at a platform near the ground and started leading me across it. I stopped and looked at him questioningly.
“A room has been prepared for you in a talen near the ground. We thought you would be more comfortable there than in a talen higher in the trees,” he explained.
I knew the Fellowship would be staying in tents at the base of one if the great trees and that my being given an actual room was in light of my gender. I could appreciate the gesture, but even if I was forcing myself to be calm around elves, I wasn’t sure I was actually ready to be isolated amongst them. And it wasn’t as if I hadn’t slept in many a tent before.
“If it’s no trouble, I think I’d be more comfortable near my companions,” I told him. I wasn’t part of the Fellowship, true, but after traveling with them as I had, I couldn’t deny the comfort of familiarity with their group.
Haldir looked at me curiously, and then stopped an ellon hurrying by. They spoke for a moment more before Haldir turned back to me as the other elf scurried off. This time, he held his elbow out to me, and I obligingly grasped the crook of his elbow with one hand and a resigned sigh. It was strange to me, this sort of propriety where a woman had to be escorted about, but seeing as I didn’t know where I was going anyway, I ignored my discomfort with it.
“Come,” he told me. “I have requested another tent be erected for your use, but I seem to remember you speaking of your need to bathe. I will show you the way to one of our heated pools.”
All discomfort fled, and I eagerly followed him towards the promise of heated water and finally, clean skin.
Soon he led me to an isolated area, naturally blocked from view by rising hills behind and trees in front. I could see a well-traveled path winding between the trees, and knew it had to lead to my promised bath.
“Everything you require should be available within,” Haldir explained, gesturing to the path. “You will be escorted to your tent when you are through.”
I nodded and released his elbow, eagerly starting forward. For weeks I’d made do with the quick baths and rinsing off in cold streams, and while I’d certainly gone longer without a bath, that didn’t mean I’d enjoyed it.
The path twisted and wound its way through several bends and around several great trees, making a natural privacy barrier no one from the outside could see past without entering through the same path as well. As I came around the last bend, I was treated with the sight of warm, steaming water.
The spring wasn’t overly large, but big enough for a single person to leisurely swim in. Oval for the most part in shape, and spanning fifteen feet long by over twenty feet wide. Large enough, even a few people could carefully swim about in it.
I crossed to the edge, and knelt on the edge of its rock wall, carefully testing the water with my hand. It was warm to the touch, but not as hot as I’d expected. The cool air merely making the steam thicker and making it appear hotter.
Standing, I eagerly shed my clothes and laid my guns aside, then slipped into the water. The water was clear, but deceptive in its depth. What had only seemed like five or six feet deep water, turned out to be easily double that. I held my breath and swam to the bottom, exploring the water-smoothed rocks below and the warm water and air escaping between their crevices.
When I broke the surface a minute or so later, I let out a gasp to see an elleth kneeling near the water’s edge.
She looked down, flustered by my reaction as I treaded water. “Forgive me,” she replied softly in an accented voice. “It was not my intent to startle you. I am to be your lady’s maid and assist you in any fashion you require.”
I continued treading water as I studied the girl. She was probably older than I was, but somehow, her easy embarrassment, and yet eagerness to serve me seemed very youthful. She was somewhat plain for the elves I’d seen thus far, but the kindness and naïveté in her expression gave her a humble beauty. Like every other elf I’d seen here, she was blond, but it was lightly streaked with darker hair, almost making it a dirty blond. But she wore it well, its gloss and simple braids at her temples adding to her humble beauty.
“You’re to be my lady’s maid?” I repeated.
“Yes, miss,” she answered, still looking down at the rock she knelt on. “I have brought you soaps and oils for your bath, and will send your clothes for washing. I have also brought you fresh clothes to dress in once you are finished.”
“Thank you,” I told her in surprise. “That’s very kind of you. I would have been happy with just the warm water to bathe in. This is wonderful,” I exclaimed, swimming closer to examine the jars she had laid out.
She looked up in surprise at my words, and eagerly explained the purposes of the various soaps and oils she’d laid out.
I swam for a while longer, lathering the soaps in my hair and scrubbing my body repeatedly. Trails of embedded dirt floated away from me. Thankfully, I was in a big open pool. It was also a blessing to actually have soaps to lift the grim away. Dips in cold streams just didn’t cut through the grim.
Looking up, I saw the girl picking up my clothes. I darted through the water towards her. “You can take the clothes, but leave my guns,” I told her.
She looked up in surprise at my sudden movement. Her face was puzzled and she shook her head. I balanced on the edge of the pool and pulled my guns and their holsters closer, along with my pants and my pack. Pulling everything off my belt, and emptying my pockets, I stowed everything in my pack. Which was actually Aragorn’s pack I reminded myself, and I needed to return to him when I could.
“There,” I said, pushing the clothes back towards her. “You can take them now. Just leave the pack here.”
“Yes, Lady Elaina,” she said, dipping a quick curtsy and gathering the clothes.
“Just Lane,” I corrected. When she started to sputter an argument, I let one brow rise in challenge. “I’m requesting you call me simply Lane. Nothing else.”
“Of course,” she demurred with another dip. She disappeared around the corner with my clothes and I could hear her instructing someone. The words meant nothing to me though, so I lazily swam backwards into the center of the pool.
“What’s your name?” I asked when she came back into view.
“I am named Andreth,” she quietly answered.
“A beautiful name,” I replied.
I continued swimming for a while, enjoying the soothing warm water—and also the soothing voice of Andreth, who had knelt near the water’s edge again and started singing softly.
“You wouldn’t happen to have a razor, would you?” I asked Andreth as I swam closer to her again.
“A razor?” she repeated in surprise.
I balanced my heel out of the water on the edge of the pool, pointing out the stubble on my shin. “Yeah, something that I can shave this hair away with.”
She started to reach out to touch my leg, a fascinated look on her face, but then she blushed and dropped her hand as though she’d done something wrong.
“I take it ellith don’t have hair on their legs,” I grinned.
“No. We do not, but I think I know of something that might work for your purposes,” she answered, looking relieved not to be reprimanded.
She leapt to her feet, and scurried over to a small shed I hadn’t paid much attention to. She came back out moments later with a basket in her arms. Kneeling beside me once again, she surprised me by pulling out an old-fashioned straight razor. At least it was old-fashioned in my world.
“I was told this is used by men to shave the hair on their faces, but perhaps it is for women too,” she eagerly explained. “Long it has been since any but a rare few of the race of man have traveled hither.”
“That should work well enough,” I smiled. “I’ve never used one before, but I’ve been desperate enough to use a knife before, and this can’t be any worse.”
I used my arms to pull myself from the pool, and sat on the edge of the cool rock, letting my legs dangle in the water.
Andreth jumped up again, and returned holding out a large sheet for me to wrap around myself. I was pleasantly surprised to find it was pre-warmed as well.
Pulling the basket closer, I looked inside and found a cake of soap in a dish, and a horsehair brush to lather it with.
Andreth watched in fascination as I lathered the soap on my legs, and then carefully slid the straight razor across them, trying not to cut myself.
Her eyes trailed from what I was doing every so often to linger on my back. The sheet mostly covered it now, and years in the military had taken away any sort of modesty I might have once had, so I wasn’t embarrassed by her curious looks or that she had seen me naked, but I was uncomfortable knowing just what her eyes were lingering on.
“I was a soldier among my people,” I explained to her forgoing the explanation of a Marine. She nodded but didn’t comment. “Once, I was captured and held as a prisoner of war. The scars are from that time.”
Her hands flew to her mouth and she looked horrified.
I turned away and focused on what I was doing. “It’s not a big deal. It could have been a lot worse, and would have been worse if I’d been a man. Women weren’t worth as much as men in their eyes, so they didn’t put the same kinds of efforts into torturing me as they did to other men.”
Mostly, I had been left in solitary, not seeing or speaking to another soul for months at a time—a more than effective means of torture actually. The scars were from where my “interrogators” had been over zealous in applying the electric prods and had actually left burns. If they were used “correctly,” they weren’t supposed to leave any marks at all.
“I was lucky. The worst of my scars to mark my two years there are mostly unseen on my back,” I replied briskly, determined not to let those thoughts dampen my mood. And there were other scars too, but ones best not dwelt on.
I swirled my legs in the pool to rinse them off. Somehow, being able to shave my legs finally made me feel truly clean. I was clean, my legs were shaved, and I’d soon have clean clothes. What more can a girl ask for?
“So, what have you got for me to wear?” I asked, maintaining my brisk manner.
She pulled a tangle of dark blue cloth into her lap and proudly held it up to me.
“A dress?” I groaned when I saw it fall into shape.
Her face fell and I instantly regretted my tone. “Have I done wrong? I saw you wore trousers before, but I assumed it was for the ease of travel.”
“Well, it is for easier traveling, but where I’m from, women almost always wear pants. It’s far more comfortable,” I explained. “I’m not even sure when I last wore a dress,” I muttered.
Seeing her indecision, and knowing there wasn’t likely anything else available, I held out my hands, “It’ll be fine, Andreth. Thank you.”
With the help of Andreth, I pulled on the underskirts and then the dress itself. Andreth even helped pull the laces of the bodice tight for me.
It was a beautiful dress. There was no arguing there. It was trimmed and embroidered with a shimmering pale blue to offset the dark blue. The sleeves were long and fitted; even the bodice seemed fitted to me. I loosely tied the corded belt at my waist and slipped on the matching shoes, which seemed to me more like slippers.
Andreth wanted to do something with my hair, but I declined, pulling it back into a simple braid. If I was going to have to wear a dress, I would keep something simple.
Carrying my pack, I started back out the way I’d come, careful to lift the hem of my long skirt so I wouldn’t trip, and laughing to myself at Andreth following close behind and fretting that I wouldn’t allow her to carry the pack.
“Did you enjoy your bath?” Haldir asked, causally reclining against the roots of the Mallorn I came around.
“Haldir!” I exclaimed, startled. “I wasn’t expecting you to still be here.” I had assumed Andreth would be escorting me to my tent.
He spoke quietly to Andreth in elvish, and she hurried off, her head bowed low.
“I thought to escort you myself, so long as you do not object,” he said, offering his elbow again. I took it and walked along with him. “Your appearance is quite different,” he commented.
I grimaced. “Yeah, I don’t wear dresses often; makes me feel like a lesbian or a drag queen.”
He looked down at me, confusion clearly written on his face, but I waved it away. I had to keep reminding myself that slang and colloquialisms from my world weren’t understood here. I wondered if it seemed to them that I was speaking a foreign language altogether when I said something like that.
“The color is quite becoming on you,” he replied.
“Thanks,” I drew out, not knowing how to reply.
We walked in silence, and soon he had led me to a small grouping of tents. Turning to me, he bowed low and pressed a gentle kiss to my hand.
“I hope to see you again while I am still in the city,” he said, and quickly turned on his heel.
I looked up to see Legolas watching me. His face was devoid of all emotion.
The hobbits were between us, facing towards Legolas, and seemed to be discussing Gandalf’s fireworks. I listened carefully and realized the elvish singing I was hearing was likely the lament for Gandalf.
When Legolas remained unmoving, the hobbits turned around to see what held his attention.
“Wow!” Pippin exclaimed. “You look like a girl now.”
“Ugh, thanks, Pip,” I murmured. I stepped closer, my eyes darting away from them. “So, you guys know which tent is mine?”
Legolas finally moved, stepping around the four gaping hobbits. “It is this tent,” he said, gesturing to one if the largest tents.
I walked over to it, aware of Legolas following behind me.
He spoke as I turned towards him. “You seemed quite comfortable in the marchwarden’s presence.”
My head tilted. “I know I overreacted before when we met those elves on the border, but I’m trying not to allow my fear to rule me. Haldir’s been nothing but friendly to me. Why would I continue fearing him?”
He shook his head, started to say something, and then seemed to change his mind. “Your appearance is very different,” he whispered.
I looked down and smoothed my skirt. “Yeah. So everyone says. I hardly ever wear dresses.”
I drew back the flap of my tent. “Well, goodnight Legolas.”
“Goodnight Elaina,” he called after me.
Closing the tent flap, I shut out the world.
I startled awake the next morning at the sound of my tent flap rustling. My hand slid under my pillow, fingering the butt of my Glock.
Sighing, I sat up and left my pistol hidden when I saw the elleth cautiously entering my tent. “What are you doing here so early, Andreth?” The sun was barely casting a grayish light in the tent.
“I am so sorry, miss. I did not think I would wake you. My intent was only to bring you a few things and check your measurements before you woke,” she whispered, her eyes staring at the ground. An air of embarrassment and self-reprisal hung around the humble girl.
I sighed and rose from my cot, crossing to where she stood just inside my tent balancing a basket in one arm and a heavy tray with the other. Taking the tray from her, I lifted her chin with my fingertips. “Don’t mind my bluster. I’m gruff and blunt, and I often act without thinking, but I definitely don’t mean to aim any of it at you.” I set the tray down on the small table in the corner and looked it over. It was heavily laden with various fruits, breads, and nuts, along with a teapot.
I waved Andreth over. “Set that basket down and come join me.”
“I cannot,” she immediately replied, looking sandaled.
“Have you eaten yet yourself?” She started to reply that she had, but I cut her off, “Now, don’t lie. I always know when people are lying to me. Just come join me. What’ll it hurt?”
She set the basket down near my cot and I poured her some tea, pulling out one of the small benches at the table. Cautiously she sat beside me, and I grabbed a variety of foods to put on a plate for her.
“Eat,” I commanded, fixing myself a plate and a cup of tea—heavy on the sugar. Coffee would have been my drink of preference, but not even the hobbits or Aragorn seemed to know what it was, so I’d have to make do with tea for my caffeine fix.
“I have never eaten with a lady before,” Andreth whispered as she stared at her plate.
I turned sideways, drawing one leg up on the bench and wrapping my arm around it as I faced the girl. “Neither have I,” I grinned. “I’m certainly no lady. I realize I’m going to need your help finding my way around here and learning how things work in your city, but I’d rather have your help as a friend, not my lady’s maid. I’m still not even sure what that is, but I don’t think I need a lady’s maid to serve me.”
“You wish me to be your friend?” she asked in shock. “You who has traveled great distances and traversed the wilds in such great company?”
I hid my expression behind my cup and tried valiantly to swallow my mouthful of tea without chocking on a laugh. Clearing my throat, I responded, “I’m just a girl lost in your city. I’d love to have your friendship and any help you can give me.”
Suddenly, she was grinning and hopped up from her bench. “Certainly I shall help you in any way I can.” She rummaged through the basket she’d brought, and pulled out another tangle of dark brown fabric. I suppressed a groan, anticipating another swathy dress.
“You told that women of your world do not often wear dresses in favor of trousers, so I found some trousers close to your size and altered them,” she said, proudly holding up a pair of pants.
I took them from her hands. “Oh, I could kiss you, Andreth! These are fantastic. Thank you so much,” I enthused.
Andreth blushed. “They still need to be adjusted some, but I hoped you would be more comfortable in them.” She reached into the basket again and withdrew a tall pair of dark brown leather boots. “I assumed these would be a good addition to the trousers.”
I took them as well and held the bottom of my foot up to the sole. “Looks perfect. This really is wonderful, thank you again, Andreth.”
She beamed happily and took the pants back from me. Looking at me for a moment, she sat back down at the bench and began sewing on the hems with needle and thread she somehow produced from thin air.
Laughing, I told her, “You still have to eat.”
She grinned and popped a piece of fruit in her mouth as she worked.
I leaned back and continued to pick at my food and nurse my tea as I watched. Sewing—outside of a bleeding wound—had never been in my purview, so her fingers flying with that needle was nothing short of amazing to me.
“Why do you watch me so?” she asked sheepishly as she finished one pair of pants and started on another pair from the basket.
“Anyone who can sew or make clothes is amazing in my opinion.”
“You cannot sew?” she repeated incredulously.
I decided to forgo the complicated explanation of factory-produced clothing. “Nope. My pursuits were more in the male arena. Learning how to be a soldier and such.”
“Ahh, I understand. Then you are in need of a lady’s maid to help you with such tasks,” she admonished triumphantly.
“I’d rather have a friend,” I laughed, surprised that I truly meant it.
Andreth blushed again at my words, turning back to her sewing, but she did seem to relax and ate more fruit as she worked.
I continued sipping my tea and considered the last female friend I’d ever had. She’d been my first female friend too.
Sara had been dating one of the guys in my unit when I met her, but we’d quickly struck up a friendship. She was the daughter of a career Marine, and jumped from Marine to Marine. We’d had a lot in common though. We were both crass and could outcuss a sailor. But she was happy being just the girlfriend of one of the guys. I liked being one of the guys. Still, we’d gotten along well. Never asked about each other’s pasts or families, but we could get together, drink, and have one hell of a time.
At least until she started sleeping with my husband while I was stationed overseas.
I looked back up at Andreth. I didn’t know any more about her past than I had about Sara’s, but I already knew this girl was kinder and gentler than Sara had been. More genuine too.
Taking the first pair of pants Andreth had finished, I pulled them on underneath the long sleeping gown the young elf had left for me to wear last night. I was surprised to see that the cuff of the pant leg stopped at the middle of my calf, but then, Andreth held a pair of heavy socks out to me, and I realized between the tall socks, and the tall boots, they’d overlap my pants and more than cover my leg. In fact, the boots nearly reached my knees, but the leather was soft and supple, seeming to give me plenty of range of motion.
“Here,” Andreth told me, reaching into her magic basket, and producing more delights, “I already altered some shirts and a few jerkins for your use as well. I would have altered the trousers already, but I was unsure of the length.”
I peered into her basket. “You wouldn’t happen to have any bras in there would you?” the underwear she’d provided was slightly bigger than the boy shorts I normally wore, but it was something.
“‘Bra?'” She repeated.
I found my old clothes in the basket and held out my sports bra for her to see. “Without the bodice of a dress to offer support, women where I’m from have devised these,” I explained.
There was no embarrassment, only fascination as she studied my bra. “I had wondered at its purpose,” she thoughtfully replied. “I can fashion you more of these.”
I kissed her on the forehead. “You’re a lifesaver.” I grabbed some extra strips of fabric from the bottom of her basket. “Until you can duplicate that one, I’ll just bind my chest.”
She continued to curiously watch me as I wrapped the fabric around my chest and tied everything in place. “Ellith don’t have to worry about this, do they?” I asked, noticing that she, like the other elves I’d seen, were smaller in the chest.
I wasn’t a double d by any means, but I wasn’t about to go wandering around without some kind of support.
“Nay, I had not thought of the issue of not having a bodice under these shirts. As you say, ellith are built smaller. I have never known a woman before, are they all built as you?”
This time I did laugh. “No. Humans tend to vary greatly. Some have smaller breast like ellith, others are quite a bit more endowed than I am.”
Her eyes got big, and she returned to her sewing, shaking her head.
“How is it you speak Westron so well?” I asked.
She looked embarrassed. “I have longed to travel beyond our borders, so I have studied the language for many years. When your party entered our city, I begged for the opportunity to serve you.”
I finished dressing while shaking my head. I wasn’t sure that I was all that exciting, but to each his or her own.
Having horrible visions in my mind of some poor elf finding my pistols and shooting themselves in the foot, I decided I couldn’t leave my guns here, so I slid both holsters on my belt and stowed the extra clips there too.
When I was finished dressing, I walked out to the center of our campsite. The other tents nearby seemed to be open and empty, but the area was mostly deserted. Only Boromir sat near the base of a nearby tree.
“Where’d everybody disappear to so early?” I asked him.
He shrugged. “The hobbits and Gimli have gone exploring I believe. Aragorn has gone to visit elves he knows.”
I looked around. “What about Legolas?”
“I’m not the elf’s keeper,” he grumbled.
I sighed. I wanted to be able to help Boromir, but even if I sat and talked myself blue, he wouldn’t be any more comfortable in Lórien.
Andreth had followed me from my tent, so I turned to her. “Would you mind showing me around?” I asked the elleth.
For the rest of the day, I followed the elleth around as she showed me the most highly traveled parts of the city. At times, it was overwhelming being around so many unknown elves. Elves that still looked so much like fairies, but I would distract myself in conversation with Andreth, and the feeling would pass.
Eventually, I heard the clashes of swords, and asked her to detour us in that direction. It turned out to be the training grounds. The elleth and I soon found ourselves sitting on a gentle slope, enjoying the show of ellyn training. Haldir was among them, and was truly impressive with a blade.
Soon, he noticed our presence, and came to stand before us.
“Good afternoon,” he greeted us with a bow. “Have you been enjoying yourself?”
“It’s been interesting touring your city,” I replied.
“I regret that I could not have the honor of showing you about myself,” Haldir added.
I looked at him curiously, but not knowing where he was coming from, chose to ignore his words. “Your soldiers are impressive with their weapons,” I said instead, gesturing to his men sword fighting and shooting targets with bow and arrows.
“Would you care to join them in practicing with sword or bow?” he asked.
I patted my hips. “Sorry. Fresh out of swords or bows.”
“I am certain we can remedy that,” he answered, holding out his hand.
I took it and let him pull me up, too eager at the thought of learning to handle a sword better. “I’d love to borrow one if it’s possible, but I’m still learning to use a sword and I’ve never held a bow before. My people used other weapons,” I admitted.
He looked surprised as he easily pulled me to my feet. Tucking my hand under his arm, he began leading me away. I looked over my shoulder, but Andreth remained sitting on the hillside, smiling and waving me away.
“I can help to further your learning with a sword if you would wish it. I can also begin teaching you to wield a bow if you wish. I have taught many a soldier before,” he offered.
“I’d love that. It would be great.”
We walked to a rectangular wood building near the edge of the training grounds. Going inside, Haldir showed me an impressive display of any kind of blade or bow I could think of and many I’d never imagined. I fingered a display of swords similar to the long curved blade the marchwarden carried. He picked one up and held it out to me.
“Try this one. It is shorter than my own, and should suit your stature more appropriately.”
I held the handle, and let the blade swing from side to side, testing its heft. It was considerably easier to handle than Boromir’s heavy broadsword had been. The handle wasn’t as long as Haldir’s but still plenty long enough for a comfortable two-handed grip, yet light enough to swing with one hand.
“I like it,” I told him.
I looked up to see him looking at me, his gaze inscrutable. “You were lovely in the dress, but I must admit, I like you better like this. You look more comfortable, and more … you.”
I glanced down at my dark brown pants, dark green sleeveless jerkin, and ivory linen shirt. They were simple clothes, nothing special, but—”I am more comfortable.” I agreed. Once again, I didn’t know how to answer the rest of his words.
Haldir smiled and turned back to the table near the wall. He handed me a scabbard and helped me situate it around my waist without another word.
Standing before the wall of bows, I was completely lost.
“I don’t have a clue here,” I told him.
He looked them over and handed me a simple curved wood bow. “This should do nicely for learning purposes. The tension on the bow is lighter, so an arrow won’t fly as far nor as strongly, but it should be of greater ease to learn with.”
I nodded. “You know more than me.”
He took me over to another bin next, and helped me pick out all the necessary leather bracers and leather protective gear.
As we were walking back out of the weapons shed, I couldn’t help but ask, “Why are you helping me with all this and providing me with this stuff?”
He smiled kindly at me, it was almost a brotherly smile, not that I’d ever had a brother. “These are dark days we live in. It seems wise to see that you are fitted with the appropriate tools to defend yourself and fight should the need arise.”
“You hardly know me, and yet you trust me to just give me weapons?”
“Our lord and lady have said that you pose my people no harm. Indeed she has said that you are to be treated as an honored guest along with the Fellowship and given anything you require.” He paused, searching for words. “I can tell you have the heart of a warrior and I deem that what you require most are the tools of a warrior.”
Once more not knowing how to respond, I shook my head and started walking again.
Haldir proved to indeed be a good teacher, but nothing like Aragorn and Boromir had been. His humor and good nature were infectious. I laughed along with him every time he told jokes as he danced around me. His countenance was far different from the somber and serious marchwarden that lead us from the borders, but I enjoyed that easy attitude. I knew all too well what it was like to constantly put up a strong, serious front when working and how much of a relief it was to be able to let it all go and relax.
The marchwarden danced away, easily parrying my attack and laughing as he twisted to get behind me. Sparring with the elf was infinitely harder than sparring with the men had been. As I had expected, he was far faster than a human, but being older than dirt on top of it, meant that he’d had a bit of practice too.
I was trying to keep from throwing any martial arts into the mix, wanting to learn how to wield a sword as they did in this world, but it was getting frustrating having Haldir so easily knock my blade away every time I attacked.
Having been a soldier and cop for so long meant I didn’t like losing. Hell, I had never liked losing, and that was why I became a cop and soldier.
“You must not tell your opponent with your body which direction you are going to move in,” Haldir chuckled as I heaved an angry strike at him.
I was sweating and refreshingly tired from sparring with Haldir. I enjoyed pushing myself, and Haldir didn’t take it easy on me because I was a woman. He continued to push me.
But the drive to win flared in me again as he chuckled and evaded my overhand swing. When Haldir stepped towards me, I spun towards him, turning close to his body, parrying his sword and hooking one leg behind his as I pushed at him with my free hand and knocked him off balance.
The quick reflexes of elves surprised me though. He grabbed at my shoulder to stop himself from falling, and instead pulled me down with him.
The marchwarden landed on his back with a grunt, pulling me down on top of him.
He stared up at me in surprise. Haldir had dropped his sword as he grabbed at me, but I still had my sword. Looking down at where I straddled his torso, I grinned, “Guess this means I win since I have the upper hand.”
He chuckled as he looked up at me. “I surrender. However, I wouldn’t count on winning in this manner when fighting orcs.”
I looked up to see many of the nearest soldiers had stopped their sparring and were chuckling at their marchwarden’s loss. Glancing across to where the archers were shooting, I saw Legolas staring at us. I couldn’t read his expression, but he was frowning.
I leapt to my feet, and offered Haldir a hand up. Pulling him to his feet again, I looked back towards the archer’s field, but Legolas had disappeared.
“Is that the manner in which your people fight?” Haldir asked, dusting himself off and picking up his sword.
Dusting off my own shins, I said, “One way. Marines are taught martial arts in addition to normal weapons training. It’s a style of fighting with just your hands and body,” I simplified.
“You shall have to teach me.”
“I’d be glad to teach you a bit in exchange for teaching me,” I happily told him.
The next several days fell into an easy pattern. Although there was always a table of food available for the Fellowship near our tents, Andreth continued to bring a tray of food to my tent for breakfast. Soon she was even comfortably and happily eating breakfast with me.
The second day of my stay in Lórien, she brought me to visit with some of her sisters and cousins as they sat and visited. The ellith had all gathered around to gossip about the goings on of the city, but being a stranger—and most of the ellith being unable to speak Westron—it wasn’t too enjoyable on my part.
The ellith were friendly enough and certainly curious about me, but it was apparent how very different we were. Andreth was mortified when her bold older sister asked if I traveled with men to share their beds for pay. Being a female Marine in the Middle East meant the locals had called me a lot worse than whore or prostitute. Yet it was a reminder that a lone woman in this world was an anomaly.
Though Andreth had been horrified by her sister’s question, it wasn’t for that reason that I didn’t join her again. Oddly enough, it was because of how out of place I felt by being unable to join their activities. As they gathered around to talk, they would all sit and sew, or crochet, or knit. None of which I knew how to do. It made me feel strangely useless to sit back and watch them create beautiful things.
So instead, when Andreth joined her relatives for the morning, I would either wander about the city, or more often play with the elflings. Having never played with other children growing up because of my telepathy, I was thrilled with being able to simply play with the kids now. And of course, they loved having a grown-up actually want to play with them. Though it struck me funny that for all I knew, most of those elflings could have been older than me. I liked playing with the children. I didn’t have to have any special skill-set there. Playing with them, I didn’t feel useless.
The afternoons I had, I would spend sparing with Haldir. My swordsmanship was improving, but learning the bow was becoming a real struggle. I had assumed that being skilled with a sniper rifle, I’d be able to pick up the bow easily, but the aim and stance for a rifle were far different from the bow, and it was hard retraining my body.
I occasionally saw Aragorn, but he mostly walked alone through the city, lost in his own private thoughts and memories. The hobbits and even Gimli occasionally joined me in playing with the elflings, but Boromir was determined to sit alone near our campsite and sulk. And I wasn’t willing to try forcing him out of his dark funk.
Legolas was rarely in camp, and I only saw him from distances. He always seemed to be leaving camp as I was coming back and vice-versa.
But time passed with relative ease and happiness. There had been no word yet from Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel, but after only a little over a week in Lothlórien, I wasn’t in too much of a rush yet. Truth was, I was enjoying myself.
For the first time in my life, things were easy. I didn’t have anywhere I had to be or anything I had to do. I didn’t even have to struggle for food or money for food as I had when I was a kid and had run away from my father.
There were no demands of me, no one hunting me, and no expectations of me.
It was easy.
It was almost paradise.