It had been over a week spent in peace and comfort in Lothlórien. Most nights I even slept nearly through the night. The physical exhaustion of sparring with Haldir did wonders to ensure I slept with very few interrupting nightmares. Still, it didn’t stop them all, and on nights I couldn’t sleep, I wandered about or even sat and stargazed.
We learned to read the stars in the Marines. They were handy for navigating if you had to go low-tech for some reason and didn’t even have a map or couldn’t rely on one. The stars here, they looked—similar to the constellations of my own world. A little different—just enough so that I couldn’t decide if I was in some different world or merely transported back in time.
Maybe it was like those stories and movies where this was an alternate dimension to my own world.
I could never decide. However, looking at those stars, I knew the particular answer didn’t really matter. I was here and that was what mattered. Looking at the vast canvas of space, I knew that the whys of the universe would always escape me. The consequences were the only things that I could deal with.
Looking at the stars and smoking a cigarillo always made me feel philosophical. Something about feeling so small somehow gave a person the power to ponder the universe.
I heard elvish thoughts coming closer, and I was surprised when I realized I recognized the feel of the thoughts. Even in a city of elves, I could pick out this particular elf’s thoughts. Hearing a soft rustle of leaves, I looked to my right from where I was reclining between the great roots of a mallorn tree. Legolas stood in profile to me, gazing at the same stars I was enjoying. The view really was spectacular. It was a ways from our tents, but one of the few places the trees thinned enough to afford a view of the sky and stars.
Legolas stood silently gazing at those twinkling lights, and I took the opportunity to observe him unnoticed. He had foregone his normal fully dressed manner, wearing his leggings, boots, and only a loose shirt, untucked, and only partially buttoned. He crossed his arms, and leaned against the edge of the mallorn I was reclining against, although a good dozen feet separated us.
The wind shifted and carried the smoke hanging in the air around me towards the elf. His head immediately turned towards me in surprise as he smelled it.
“Evening,” I commented.
“Care to join me?” I asked, patting the ground beside me.
He looked indecisive and glanced back the way he’d come.
“I promise not to bite,” I laughed.
He only looked confused for a second, and then he laughed and walked over to settle beside me.
“I’ve hardly seen you since we got here,” I casually commented, continuing to smoke.
“You have been busy,” he returned, glancing at my cigarillo.
I pulled it away from my lips. “Sorry. The smoke probably bothers you.” I crushed the end on my boot heel and set it aside, sliding my cigarillo case and lighter into the top of my tall boot. Haldir had explained that elves had heightened and sensitive senses.
“Nay, it is not bothersome. It is a natural smell, not unlike wood smoke, and far sweeter in smell than the pipe smoke of Estel’s.”
I shrugged. I’d been down to smoking the butt anyway, and no sense lighting another since I was trying to stretch them out and save them.
The silence lapsed again.
“You’ve been busy, too,” I finally told him in answer to his last comment.
He nodded, but continued looking up at the stars. “I have been visiting old acquaintances of my father’s. Not many from the other elven havens have been able to journey to Mirkwood in these dark days.”
“And you’ve been avoiding me,” I threw out, looking back up at the stars.
His head jerked to look at me. “I have not been avoiding you,” he denied.
“Yes you have. You’re always leaving when I’m coming back from somewhere.”
He let out a deep sigh. “You have been making friends amongst the Galadhrim; I did not wish to hinder you. It eases my heart to see you forgetting your fear of my kindred.”
I laughed. “I wouldn’t say I’ve forgotten it, but I’m trying to diminish it. But just because I’ve been spending time with Andreth doesn’t mean I can’t spend time with you, too.”
“You have also shared a good deal of your time with the marchwarden.”
I looked at him curiously. “So? Haldir’s been teaching me to use a sword and bow.”
He opened his mouth to speak, but closed it and fell silent. As the quiet stretched, we both continued our stargazing.
“How did you know I was there? Elves make very little sound.” I shrugged at his question. “Did you hear my thoughts?” he continued.
My head snapped around. “What?” I gasped. I started to deny it, but knew by his expression that he was certain about what I could do. “How did you know?” I asked instead.
“I heard you speaking with Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel after we arrived. Elves have heightened hearing, so I unintentionally overheard your conversation of your telepathy,” he explained.
“Oh. And? You’re not pissed off with me?”
“Why should I be?” he asked in surprise. “I wish you had told me yourself, but I know you are slow to give your trust. I am willing to wait.”
I didn’t comment and we lapsed into comfortable silence again.
“You could not sleep,” he suddenly stated. “Your sleep has not been so troubled since we reached Lórien. What keeps you from your rest this night?”
“Old dreams,” I waved him off.
“Of what do you dream?”
I drew my legs up and crossed my arms over my knees. “It doesn’t matter. Just old dreams. They come less and less frequently as time passes. Maybe someday they’ll stop altogether,” I assured him. Though I doubted it.
“Yet these dreams do persist. Perhaps if you shared your burdens, the weight of them would be lessened by the sharing,” he insisted.
I kept silent. He grasped my hand and tugged it down between us, holding it between both of his. “Tell me,” he said, his voice and eyes pleading.
“Alright,” I sighed. I turned my hand over in his, drawing circles in his upturned palm, and focusing on his hands instead of looking into his face.
“Sometimes—sometimes I dream that I’m still in North Korea. Still stuck in my hole in that dark cave. A hole barely ten feet across and twelve feet deep. The things they did to me—they were horrible—but nothing I couldn’t withstand. I was a woman, not worth the kinds of torture they reserved for men, so it really wasn’t so bad, nothing I hadn’t been taught to prepare for and endure as a soldier—but it was the isolation I wasn’t prepared for. They never tell you that being kept in isolation is the harshest kind of torture there is.
“They’d try interrogating me for a few days, and when I wouldn’t break, they’d shove me back in that cave for months and months at a time. The threat of going back to that cave was almost enough to make me tell them everything and anything they wanted to know. But I swore an oath, as a Marine, I swore never to give away my country’s secrets, and I keep my word. So back to my cave they’d take me.
“It would be days, even weeks sometimes before they’d drop more stale bread or rancid meat into my hole, and they’d never say a word to me. I was terrified by the thought that they’d forget me. That I’d stay in that dark hole until I starved, rotted, and died.” I shook my head as I remembered the pathetic state I’d been reduced to.
“Physical torture would have been better. It was better. At least then, I knew I hadn’t been forgotten. I had someone to fight. A purpose for survival—even if it was just fighting them to beat them by not breaking. When I was in my cave—there was nothing and no one. No one but my mind, and I couldn’t even trust it after a while.
“I started imagining things. Imagining that I could hear voices in the stream that trickled through my cave and under the rocks. Think that it was alive and talking to me, if only I could listen closely enough to make out the words. There was only a little residual light that filtered down to my hole, but with it, I could just make out the spiders and rats crawling around and into my little cavern. I liked the spiders the best. I would sit for days and watch them spin their webs. No two webs are ever alike you know, and it’s terrifying and pathetic that I know that,” I laughed bitterly. I felt tears stinging my eyes and I angrily jabbed them away with my free hand. I hadn’t even noticed when my right hand had fallen still nor when Legolas had grasped it tightly again between his own.
“After I escaped, and was back in the States, I would wake up in the dead of night in these panics, afraid that I was still in my hole. I’d panic in the dark and think I was still in that cave and escaping had only been a dream—something my crazy mind had made up to help me deal with my reality.” I let out a derisive laugh. “It got to where I couldn’t sleep without a light on, like some kind of child afraid of the dark. Pathetic.”
I took a few deep breaths to steady my breathing. “I was only stuck in that prison for a little over two years, and I was a basket case by the time I escaped. Some soldiers have been stuck in POW camps for far longer, but because I’m unlucky enough to be my father’s daughter, it was worse for me than if I’d been a regular human. Or even if my father had come from another line of Fae.”
I felt Legolas squeeze my hand, whether in support or question, I wasn’t sure, and I still couldn’t look up at him. Instead, I took a breath and answered the unasked question. “My father’s family belongs to the Sky Fae. As the name suggests, sky fairies have an affinity for the sky, sun, moon, and stars. Being separated from them for long periods is very hard. It would have been better if I’d been a Water Fae, or even an Earth Fae—if there were any earth fairies left that is. Even with a watered-down one-fourth of fairy blood in me, it is enough for me to have some need to connect with the sun and sky. A pureblood or even halfblood would have died in that hole. Sometimes, I still wake up after dreaming that I did die there, or worse, I’m still there and everything I’ve done since is just my mind tormenting me with dreams of things that will never be.”
I was staring steadfastly at my knees as my vision wavered. Then I felt Legolas’s hands brushing wetly at my face. Touching my cheek with my free hand, I realized I was crying.
I pulled my other hand away from the elf and wiped the offending wetness away, embarrassed by my sudden weakness. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to cry,” I muttered.
My hands were stilled and pulled away from my face as Legolas gathered them in one hand. With the other, he lightly touched my chin and turned my head and body to face him. His own cheeks glistened in the moonlight from his shed tears, forcing more of my own to spill over.
“There is no reason under the Valar that you should apologize. I am amazed at your strength and courage,” he spoke earnestly.
“Courage?” I laughed. “For three years after I escaped I slept with a nightlight or a lamp turned on, and I was afraid to shut my windows because I was afraid of being locked in. I talked to a goddamned stream and named the rats and spiders that crawled around me in my cave. I went nuts—I lost my mind after only two years as a prisoner of war. What the hell is courageous about that?”
I tried to turn away, but Legolas continued to hold my hands. “Yet you survived,” he insisted. “Elves are not so different in this matter. An elf cut off from nature or one who has his freedom taken from him will fade after only a short time. We do not well suffer such atrocities as you have endured. Yet you have endured them. You are changed by your trials, I can feel it, yet you are stronger. This too I can feel. You are marked by the scars your fëa bears, but it makes you stronger.”
“‘Fëa’?” I repeated.
He pressed his free hand over my heart. “Your spirit.”
“I don’t feel stronger,” I whispered.
“Your spirit bears chinks in its armor, but it heals, and as it heals and repairs itself, it is stronger where it was repaired than it was before.”
“How do you know that?”
“You are here. You have not given up. You fought, and you won by simply being here. That is how I know you are stronger.”
I leaned back against the mallorn and turned my side to Legolas again. He resettled beside me, but kept my hand between us in his grasp. Leaning over, I let my body lean against the warmth of his and laid my head on his shoulder.
“I wish I could believe you,” I whispered in the silence.
Yet, sitting there with my head on Legolas’s shoulder, I slept more soundly than I had in nearly a decade.
I woke to the sound of someone clearing his or her throat.
Something jerked beneath me, and I opened my eyes lazily to see that I’d fallen asleep with my head on Legolas’s chest and his arm wrapped around my shoulders with my body twisted towards his.
I looked up to see Andreth standing nearby, her head and eyes cast downwards. Straightening up, I stretched and yawned before springing to my feet.
“What is it Andreth?”
“Lady Galadriel has asked to speak with you,” she whispered, eyes still averted.
I glanced over to see Legolas standing too, straightening his clothes, and that his eyes were darting away as well. I fought the urge to groan in frustration. Here I was, stuck with two virgin elves who were acting like the proverbial teenagers caught by the parents, and one of them hadn’t even been here. And, nothing had happened anyway, I groaned to myself.
Instead, I smiled pleasantly at Andreth. “Well, probably shouldn’t keep her waiting. I’ll drop by my tent quick and splash some water on my face.”
I glanced at Legolas, but for the life of me, I still couldn’t read what was in his eyes as he finally glanced up at me.
Rather than dwell on it, I turned on my heel and walked back to my tent, Andreth following closely behind.
“You asked for me?” I told the regal elleth as I entered her garden.
She met me where I waited at the entrance to her garden and stopped in front of me. I could almost feel the caress of her mind trying to touch mine, but my defenses held.
“Astonishing,” she said, admiration coloring the word. Her eyes gazed up and down me, not bothering to hide her open assessment of me, and then she gestured into the garden. “Come, walk with me.”
I followed the beautiful elleth, strolling beside her at a leisurely pace. As we walked, I took the time to give her the same frank assessment she’d given me. Her beauty hadn’t been any shock to me, but I was surprised at her height. At an inch or two over six feet, she seemed tall even for ellith. Her eyes were the most surprising though. Light blue—almost gray, and they held the weight of time and of the world in them.
My grandmother had had the same weighty knowledge in her gaze. That knowledge that comes from someone who saw things no one else did.
“How are you enjoying our city?” she asked pleasantly.
“I’m enjoying it a lot. It’s a truly beautiful city,” I honestly answered.
She stopped and glanced overhead at the bare treetops. “Alas, a shame you could not enter our city in the splendor of summer. The wood shall ever be cast in winter I fear, its golden leaves never again to grace the city,” she lamented. Her hands clasped together as she spoke, her fingers spinning a silver ring with a white stone on her forefinger.
She saw where my gaze landed, and her fingers stilled.
“I thought the rings of power were supposed to be hidden from sight?” I wondered aloud.
Galadriel laughed, a soft pure sound. “It cannot be hidden from one who knows to look for it.” Her face and voice sobered as she resumed walking and glanced down at me. “Yet even then, it could not be hidden from you. It is a thing crafted from a dark purpose. Darkness has left its own mark upon you, leaving you to bear whiteness to darkness in all its forms. Nenya has allowed me to hold back the elements and fashion a haven here, but its power diminishes. It is this ring that gives me the power to see into the minds of others.”
“I’d give anything to have my telepathy come from a ring. To be able to shut it off at will. Or just get rid of it all together,” I bemoaned.
Silence lapsed again as we walked. I brushed my hands down my thighs, almost wishing I’d let Andreth talk me into one of her frothy dresses. Next to Galadriel, I felt woefully underdressed. Her dress was simple and white, but her presence and the nobility that leaked from her pores told me she would look regal in a burlap sack.
“I figured your husband would be with us too,” I commented curiously. My fingers trailed over the bare twigs of shrubs as we walked, but I could imagine they were beautiful when leafed out. Galadriel’s fond, reminiscing looks told me she had a lot of pride in this garden. I could only imagine the flowers and greenery that must be lovingly kept here.
“I asked my lord husband to allow me the chance to speak alone with you. To learn more about you, and to tell you the things you must know,” she answered.
I laughed. “Not afraid to be alone with the stranger?”
She stopped and turned towards me. The light around us seemed to dim and then grow within her. I knew in this fashion, Frodo would see her as beautiful and terrible, but to me her visage permeated her age and experience. Her wrath if need be as well. I held my ground, refusing to be cowed.
The light around her faded and she laughed again lightly, “I am not without my own abilities.” She gestured forward, “Come, we are not yet there.”
I followed beside her again, still uncowed, but properly wary.
“You have no more reason to fear me than I you,” she commented with a half-smile.
“We neither of us has any ill intentions to harm the other.”
“How do you know?” I couldn’t help asking.
The corner of her mouth tugged up more as she smothered a smile. “I need not see your thoughts to see your heart. Elves are not as man. We can see into the hearts of others. We can know if their intent is good or ill.” We came into a clearing and she sat on an ornately carved stone bench, gesturing for me to sit beside her. “But then, you are not wholly unto the race of man. Something darker lurks within your blood. Yet the light wins out.”
I sat cautiously on the end of the bench, keeping a modest distance between us. “I can’t help the blood that runs through my veins,” I whispered, my fingers tracing the white vines and leaves carved into the edge of the bench.
“Nay, none can. You can no more help the blood in your veins than I can help the Noldorin and Telerin in mine.” I looked back up at her words. “All we can help is how we let it affect our decisions.”
“And how have you let it affect yours?”
She smiled, sagely but sadly, her eyes turning to gaze longingly into the West. “Poorly, I fear. Like all must, I await my chance to stand before the Valar to atone my actions, and my pride.”
I remembered little of Galadriel’s past, but a partial memory remained that she had been one of the Noldor to sail from the shores of Valinor, though she had not been a kinslayer. Nevertheless, she had been punished for fleeing the Undying Lands without permission.
“You’re not allowed to return to Valinor,” I whispered to myself, remembering.
“You know much,” she responded. After a moment, she asked, hope, and fear in her voice, “Shall I ever be allowed to return?”
My eyes jerked back up to hers and I wondered how much she’d seen of what I knew from my companions’ minds. She seemed to know I had knowledge of the coming events. “I can’t answer that. You know as well as anyone, anything I tell you could alter things.” Knowing might very well change whether she denied herself the One Ring when Frodo offered it to her. And it would be her refusal, in spite of her pride wanting to take and use the Ring, which would redeem her place in Valinor.
“Your foresight is strong; it is good your judgment is as well,” she offered kindly, though the hope dimmed in her eyes.
Shaking my head, I answered, “It’s not really foresight. This world and the events of this time are part of a story in my world. I just happened to have read it.”
Reaching out, she grasped my hand and pulled me to my feet. Leading me forward, she pulled us to a stop at the edge of the clearing. Before us was a low pedestal and upon it sat a wide, silver basin. Releasing my hand, she dipped a silver pitcher into the nearby stream, and filled the basin, blowing across the surface after it was filled.
She gestured to her mirror. “In this way, I see what was, that which is, and that which may yet happen. Knowledge of the future comes in whatever guise it will to those who can see it. Yours comes to you in the guise of stories.”
“It’s not foresight. They really were just stories. I never saw anything that was gonna happen in my own world,” I insisted.
“Knowledge of the future comes to us in the form our mind can most easily handle. You will see. Yet it matters not, you know what is to come and that cannot be undone.”
It was that very knowledge and responsibility that I hated and wanted to escape.
“Is there a way for me to return to my world?” I asked, my heart needing to finally know.
Her head tilted slightly as she considered me. “You know not your own fate? You do not see it?”
I shook my head, unable to speak.
Blowing again on the water, she offered, “You are welcome to look for yourself if you so choose.”
I took a step back as I tried to swallow, my mouth gone suddenly dry. “Do you know what I’d see?”
She shook get head. “None can say what is to be seen in the mirror, not even I.”
“Do you know if I can return to my world?” I pushed.
“You will not look into the mirror?”
“Will that show me how to return?”
She sighed and trailed her hand along the edge of the basin, carefully avoiding the water.
“You were not meant to come into this world; that much I have seen. Even the Valar, I think, are confused by your appearance here. If it is known why, it is known only to Eru.” Her fingers stopped trailing the basin and her eyes pinned me in their stare. “Long I have looked to see what your fate is meant for.”
“And what did you see?” I whispered when she didn’t continue.
“‘Ripples’?” I repeated.
“I cannot see a way for you to return. Your fate is to live and ultimately die in this world. Beyond that are only ripples and shadows. I cannot see the precise manner or time of your death. Or rather, I see too many possibilities. You have choices to make that will decide that fate, and cease the ripples. But only you can make those choices,” she answered coolly.
I felt my world spin out of control. “I can’t return to my world? At all? How can that be? What am I supposed to do?”
I pressed my closed fist over my chest as I tried to steady my breathing. I glanced up to see Galadriel still watching me in a cool, unaffected manner.
“Are you sure? Are you certain there is no way for me to return?” I questioned desperately, stepping forward.
She shook her head. “There is no force wielded by any being within Middle-earth to send you back. You are destined to live and eventually end your days here. I am sorry,” she offered.
I turned away. “Thank you for telling me,” I choked out.
“My offer stands. If you wish it, you may look into my mirror. It is not an offer I give to all.”
I didn’t look back. “If I’m stuck here, I don’t want to know any more about my future than that,” I managed to get out. “Excuse me; I need to go somewhere else.”
Not waiting for her response, I started briskly in the direction we’d come. As soon as my feet touched the path we had come through near the entrance of Galadriel’s garden, I took off in a sprint. I wasn’t sure where I was going. Other than away from the elf whom had shattered my hopes for ever returning to my world.
Finally, I stopped to catch my breath and lean against the silver bark of a mallorn. I half expected more tears after my embarrassing waterworks from just last night, but I felt surprisingly numb.
“Elaina!” Legolas called from behind me.
I jumped, startled, and turned to see him running towards me.
“What has happened? What is wrong, Elaina?” he asked, his voice frantic and near pleading.
My mind ignored his questions as it latched onto something else. “Why do you always call me Elaina and not Lane? You’re the only one who does.” And for some reason, the only one I never corrected.
He looked surprised, but answered nonetheless. “I do not understand this concept of a ‘shorter’ name. You are named Elaina and it is a lovely name. Why should I call you otherwise?”
I almost smiled at that, but it didn’t quite even reach my lips.
“What has happened? I saw you running from the Lady Galadriel’s gardens. Did your meeting with her prove ill?” he asked again.
Tears did sting my eyes at the reminder. “I can’t go back,” I whispered. I felt my face twist as I tried to hold a sob at bay. “I’m stuck here.”
Legolas stepped forward and pulled me into his arms without hesitation. Laying my head on his shoulder, I felt a sob finally escape.
“What am I supposed to do now?” I cried.
He made soothing sounds as he rubbed my back with one hand. “You will find your own path here. A path different than in your old world perhaps, but yours nevertheless.”
“I just want to go back to my own world where things made sense,” I muttered into his shoulder.
Legolas pulled away and looked down at me curiously. “Where is your home?” he asked.
I leaned back in confusion. “I’ve told you before. I live—lived in Chicago.”
“Yes, you lived in Chicago. You speak of your city, your country, your world. You speak of living in this Chicago, but you have never once spoken of a home. Where is your home?”
“I—” I stopped. I’d never thought about it, but I realized he was right. What’s more, I don’t think I’d ever called or even thought of anywhere as home. Ever. “I don’t know,” I admitted.
The hair around my face had pulled loose from my braid as I ran. Legolas pushed the strands from my face with his fingers. “Perhaps this is what will afford you the chance to begin again and finally find your home.”
“I don’t know where to start.”
“You shall find your way. Of this I have no doubt,” he assured me.
I leaned forward again, into the comfort he offered, resting my forehead on his shoulder.
“You are not alone in this world. You have friends to help you find your place,” he whispered, his lips brushing my hair.
I thought of everything in my own world I wouldn’t see again. Everything now out of my reach. Most of it I could live without, and even more of it I wouldn’t miss.
I’d miss Mike though, and his kids. Mike was a good partner. He’d been good to me and had always had my back.
I pulled away from Legolas. “I just need some time alone. I need to process this and wrap my head around it,” I told him. I needed time to mourn the world and life I’d lost, no matter what kind of life it had been.
He stepped back, his hands on my shoulders. “Will you be safe here alone?”
Nodding, I assured him, “I’ll be fine. I just need a little time to figure things out.”
Legolas nodded. “I will see you soon?” he asked.
“Yeah, I’ll be back when I’m through.”
I watched him walk away and sank to sit on the forest floor. My old world was lost to me, and I had to readjust the ideas I’d been living with in this world.
It was dark when I returned to the area with our tents. Everything looked quiet, but I could see Frodo lying in the grass near the small stream running near the tents. I hadn’t spent much time around Frodo since we entered Lórien, but I had noticed he sat alone many nights, outside his tent and away from even the comfort of his friend Sam.
I stepped closer behind him and looked down at his small curled up form. He seemed so small and frail.
It’s so far for so little a creature to travel. And he’ll never be the same for his experiences. You’re a soldier; you could take the Ring and bring it to Mordor. You wouldn’t even need a guide. You could save him the heartache of so treacherous and perilous a path.
And what if the Ring can send me home? Just because Galadriel said I was stuck here doesn’t make it so. The One Ring is more powerful than hers is, maybe it can send me there.
Soldier? Huh? I’m a Marine. Home? What?
I was startled when I realized I was kneeling behind Frodo, reaching out to him. Maybe I wouldn’t have recognized the thoughts as being out of place if not for my conversation with Legolas, but now I knew they weren’t mine. I would never call myself a soldier in my own thoughts, and I had never called anywhere home, not even in thought. The Ring was calling to me, playing on my weaknesses. And I was terrified at how easily it breached my defenses and manipulated my mind.
Springing to my feet, I fled the area once again, briskly walking away.
Turning the corner, I ran into Haldir who seemed to be in a hurry himself. We reached out to steady each other as we collided.
“Where are you headed in such a hurry?” I asked.
“I go to speak with our lord and lady. There is word of Orcs nearing the northern border,” he explained, seeming distracted.
“I’m coming with you,” I told him, needing distraction myself after my brush with the Ring.
He grasped my hand and pulled me along behind him.
We jogged together up the stairs of the largest mallorn. Soon, we were standing on the highest talan in front of the Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel’s great home. They were already in front if it talking with several of Haldir’s soldiers.
Haldir joined them in their discussion. I couldn’t understand their words so I hung back as they talked.
After a while, Haldir bowed to Celeborn and Galadriel and stepped back over to me.
“I will take a party to the northern border to reinforce our defenses and drive the Orcs from our land,” he explained.
I grabbed his hand as he started to turn away. “I’m going with you,” I told him.
He looked startled. “This is not your battle,” he told me.
“I want to go with you.” I needed to do something. I couldn’t sit around thinking about how I was without a world or that the Ring had nearly bested me.
“You cannot do this,” Legolas suddenly argued appearing at my elbow.
“Why not? I’m a Marine, err, soldier. I can fight,” I argued.
“You have not faced battle in this world. This world is not the same as yours, its battles and the kills are not the same,” he told me, grabbing my elbow, and pulling me closer.
I yanked away angrily. “I’m stuck in this world, so it is my world now. I’m just trying to find my place in it. How can you treat me like I don’t understand what battle is like? I’m a Marine. I’ve killed before.”
“Not like it shall be here. It will not be the same. I do not wish to see you hurt or killed,” he growled, looking angrier than I’d ever seen him.
“I can take care of myself just fine. I don’t need you to look after me.”
He flinched ever so slightly at my words, but turned to the rulers of Lothlórien who were cautiously and curiously watching the scene unfold. “Tell her this is foolish; that she cannot go.”
Celeborn raised an eyebrow at the visiting prince’s demand. Turning to me, Celeborn asked, “Why do you wish to fight on our borders?”
“I’m a Marine—a soldier in my own world. That’s all I know how to do. If I’m stuck in this world, I need to figure out where I fit in it. I need to be useful.”
Galadriel turned to her husband. “Do you think it wise, my lord? What if she should be injured or perish?”
Celeborn ran a finger along his chin. “I sense you shall find your way to battle in this world regardless of the wishes of others. Who better to test your skills alongside than our own Galadhrim?” He looked to Haldir. “Do you object, marchwarden?”
Haldir shook his head. “Nay, my lord. I offer no objection to your counsel.”
I smiled in satisfaction. I was still a Marine at heart, and after the turmoil of the day, it was comforting to step into a familiar role.
“I’ll go get my weapons.”
Haldir nodded. “I must retrieve my own gear. Meet my soldiers at the city gate.”
I turned away but Legolas stepped in front of me. “Please do not go,” he pleaded. “This shall not be as you think it,” he continued in a whisper.
“I need to do this,” I told him. I left without waiting for a reply, going to gather my weapons and meet Haldir and his men.
A few hours later, I was standing on a flet beside Haldir and his soldiers. For once, I was completely unconcerned by the elves around me. With a task at hand, I didn’t have time to let old fears creep in.
I fingered the bow Haldir had surprised me with before leaving the city. The tension was stronger on it than my training bow had been, and while there hadn’t been time to practice with it, I knew adrenaline would fuel me.
“Focus on your breathing and your form,” Haldir whispered beside me, his voice barely audible. “Do not focus on your hands, your body will keep your aim steady. Stay beside me, and do not dwell on your actions.”
“I was a soldier, Haldir. I know how to fight and I know how to use my adrenaline to heighten my senses and steady myself,” I reminded him.
Haldir gave orders to his elves, and I felt a slithering darkness coming closer. My defenses were lowered so I could sense the approach of the Orcs, but I’d never felt thoughts that washed over me like slithering snakes. I suppressed a shudder and pushed the minds away.
Haldir gave another order beside me and all his elves reached for arrows and nocked them. I tried to move in step with them, nocking my arrow only slightly behind the others. I kept my elbow steady as I waited with the string pulled back.
As the orcs came into view, I waited with the others for Haldir’s command. At his shout, we all released our arrows.
Pained cries rang out as the arrows found their marks. On either side of me, elves began firing at will, and I followed suit, nocking arrows as smoothly and efficiently as chambering slugs into a sniper rifle. I watched with the same detached satisfaction as I did in my days as a sniper as my arrows found their marks, only a few missing any Orcs.
Soon, the Orcs had pushed too close to our tree, and we were forced from the high vantage. Haldir turned and slid easily down one of the rope ladders on the far side of the flet. I shouldered my bow and followed right behind him before another elf could slide down that ladder behind the marchwarden.
I dropped to the ground as several other elves around me did as well. Swords gleamed as they were unsheathed, and I pulled my own sword out.
My arms rose overhead as I blocked an overhand blow from a grisly looking Orc. I let my sword slide to the side, deflecting the crude sword of the Orc, and pushing past it to slip my sword easily into its less protected back.
Pulling my sword free, I stepped forward to meet the next Orc, ever aware of the Orcs coming at me from other directions. Adrenaline from the battle only made my focus sharper, my mind calmer. I let my body flow automatically as my body remembered its training.
I was suddenly aware of another Orc attacking from behind me as I parried a blow from in front of me. Shoving the Orc in front of me back several steps, I stepped backwards towards the Orc behind me, turning my sword, and thrusting it behind me into the Orc’s stomach.
As warm blood sprayed my back, I was aware of a pained grunt over my shoulder. One not guttural enough to be an Orc. Quickly thrusting my sword into the stomach of the Orc running at me again, I dispatched it and then turned my attention over my shoulder. I turned to see one of Haldir’s brothers had been rushing towards me when an Orc landed a blow to his lower arm. Which brother it was, I couldn’t recall.
Distracted and bleeding, he wasn’t looking around to see the Orc behind him. As the Orc reached around him with a knife to cut his throat, I reached automatically for my Glock, knowing I wouldn’t have time for pulling my bow over my head to fire an arrow. Without thought, I squeezed the trigger and shot the Orc in the forehead. Its body went limp, and then it slid to the ground with a thud.
Haldir’s brother jerked and covered his ear at the sound while looking at me in shock. I glanced around to see that the last few Orcs were being dispatched around us.
Removing my bow and quiver, I yanked my jerkin off and pressed the cloth to the elf’s bleeding arm, staunching the blood flow. Haldir was suddenly beside us, talking quickly with his brother. As his voice turned chiding, he turned to me and asked in the common tongue, “Are you well? Rúmil was to protect you, it was not meant to be in reverse.”
“What the hell were you thinking? You could have gotten him killed. It isn’t safe to be in battle when you’re not focused totally on your own fighting,” I snapped at him angrily.
“I know,” he said contritely. “I had no wish for you to be harmed any more than I wished for Rúmil to be injured.” He peered at his brother’s arm. “How bad is the wound?”
I lifted the cloth away slightly. “Looks like it needs stitches,” I told him.
He hissed as he looked over my shoulder at the wound. “He needs to be returned to the city immediately then.”
I glanced over my shoulder at him as I kept pressure on Rúmil’s arm. Rúmil said something to Haldir, but I didn’t understand him.
“Don’t you have any soldiers who can stitch a wound? This shouldn’t wait or it will just keep bleeding,” I told Haldir.
“My soldiers only know a little skill in healing wounds. I doubt any can handle this wound appropriately. Healers are stationed at the borders with patrols, but we brought none tonight in favor of haste,” he said, shaking his head.
“Have you got needle and thread and everything else?” I asked.
“Yes, there are supplies stored in the flets,” he answered. “Have you healing skills?”
“Yeah, all soldiers of my country are taught battlefield medicine. Show me the supplies and I’ll take care of it.”
He gave a few quick orders and led Rúmil and me back up to the flet, carefully helping his brother up the rope ladder. Gathering the supplies and water to clean the wound, I set to work, careful to handle the wound gingerly since there was nothing to numb his arm, though Rúmil stoically bore the pain.
As I closed the long gash along his forearm, I lectured Rúmil, “I can take care of myself. Next time, don’t let yourself get distracted trying to look after someone else, no matter what your brother tells you. You’re lucky this wasn’t deeper or you might have lost use of your hand.”
Rúmil stared at me blankly, and then looked up as Haldir translated. Rúmil laughed and rattled something back.
“He says, ‘Of this there is no doubt. You fight unlike any human I have seen,'” Haldir relayed.
Rúmil rubbed and cradled his ear several times as I worked, and I felt bad for firing a shot so near his head. His sensitive ears were obviously feeling the effect.
I finished bandaging the wound and told Haldir, “He should see your healers when he reaches the city to get any herbs they have to prevent infection.”
Haldir spoke to his brother and then gave orders to two other elves who helped Rúmil to climb back down from the flet.
“They will ensure Rúmil returns safely to the city. We will stay here with the others until the Orc corpses are gathered and burned,” he explained to me.
I looked down at my bloody hands. I’d cleaned the black Orc blood off them, but it still coated my sleeves along with Rúmil’s blood covering my hands. “I think I’ll climb down and clean up in that stream,” I told him, gesturing to the sounds of moving water.
He nodded and returned to giving orders.
Kneeling by the stream, I washed my hands and then closed my eyes as I listened to the quiet voices of Haldir’s soldiers as they worked.
“Thank you,” Haldir suddenly said from behind me. My eyes jerked open as I looked over my shoulder. “For saving my brother, and tending to him,” he continued.
I stood and fully faced him. “No problem. I’m just glad he isn’t hurt worse.”
His eyes softened as he stepped closer. His hands landed on either side of my neck, his thumbs gently massaging my skin. His touch was both soothing and electrifying. “He is hale because of your skills in fighting and in healing. Thank you,” he repeated.
He pulled me closer, tipping my head back with his thumbs under my jaw as he leaned down and captured my lips. His mouth was insistent, demanding I respond and follow the lead of his lips. I gave in fully to his demand, responding automatically to his silent but clear orders.
One of his hands slid down to my waist to pull me flush against his broad form. My tongue slid across his lower lip, making my own demand for entrance.
We explored each other leisurely until someone cleared their throat behind Haldir. I turned away in embarrassment, feeling like the guilty teenager caught with a boy after curfew.
Haldir spoke quickly to the interrupting elf. His hand touched my elbow to push my body and turn me towards him again. I kept my face carefully blank as I looked up at the marchwarden trying to read his expression. But his was as carefully blank as my own.
“Come, we should return to the flet and rest until we return to the city,” he finally spoke.
I nodded mutely and followed him back to the flet.
Haldir left me to rest at the platform as he gave more directives to his elves. I found no sleep, but waited out of the way until Haldir’s men had gathered the Orcs and had them burning.
He left a small detail to finish burning the corpses, and finally we were on our way back to the city.
Dawn was breaking as we entered the city gates. Silently, elves began breaking away from the group to return to their homes. Haldir walked beside me in silence until we neared my tent.
I stopped and looked up at him.
“I apologize if my actions were forward and offended you,” he said, somewhat stiffly, avoiding direct eye contact.
I shook my head. “No, not at all. It’s just—it’s been a very long night preceded by a very long day. I’m not sure what to think or feel about anything. All I know right now is that I want to take a bath to wash the stinking Orc blood away, and get some rest.”
He stared at me for a moment, and then gave a slight bow, his eyes softening, “Then I shall leave you here and hope to see you again soon. Perhaps on the training grounds?” he asked hopefully.
I nodded mutely, and turned to follow the path to what I had dubbed the women’s guest bathroom. The pond I regularly bathed in was near my tent and reserved for those visiting the golden wood, particularly humans. And luckily, I had it to myself since the Fellowship was sharing another one.
I shed my clothes and weapons at the edge of the pond, diving eagerly into the water headfirst. It wasn’t even a surprise when Andreth entered some time later with fresh clothes and carted away my bloodstained ones. She always seemed to show up just when I needed her.
For the first time though, she was carefully silent. And I was thankful for not having to make any kind of conversation.
Soon, I was back in my tent staring at the cloth ceiling as it rippled in the breeze.
I couldn’t shut my mind off and find sleep. Scenes from the battle played over and over in my head. It was different killing up close with a sword than using a sniper rifle had been. An easy detachment keeps you from truly feeling the kills you make when you are six hundred meters and further away. I’d never kept track of my kills as a sniper, the numbers had been unimportant to me, blurring together.
Killing with a sword—feeling the spray of blood on my skin—it was different. I looked into their eyes and saw the life drain from them. Even though it had been Orcs we fought, not men, I couldn’t get it out of my head. The feeling of the blood spraying my back as I’d thrust my sword backwards into the Orc behind me kept me tossing from side to side searching for comfort.
Throwing back my covers, I hastily dressed in pants, boots, and a shirt and left my tent. The hobbits were gathered together eating, but I quickly turned in the other direction.
I sat beside the stream nearby and stared at the gently flowing water, hoping it would sooth my mind. I felt Legolas sit beside me, but didn’t turn to look at him.
“You were right. Is that what you want to hear? It wasn’t what I was expecting. It wasn’t like in my world,” I bit out, staring straight ahead. I couldn’t keep the bitterness from lacing my words.
“You have fought and killed in your world, but to kill even a beast such as an Orc with your blade is another matter,” he quietly said. “I had killed many Orc with my arrows before I slew my first Orc facing it upon the ground. It is an altogether different kill and it changes you. The guilt at watching the life leave the eyes of a creature is very powerful. I only sought to protect you from such a feeling,” he whispered.
I felt my anger and barriers towards him crumble. Unable to stop myself, I leaned sideways against him and let my head fall on his shoulder, seeking the comfort he always so readily offered. “It wasn’t like I thought it would be. I’ve killed men before, but almost always from a distance. The one I killed with my hands was when I escaped North Korea, and I was so out of my mind I barely remember it. Killing in the heat of battle, my body just used its training and reacted, but now, I keep replaying it and remembering the feelings. Will it ever go away?”
He wrapped an arm around my shoulders and pulled me even closer. “Nay, such a thing does not truly go away. Or if one does stop feeling such regret and grief at killing, they have become too tainted by it. But the feeling does lessen and fade with time. It shall not linger in your heart for so long as it does now.”
I closed my eyes, clinging to the hope of his words.
“Come, you should rest. When did you eat last?”
I shrugged. “I ate some fruit before I met with Galadriel.”
“You have not eaten in an entire day?” he asked in shock. “I shall have to inform the hobbits they are to supervise your meals if you continue to miss so many,” he playfully threatened.
I grinned at the thought, happy for his tactful lightheartedness. “You can tell the hobbits anything you want, but can we just sit here for a few moments more? Just a few moments.”
“Of course,” he promised, gently squeezing my shoulder, “For as long as you wish.”