Turning away from Legolas once more, I pulled open my tent flap and let the barrier fall between us again.
My tent was neat and tidy, bags packed and ready for travel.
Something about the scene made my heart hitch. It was almost as if I’d never been here. Nothing was left to mark my presence. It was once again just an impersonal guest tent.
It shouldn’t have affected me. Being a Marine meant that I had lived a transient life before. Never staying in one place too long and never leaving anything of myself behind to mark my presence.
Hell, I’d lived that way as a kid after I’d run from my father.
Should have been related to the Gypsies instead of the Celts. I probably could have related to Romani people more than I did to the Celtic side of my family.
I opened one of my new packs—I’d long since given Aragorn’s back to him when Andreth acquired my own for me—and grabbed some clean clothes. We’d probably be leaving soon, but I was determined to get one last bath in since I had no clue when the next one would be.
Later, as I reentered the tent, still trying to pull my hair away from my face, I came face to face with Andreth. She was crossly waiting, hands on her slender hips.
“Where have you been?” She gestured to the pack I’d opened before I could even form a reply. “I had just gotten that pack all situated,” she complained. “And now you have pulled it apart.”
I just laughed at her indignation. “Sorry, I needed to bathe and put on clean clothes.”
She grabbed the dirty clothes I’d changed out of from my hands, muttering about how she couldn’t get them clean in time.
I shrugged. “No big deal. They’re not too bad. Just put them at the bottom of the pack and I’ll clean them when I can or wear them as they are.”
She grumbled more under her breath as she set about repacking the clothes. I had to admit, she’d have impressed any soldier with her efficient packing. It was amazing how much she was able to stuff into my pack.
As she worked, she began speaking, tilting her chin to throw her words over her shoulder, but not looking up from her task to meet my eyes.
“I have packed you two sets of traveling clothes and an assortment of others, including extra socks in case you wear holes in any. I have also taken the liberty of packing the necessary soaps and oils you shall require to stay clean—including the ‘razor’ you use as well. I fear there shall be something I am forgetting; mores the pity, I am afraid you have not enough room to pack the spare pair of boots I had made for you, so I pray the pair you wear shall suffice.”
I could tell she would have gone on, so I spoke up. “It’s fine, Andreth. You’ve done more than enough for me. I’ll be better packed than I was when I entered this city, and I’ve gone without creature comforts like spare clothing and boots before. I’ll be fine,” I repeated.
She glanced up as I moved around in front of her. “What if it shall not be sufficient? What if I forget something you desperately shall need?”
Hearing the desperation in her voice and seeing the tears that glistened in her eyes, I knelt next to her by the cot. “Hey now,” I told her, my hands gently grasping her shoulders and turning her. “None of that. I’ll be fine. I glanced through the pack earlier, and there’s nothing more I need. Everything you’ve packed along with my weapons are all I need. I’ll be fine. This isn’t exactly my first rodeo.”
“Rode-ee-oo,” she repeated, drawing the word out in confusion.
I laughed and pulled her into a hug. “God I’ll miss you, my friend.”
Her arms quickly wrapped me in an iron embrace. “I shall miss you as well. You have become a dear friend to me. I wish I could accompany you and finally see beyond our own borders.”
Her voice was so wistful. I squeezed her one last time and pulled away, gently wiping at the tears that had spilled over her rosy cheeks. “These dark days won’t last. You’ll be able to see beyond these borders one day if you still wish.”
She smiled faintly. “They say you see the future. It comforts me to know the darkness shall pass.”
I looked away uncomfortably. “‘They?'” I repeated.
She looked embarrassed. “The city has been abuzz with talk of you, and the others.”
“Huh. Didn’t realize I’d become the topic of gossip,” I commented. In the past, I’d always been able to tell when people were thinking and talking about me. It was important to know if people were starting to realize that I was different from then. Meant it was time to move again.
Although, in the past I’d been able to hear the thoughts of those around me. Here, I didn’t understand their language and therefor didn’t understand their thoughts.
Suddenly, I wasn’t quite so sad to be leaving. I’d never cared for being the center of attention.
Andreth hugged me again. “Shall I see you again?” she whispered.
“I don’t know,” I whispered back. “I certainly hope so.”
I released the elleth and stood before my emotions overwhelmed me. My hands started fiddling with my long bangs. They weren’t quite long enough to stay pulled back in a braid. They’d been stylish side-swept bangs before I came to this world, but now they had become too long to suit bangs, yet not long enough to pull back. I’d considered cutting them shorter, but without being able to curl them, I knew they wouldn’t look right.
Andreth pulled my hands away from fidgeting with them. “Stop that,” she admonished. She reached into her apron and pulled out an elegant, delicate looking white hairpin. I stopped her hands from slipping it into my hair.
“It’s beautiful,” I exclaimed as I caressed it. I expected it to be a white polished wood like so many things in Lórien, but as I felt the slightly porous surface, I realized it was ivory. I traced the vines and leaves etched into it. The same designs were present throughout Lórien, so it must have been carved here.
Knowing it had to have come from as far east as Harad or further away even, I tried to push it back into her hands. “I can’t take this. It’s gotta be worth a small fortune.”
She laughed and lightly wrapped my hands with the pin in mock punishment. “Nonsense. I have had this for some time, yet never wear it. My hair is too fair for it. Your dark hair will set it off very nicely. I shall be glad to know a friend shall wear it.” As she spoke, she pulled my long bangs back, and secured them with the pin.
“Thank you,” I told her softly.
Feeling another rising swell of emotion, I turned away. I started gathering my pack, but Andreth stopped me by calling my name.
Turning to face her, I saw her holding out a cloak in the same style that all the Galadhrim wore. She stepped behind me and helped me secure it around my shoulders with an elegant silver mallorn brooch. It wasn’t like the green ones I knew the Fellowship would receive, but I smiled in gratitude, knowing that I wasn’t truly a member of their number, just tagging along for my own purposes. I fingered the edges of the brooch, appreciating that it was more feminine looking than what I imagined the guys’ would look like.
Feeling the warmth instantly envelope me, I told Andreth again, “Thanks.” I turned and picked my pack up, adjusting the shoulder strap as I pulled it on. For everything Andreth had stuffed it with, it felt surprisingly light.
Long goodbyes had never been my forte, and this one was already threatening to make me emotional, so I gave Andreth a lopsided smile and a quick goodbye before I ducked out of the tent.
The Fellowship was gathered in the clearing near the fountain, they were likewise being garbed in similar cloaks. Food was still spread out on the long tables, so I grabbed some fruit and ate it quickly before walking to the fountain and getting some water to wash it all down with.
“You are ready for your journey then?” Haldir’s voice asked behind me.
I turned to look at Haldir. He was dressed in his usual marchwarden garb and he wore a sad smile.
Looking away uncomfortably, I told him, “Yeah. I’ve got more stuff here than when I entered the city, so I should be ready for darn near anything.”
He stepped closer and said, “Here.”
I was forced to look back at him and saw him holding out a dark leather quiver full of arrows. I held the quiver and traced the extensive filigree that wrapped around it and then ran my fingers along the beautiful white arrows it held.
My eyes snapped up to Haldir’s. “I don’t understand,” I told him.
“These are for you. I will feel better knowing you are well armed when you leave these borders, and so I had these made for you.”
His generosity shocked me. “When did you have these made for me?”
He smiled, a sad but resigned expression. “I think I was always certain you would leave with the others, though I had hoped otherwise.”
My gaze dropped again guiltily, but he gently nudged my chin up with his fingers.
“Do not be saddened. We elves believe that there is one soul destined for each of us. I had not realized how much my heart had yearned to fill that void. I find my hope renewed that one day I will find an elleth with a fiery spirit like yours.” He laughed, his face finally splitting into a genuine smile. “Perhaps an elleth not quite as adventurous as you. One that does not wish to travel across Arda in such dark times.”
I ruefully laughed with him. “Yeah, there aren’t really any guys out there that are into girls like me.”
Haldir started to say something, but then stopped, shook his head, and simply said, “You shall find your way to him.”
Throwing caution, and any uncomfortable feelings to the wind, I threw my arms around Haldir, and hugged him tightly. “I’ll miss you. If nothing else, you’ve become a dear friend to me. And I just want to thank you for everything you’ve done for me and everything you’ve taught me.” I released him and once again held the quiver between us. “And thank you for this. It’s gorgeous.”
I removed the quiver he had given me when he first started teaching me, and he helped me don the new one.
“Remember all I taught you, and if time allows it, have the prince resume your lessons. Woodland elf he may be, but his aim is strong and true. He should be an adequate teacher,” Haldir laughed as he took my previous quiver.
“Lane! Are you coming?” Aragorn called out as the others pulled their packs on.
I pulled the strap of my pack over my head again. Luckily, it was a messenger style bag, so it didn’t interfere with my quiver or bow on my back, and rested over my right hip so I could still pull my sword from my left side.
“Yeah, I’m coming, Aragorn,” I called out to him. I smiled apologetically at Haldir and told him, “Sorry. Guess I’ve got to catch up with the others.”
“We shall take boats to meet the Lord and Lady and have a last meal with them before your group departs. Come with in my boat as I guide the others. I should like a few moments more with you before you must depart,” Haldir replied.
“Sure,” I replied. “It’s been a while since I rowed a boat, but it’s not something you forget.”
I followed him to where the boats were landed, noting how quiet and withdrawn the others were. I could feel their sadness at leaving the safety of this land.
When we reached the boats, Legolas asked if I would ride with him and Gimli, but I begged off, saying I wanted to say one last farewell to Haldir.
Our short boat ride was mostly silent, but I enjoyed testing my muscles again and fighting the current as we rowed towards our meeting point with the Lord and Lady of Lothlórien.
When we made land, I stayed back from the others, watching as they sat in the grass before the gracious lord and lady as elves hustled about with food.
“Why do you not join the others?” Haldir asked as he stood beside me and leaned on the opposite side of the tree I was propped against.
I smiled faintly and jerked my head towards the group as I continued nibbling at my food. “They’re the Fellowship. I’m going with them. But I’m not one of them. I’ve got my own reasons for going, and it’s not the same agenda they’re following. I won’t make it as far as they’re planning on going anyway; I just hope to make it far enough to accomplish my goals.”
“Perhaps you are not part of the Fellowship,” Haldir agreed, “yet you are traveling with them. I still do not understand why you do not join them.”
I shrugged, struggling to put my feelings into words. “I guess—I just feel strange joining them at times like this. I know most of what’s going to happen and be said, and I guess it feels like if I step into the middle of it, I’ll screw things up somehow or change how things should happen. Besides, I’ve never been much of one for ceremony. Once I’ve got things ready to leave, I’d just as soon go and not hang around waiting.”
He laughed and whispered, “I confess, I am not one for ceremony either.”
We turned back to face the others just as the meal was finishing.
Galadriel stood and took a simple and delicate looking chalice from one of her maidens. She gave it to her husband as she spoke. “Now it is time to drink the cup of farewell. Drink, Lord of the Galadhrim! And let not your heart be sad, though night must follow noon, and already our evening draweth nigh.”
Her eyes glanced briefly into the West, and then settled briefly on me. She gave a brief nod that I returned, before she turned to offer the cup to the others as she bade them farewell.
In that one look, I had seen that she was bidding farewell in more ways than one.
I was still pondering our shared look when she brought the cup to stand before me. “Only you in this world know how this age shall end. Shall darkness prevail, or shall the ring be destroyed? Whichsoever shall occur, I am bound to say my own farewells to this land and diminish unto the West.”
I remembered our conversation in her garden and recalled her lamenting being barred from returning to the West and wondering if she would ever be allowed to return.
“You denied yourself the ring when Frodo offered it?” I asked her. She nodded. “And now the Valar has lifted your banishment. I thought you would be happy being allowed to return.”
She sighed. “I find myself remembering all of the parts of these lands that I shall miss when I depart. But it is the will of the Valar.”
I shook my head. “I can’t imagine how hard it must be to think about leaving someplace that you’ve lived in for as long as you’ve been here. I never stay anywhere all that long.”
She smiled knowingly. “The ways of the Valar are often difficult to interpret. But They steer our paths as best They can.” Her fingers gently caressed my cheek. “I am pleased you finally made this choice, but your future still casts many ripples. More choices lie at your feet, but glory may yet be found at the end of the path—should you choose the right one. Be warned Elaina Rowan of Loughill—the end your heart yearns for can only be gained by first losing everything you know. Your path shall be more perilous than you can imagine and your trials shall take everything from you before you can gain what you seek.”
I dazedly drank from the cup when she offered it, shocked that she had known my full name and my birthplace. She smiled that coy smile, and then she moved on, announcing she had gifts to give before we departed.
Still staying in the back, I only half watched the others receive their gifts. I knew what they would receive, so I wasn’t much interested in seeing a repeat of what I already knew. My mind kept turning her words over and over as I examined them. But I knew I would likely not understand them until whatever she had spoken of had already come to pass.
I shook it off and pushed it from my mind. Dwelling on it would only drive me crazy. Instead, I watched Galadriel as she handed out her gifts and I contemplated her. As sad as Galadriel was to be leaving these lands, I envied her. I’d never stayed anywhere long enough to actually lament leaving it behind. Sure, I had wanted to return to my own world, but it was the familiarity of it I had missed. Not that world or any one place in particular.
Even with these lands, I would miss the peace I’d known here, but it wasn’t the same as the sorrow Galadriel felt.
The others had received their gifts already and were packing up the boats again when Galadriel stopped in front of me once more.
Haldir had already left to help the others and gave me a simple farewell. Before we parted, we both extracted promises from the other that we’d be careful in our duties and journeys. I was thankful we were able to part fondly and as friends.
“I have gifts to mark your departure as well,” Galadriel told.
“Really?” I asked in surprise. “You’ve given me more than enough. I entered your city owning only the clothes on my back and things of my own world. Now I have new clothes and weapons more suited to this world,” I said, patting the sword at my side. It still felt strange to be patting a sword and not my guns, but I couldn’t accept the risks my weapons brought to this world. “It’s more than enough.”
She smiled indulgently. “Those were gifts given to any who would have as such entered our city. I have gifts especially for you.” She gestured one of her handmaidens forward. From a golden cloth, she withdrew something white and long. She gestured to the hairpin Andreth had given me earlier. “It is fortuitous that Andreth gifted you such a graceful and comely pin. For indeed, I have another to accompany it.”
Her hands held it out to me, and as I took it, I saw that it was another, much larger ivory hairpin. Long and thin, it was designed to work like chopsticks, securing the hair in a tidy bun. The top of the hairpin was carved to look like a beautiful blossom, painted golden. I imagined it was styled after the blossoms of the mallorn trees, but I doubted I’d ever see them in bloom.
Looking back into Galadriel’s gaze, I thanked her. “It’s beautiful. And perfect.” My hair, even in a braid, was getting long enough that I didn’t like it swinging loose down my back to get in the way. I could just see myself grabbing for an arrow and trying to string my braid on my bow. Winding the braid on the back of my head into a bun, I slid the ivory hairpin through the coil to secure it.
She smiled with a strange satisfaction at my action, and took something else from another handmaiden. She held her hands out to display an intricate necklace on a silver chain. She carefully placed the necklace over my head, letting the pendant settle over my heart. As her hands dropped away, I picked up the pendant to see that it too was another gorgeous rendition of a golden mallorn blossom.
“So that you will remember,” she told me, and then she turned away.
I was once again left speechless. I knew her gifts, like with all they others’, would come to mean something or be important in some way, but at the moment, I couldn’t think of anything.
I tucked the golden pendant inside my shirt, keeping it protected this way. I didn’t know what the necklace was possibly supposed to make me remember, but I figured some day it would be important.
“Look at these silver belts we got!” Pippin exclaimed as he and Merry ran up to me.
I laughed as I leaned down to examine them and made appreciative noises as they showed how the short swords they had been given from Aragorn, fit onto their belts perfectly.
“What was your gift?” Merry asked me. “She waited and gave you your gifts after everyone had started packing up the boats again, so we didn’t see.”
I shook my head and simply said, “She gave me beautiful gifts as well.”
Merry nodded, seeming to understand that I wasn’t quite ready to talk about my gifts yet. But mostly it was that I wasn’t quite sure what to make of my gifts.
Soon, Merry and Pippin had scurried back to the boats and eagerly climbed into theirs with Boromir, ready to start the next leg of their adventure and munching on the lembas we’d been given. They didn’t know and couldn’t see what dangers would await them, but their naïve eagerness brought a smile to my face. I wished they could always stay this way, and I would do my best to make certain that they weren’t changed too much for the worse by their futures.
“Will you ride in our boat?” Legolas said coming to stand beside me and gesturing to Gimli who was still clutching a hand to his chest over his heart. I knew the strands of hair from Galadriel rested beneath his palm. “We have room for another,” Legolas continued.
I nodded with a smile. “Sure. I’d love that.”
As we finished loading our packs into our boat, the look of awe and wonderment began to slip a bit from Gimli’s face. Under his breath, I could hear him muttering about having to journey in a boat.
When Gimli went to get in the front of the boat, I stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. “I’ll ride in the front, Gimli. I’ve got a lot of experience with water and boats, so I can help Legolas paddle.”
“Well now, Lass, I can more than do my share of the work. You don’na have to take on such a task,” he argued gruffly, drawing himself up to stand taller.
“What?” I laughed. “I thought you dwarves didn’t make the silly mistakes of men like coddling women. I’m just saying that this particular task is one I’m more suited to. When it comes to swinging an axe, working metal, or building anything, I’ll leave it to you.”
He smiled in appreciation. “Ver’a well,” he laughed. “You’re better suited to riding in the front and seeing over the sides to watch for rocks ana’way,” he said, gesturing up at my height.
When he started scrambling over the edge of the boat, I helped steady the sides of it, but knew better than to offer any more help. The other boats were already pushing from the shore and launching into the river, so with a nod to Legolas, we both began pushing into the water.
We maneuvered it as though we’d navigated many boats together, our timing and speed as we launched the boat into the water was perfectly synced. I took a few quick steps into the shallows of the water before hopping into my seat and digging my paddle in to push and steer as Legolas gave one last heave before swinging into his own seat. Even our paddling continued to be perfectly synced, digging our paddles in with the same force and the same speed. Without saying a word, we were able to effortlessly switch the sides that we paddled on, keeping our boat sliding along straight and smooth.
As our boats pushed away from the hythe, I listened absently to Galadriel’s voice as it rose in a song of farewell. Like everything in elvish, I didn’t understand her words, but the forlorn emotion and melancholy in her voice told me it was a song of farewell. Farewell to the Fellowship and farewell to the lands Galadriel had dwelt in for so many ages.
We paddled until our boats had pushed around the bend and Galadriel’s voice faded from our ears. The mood of my companions was somber and sorrowful. We all grieved for our passing from the golden realm. Even Boromir’s eyes glistened with tears at passing out of the safety of that land.
I heard Gimli’s voice speak to Legolas behind me, his words thick with his sorrow. “I have looked the last upon that which was fairest. Henceforth I will call nothing fair, unless it be her gift.”
Glancing back, I saw his fist clenched over his breast again as he continued, “Tell me, Legolas, why did I come on this Quest? Little did I know where the chief peril lay! Truly Elrond spoke, saying that we could not foresee what we might meet upon our road. Torment in the dark was the danger that I feared, and it did not hold me back. But I would not have come, had I known the danger of light and joy. Now I have taken my worst wound in this parting, even if I were to go this night straight to the Dark Lord. Alas for Gimli son of Glóin!” I chuckled to myself at his dramatics.
I glanced back over my shoulder again as he finished his proclamation, and my eyes briefly met Legolas’s eyes in a shared understanding as he spoke. We both understood that wounded feeling at leaving behind this fair land. “Nay!” he told Gimli. “Alas for us all! And for all that walk the world in these after-days. For such is the way of it: to find and lose, as it seems to those whose boat is on the running stream. But I count you blessed, Gimli son of Glóin: for your loss you suffer of your own free will, and you might have chosen otherwise.” Our eyes met over Gimli’s head again, and his eyes became haunted and filled with … regret? I couldn’t fathom what caused the regret to flash in his eyes, but it was still there when he looked back to Gimli and continued, “But you have not forsaken your companions, and the least reward that you shall have is that the memory of Lothlórien shall remain ever clear and unstained in your heart, and shall neither fade nor grow stale. You have touched that which your heart yearns for, while my heart lies in ruin, fearing it never shall.”
I turned in my seat in the bow of the boat, sitting sideways as I stared at Legolas. His eyes glanced up to meet mine again, and still they shone with sorrow. I knew he didn’t regret that Gimli had come with us. Friends they had become and fast ones at that. There was such a close bond between them that hadn’t been there when we entered the city. Did he regret himself continuing the journey with us? No. I knew his heart was committed to this quest and his heart had not wavered, he would not turn from his path from fear. Perhaps it was that he had been tempted by whatever Galadriel offered and felt a lingering guilt for contemplating it. But no. It hadn’t been guilt I saw in his eyes. I’d clearly seen regret. Did he regret that I had almost decided to stay? Perhaps he truly did see me as one of their number now and regretted that I had nearly been tempted by the offer to stay and turn from their path.
“I’m here with you guys,” I whispered. Gimli was closer to me, but I knew he wouldn’t hear my words. But Legolas’s eyes widened at my utterance. “I haven’t forsaken my companions either,” I added in a bare whisper.
Gimli hadn’t heard my words to Legolas and started speaking before the elf could, replying to the words Legolas had spoken. “Maybe,” he answered, “and I thank you for your words. True words doubtless, yet all such comfort is cold. Memory is not what the heart desires. That is only a mirror, be it clear as Kheled-zâram. Or so says the heart of Gimli the Dwarf. Elves may see things otherwise. Indeed I have heard that for them memory is more like to the waking world than to a dream. Not so for dwarves.”
“That may be,” Legolas conceded, “yet my heart tells me that a memory never gained is as greatly yearned for as that which you speak of.”
“What of you, Lass? Do you take fond memories of this place with you?” he asked as he cleared his throat and gruffly rubbed at his eyes.
My smile was sad and wistful. “Yes. I’ll miss this place too. I think I’ll miss it more than anywhere I’ve ever lived or stayed before. It will have some of my happiest memories. Still—to me, being in Lórien was more like a dream than being in the waking world. It almost didn’t seem real. Sad or happy, I’d rather live my life in the waking world. I’d rather hold out for one day finding happy memories that felt real.”
Gimli sniffled again and grunted, gesturing to the river. “But let us talk no more of it. Look to the boat! She is too low in the water with all this baggage, and the Great River is swift. I do not wish to drown my grief in cold water.”
I laughed and turned in my seat, taking up my paddle again as I drove the boat forward to follow Aragorn who led. Our boat did ride lower in the water, but it was said that the boats of the Galadhrim wouldn’t overturn. Both Legolas and I were lighter than the two men were, but we were both in the boat together with the addition of a dwarf. Yet we were not slowed down. Between Legolas’s superior strength, and my own strength and skill, we easily kept up with the others.
“What? Can’t you swim master dwarf? I would think as heavy as your armor and weapons are you’d sink to the bottom straight off and merely have to walk across to get out,” I joked with Gimli.
“Bah!” Gimli exclaimed with a mock growl. “That’s enough out of you, Lass. Give ye a paddle and suddenly you be knowing everything.”
We all laughed and suddenly our spirits were far lighter than before.
We pressed on far into the evening, yet none of those paddling were over-weary. Aragorn had felt the need to press on late into the night, yet at the same, none were over-eager to push hard away from what had been our safe haven, content instead to let the stream more or less carry us on as we adjusted our path.
As we made for land, there wasn’t anywhere along the bank to pull the boats ashore, so instead, we tied the boats along the low hanging branches and climbed from the boats onto land. Legolas vaulted easily from our boat and helped Gimli gratefully clamber out next. With only myself in the boat, it tipped from side to side easily under my weight and the steps of my feet as I walked to the back where Legolas still waited, crouched lightly on a branch that ran along the bank and over the water and beside our boat.
He held his hand out to me to help me out, but I waved it away. “I’ve climbed in and out of my fair share of boats and even a few canoes, Legolas. I’m not some frail little girl,” I laughed.
Placing my foot on Legolas’s seat in the stern of the boat, I moved to push off it with my right foot and reached for a low hanging branch near Legolas as I moved. Yet as I pushed with my right foot, it tilted further into the water than I’d anticipated and my hand was too far away to reach for the branch I’d aimed for. Still, I quickly hopped upwards, pushing harder with my right foot to launch myself towards the tree as I changed my aim for a lower branch. My correction would have worked, but Legolas made a quick movement to grab for my arm when the boat tipped, and my hands collided against him instead of grasping the branch and the further tilt of the boat caused me to pitch forward into the cold water.
Sputtering, I rolled onto my back and stood, getting my feet under me again. The water was deep enough to come to my waist and I stood with my arms held wide and water streaming from my heavy sodden clothes. Looking up, I saw Legolas’s horrified face as he still crouched on the branch. He started to launch himself into the water but I stopped him with an upheld hand.
Holding my hand up further to him, I told him ruefully, “Well, are you going to sit there staring at me? If you’re still offering that help, I think I’ll take it now.”
He immediately reached down with both hands to grab my outstretched hand, and somehow, without even bracing himself, managed to pull me up from the water. Using my free hand and my feet, I easily swung up to sit beside him on the branch.
I held my arms out again as water still streamed from my clothes. Looking over at Legolas, I saw he was still staring at me with that horrified expression, but then his gaze drifted downwards before he jerked his gaze away from me.
Suddenly, I threw back my head and laughed deeply. “I guess next time I’ll just take your offer of help so I don’t end up taking another inadvertent bath,” I chuckled as I pulled my shirt away from where it clung to my chest and arms. Surprisingly, my cloak didn’t seem heavy with water, so I pulled it around myself to hide where my shirt and the jerkin over it had started to become transparent as it clung to me.
Thus covered, Legolas finally cracked a smile and lowered down to sit beside me as he joined my laughter. “I am astonished at your humor in this,” he said.
I suddenly had a vague memory of my mother.
“You can either laugh or cry, baby girl,” she had told me. “And I haven’t the strength for laughter.” There had been tears running down her cheeks. But all of the few memories of my mother were of her crying. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, knowing my father as I did.
It was a strange memory to suddenly surface in my mind. My memories of my mother were few, and this flash of memory was the clearest where she had spoken to me.
“‘You can either laugh or cry,'” I repeated to Legolas. “And I’d rather laugh than cry any day.”
“I apologize,” Legolas finally told me. “I should have moved out of your way.”
“Forget about it,” I told him. “I should have just taken your help,” I chuckled. I looked back into the boat. “Damn. Now I’m all wet and my pack with my clothes is still in the boat.” My head fell back as I laughed in defeat. “Guess I can’t get any wetter.”
“Nay, allow me to retrieve it,” Legolas said as he lightly sprang into the boat and then back out again, my pack in hand.
I stood on the branch and took it from his hands. “I really hate that you can do that,” I told him shaking my head.
He grinned. “I am certain.”
I stepped lightly onto the land and made my way towards the others. Gimli was already working on starting some tinder on fire. The hobbits had already been asleep when we made shore, but Merry and Pippin were now awake.
“Oy, why are you all wet?” Pippin exclaimed.
“Decided to take a bath,” I told him with a grin and tugging my cloak further around me.
“Why’d ya leave your clothes on?” he asked.
I continued walking past all of them to find a place further into the woods where I could change out of my wet clothes. As I went, I heard Pippin oof as though he’d been elbowed and Sam tell him lowly, “Don’t think she meant to, Pip.”
By the time I walked barefoot back to camp, Gimli had a fire going, and I used several sticks to stretch my clothes out near the fire where its warmth would dry them. My boots were also plunked down to dry out. I just prayed the leather wouldn’t shrink too bad.
“Decided to prove your swimming skills, Lass?” Gimli asked, struggling to keep his face straight.
“Humph,” I groaned, struggling to keep my own face straight. “At least I didn’t sink to the bottom.”
He laughed and handed me a hunk of meat from whatever had been cooking over the flame. “Here Lass, eat up.”
“Mmm,” I said, unenthusiastically. “More plain roasted meat. I’d almost come to miss it too.” I fluffed my cloak around me, and sat with my bare feet on my cloak and tucked underneath me to keep them warm. It still amazed me that my cloak was already dry, and once again warm. Truly magical.
Gimli winked at me. “Good thing I saved you a piece then, isn’t it, Lass?” I smiled at the way he always called me “Lass.” He rarely called me Lane, but I couldn’t bring myself to mind. The way he said Lass had come to be more of a friendly endearment.
Legolas and I took the first watch, standing away from the dying fire so the light didn’t hinder our sight.
As I usually did, I hopped onto a large rock to sit while Legolas chose to stand stoically beside me just as he usually did.
“Do you regret coming with us?” Legolas suddenly asked.
“No,” I replied in surprise. “I’m glad I came with. I’ve never been good at staying in one place real long. It was peaceful in Lórien, but I would have become restless again and wanted to move on. Better sooner than later.”
“Was it truly your desire to come with us?” Legolas asked, his face worried.
“Yes, Legolas. It’s what I wanted. I still have things I want to do.”
“You do not regret leaving the marchwarden?”
I shook my head. “I’ll miss my friend, but I don’t regret leaving. I just hope he finds an elleth one day who truly deserves him.”
Legolas sighed and looked again into the forest. I let my barriers slip to catch his thoughts. Meaningless words flowed through me, but such misery struck me that I drew a sharp breath. He glanced at me, and I immediately scooted over on the rock, patting the space between us.
“Come on,” I told him. “I miss Lothlórien too, and we can miss it together.”
He slowly climbed up the rock to sit cross-legged beside me. I grasped his hand between us and leaned my head against his shoulder, feeling some of his anguish slip away. It was surprising to me now how natural the simple act of holding Legolas’s hand had become. It was hard to imagine that the simple act had once seemed too intimate and uncomfortable for me.
I wondered in what other ways I was changing.
“I am glad to have you with us,” Legolas whispered. “It means much to me that you have come.”
I smiled but didn’t raise my head. “Me too. You’ve become a better friend than I’ve ever known. It wouldn’t have been the same to stay in Lothlórien without you. It’s strange to me to have such a good friend after so long alone, but I don’t know what I’d do without you.” I gave a light-hearted laugh and joked, “Hopefully, I’ll never have to find out.”
I laughed at my words, but a part of me was terrified by just how true that statement was becoming. With Legolas, I was able to speak about things I couldn’t with anyone else, and I worried about what I’d do if I lost that.
Several more days passed as our first day had. Early mornings followed by paddling long into the night. Some nights we made for shore, but a few we passed in our boats.
The days bled one into another, and my own memory of the order and timeline of what was to come was hazy after leaving Lothlórien. I knew the general events, but I couldn’t remember how much time would pass between the notable action.
I knew there was nothing I could do to change the course of our path, so I trudged along just like the others. Silence had descended over all of us. But I felt myself withdraw even more. My purpose in coming with the Fellowship as we left the golden woods had been to protect Merry and Pippin as best I could and to stand beside Boromir in his last moments. Yet guilt began to assault me as we drew closer to that moment.
As much as I hated what I knew Merry and Pippin would go through, I hated what I knew Sam and Frodo would face even more. And hopelessness filled me at the knowledge that I could not help them. The darkness of the ring was steeped in Frodo and I knew it would only grow. I was filled with shame at the knowledge that the ring had so easily breached my defenses in Lórien, and I was terrified to let myself close to it again. Frodo held the fate of this world in his hands, and only he would be able to destroy the ring. And the price he would pay for us all was so very high.
I couldn’t help Frodo with his journey or burden. But I was more determined than ever to help the other hobbits and Boromir as well.
I just needed to figure out how I was going to help them all without destroying the fate of this world.
A/N: We’re drawing closer to the end of the first book and the parting of the Fellowship.
Also, any dialogue you recognize is from Tolkien, although I have made some additions to it.
As always, let me know what you think! And thanks so much to those who have taken the time to leave your thoughts! They’re greatly appreciated.