I started back towards the newly lit campfire. It was in roughly the same area where I had—woken?—or I guess found myself in. The other man by the fire, I suppose if I was buying into this whole Fellowship thing—and God help me, but I was—that would make him Boromir, was turning my vest over in his hands and examining it. I veered my path for his side of the fire.
“What do you think it is, Pip? It sure is heavy.”
“Not sure, Merry. It’s just metal isn’t it? Not even sharp.”
My eyes darted down at the two hobbits as I was walking behind them towards Boromir. One of the hobbits was shaking something much too large for his hands. My eyes widened in recognition and I swooped down over them to snatch my Glock away from the one now trying to hand it to the other.
“Jesus H Christ,” I swore. “This isn’t a toy! It’s a weapon. A very dangerous one,” I yelled at the hobbits.
They immediately shrunk away from me to huddle by the other hobbits.
I wasn’t sure where my Glock had come from, but remembered that I’d still been holding the pistol when I’d been shot. I had probably dropped it on the ground when I was imitating a fish out of water trying to breathe.
I knew by the weight that it was still loaded and remembered that I hadn’t even fired a shot at the warehouse. Once assured that the gun was undamaged and still unfired, I replaced it in my hip holster, thanking my lucky stars that they hadn’t managed to accidentally fire the thing. I also took the time to put my .40 back in my ankle holster.
I looked up at the puzzled—and in the case of the hobbits, scared—expressions of everyone. “I’m sorry for yelling and scaring you guys,” I apologized to the hobbits. “That’s a very dangerous weapon where I’m from.”
“And just where is it that you hail from, my lady?” Boromir curiously asked.
I jerked my head towards Aragorn. “I already told him, but I’ll say it again. It’s just Lane. Not ‘lady’ anything.” I ran my left hand over my head and through the wisps of hair that had pulled out of my ponytail. “I live—lived, in Chicago. But I doubt that any of you have heard of that city.”
Their blank stares were answer enough.
“Well shit,” I muttered to myself.
Boromir’s brow furrowed as he frowned. “Must you use such oaths? I may not recognize many of your words, but I recognize your tone. It is not befitting of a woman, whether you wish to be called a lady or not.”
A feather could have knocked me over. A soldier dressing me down for my language? Who’d have thought? Marines had never been known for our sophistication. “I apologize,” I sputtered. “Guess I’ve spent too many years as a Marine and then working with cops.”
A puzzled look filled Boromir’s face. “‘Marine?'” he repeated, the word twisting funnily in his mouth.
I paused, trying to figure out how best to explain what a Marine was. I finally settled for simplicity. “Marines are part of a branch of my people’s military. I was a soldier, I guess you’d say.” The word tasted sour in my mouth. A Marine was a Marine. We weren’t the Army to call ourselves soldiers, but it was easier to keep things simple for now.
Boromir looked skeptical. “You were a soldier?”
“What’s a cop?” one of the hobbits added.
I could already see the whole “female soldier” shock setting in, so I decided to cut it off quick. “Yes, a soldier. My people learned that women can be just as deadly, if not deadlier,” I answered with a grin. “Being in the military isn’t for most women, I’ll grant you, but we never forbid them from proving their worth in the ranks.” Discourage, dissuade, and downright make it difficult as hell, but not forbid. Not anymore at least.
I turned towards the hobbits. “A cop is—” I trailed off, trying to dredge up memories of the couple of times I’d read Lord of the Rings several years ago. Did Middle Earth have anything like a police force? How the hell am I going to explain this? “Well, we protect and serve,” I finished lamely.
“What do you protect? Whom do you serve?” Aragorn asked as he stepped near the fire with several skinned rabbits. One of the hobbits came forward with a pack and began pulling out pots and pans as he took the rabbits. Probably Samwise, I told myself.
I stared into the fire for a moment and then crossed my arms and picked at the drying blood on my sleeve as I thought. “Well, my city, Chicago, has rules and laws their citizens must live by, and when they don’t, cops like me are trained to enforce the laws by arresting the offenders and bringing them before a judge where a group of their peers decide a punishment for their crime.” I looked up at Aragorn again. “To answer your question, we protect the people. We serve the people.”
“A noble calling, even for a woman,” a deep voice rumbled. I glanced over to see the dwarf, Gimli, nod to me in appreciation. I decided to ignore the “even for a woman” part that had my hackles up. Things were different in this time and place where women were concerned.
“For the most part it is,” I agreed.
“Gandalf, are we going to march again, all night?” the hobbit I was beginning to think was Pippin asked. He looked a bit younger than I’d expected, but then, I knew the hobbits were all older than the appearances I was used to.
Gandalf chuckled and took his pointed hat off as he sat near the fire and gestured for me to sit near him. I nodded and took his offer. “No young Peregrin. We shall not march more tonight. We made good time last night and will start early and push hard again tomorrow night. For tonight, I thought we could hear our guest’s tale.” He then proceeded to point around the fire and introduce the Fellowship. Minus an elf that is, who was still absent. Not that I minded.
I was startled by Gandalf’s explanation to Pippin and finally remembered that in the book, they had traveled by night. “I don’t want to mess up your plans or slow you down,” I tried.
Gandalf shook his head. “We had traveled a fair distance when we got an early start this afternoon. We shall make up for lost time tomorrow night. It was of more importance to see to your health; you need a good meal and rest I would wager. Now, please tell us how you came to be so strangely clad this far south in Hollin.”
I scratched my brain mentally, but couldn’t recall any Hollin. But then, I’d always been more interested in the action sequences of books than in the details of any story.
I drew one knee up to my chest and wrapped my left arm around it as I started talking to the gathered group, what I was unbelievably starting to believe was the actual Fellowship of the Ring. I told them briefly about my job and then about the raid at the warehouse. It was unbelievable how many times I had to stop to explain various things and what my “strange” words meant. I glossed over what the warehouse we were raiding actually was, not wanting to explain what a brothel was. For all I knew, they didn’t even exist in all of Middle Earth. Though somehow, I doubted it. It was the oldest profession after all.
Finally, I had gotten to the part where I’d come to in the middle of a forest with my breath knocked out.
“Your tale seems fantastical and farfetched, my lady—forgive me, Lane,” Boromir commented, stroking his chin. “How are we to believe that you are truly from another place, even another world, as you claim, as vastly different from this as the one you describe?”
“You think I’m lying?” I asked, one brow raised.
“I did not say that. Merely that you might be mistaken after suffering an injury as you have,” Boromir returned.
I felt the urge to rise and snap back at him in anger, but Gandalf placed a calming hand on my arm. I could feel his magic sizzling where he touched me and I was unnerved by the feeling. Now I fought the urge to jerk away from him instead. Gandalf seemed to sense it and slowly removed his hand.
Shaking my head to clear it, I turned back to Boromir and gestured to the vest lying forgotten near his feet. “Toss me that vest.”
Grabbing it from the air after he’d thrown it, I laid it across my lap and pulled my jackknife from my pocket. Using it, I pried the bullet from the dented armor plate in the vest and held it up. “This was the bullet that girl shot me with.” I held the mangled bullet up, and then tossed it to Boromir who examined it carefully with Aragorn leaning in to look as well. I pulled my Glock out again and removed the clip and a bullet from it as well. The calibers were different, but they’d get the idea. “This is what they look like before they’re fired,” I explained, tossing my bullet across to Aragorn. They leaned together to examine the two bullets while all the others, save for Gandalf and the still missing elf, gathered close as well. Even Sam stopped stirring the stew he’d been preparing as I talked to go look. “Obviously that bullet from my vest had to have been fired at an extraordinary speed and hit something quite solid to become so compacted and mangled.”
“Your wound did seem unlike any I had seen before. It didn’t seem made by arrow or blade,” Aragorn admitted.
“What of her knowledge of our Fellowship?” Legolas suddenly asked. I jumped up in surprise, not even noticing when he’d come up behind me. I managed not to grab for my gun, but just barely. I edged partway around the fire, trying not to be too obvious about putting space between us.
Thinking quickly, I answered their curious looks, “Well, I know about it because in my world, your quest is an old tale, one known to many,” I’d considered telling them it was a vision or something else, but decided to stick as close to the truth as possible.
Frodo spoke for the first time, suddenly looking hopeful. “Then you know how our journey shall end?”
I suddenly felt guilty and like I’d made the wrong choice. Raising their hopes hadn’t been my intention. I should have thought of something else. “Yes, but I’m afraid there’s nothing of what’s to come that I can divulge.”
I kept a close eye on Legolas. Elf or fairy, I was nervous by his very Fae-like appearance.
“Ooch, you can’na tell the future based on some story you were told as a child,” Gimli scoffed.
I shrugged, hoping that maybe he was right. Just because I’d read those books once upon a time in my world, didn’t mean that was what would happen in this world. I’d seen enough to know other worlds besides the one I’d known existed out there. The land of the Fairies for one, though I’d never traveled there or to any other world. Until now, that is. But a world where the events that were happening had been narrated as a completed story in another world? That seemed farfetched.
Or maybe it was just wishful thinking.
“But you knew of our fellowship? A secret fellowship.” Gandalf reminded. “What do you know?”
I remembered something my mother’s mother had cautioned. She had been an oracle of sorts—human, as far as I’d known. “Just because I might know something of what’s to come, doesn’t mean I should tell others. People don’t do well knowing what’s going to happen.” It had driven my grandmother crazy. I felt a sad smile tug at my lips. “I was told once that if you knew you might step out the door and get hurt, you would probably just stay home and try to be safe. But fate was just as likely to strike you dead for messing with it.” I shrugged. “Seems safer not to fool around with.”
“Perhaps very wise words,” Gandalf agreed, looking thoughtful.
“So we’re just supposed to take your word on how you know these things?” Gimli pressed.
“Do you really think if I’d learned what I know by evil means or that I’d had nefarious intentions I’d have hung around here wounded and then told you that I know anything at all about your fellowship?” I asked picking at the dried blood on my shirt again.
“It would seem to me that if the lady truly had ill intentions she would have devised a more plausible story than this,” Boromir kindly suggested.
“Thanks. I think,” I replied with a frown.
Sam had started passing out plates of stew. When he got to me, he stopped and looked at where I’d been picking blood from my stained shirt. “Begging your pardon misses, but I think I can find you an extra shirt in one of the packs that wouldn’t be too awful large.”
I smiled gratefully as I took my plate. “That would be wonderful, Master Gamgee.”
He blushed and quickly turned to go to where the packs were piled.
When he came back a few minutes later with some cloth in a bundle, I was just finishing my plate of stew. I handed it back to him saying, “Thanks, that was delicious.”
“You’re finished a’ready?” Sam asked, clearly shocked.
Now it was my turn to blush a little. “Sorry, you’re taught to eat fast if you want a meal at all in the military. Never know when the next one’s coming,” I told him as I took the bundle of clothes from him.
Boromir laughed as he finished his own plate. “It is ever the same in Gondor. Perhaps you were a soldier after all.”
“Sounds awful,” Pippin muttered to himself.
I forced a smile and opened the bundle Sam brought. There was a shirt wrapped up in a heavy cloak.
“It gets mighty cold at night; figured you’d like a nice cloak to keep warm, though it’d be warmer if we had another fur lined one like the ones what Mister Elrond gave to us.” He looked sheepish, “You’re right welcome to use mine if you’d like.”
Sam’s would obviously be small for me, but the two men both started to voice offers of their own cloaks. I cut them off. “It’s no problem, guys. This one’s more than enough. I’ve lived in climates colder than this and Chicago can definitely get colder than this in the winter.”
I stood with my bundle to go change and was shocked motionless when they all stood as well. Although Merry had to nudge Pippin.
“You guys really don’t have to do that,” I told them, my cheeks tingeing with embarrassment. They all started to protest but I stopped them. “Look, as long as I’m still wearing pants, stop the whole ‘lady’ treatment.” I turned away muttering, “I’ve never seen men jump to their feet so fast just because I stood up. You’d think they were a bunch of buck privates and someone had yelled mail call.”
There were a few muffled laughs as I made my way back towards the stream from earlier. The shirt looked like it would be a little big, but I was grateful to get out of my ruined shirt and into a clean one. After I had cleaned up a bit again and changed into the white linen shirt, I remained kneeling by the stream. I was surprised by the ease with which I was accepting this turn of events. True, I’d never lived a quiet, altogether human life, but shouldn’t I be more upset about ending up in some strange world?
But I realized as I knelt by the stream, that I’d never been so relaxed before. It was normally a constant struggle to keep other people’s thoughts out of my head so I didn’t go crazy. Here, it was effortless. Perhaps it was so easy here because there were only a handful of thoughts to contend with for miles and miles. I couldn’t say. I almost dared to think that here I could live without the constant fear that people would be freaked out by me and think I was crazy because I slipped up and heard their thoughts. I’d had enough of that as a child.
They think you know the future! Yeah, not crazy at all! I laughed aloud. Okay, maybe I’d never have a chance at a normal, boring life.
I got up and started back towards the campsite. The tall lithe figure leaning against the tree startled me enough that I’d half drawn my handgun before I realized it was Legolas watching me.
He raised placating hands. “Forgive me; I did not intend to startle you. None should wander alone in these dark times.”
I forced myself to replace my gun and breathe. I was really getting sick of being startled all the time. “It’s fine,” I told him, edging away from him and towards the others.
“Why are you so frightened of me? What are these fairies that you fear?” he quietly asked.
There was only faint bruising around his eyes and nose now. Elves apparently healed very quickly. Just like fairies.
“You’re not still pissed off at me for busting your nose, are you?” I asked instead of answering his questions.
He was momentarily confused but seemed to guess at my words. “Nay, and I apologize for reacting so poorly before. I am afraid it has been some time since I have felt the bite of a broken nose.”
I nodded and edged nearer to the low light of the fire.
“Fairies must be creatures wholly unlike elves,” he observed.
“I don’t know any elves.”
“But these fairies must not be good creatures,” he continued to comment.
I started to turn away, but a hand lightly grabbed my elbow.
I shoved his hand away and hissed, “Don’t touch me.”
He looked startled but removed his hand and stepped back. “I am not one of those creatures. I mean you no harm.”
“Just leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone.”
He looked at me blankly then tilted his head down towards me as he said, “I have apologized to you for my behavior. Yet you have not returned the favor and apologized for breaking my nose. Whether you will speak of it or not, these fairies have done you harm. But please do not judge me or all elves by some race foreign to this world, Elaina.” And then he turned away and disappeared into the shadows of the tree line.
I returned to the dying fire in stunned silence. I mutely nodded when Aragorn said I should get some rest. Drawing my borrowed cloak around myself, I sat propped against a nearby tree and closed my eyes.
I doubted I’d sleep much, I rarely did anymore, but I had a lot of things to think about. But I kept turning over in my mind, how he’d known my full name. I’d only told Aragorn.