I sat against the tree, wrapped up in my borrowed cloak for a long time before I finally drifted to sleep. The sounds of Boromir’s knife whittling a piece of wood and Aragorn softly singing something in another language finally lulled my mind into sleep.
I wasn’t sure how long I’d been asleep, but I jerked awake with a racing heart. Wisps of my dream were still there, but by the time I’d fully woken, I couldn’t remember any longer what my dream had been.
Remembering wasn’t necessary. It was usually one of a couple of different dreams.
With a weary exhale, I silently stood and walked to the edge of the clearing where Gandalf was still quietly smoking a pipe. He was propped against a log, and barely seemed to be moving. The occasional puffs of smoke were the only signs he wasn’t either asleep or a statue.
I sat beside him and dug into my pocket. “Mind if I smoke, too?” I asked him in a low voice.
He looked startled but said no and started to offer me his pipe.
I opened my cigar case and pulled a cigarillo out. After I had it lit with my trusty Zippo, I smiled faintly at Gandalf’s astonished expression. “I told you, my world is very different.”
We both smoked for a while in silence before I commented. “I’ve quit at least a dozen times. Bad for your health. But I still always keep an emergency supply of my favorite honey-flavored cigarillos on hand.” I gestured around, “Ending up in a strange world certainly seemed like an acceptable reason to pull out the emergency stash.”
“Your world certainly seems vastly different from this,” Gandalf commented.
I glanced at his staff and then thought of the swords, bows, and arrows the men and elf carried. This world was on the verge of a great war beginning. I’d seen and fought in my fair share of warfare in my own world and felt confident and proficient there. But here? What use was my knowledge of rifles and other modern weaponry? I suddenly felt damn useless.
I’d never fired a bow or swung a sword. Fairies may have preferred those kinds of weapons, but I learned to do my damnedest to stay as far from them as possible.
What the hell was I supposed to do here?
I removed my cigarillo and turned to Gandalf. “You’re a wizard, right? You’ve got magic. Can you send me home?”
I held my breath as I waited. He smiled sympathetically. “No. Such a task is not within my power, nor of any other I know.”
My breath came out in a dejected sigh. “So what? I’m stuck here?”
“Without knowing the specific curse and sort of magic this old woman you spoke of used, I cannot think of a way to send you back. I would not have dreamed it possible to send beings across the stars to another world in the first. I am sorry; I know that is not the answer you had hoped for.”
“What about Galadriel?” I countered. “Would she know?”
He chewed the stem of his pipe thoughtfully. “I could not rule such a thing out. The Lady Galadriel is said to see and know many great things.” He turned his head to look me in the eye. Suddenly, as he spoke, he wasn’t the wielder of an unnerving force of magic. He was simply a kindly old man. His gray eyes and long, frizzy gray hair and beard only served to deepen the image of the loving grandfather. “Do not get your hopes up, my dear. I fear you may be long bound for this world and that no force may be found to send you back again.”
I jerked a nod as I suddenly had trouble breathing. “Thank you for speaking with me,” I whispered as I crushed the end of my cigarillo and stood. I knew I wouldn’t sleep again so soon, but I needed some time alone.
Quietly picking my way back across camp, I stooped next to Boromir’s prone form for a moment to snatch the piece of wood he’d been whittling. He hadn’t been carving anything in particular and I needed something to do with my hands. I continued across the clearing, stopping near a large tree directly across from where I’d been sitting with Gandalf.
After leaning against the oak for a moment, I realized I wasn’t alone. Glancing to my left, I saw Legolas perhaps thirty feet away. He was likewise leaning against a tree.
I thought I’d done a better job of masking my surprise, but apparently not well enough. “Forgive me for once again startling you,” his melodious voice whispered. It was just another item to add to the list of similarities between elves and fairies.
“Do you always have to just pop up out of nowhere,” my voice hissed before I could censor my words.
His features never changed and he remained facing towards the forest, leaving his body and face in profile to me.
“I am sorry you cannot return to your home,” he spoke, never moving or turning.
“You don’t know that I can’t. There’s got to be a way. I got here. There has to be a way back,” I told him angrily. “And stop eavesdropping on conversations that don’t involve you. It’s just like the goddamned fairies, thinking they have the right to intrude on a lowly mortal’s privacy.”
He glanced at me and his head tilted as he studied me. “I wonder if these fairies you speak of are actually so terrible, or if you hate all races you do not know.”
I stepped backwards in surprise. But it was short-lived and my righteous anger returned. Striding to stand in front of him I ground out, “You don’t know anything about me. When I talk about fairies and say I hate them—and I do—it isn’t because of some stupid notion that they’re different from me. I know them. I am part of them. My father is a half-breed fairy and I’m his mongrel, bastard offspring. He considered killing me every day because I was worthless to him. No discernible magic and no worthwhile traits. When I realized he had actually decided I wasn’t worth allowing to live anymore, I left before he could carry out killing me. I was ten years old. From that moment on, I took care of myself. When I grew up, I realized I had to avoid fairies for a whole ‘nother reason. Male fairies like to find and keep a few partial-blooded fairy/human mongrels like me on hand. You see, most pureblood fairy women have become sterile over the past centuries, so they try to find human women with some fairy blood like me to steal and take to their lands for procreation. I’ve seen them kill and steal women to force into that kind of servitude. Most of them don’t come to my world that often anymore, but when they do, I stay the hell away from them. So don’t tell me that I hate them without knowing them. I know them.”
His face paled as I spoke and he once again wore that horrified expression.
My right hand angrily ran over my hair as I swore to myself. My arm throbbed painfully at the action, but I ignored it. I was pissed for letting myself ramble on like that.
“Elaina, you must realize that neither I, nor any elf, could ever commit such behavior. You are judging myself and my race for actions abhorrent to my kind. How is it fair that you so judge me and loath so much as the sight of me?” he urgently whispered, pressing a graceful hand over his heart.
I knew in my own heart that he was right and it wasn’t fair, but as he spoke honestly with me, I could do no less for him. I closed my eyes and answered. “How can I not loath the very sight of you when one glance is all it takes to reduce me to that pitiful girl who hid from her father. One glance and I am reminded instantly of one of the few things I still fear. Once glance and I’m left with nothing but that weakness. I’ve worked too long and too hard to allow myself to be that pathetic little girl again. But one glance, and you remind me that deep down, I still am.”
I couldn’t bear to look up at him again, so I turned away to find my own secluded place to be alone.
Years in the Marines had taught me how to shut my mind down and act without thinking. So I sat against a tree and began to carve on the piece of wood still clutched in my hand. I forced my mind into silence and watched absently as my hands made the wood take shape. I worked until the sun had been well up and the increased sounds nearby told me that the others were stirring.
In my hands was now a carved image of a child, happy and smiling. Just like how I’d always dreamed of growing up. But I knew better than to wish for a changed past. The impossible was never good to dwell on, so I dropped the figure, and made my way back towards camp.
Mindless carving may not have produced anything tangible to keep, but it had allowed me to shake off my melancholy. I studiously avoided looking at or going near the elf, and by an unspoken agreement, he seemed to be returning the favor.
It was near noon when everyone was awake and a meal was made. Merry and Pippin argued over whether it was breakfast or lunch and complained about the lack of the proper number of meals on their voyage.
Gandalf only laughed, “Do not complain so, young Pippin. In place of your extra meals you received extra sleep last night.”
“Yeah, but we’re going to make up for it today and tonight,” he grumbled quietly.
I once again quickly and quietly devoured the meal Sam handed to me and gave my plate back to him. Since I was an unexpected addition on this journey, it was a good thing I ate quickly since Sam and I were sharing a plate.
While the others were finishing their meals, I quietly excused myself to return to the nearby stream for a drink and to splash water on my face.
Unlike with the elf, I heard Aragorn quietly approach from behind me.
When I glanced over my shoulder, he gestured to me and said, “I should like to examine your wound again before we begin our journey today.”
I shrugged and carefully repeated yesterday’s actions of pulling just one arm out of my shirt while still holding it up around my chest. It was much easier since my borrowed shirt was somewhat baggy on my.
Aragorn carefully removed the bandage and examined the wound. It hadn’t continued to bleed around the stitches and the paste concoction he’d made and spread on it was still there. There didn’t appear to be any redness or swelling, so perhaps the paste was doing its job to prevent infection after all, despite my previous doubts.
After he had rewrapped my arm and I’d pulled my shirt back in place, I asked, “You don’t happen to have any toothpaste, do you?”
Aragorn looked surprised for a moment and then pulled out a small jar. Laughing he said, “Yes, I have tooth cleaning powder, and though it is used by elves, not many of the race of man know its benefits.”
He proceeded to show me how it created a paste when he dipped his dampened small brush with coarse bristles into the powder. “I fear I have not an extra brush, however,” he added apologetically.
I shook my head before he could try to offer me his toothbrush and poured a small amount of powder into my hand and created a paste using my finger. “No matter. Doesn’t work quite as well, but I’ve used my finger to scrub my teeth before.”
Looking Aragorn over as I scrubbed my teeth and he did likewise, I was glad to see that he was more fastidious than what I’d somehow imagined. True, he looked travel worn, but who didn’t? His face and hands were clean, and his beard—no boyish dusting of whiskers—was slightly unkempt, in need of a trim. But that too was to be expected. Boromir’s held the same appearance.
Even Aragorn’s clothes were fairly clean, though well worn.
When we were done, we both stood and walked back towards the others. The hobbits and Boromir passed by us on the way to the stream. I was surprised to see that nearly all the supplies had been repacked and placed onto their pony.
“How are you feeling today? Well enough for travel?” Aragorn asked.
“You assume I’m going with you.”
He stared at me in shock. “Certainly you shall accompany us. We cannot leave you here, alone and unprotected.”
I felt myself smile at his words. Though there had been the initial question of whether I had been a spy, it had only been considered halfheartedly for a moment. Because I was a woman, I was assumed no threat and indeed, it was assumed that they now were responsible for protecting me.
A small laugh escaped as I answered, “Fine. I’ll go with you, but I can look after myself.” Remembering that none of them would know at this point exactly, where their journey would take them, I added, “I’ll go with you until my path must turn for Lothlórien. I’m still determined to see if I can find someone who can send me back to my world again.”
He looked surprised but commented, “We shall decide when the time comes.”
By the time evening was nearly gone, I was almost as tired as the hobbits, and thoroughly disgusted with myself for my exhaustion. I couldn’t possibly be in such poor shape that a leisurely hike like the one we’d taken should have taken such a toll on me.
In the Marines, I’d marched much further, far faster, and done it while toting a seventy-five pound pack. But you lost a bit of blood yesterday; it’ll take a few days to get back to full strength, I reminded myself. It was a poor consolation though.
I’d never liked being seen as the weak woman. In the Marines, I used to strive to do any of the fitness exercises just like the other men did, and I’d practiced until I could beat most of them, too. I hated the thought that the civilian life—even as a cop—was making me soft. Still, I knew that in a few days, I’d likely have all my strength back. I’d just never been good at patience.
It also annoyed me that the two men in particular seemed to hover ever near me on the march with their periodic questions of whether or not I was all right. It was a constant struggle to remind myself that this was a different world and woman were viewed differently here. And that it wasn’t their fault.
After the quiet meal, the hobbits laid out their beds and quickly fell asleep. Gandalf once again sat off by himself, smoking in quiet contemplation. The sun was just rising, but I wasn’t quite ready for sleep, even if my body was exhausted. I offered to take the first watch, and when the men started arguing against a woman needing to do such a thing, I simply turned on my heel and walked to the edge of camp, silently taking on my self-appointed task.
Behind me, I heard Aragorn assign Legolas to take the watch with me. I didn’t hear his response, but this time, when I listened very carefully, I heard the softest rustling of leaves as the elf walked closer to me.
He kept a modest distance between us when he drew even with me. I didn’t think he was going to break the silence, but he finally did. “I am sorry if my presence upsets you. I am only doing my duty,” he quietly spoke, never looking my way.
Still, I jerked a nod and the silence resumed. Eventually, I moved to sit Indian style on a rock slightly behind me. My new vantage also put the elf further into my peripheral sight.
I thought about our journey through the afternoon and all through the night. The hobbits, Merry and Pippin, had been particularly friendly with me, always asking questions about the world I came from and things like if women always dressed as men there. Even when they began to tire, their questions had never ceased. When I had grown weary of speaking and trying to decide how best to phrase my answers, Frodo had deftly changed topics and kindly gotten the other hobbits to start telling tales of the Shire and their own adventures there. I could tell from his wistful expression that Frodo very much wanted to return to his home and was surprised at the sheer determination it must have taken to volunteer for such a quest.
I glanced at the elf again. All the while, as I walked and chatted with the hobbits, and eventually even Gimli, Legolas had been nearby. Sometimes scouting ahead of the group, and sometimes falling back to bring up the rear. But always, he kept a distance between us. Purely for my sake, I realized when I caught his fond smile at the laughing hobbits as he walked around us to scout ahead again during the night.
I had reached out to his thoughts in particular many times throughout our march, and though his language was still a mystery to me, I couldn’t find a hint of darkness in his mind or thoughts. Only a sad kind of acceptance.
And I realized, he enjoyed the kind laughter of the hobbits, but he had avoided them in deference to me. For my sake.
And now, he sat silently, keeping a careful distance between us, once again, for my sake.
I continued to study him, noting that physically, I couldn’t mark a single difference in his form and that of the Fae. It was easy to look at him and see my grandfather’s kindred. To see my father. My father was half-blood, but he’d looked so much like a pureblood.
As a child, I’d feared and cowered from him. I grew up thinking his cruelty was just his own nature, but after I’d grown, I’d come to learn that most fairies were cruel and self-serving. True, my father had been darker even than many of the Fae, but overall, the acceptable and expected behavior of their kind would have shocked most humans.
But after I had run away from my father, I had come across fairies only a few times. I had lived wholly amongst humans for most of my life now. So why did I still let my fear of the Fae grip me so tightly?
Legolas may have looked like the fairies I had known, but I knew I was being an ass to treat him so poorly when he had been quite kind to me. Well—at least after his initial anger over me breaking his nose. Even then, he’d apologized to me.
Yup, I’m an ass.
“I am sorry,” I suddenly told him.
He looked startled and glanced back at me. “I beg your pardon?”
“For breaking your nose,” I clarified. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know where I was and you startled me when I was already feeling vulnerable because I was wounded. I don’t normally go around breaking people’s noses when I meet them.”
He continued looking at me like I’d grown a horn out of my forehead, so I continued, “I just wanted to tell you I was sorry. I should have said it sooner.”
He shook his head. “Nay, it was not fair of me to demand an apology from you. I understand that my presence and appearance is difficult for you to bear,” he apologized.
I let out a disgusted snort. “And enough of that. I was way out of line saying what I did to you and making demands like that. It’s not fair and it sure as hell isn’t your fault that elves look like fairies. I can’t blame you for that or keep expecting that based solely on those appearances, that you’re anything like a fairy. Especially when your every action proves that you’re not.” I had started looking down guiltily as I spoke, but I forced myself to meet his eyes as I finished. “When I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong. So, I’m sorry for what I said to you, too.”
More time had passed than I realized, I heard Aragorn stirring to come relieve our watch. I stood and started back towards him and camp.
“Elaina,” Legolas called softly. I stopped and turned towards the elf again. “I am sorry as well that my presence causes you pain. It grieves me to know this.”
I shook my head. “It’s not your fault, and my father’s memory only holds power over me if I let it. And I don’t want it to.” I continued back into camp, silently passing Aragorn.
Legolas made no move to follow me.
I lay down near the hobbits. Sam had insisted I take his blanket to use as a pallet, saying his cloak was warm enough for him. But I was gladdened to see that Frodo had scooted closer to his dear friend to share his own blanket. My eyes studied the blue sky and the clouds for a time before they finally shut. I for one was glad to be marching by night and sleeping by day. My dreams held less terror for me when I knew I would open my eyes to sunlight instead of the darkness of night that brought back the memories of other dark places.
It was easier to keep my mind occupied with marching through the darkness of night.