I was still rebraiding my damp hair as I walked back to camp that morning. Merry, Pippen, and Gimli had already lain down and were off to dreamland. But Sam was still awake and handed me a plate of dried foods as I squatted in the center of camp.
“You sure it’s not too cold to be getting so wet, Miss Lane?” Sam asked, flustered.
I laughed softly as I quickly picked at my food. “I’ll be fine, Sam. I’ve bathed in cold streams and rivers before.” Though I did sorely miss being able to get warm by a fire afterwards.
It was one of the things that made being a female soldier more difficult. For many practical reasons, women needed to be able to get clean every now and then to avoid certain personal hygiene issues. It was just one of the reasons that women weren’t officially allowed into combat. But I’d dealt with it before, and I’d always found the key to be cleaning up whenever I was near running water and had the chance.
Even if it meant taking a quick dip in a cold stream. I was clean, even if I was a bit cold. Though, as much as the temperature was dropping, I wouldn’t be able to keep bathing in streams we came across. Not since we weren’t lighting fires anymore.
I picked at my dirty dress slacks. I didn’t want to risk having to put on cold clothes, so they were starting to show their wear from not being cleaned. My borrowed shirt and cloak were holding up well, but my mass-made slacks weren’t made for this kind of trek. My fingers flicked at where the soles of my tennis shoes were pealing apart. They weren’t made for this either.
I handed my plate back to Sam. “Thanks for fixing me a plate, Sam. Get some rest.”
He nodded and left for his place near the other hobbits.
Boromir and Aragorn were sitting beside each other quietly talking while Aragorn smoked a pipe, and Legolas stood nearby. They didn’t appear ready for sleep just yet. I could see Gandalf and Frodo sitting together as they took the day’s first watch, their huddled forms muffling their whispered voices.
Somberness still hung in the air from the day before and from whatever had flown over us last night, but since the sun was shining, I was determined to be more cheerful than the men were being.
I walked until I stood in front of the two men and had their attention. “So, which of you guys is going to teach me how to use a sword?”
Aragorn choked on his inhaled breath, taking too much smoke down his throat into his lungs. Boromir was so startled by my question, he almost didn’t respond to Aragorn’s coughing breaths, but did finally manage to shake himself from his stupor in time to whack Aragorn on the back a few times.
The Dúnadan gave him a less than friendly look before turning to me and incredulously asking, “I beg your pardon?”
“A sword. Who’s going to teach me to use a sword? It’s something I should probably learn if I’m going to protect myself in this world,” I told them, grinning at their shock.
“But Lane, we shall protect you. There is no need to protect yourself. You are a woman,” Boromir sputtered.
“Yeah, but even women in this world learn how to protect themselves. Take the Shieldmaidens of Rohan,” I explained to them. “Besides, you guys will be safer too if you aren’t having to protect yourselves, the hobbits, and me. And I’ve told you guys before, I was a soldier once in my world. We just didn’t use these sorts of weapons.” I knew Boromir would be hard to convince, but I could see Aragorn thoughtfully chewing his pipe stem. He’d stopped even trying to smoke it.
“Come on,” I pressed them. “What could it hurt to teach me a little bit for my self-defense?”
“Very well,” Aragorn said with a sigh as he stood. Turning to Boromir he added, “Come. I shall need your help, and perhaps the lady can borrow your sword.”
Boromir stood at the command, but obviously wasn’t pleased by it. I followed the men away from camp where hopefully, we wouldn’t disturb those trying to sleep—though I doubted anything could wake Gimli. I sensed Legolas was following behind, but he didn’t say anything or object to our latest turn of events.
We stopped at a clearing and Aragorn unsheathed his sword, Andúril. I had to admit, the blade reforged was damned impressive. He nodded to Boromir who unsheathed his own sword and held it out to me hilt first. It was plainer, but no less impressive compared to Aragorn’s.
I grasped the handle, and even though I was expecting it, I was still surprised by the heft of the blade. There was no getting around it, it was heavy, and it was another of the reasons women weren’t normally soldiers. They just weren’t as strong as a man. And I unfortunately didn’t have the muscle mass I’d had in the Marines.
I experimentally swung the sword with both hands and felt the weight of it in my arms. Well, I’ll get my muscle mass back pretty quick if I use this thing very much.
“So what now?” I asked them.
The next several days we continued our ascension towards the mountain pass. Each day we stopped, I got the men to help teach me to use a sword. Sometimes the hobbits joined in, Boromir helping them while Aragorn worked with me.
My arms ached from swinging Boromir’s heavy sword each day, but I was learning to position my stance better. I just kept hoping the rest would come too.
I stepped back again and barely blocked Aragorn’s parry. I’d considered trying to read his thoughts to see if he telegraphed his moves, but it was hard enough to concentrate on my own moves without adding in trying to read Aragorn’s mind too. For now, I’d have to rely on simply learning the moves.
“You move your feet well, but do not forget the position of your blade to defend yourself with,” Aragorn instructed.
I turned away from him to stretch my arms and catch my breath. A memory from Marine boot camp came back to me. Pugil Stick fighting was the way the Corp taught recruits aggression. Nothing like learning to fight and be aggressive like someone hitting you in the head with a stick repeatedly. And channeling the frustration of boot camp into aggression and fighting was a healthy outlet if it was supervised. And if recruits were well padded.
But I remembered my drill instructor yelling at us that we’d never win a fight if we didn’t attack. And as they had so kindly yelled, “This is war, not a game. If you don’t go on the offense and win, you’re dead.”
Turning back to Aragorn, I said, “All right. Let’s try this again.”
As Aragorn stepped towards me and struck with his sword, I stepped towards him instead of stepping back defensively as I had always done. I parried his sword and stepped past him, turning to swing my blade again. He recovered from his surprise, and turned to block my sword.
I smiled, my adrenaline kicking in now that I was finally going on the offensive. We pushed each other back and forth a few times before Aragorn finally started getting the upper hand again. He’d been using a sword far longer and was stronger than I was.
But I’d gotten the upper hand when I’d rushed him and surprised him. Maybe I could do it again.
Aragorn swung his sword overhead and I dropped low, balancing myself on the ground with one hand, and using the other to block Aragorn’s sword with my own over my head. As our swords struck, I swung one leg out and swept Aragorn’s legs out from under him.
As he hit the ground on his back, I stood and held the sword on his chest, grinning all the while. I’d finally won a bout between us. Though I wouldn’t fool myself in thinking it would happen often, or ever again.
Aragorn stared at me in shock, then threw back his head and laughed. It said a lot about a man that he could laugh so easily at being beaten by a woman.
I held my hand out to him to help him up. He grasped my arm and pulled himself up.
“How did you learn to do that?” he laughed.
Pointing my borrowed sword down into the ground, I leaned against the hilt to rest. “We’re taught martial arts—to fight with nothing more than our hands and feet—in the Marines, and I finally decided to use it in addition to all that sword stuff. Plus, I remembered our drill instructors pounding into our heads the lesson that if you didn’t go on the offensive, you’d end up dead. Works with swords too,” I grinned.
Aragorn shook his head good-naturedly, and even Boromir looked grudgingly impressed.
“You can do this and fight with just your hands and feet?” Legolas asked with a smile.
I tossed the sword back to Boromir and crouched into a low horse stance. Flexing my hands in front of me, I said, “You bet. I may not have used a sword before I got here, but I can fight with my bare hands.”
Aragorn laughed again. “I have not seen such a thing done before, but you will not fool me again. I will be ready for you next time.”
I stood from my crouch. “I have no doubt. When it comes to straight sword fighting, you’ve got many years of experience on me, and I can’t count on surprising you again,” I answered honestly.
He sheathed his sword and clapped me on the back. “You fight better than you let on. I cannot foresee any opponent anticipating your unorthodox style of fighting.” He nodded in appreciation. “I do feel better knowing you shall be able to protect yourself should need arise,” he added. “Come. Let us all get some rest.” I smiled, knowing I had years of practice ahead of me before I’d truly be able to compete with Aragorn, but at least I’d bested him once.
The men returned to the campsite to sleep and Legolas and I relieved Gimli and Sam of their watch. We stood side-by-side as our watch began. I was wired from finally being able to beat Aragorn—even if I never would again—and my adrenaline rush wouldn’t allow me to stand still. I struggled against it, but could still feel myself fidgeting and bouncing slightly in-place. I needed something to wind down my excess energy or I’d never get any sleep today.
“You fight very impressively,” Legolas complimented.
On impulse, I turned towards Legolas and grasped his shoulder and jaw in my hands. Leaning closer, I pressed my lips to his and moved my lips hungrily against him. He stiffened against me in surprise, but I’d never let that stop me before.
His lips softened for a moment, and then he pulled away abruptly, stumbling away from me and falling on his butt in the brown, dried grass.
He stared up at me in shock, and I turned away to hide my embarrassment at his pulling away. I had never been the most beautiful woman in the room, but I knew I was attractive enough and confidant enough to make up for my plainer aspects to get a guy if I was interested in spending a night with him. Men generally liked a woman who was direct and pursued them. I’d certainly never had a man pull away from me before.
“Well I’ve never had a guy try to get away from me so badly that he fell on his ass,” I commented bitterly, still looking away in embarrassment.
Legolas was silent and unmoving, so I finally looked back to see him still sprawled on the ground staring up at me. In my embarrassment, I let my guard slip and felt Legolas’s swirling emotions filter across my mind. I couldn’t catch his thoughts, but his emotions flitted from shock to embarrassment, and to several other emotions I couldn’t name.
“What? You act like you’ve never kissed someone before,” I bit out.
He gently touched his mouth with one hand. “I never have,” he whispered.
My head jerked back to him. “What! You’re how old? And you’ve never kissed someone? So you’ve never had sex either?”
“Nay!” he shouted in a strangled voice.
I turned away from him again and covered my face in mortification. Great, I just sexually assaulted an elf. A virgin elf! Shit, how do you stay a virgin for that long?
I heard him stand up behind me and brush himself off.
Not turning around, I apologized, “Look, I’m sorry. I was way out of line and I had no idea, you ah, had no experience in that area.” I rubbed my face, suddenly tired and wishing I could crawl in a hole somewhere. “It was stupid and impulsive, and I was just acting on the adrenaline rush from beating Aragorn, and let’s just pretend this never happened,” I rambled.
He moved to stand beside me again—further from me this time, I noticed—but didn’t say anything for a while. Quietly he finally told me, “Elves rarely engage in such physical pursuits save for when they find their mate and come together as one.”
“So you guys never have sex until you find your spouse?” I couldn’t help but ask, turning back towards him.
He looked straight ahead and shook his head.
“Well shit,” I mumbled.
He glanced at me from the corner of his eye. “I know things are different for mortal men…” he trailed off. “I was under the impression you were not married…” he trailed off again, but I knew what he was after.
I shrugged. “In my world, men and women have sex with whoever they want to,” I answered, unembarrassed for it. I was a grown woman, and I wouldn’t feel bad for what consenting adults did in my world. “And I’m not married. I was once, but not anymore.”
“I am sorry for your loss,” he apologized.
Surprised, I looked at him, “He’s not dead. He’s alive and well, and married to my former best friend with two kids. It just didn’t work out between us, I guess.”
“I do not understand,” he said, finally looking at me.
“You probably don’t have such a thing as divorce here.” At his puzzled expression, I continued, “It’s a legal way of separating and ending a marriage. More than half of all marriages in my world end in divorce now. I guess people come to realize that they were in lust, not love. Or that the person they married wasn’t who they thought they were. Or they change so much that they just can’t stand each other anymore.”
“Is that why your marriage ended?” Legolas asked.
I shrugged again. “What’s it matter?”
“Do I not have a right to ask after what has happened between us?” he asked again, pink tingeing his cheeks, and interestingly enough, the tips of his ears.
“We never should have gotten married to begin with. I was a soldier in the Marine Corp, and he was always griping that he wanted me to stay home and start a family. I didn’t want to and we argued. He started having an affair and I took an assignment overseas to give me time to think. Things happened and I didn’t come back for over two years. By the time I came back, he had married my best friend thinking I was dead. End of story.”
“Why did he think you were dead?” he asked, puzzled.
“Different story,” I said, shortly. “So how did you get to be so old and still single?” I asked instead.
“I ah, have not yet given my heart,” he stammered.
We stood in silence again. I couldn’t believe I’d never seen that Legolas had no—knowledge of certain things. He acted so kind to me, but there was an almost child-like innocence to certain things. Like how he held my hand. Or maybe all elves were that way? Had it been in the books that elves were basically celibate until they married? I couldn’t remember. Regardless, I felt like an ass for basically sexually assaulting him.
We finished our watch in uncomfortable silence, and then went back to camp when it was over.
I tried to sleep, but my sleep was plagued by dreams of dark places.
I’d been having nightmares of Moria for several nights now. I kept seeing Gandalf’s surprised and resigned face before he fell into the darkness. And then, I’d see flashes of the others’ stricken faces after they left Moria.
Knowing Gandalf had to fall to be reborn again as the White Wizard was one thing, but how did I let that happen while saying nothing to the others knowing how heartbroken they would be?
How could I watch it and say nothing?
And better yet, what did I say to Legolas now?
A/N: FYI, I do realize that women are still not allowed into combat situations in the military, for very many reasons. One of the major ones is that this country (its women included) aren’t ready to allow themselves to truly be equals with men and be allowed to be drafted just like men potentially can. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, but that’s just one of the things, that until it changes, women won’t be equals as soldiers. But there are very many other reasons out there too, including the issue of fraternization between male and female soldiers and the risk and reality of outright rape in the ranks. There truly is a plethora of reasons why women don’t actively serve in combat, also including male soldiers having more trouble seeing dead female soldiers than male compatriots, and this is an issue I will slightly touch on later.
So I’ve taken a little creative license saying that Lane has been in combat, but hey, this is fiction, and she is from a world where the supernatural does exist, so it’s not exactly just like the world we live in. Think of her earth as an Alternate Universe as well.
Anyway, let me know what you think so far!