Boromir’s fur lined cloak was a godsend. It was long of course, nearly sweeping the ground at my height, and quite often dragging in the snow. But I was able to wrap it securely around myself, raise the hood, and mostly block the biting wind out.
I’d told the others, and desperately hoped that I was right in thinking that once the Fellowship started back down the mountain, Saruman’s focus would follow them, and the snow would let up. I was right, the snow did stop, but of course, I was also still climbing up a mountain pass. The wind was bitter and the air started getting noticeably thinner.
My feet were beyond numb. My Nike running shoes were great for chasing down perps, but right now, I’d trade anything for thermal hiking boots and a pair of snowshoes. Or just the snowshoes. Hell, even a pair of wool socks would be heaven.
I wanted to push myself. To go as fast as my feet could wade through the snow, but I knew better. I knew if I pushed myself too hard and started sweating, I’d risk getting frostbite. I could handle my toes getting cold and even numb. It was better than having to lose a few of them.
When I finally stopped to build a fire, even my fingers were nearly too numb to work my lighter. But I was extremely grateful for having gathered as much wood as I had. I could only hope it would be enough to get me through.
Once I did get a fire started, I shoved my fingers under my shirt and under my arms. I’d already scooped the snow out to create a shelter and shield my burgeoning fire. Now I huddled in my makeshift shelter and waited for feeling to return to my fingers.
It had been a long time since I’d pushed myself against the elements like this. It was somehow exhilarating. Even if it meant pushing myself to limits I hadn’t stretched in a while.
Yet, at the same time, I felt guilty. It was more than just fear of being stuck in a cave again. Though, that was a huge part of it. It was mostly because I didn’t want to have to actually see Gandalf fall. Or to have to look the others in the face in their moment of grief and not tell them that everything would be fine. That Gandalf would come back.
It was cowardly of me. I was too much of a coward to face them and keep quiet, so instead, I avoid it altogether. And hated myself for my cowardice.
It was several long days before I had finally peaked the summit of the mountain and then descended far enough to reach an elevation low enough to be out of the snow.
I’d forgotten how easy it was to lose track of the days and nights when you were concentrating solely on trying to stay warm and survive. Day or night ceased to matter, as did mealtime. I stopped occasionally to rest and warm up, and chewed slowly on the various kinds of dried fruits, veggies, meats, and nuts that were in the pack Aragorn had given me.
There hadn’t been enough food to spare for filling rations, but I’d had to survive on worse than meager amounts of glorified trail mix before.
Soon after I’d gotten out of the snow, I was able to increase my pace and make good time down the mountain. After another day’s hike, I was down to the valley floor. A small creek ran nearby, and cold or not, I was taking the opportunity to get clean and wash my clothes.
Wood was once again abundant, so I built a fire large enough to dry my clothes once I was done splashing in the creek and scrubbing my clothes. They’d certainly looked better, but for now, they were all I had.
I felt exposed sitting in only Boromir’s cloak, but I knew there was nobody nearby for at least a half mile, which was about as far as I’d ever been able to reliably stretch my telepathy. And feeling a little exposed was worth it to finally be able to wash my clothes and especially my underwear.
Sitting by the fire, I looked at my few possessions from my world. I still had my two pistols and their holsters, with two extra clips for my Glock and one extra clip for my Smith & Wesson on my belt. I’d only used one bullet so far, to take down the rather plump looking rabbit now roasting over my fire, and I’d hated to even lose that bullet. But hey, I wanted and needed fresh meat.
I also still had my handheld radio, which had also been on my belt, and my cell phone from my pocket. Neither of course had worked since I’d woken up here, but I’d turned them off and kept them. Loath to cut any of my ties to my own world I supposed. Even if they were useless paperweights here. They were the promise of my old life.
My wallet and my badge were my only other belongings from my world except for my clothes, knife, cigarillos, and lighter. Like any good soldier, I’d always tried to be prepared. As a cop in Chicago, I’d been ready for damn near anything with five-hundred dollars in my wallet and a debit card with access to a few thousand dollars more in my checking account. Holding those paper bills here though, I realized I might as well have used them for kindling.
I was a woman of moderate means in my own world, but here? Here I was without a country or a family lineage to name. What would I have to show my worth here?
Back there, I had been a sniper scout in the Marines, able to outshoot most men. Then after I’d been given my honorable discharge, I’d shown my worth busting street thugs and gang bangers when they thought they could off each other and get away with it. But there wasn’t much call for someone who could shoot a sniper rifle or for someone to solve a homicide. They needed soldiers who could swing swords and wield bows in the war to come. Not cops.
Here, my weapons and my profession were both unneeded. And so was I.
Ugh, now I’m just getting moody and morose again. I really need to stop sitting by myself mopping. Just do what you have to until you can get to Lothlórien and find a way back. And stop thinking so damn much.
I was just thankful my period had ended just before I wound up here, although, by my guess and my increasing moodiness, I was a few days to a week from having to deal with it again.
I knew the various old-fashioned remedies for dealing with the unfortunate monthly reminders of womanhood when there wasn’t a drugstore available around the corner with tampons, but I was dearly hoping to make it to Lothlórien before I’d have to do something as drastic as using cattail down.
Shit, please tell me women elves, or female elves, or whatever they’re called get their periods too and will know what the hell I’m talking about and need! Damn, at least let them have some spare rags I can use. I really don’t want to have to use cattail down or Middle-earth’s equivalent!
Oh the simple problems in life. But at the moment, I’d rather think about whether female elves got periods too than think about where the rest of the guys were at the moment. And who was still alive.
At daybreak the next morning, I decided I needed to try to figure out where the guys would be coming out of the mountain. I was assuming that they would still be within Moria since they’d had to backtrack down the mountain, and I’d only had to continue crossing it, but there was really no way to be sure.
Regardless, I figured it would be relatively safer to enter the Golden Woods with the Fellowship than alone.
Problem was, I had no idea where I’d crossed over the mountains and where they would cross under them. I vaguely remembered from the maps in the book that the Misty Mountains lay mostly north and south, but beyond that, I was drawing a blank. Go north, or go south?
I pulled a silver dollar from my pocket. My husband had given it to me before we’d gotten married. It was during police academy training not long after we’d met and started dating. For good luck, he’d said, when the bullets started flying out on the streets. I’d kept it with me when I graduated from the academy, and I’d kept it with me when I went into the Marines instead of becoming a cop.
Even after my husband started sleeping with my best friend, I’d kept it in my pocket on that last assignment into North Korea. That in itself should have been reason to doubt its luck, but it had been one of the only things they’d let me have when they locked me into that mildewy cave for almost two years. And it was one if the few things I took with me when I escaped. And I did make it out alive, so maybe the stupid thing really was lucky.
Tossing it in the air, I said, “Well, heads, we go north. Tails, we go south.” I caught it and slapped it onto the back of my hand. “North it is.”
Finally, I found an opening that looked like a doorway out of the mountain. I couldn’t see any signs of man, elf, hobbit, dwarf, nor Orc, so I could only hope that they hadn’t come through yet. Going into the antechamber probably would have been prudent to make sure, but I couldn’t bring myself to cross the threshold of the mountain. It was easier not knowing if Gandalf had already fallen, than to look inside, see a demolished bridge, and remove all doubt.
So I waited.
I was almost certain I had imagined it when I heard a crashing noise, but then, I heard it again, along with an unearthly growling and roaring.
I lowered my defenses, and heard the comfortingly familiar unknown languages of my companions. I could even hear the desperate pleas the men and hobbits were sending up to the Valar to escape Moria.
Turning, I started kicking dirt into my small fire and repacking my few belongings into the pack Aragorn had lent me what could have only been days ago.
By the time I had packed everything up again and turned back around, my companions were starting to straggle out of the mouth of the cave. The looks of shock, grief, and astonishment over Gandalf’s demise were heartbreaking.
I gasped at seeing their expressions and noted that there were tears in every eye. Instinctively, I started to step back and turn away. It had been the wrong decision to wait for them here. I would have been better off to make my way into the woods alone rather than staying and facing this grief.
“Elaina?” Legolas called in surprise.
I turned to see him step away from the others. Boromir was kneeling by the hobbits where they’d fallen—their grief overcoming them. Aragorn was struggling with Gimli, who looked like he was fighting to get back into the cave.
At Legolas’s words, they all looked up and followed his gaze. Unable to retreat now, I dazedly stood where I was.
Suddenly, Legolas was striding towards me and engulfing me in his arms. Still in a haze, I limply let him pull me into the embrace and then weakly lifted one hand and squeezed his arm.
His muttered several phrases in Sindarin, none of which seemed to include any words he’d taught me. Then he pulled back and continued in the common speech as he gazed down at me, “You are alive. I am relieved to have my heart lifted, even if at once I am brought to despair. At least you have made it here safely.”
I could hear Aragorn telling Boromir to get the hobbits up and moving. As they came closer, Gimli stepped up beside me and lightly grasped my still limp hand at my side. Legolas stepped back half a step, but still grasped my shoulders, as though afraid I wasn’t real.
“It is a hard thing to have to be telling ya, Lassie, but such things should’na be kept,” Gimli struggled to tell me as he looked up with earnest eyes, “but we din’na all make it out of the depths of Moria.”
I could see the grief and guilt written on his face and knew he blamed himself for Gandalf’s death since Moria had once been a dwarven stronghold.
Turning my hand and grasping his worn fingers in return, I told him, “It’s not your fault that Gandalf fell. He went with the full knowledge that darkness had been awoken there. And he began this quest with the same knowledge as the rest of you—that he might have to give his life for it. Don’t belittle his sacrifice by taking guilt upon yourself for it.”
Gimli’s brow furrowed at my words, but Legolas spoke in surprise, “You knew. You knew Gandalf would fall. That was the reason for your tears upon our departing.”
Before I could answer, the others caught up to us.
“You knew?” Aragorn shouted incredulously. “You knew and you said nothing? How could you say nothing and simply let Gandalf perish?”
I stepped away from Gimli and Legolas, the elf’s hands sliding away as I did so.
“I couldn’t say anything. It was Gandalf’s fate to fall in Moria. I couldn’t say anything and risk—”
My words were cut off as Aragorn’s fist connected with my jaw.
I’d been unprepared for it and felt my head snap to the side as I stepped over to regain my balance before I fell.
When I looked up, Aragorn’s face was filled with disbelief and horror at his actions. But self-righteous anger soon replaced it.
“Fate? How can you speak of death as his fate? You could have saved him. Yet you cowardly avoided the matter by taking the mountain pass alone instead of joining us. You selfishly avoided his death and gave us no warning of what was to come,” he spat at me.
Boromir overcame his shock and angrily stepped towards Aragorn, but I grabbed his arm and roughly shoved him back. “That’s enough, Boromir. You don’t need to be fighting amongst yourselves. And I’m perfectly capable of defending and taking care of myself.” Boromir looked just as surprised to be shoved so roughly by a woman as he’d been by Aragorn’s actions, but I ignored him and turned back to Aragorn’s fuming stare.
Reaching up, I felt my jaw and the corner of my mouth. I could feel the blood there and taste the bitter copper of its tang. Theatrically, I spit it out. “Good for you,” I told Aragorn. “It takes most men a lot longer to see me as one of them and actually slug me when they’re pissed off instead of doing us both the dishonor of slapping me as though I were like any other woman.”
I felt my jaw again. It would be sore and bruised no doubt, and the cut on my lower lip would take time to heal, but I’d been punched harder before. As unprepared as I’d been for it, Aragorn could have broken my jaw if he’d wanted to.
I started to turn away, then stopped and told him, “You get that one free, but don’t expect I won’t answer back if you try that again.”
My gaze caught their startled expressions, and I knew they were surprised I wasn’t denying Aragorn’s words.
“You truly did know Gandalf would fall?” Boromir confirmed.
I had started towards the trees, and stopped at his words. Not turning around, I answered, “Yes. I knew Gandalf would fall to the balrog at Khazad-Dûm. And no, I didn’t say anything. But just remember, there’s always more going on than you can comprehend. And sometimes heavy prices must be paid to ensure good triumphs in the end.”
I didn’t deny or address the rest of Aragorn’s accusations. Mostly because, he was right. I had gone over the mountain because of my cowardice. And it had been selfish to avoid having to witness Gandalf’s fall to spare myself a little grief. I had no argument for his words. So why try?
“Come on,” I called over my shoulder. “We still need to get within the safety of the woods.”
I continued on without waiting to see if they were following, and needing the extra moment alone to wipe away the stray tears trying to fall.
The others soon caught up with me and Aragorn took up his mantle as the new leader of the Fellowship, pushing the others and leading onward.
He avoided looking at me, and generally pretended I didn’t exist. But I wasn’t too worried. It was one of the things I preferred about men over women. Guys would get pissed and slug each other, then maybe brood about it for a while, but once it was done, it was done. Women on the other hand, let things fester and held grudges worthy of many a Mafioso family.
Aragorn would stay pissed at me for a while longer—I was after all responsible for Gandalf’s death in his mind. But eventually, he’d get over it.
Even the others seemed to put distance between them and me. But I could hardly blame them. It was hard to find fault in their belief that I was responsible for Gandalf’s death when I felt that way myself.
After we’d followed the road south for a ways, Aragorn noticed Frodo and Sam lagging behind and called a rest to tend their wounds.
As he did so, I removed Boromir’s cloak and sat down beside him. Handing it back I sincerely told him, “Thanks. This thing was a godsend. I’d of frozen up there for sure without it.”
Silently, he nodded and accepted it back before removing the one I’d been wearing and returning it to me.
I started to get up and walk away when he lightly touched my elbow to stop me. “Why did you not speak to Gandalf at the very least of what was to come?” he whispered.
Sitting back down beside him, I answered, “What good would knowing ahead of time done? I know you guys don’t understand, but this had to happen. All I can tell you is that as things were written, the free peoples of Middle-earth win in the end. But if I let things change now, who knows what could happen.”
“Then why did you not warn us, let us prepare for what was to pass?” he pressed.
“Believe me. It hurts less if you don’t see it coming. The pain is shorter lived. The anticipation of it is nearly crippling. Could you bear that burden? Knowing what was to happen to everyone around you. Could you bear knowing your own fate and actions?”
“You know my fate, because of your gift?” he asked reluctantly.
“I know the fate of everyone here. Except for me.”
Boromir was silent for a time. I started to stand again, but his hand touched my elbow again, stopping me once more.
“I do not ask for anything other than this: shall I find an honorable death?” he asked in a desperate and low voice.
I reached over and covered his hand with mine. I couldn’t lie to him, and I hated the thought of how far he would descend into madness when he tried to take the Ring from Frodo. But I also knew it was necessary. It was the event that would set off a chain of other events, eventually leading to Frodo and Sam taking the Ring to Mordor on their own and finally destroying it. Would that have still happened if the whole Fellowship continued together?
They all had their fates and roles to fulfill. Where would Rohan, Gondor, the Ents, and many others be otherwise?
“When you die, you will fall honorably and nobly in battle, protecting those in need. You will go to your ancestors with you head held high.”
He searched my face for several moments, perhaps searching to see if I would say any more.
Finally, he nodded. “I thank you for giving me that small comfort.”
Letting go of his hand, I stood and walked away from the others, putting my cloak back on as I walked. I didn’t venture far, but found a place away from the others where I could lean against a tree in solitude.
Of course, I didn’t end up with much solitude with Legolas trailing after me. But he stood beside me and didn’t speak for several minutes.
Reaching into a pouch on his belt, he pulled out a strip of dried meat and handed it to me. “Eat; the others are taking a quick meal before we push on to cross the Nimrodel.”
I took the meat and looked at him curiously. “What? No questions or accusations about how I could have let Gandalf die like that?”
“My father is a good king,” he said, startling me with the sudden left turn in topics. “He cares for his people and often makes hard decisions to protect them,” he continued.
“Okay, not that I disagree or don’t think hearing about your father is interesting, but where are you going with this?”
He smiled and I looked him in the eye for the first time since he’d first exited Moria. Strangely, I saw no recrimination there. “He is a good king, but not gifted with great abilities of healing or foresight like other great elven rulers. When I was still very young, I asked him why he did not have such a gift. In my youth, it seemed unfair that he should not have in particular the gift of foresight like Lady Galadriel and even Lord Elrond have. But my father laughed at my youthful indignation and told that he did not envy them such a gift.
“Father explained that he’d never envied them such an ability—such a burden. For he explained it was just that—a burden to know the fates of others. He told it was a grave responsibility he did not desire. A responsibility to know when not to act more so than to know when to act on something foreseen. And he feared he would not have such restraint.”
He looked back through the trees again and added, “As I grew, I learned that as he did not envy other great lords and ladies their gifts, I do not envy him his station. I do not envy him his responsibilities or the decisions he must make for his kingdom. Nevertheless, as his only son, I know that one day I must assume his mantle. Still, it is a burden I would not wish upon another, even though they call such a station a ‘gift.’ Nor do I presume to think your sight is the ‘gift’ others would see it as.”
I felt tears of relief sting my eyes as I turned away to wipe them from my eyes. The relief was immense to know he understood.
“I’d give anything not to know what I know,” I whispered. “Or to be back in my world where I’ve never had to know other people’s fates.”
He reached out and grasped my hand again. “‘Tis not often we can refuse the responsibilities given us. All we can do is bear them to our best ability, and when in doubt, turn to lean upon our friends. You do not have to shoulder your burdens alone.”
He pulled on my hand until I was close enough to pull into his side and engulf with one arm. I leaned my head into his shoulder and let myself relax, if only for a minute.
He tipped his head and whispered to me, his lips brushing my hair as he spoke. “When Gandalf fell, my heart despaired after so long in darkness. It despaired of ever seeing you again. I feared you too would be lost to us.”
Against my will, I’d felt my heart skip a beat at his words, but then I heard them again. Us. He feared I’d be lost to them. The Fellowship. And I reminded myself that elves were not humans. From the very beginning, he’d shown me friendly affection. He was a virgin for crying out loud. A hug and embrace or even the handholding was probably nothing strange to elves. I needed to keep reminding myself of that and not let my heart or hormones get carried away with me.
I wrapped my arm around his waist and squeezed in return. “I told you I’d be waiting for you on the other side, my friend. And I never break my word,” I assured him, unable to make myself look up at him. It was easier to look straight ahead and remind myself I was okay with friendship. I’d come from a world where sex was easier to find and have. Friendship wasn’t.
Good friends like Legolas were few and far between. I still wondered at how patient and understanding he’d been with me. How forgiving he’d been of my horrible suspicions and accusations of him.
And even now, he didn’t blame me for my silence about Gandalf, even when I condemned myself. He understood and accepted what I’d done and hadn’t done.
“Thank you,” I whispered to him.
“I promise, I shall ever be at your side,” he answered solemnly.
I kept my eyes focused straight ahead, but I could imagine the kind, friendly smile on Legolas’s face.
It was truly wonderful to have such a decent friend.