As I’ve warned before, this story will include adult language, situations, and content. We will start dealing more and more with the cultural differences and clashes of a woman from our more open, modern world, finding herself in a very different culture. So, you’ve been warned! Again.
Legolas and I stood together for several more minutes before we both heard Aragorn calling the elf’s name. Slowly we parted and walked back to the others.
Aragorn avoided looking at me, turning to the elf, he said, “I want to push across the river by nightfall. You go ahead and ensure our path to at least the edge of the woods is safe, I will push the others along behind as fast as we can travel.”
Legolas paused to gauge my expression. I gave him a soft smile, and then nodded my head slightly to the side to indicate for him to continue. He returned my smile with one of his own and a nod in return.
True to his word, Aragorn was soon pushing the remaining fellowship onwards. I silently fell in step with Boromir at the rear as the others followed behind Aragorn.
Boromir was silent and brooding, contemplating what I’d told him about his eventual death. Thank god, he hadn’t pressed for more details. Still—he brooded over what I’d told him.
I could hear and feel him fighting and arguing with himself. He wasn’t so far lost to the Ring yet that he wasn’t unaware of what it was doing to him. He was alarmed by his own fluctuating moods and greatly feared the loss of his honor. Though I’d told him he would die bravely, he doubted that he would ever be able to face his ancestors—and especially his father.
Boromir knew the strain his city was under and his greatest wish was to push the enemy from his land. And that tantalizing question posed by the Ring hung heavily in his thoughts: Could the Ring drive the enemy from his lands?
I couldn’t stand listening to his internal arguments and self-flagellations any longer. My mind was weary from the strain of anticipating Gandalf’s fall coming, and I didn’t have the mental strength left to maintain my mental defenses that were normally able to block out the thoughts of others.
Placing my hand on his arm, I told him, “You’re a good man, Boromir. Never forget that, no matter how terrible the situation seems. And your city will not fall. I promise you that.” I squeezed his arm once and then jogged to catch up with Gimli, falling in stride with him and letting the strange guttural sounds of his thoughts drown out Boromir’s thoughts and self-doubts.
Gimli had never talked aloud in anything within my hearing other than the common speech, or Westron, whatever they called the language here. But his thoughts were almost wholly in some other language, one dwarves spoke, I guessed. But it was soothing to listen to the strange words in my mind and not understand them. He could be cursing me up one side and down the other for all I knew—he wouldn’t have been the first—but I was blissfully unaware.
Although, I could still feel emotion from him, and I didn’t sense any hostility, so I doubted he was cussing at me in his mind. There was plenty of curiosity though. Along with his sadness.
“Kind words of hope ye offer the lad,” Gimli softly commented.
I glanced down as I walked beside him, keeping stride. Being a dwarf, he was shorter than I was, but somehow taller than I’d expected as a child when I’d read the stories. The top of his head reached just to my shoulders, but he still had no trouble keeping pace beside me. His gait was quick and steady without seeming hurried, telling me he was accustomed to matching his stride to taller folks.
“I don’t enjoy seeing anyone torment themselves,” I responded to the dwarf’s words.
“Still, you can’na change what others think in their own minds, no matter how kind your words. The lad has to fight his own demons,” he advised, looking at me curiously.
His words nearly made me stumble, and my feet did hesitate before I pushed on. His words were eerily close to the truth of my cursed little quirk, and his gaze and smile were a bit too sage for my taste. I’d survived my whole life by being so careful not to let on to anyone that I could read minds, fearing what the backlash would be. Could it actually be that this dwarf knows or at least suspects me? No one had before, not even my own husband.
But those had been humans. I’d surrounded myself almost completely with them in my world, and I had to keep reminding myself that these mostly weren’t humans that I was traveling with. And Gimli at least, had better hearing and was better at noticing small details than I’d given him credit for.
I glanced over my shoulder to see Boromir walking behind us with his head still down, oblivious to our hushed conversation. Looking back at Gimli, I nonchalantly told him, “I just hate seeing a friend in pain. If kind words of hope raise his spirits, then where’s the harm? Sometimes it helps to lean on a friend.” No way was I going to admit to him what I was able to do.
Gimli looked up at me with one brow raised, but didn’t push the matter further. We continued to walk again in silence, trailing behind the also silent hobbits.
The four hobbits glanced back at me occasionally in suspicion, and it proved almost more than I could bear. I could withstand the suspicious looks of the others—I could even stand the suspicious looks from Sam and Frodo, but I hated seeing the once lighthearted expressions of the younger hobbits turned on me in apprehension.
But, I couldn’t change it. Even if I could go back, I knew there was nothing I would change.
There’s nothing I would change.
Somehow, that thought—that admission—was a huge weight from my shoulders. I couldn’t change the choices I’d made, and even given the chance, I wouldn’t. Now I just had to give the others space to accept what had happened—what I’d done—and come to terms with it.
“I’m sorry you guys think I did a horrible thing. In time, you’ll understand I did what I had to and realize that Gandalf will always be with us,” I told the hobbits, coming dangerously close to spilling the truth.
They looked at me with less apprehension and more thoughtfulness, but I jogged towards Aragorn, only slowing near him to say, “I’m too restless for this pace. I’ll jog ahead and catch up with Legolas to scout ahead.”
He started to sputter a reply behind me, but I kicked my pace into a sprint, and distanced us. He had no choice but to let me go or abandon his charges.
I sprinted for several minutes, enjoying the warmer air as I neared the woods and then entered them. My body felt infinitely stronger for being able to stretch my legs and run, even for a relatively short distance. It was quiet in the trees, not even the sound of birds singing marred the silence. Stopping, I closed my eyes and reached out with my mind to find that familiar melodious voice. Finally getting a bead on his thoughts, I jogged ahead until I’d spotted him.
His ears finally picked up my approach, and he dropped into a defensive crouch as he spun around towards me.
I stopped with a laugh, raising my hands in mock surrender. “It’s just me. Thought I’d catch up and join you,” I told him.
He’d been reaching for his bow, but stopped when he recognized me. “How in the name of the Valar did you find me and get so close without my hearing your steps until now?” he asked incredulously.
I listened for your thoughts and used them like a radar or GPS to find you?
“I’m good at tracking and learned to run pretty quietly as a Marine scout sniper,” I half lied. I was good at moving quietly. At least quietly to human ears, but I was mediocre at best as a tracker. I’d always relied on my telepathy to hunt my prey. Tracking hadn’t been necessary once I got within a half-mile. But I wasn’t about to tell Legolas all that.
He waited until I’d caught up to him before he continued on, and then we walked side-by-side. “What is a Marine scout sniper?” he asked, carefully repeating my words.
I felt a smile tug at my lip. “The Marines is the branch of military that I belonged to in my world.” I laughed. “The old saying is that there’s no such thing as an ex-Marine, but I guess I am technically at least retired from it. My position—umm, job, within the Marines was as a scout sniper,” I explained struggling for words he’d understand.
“But what does this mean?” he asked.
“Well, I was skilled as a long range marksman designated to take long range, precision fire on targets in aid of strategic combat situations. Our secondary job was to gather any pertinent and vital intelligence for our commanding officers.”
Even to me, it sounded too textbook and confusing, so I wasn’t surprised by his baffled look.
“Okay, let’s say there’s a battle being fought and the other side is being led by one or only a few key leaders or commanders. Now, wouldn’t it be easier to send someone who could kill one or more of those guys from a distance, never even getting spotted, rather than send armies of foot soldiers to fight their army toe-to-toe?”
He looked at me in surprise. “Does it not seem underhanded to kill someone from a distance as you say, without their knowledge even of what is at hand?”
“No. Why would it? You use your bow in battle, right? Do you stop to make sure each of your enemy sees it coming?”
“Of course not,” he agreed. “And you use these weapons to kill your enemies from such distances that they do not know of your presence?” he asked, gesturing to my Glock at my hip.
“Sort of. A sniper rifle is a bigger version I guess you’d say, able to fire much further.”
“Mostly snipers like to take shots at five to six-hundred meters, to insure a clean shot, but I took out a target once at a little over two-thousand meters, or a little over a mile. But there are records for even further shots.” He looked at me in disbelief and I laughed, “Yeah, our weapons have pretty far ranges on them.”
“A target you say. You mean a man. You have killed men at such distances?” he questioned softly.
Sobering, I responded, “Yes. And I won’t apologize for it. What I do helps to ensure my people have less toe-to-toe battles with our enemies and keeps more of our soldiers alive. Or, I guess I should say what I ‘did.'”
“I am not condemning you. Merely trying to understand your people’s warfare. I cannot deny the benefits that you state. It is simply strange to me,” he explained. He looked sidelong at me. “You miss being a soldier.”
“Then why did you ‘retire’?” he queried.
“Wasn’t given a choice. After the mess in North Korea and my capture, the powers that be decided I was done and forced me to take my honorable discharge and return to civilian life.” He started to question me, but I stopped him with my hand held palm out. “Just let it be. It was a time in my life, and now it’s over; I moved on years ago. No sense looking back.”
“You were a scout as well?” he questioned, moving on from why I wasn’t a soldier anymore.
“Yeah, that was our secondary objective, to gather useful intelligence.”
He grinned at me, “So you were a spy?”
I gaped at him. “Yes. But that doesn’t mean I came here to spy on you guys,” I told him, remembering his initial response after I’d broken his nose.
Laughing, he replied, “I do not accuse you of such. Merely state that I was not completely wrong.”
“I only ever spied on my people’s enemies. And I was good at it,” I told him with smug satisfaction. “Actually, I was sent out to scout and gather intel more often than I was sent out on simple sniper missions.”
Though in truth, I had an unfair advantage that made me better at gathering valuable intelligence than even the best spies in the CIA. None of their agents had the benefit of telepathy to sift through minds for truthful and useful information. My telepathy had been a bitch in my personal life, making it impossible to ever really relax and forcing me to know more about people than I’d ever wanted to know, but in the military, it was invaluable. It was a useful tool and had saved my life more than once. It was why I’d liked being a Marine—for the first time in my life, my telepathy was actually useful.
Then they’d given me my discharge papers. Couldn’t have it getting leaked to the public that a woman had actually been actively serving in combat when she was captured in a country we weren’t even supposed to be in. I’d straggled out of North Korea after two years of the higher-ups just hoping I was dead. They told me to take my honorable discharge or I’d be dishonorably discharged. It was their way of containing the problem and distancing themselves from me. All in the hopes that no one would look too closely and realize a woman had been actively involved in combat. I’d been pissed at the time, but I’d had no other choice. I’d had to accept it and move on. I was a Marine. I knew what it was to accept orders I didn’t like.
We continued to the Nimrodel in silence, then turned around and started back, still in silence. At least we had accomplished scouting ahead to the river.
Eventually, Legolas broke the quiet. “I thought you said once that women in your world did not see combat as soldiers.”
I smiled, realizing how well he’d paid attention to our talks and how good his memory was. “I said officially. There are a few women, myself included, who did see combat. But very few people outside our commanding officers and fellow Marines knew about it. Advanced as my people like to think of our country and world as being, people just aren’t ready to think of their sisters, daughters, mothers, and wives fighting and dying alongside their men. Hell, most women aren’t ready for it themselves. I wasn’t exactly considered normal for being a female Marine.”
Legolas looked thoughtful for a moment. “Yet you served as a soldier and you were wedded. Your husband approved of your choice?”
I looked at him, noting that though he was trying to seem unaffected, the tips of his ears were blushed pink. Clearing my throat, I told him, “My husband wasn’t exactly thrilled with my choices. He hated it actually and we argued about it constantly. It got to where I hated being home on leave because I knew all we would do was fight with each other.”
“He wanted you to be safe,” Legolas half stated.
“What he wanted was for things to be more convenient. And to start a family. I liked what I was doing, and I just couldn’t see having kids with him,” I responded. I was careful to keep my gaze straight ahead as we walked, hoping that by doing so the conversation would somehow seem less personal.
Legolas looked even more confused, and his blush deepened, reaching his cheeks now. “Why did you not wish to bear children with the man you loved?”
I almost choked as I inhaled, and stuttered my answer, “Ugh, well, umm, I guess the simple answer is that I don’t think we really loved each other. Not exactly. Or I would have been more willing to have a family with him, and he wouldn’t have started sleeping with my best friend.” I could feel my own cheeks burning at our conversation and had a sudden desire for the ground to swallow me whole. I may not have really loved Nate, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t a blow to the ego that my own husband had left me for my best friend.
“I do not understand. Why did you wed this man if you did not love him? Was it a familial obligation?”
I shook my head. “No. Nothing like that. We were friends first, and we got along well enough, then we started dating and moved in together. Eventually, it just seemed like marriage was the next step. I guess to him, it seemed like kids should be the next step after that.” I crossed my arms as I walked and remembered things from the past I’d hoped to forget. “I guess being away from him for such long periods of time gave me some distance and perspective. I knew he wasn’t a man that I wanted to have kids with or probably even stay with long term. I knew it was only a matter of time until we divorced.”
“I do not understand this concept of your people. Why would one sever a marriage?” he asked, stopping and grabbing my elbow to stop me.
I shrugged. “Would it have been better to stay in a marriage that never should have happened in the first place? A lot of marriages happen that never should have. I bet even here. My husband remarried when I was a prisoner of war and he thought I was dead, and it was for the best. He got the family he wanted.”
“What did you get?” Legolas whispered.
Again, I shrugged. “I got to start my life over again I guess. Then that got sidetracked when I wound up here. Now? Now I don’t know where I’m at or what I’ve got.”
He pulled me into a hug and whispered, “You have friends here.”
I wrapped my arms around his waist and laughed into his chest, my voice heavy with sarcasm. “Yeah, I’ve really made a lot of friends with what I’ve done. You’re the only one not mad at me or questioning whether or not I’m a heartless bitch.”
He paused, no doubt confused by my words again, but he continued, “The others will come to understand and forgive you in time. They know you are by no means heartless.” He pulled back and grasped my chin with one hand, turning my head to the side to look at my jaw. “Ai,” he hissed. “You shall certainly bear a large bruise for Estel’s anger.” His fingers gently touched the corner of my bottom lip, already sore and swollen. “You should put something on the cut to ease the pain and discomfort.”
I waved his concern away and started walking again. “It’s no big deal. I’ve been hit harder before.” He looked alarmed at that, so I continued, “The only way it works being a female soldier in my world, is if you’re willing to do anything the guys will do, able to do most of what they can do and better, and most importantly, make the men see you as just another man. That’s the hardest. Sometimes it means outperforming them, sometimes it means covering for them when they screw up, and sometimes, it means picking a fight with them, just to prove you can take and give a beating just as good as they can. If you’re in a combat situation and the men still see you as a woman, it’s dangerous for you and for them.”
“Ah, this I understand. Ellith rarely choose to take the path of a warrior, though they are taught the ways of blade and bow as elflings, but when war comes to our very homes, they do join us in battle,” he explained as we started walking again. I could see that we were almost to the edge of the woods again and could even hear the thoughts of the others as they approached. They’d be close since I wasn’t reaching out with my telepathy to hear them. “And ellyn are often more distraught over fallen ellith than they are over their own comrades,” he continued.
I looked up at him, my brows drawn in confusion. “What’s ‘ellith’ mean?”
He laughed. “Ellith is the Sindarin word for elven maidens.”
I pointed my finger at him. “Oh, and you’re an ellyn—a male elf.”
He laughed again and grasped my hand, pressing it over his heart as he explained through his merriment. “No, I am an ellon. Ellyn is plural and ellon is singular. I am only one elf. Ellith is likewise plural as elleth is the singular form for an elf maiden.” My hand bounced in time with his gentle laughter as his chest moved beneath my palm.
I gave a small laugh and carefully slid my hand from his chest, feeling self-conscious about the gesture. The more I was around Legolas, the more comfortable he seemed to be with such contact and the more he started letting his elvish nature through, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was too intimate. Even such an innocent gesture on his part made my heart race.
Fuuuuck, I groaned to myself, when was the last time you had sex? What, that guy from the bar three blocks from the station? That was almost three weeks before you ended up here. No wonder you’re horny as hell and getting amped up over innocent touches. Shit, you need to get laid or find a battery operated substitution. Damn, like that’s gonna happen here. Okay, I need to figure out a way to take about a ten-mile run and just run myself into exhaustion so I’m not thinking dirty thoughts about my very innocent virgin friend here.
“Elaina!” Legolas shouted, probably not for the first time, “Are you all right?” he asked when I looked back up at him. He was standing very close and grasping both of my shoulders. From that distance, there was no denying he was beautiful. And a virgin! my mind reminded.
I nodded stiffly. “Yeah. Fine. Great. Mind was just wandering a bit. Nothing a ten-mile run wouldn’t cure.” He looked puzzled but the others were nearly to us now. “Hey! Look! Everyone else caught up now,” I told him, eager and thankful for their interruption and distraction.
Their faces were still drawn and somber as they approached. Nothing like being reminded that several of them still either outright blamed me for Gandalf’s death or at least were wondering about it, to throw cold water on my runaway libido.
Legolas let me slip away, but remained nearby as I resumed walking towards the back of the group again. But at least now that we’d rejoined the others, we both took up the shared silence.
Finally, we crossed over the shallow Nimrodel, and began making our way into the heart of the woods.
Soon, I could feel the presence of many other minds coming closer from all sides. Their minds felt similar to Legolas’s mind, but their thoughts seemed like yet another language.
The others were walking ahead of me and Legolas, softly talking to each other, but I wasn’t paying them any heed. I knew the Galadhrim were nearly upon us.
I tried to convince myself not to feel threatened, and not to move, but when the elves stepped into view all around us, my body reacted instinctually, spinning back towards the nearest elf and pushing his drawn bow down and away. As soon as I was standing behind him, I lifted my already drawn gun and held it on him as I felt other elves nearby aim their arrows towards me.
The elf in front of me looked puzzled by my gun, but was smart enough to recognize a weapon by the way I held it and didn’t move. I could hear Aragorn speaking in another language, I assumed to Haldir, but I kept my focus on the elf in front of me.
The Marine in me didn’t like being surrounded, and I liked having weapons, even bows and arrows, aimed at me even less. So I held my ground, my training making it very difficult for me to even think about lowering my weapon when I was still in someone else’s sights.
From the corner of my eye, I could see that Legolas was in a similar predicament, and he too was aiming his bow at the elves surrounding us. That knowledge alone was comforting.
“Legolas, Lane, lower your weapons,” Aragorn commanded.
Legolas proceeded to heed his words, but I waited until another voice had given a command in their language and the elves began lowering their bows.
I replaced my gun as the elf in front of me finally stepped back. “No hard feelings,” I told him, but only got a blank stare in return.
“Not many here speak the common tongue,” an authoritative voice dryly told me.
The other elves began shifting back towards the speaker until they were all gathered near him. For the first time, I got a good look at them all gathered together. My heart started pounding as I took the sight in. There were a dozen or more of them, all tall, lithe, with pointed ears, and that haunting beauty that masked the terror within all fairies.
My breath started coming out in shallow pants as I heard my father’s voice whispering in my ear, transporting me back to my childhood.
“Fairies hardly ever get together anymore in this world, save for making war on one another, but do you know one thing still guaranteed to bring a group of fairies together, little girl?”
I would shake my head, terrified of anything that made him speak so animatedly.
“The Wild Hunt,” he would draw out with relish. “When the blood-red moon rises, fairies will come out to play.”
He would circle me, growing more excited with each step and every breath. “And do you know what we hunt and feast upon, child?”
Again, I would shake my head, too frightened to speak or move.
He would laugh and crouch behind me to sniff deeply at my neck. “Mortal flesh,” he would whisper in my ear, slowly savoring the words.
At my whimper, he would jump back, laughing in delight at my fear. “Yes! Mortal flesh. So sweet when ripened by fear and a long flight,” he would laugh as he began dancing around me again. “Only for the Wild Hunt do more than one or two fairies gather at a time these days, but so sweet are the hunts and the chase!”
He would always stop to crouch in front of me again, smiling to show the teeth now pointed and razor sharp with his lust and excitement for flesh. “But so rare are the Wild Hunts these days. A pity. Mmmmm. But you—you are mostly human. Perhaps you would make a tasty diversion from my longing for the Wild Hunt.”
I would always shrink away from the sight of his pointed teeth and the unmasked longing for human flesh. Always, I could feel and hear just how on edge he was, just how tempted he was to sink those teeth into my flesh and find out if I tasted as sweet as a pureblooded human.
And for days, I would be too frightened to sleep, fearing that he would finally lose whatever control he had and devour me. Night after night, I’d hide under my covers, feeling my blunt teeth and thanking god that they never became so frighteningly pointed when I was hungry, and that I’d never had a craving for human flesh.
And the echo of his words would ring in my ears … the Wild Hunt … sweet mortal flesh … only then do more than a few fairies gather.
I heard those words and my father’s voice still echoing in my ears. My breath was coming out in short, shallow pants. Fairies only came together in groups like this for the Wild Hunt. I had to flee. I couldn’t let them catch me.
I took only two steps before I was pulled into an unyielding embrace. I fought and struggled to get away, waiting for the pain of sharp teeth to sink into me. But no pain came, only the fairy shaking me.
I looked up in confusion as I registered the fairy repeating my name. How does the fairy know my name? And then I looked up into Legolas’s worried face.
I grabbed at his jerkin, pulling on his chest as I whispered to him desperately, “I have to get out of here. I can’t stay here. Please, don’t let them get me.”
Tears stung my eyes, but they spilled over unchecked. Legolas wrapped his arms around me and pressed me to his chest, at first only making soothing sounds, but finally whispering to me. “You are safe Elaina. These are elves, not fairies. No harm shall come to you here. You are safe.” He repeated it over and over.
Eventually, I started repeating with him, “They’re elves, not fairies. They’re elves, not fairies.” The litany soon worked, and my breathing was almost steady again.
But I kept my head pressed against his chest, hiding my face as I remembered where I was and who I’d just had a panic attack in front of. “Oh my god, someone please kill me now,” I whispered into Legolas’s chest. “I can’t believe I just made such a huge ass out of myself,” I groaned.
Legolas shifted his grip and ran a hand soothingly up and down my back. “There is no reason to fret. No damage has been done, and none shall think less of you.”
I couldn’t stop the snort from escaping. “Yeah, I’m sure they think it’s perfectly normal.” Then I groaned. “Or worse yet, it’ll just perpetuate the horrible cliché of the emotional woman.”
I finally pushed away enough to risk a glance around. The elves—not fairies, I reminded myself—were gathered near the rest of the fellowship. A few of the elves and our companions would glance our way, but mostly we were being given some space and privacy.
I pulled away from Legolas and covered my face with my hands. “I’m so sorry for freaking out like that. Dammit, that’s so goddamned embarrassing.” I hadn’t had a panic attack of that magnitude since shortly after escaping North Korea, and had almost forgotten what it was like.
He pulled my hands away from my face, forcing me to look up at him. His brow was raised at my cursing, but he let it be. “You have no reason to apologize. You did not choose to become so overwhelmed.” He looked up at the other elves and sighed. “Though, I had hoped by coming to know me you would not retain such fear of my kindred,” he added sadly.
“Yeah, well, I know you now. And I trust you. I was just startled seeing so many of them together I guess. It just reminded me of awful stories my father used to tell.”
He was startled at that, no doubt trying figure out what stories my father could have told to frighten me so much just at seeing a group of elves who looked like fairies to my mind.
I ran a hand over my weary face, suddenly exhausted by the knowledge of how much power my father’s memory still held over me. “God, is it any wonder I’m still terrified of my father,” I whispered to myself, “I spent my whole childhood, and most of my adult life afraid he would find me and eat me.” I was suddenly overcome with giggles. The inappropriate kind that suddenly break out when others are shedding tears. “How many kids can say that? That they’re genuinely afraid of their father feasting on their flesh,” I laughed.
Legolas heard my words and gasped, his face falling with his appalled expression.
I sobered, suddenly exhausted again. “I told you, fairies are the worst sort of creatures. And among the things they love is feasting on mortal flesh. And as my father always reminded me, I’m mostly human.”
He stood in stunned silence and I looked away. “Just forget it. Look, I’ll be fine. Momentary freak out on my part, but I’ll be fine. These are elves, not fairies, and if they’re even half as kind as you are, I’ve got nothing to worry about.”
I took a step towards the others, but couldn’t force another, despite the words I’d so confidently spoken. Legolas stepped beside me and took my hand in his, gently pulling me with him towards the others.
“Thank you,” I whispered.
“As I have told you, I shall always be here for you.”
We stood near the others, and I studiously avoided looking up into the questioning eyes of anyone. My eyes stayed firmly on the ground, and my hand tightly around Legolas’s.
It appeared that we’d missed most of the arguing, and Haldir was explaining that we would spend the night in the trees on the wooden platforms of their talans. For once, I was anxious for sleep. Not for myself, I knew what little chance I had for sleeping now, but I prayed the others would sleep and at least mostly forget the horrifying display I had made.
I sat on the wooden flet, leaning back against the tree in the center. My eyes closed, not meaning to sleep, yet despite my intents and best efforts, I soon drifted off.
Sometime later, I jerked awake. The Fellowship were mostly bedded down and sleeping. But I didn’t see Aragorn or Legolas anywhere.
A few of the elves on the flet glanced at me when I jerked awake, but mostly, they didn’t pay me any attention. Ignoring them, I stood and walked to the edge of the flet and then sat down with my feet dangling over the edge.
“You are not frightened by the height?” a lightly accented voice asked.
I looked over my shoulder and watched a blond elf come up behind me and sit next to me. I discreetly slid away from him, putting more space between us. Feeling slightly bolstered by the extra space, I took the opportunity to look him over. He was tall and beautiful like all elves, but broader in the chest and shoulders than the others. Much broader than the fairies I’ve seen too, my mind added.
But that distinction was somehow comforting. It was easier to see him as just an elf, not a fairy.
“Hard to be afraid of just sitting in a tree when you’ve been sky diving,” I grinned, forcing myself to relax further.
He looked puzzled, but I waved it away.
“So, you’re Haldir, right?” I asked instead. I was guessing he was the marchwarden. He wore a grey hooded cloak like the other elves, but his clothes still managed to give the impression of his higher station. Plus, he spoke Westron, and it didn’t seem to appear that any of the other elves could.
“Forgive me. Yes, I am Haldir of Lórien,” he spoke, pressing his palm to his chest and nodding.
I held out my hand to him, determined to act normal, but laughing as he cautiously grasped my forearm in a warrior’s handshake. Not quite what I’d imagined for shaking hands, but close enough. “I’m Elaina, but everyone calls me Lane,” I told him.
“Lane,” he tried experimentally, releasing my arm. “‘Tis a strange name to match your strange appearance,” he said, gesturing to my clothing.
“Yeah, I guess I probably seem very strange to you. It’s pretty normal though where I come from.”
“Where is it that you are from?” he asked, turning more and leaning towards me.
“Very far away,” I hedged.
“Chicago.” I laughed at his puzzled expression. “I’m from nowhere you’ve ever heard of.”
“How did you come to be traveling with this fellowship? We had received word of their departure from Rivendell, but there was no word of a woman among them.”
I studied his carefully polite face. Though it was carefully hidden, I could see the calculating assessment in his eyes. I was certain Aragorn or Legolas had already told him at least something about me, but he was still responsible for the safety of his people. I couldn’t fault him for wanting to verify my story himself.
“I was lost, I guess, and they came across me. It seemed safer to travel with them since I didn’t know where I was. I tried seeing if Gandalf knew how I might return to my people, but seeing as he couldn’t help me, I figured I’d see if the Lady Galadriel knew how I could return to my country,” I explained carefully.
He continued to study me carefully, and I glanced over my shoulder again, curious as to where Legolas had gone.
“Legolas has gone to the other flet to speak with Aragorn and some of my warriors.”
I turned back to observe Haldir. “Oh? Good to know,” I said offhandedly, uncertain of his implication.
He smiled, but didn’t comment. “They are discussing with my warriors the creature we spotted follow your group into the woods,” he carefully replied.
Knowing he was fishing to see if I knew something about the creature following us, I arranged my face into a carefully curious expression. “Really? Was it an orc following us?”
He examined my features for a minute and then seemed to come to some conclusion. “Orcs did enter the wood, but they will not leave again. My brother Orophin has gone ahead to ensure the orcs are dealt with. But another creature was seen lurking in the shadows. It moved quickly, and none of my men were able to catch it.”
“Hmmm…I wouldn’t think a lone creature would be much of a cause for alarm,” I commented, looking out across the treetops. The sky was clear, but only a few stars could be seen around the sliver of moon.
“No creature is allowed unescorted within our borders,” came his frustrated reply.
I almost smiled at his frustration. “I doubt even one creature will be able to follow us further past your borders with so many elves about.”
He continued sitting next to me, looking across the forest in the same quiet contemplation. Then, his voice broke the silence as he turned and whispered lowly, “How did your jaw come to be so badly bruised?” I shrugged and didn’t answer, so he moved on to something else, asking, “You do not sleep because you dream of Mithrandir?”
I turned and regarded him as he had studied me earlier. His words came out a question, yet his tone was more a statement, making me wonder how he knew.
“You cried out ‘Gandalf’ before you awoke,” he elaborated at my look.
I drew one knee up to my chest and wrapped my arms around it. With my head turned sideways and resting on my knee, I carefully examined the marchwarden.
Finally, I spoke. “I dream of him falling. I see it over and over. And that’s bad enough, but then I keep seeing the looks of grief and devastation on the faces of the others. And I hear their accusations. But there’s nothing I can say to them. Nothing I can do to make their grief easier,” I quietly told him.
“Why would your companions blame you?”
“They think I knew about Gandalf’s death beforehand and did nothing to save him.”
He looked surprised. “Did you know of his death?”
“Yes.” It came out as a whispered breath, but the elf beside me still heard.
He thought for a moment and calmly asked, “Why did you not try to save him?”
I shook my head. “I couldn’t. It had to happen. Even bad things have to happen for good to win out in the end.”
My shame and fear of more recrimination caused me to turn me head away, resting my face on my other cheek, as I looked out across the gently swaying treetops. With so little moonlight to brighten them, the trees almost seemed black in the dark night. But I knew come daylight, that everything would look brighter.
“It seems your companions shall have to learn to trust your words,” Haldir advised behind me.
My head snapped up and around to look at him in surprise. But he continued before I could think of anything to say.
“Strange you seem compared to my kindred, but I feel no guile or malice in you. I do not believe you would have carelessly chosen to allow Mithrandir to fall. If it was meant to happen, you say, then I will believe in your words.”
I stared in shock. “I don’t think I’ll ever understand you elves.”
He looked curious again and he glanced pointedly down at the space between us. “Is that why you fear my kind? Because you do not understand us.”
My mouth opened to protest, but no words would come out.
“We all witnessed your reaction to us. You feared us.”
I pulled my other knee to my chest and buried my face between my knees in mortification. “I am so sorry about that,” I mumbled, then forced myself to raise my head and look him in the eye. “I wasn’t expecting to react that way, and I’m so sorry that I did.”
“Why did you fear us? You cannot deny it, I saw the fear in your eyes,” he repeated.
I huffed and crossed my arms over my knees, hating to be reminded of the weakness I’d shown. “It’s nothing. I was just surprised and overreacted is all. All you elves look like a much darker and very sinister race from my homeland, and for a moment there, I looked up and saw you all gathered together and saw them instead of elves.”
He looked skeptical at my explanation. “But you do not fear Legolas. When your fear overwhelmed you, you turned to him for comfort,” he commented, one brow raised in challenge.
“No. I don’t fear him. Not anymore anyway. He’s a good friend to me. And I’m glad he was there to stop me when I was acting irrationally.”
“You care deeply for him?” he pressed.
I let my legs dangle over the edge of the flet again, straightening and crossing my arms as I faced Haldir. “Of course I care for him. He’s become a closer friend than I’ve had in a long time, maybe ever. And one of the few friends I’ve got here.”
“He is not more?” the marchwarden pushed, his smile turning mischievous and a light gleaming in his eye.
Now I was confused. I had a feeling I knew what Haldir was hinting at, but I’d never been one to beat around the bush. “He’s an elf and I’m a human. Things are a bit different in our cultures. Casual sex may be common for my people, but seeing how it’s not for elves, we’ve stuck with just being friends,” I snapped.
I expected him to get nervous and blush as Legolas had whenever the topic was even slightly broached, but Haldir let his head fall back and laughed, drawing the curious looks of several of his elves.
Quieting, he told me, “Perhaps it is not commonplace, and perhaps even less so in Mirkwood—I cannot say—but elves do from time to time join physically without forming lasting attachments. I was merely curious as to how far your closeness with the prince extended.”
I was shocked. “So you’re saying elves do have sex without marrying. I thought Legolas said something like sex being how two elves married or something.”
Haldir’s head tilted slightly as he looked at me. “Perhaps you misunderstood the prince, or he did not wish to speak of such matters, but some elves do not wait until they give their hearts to give their bodies.” He shrugged. “Though most do. Elves give their hearts more freely, and some cannot bring themselves to join physically with another without giving their hearts at the act. It is the giving of hearts that binds a marriage between elves, not the physical act itself. It can be difficult for an ellon or an elleth to find a similarly minded partner to ensure there is no risk of broken hearts.”
I was silently absorbing all that he told me when he continued. “A broken heart can be fatal to my kind, so this is why physical joinings without marriage are mostly rare to elves. But it does occur.”
“Why did you tell me all this?” I asked.
“As I said, I was merely curious to know how close you were to the prince,” he answered with a grin.
“But why?” I asked again.
He stood and walked away without responding. Leaving me to sit in stunned silence, pondering what the hell had just happened.
The next day, we started the last leg of the journey to Lothlórien. First was the task of crossing the Celebrant on the hastily constructed rope bridge. I was apprehensive at the task, but told myself that even if I did slip and fall, I was a Marine. There wasn’t a river out there that I couldn’t eventually swim across. My courage thus bolstered, I quickly took my turn after the men, and waited calmly on the other side for the rest.
“You are nearly as sure-footed as an elf, Elaina,” Legolas laughed.
I shook my head with a grin. Nodding towards one of the other elves crossing, I said, “I don’t think so. You didn’t see me crossing without steadying myself on the other rope.”
Once everyone was safely across, the arguments started. By law, Haldir claimed he couldn’t allow Gimli further into the borders without being blindfolded.
Knowing how things would play out, I’d stood back and watched the argument with amusement. When it was finally agreed that we would all be blindfolded, I was smiling indulgently at the elf’s and dwarf’s indignant huffing. But I quickly sobered when I glanced up to find Haldir’s eyes on me, studying my movements and expressions with curiosity. I was still completely unnerved by our strange conversation from the night before, and avoidance seemed so much easier than thinking about it anymore.
My nerves were set on edge when they blindfolded me, but I shut my eyes and tried to force my mind to go as dark as my vision had. I was thankful then that the elf leading me didn’t speak Westron. Physical contact always made shutting out the thoughts of others more difficult. But since I couldn’t understand the elf’s thoughts, I let them wash over me. It also gave me the added benefit of seeing our path through my guide’s thoughts.
It wasn’t as good as actually seeing, but it gave me the broad strokes of an idea as to where we were and what was happening. Unfortunately, every time Haldir walked past me, going up and down the line, I couldn’t stop my feet from slightly faltering. I just kept praying that neither Haldir nor my guide would notice.
After traveling most of the day, we stopped to rest when a message came to the marchwarden from the city. We were all finally to be allowed entry without the need of blindfolds. I was surprised at how genuinely congenial Haldir was in apologizing, especially to Gimli. But it was nice to finally stop and rest in the sun.
I sat apart from the others, watching and enjoying their reactions to the simple splendor of the sun, the trees, and the grass. Haldir led Frodo to the top of a high flet to show him the view while the others stayed on the ground and wandered about.
Years and a mountain of grief seemed to be lifted from their souls. Aragorn especially seemed to suddenly become a young man again. He wandered through the trees, speaking softly as though someone were there to hear. I could see him picturing Arwen and remembering walking about the trees of Lórien with her when they’d met. I felt some of my own guilt slip away to see his heart finally lightened, even if only for a moment.
“I’ll find no comfort here,” Boromir whispered harshly as he sat beside me on the grass.
I’d been leaning back on my elbows, noting how young and childlike Legolas appeared as he slowly wound his way through the trees, but I sat up next to Boromir at his words.
“You just need to get some rest, Boromir,” I advised him.
He shook his head. “I cannot relax here. It is all too—” he trailed off, searching for the word.
I grasped his shoulder and felt him stiffen, but I kept still until he relaxed. “It’s almost too much isn’t it?” I told him. “So bright, so beautiful, so—other-worldly. It just makes it that much clearer that we’re human and not like them, doesn’t it?”
“Yes,” he whispered in agreement, his voice thick with relief at my understanding and his shoulders slumping forward.
“It’s okay to be reminded that we’re not like them. It’s okay to be different,” I told him.
But he didn’t respond and kept staring down at the grass between his feet.
It was dusk by the time we finally neared the great city if elves. Great mallorn trees towered throughout the city, with silver lamps twinkling within their branches.
I stepped up beside Legolas, gaping beside him at the great towering city. It was beyond any of my imaginings. So stately and civilized, yet do breathtaking in its raw beauty.
“Welcome to Caras Galadhon!” Haldir proudly told us from my other side, throwing his arm out in gesture to the city. “Here is the city of the Galadhrim where dwell the Lord Celeborn and Galadriel the Lady of Lórien. But we cannot enter here, for the gates do not look northward. We must go round to the southern side, and the way is not short, for the city is great.”
I closed my eyes and prayed that this great city would hold the key to send me back to my world again.