The armies of Rohan, Gondor, and Dol Amroth rode out of the city two days later. Many men steadfastly resolved to march into Mordor as they were asked by their lords, but I knew many would falter and be unable to continue to our end destination.
Unlike our previous battles, I rode beside Legolas in the van with the Dúnedain and the sons of Elrond. I had meant to ride separately from Legolas, as we had done before in Rohan, but my concession to his worries and fears was to ride beside Gimli and himself. Gandalf rode in the vanguard as well, but Pippin rode further back with the other soldiers of Gondor.
In the two days since meeting at the tent headquarters, we had seen Gimli frequently, often taking meals with him as we wandered the city, but we’d only seen the others a few times. Mostly Legolas and I had remained in my rooms—now our rooms in the Citadel. Savoring our time together in the safe cocoon of our private quarters, shutting the outside world away.
But all things had to end, and our little reprieve had as well.
When we’d again donned our weapons and gear, the carefree, laughing smile of those two days had disappeared from my elf’s face. Replaced by a somber, but steadfast resolve.
We hadn’t spoken any more about me marching from the city with the others, and when I’d pulled my weapons on, we still exchanged no words about it.
Instead, Legolas had pulled me into his arms and engulfed me in a fierce, passionate kiss that left me standing breathless as he turned and strode purposefully from our room, not waiting for me to trail behind.
And now, we rode from the city with the armies trailing behind us as trumpets announced our departure.
Every so often, Legolas would glance over at me, his expression flat and unreadable, but almost as though he merely needed to reassure himself of my presence.
Gimli too looked my way quite often throughout the day, but we exchanged many encouraging smiles between us, both loath to break the quelling silence of the march.
As we reached Osgiliath, all the men were disheartened by the sight of the destruction there. But it seemed to spur their actions as the men hurriedly repaired ferries and bridges. But the army was slowed by their efforts, and it took longer still to move the entirety of the army across the river.
Not far out of Osgiliath, I could see that the foot-soldiers were flagging and would soon need to stop and rest.
I glanced back at them, but apparently couldn’t keep the irritation from showing on my face.
“It’s hard work marchin’ a’foot in such armor, Lass,” Gimli explained.
“I know,” I replied with a heavy sigh. “I’m just not used to marching with an army that’s on foot.” I glanced backwards at the huge mass of men and added in a whisper, “Or traveling with an army so damn big.”
“I thought you said yer own army was grand, Lass?”
With a slight smile, I faced Gimli again, reminding myself that there was nothing wrong with dwarven hearing. “I was a Marine, Gimli, I wasn’t in the Army. But regardless, my country’s military in general didn’t rely on massive numbers like this anymore. We mostly used advanced weaponry and shock and awe to beat our enemies.”
“Ye’ll have to tell us ’bout this weaponry, Lass,” Gimli said, the relish and excitement evident in his voice and expression.
“Someday, Gimli. Someday,” I laughed, looking past him to meet Legolas’s eyes. There was an understanding in them, and an almost knowing smile; I think he realized I had no intention of bringing knowledge of my world’s weaponry to my new home.
Legolas’s knowing smile lingered in my memory. In the scant days since we’d been wed, Legolas and I had made great strides in understanding the bond between us, but I knew we had only scratched the surface of it. There were times now when Legolas so deftly caught my thoughts, that I wasn’t even aware that he had until he would say something in return to my thoughts, but most of the time he seemed intent on blocking out all the thoughts he was inundated with, commenting that he found them too distracting and overwhelming to his other senses.
One new twist to our bond had been discovered the night after we wed. When we returned to our rooms, Legolas quickly noted that the scabs on my chest had nearly healed, and the bruises from the battle all but vanished. It wasn’t quite elven healing speed, but it did seem that I had gained something from our bonding as well. Though I maintained that I got the better bargain. Even my hearing and sight seemed markedly better, though I hadn’t realized it for more than a day, and even then, Legolas had been the one to point it out.
But many other things had changed between us as well. There had long been a level of understanding between us that I was only now appreciating. Sometime in the building of our friendship, we’d come to know each other better than I had realized even a few days ago. Little things, and little looks, I understood and interpreted almost without thought. And even without the benefit of catching my thoughts, Legolas was able to understand so much about me as well. And even when he didn’t initially anticipate a response from me, he still understood why I responded as I did.
And yet, I happily realized that there was still so much about each other that remained unfathomable. So much about each of us that remained a mystery to the other.
I had felt Legolas’s overwhelming fear for me going into Mordor with the others, and yet, he’d somehow managed to stow that all away, resolutely riding by my side toward the very end I knew he was so loath of. And how he overcame the fear I knew he still harbored, was as unfathomable to me as some of the rest.
As was his strength in overcoming other obstacles. As we crossed the river, the gulls wheeled overhead and cried out in shrill screams. Legolas’s gaze was drawn downriver towards the sea, yet when the army began to move again, the impassive mask returned as he faced forward and rode on with the others. Only the ache I sensed from him in the pit of my stomach belied his stoic expression.
Only a few miles from Osgiliath, the foot-soldiers stopped for the night to make camp, but the riders pushed on, finally making the few miles to the Cross-roads before we likewise stopped. Trumpets sounded in each direction, heralding the lords of Gondor’s coming. But no answer resounded to the calls.
I watched absently as several men righted the statue of the king, removing the gruesome Orc head that had been planted on it, and replacing the head crowned in gold and white flowers. And though it was worn and battered, the flowers gave it a sense of majesty. The men studiously cleaned and removed the filth of the Orc’s defilement, adding to its beauty. It was comforting to see so small a thing corrected. So small a thing returned to the state it should have been. And it reinforced my reasoning to leave as much of my old world behind as possible. Especially in these days when this world was being returned to its righteousness.
Legolas stepped beside me where I stood watching, my hands still lightly grasping Lightfoot’s reins. He gently touched my elbow, and moved to slip the gelding’s reins from my hands.
“I can take care of him,” I told him.
“Of course,” he demurred. “But only one of us need find a line to picket the horses.” As he spoke, he removed his pack and handed it to me. I was thankful to see that his smile had almost returned to normal after his bout of sea longing. “If you would lay out our bedrolls, I shall care for the horses.”
Relinquishing my hold on the reins, I told him, “All right, I see Gimli sitting by a fire near Aragorn and the others. I’ll head over there for now. If we want to move a little further away from the others later on for privacy, we always can.”
He nodded and left to his task.
As I joined Gimli at the fire, sitting on the log he had scooted over on and placing our packs at my feet, I listened absently to the men discussing the next course of our journey.
Imrahil championed the path to Minas Morgal, thinking to overthrow some of the forces there, but Gandalf adamantly argued against it, explaining that if that was indeed the path Frodo had chosen, we shouldn’t march in that direction and draw attention to that area.
As they talked and argued over the different routes, I looked up to see Aragorn thoughtfully watching me from across the fire, his pipe forgotten in his hand. I could see the question in his eyes, but I gave a slight shake of my head, and he merely nodded once in return.
“You know our destined path, do you not?” Legolas whispered against my temple as he carefully sat on the log beside me. Gimli and I slid down to give him more room, but Legolas pulled me close into his side so the three of us could fit.
“Yes,” I whispered back. “But like everything else, I can’t say anything and change the intended course. Besides, the longer I’m here, the harder it is to remember everything, most of the details have slipped away, and now the big stuff is getting harder to remember, too.” It was almost strange now to think that my knowledge had come from reading a book once in my previous world. Knowledge right down to conversations and arguments as well as events. Some of those I still remembered quite well. Others I didn’t.
“For what is your amusement?” Legolas asked.
I pulled my eyes from staring into the dancing flames and looked back at my elf, realizing I must have given a dry laugh at my thoughts.
“I was just thinking how strange it seems to me now to think that my knowledge of this world and its events came from reading a book,” I whispered back to him. “I once felt like such an outsider during the passage of events I knew. But now—now I have to remind myself just how it is that I actually know things. Now the men sit around talking about what path we should take, and I feel like I should be taking part in the conversation. It’s just strange to suddenly realize after so many months of feeling like an outsider, that now I feel like I have as much stake in this outcome as anyone, and that I should have a say, too.”
“Your stake in this outcome is indeed as clear as any gathered here,” Aragorn suddenly said from across the way, his arms spread out wide to encompass those gathered around the fire. I was continually reminding myself that only the true mortals like the men of Rohan lacked very superb hearing. Those with Númenórean blood had hearing rivaled only by their distant elven cousins. “You need not feel like you must remain an outsider offering no words of thought to the matter. Speak your mind without need of remaining in the shadows. Long we would have welcomed you within our number, and indeed in our hearts have already counted you thus. Was not us that placed you ever on the outside, but by your own choice to remain there.”
I looked around the fire at those gathered with their faces tipped expectantly towards mine. Gimli, Legolas, Gandalf, and Pippin all watched and offered encouraging smiles, no refute to Aragorn’s words on their lips. But the number was rounded out by Éomer, Imrahil, Halbarad, Elladan, Elrohir, and a handful of other Rangers whose faces I was learning, even if not yet their names. But not even these others watched with any scorn, though I almost felt from the intensity of Elladan’s probing stare that a hole might form in my forehead.
“It’s not that any of you have made me feel like I should remain on the outside, you’re right, I’ve done that myself. But it’s just such an eerie feeling to watch a scene unfold when I already know exactly how it’s going to happen. You’ve all been more than accommodating in making me feel like I could be a part of the group if I wanted, but it’s so hard to convince myself that it’s okay,” I explained, gesturing to the remaining Fellowship. “How could I feel like anything but an outsider when I’ve seen what was supposed to happen, and I know I wasn’t supposed to be here for any of it?”
Aragorn finally brought his forgotten pipe to his mouth and inhaled a long puff, slowly releasing it before he thoughtfully said, “Perhaps it was not intended for you to know your part in this world. Would not They have kept you from seeing signs of your own fate in these visions? You once warned the dangers of knowing even small parts of the coming future, for the threat of altering them and causing a much worse fate. Could not They have limited your scope of vision to prevent this very occurrence?”
“If only it were that easy,” I murmured to myself. “But I don’t think people are really meant to know what’s coming.”
Those of the Fellowship all had some understanding of my knowledge concerning coming events, but the other men seemed completely shocked by our conversation. But seeing Aragorn who they already counted as king—whether he had yet claimed his crown or not—treat my knowledge so seriously, had them leaning forward and listening raptly.
Legolas held my hand between us, slowly running his thumb over my knuckles. “Have you not known the course of events since we came upon you in Hollin?” he gently probed. “Yet not any ill has befallen from your knowledge. Has not the course of fates flowed as it was meant? You have known the future and prepared yourself thus, but you have not altered the coming of fate.” Legolas’s countenance suddenly darkened.
“What?” I asked.
“Though I have been loath to voice it, it is for your knowledge of the coming events that I have been fearful of your joining our march,” he carefully explained.
“I don’t understand.”
“Terror strikes my heart at the thought of your perishing, but terror also strikes my heart at the thought of the Dark Lord finding you and using you to take your knowledge for his own use.”
My blood ran cold at his words, and I fought the urge to wrap my arms protectively around myself. I had carefully tried to push away all thoughts of Sauron and how easily he had entered my thoughts and coursed pain through my mind, but the truth was, he too was there in my nightmares. Along with the memories of what he was capable of.
“He’ll have more to worry about than little ole me by the time we get there,” I said, trying to assure both him and myself.
“He would take your knowledge and seek to use it to change the course of events. He cannot be allowed to gain such sensitive knowledge and try to alter fate.”
I shrugged. “I’ve tried to alter it more than you realize.” I resolutely met his eye and continued. “I tried to save Boromir at Amon Hen that day, but he fell despite my efforts.” My eyes traveled briefly over Halbarad before returning to Legolas. “And I didn’t fail in other attempts. Most things have stayed the same, but some little things have changed. Like you going off that cliff in Rohan. That wasn’t supposed to happen. But the question is: how many other things will snowball and change because of what I’ve affected.”
“Fate had marked me to die on the battlefield,” Halbarad whispered. My eyes returned to the young Ranger to refute his correct guess, in no way intending him to shoulder such knowledge, but he continued before I could speak. “I saw my fate in your eyes on the battlefield that day, and I see the truth of it in your eyes now. You foresaw my death but fought at my side and spared my life that day.”
“Yeah. I did. But I never intended you to know. It was my choice, and truthfully, I’d make the same choice again. I couldn’t know every single soldier that would die on that field that day, but I knew you were supposed to, and I saw no reason why you should have to.” But in my heart, I knew I would one day be called to atone for my choice. I could only pray that the price wasn’t too steep.
“And this, too, is how you knew to concentrate our archers upon the trolls at the gate,” Imrahil whispered in an almost awed shock.
I merely jerked my head down once in response.
“You likely saved many lives with your advice that night,” Imrahil said, his head shaking in disbelief. “The gate splintered in the end, but your actions meant it held for longer than it might have otherwise and gave the Rohirrim time to come to our aid. The Enemy never breached the gate, though it was broken in the end.”
“Perhaps you were meant to save young Halbarad’s life,” Legolas offered. “You were presented with the knowledge of his fate by the Valar, and then placed before him to alter that course. And perhaps, too, you were meant to save those lives by slowing the destruction of the city’s gate.”
My head shook in response as I wrapped my arms tightly around myself. “I just read it all in a book. It was no gift from the Valar. I wasn’t even meant to be here. It was an accident that I ended up here,” I insisted, remembering well just who had told me that my presence was an accident.
“Nay!” Legolas firmly returned, tilting my face up to his. “Speak not of such chance occurrences. Our love is neither trivial, nor happenstance. It has been blessed by the Valar themselves.”
I didn’t answer as I pressed my forehead to his shoulder, steadily raising my barriers so he couldn’t catch any thoughts from my swirling mind. And wishing to myself that he could be right. How simple things would indeed be if the Valar actually blessed our union and hadn’t made clear that they still intended to remove me from this world. Guilt built in my breast at the thought that I should tell Legolas the truth, tell him that the Valar gave us no blessing and had themselves said my presence was an accident They would see righted by returning me to my world.
But as I looked up into his eyes, I knew I couldn’t tell him this harsh truth. Better to let him believe the Valar were on our side than to dash his hopes otherwise. Better to let him believe that lie, and perhaps let myself indulge in that falsehood as well. Even if only the naïve corner of my heart could believe it.
“Maybe They do,” I lied. “Maybe They do.”
The subject of what I might know was blessedly dropped, and food was passed around. Mostly it consisted of hard bread and dry cheeses, but some game was scared up and soon was roasting on the scattered fires.
The elves left to scrounge up herbs to flavor the meat, and I was left with Gimli, who felt no little humor in me resting by the fire while my husband provided the provender.
“Laugh all you want, Gimli,” I mockingly scowled at the dwarf. “But I bet you’d all rather have the elf out looking for food or trying to cook it instead of me. Mostly my idea of cooking was ordering in.”
“Orderin’ in, Lassie?” he questioned between chuckles.
“Yeah, in my world, you could call up a restaurant you liked and order whatever you wanted, and then either pick it up or have them deliver it to your doorstep. I lived on takeout Chinese and pizza when I wasn’t on base or overseas serving. And as a cop, I lived on that; and coffee and doughnuts, of course. I never really did learn to cook much. Except grilled cheese sandwiches.” I glanced at the crumbling cheese and hard bread in my hand. “And this is a poor substitute.”
“Call, Lass? Chinese, pizza, coffee, doughnuts, what are these things ye speak of?” the dwarf asked, his mirth finally sobering as he became interested in a discussion about food.
The remaining men around the fire tried to listen without appearing to, their attention fixed on their own food or bedrolls, but their ears tilted enough to catch our conversation. Not that I cared, it wouldn’t have been good to discuss my past so openly with the rest of the army, but I found I trusted those gathered around our fire.
Pippin made no such pretense and dropped beside Gimli on the ground. “I’ve never heard of those kinds of foods either,” the hobbit eagerly said.
“They’re kinds of food from my world. Actually, different countries in my world, but Chinese was always a mainstay for me. Although I get the feeling that pizza would be right up your alley, Pip.” I turned to Gimli. “Coffee was surely a drink delivered by the gods, if ever there was one, and doughnuts were a wonderful pastry for soaking up the coffee. What I mean by calling is harder to explain. You see, in my world, we had these devices that connected by wires, and through them, you could talk to someone even hundreds of miles away, just like you were standing next to them.” I decided not to get into that whole mess of how they operated or even the whole complexity of wireless phones.
The young hobbit was more interested in the food though, and started grilling me on what pizza was an how it was made, and I smiled at the thought of pizzerias opening all over the Shire. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing to bring from my world, although I was sure there were doctors somewhere who would have disagreed.
It was strange to sit around a campfire on our march to battle, and still be able to laugh and smile as I shared stories with Pippin and Gimli, but I silently thanked them both for their personalities and abilities that made such a feat possible. Even when the elves returned, they sat nearby and fondly listened to the tales of great banquets and feasts of both dwarven and hobbit legend. Legolas was of course used to the antics of these two, but Elladan and Elrohir seemed to watch Pippin with the rapt attention of someone completely enthralled and unable to articulate just why.
And I sat back against Legolas’s side, thinking that it reminded me of many nights out drinking in bars and pubs with the guys before we would get shipped out on our next tour. Or even sitting around with them on base.
As Gimli and Pippin got into a heated debate over the best ingredients for proper beer, I found myself wishing greatly that we had a whole keg to share on this night. As one last celebration before we marched into darker lands.
But even without a cold mug of beer, I knew this was a night I’d hold in my memory for a long time.
“You have not heeded our words and tempered your actions,” the familiar bass voice told me.
I blinked and realized I was back standing in the little thatched-roof cabin I’d grown up in and had last seen Vairë in. My head shook as I tried to clear it, vaguely remembering that Legolas and I had laid our bedrolls out a ways from the others and laid down to rest. I remembered telling him I doubted I’d get any sleep, but it appeared I’d been wrong.
“You really know how to show up out of nowhere and ruin a perfectly good night’s rest, don’t you, Mandos. Why do you have to keep coming to me in dreams and ruin what little sleep I manage to get?” No matter how impertinent my words probably were, I couldn’t keep the irritation from showing, so I quit even trying. Why bother? The Valar have already made their opinions perfectly clear.
The Vala who still appeared to my eyes as the infamous actor, casually shrugged. “As it was explained to you, your mind accepts our presence most easily in your sleep. My brother makes it possible for myself or others to intrude in your dreams.”
“Brother? Great, I’ve met your wife. Am I going to meet this brother, too? Or how ’bout the rest of the family? Will I be meeting aunts, uncles, and cousins, as well?”
The Vala’s gaze narrowed on me as his gaze darkened at my snide words. “You would do well to remember your place and your manners, mortal. Your fate is far from cast in stone.”
But I wasn’t swayed by the threat. “What’s it matter if I mind my manners? You and your wife already made your positions very clear. You’re going to try and send me back to my world, my wants be damned,” I growled, angrily swiping my hand through the air.
“There is much you do not see and much you cannot understand,” a feminine lilt intoned behind me.
I turned to see the memory of my mother walk steadily past me and gently place her hand on the arm of the scowling actor turned god.
“And much there is you neither see nor understand as well, my husband,” she lovingly told him.
And for the first time since my initial encounter with the Doomsday Vala, I saw his expression brighten as he passed a loving look at the Vala in my mother’s guise.
I looked away. “This is just creepy to see my mother making eyes with the voice of Darth Vader. She was dead long before he had even been born.”
The two Valar stepped slightly apart and returned their attention to me.
When neither spoke, I broke the awkward silence. “So, what have I done so wrong that it required both of you to tramp around in my dreams?”
“I warned against you interfering with the lives destined for my dominion,” Mandos started.
“Oh come on,” I interrupted. “Halbarad and anyone else who might not have died that night because of the whole gate thing were all mortals. That means you’re going to get them eventually. It’s gambling. The house always wins in the end. I just delayed your win a little bit.”
“Your words and manner are more impetuous than our last visit,” Vairë said reproachfully.
“Well I guess I’ve realized if you’re going to throw me back into my former world anyway, I’ve got nothing to lose by speaking my mind,” I honestly told them both.
“As I said, there is much you cannot see nor do you understand,” Vairë repeated.
I ran a frustrated hand over my head. “So what, I don’t have to go back now?”
The Weaver of the Valar sighed. “Nothing has changed about your circumstances. You were not born in this world, and you cannot be allowed to perish in it. The world of your birth must be the one of your death.”
“Or what? Will the universe implode if I die here?”
Vairë shrugged elegantly. “Your fate would likely be far worse if you die in a world you were not born to. Your fëa would be cast adrift, never finding peace. As for what could happen to your world and ours?” She again shrugged. “Not even We can accurately say.”
“So let me stay here until then,” I suddenly pleaded, not caring in the slightest if begging was a thing I so loathed. “Let me stay here with Legolas until I’m old and spent, and then you can send me back to my old world to die. I don’t really care where my body takes its last breath.”
“You presume to make requests now. As well as presume you shall live that long,” Mandos rumbled, crossing his arms imposingly over his chest. “You have acted as you were warned against, and now seek to ask favors.”
Vairë placed a soothing hand on his arm. But instead of speaking to him, she turned and continued speaking to me.
“The elf prince is at the heart of a great deal of our current troubles,” she explained.
My own arms crossed over my own chest, mimicking the stance of the dark Vala. “I don’t understand.”
“You have wed and bound your fëa with the elf prince. An occurrence none of the Valar foresaw.”
“I thought you guys were supposed to be all powerful and all knowing,” I said, grasping my arms tighter as I puzzled through her words.
“Nay, though we each hold dominion over our own purview, we are none of us all knowing or all powerful. Such omnipotence is for Eru Ilúvatar alone. The Valar know much about the lands of Arda, but you are a being foreign to us. If we had realized you would so be able to bind the elf prince’s fëa to your own …” she trailed off.
“What? You would have stopped it?” I asked, my voice rising at the incredulous notion.
Vairë didn’t move, but Mandos shrugged as though to say it wouldn’t have mattered to him.
I turned away and walked over to the rough-hewn window looking out over my mother’s garden and the green hills beyond it. That garden had been one of her few joys in life, tending it and gathering the rewards of her hard labor.
“Maybe you would have tried to stop it, but you can’t undo it now. It’s done, and there’s no way to break a binding like that,” I whispered, not turning to look back at the pair. “You said yourself that the Valar didn’t know it was possible and aren’t all knowing. But what if Ilúvatar allowed it to happen? Can you really be so callous as to just rip us apart now and throw me back into my world? A world where I have no home and no place. A world where I’ll never be happy.”
“We are neither one callous to your situation,” Mandos rumbled, surprising me by his admission. I turned to look over my shoulder as he continued. “As my wife weaves the tale of Arda and knows the fit of every being in its tale, so too do I appreciate where all beings find their fit. Most find their ways to my halls eventually, as you so noted, and then go on to their own realms of fëa. But as you have lamented, you are not as mortals here. You are not Dúnedain, but nor are you of the Eldar race. So where is your fëa to dwell? There is not even a place of dwelling for those of your mixed kind in your own world, is there not?”
I shook my head. “I don’t belong anywhere,” I whispered.
Vairë stepped forward again, taking my hands. A jolt went through my body at the contact, and I realized that neither Vala had ever touched me before this. I wasn’t sure what jolted through me where her hands grasped mine, or even if it was something physical since this was in fact a dream, but she soon pulled my attention away from our hands as she spoke.
“There will come a time when a choice is put before you. I cannot say when, for I know not how these events shall unfold, but if you are determined to remain with your prince, you will have to make difficult choices and pass through the flames.”
The words almost seemed familiar, but before I could dwell on it, she squeezed my hand and drew my attention back to her eyes as she implored me.
“I would have you make any other choice than this, for to even reach the point of attaining your chance at remaining with your prince, you must endure such torment and hardship. Let your words to the Dúnadan ring true, take what memories you shall be given with your prince, and hold them close to your heart when you must return to your world. Let them bloom in your heart and never be forgotten.”
“I don’t … I don’t understand,” I stuttered.
“Atonement must be made,” Mandos rumbled, drawing my attention back to him. “Of more import however: a test through the flames. Will you prove strong enough to grasp what you yearn for?” He shook his head, almost seeming saddened now. “Your path is ultimately destined to end in your world. You cannot be allowed to perish here. Where your fëa shall dwell from there, I cannot say.”
The image of the cabin faded away, and last to disappear from my sight, was the saddened visage of my mother standing beside the famous actor. Both were shaking their heads sorrowfully.
“I truly am sorry for the fate you must be dealt,” that deep voice heavily intoned.
And blackness fell again.
My eyes popped open only to be met by darkness. For a terrifying moment, I thought it had all been a tantalizing, torturous dream. That the blackness greeting my eyes was my cave and prison in North Korea. That everything had just been a cruelly taunting dream of my mind and I had never escaped at all. But my mind and eyes adjusted and I saw the twinkling stars in the night sky. I sighed with relief that it hadn’t all been a dream or imagining.
Legolas still lay beside me, his eyes open to the sky, but with that glazed quality that told me he was getting some respite. But as I slowly sat up, his eyes cleared and focused on me.
“Your sleep was troubled?” he asked, no doubt seeing something in my eyes or even catching the unsettled feelings I could feel churning in my own chest.
“Something like that,” I whispered back, mindful of the men still sleeping not so far away.
I tossed back my blanket and started to stand, but Legolas caught my wrist while I was still crouched.
“I just need to go for a walk and get some fresh air,” I replied in answer to his look.
He released my hand with a nod and sprang lightly to his feet to follow me.
Gimli snorted loudly in between his usual trucker snoring, and as I walked by him, I used my toe to shove at his shoulder, rolling him, and hoping to grant the others around him a little quieter rest.
But the dwarf snorted again as he rolled, then started muttering, “—swimming—mmmm—wit’d the little hairy women.”
I choked back a laugh as I stepped past him. He was still snoring, but more gently now.
Legolas paused behind me, his face masked in incredulity at his dear friend, but then he caught up with me. “I think Gimli could sleep through anything,” he whispered, taking my hand in his as we walked.
“He’d be the only one with the way he snores,” I whispered back.
In silence we continued, walking past the Cross-roads and under the dark boughs of the trees clustered along the North road.
Much of the forest had been burned or plundered by the Orcs, the bark of the trees shriveled and blackened where they were scorched and burned. But many trees still remained, their branches still curling towards the sky.
Legolas reached out as we walked, his fingers lightly brushing against the bark of a tree here, the twig of a branch there. And a feeling of contentment settled into place between us.
“You really like this area, don’t you?” Much of the area was darkened by black soot, but spring was already hard at work in the forest, shoots of green grass growing through the soot and muddy patches of ground.
He nodded at my question. “These woods have been battered by Sauron’s minions, but the whisper of their promise yet remains beneath the bark.”
I stopped and looked at the forest again, trying to imagine what it would look like in the future. When the trees had healed, and young saplings had grown to replace the battered ones.
My Fae blood wasn’t so strong that I felt the pull of trees and woodlands like they did, but something spoke to me nevertheless. Perhaps it was the simple, child-like smile on Legolas’s face as he occasionally reached out to the trees and murmured to them in elvish.
“I think perhaps I shall offer to Aragorn to bring a number of my kinsmen to this forest at the ending of these dark days. As Gimli sees the potential in the stonework of the city, so too, do I see much potential in these forests. My kinsmen could see that these trees are returned to their former glorious state.”
I smiled but added nothing.
“You know something of this?” he asked, and I glanced curiously over at him. “You are well versed most times in hiding your emotions, and your thoughts are yet locked from my reach, but your eyes give much away. I see the sparkle of amusement in them.”
The laugh escaped easily and without thought. “You really are coming to know me well.” I shook my head. “This forest will be beautiful, I’m sure, when you’re done with it. And you’ll build a lovely colony here.”
“Colony?” he asked in surprise.
It seemed so little a thing, that I couldn’t see keeping it from him. “Yeah, here in North Ithilien, you’ll build a large colony where many other elves will settle for a time, after the older ones beginning sailing to Valinor.”
We had paused momentarily, but began strolling in the faint moonlight again, and I noticed even my night vision seemed stronger than before.
“Is it your wish to settle in these lands?” Legolas prompted.
“You really seem at home here,” I said, still chuckling at his careful wording. “But strangely, I actually can see building a lovely home here.” But my expression darkened momentarily as I recalled my dream. And I wondered if I’d even be allowed to stay long enough to see the colony Legolas would build.
Legolas turned to me questioningly when I came to a stop and tugged on his hand.
“Promise me that no matter what, you’ll build that colony here and fulfill all of those plans you have for restoring this forest,” I earnestly pleaded, giving my best winsome smile.
But Legolas sobered. “Is there something I do not know?”
Rather than answer with the truth, I diverted him, not willing to tell him I’d be returned to my world at some point. “I am mortal, and we are marching to battle. But for everything I know about the future here, I’m clueless as to what exactly will happen to me. But I can feel how much you are already in love with this forest, and it’s almost obliterated the sea longing you’ve felt since we crossed the river. You’ll be happy here, and I just want you to promise me you’ll still build the life here you were meant to. Promise me you’ll honor that wish.”
He stepped closer and placed his free hand on my shoulder. “Never shall I find happiness if you are not here by my side.”
My head slowly shook back and forth as I said, “We can’t be fatalistic about this, Legolas. I will die one day, and I’m saying that I want you to go on and be as happy as you’re able. And I think being here in this forest will be a good start. Build that colony, and think of all the happy memories we might have had there. It might not be as good as the real thing, but hold it close in your heart. And maybe my spirit will join you to flit around in these woods.”
His other hand came up until he could grasp both my shoulders. “I do not understand. Why do you speak this way? Have you seen something?”
“No, no, nothing like that,” I lied, and hated myself for doing so. “I just get morose sometimes when I have bad dreams. I just wanted to make sure you’d always be happy.”
“Let us forget the struggles of tomorrow and focus only on the joys of today,” he whispered, seeming disturbed by my words.
“But it’s night,” I grinned, a naughty smile spreading.
He had learned that smile, and one slowly spread across his own features. “So it is, darkness perfect for the cover of many things.”
“I can think of a few in particular.”
I stepped eagerly into his embrace, determined to push away the fractious future, and enjoy the passions of the present.
Pulling away, I said between kisses, “Promise me you’ll build a life and a beautiful colony here. Promise me you’ll honor that at least.”
“I shall honor your wish. I promise,” he easily agreed, his lips trailing up my neck.
And I returned to the passion we’d kindled, smiling in satisfaction that I’d set at least this one thing right and selfishly reveling in what moments of bliss I could steal before the Valar could make good on their words.
A/N: Sorry I’ve been so long since updating, but like I said, September is a crazy month for me. I manage a horse sale for a family friend, and between shooting photos and video, running the websites, producing the catalog, and getting every detail ready for sale day, it’s a zoo. Plus I still have to run my own business that I own with my mother. So lots of really short nights until the sale is over. I think when it’s through I might sleep for a week!
If you want to see pictures of what I’ve been up to, check out the last post in the blog, there’s even pictures of my new litter of puppies!
But anyway, I’ve had this chapter done for a while. When I got part way through it, I actually realized how close I was to finishing the story, so I’ve gone ahead and finished writing it. So the good news is, it’s all finished and just needs more editing and then for me to find the time to post the rest of it.
Thanks so much everyone, and as always, let me know what you think!