I continued down the dusty lane. As the light faded in the sky, people thinned from the streets, finishing their busy tasks and returning to their homes for the evening.
My muscles had relaxed slightly with the movement, but the aches remained. Weakness still plagued me, and I knew I needed something more substantial than the broth I’d eaten earlier.
Question was: where would I find it?
I glanced up at the end of the street. Meduseld glinted in the fading red and pink rays of dusk. A slow smile spread across my lips as an idea came to me.
It was bold. Very bold. But I’d never been accused of being meek.
And I couldn’t keep wandering the streets. When they emptied as the Rohirric denizens went home, it would become obvious that I didn’t belong. I had to find somewhere to be, and something to do.
Plan in mind, I continued towards Meduseld with new determination.
Keeping my head down, I quietly and confidently entered the back servant quarters of Meduseld. Doorwardens had guarded the front entrance of the great hall, but as I suspected, no one guarded the servant entrance.
Carefully making my way down the hallways, I marked where the kitchen, dining hall, and other important areas were. As Byrde had mentioned, the great hall seemed emptier than I would have expected. And the servants I did pass in the halls paid me no attention at all.
Of course, it helped that I was dressed as one of them, but they also seemed somber and withdrawn.
Because the king’s son is dead, I recalled. That was why there was a pall cast over this hall and even the city. Without the grief casting their eyes downward, they may have noticed that I didn’t belong.
With the cover of their grief, I was able to easily slip among them. My cloak was hidden in a corner under a layer of blankets, and then I calmly walked into the kitchen and grabbed a serving platter full of bread.
As I carried the platter, I pulled a piece of bread off it and slipped the chunk into my apron.
Byrde had said many of the servants had been sent away, but I’d been right in assuming they couldn’t all be sent away. Several were still needed to cook and serve the meals.
The dining hall itself wasn’t very full either. A few soldiers and guards were scattered throughout in small huddled groups at the long tables. I weaved throughout them, distributing the bread until my platter was empty. Then I returned to the kitchen to help the other servants distribute whatever else was ready.
In between my trips, I snuck bites of bread and other food, even some mead from a clay pitcher.
And still, no one had seemed to notice I didn’t belong. Thankfully, I also completed my “tasks” efficiently enough and no one seemed inclined to speak to me. No one within my hearing anyway, seemed to speak Westron, and I had no hope of understanding the Rohirric language of this place.
But my mind could interpret the grief that clung to this hall. I’d gotten used to being in Lothlórien amidst Elven minds. I hadn’t realized until now just how much easier their thoughts were to shut out. How much softer their thoughts seemed to me.
My body ached, and my mind was fast joining it as I struggled to perform my simple tasks without stumbling from the onslaught of grief and despair these people felt.
And the hall was far from full.
A light feminine voice caught my ear as I continued serving in the dining hall. The nearby voice was soft and friendly. So far, none of those eating in the hall had been women, and none of the servants present had seemed inclined to speak.
Curious, I turned to glance at the voice, only to see her making her way towards me, a kind, but curious expression on her own face as she approached me.
Then, she met my gaze and froze, a startled look on her young face.
The girl couldn’t have been past twenty years old, with a comely face creased by recent grief.
But I didn’t recognize her the way she seemed to recognize me.
Finally, I marked her loose blond waves and the white gown much too fine for a servant girl. And I realized this had to be Éomer’s sister who had first tended to me. Éowyn.
Her gaze darted about the room worriedly and then settled back on me. I held her gaze and nodded once in thanks, lowering my face and emptying my pitcher of mead before gathering discarded dishes and leaving the hall.
When I glanced over my shoulder as I left, Éowyn had disappeared.
After the meal was served and the dining hall cleaned, I watched several of the servants exit the hall. However, some remained and pushed a few tables aside to lay out pallets for sleep.
With relief, I took some blankets as well and lay down on the smooth stone floor a little ways apart from the others.
I figured sleep would find my weary body quickly, but my mind was still overwhelmed with the strange sounding thoughts of these people.
Tossing and turning, I tried to find a comfortable position, but stone was less forgiving than the ground had been.
Eventually, the buzzing thoughts around me shut down as people fell asleep, and I soon joined them.
The next morning was busier and fuller in the dining hall than the night before had been.
I made a few trips with food until I had snuck enough to eat, and then I slipped back out of Meduseld.
My body was stiff in protest at my night on the unforgiving stone floor, but I still felt refreshed from the sleep and food.
Once again, I wandered the streets, my head down as I waited.
Waited for my friends to return.
I spent the morning wandering side streets and watching the people of Edoras. The adults were still somber and withdrawn, but the children ran and played happily. Playing the silly games only children understood and ignorant to the troubles of their parents. They were happy in their ignorance and I wished they could hold onto it forever. That this war would never come closer and touch them. But I knew it was inevitable.
That afternoon, as I neared Meduseld again, I heard and felt the excitement of the people. The doorwardens were barring the excited and curious citizens from entering, but I knew Legolas and the others had to have come.
I turned away from the main entrance, and slipped around to the back servants’ entrance. As before, it was unguarded.
Yesterday, I’d avoided going near where I assumed the throne room was, but today, I headed straight for that part of the great hall. The center of the buzzing excitement.
Several of the armed Rohirrim tried to bar my entry from the room, but I easily ducked under their arms and darted past their startled gasps.
King Théoden stood near the dais talking to the white cloaked Gandalf. I hadn’t seen the king until now, but I’d seen his image in the minds of his people, and I was startled by his transformation. Some of it was purely physical, but more than that; it was that he once again radiated strength and power. It was so strong, even his people, mere humans, could feel that power.
Aragorn stood near the king and wizard, but I didn’t see Legolas or Gimli.
Finally, I spotted the man who’d been fighting the Orcs on foot when the Rohirrim attacked them. He was partially faced in my direction, and was talking to someone as he made placating gestures.
Pushing closer, I was able to finally catch his words.
“I am sorry; I cannot say where she is. My sister told before I was imprisoned that she had given the woman into the care of another for healing. I have not spoken with my sister since my release, but did hear the guards say she was to be imprisoned if she could be found. I am afraid I have naught for other news on the woman you seek.” His voice was deep and rich as the rolling hills of these lands. Drawing closer, I could see his handsome face bore more than a passing familiarity to Éowyn’s.
“You gave your word that your soldier had seen our companion safely to Edoras,” Legolas’s angry voice returned.
“Aye lad, and telling us the lass was to be imprisoned doesn’t strike me as upholdin’ your promise of safety.” There was no mistaking the deep angry gruff of the dwarf’s voice, and as I pushed around the last soldier, I saw the elf and dwarf facing down the king’s nephew, though the man and elf were of equal height and the dwarf shorter.
Yanking the headscarf from my head, I quietly spoke to their backs, “Damn I’m glad to see you guys.”
Elf and dwarf spun to face me in unison, and I grinned at their synchroneity.
Legolas stepped towards me and instantly wrapped me in a hug. I tried to mask the pain at him grabbing my cut arm at the bicep and squeezing my still sore ribs, but he felt anyway and stepped back, his hands dropping to lightly grasp my hands as he examined me.
“Forgive me,” he breathed in an anguished whisper. “You bear injuries. Tell me what happened, Elaina.”
I grasped his hands thankfully in return. “It’s nothing, I’m fine. I’m just so glad you guys are finally here.”
He ran his hands lightly up my arms, pausing at the bandages on my forearm and bicep. Pushing my left sleeve up, he paused at the sight of my bandaged wrists from where my hands had been bound, then he started to peel back the bandage on my forearm to inspect the wound, heedless of my assurances that I was fine.
“Perhaps you would like a more private area to talk,” Éowyn’s feminine lilt offered. I glanced over to see her standing beside her brother, her head and eyes cast downward as a blush crawled up her cheeks.
Legolas and I both looked up to see we were gathering some attention. The nearby soldiers couldn’t hide their curious looks at the sight of an elf’s obvious regard for an even more obviously mortal woman.
“Please,” Legolas replied to Éowyn as he grasped my hand and wrapped an arm around my waist to gently guide me towards her. I started to object, but his hand squeezed my hip as he looked me in the eye and repeated a heartfelt, “Please.”
I glanced at Gimli.
“I’m glad you’re alright, lass,” he whispered. “Go on.”
Nodding, I silently followed along out of the hall, briefly stopping to snag my cloak from its hiding place under the blankets.
I was surprised when Éowyn led us down a hallway and to an empty bedroom, but Legolas merely turned to her and thanked her.
He called to her again as she left. “Could you send someone to bring my belongings from the entrance? The king, I think, will agree to return our weapons to us.”
She curtsied in a way I was envious of since I doubted I’d ever be able to imitate such a graceful maneuver, and then she left, gently closing the door behind her.
Now alone, I set my cloak on the dresser and turned back towards Legolas. Anguish still marred his features forcing me to reach out, cupping his face and smoothing my thumbs over his brows, trying to wipe the look away. “It’s okay, I’m fine,” I told him.
He caught my hands and gently kissed one palm before leaning into me and pressing his forehead to mine. My heart rate and breath sped at the closeness, but he only looked into my eyes, his hand gently holding me still as it settled on my nape.
“I feared you would be lost to me,” he whispered. “Boromir said you had been taken, and I feared we would not reach you in time.”
“But I’m fine,” I assured him.
He suddenly dropped his hands and spun away from me. After pacing several steps, he stopped and whirled to face me again.
“How could you so foolishly endanger yourself, Elaina?” he snapped angrily.
“Foolish?” I repeated, my own anger rising.
“Boromir said you tried to push him from the path of an arrow. That you were taken trying to defend the hobbits when he fell. You knew he would fall, did you not? You should have stayed away or at the very least, stayed by my side so I could protect you,” he angrily bit out in return.
“I don’t need you to protect me. And yeah, I knew about Boromir’s death. Where else could I have been? I couldn’t just let them shoot him down—”
“No!” he interrupted. “You could not simply allow his fate to take him—you tried to interfere and save him. What if you had been killed in the process? What then?”
“Was I supposed to just stand there and watch him die? I had to at least try to stop it. Do you think I fear death?” My voice rose to match his, until we were both nearly shouting.
He strode closer to stand with only inches separating us, staring down at me as he spoke. “It is quite apparent you fear not death. What of my fear? You seem uncaring of your possible demise, but I fear your death greatly.”
His words took the wind out of my sails. “You’re mad at me because I could have died?” I clarified to us both.
It seemed to pull him back from the edge as well. “I am mad with fear,” he whispered. “I love you, and you were nearly lost to me.”
I stopped breathing at those three little words.
He noticed and sighed. “Do you not feel likewise for me?” he asked in a broken whisper.
I reached between us and grasped his hand again. “I don’t want to lose your friendship. And how can there be anything more between us? You’re an elf, and I’m mostly human.” I threw my hand back towards the throne room we’d just come from. “Look at the reactions of those men. They’re mortals too and just you hugging me shocked them. What would elves think of you—a prince—with a lowly woman like me?”
He grasped my hand tightly in return and gestured wildly with his free hand in the same direction I had. “I care not what thoughts these humans hold on such matters—”
I knew he hadn’t meant to be offensive, but I still tugged on his hand and laughingly growled, “Hey, I’m mostly human too, remember?”
He smiled slightly. “I care only what thoughts you hold regarding this matter,” he finished.
“You’re immortal. You’d have to watch me die and then what if you faded? You can’t fade,” I insisted. I knew his fate. It was to build the last ship to sail to Valinor. His fate wasn’t to love some woman from a strange world.
“Immortal does not preclude death. Nothing is certain nor unending. These days are dark and fraught with evil and peril. I wish to spend what time Eru allows me loving you,” he returned, equaling my insistence with his own.
I dropped his hand and turned away. “But that’s not your fate,” I whispered.
For a long time, he was silent, not refuting my words. Then, his hands gently descended on my shoulders as he turned me back around to face him.
“You said you did not see your own fate in this world, yes?” I nodded in agreement to his words. “Then you have not seen my fate. Least, not all of it. You are held higher in my heart than all else, and if you have not seen yourself in my fate, then you do not see it all. Perhaps the Valar protect you from bearing whiteness to your own fate. If so, perhaps this is why you do not see mine accurately. For I know you hold a place in it.”
Before I could respond, a knock sounded at the door. “I have your belongings, my lord,” a quiet voice called. A young boy by the sound of his youthful pitch.
I turned away to gather myself as Legolas went to the door.
“Strange it seems to see you clad as a servant in plain dress and apron, though I do not argue that even such plain softness becomes you,” Legolas said behind me. “But knowing your preferred attire is not of dresses, I should think you would prefer a change.”
I turned to see him holding out my bag to me, along with my sword, bow, and quiver.
“You brought my things?” I asked in shocked surprise, eagerly accepting my bag. “I can’t believe you carted all that across the plains.”
“I carried them in the hopes that I would find you yet in need of them,” he offered with a sad smile.
I held the bag and gave him a grateful hug with one arm. “You know me well, this really isn’t my style,” I laughed as I gestured to the plain brown skirt.
But my mind again paused on that. He did know me well. Better than anyone else ever had. Nevertheless, the thought of loving him—of giving him my heart, and the ultimate power over me—was terrifying.
“Why are you so dressed as one of the Rohirrim—as a servant?” he asked, oblivious to my inner quandaries.
I briefly explained my time in Edoras as I removed the purloined apron and dug through my pack.
“Why would this man wish you imprisoned?” Legolas asked of Gríma’s actions.
I glanced up at Legolas as I pulled clothes from my pack. “He acted on Saruman’s orders. The Orc’s took me on Saruman’s orders too. Said it was because he wanted what knowledge I had or something. Question is: why does Saruman want me? What does he think I know?”
I grinned when I found that even my bracer and archer’s glove were in my bag. I hadn’t thought about them, but the Orcs must have taken them off when they stripped my other weapons away. At least they’d left my hairpin and the knife in my boot.
His brow furrowed. “Mithrandir thought it was Saruman causing the snow to fall so heavily when we tried to cross the mountain pass. Perhaps he marked your crossing the mountain alone to wait for our passage underneath,” he offered.
“Maybe. I hadn’t thought of that when I made the decision,” I agreed.
“You knew Mithrandir would return to us,” he whispered.
“Yeah,” I offered with a sad smile. “I knew what his fate was.”
“How badly were you injured at the hands of the Orcs?” he asked, nearly spitting the last word and effectively changing the subject.
“A few cuts, some bruises, and a large knot on the back of my head,” I answered simply.
“Tell me what happened after the Orcs took you and the hobbits. We could read some of the tale in the tracks we found, but I wish to hear your story.”
I told him the events as best as I could remember them, leading up to waking again in Byrde’s home. My conversation, or hallucination of Námo, I kept to myself. Whether it was real or not, I figured that was just for me. At least for now.
He moved closer, standing behind me as his hands deftly slid over the back of my head, lightly feeling beneath the knot of my hair at the large bump there and tracing the stitches in the gash. Turning me, he again slid my sleeve up and peered under the bandage on my forearm. My other arm received the same treatment as he examined the bicep. Then he carefully probed my ribs where I had earlier flinched in his arms.
“They’re just bruised, maybe cracked at worst, but they’re getting better,” I assured him.
Eyes darting back up to mine, he asked, “What more?”
“Just various bruises,” I again assured.
He nodded. “I thank Eru you were so fortunate.”
I turned back to the dresser I’d set my pack on and gathered the clothes I’d laid out. Facing Legolas again, I realized he was continuing to wait in the room. I glanced down at the clothes in my arms. “Umm…”
He laughed. “I had forgotten mortals are sensitive to such things,” he replied turning around. “Elves do not find nudity shameful.”
I responded with a laugh of my own. “No, it’s not that I’m conscious about nudity—or at least I never used to be. It just seems strange with you, especially now. I haven’t let a man see my body since North Korea.” The men I’d had one-night-stands with since then hadn’t cared whether I left my shirt on during sex. Quirks like that were expected in one-night-stands where your standards were lowered. “Men aren’t usually too crazy about scarred women,” I added, setting my clothes down again and toeing my boots off, standing barefoot on the cool gray stone.
I was just pulling at the ties that laced up the sides of the dress when Legolas slowly turned around. He reached out and carefully stilled my hands, pulling them away from my sides. His fingers gracefully pulled the laces free and then pushed the straps of the dress over my shoulders.
My body remained motionless. Allowing the dress to slip down my body and pool at my feet. Part of my mind told me that I was foolish to stand here unmoving, allowing Legolas to bare me before him, but I hadn’t lied to him. The simple act of nudity had been worn from my moralities in the military and any leftover shred of it had been destroyed during my captivity in North Korea. It was the scars I didn’t like exposing.
A part of me wanted him to see my body in all its imperfections. To see me as I truly was.
But truthfully, my body couldn’t move as I held his gaze. Simply allowing his hands to slide up my torso and slip the blouse over my head.
“I am not a man,” he reminded me when I stood wholly bared to him. His gaze lowered as he traced a scar that wrapped from my clavicle to my shoulder, left by a shallow knife wound. Then his fingers trailed around the edges of the black and purple skin of the bruise coloring my hip. “Your scars bear testimony to your strength. They are lovely to my eyes.”
There was nothing sexual about the moment. Nothing sexual in his touch, but I still shivered at the sensation. The knowledge that he saw what no one else did. He saw the scars but he saw more than that. He saw not the horror of how the scars were made, but how it had changed me beneath those scars.
A loud pounding sounded at the door. “Uh, lass, lad,” Gimli called as he coughed, “uh, Aragorn sent me to check on you both. The king is having a meal laid out as we discuss our next course of action.”
I laughed at Gimli’s obvious discomfort, and even Legolas smiled faintly.
“We’ll be right there,” I called out to Gimli.
I turned and began pulling clothes on again. I was just lacing the leather ties of my pants when I felt Legolas’s fingers lightly tracing some of the worst scars on my back.
“Such cruelties they visited upon you,” he whispered.
I shrugged and pulled a bra then a shirt over the scars. “I swore an oath to my country to never answer to enemy interrogation. Without exception.”
Donning my cloak and weapons, I turned to face him, feeling whole and strong again for the first time in days. It was in part due to feeling the familiar weight of my weapons and the comfort of my own clothes. But it was more than that. In large part, it was due to the ellon standing in front of me.
“I love your strength and honor,” he said, a smile playing on his lips as he looked me up and down, his own weapons and pack once again in place.
I looked away. “I’m no stunningly beautiful elleth. I’m not even a stunning beauty by the standards of man,” I reminded him.
His laugh rang out in a sudden exhale. “Do you think all of the Eldar are so petty as to judge beauty only in physical form or do you think that true of only me?”
I rolled my eyes. “I’m crass and crude and vulgar. I’m not a typical woman. And I’m certainly not like elleth.”
He laughed again. “Ah, that had escaped my notice. Thank you for your insight.” He lightly touched my cheek. “And I do find your beauty stunning.”
“We should go before Gimli comes back,” I replied, uncomfortable with his words.
His smile turned wistful again. “I will give you time.”
I started for the door, grabbing my pack. “I don’t know why you feel this way about me. I’m a mortal woman. I’m not right for you.”
“Love knows neither sense nor reason, right or wrong. It simply is. I love your strength, your laughter, your smile, your kindness, even when I hate your lack of self-regard—I love you.”
“‘It simply is,'” I repeated. “And that’s what’s so destructive about it. That it doesn’t know rhyme or reason. My mother loved my father for unfathomable reasons, but when she finally saw him—saw him for who and what he was—she couldn’t handle it. She killed herself and left me with him. There is nothing that holds so much power over a person as love does.”
His eyes softened in sympathy. “I would never see any harm come to you. You can place your trust in me,” he answered.
Remembering something, I quoted, “‘Love is giving someone the ability to destroy you but trusting them not to.'” I took his hand in mine as I reached for the door. “I’m not saying I don’t trust you, but we’re in the middle of a war, let’s take things in baby steps, and just see if I manage to survive this war.”
“I will give you time,” he repeated as we walked back towards the main dining hall.
Whispers and glances were thrown our way at our still clasped hands, but when I started to pull my hand away, Legolas merely held fast and continued tugging me along. I smiled, not really upset by the looks from the Rohirrim. I’d been a female soldier serving in the Middle East. I’d suffered worse than curious and baffled looks or even the whispered words behind turned backs.
Legolas and I took the open seats next to Aragorn just down from Gandalf and the king. I sat easily beside Legolas, feeling closer to him even against my will. He’d seen me. He’d seen all of me. Not my body. Me.
He saw the story the scars told about who I was.
He saw what was behind the façade I put up for the world.
I looked up to see Gandalf and Théoden were busy discussing what havoc Gríma had wrought, and I found myself happily watching Gandalf as I ate. I had known he would return, but seeing him was somehow comforting. To know that it had actually happened like I’d known it would.
“I am sorry, Lane,” Aragorn whispered beside me.
“What?” I asked, pulling my gaze from the wizard.
“For my anger, and my words, and for my actions after we exited the darkness of Moria,” Aragorn clarified. “You knew he would be returned to us and I acted in an unacceptable manner.” His gaze lowered apologetically.
“I forgave you when it happened. Don’t worry Aragorn,” I assured. “Grief can make anyone act out.”
“Still, I offer my regret for my actions and words. I find it astonishing you held your tongue and did not speak of what you knew when I had such unkind words for you,” he offered.
I shrugged as I continued eating. “I knew you’d find out when the time came. Besides, I’ve dealt with harsher words than anything you dealt out. They yell at you a lot in the Marines to toughen you up,” I laughed.
Our meal was finished quickly and in relative silence for my part. The king spent most of the meal being brought up to speed on the news of his land and conversing with his nephew and Gandalf about what to do.
Afterwards, Théoden opened his armory to Gandalf and the three hunters. I followed along behind them, intending to grab a few pieces of armor myself.
The stares of the soldiers I passed were easy to ignore, and thankfully, the king hadn’t taken any notice of me either.
“My lady,” a feminine voice called.
I turned from following Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli to see Éowyn following behind me.
I nodded politely to her. “I’m told I owe you for bandaging and cleaning me up after they brought me to Edoras. Thank you,” I told her.
She nodded in return. “I am pleased to see you up and about so soon,” she responded. “And I ask your forgiveness for the troubles you received since you awoke.”
I waved it away. “It wasn’t your doing. And it’s all over anyway.”
She looked at me with a curious expression and I could see the questions in her eyes.
“Go on. Ask whatever it is you want to ask,” I told her.
She blushed in embarrassment. “I merely wondered at your attire and weapons. Where do you hail from? I have never before seen a woman so armed.”
Her statement surprised me. “I thought Rohan was the land of the shieldmaidens. Why would it be so surprising that I’m armed?”
“The women of this land are taught to wield swords, but we do not wear them as our men do. We are capable of defending hearth and home, but the daughters of Rohan have never ridden to meet battle,” she explained, and this time I caught the wistfulness in her words. “The great tales and songs are only for the valiant soldiers of the Rohirrim.”
“You’re young yet, my lady; there will be a time when the tales and songs of valor tell of more than just the soldiers.”
“I pray for such a day, yet I fear they are already beyond my recall.”
“Those days will come,” I repeated.
“Though dark are these days, blessed shall our eternal slumber be if we fall in such pursuit as those days you speak of,” a deep voice behind me agreed.
I turned to see Éomer stride to his sister’s side. He placed a loving kiss upon her brow and then told her, “I go now to ride out with the king, yet I could not leave without saying farewell to you my sister.”
Before he could step away, she threw her arms around him and whispered fervent Rohirric words to him. He smiled fondly and returned the gesture and words.
Looking up at me he said, “My lady, I am pleased to see you are well. Your companions feared greatly for your safety. It is good you have been reunited with them.”
“Just call me Lane, and yeah, I’m glad to see them again too.”
“Lane,” he agreed with a courteous nod. “Though it was impressive you managed to avoid capture by the guards serving Wormtongue, I regret such was necessary. You were sent to Edoras under my orders and I lament you received so poor a welcome. What can I do to atone for the reception you received?” he asked apology shining in his eyes.
I hesitated, considering my words. “I’m sure what I’m about to ask for is no small thing, but I find myself in need of a horse. Let me borrow one, and I’ll consider the matter ended.”
He pulled back, clearly startled. “You do ask much, for the horses of the Rohirrim are our most prized possessions. Yet I feel your reception in our city was quite grievous. I would grant this boon, but I wonder at your need. Wormtongue is cast from Edoras; you have no fear of safety here now. I should think my sister would welcome your company when we ride to war, for though I am oft away from the Golden Hall, I know she has been lonely here.”
I smiled at Éowyn’s hopeful look. “I’m pleased you would honor me with the privilege of keeping company with such an honorable lady, but it isn’t my place to remain here.”
He looked pointedly at my weapons. “You would ride to war?” he asked incredulously. “You narrowly escaped great harm at the hands of foul creatures. Riding to war is no place for a woman.”
“You asked what you could do for me. Lend me a horse. My choices are my own to make,” I responded flatly.
He studied me, looking to see how serious I was. When I didn’t waver or blink, he gave a reluctant sigh. “Very well. It is an unfortunate testament to these dark times that so many of our steeds are riderless. I shall see that you have the use of one.”
I could see the indignation in Éowyn’s eyes and the protest forming on her lips. “No Éowyn,” I told her, “I am not under your brother’s, nor your uncle’s rule. I can make the choices I wish, and follow no one’s command but my own-you are a member of the House of Eorl. You have your own responsibilities to follow.”
I nodded to them both, and left them with a short goodbye.
Soon, I had trailed down the halls and found my way to the armory where Legolas, Aragorn, and Gimli were looking for appropriate armor.
Legolas and Aragorn were pulling shining chainmail over their clothes and choosing helms and shields to accompany their armaments.
They didn’t notice my entrance, so I quietly entered behind them and started looking through shelves for chainmail that wasn’t designed for the robust stature of most of the Rohirrim.
Gimli of course already wore finer chainmail than could be found in this armory, as dwarfs were the masters of metalwork. He had chosen an iron and leather cap however that fit him nicely and a small shield to go with it.
They all turned as I began sifting through a bin of chainmail.
“What are you doing, Lane?” Aragorn asked.
“Looking for chainmail that isn’t made for an ogre,” I grumbled with my head nearly in the bin as I dug.
Legolas’s face fell as he sighed. “You mean to come with us,” he stated quietly.
“What?” Gimli sputtered. “We thought you’d stay here, lass.”
One piece of chainmail caught my eye, and I pulled it out to drape in front of me to gauge the size. “Thought I’d stay here with the women and children, huh? That’s not really my cup of tea,” I responded without looking up. “This is way too big isn’t it? It would fall past my knees. Anyone see anything else that would fit better?”
I looked up to see my three companions staring at me.
Legolas stepped closer. I drew in a deep breath and prepared for an argument.
“Are you certain you do not wish to remain in Edoras until you have healed, Elaina?” he simply asked.
I smiled, realizing he wasn’t arguing or trying to flat-out refuse me as he had in Lothlórien. “I’ve been hurt a hell of a lot worse. It’s better than it was already and it’s best if I keep moving and keep my muscles limber. I’ll be fine,” I assured him.
“You could have been killed by those Orcs, lass,” Gimli rumbled.
“I know guys. But hell, I could get run over by a ca—a horse while trying to cross the street and get killed. But I’ve lived this long as a soldier and that’s never an overly safe life to begin with. I’m not the kind of woman to sit at home waiting for word from the frontline.”
“Very well,” Legolas responded, though with obvious reluctance. He turned towards a bin nearby and pulled some chainmail out. Holding it up he added, “This should fit you as well as any here.”
“You can’na be serious, lad!” Gimli growled.
Legolas handed me the chainmail, looking down into my eyes as he spoke to Gimli. “I would not order Elaina to act against her conscience even if I could. Though I shall ask that she endeavors to keep herself safe.”
I took the chainmail, my fingers brushing his and lingering as I spoke. “I will. I’ll be careful. But battle is unpredictable. I’ll be as careful as I can.”
Aragorn stayed behind Legolas, not offering any words, but eventually he nodded his own agreement.
I looked at the chainmail. It still looked a little big, but it was better than nothing. I wasn’t familiar with medieval armor, but I knew they didn’t stop even all arrows and swords.
“I wish I’d kept my bulletproof vest. It stopped a bullet, so I’d trust it to stop damn near anything in this world,” I lamented.
Legolas smiled and turned around, stooping to dig in his pack on the ground. Turning he held something up. “I do not understand the name you give, but I think this is what you speak of.”
Grinning, I grabbed the vest from his hands and straightened it out. “You kept this with you all this time?” I gasped in astonishment.
“You had not a pack of your own to carry it when we found you, but I thought you might one day wish for it. It seemed a useful piece of armor,” he answered.
I pulled the vest over my head and smoothed the Velcro straps to hold it in place. The chainmail was still a little big, but with the vest underneath, it helped to fill it out somewhat.
Gimli held another helm out to me along with a small shield. I took the helmet and tried it on. It fit well, but would take a while to get used to, but it was better to have than getting wacked in the head again, even if it limited my vision a bit.
I looked at the shield Gimli held as I replaced my cloak. “I’ve never used one before, and it would probably only get in my way,” I told him.
Finally armed, we all left to meet the others outside the Golden Hall.
Éomer fell in step beside me as the others turned to collect their own horses. He studied my new armor. “I have found a horse for your own use,” he explained as he gestured to where another soldier waited, holding a large black warhorse. “His rider fell defending the Westfold and he shall bear you well.”
I stepped beside the large horse, running the backs of my knuckles down his neck as he sniffed at me. “What’s he called?” I asked.
“His owner called him Lightfoot in the common tongue,” the other soldier answered.
Taking the reins from the soldier, I thanked them both.
Éomer nodded as he turned away.
I focused my attention on my new mount. He fidgeted restlessly, shifting his feet but remaining in place, as he’d been no doubt trained. I removed my pack and slung it over the front swells of the saddle, stuffing my helmet in the pack. I knew it would be useful, but that didn’t mean I was going to wear it until I needed it.
The king’s voice called out over the din of the soldiers, but I remained near my horse, looking him and the saddle over as I familiarized myself with him. I’d ridden horses before, but it had been a while.
“Are you familiar with horses?” Legolas asked behind me. “I remember you had explained your world used other means of transport.”
I turned to see him riding a gray horse up behind me. “I’ve ridden horses before. It’s just been a while. But, it’s like riding a bike, right?”
“‘A bike?'” he repeated.
“Never mind,” I laughed. I grasped the reins and a piece of mane in one hand and lightly grabbed the swell of the saddle with my other, quickly swinging into the saddle as I had when I was younger. I fought a grimace at the pain in my ribs, but when I was settled upright, the pain decreased, only to be replaced by the tenderness of my hips in their new position.
I saw the concern in Legolas’s face and assured him, “I’m fine. Just tender. I’ll be okay.”
Legolas didn’t look convinced, but we turned our horses and rode closer as Éowyn was passing the Farewell cup around. I sighed to see her adoring look at Aragorn, but this too was something that couldn’t be changed. Even if it seemed like a silly girlish crush to me, it was needed to drive Éowyn to the battlefield on the heels of her grief at not having him.
As we started away from the city, the king’s eye finally fell on me. I was dressed as any of the men, but in a sea of over six-foot tall burly soldiers, I stood out. My slighter build was never going to pass for one of the Rohirrim. The elves had mostly been taller than me too, but at least with their slender builds, I had fit in more easily.
Riding closer to where I waited beside Legolas, Théoden drew closer, frowning openly at me. “Women will remain behind under the rule of Éowyn,” he declared.
“My lord, I offer no offense by my words, but I am not one of your people. I go where I choose and I choose to go with my companions,” I replied, keeping my voice soft and respectful.
“War is no place for women,” Théoden replied.
“I am far from home,” I countered, “but in my country, women are not forbidden from serving in our military. I served my people faithfully against our enemies, and now I offer my sword and bow in service to this battle. Are you in a position to turn down the experienced sword arm of any soldier, regardless of gender?”
He frowned as he considered my words.
“I am very far from the country I’d once served. I no longer have any home or country. What I have is my skill and my honor. And I offer them to you. But like I said, I’m not one of your people. You can’t order me to stay, but you can accept my help.”
He glanced at Legolas, no doubt looking for solidarity and support. I didn’t glance away from the king to see how Legolas responded, but by the look on Théoden’s face, Legolas didn’t respond as he’d hoped.
The king sighed. “As you say, you are not one of my people. I cannot order you from this battle, so I shall accept your help and pray it is not a choice I come to lament.”
I smiled gratefully as he rode away, and then we were finally leaving through the gates of the city.
Éomer—with Gimli behind him—Legolas, and Aragorn rode three abreast as we started across the rolling plains. I pulled my horse back, riding in line with several soldiers behind them. The Rohirrim watched me curiously and even a bit suspiciously. But as the miles wore on, the looks fell away as ominous realization filled the air.
We were headed to war.
We paused briefly to rest for the night. Laying out pallets and blankets on the hard earth in scattered groups to rest.
Aragorn and Legolas were spreading out their own blankets near an already snoring dwarf when I joined them and spread out a blanket of my own and dropped to the ground with relief.
I had quickly remembered how to ride a horse, but it still used muscles I hadn’t worked in a long time.
Legolas lay on his back next to me, staring up at the stars. “How do you feel?” he whispered.
“Sore, but fine,” I whispered, turning to face him.
Aragorn laid on Legolas’s other side, his eyes closed as he folded his hands over his chest.
“We should reach Helms Deep tomorrow,” Legolas whispered, rolling to face me as well.
I could hear the curious whispers of the Rohirric soldiers as they bedded down around us, and even feel the sensations of their curious thoughts, but Legolas seemed to be ignoring it, so I could as well.
Reaching out, I held Legolas’s hand between us. The physical contact allowed his elvish thoughts to flow over me. I still didn’t understand the words, but it was a relief to be awash in thoughts that somehow felt softer than the thoughts of the humans surrounding us. I sighed at the soothing sensation of his mind.
“You’re mind is so soothing.” The words slipped out before I thought about them, but I felt Legolas’s startled response.
“My thoughts are soothing?” he asked. “What is soothing about what I think?”
I hadn’t even realized my eyes had slipped closed, but I opened them and responded, “I still don’t understand Sindarin enough to know what your thoughts are, but they’re softer than human thoughts if that makes sense.”
“I could teach you more Sindarin,” he offered.
I shook my head. “Maybe someday I’ll want to learn it, but for now, I actually like that I don’t understand your thoughts. They’re just background noise to me. Soothing.”
He beamed and leaned closer to kiss my forehead. “Sleep. You need rest.”
Still clutching his hand between us, I drifted off into an easy slumber. As I drifted off, I thought about how easy it could be to just give in to my feelings. It was easy with Legolas, easy to relax and let my mind go. Easy to be in his company and enjoy our friendship. And how easy it would be to let go of the last part of me that was holding back and keeping my heart from fully succumbing. But should I do it just because it was easy?
The following day was quiet and bleak. But there was a new urgency in the Rohirrim as we rode.
We pushed harder towards Helm’s Deep and when Gandalf broke away to ride alone, the riders sobered even more. Some sense of futility settled over the riders for a time, but then new resolution filled them as they remembered the families they left behind. Families that would be in the path of Saruman’s hordes if we failed at Helm’s Deep.
I’d served in the Marines in many foreign postings, but I’d never fought on my own soil. Sure, I’d been a cop the last several years, but that wasn’t the same either. These soldiers felt a sense of urgency and desperation to protect their families I hadn’t felt before. They knew the likelihood of failure at the hands of the enemy, but they were still determined to meet whatever fate if it protected their people and families. Their wives. Their children. Their sisters.
Their determination filled me and gave me purpose. These weren’t my people, but fighting and dying to protect the lives of innocents was a worthy cause. I was proud to stand by their sides and I would be proud to fight beside them. There was solidarity in them and their cause that I’d never experienced in the Marines.
In the Marines we went where we were told and fought when they told us to. But I’d never felt the sense of purpose I did now.
As we rode, I began to feel a sinister sensation crawling up my spine. The feeling flowed through me to Lightfoot, and the horse nervously danced from side to side as we rode.
Legolas noticed and dropped back beside me. “What is the matter?” he asked.
I didn’t answer immediately, trying to pinpoint what the feeling was.
“Wargs,” I whispered to myself, trying to decide where that decision had come from. Feeling the sensation draw even closer, I glanced up at Legolas’s startled expression.
Howls rang out as the foul creatures broke over a crest and sliced through the line of riding soldiers.
My adrenaline spiked, and I centered my focus on the warg lumbering towards me. I pulled on the reins, wheeling Lightfoot around as the warg ran past.
The commotion around me faded as I slid my reins to one hand and pulled my sword out. Lightfoot was true to his name and easily wheeled and darted from side to side as I cut through wargs that ran by me. Their riders swung their own swords at me, but I continued to wheel my horse and duck in the saddle to avoid their blades.
Time was suspended as I focused on each move and each opponent.
My eyes took in the sights of spraying blood and my skin absorbed the feel of its stickiness coating my hands and arms. I knew the sights would replay in my mind when the adrenaline finally left me and this battle was done, but for now, they passed from one meaningless incident to another. All that registered at the moment was the next blade swinging in my direction. The next set of teeth bearing down on me.
Finally, I wheeled Lightfoot as I looked for my next foe. All around me the Rohirrim were dispatching the last of the wargs and their riders with their spears.
I spotted Aragorn on his horse wiping dark blood from his blade.
“You did well, lass,” Gimli said in appreciation as he jogged up to me on foot, axe in hand.
“You too, master dwarf,” I laughed, sheathing my sword and dismounting Lightfoot to stand beside him.
“Finally some action where a dwarf is of use. I was tired of bouncing uselessly on the back of some beast,” Gimli grumbled as he nonchalantly examined the edge of his axe.
I looked up and around, looking for our absent elf.
“Have you seen Legolas?” I asked Gimli as I began to turn in a circle.
“I saw him shooting his bow as usual, lass. He should be ’round somewhere,” Gimli responded, stopping to look around as well.
I told myself not to worry. I knew Legolas had to be okay. He survived the War of the Ring unscathed and then built a boat to sail to Valinor with Gimli. That was the way it was supposed to happen. That was the way the story ended.
Then I spotted his gray horse, Arod, standing several hundred feet away. I started jogging towards the horse, but somehow my feet began moving faster and faster. The soldiers I passed grunted in surprise as I ran by, but I didn’t pay attention to them. My focus zeroed in on Arod, his reins hanging limply on the ground.
When I reached him, I looked him over for any signs that Legolas could have been hurt, and then turned to look wildly around. Someone was calling his name, and it took me several moments to realize it was me.
“Lane!” Gimli called.
I froze and fell silent at his words. Gimli never called me anything but “lass.”
My legs slowly and reluctantly carried me towards the dwarf.
When I reached him, I saw that he was standing beside a tall drop-off overlooking a rushing river. Refusing to look down, I met Gimli’s eyes.
He removed his cap and looked down over the drop-off. “I’m sorry, Lane,” he offered in a broken voice.
I forced my eyes from him and looked down over the edge at the point Gimli’s eyes were fixed on. Just over the edge, Legolas’s quiver was caught by its strap on a jagged rock.
As though I was another person, I calmly knelt and reached over the edge, stretching to reach the strap and pulling it up into my lap.
“Where is Legolas?” Aragorn asked frantically behind me as he ran closer.
I fell back to sit with my legs crossed, cradling the quiver in my lap. Not raising my eyes, I lifted the quiver so Aragorn could see it.
“We found this,” I whispered.
“We must continue to Helm’s Deep,” Théoden’s voice rang out.
I heard the sounds of the Rohirrim remounting and organizing behind me, but my eyes remained fixed on the quiver in my hands.
A hand descended on my shoulder and I flinched away from it. Not wanting comfort. Not wanting to need comfort.
“Come, Lane. We must ride to Helm’s Deep. You know this,” Aragorn gently spoke.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen,” I whispered. “Legolas has to build the last ship to Valinor and take Gimli with him,” I continued, my voice coming out broken and harsh.
“Go get her horse, Gimli,” Aragorn ordered quietly.
His hand descended on my shoulder again and I sprang to my feet, shoving him and his offensive and unwanted comfort away. “This wasn’t supposed to happen!” I yelled. “He should be here! This wasn’t supposed to happen!”
“I’m sorry Lane. We must ride for Helm’s Deep. War does not wait for grief, you know this,” he offered gently.
His image wavered, and I touched my cheek, feeling the wetness of my tears. “I know that. But this is wrong. It’s got to be a dream, right? He can’t be gone.” I turned and looked at the rushing water again. Rocks littered the area below where I stood, but nothing else.
“I’ve gone crazy again, right? This is like North Korea when I talked to the rats and the river, isn’t it?” I glanced over my shoulder at Aragorn and Gimli as they exchanged a worried glance, clearly confused by my words. Then I remembered that they didn’t know. They didn’t know about my past or me.
He knew the story. He knew my story. He knew me.
“I’d rather be crazy again and have this not be real,” I whispered.
“Come lass,” Gimli offered gently. “We must go.”
I didn’t turn to face him. “It’s my fault,” I told them. “I thought I was trying so hard to keep from changing the story, but just by being here I’ve changed things. He should have been okay, but now, he’s gone and it’s my fault. I thought I had to keep from loving him so he would still finish the story right in case something happened to me. I never dreamed something would happen to him instead.”
Aragorn grasped my elbow and gently turned me around, walking me towards my horse. “He is gone, Lane. We must continue to Helm’s Deep and help save those that are left.”
I moved to swing into the saddle, but couldn’t force myself to mount the horse. Aragorn mounted his own horse and pulled Gimli up behind him.
He rode beside me. “We must go,” he repeated.
I wiped away more tears and looked up at Aragorn again. “This isn’t right. He should be here.”
“As you said before we left Edoras, anything can befall any of us. Battle is unpredictable,” Aragorn offered gently.
“But I knew,” I told him, “I knew what his fate was supposed to have been.” I held the reins and led Lightfoot back towards the others. “I knew,” I repeated brokenly.
Everything had changed. My presence had changed it all and I didn’t know what would happen any longer.
I didn’t know what would happen.
Boromir had died even though I’d tried to interfere and save him. And Námo had warned me about changing fates.
Was this the punishment? Had he decided to take Legolas to punish me for my actions?
I knew I’d been fooling myself if I thought I had been keeping myself from falling in love with Legolas. I’d been afraid of the repercussions, but I’d already given him my heart, because it was now ripped from my chest.
I glanced over my shoulder at the ledge. “Damn you for making me love you,” I whispered. “I told you love was destructive. And now you’ve torn me apart.”
A/N: You know what to do!
And thanks again to everyone, you’re all wonderful!