We finally reached the littered and strewn rubble of the ruined arched gates to the Orthanc. The king and the van rode forward as they noticed the small forms dozing lackadaisically atop the now great heap of debris. But I hung back near the rest of the Rohirrim, enjoying the sight of the Three Hunters’ happy reunion with their quarry.
Merry stood and gallantly welcomed the others like a lord graciously greeting his guests. All while unobtrusively toeing Pippin in the stomach to wake him.
“I was surprised by the word of my soldiers that a woman had traveled with us,” a thick Rohirric accent softly proclaimed as a horse maneuvered closer in beside me. “Yet I have been informed by those who fought through the night at the Deep that you were present then as well.”
Tearing my eyes away from the happy teases being thrown between the Three Hunters and the hobbits, I cast my eyes on the tall form astride a flaxen sorrel. The horse restlessly tossed his head, his full mane flashing in the sun, yet he remained firmly where his rider had placed him. The man was tall and imposing. In more than just his physical stature. Years in the Marines and on the force had taught me how to size a man up in a single glance. And this glance told me that whomever the soldier was, he was used to giving orders and having them obeyed.
“Yes. I did fight at the Deep. I suppose it does seem surprising to you, I understand that women fighting alongside the men isn’t common-practice. Even among the famous Shieldmaidens of Rohan.”
My tone had aimed for flat and respectful, but something in it seemed to cause the man to flash a bright grin, revealing surprisingly straight teeth for this world.
“You would not be the first nor only maiden to feel as you so do. I’ve known a few Shieldmaidens who would prefer to swing their sword-arm in battle rather than wielding a sewing needle at home,” he chuckled.
My mind instantly thought of Éowyn as I surveyed his bulky form and the reddish-blond hair curling beneath the edge of his helmet. Yet, somehow, there was something in his voice that told me he didn’t necessarily think it was right to keep the womenfolk out of the heat of battle. And I somehow doubted a soldier with the evident rank of this man’s stature, carriage, and armor, would have meant such a thing to apply to the king’s niece.
“Not many men think their womenfolk should leave the safety of their hearth, nor that a woman could have the stomach for battle,” I carefully responded. Trying to aim for a pleasant observation and not offend.
Now he laughed in deep guffaws, drawing the attention of the closer soldiers. “Never would I let it be said that the womenfolk didn’t have the stomach to perform any task they felt necessary.” At my curious look, he quieted his chuckles and explained, “I have a wife and six daughters. Well do I know the lengths the so-called fairer sex will willingly go to protect that hearth and home. And many a time have I felt more than just the bite of my dear wife’s tongue in her ire and greatly do I fear it.”
He grinned as he said it, so I knew no matter his words and supposed fear of his wife; it was nothing but a loving figment that he painted of her.
“Six daughters? Damn. I don’t think I could handle that. You have my admiration. I always thought if I ever was cursed with the punishment of children, I’d rather take sons any day of the week.”
His eyes flickered to the van and settled on Legolas for a moment. “No doubt any sons or daughters born to a woman so bold as to fight these dark days alongside man, shall be born no less bold than their mother,” he offered, his eyes swinging back to mine.
I looked away, slightly uncomfortable with the topic of motherhood, and Lightfoot danced nervously beneath me, sensing my tenseness and unease.
“Surely the elf shall be up for the task of so bold a brood if he has chosen so fiery a mate,” he grinned, unperturbed by my obvious nervousness.
My gaze swung back at his words, my brow rising in challenge at his brashness.
He only chuckled more. “I have heard the idle gossip of curious soldiers, but I hold little stock in such speculations. And it is well told in story and in song that the hearts of the fairy-folk are not a frivolous matter easily given to the idle whims of the flesh as man is. Nor have I seen your eyes land even passingly on any other.”
“I—” No other words came out in my startled sputtering. I couldn’t believe I’d been so apparently transparent.
He shook his head and bit back his grin. “Six daughters,” he reminded, his brow also rising in challenge. “I know the looks women give, even when they think they are hiding them from the world.”
I shook my own head, though ruefully. “Well, I have to admit. You are good. And not at all like the other men here. I didn’t expect to encounter anyone so accepting of a woman riding to battle,” I admitted. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man so astute at gauging or accepting women as you. Even where I’m from, most men doubt a woman’s mettle when it comes to the harshities of battle.”
“With seven of the ‘fairer sex’ under my roof, I would never venture to make the grave mistake of doubting a woman’s courage.”
Fighting a grin, I asked, “So, you’re saying if one of your six daughters wanted to join the fray in battle, you’d let her?”
“Certainly not! I’d keep her chained up to the hearth with the strongest chain the blacksmith can provide. They are my daughters after all,” he rejoined, though his guilty smirk said he’d mostly like to do just that, regardless of his understanding their desires. The protectiveness of fathers and all.
I held my hand out to the unexpectedly astute and surprisingly easy and companionable stranger. “I’m Elaina, but everyone calls me Lane.”
He grasped my forearm in warrior’s fashion and gripped it tightly. “An odd name you have. I am Erkenbrand, Lord of the Westfold.”
I nearly gasped at his pronouncement, but managed to bite my surprise back. I’d known he had the bearing of importance, but I hadn’t recognized just who he was. “Forgive me, I didn’t realize who you were,” I offered gravelly.
He waved the matter away carelessly. “No matter. I had merely wanted to sate my curiosity of the woman who has garnered such attention from my men and who fought so dauntlessly alongside the might of the Rohirrim,” he spoke with a satisfied grin.
We both turned to look towards the van again, watching as the scene continued to unfold.
“Why do you not ride with the elf, nor go to meet your friends? I see the yearning in your gaze,” Erkenbrand politely asked.
I shrugged, struggling to find the words to explain myself.
“I don’t ride with Legolas because we’ve already proven that’s too dangerous. We’d always be watching out for each other instead of our own backs. And they deserve to have a few moments together with the hobbits. They came so far hunting them, they deserve some time with them. To enjoy finally finding them.”
“I am told they hunted for you as well. You are one of their number. Why separate yourself from their presence?”
Something tightened in my chest and I absently pressed against it, hoping to alleviate it. “I’m not one of their number,” I whispered in insistence. I couldn’t be. I couldn’t change things any more.
Why do Erkenbrand and Haldir both have to be so damn perceptive and so pushy about me joining them? I’m not one of them. It’s the Three Hunters. That doesn’t include me any more than the Nine of the Fellowship did.
I looked up from rubbing the ache in my chest just in time to see the shapes of the hobbits splashing through the water towards us.
Swinging from the saddle, I dropped my reins and stepped forward to meet the hobbits, falling back a step again as they bowled into my midsection, their arms wrapping tightly around my waist. The ache in my chest suddenly nonexistent.
“We were right worried about you Lane,” Pippin announced, his words muffled in the folds of my clothes. Though my body had ached before from my previous wounds, my heart lifted at the sight of the hobbits safe and sound, until I could no longer feel even a twinge of ache. Only happiness.
“I’m so glad you two are alright.” As I spoke, I squeezed them in my arms, pausing to give them both a gentle ruffle to the tops of their heads.
“Me and Pip can handle most anything,” Merry assured me, his chest puffing out as he pulled back to look up at me. “It was you we were most worried about. You were hurt trying to keep shielding us from those Orcs, and we didn’t want to leave you when you didn’t look so good, but you and Boromir always knew what was best, and me and Pip thought we should just listen to you like we always did.”
Both of the hobbits’ chins started to dip down as though ashamed, forcing me to reach out and stop them with a hand under each chin. “You did do the right thing. I can take care of myself. And I’m just fine.” I hugged them again. “And so glad that you’re both okay.”
The Three Hunters drew nearer as I noticed the king, Gandalf and most of the other soldiers slipping away to handle their own matters.
“Well, well! The hunt is over, and we all meet again at last, where none of us ever thought to come,” Aragorn announced.
“And now that the great ones have gone to discuss high matters,” Legolas added, “the hunters can perhaps learn the answers to their own small riddles. We tracked you as far as the forest, but there are still many things I should like to know the truth of. Elaina has told us some of the tale, but there is much we have yet to be told.” The last part was spoken with a pointed look in my direction.
I shrugged as Merry responded. “And there is a great deal, too, that we want to know about you,” Merry turned his gaze on me. “And about what happened to you, Lane, after we made for the forest. We have learnt a few things through Treebeard, the Old Ent, but that is not nearly enough.”
Legolas smiled kindly as we let our three horses wander in search of grass, their reins trailing the ground at their feet. “All in good time,” Legolas responded. “We were the hunters, and you should give an account of yourselves to us first.”
“Or second,” Gimli argued. “It would go better after a meal. I have a sore head; and it is past mid-day. You truants might make amends by finding us some of the plunder that you spoke of. Food and drink would pay off some of my score against you.”
The hobbits enthusiastically lead the way towards a guard shack that had housed Saruman’s human guards, and we soon were eating a fair meal, seated at a long wooden table within the guardhouse.
I knew Legolas expected more answers to fill in some of the details I had left out about my time captive with the Orcs, yet I couldn’t bring myself to break into the hobbits’ retelling of the tale. There was nothing I could provide that either Merry or Pippin couldn’t provide just as well.
Surprisingly, though the hobbits were understandably dour about their own captivity, their jolly hearts and spirits didn’t seem as leaden with the burden of that time as I had feared. They laughed and joked with each other and the others so easily, it warmed my heart to think I’d help shelter them in even the slightest fashion.
I corrected myself. They had kept their jolly hearts, but they had changed. There was a maturity that hadn’t been there before. There was an evolved manner to their actions in the way they bustled about to make food for us all that hadn’t been present before. And thankfully, though there was maturity, it was well balanced with their lightheartedness.
My own smile came easily as I watched the hobbits laugh and joke with the others about sitting to eat a meal with us just so they could “keep us company.” And Legolas’s smiling laugh as he noted that even had we not arrived, the hobbits would have likely been “keeping each other company” with another meal.
Finally, the meal passed with friendly conversation and we all moved out to sit in the open air so the hobbits, Gimli, and Aragorn could smoke the pipeweed the hobbits had purloined. My own supply of cigarillos was ever dwindling, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to have a friendly smoke with the others.
The others had stretched out trying to absorb some warmth from the rays of sun peeking through the mists as they lounged in silence. I sat leaning back on my elbows, enjoying the sweet tang of my cigarillo smoke, with Legolas’s head on my outstretched legs as he watched the clouds and softly sang in his own language.
At last, Legolas sat up and said, “Come now! Time wears on, and the mists are blowing away, or would if you strange folk did not wreathe yourselves in smoke. What of the tale?”
Merry and Pippin took turns sharing their tale with the others. Much of it I’d already told Legolas at least, but neither of the hobbits bothered to gloss over some of the details as I had. Legolas threw reproving looks my way several times throughout the telling.
But eventually, the hobbits moved on to sharing their journey after we had parted company. And I watched contentedly as Legolas absorbed the hobbits’ tales of the Ents and Treebeard, holding his hand beside him as he ever so slowly leaned forward in his excitement.
As their tale ended, the others split up to search the ruins of Isengard. Legolas stayed to speak more with the hobbits, laughing at their tales of the Ents and Huorns.
No lines or creases marked the elf’s face to hint at this age, yet there had been a weight apparent in his eyes before, now lifted as he laughed and spoke with the hobbits. Making him look truly youthful.
As he spoke, I slipped away to check on the horses, ensuring that they hadn’t wandered too far. When I finally returned to Legolas’s side, his head was tipped back in laughter, his eyes twinkling with mirth. His hand reached out to easily encase my own, as though the action was natural and thoughtless.
But as his eyes lingered on mine for a moment, the words I’d held back before tumbled effortlessly from my heart, flowing easily to my mind, and falling softly from my lips.
“What?” Legolas questioned, stepping closer, his face sobering with seriousness.
“I love you,” I repeated, my easy confidence lending my voice more volume this time.
The distance between us suddenly disappeared as Legolas splayed one hand across my back, the other spanning my jaw and neck as he tilted my face up to his, bending down to press his lips to mine.
I was slightly surprised that he would kiss me in front of the hobbits, but my reaction turned to a shocked gasp as his lips moved insistently against my own, his teeth briefly nipping at my lower lip when my mouth opened in surprise.
When he pulled back, he was grinning like the proverbial cat that ate the canary.
“Wow,” I stammered, remembering his shock the first time I’d kissed him all those months ago. “You’re a fast learner.”
His features were bright with contentment, happiness, and other emotions I couldn’t name. “As I told you, elves behave as we feel natural. Our instincts are very strong.” He paused then earnestly added, “You are my heart, Elaina love.”
“Are you two married now?” Pippin asked in an incredulous voice.
I felt my cheeks burn even though I had no reason to be embarrassed.
“No, but we’re hoping to after this war is over and things settle down,” I explained, fighting for nonchalance.
“Oh. Are we invited to the wedding?” Merry innocently asked.
My cheeks burned even more and I fought the urge to fan them. Who’s acting like the blushing virgin now? my subconscious wickedly asked. Yet I couldn’t help it. A part of me still saw only the innocence in the hobbits and I didn’t want to sully it.
“Well, the wedding part for elves is a very private matter, but maybe we can have a celebration feast afterwards with our friends,” I told them.
Legolas brought our clasped hands to his lips, brushing a kiss across them. “For certain we shall have a feast to commemorate the occasion.”
We started walking into Isengard, following the chatting hobbits who were discussing all the fare they hoped would be served at our feast and the kinds of ale they hoped would be served.
“Congratulations are in order, I understand,” Aragorn said.
I hadn’t realized he’d been nearby to overhear the conversation, but he fell in step with us, extending his hand to shake Legolas’s. The two stopped briefly to hug fondly, Aragorn and Legolas whispering happy words to each other in elvish.
With a laugh, they both pulled apart and Aragorn walked ahead to catch up with the hobbits and Gimli who had suddenly returned from his wanderings.
“Aragorn was wishing us both health and happiness,” Legolas supplied, realizing I didn’t understand their words.
We continued a few more paces before he changed the subject.
“Why did you not tell me that you had suffered such mistreatment at the hands of the Orcs in your efforts to shield the hobbits?”
I shrugged. “It was already done and there was no sense unnecessarily upsetting you.”
“You could have been killed in your contrivance to protect the hobbits,” he argued, his words becoming sharp.
“Legolas, I’m fine. I’m a trained soldier who was better suited to taking a little mistreatment than they were. I’ve been through far worse, but I couldn’t stand the thought of the hobbits being hurt that way.”
“And should I stand the thought of you being so mistreated?” he fired back.
My anger and indignation deflated. I had no good argument for him. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I hadn’t considered you in my actions.”
He looked away and softly whispered, “I hate the thought of you being caught in the middle of this war.”
Silence followed as we picked our way through the rubble, Legolas’s fingers idly toyed with the ring he’d placed on my hand, and I felt a flash of regret shoot across his emotions. I jerked to a stop, pulling on his hand to halt him as well.
“What? What’s wrong?” I pressed.
He sighed and then his fingertips rose towards my face, the tips of his fingers barely brushing my cheek. “I regret that I have not more to offer you. You deserve better than traversing the wilds after me in wartime. I had imagined better for you than asking for your hand and announcing our intentions amidst such desolation and rubble,” he lamented, his arms gesturing to the ruined structures all around us. “I know not what I shall ever have to offer you. My father is the king of his lands, but even should the Dark Lord’s reign be ended, I am not sure I can ever return to his lands to be one of his subjects again. Yet, what kind of life is that to offer you? One of uncertainty and wandering?”
I pressed two fingers against his lips to stall his worries. “It doesn’t matter. The when, the where, the how—none of it matters. I’ve seen worse places than this, and they were worse because I was alone. I’ve always been alone. Even when I was married. For the first time in my life, I don’t feel alone. I’m a soldier; I’ve been a soldier for a long time. War is not new to me.
“And what you have to offer? It’s everything I want and need. You love me, and that’s more than I ever expected or dreamed of. And what happens after—we’ll figure it out then. Whatever we do, wherever we go—it doesn’t matter. If we wander for a while, so what? I’ve always been a wanderer. We’ll wander together, and if we decide to stop someday, we’ll do that together, too.”
The corner of his mouth lifted slightly under my fingers. He pulled them away gently. “Perhaps it would be best to return to my father’s kingdom when this war is over. He would gladly welcome us. There are many comforts to be offered as the crown prince.”
But I could see in his eyes that he didn’t really want to return to living in his father’s kingdom. It was hard to return home once you had seen and experienced the world. It was hard to subject yourself to the rule of even a loved parent when you had lived on your own and answered only to yourself.
“I’ve never desired that kind of life,” I honestly answered. “We’ll find our own place. And we’ll make our own comforts.”
When we had rejoined the others, we rode to the foot of Orthanc. Gandalf gave many warnings concerning the peril of Saruman, and decreed that the king and his nephew, as well as Aragorn would accompany him. Gimli argued that he and Legolas should go as representatives of their races and so were allowed.
Legolas glanced questioningly at me, but I had no desire to go any closer to that oppressive black tower. There was no race of partly-Fae humans for me to represent, and I wasn’t even from this world, so I stayed back by the other soldiers, hoping to fade in and disappear amongst them.
All had been warned about the danger in Saruman’s voice, the power of it to hold sway over others, and so, the Rohirrim waited nervously, their heads down in fear as the milled near the stairs to the Orthanc.
A sense of foreboding filled me, so I pulled the hood of my cloak up to further mask my features. Hoping no one would spot my obviously slighter form in the sea of burly Rohirric riders.
“Well?” a voice suddenly called out from a balcony above, finally answering Gandalf’s bellows. “Why must you disturb my rest? Will you give me no peace at all by night or day?” The words were spoken slowly and sweetly, the seductive quality making them irresistible to the Rohirrim whose attention instantly snapped up to Saruman’s form.
But I shrank back, ducking my head and wanting nothing more than to turn my horse and run from that seductive sound.
Fairies often used their innate magic to bespell and enthrall humans. The mostly human blood in me meant I felt some of that pull, but the Fae in me meant I was aware of it and wouldn’t totally succumb.
A terrifying feeling I had forgotten from my childhood. To feel that irresistible pull to unconditionally please its speaker, all the while knowing just how foreign and unnatural the sensations were.
Even worse yet, in my terror, my barriers began to slip and I could feel the overwhelming sensations and emotions of the Rohirrim who suddenly sympathized with the old man and wanted to please him and obey his “kindly” wishes.
I felt myself turning inwards, trying to block out the continuing flow of the seductive words pouring from above. My body curled inwards as I tried to keep from noticing the eagerness with which those around me leaned forward in sympathy and support at Saruman’s lies. The arguments of Théoden, Éomer, and Gimli fell deftly on my ears as I sought to shut out the slithering feel of Saruman’s seductiveness.
Suddenly, Gandalf’s words and grim laughter at Saruman’s machinations broke some of Saruman’s sway. I breathed a deep sigh of relief, not realizing when I’d begun to hold my breath.
I glanced up from beneath my hood, finally again hearing some of Saruman’s words to Gandalf. They only held an edge of their former seductive quality as he spoke, his anger obliterating their former hold.
“—But why should I wish to leave? And what do you mean by ‘free’? There are conditions, I presume?” he was asking of Gandalf.
“Reasons for leaving you can see from your windows,” Gandalf reasonably answered. “Others will occur to your thought. Your servants are destroyed and scattered; your neighbors you have made your enemies; and you have cheated your new master, or tried to do so. When his eye turns hither, it will be the red of wrath. But when I say ‘free’, I mean ‘free’: free from bond, of chain or command: to go where you will, even, even to Mordor, Saruman, if you desire. But you will first surrender to me the Key of Orthanc, and your staff. They shall be pledges of your conduct, to be returned later, if you merit them.”
Saruman twisted with rage. “Later! Later! Yes, when you also have the Keys of Barad-dûr itself, I suppose; and the crowns of seven kings, and the rods of the Five Wizards, and have purchased yourself a pair of boots many sizes larger than those you wear now. A modest plan. But a fool’s plan. You do not even have the sense to use that which fate has already lain at your feet.”
He looked out through the horsemen, his eyes seeming to search for something, and that deep sense of foreboding returned as his eyes narrowed unerringly on me.
“Come,” he commanded, his voice soft but resonant; the seductiveness returning to his words a hundred-fold.
Trembling fingers pulled back my hood before I realized I’d made any move to obey the wizard. My breathing became shallow as a part of me yearned to obey his command and climb the steps up to him, yet, with effort, I pushed my shoulders back and thrust my chin upwards.
“No.” I put what power I could into the word, the single utterance flowing back at him with a measure of the same enthrallment my Fae kin used on humans.
Rohirrim all around me snapped to attention to look curiously at me, but I spoke no more and I made no move to follow Saruman’s command.
The wizard looked perplexed for a moment, but then shifted his focus to Gandalf again. “You are a fool,” he continued to the wizard. “A gift so fortuitously dropped in your lap and yet you do not take advantage of her. Her knowledge alone could aid any in the war to come to change the tide in their favor, yet you squander such a gift, allowing it to waste under the costuming of a man.” His gaze turned back to me as he continued. “Yes, such a gift you are, with your knowledge, I could beat back this rabble. Since your sudden appearance in this world, I have watched you and watched you use your knowledge, though to poor use and little effect. My servants could not fetch you to me, yet you bring yourself to my doorstep. I could use your knowledge for such purpose. Or could the Dark Lord.”
“No,” I repeated, my voice flat, lacking the power to again put any force into the word.
Saruman’s gazed narrowed once more as he held a hand down towards me. “Come to me, and I can give you that which you truly seek. I can open the pathway to your world again. I can send you there. Come up to me, and I will send you.”
His thoughts tasted of lies, his seductive offer meaning to sway me where his power in his words had failed.
“Your words are dry. Empty. Like sawdust. They hold no form. They are lies. You can no more send me there than I wish to either come up to you or to return to my world. And you will no more use me than any other will. I’ll die before allowing you to debase me by using any part of me, mind or body. They are mine alone.” The words finally spoken, I turned Lightfoot and began riding away through the bewildered throngs of Rohirrim.
“Do your companions know?” Saruman tauntingly called to my retreating back. “Do they know that you know each of their fates? The time and place when they shall die. Do they know how you enjoy watching them twist in the winds of their fate? How you revel at watching their demise?”
I stiffened and pulled Lightfoot to a stop as the bewildered looks of the Rohirrim turned sour and suspicious. But rather than give the wizard the satisfaction of any reaction, I continued riding.
Gandalf’s voice carried to me as I rode away. “You have become a fool, Saruman, and yet pitiable. You might still have turned from folly and evil, and have been of service. But you choose to stay and gnaw the ends of your old plots. Stay then! But I warn you, you will not easily come out again. Not unless the dark hands of the East stretch out to take you. Saruman! Behold, I am not Gandalf the Grey, whom you betrayed. I am Gandalf the White, who has returned from death. You have no color now, and I cast you from the order and from the Council. Saruman, your staff is broken.”
I heard the loud crack as the staff was shattered and Saruman’s wretched cry, but all other sound faded as I rode further from the tall tower steering Lightfoot for the edges of the grounds circling the Orthanc.
The others found me some time later, standing near the edges of the gate, Lightfoot’s rein held loosely in my hand as he foraged for fresh grass. I heard them approach behind me, but stayed facing away from them, my back straight and stiff as I struggled to hold myself together.
“I would never get pleasure out of watching anything happen to any of you,” I spoke in a low, stiff voice. “And I got no pleasure from Gandalf’s fall nor from Boromir’s demise.”
Legolas’s arms suddenly appeared around my waist, pulling me backwards into the comfort of his chest. He spoke no words, letting his unflinching embrace express what words couldn’t fathom.
Aragorn stepped beside me to my left, his hand descending onto my shoulder as he spoke. “Even in my irrational anger towards you after Gandalf’s fall, I saw how torn you were by his fate, and knew that you certainly took no pleasure from his death.”
Merry and Pippin appeared in front of me, each taking a hand. “We saw how hard you fought to save Boromir from his fate,” Merry said.
“Took an arrow too!” Pippin added.
“Those who know ya, Lass, know you’d never take perverse pleasure in watchin’ harm come to those ye care for,” Gimli added, standing to my right and patting my arm.
A choked sob escaped as my body nearly collapsed back against Legolas in relief.
“I’d give almost anything not to know what I know. I hate it,” I tried to reassure them.
We stood like that together in silence for several moments. My friends’ quiet reassurances that they believed in me a wonder I could not wrap my mind around. But one by one, they wandered away, leaving me alone in Legolas’s embrace.
“Never,” Legolas finally whispered, “would I have believed such lies about you, even spoken with the power of a Wizard’s Voice.”
I shuddered. “I had forgotten Saruman was said to have had such power in his voice.”
“You felt the power of control in his voice as mortals do?” Legolas asked. At my nod he continued. “Yet you were able to deny that power so effectively. I would not have thought a mortal would so be able. Elves and dwarves, and perhaps even hobbits it seems, can do so, but I had thought all mortals would fall prey to it.”
“My father’s people could do that too. Use their voice to enthrall humans and make them do anything. I despised the sensation of feeling obliged to that power, yet being so aware of it that I had to do everything in my power to deny it. It’s almost easier for normal humans, they may have to obey that bespellment, but at least they don’t realize it at the time or even have much awareness of it later.”
“And you too have this power in your voice.”
I shook my head. “Not really. Enough I guess to put some push into one word like that. But no more. I told you, my father was extremely disappointed in my lack of magic and useful skills.”
We stood silently for a time. Legolas continuing to show me his unflinching belief in me with his steadfast resolve. His touch saying more than the words of any language ever could.
“Thank you,” I said after a while. “For believing in me without question.”
“I know your heart well. And never would you so callously enjoy the demise of others as Saruman suggested. For most of our journey, I saw you struggle with Boromir’s impending fate and Gandalf’s as well. I watched you constantly strive to reach Boromir and assist him,” Legolas assured me, gently squeezing around my stomach and speaking softly into my ear.
Eventually, I pulled away from Legolas, wiping at the few tears that had spilled onto my cheeks. I gestured towards where Gandalf stood with Treebeard. “Go, meet the Lord of Fangorn, I know you want to. I’ll just take a minute to gather myself.”
Legolas studied my face for several moments, but then pressed a kiss to my forehead and turned to join the others by the Lord of the Ents, allowing me the needed time to pull myself together after the shock of my friends all placing their unquestioning belief in me.
A novel idea in and of itself.
By the time we made camp late that night, exhaustion had settled around me like an old blanket. My body felt leaden with its weight. The days and nights with lack of sleep and my confrontation with Saruman had forced me to tap into whatever stores of energy reserve I’d previously had.
I slid from Lightfoot’s back feeling almost boneless, barely having the energy or coordination to find a place to stake a picket line for Lightfoot for the night where he could graze and rest before I trudged back to the campfire Gimli had lit for our group.
Aragorn, Legolas, and the hobbits knelt with us around the fire as we ate a sparse meal in silence. Then, one by one, Aragorn, the hobbits, and Gimli laid down to rest, pulling their cloaks around them to act as blankets.
Gandalf had already laid his pallet out a ways away from us and everyone else, his eyes distant as though he was lost deep in thought in matters far away from here.
“I shall go to help patrol and guard the encampment,” Legolas whispered to me. “Do you wish to join me?”
“No,” I shook my head, “you go, you’re better suited for the task, and I’m exhausted anyway.”
He lightly kissed my lips. “You are suited as well to the task as any mortal. Even so well as Aragorn. You move with more stealth and grace than any human I’ve seen. Yet I can see that you are correct; sleep is what your body requires most. Rest well, and I shall join you soon.”
Stretching out, I pulled my own cloak tightly around myself, intending to sleep regardless of the lingering stares of the Rohirrim and their buzzing thoughts. Yet as I lay on my side to sleep, I caught sight of the hobbits huddled together speaking. I could hear Merry telling his companion several times to go to sleep and saw Pippin’s lingering gaze on Gandalf’s sleeping form.
The Palantír, I suddenly remembered. That’s what Pip is staring at and soon he’ll go steal it from Gandalf and lay bare his mind to Sauron’s will. I should do something. I should stop him from making that mistake! He’s too innocent to expose to such darkness!
But my exhaustion proved stronger, and despite my intentions to stay awake and watch the foolish young hobbit, sleep overcame me.
I jerked awake at the shrill scream that rang through the air. My body instinctively jerked into action as adrenaline surged through my body. The hobbits had been lying closest to my place near the dying fire, so I reached Pippin’s prone form first.
His body was rigid, bent and constricted with pain it seemed to me, so I knelt and placed my hands on his shoulders, intending to either shake him from his trance, or ease whatever pain he was in. Yet, as my hands descended on him, it seemed as though I had been leaning into a glass wall that suddenly disappeared beneath my fingertips, and I was plunged headfirst into Pippin’s mind.
Pain and fire assuaged me there. Overwhelming all of my other senses and my thoughts. Making me forget that anything had ever existed in the world besides pain and fire. But then, I heard Pippin’s pained pleading, and focused my mind on his voice. Swimming through the fire to reach his crumpled form in the lake of molten heat and pain.
I could feel the oppressive weight of the voice ringing throughout Pippin’s being, asking him who he was.
“A hobbit,” he finally choked out.
The voice seemed to resonate through everything. Through the fire and the pain. “Wait a moment! We shall meet again soon. Tell Saruman that this dainty is not for him. I will send for it at once. Do you understand? Say just that!”
I felt the pain that suddenly pressed Pippin down even further. Heard his pained and panicked cries. So I pressed myself down over him. Shielding his smaller form with my body and offering him what comfort I could while murmuring what I hoped were comforting words.
He latched onto me, his arms clutching desperately around my midsection as he sobbed into my chest, but the pain in him seemed to lessen as I tried to envision myself truly as a shield over the hobbit.
“What are you?” the voice suddenly boomed, and I knew he was speaking to me this time.
I hunched further over Pippin as he cried and clung to me, refusing to answer the voice.
“You are the seer, the soothsayer my servant sought to capture,” the voice suddenly declared. “Tell me what you know! Tell me what you have seen!” And then his power flared, compelling and demanding that I answer him.
Still, I refused to answer.
“You will be mine!” it declared, the voice cracking like a shot throughout everything. “I will have your power! You and the hobbit both!”
Then pain flowed like nothing I had ever before experienced. The torture I suffered in North Korea was a pale imitation to the pain that seemed to course through every pore and every cell of my body. My body shook with the effort to strangle my scream, but soon that effort was lost and my body convulsed as sickening sounds I could not comprehend tore from my body.
My mind was suddenly yanked back into my own body, which ached with the lingering effects of Sauron’s dark will. But as my vision cleared, I saw I was crouched over Pippin with him clinging to my midsection just as we had been in our minds. Gandalf’s hands were gently grasping both my arm and Pippin’s, speaking to us and trying to rouse us.
I released Pippin as Gandalf pulled him into his arms and began questioning him, letting myself fall backwards on my butt as the pain slowly receded from my body. Yet, almost immediately, I was scooped into another pair of arms, Legolas kneeling before me, his arms smoothing over my body as though searching for signs of injury.
Leaning into his warm embrace, I pressed my nose into the crook of his neck, letting his clean sweet musk wash over me and chase away the acrid smell of sulfur that still lingered in my mind.
“Are you hurt?” he whispered in my ear, his voice breaking.
“I’m fine,” I assured him, though my voice was hoarse and my throat dry and raw. My mind was slowly resetting itself, and the phantom aches in my body were receding as well, but that was nothing he could help with or change.
“What happened?” Aragorn asked, he and Gimli kneeling beside us and casting worried glances towards Pippin as the hobbit began recounting his ordeal to the wizard.
“It was stupid of me,” I told them. “I heard Pippin scream and I ran to grab him and shake him or comfort him, and fell right into his mind and thoughts. I never even considered that that might happen. I just blindly ran to him and grabbed him.”
We turned to hear the rest of Pippin’s explanations to Gandalf. “—then he gloated over me. I felt I was falling to pieces. And there was such pain, but then it stopped and Lane was there, speaking soothing words in my ears and shielding me.” A shudder ran through the hobbit. “Lane! Where’s Lane? Is she all right? He started hurting her. Is she alright?” he frantically asked looking around for me.
Before I could respond, Gandalf laid a gentling hand on the hobbit’s head. “All right, all is well enough. Lane is here and well enough. Say no more! You have taken no harm. There is no lie in your eyes, as I feared. But he did not speak long with you. A fool, but an honest fool, you remain, Peragrin Took. Wiser ones might have done worse in such a pass,” he continued, throwing a pointed look my way. “You have been saved, and all your friends too, mainly by good fortune, as it is called. You cannot count on it a second time. If he had questioned you, then and there, almost certainly you would have told all that you know, to the ruin of us all. But he was too eager to question another. He did not want information only from either of you: he wanted you both, quickly, so that he could deal with you in the Dark Tower, slowly.” He turned his attention back to the hobbit he held. “Don’t shudder! If you will meddle in the affairs of Wizards, you must be prepared to think of such things. But come! I forgive you. Be comforted! Things have not turned out as evilly as they might.”
The wizard bent and lifted the younger hobbit in his arms, returning him to his pallet near Merry. “Lie there and rest, if you can, Pippin,” the wizard told him. “Trust me. If you feel an itch in your palms again, tell me of it! Such things can be cured. But anyway, my dear hobbit, don’t put a lump of rock under my elbow again! Now, I will leave you two together for a while.”
Gandalf walked back over to where I now stood, Legolas’s arm wrapped protectively around my shoulders, and he looked me up and down. “And you, my dear, what did he ask of you? What did you tell him?” As he spoke, his eyes narrowed on me.
“He asked who I was. What I was. But he knew. Saruman had told him I was a seer. But I’m not a seer. I’ve told you, that’s not how I know things. I just read them in a book,” I answered, my arms wrapping around myself at the memory of his voice and power in that place of fire and pain.
“The how of your knowledge matters not. You know of what will come to pass. Your knowledge in his hands could prove disastrous.”
“You think I don’t know that?” I grumbled.
“What did he command of you?” Gandalf pressed, his voice softening somewhat.
My gaze dropped to the ground. “He ordered me to tell him what I knew. What I saw.” I forced my eyes up to meet Gandalf’s eyes, resolutely telling him, “But I told him nothing. I said nothing to him, no matter what he did to try to force it from me. You have to believe me.”
Gandalf stepped closer again, and as I’d seen him do before, his manner and appearance seemed to change. No longer was he a wizard of frightening power, now his gaze was that of a kindly grandfather as he bent and pressed an affectionate kiss to my forehead, his aged and creased fingers lingering to smooth across my forehead, wiping away the lines of worry there.
“I see the truth in your eyes. I know you told Sauron naught, though you endured much for defying him. Be at ease. You suffered greatly for protecting our young hobbit and it was very likely unwise of you to have done so. Your defiance of him, and at the cost you bore, has told him that Saruman was right in pursuing you. You are not a normal mortal. And now you have caught his eye, too. Foolish,” Gandalf said with a shake of his head. “Though for our young hobbit’s sake, brave as well.”
Gandalf looked up into the eyes of the elf wrapped protectively around me. “Both of you children be at ease. She has suffered no permanent physical damage by her shared encounter caused by Pippin’s folly. Go and find what rest you can.”
We turned to walk back to our places by the fire as Gandalf returned the palantír to its rightful owner: Aragorn.
I sat and pulled my cloak tighter around myself, my body still shaking with the remnants of the pain that had filled my mind. Legolas knelt and wrapped his own cloak over the top of mine, rubbing his hands up and down my arms to warm me.
“It’s all right, I’m not really cold, it’s just—”
“It is what?” Legolas asked when I didn’t continue.
I shook my head. Not really wanting to answer him, but knowing I shouldn’t keep some things from him, even to shield him.
“Just the residual pain and fear from being in that place, I guess.”
“What happened? I heard Pippin’s screams as I patrolled, and as I reached the clearing where he lay, I saw you bent over him, your body shaking and convulsing as though in pain. And then you too began to scream.” His voice caught as he spoke and he pressed his face into the side of my neck, his arms twining almost painfully around me as he clutched me to him. “Such horrific sounds they were, they tore through my heart. I tried to pry you away from Pippin, but your arms were fastened so tightly about him. It was not until Gandalf touched you both that your screams stopped.”
I felt the wetness of his tears coating my neck, and smoothed my hands soothingly across his back, gently rocking him back and forth as we clung to each other.
“The sounds of your screams and your pain will haunt my memory,” he whispered.
Holding him and offering him comfort for the misery he shared with me did more to help me center myself and pull my thoughts from retreating within my own mind. I couldn’t afford to withdraw into myself as I would have wanted to do and might have done in the past. The guilt and terror radiating from Legolas was so palpable, I knew I had to push the memory of Sauron’s power and torment away so that I could help Legolas to likewise push it away. If I wallowed in my terror and fear, Legolas would wallow in his guilt. Even if there was nothing he could have done to stop what happened.
I knew the fear would still be there—my mind and body were fighting to send me into another panic attack—but I could unbury it and deal with it later. That fear was too strong to just disappear. Never had I experienced such depth of pain and terror. Never had I known such pain was even possible. And I wanted nothing more than to run from whomever—whatever—was powerful enough to inflict such devastation. Even if it had only been within my mind.
So I held Legolas in my arms. And allowed him to hold me in return. Both of us assuaging our fears and guilts by sharing what comfort we could.
But fate never waits for opportune moments.
A great shadow swooped across the night sky, obliterating the moonlight, and spreading fear and terror across the Rohirrim. The men crouched and cowered from the great winged shape as it wheeled across the sky.
Legolas and I held onto each other until the Nazgûl had finally passed from sight, taking its fear and darkness with it.
“Nazgûl!” Gandalf cried. “The messenger of Mordor. The storm is coming. The Nazgûl have crossed the River! Ride, ride! Wait not for the dawn! Let not the swift wait for the slow! Ride!”
He called Shadowfax to his side, bending to pick Pippin up as he hurried about. “You shall come with me this time. Shadowfax shall show you his pace.” He looked up and pinned me in his sight. “And you shall come with us as well. Hurry, gather your things!”
Legolas and I had both sprung to our feet at his first shouts, but now the elf placed himself between the wizard and me.
“No,” he declared, his voice hard and unflinching. “I will not allow you to whisk Elaina away from my sight.”
“No?” Gandalf repeated. “Yet it is not your choice to make. Already Elaina has drawn unnecessary attention from Sauron, who will send his servants from the Black Lands to search the area for her and the hobbit. Neither is safe to stay here.”
I moved around Legolas to see Gandalf better, and his attention focused on me.
“Can you truly say that you wish to continue on the path the others are bound for? To take the way to Gondor that they must?” he asked me.
My eyes narrowed on the wizard. Did he know what Aragorn’s path would be? Did he now see such things himself? Or was he merely guessing? Deducing the logical paths from what choice he knew Aragorn would be faced with.
I didn’t relish leaving the friends who’d come to mean so much to me, let alone parting from Legolas. It would be a grueling pace to keep up with Gandalf and Shadowfax on the path to Minas Tirith.
But then I considered the path Aragorn would take through the mountains. I shuddered as I thought about the dead that awaited his summons there. My telepathy had cursed me to not only hear the thoughts of the living, but had also damned me to seeing and hearing the dead. And the dead, especially those dark and tormented souls, were something I avoided if I could.
My gaze trailed to Aragorn’s bag where I knew the Palantír was stored. I didn’t desire staying anywhere near that thing either.
“They both will be safer away from Saruman’s sight and in the stone walls of Gondor than here on the plain where Sauron will send his minions to search for them,” Gandalf added, and then his voice dropped as he spoke the next words for our ears alone. “It is best for Elaina to depart from the Rohirrim now. Even before the events at the Orthanc, they soldiers of Rohan were suspicious of her. Their suspicions and unease have grown ten-fold with Saruman’s lies and now these events.”
I glanced around at the wary faces of the men gathered around us and knew Gandalf was right. I couldn’t stay and continue to cause such unease. I placed a hand on Legolas’s elbow, stalling his arguments. “He’s right. I can’t stay here where Sauron’s going to be looking for me. And the men are freaked out by my presence now. They don’t know what to think or believe anymore. I have to go.” Seeing the next argument in his eyes, I stepped closer and continued, “No, you’ve got to go with Aragorn and Gimli. You’ve sworn to that path, and I won’t see you detoured from that promise to them. Besides, we already agreed that it was best we didn’t fight by each other’s sides. You go; go with Aragorn and Gimli, and I’ll be waiting in Minas Tirith for your arrival.”
“Are you certain of this?” he asked, his hand closing almost painfully around my arm as resignation settled over him.
“Yeah, Gandalf’s right. I can’t take the path you’ll be bound for. And I can’t stay near that thing right now. I know the Palantír is Aragorn’s by birthright, but after what happened, I honestly just want away from it.”
Legolas closed his eyes as he pressed his forehead to my own. “Will our destiny be to ever part ways? Each time you are separated from my side it becomes infinitely harder to watch you go,” he whispered.
“I know. This isn’t easy for me either.”
“I don’t want you to go,” he said, his voice barely audible.
“And I don’t want to. But I have to.”
He nodded and pulled back from me, opening his eyes and bringing my left hand to his lips, a kiss to the ring he’d placed there and sealing the promise shinning in his eyes.
We would see each other again, it said.
Before he could turn away, I fumbled at my neck to remove the metal chain that hadn’t been from my neck since the day I joined the Marines. Unclipping one of the dog tags from the chain, I slid it onto the necklace Galadriel had given me what seemed like ages ago, and held the chain and single dog tag out to Legolas.
“I want you to hold onto this for me,” I told him, my voice stressing the importance of my words as I pressed the chain and dog tag into his palm.
“I do not understand,” he replied.
“In my country’s military, dog tags are very special to a soldier. They’re used for identification, but to a soldier, they’re a representation of everything we’ve gone through and everything we’ve suffered to get to where we are. And by tradition, it’s one of the highest honors a soldier can bestow on a loved one to give them one of our dog tags. It means that person will be in our thoughts and hearts while we’re gone, but more than that, it’s a promise. It’s a solemn promise that I’ll be back to collect it again.” I closed his hand over the chain. “You’ve given me your token to symbolize your promise, and that’s mine. I promise. I’ll do everything in my power to come back to you and collect that dog tag again.”
Heedless of the watching Rohirrim and Gandalf’s impatient noises, Legolas pulled my body flush against his and pressed a lingering kiss to my mouth, his lips insistent and matching every promise and utterance we’d made to each other.
“I shall hold you to your promise,” he whispered, his breathing as ragged as my own.
I turned and pulled away from Legolas with the last shred of my resolve, spinning to see that Aragorn and Gimli had already gathered my things and my horse. I had not the heart for goodbyes with them as well, so I quickly swung into the saddle.
Looking back down at them I said, “My old Marine buddies and I always drank a toast to each other in parting, but I have no beer or ale here to toast with. Yet, in the spirit of my mother’s family, I’ll say part of an Irish parting toast anyway:
So fill to me the parting glass
And drink a health whate’er befalls
Then gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be to you all.”
Raising an imaginary drink to them, I turned and followed the swift pace Gandalf and Pippin were already setting on Shadowfax.
A/N: As always, recognizable dialog is all the work of Tolkien, I just fashioned some of it to fit my twisted mind and imagination!
Well, that’s it for book two. Book three will be out as soon as I’m done with the first chapter of it, and the title of that story will be, To Honor.
And the title of this chapter is actually the name of a traditional Irish song that is sung at the parting of friends. The verse Lane recites is from the song.
Thanks so much to everyone for following, and especially to everyone for leaving reviews. I really appreciate each and every one.
Thanks again so much! And let me know what you thought!