When I had been young, my mother would to tell me stories. Most were man-made, involving the phrases ‘once upon a time’ and ‘happily ever after.’ Some were historical – retelling events of Middle Earth that helped shape the world.
I remember sitting there, wide eyed and clutching a pillow to my chest. I remember the warm blaze of the fire as it leaped in the hearth casting shadows on my mother’s face. The story of the one ring had been a frightening tale, one that made me glance around my small room at night looking for something terrible in the shadows. Yet no matter how much it frightened me it was the one I asked her to retell the most. I loved the idea of it all: of a hero and his victory, of a glorious battle, of men and elf kind fighting together, and of a long over due peace. Most of all, I loved the idea that such things could be real.
I silently cursed myself for my naivety.
I clutched at the mane of my strong and powerful friend, her hooves hitting the forest ground with such force that I worried she might crack it open. The light of a new day was just now starting to brim over the horizon and its light threaded though the branches like fire. A wonderful sight I would have stopped and gazed upon, if I hadn’t been running for my life.
They had come from the shadows too quickly for me to understand and in too many numbers for me to fight off. My saddle, bridle, and nap sack had been left scattered at the edge of the forest where I had been hoping to rest. I had though that perhaps since I had taken out a few of them and then fled that they would tire and give up. But even now I could hear their feral snarls, smell their rotting breath. I did not dare to look behind me to look upon the grey flesh of such creatures.
Clara let out a startled snort as one reached out to her back hunch. As quickly as I could manage I shifted and freed a hand, pulling the long white knife from its sheath on my low back and slashed at the orc. It made a sound of pain and fell to the ground taking a few of its company with it.
Turning back around I kicked at my horse’s side again pleading her to speed up, to make it further into the forest where the trees would not tolerate such creatures. I had not come so far, had not lived through the war just to let it end here.
For a moment in time, all was silent, I heard nothing but Clara’s tiring pants, her hooves trampling the earth, and then I saw it. In the distance the trees began to loom thicker and older. A smile broke onto my face. Finally.
“We made it Clara, come on girl just a li-”
I heard the low ‘thunk’ before I felt anything else. It was like the wind had been knocked from me, as if someone had shoved my shoulder hard. I gasped willing myself to stay where I was and looked backwards to see the dark figures had stopped, one of them was grasping a bow in it’s hand. Confused I thought that maybe I was safe but a sudden wetness on my back drew my eyes to black feathers. I stared dumbly at them, my eyes looking down on the cruel back arrow that was logged into my shoulder, blood soaking the tunic I wore, the armor plating proving useless. It all felt a bit too surreal.
I’d been shot.
It was as if seeing it, made the pain come. Gasping I leaning forward on to Clara’s neck, gridding my teeth as pain lased though my shoulder and spread like wild fire down my limb. My fingers dug into Clara’s neck and she grunted breathing though her snout lowly in protest.
I had been wounded before; I’d spent most of my life fighting and protecting, but something about this pain was different. It was because I wasn’t on the battlefield that it stung like it did – it was pain I was taking for myself, not for someone else, not for my people, my home, my king. It was for me, and I had failed to see it coming.
I barely realized it as the trees obscured the way behind me, Clara’s gate slowing into a trout and then a walk. I glanced back once again and could see no orcs through the dense foliage so I let myself collapse against my dear friend. Desperately I tugged at the arrow in my shoulder blade with my free hand only to cry in pain. I couldn’t get it out, the barbs on the back of the arrow would cause far more damage. Letting go I stared at my now bloody hand with panic. I had never feared death before, but that was because before I would have died honorably, died doing my duty.
I needed help. The way before me was thick and empty though and even with the light shining down it looked as if things were getting darker…
Clara jerked her head then and snorted causing me to wake from my stupor for a moment. It was hard for me to understand why I was losing my sight so quickly. Had I lost so much blood already? Slumping on my mare’s neck I ran a lazy hand over her sweaty neck gazing at the white fur that was sprinkled with gray dots.
Clara kept walking though, even as my legs went slack on her belly, she kept bobbing her head as if to tell me not to sleep and I smiled slightly murmuring a soft tune to her, the words too sluggish to mean anything.
Maybe this was happening because I had truly lost my sense of place in this world. I had a destination this time; I had a direction, a goal, but perhaps it was too little to late. I wondered idly what would happen to me; which part of my bloodline would win out in deciding my fate in the afterlife?
Maybe I would see the Valar my father had often wrote to me about. Maybe I would see him there. Or would I simply become one with the earth like my mother had so long ago.
As my mind wondered though its haze my brave mare kept on walking and I didn’t know how much time was passing by; all I knew were her foot steps hitting the earth and the expansion of light that grew ever brighter on my closed eyelids.
It was then that I heard the voices, talking in hushed tones at first before they got louder, or was it just closer? One was rather urgent and gruff, the other calm but spoke in a language I only knew very vaguely, but I could tell it was male, both of them were, and that he was trying to talk to me. I felt something prodding at my shoulder but my mind was too far gone for me to do anything about it no matter how much I wanted to.
I wanted to tell him I couldn’t understand him but I felt as if something had grabbed my mind and was dragging me down even as Clara jerked her head again to try and wake me, but it only seemed to work as a final push into oblivion.
I awoke slowly, a popping and crackling sound entering my mind first. I could smell damp earth, feel the cool air, and saw light flickering against my closed eyelids. There was a fire in front of me; my mind grasped at that, I could smell the smoke. I could see it in my mind, a fire of red, orange, and gold like a lion’s mane. But why was there a fire? Had I not been on my horse’s back? A silly image came to mind then, of Clara rubbing her hooves together, making sparks on a pile of wood.
Childish as is was, it gave me a reason to open my eyes. It seemed like it took all the effort in the world to peel them open, and blink slowly. Fuzzy at first, my vision cleared quickly thanks to my heritage.
The first thing I realized was that I was propped against a tree, for the world was not sideways as it would have been if I were lying down. The clearing was small, a minuet haven amongst large, ancient looking trees. It was dark out, though that did little to impair my vision. The great crackling of a roaring fire sat near the middle of the haven, its flames licking and blackening wood as it warmed the area. Sadly I didn’t see my horse any where near it.
While the scene was beautiful, confusion took over my mind quickly marring it. Last I remembered I had thought I would die on the back of my horse.
I turned my gaze from the fire itself to what was beyond it to find a figure standing a few yards away, its back to me. For a moment I thought it was maybe a dead, broken tree, but then the wind picked up and the light of the fire made strands of pale hair glitter in the dark like stars.
I remembered the voices then, the ones I had heard right before passing into darkness and shifted slightly, moving one of my straight legs and bending it. That slight sound – a brushing of the earth, leaves crunching as they were brushed aside – alerted the figure and in a moment it had whirled around, an arrow drawn in a bow I had failed to see. Too startled to move I merely tensed and stared wide eyed at the man that was drowned in the light of the fire.
His features gave away his bloodline instantly – fair skin, pale long hair, and striking blue eyes. I didn’t even need to see his pointed ears to know he was an elf. Though I had met only a few in my lifetime, their beauty and timeless faces were undeniable. Said elf, which had been wearing a blank face from the moment he’d turned, blinked and then quickly lowered his bow, putting the unused arrow in his quiver. His dark eyebrows pulled together and he lifted his hands palms up in a calming motion.
“Goheno nin. ”
Oh. Great. Pressing my lips I dug around in my head trying to figure out what he might have said. I knew very little elvish, but from his posture and the way he moved very slowly around the fire towards me, he seemed to be trying to reassure me. Still I moved my hand back to my waist to grab my knife, only to find nothing, and panic.
The elf frowned and stopped a few feet from me, his hands still up; he must have seen the fear in my eyes. “Av-'osto. Im Legolas.” He paused as if waiting for me to say something before continuing. “Man i enetheg?” He finished and I just stared at him.
I knew he was asking me something; the inflection made when a person asked a question came up in every language. Swallowing I took a deep breath and answered him the only way I could. “I’m sorry… I don’t know what you’re saying.”
The shock on his face didn’t surprise me and he raised an eyebrow. “You don’t speak elvish? Or maybe just not Sindarin?” I let out a long withheld breath, thanking whatever gods there were that he spoke common. Shaking my head slightly still stiff and unsure I answered him.
“No… I don’t speak any of the elven languages…” I felt my cheeks sting as they flushed, embarrassed. I watched him silently as he processed that and then made the mistake of shivering against a cold wind. Pain lanced through my left shoulder and I grimaced my hand moving to clutch at it. From the corner of my eye I realized my armor had been removed and my shoulder was bandaged, leaving me in a loose under tunic.
“Are you alright, my lady?” I let out a small startled squeak when I saw the elf’s face close to mine. He was crouching in front of me now and looking at my shoulder. He caught my eyes with his for a moment and smiled slightly. “It is alright.” He leaned back slightly, giving me space as his eyes went back to my shoulder. “The wound was deep but I treated it as best I could. Try not to move it if you can.” His smile was gentle, but I still felt a bit unnerved.
I wasn’t use to being around elves, and while I should have been able to hear him move I hadn’t. I bit my lip my eyes flickering from my bent knee to the elf’s face. “I… thank you.”
He smiled even more and moved to offer me a hand up before we both heard the sound of heavy footfalls, followed by grunts. Confused, I pressed my back to the tree harder biting down on my lip again. The elf didn’t seem worried as he turned and waited, his eyes on a small path that led away from the haven.
My eyebrows rose when I saw a dwarf step in moments later, arms full of wood, his reddish beard tangling around some of it. “Damn these woods, every tree looks the same, a lesser dwarf would have been lost forever.” He grumbled and strutted towards the fire before letting the wood fall from his hands and on to the ground. I heard the elf chuckle.
“You only got a little lost then, Master dwarf?”
“Humph. Watch your words you pointy eared bastard, we dwarfs have an excellent scene of direction!”
“Very well, you shall lead us tomorrow.”
As I watched the two go back and forth, teasing each other, I suddenly got the feeling that I might be alright here. I hadn’t even realized how funny the scene was until a giggle escaped before I could stop it.
The two men stopped instantly at the sound and I put a hand over my mouth to stifle it. The elf smiled at me, pleased, while the dwarf appeared to have just seen me there. “Ah, the lass is up, is she?” His armor rubbed together as he took the few steps to stand next to his companion. “We were rather worried, feared you might never wake up.” I blinked tilting me head a bit and smiled at him. He was rather full of energy. The dwarf huffed and looked at the elf. “Does she only speak elvish then?”
I beat the elf to his answer. “No, I can understand you just fine, sir dwarf. I can’t speak any elvish.” I looked down again both saddened and embarrassed, as I had to repeat it again. The short man huffed looking to his friend and then back to me.
“Isn’t that interesting. A pointy eared that doesn’t know it’s own gibberish.” I flushed again, more in annoyance this time.
“I’m only half-elf. Surely it is not that strange.” The elf nodded his head seeming unaffected by my outburst, while the dwarf sputtered next to him.
There was a long moment of silence after my words, and as it went on for what seemed like an eternity I began to regret speaking. How could I be so rude to the people that had helped me? Even if one of them was an elf…
My thoughts were thrown away when a loud burst of laugher filled the air. Looking up I saw the dwarf with his head back laughing, and after a slight hesitation I looked to the elf and saw him with a bemused look on his face as he looked at his companion.
“I think I could like ye lassie!”
The elf shook his head and looked back to me. “As I was going to say before, my name is Legolas Greenleaf.”
The Dwarf puffed his chest and slammed his fist to it.
“And I am Gimli, son of Gloin!” I smiled again, not able to help how funny they were, completely different in mannerisms, as different as their races. I nodded my head at them both and after a moment of fiddling with my undershirt I returned the favor.
“My name is Áriel Lightfoot.”