Chapter 11: Disney Princes & Watery Monsters
In my dream, we were sitting on swings, surrounded by bright white haze and tall pale trees.
Tink and I sat in what looked like a familiar children's playground. Although it was strikingly realistic, I knew it wasn't real without having to think about it. No children were in sight, and everything from the climbing frames to the seesaws were all purest white. In fact, the only things I could see that weren't white where Tink and me. I didn't bother to look surprised either. I was getting almost used to the strange Salvador Dali-like scenes I found myself in whenever I fell asleep.
"Well, this is new." I said conversationally, kicking myself back on the swing. "It looks different here that usual."
'I thought we could use a change of scenery.' Tink said from the swing right next to mine, gently swaying back and forth. She was wearing white this time, her long hair in a loose braid, and she all but blended seamlessly into the ghostly white scenery all around us. She was technically a part of my mind itself, so I guess just willing her surrounding to change shape whenever she felt like it came with the territory.
I spun myself around on my swing, the chains twisting together before spinning me back the way I'd come.
"And you chose…" I looked around as I spun to a stop, realising suddenly why everything looked so familiar, "My old primary school?"
"It seemed appropriate, given your current state of mind."
"And what is my current state of mind? Childish?"
"No. But I would say you're exhausted almost to the point of senselessness."
I snorted with repressed laughter.
"Well, I am having a literal conversation with myself, sitting in a hallucination of a playground I used to hang out in when I was eight. Fair point."
I went back to my spinning, leaning back and looking up as the white treetops cartwheeled around us.
"I suppose you heard everything Aragorn said." I didn't bother to make it into a question.
"I did." Tink confirmed."What of it?"
I put my feet flat on the ground to stop my momentum, waiting for the world to stop twirling, and thinking about what had been said.
"Apparently I've been antagonistic with the others."
"Antagonistic? You? Surely not!"
"Wise-ass much?" I tried to sound irritated, but I couldn't make myself hold it for long. I felt the worry slip back into my expression. "I'm seriously though. We're going on a journey literally into the heart of hell, and Legolas and I can't even speak to each other with contemplating homicide. What if these issues we have do start becoming a problem?"
She pursed her lips in thought.
"I guess the logical thing to do would be to do something to get them to start warming to you."
"Warm to me? After everything that's happened so far? How in hypothetical hell would I even start getting someone like Legolas or Gimli to warm to me?"
"Set them on fire? That could be fun." Tink suggested, and I could hear her grin. I cringed and rolled my head back, almost ashamed that my own subconscious could come up with such a terrible one-liner.
"You've been waiting to use that one, haven't you?"
"For months." She confirmed, and grinned proudly at me. "Wanna hear another one?"
I gave her a flat look, and she threw up her hands in amused defeat.
"Fine, fine! I yield to your disapproval, oh humourless one."
I ignored her previous remark, and went back to staring out over the playground, swaying gently on the swing.
"Seriously though, what if he is right?" I asked quietly, genuine worry filling my voice. "Aragorn I mean. I don't think much of his teaching methods, but what he said wasn't wrong. What if I have just been digging myself a hole with them up till now?"
She shrugged her shoulders at me.
"So what if you have? You could ask the 'what if' question until you stop breathing, boss. Everyone gets scared. Everyone deals with it differently. It's what you do with that fear that matters, now that you know it's there."
I eyed her.
"Are you sure you're not just channelling Aragorn now, Tink?"
"Well, you said it yourself; he isn't wrong." She replied loftily, pushing herself back into the swing until her long dress swept the grass."Though I agree, his teaching method leaves a lot to be desired."
"Agreed." I kicked off the ground and leaned back into the swing, giving myself enough momentum to match hers. "Ok then, Ms. Id, you're the expert on the base part of my brain. What should I do now?"
She pursed her lips thoughtfully as we both continued to swing back and forth in time with each other.
"I'd put that fear you're feeling to good use. Use it as a tool, instead of letting it use you."
"And how am I supposed to do that exactly?"
"No idea." She said cheerily, "But it sounded deep didn't it?"
She grinned cheekily at me, that dimple we both shared in our left cheek appearing.
"I guess you're just going to have to figure out the semantics as we go. I can't give you all the answers."
I smiled back at her, though I didn't really feel it reach my eyes and said, "So far you haven't given me any straight answers, Tink."
We both shared an identical chuckle, which might have been eerie if I wasn't so used to it by now. Tink slowed her swinging to a gentle sway and stared off at the misty playground. I followed her gaze to find her looking at the white version of the jungle-gym I'd learned to climb on as a kid.
"You remember the last time we were here?" She asked quietly. "The time Katie learned to hang upside down on the monkey bars, and she tried to teach you, but—"
"But I was too scared of falling on my head to try." I finished her sentence for her, the memory coming back clear as if it had happened last week, not sixteen years ago. "Katie called me a wimp for days. I remember."
"Do you remember what you felt after?" She asked.
I thought for a minute, reluctantly dragging the memory back up from all that time ago.
"Angry." I nodded slowly, recalling one of the few real fights I'd ever had with my best friend. "I was angry at myself, but I took it out on Katie. If I'd fallen, I could have really hurt myself… but I missed out on something special because I was too scared to even try…"
I trailed off as I thought about it even more. I thought I understood what Tink was getting at; showing me this manifestation of another point in my life where I'd let fear get the better of me. But I felt like there was more to it that she wasn't sharing. I looked sideways at her past the chain of my swing.
"…Why did you really show me this, Tink?"
She didn't answer. She just smiled at me, and got off the swing.
She'd just begun to walk away when she stopped suddenly and turned to me, her white dress shifting even though the air was completely still.
"You going to be ok here on your own for a bit?" She asked, ambers eyes watching me intently from the mirror image of my own face.
I looked around at the deserted memory of the old playground. I closed my eyes, inhaled the scent of the fallen leaves, silently pretending for just a moment that I was home again where it was safe. Where there were no wizards, elves, dwarves or perilous journeys through icy mountains to intrude.
"Yeah." I murmured quietly. "Just… let me have this. Just for a little while."
"As you wish."
I woke from the dream far more reluctantly than I had any other in a long time. Inside my head had been peaceful, and quite, and warm. The current land of the living was quiet, but not nearly as cosy. The fire had died some time in the night, and it was cold, though mercifully I wasn't damp anymore. It must have been very early morning because the sunlight hadn't grown past a watery glow when I opened my eyes.
I'd fallen asleep on the cold stone floor just a few feet from the hobbits and quietly snoring Boromir. My hip was digging painfully into the uneven rocks beneath me. I shifted my weight slightly to roll onto my back when I stopped, realising suddenly that I wasn't the only one awake. I could hear two men talking quietly not far off at the mouth of the cave.
Correction: one man, and one elf.
"… you are the only other I have heard of that was ever named Ward of Imladris. How did she come to be under Lord Elrond's protection?" I heard Legolas's voice. It was by far the most I'd heard him say in a single sentence since we'd left Rivendell. But what really caught my attention was the 'she' in that phrase. There was only one female Ward of Imladris that I knew of…
They were talking about me.
Unhealthy curiosity; thy name is Eleanor Lucy Dace. I lay still as I could, keeping my breathing even and pretending to still be sound asleep — and I listened.
"It's a… complicated story." Aragorn answered him with a small pause in between. I guessed he'd taken to his pipe again. "You could always ask her to tell you."
"I doubt she would answer me." Legolas said dully.
"She might, if you asked her nicely." The ranger chuckled. He said something else in elvish that was just a bit too quick and quiet for me to understand. I heard Legolas give an exasperated sigh, sitting back against the wall of the cave.
"She…" He made a half frustrated, half irritated noise. "She is not at all what I expected."
"What were you expecting?" Aragorn asked.
"From the apprentice of Lord Elrond? Composure, humility, certainly more social grace."
I ground my teeth, the exhausted defeat left over from the night before giving way to bubbling anger. I was temped to roll over and demand what other traits his lordship thought I needed to keep him happy — but I forced myself to keep still, and keep listening.
It was Aragorn who surprised me with what he said next.
"You did not exactly present her with an iron-clad reason to respect you, mellon nin. And she is not the only one who would benefit from a little more humility." He paused again, and I could all but hear his smirk. "I find you are remarkably similar."
"I'm insolent?" Legolas all but spluttered.
"Proud, and stubborn," Aragorn clarified plainly, and I heard a dash of amusement slip into his tone, "And not suffering from an overabundance of manners."
I heard Legolas chuckle, and I realised it was the first time I'd ever heard him laugh. Another first.
"I suppose I have no right to argue with you on that, my friend." He agreed, though it was a tinged with a something that sounded like regret, "Though you too are in no position to cast stones."
Aragorn chortled quietly at that, but he didn't deny it either.
What felt like an amiable quiet fell on the cave between them, and I tried to resist the urge to move a little to the left. There was a pointy piece of root poking right into my ribs, making it very difficult to pull off my Sleeping Beauty impression. Finally Legolas broke the silence.
"Why do you defend and her so? Has she earned some kind of special treatment I was not made aware of?"
"Lord Elrond asked me to make certain she did not endanger herself during our journey." Aragorn replied, and then followed it up pointedly with; "You do not look convinced."
The elf was quiet for a moment before finally admitting, "I heard how you spoke to her last night."
My stomach squirmed in embarrassment. I'd already guessed he'd been listening the whole time — super-elf-hearing and all that — but I still didn't relish the idea of him hearing me getting schooled by Aragorn. That had been humiliating enough on its own.
Aragorn was silent for a long moment too, and I almost forgot to breathe waiting for his reaction.
"You object?" He asked.
"Not exactly." Legolas responded, taking the time to choose his words carefully. "I just wonder at your motive for speaking to her that way. I have never heard you so severe with anyone before. Even one as infuriating as she."
Again, I had to fight the urge to roll over and let him know exactly how infuriating I could be, and that he hadn't seen anything yet.
"She has seen little of the world outside Rivendell. I believe if she continued with this careless attitude towards the danger we face, she is likely to get herself killed. She needed to be shown that, before an enemy arrow or blade did the teaching instead."
"You truly believe that?"
Aragorn just grunted in reply and I heard him take a puff on his pipe. Another long silence stretched between them, and I was almost tempted to give up listening to them indirectly chastising me, and try to go back to sleep. Then Legolas said something that made me stop.
"If I didn't know better," He said quietly, and I had to strain my hearing to catch it, "I'd say that the reason you insist on being that severe with her, is because that 'carless attitude towards danger' of hers is not dissimilar to that of a young ranger's I once knew."
I stilled at that, my breathing slowing almost to a stop. Aragorn's quiet laugh was hollow, and I was certain that there had been more meaning behind it that I knew.
"Perhaps," He replied at last, and though I could hear his smile he sounded a bit sad saying it, "And look and see how he turned out because of it?"
Another silence, but I could hear the smile in Legolas's words when he finally answered.
"I do." He answered firmly. "I see a good man, and a friend."
The hike down from the mountains was uncomfortably quiet. Although they'd all slept like rocks, the hobbits were still feeling the effects of the long cold night before. No jaunty pub songs or crass toilet humour for us today. No one else had had the energy to start up anything more than polite niceties as we walked, Gandalf leading again while Aragorn lead Bill from the back.
For once, I didn't mind the silence. I didn't especially want to talk to anyone after the night I'd had, least of all Aragorn. Having had time to calm down, sleep on it, then eavesdrop on his conversation with Legolas; I'd found myself feeling conflicted about our one-sided talk during the first watch. I knew now what he was trying to get across by what he'd said to me; but that didn't change the fact that the way he'd gone about it had left me feeling demoralised, and a little hurt. I was in no mood for another 'lesson' any time soon.
As our path down the rocky foothills levelled out to flat, I found myself walking up beside Gimli. He had that big old war axe slung casually over one shoulder (the "back up" for the one shattered at the council meeting), and I tried not to feel intimidated. Short and comically hairy as the stout little man might be; I had little doubt he'd have no trouble cleaving a person in half with it, if he cared to.
I supposed the polite thing to have done would be open the conversation by thanking him for digging me out of the snow on Cradahras. I already knew he wasn't particularly fond of me, but instead I found myself saying something else that was playing on my mind…
"Gimli," I started, not really sure of the best way to talk to the dwarf in question. I decided to go with 'diplomatically blunt.' "You said your cousin is in Moria. Balin, right?"
Gimli looked momentarily surprised. Probably at the fact that I'd spoken to him at all, let alone asked a question so politely. He peered at me curiously through thick eyebrows.
"Aye, lass. What of it?"
"When was the last time you saw him?"
The grizzly redheaded dwarf looked momentarily wistful, and it instantly changed his appearance from intimidating to something warm, almost endearing. No mean feat, considering he had a sod-off huge war axe slung over his back.
"Not since he and a good number of my kin set out to reclaim Moria, over three decades ago. Last I heard they had reclaimed the Axe of Durin. A fine prize."
"So… you haven't actually heard from him recently then?"
Gimli eyed me dubiously through narrowed eyes.
"Are you getting to a point, lass?" He asked bluntly.
I bit my bottom lip nervously. I'd got an uneasy squirming feeling in my gut when he mentioned his cousin, but I had no idea why. I vaguely remembered that there was something about Moria that was bad news from the books, but for the life of me I couldn't remember what. Could it have been something to do with Balin? Or the other dwarves?
I'm still not sure what I was planning on follow that with, but I didn't have to worry about it long. The next outcrop of rock we turned opened up onto a sight that left my jaw hanging slack.
Where the rough and rocky mountain side should have continued, it gave way to a gigantic and almost perfectly flat wall of stormy grey stone. It stretched off down the edge of the mountain side as far as I could see, and towered over the surrounding river over two hundred feet straight up. If we'd been on Earth, I'd have half expected to find myself staring up at a couple of popular American president's faces carved into it — Mount Rushmore style.
"The walls of Moria!" Gimli exclaimed in awe. If I hadn't been so impressed at the sight myself, I might have found it funny that a dwarf could be so enraptured at the sight of his own people's architecture.
We picked our way over the river until we came right up to a narrow path, sandwiched between the towering stone walls and the dark lake the river ran into.
"Dwarf doors are almost invisible when closed." Gimli explained to me with a dash of pride in his voice, wrapping the blade of his axe against the stone to emphasis the point.
"Yes, so much so that even their own masters cannot find them, if their secrets are forgotten." Gandalf added knowledgeably.
"Why doesn't that surprise me?" I heard Legolas say quietly, just loud enough for both Gimli and I to hear him.
I tried not to roll my eyes. Really I did. Gimli saw the look on my face, and I could swear I spotted a tiny smile crease the corners of his eyes.
Gandalf led us down the lakeside path, running his hand along the cliffside until finally he came to a stop between two gnarled looking trees. He felt around some more, muttering to himself; his fingers finding grooves in the stone that I wouldn't have been able to spot even with my funky elvish eye-sight. He continued to mumble incoherently, then suddenly looked up at the sky. I didn't understand what he was waiting for, until a cloud parted and allowed the half moon to shine directly onto the cliffside.
An archway, beautifully wrought and almost twice as tall as me, appeared the second the moonlight hit the stone. It's edges, instead of appearing as carved stone, glowed with pale light as if they'd been carved out of the cliffside with a star. As the lines and edges grew clearer, I could see writing appearing across the top of the arch, interlaced with the spiralling patterns.
With a surge of excitement that they were written in Tengwar script! I could read them!
'Ennyn Durin, Aran Moria. Pedo mellon a Minno. Im Narvi hain echant. Celebrimbor o Eregion tethant I thiw hin.'
I found myself silently mouthing the ancient elvish words as Gandalf read them aloud in the common tongue to the others, indicating with his staff as he went.
"It reads, 'The door of Durin, Lord of Moria. Speak, friend, and enter. I Narvi made them. Celebrimbor of Hollin drew these signs.' "
I stifled a chuckle at the last part of the translation. Beautiful as the famous elven smith's work was; that last part of that inscription sounded very much like a flowery elvish version of: "Narvi and Celebrimbor were here."
"What do you suppose that means?" Merry asked interestedly.
"Oh, it's quite simple. If you are a friend, speak the password and the doors will open." Gandalf said confidently, raising his staff and aiming the end at the centre of the door. "Annon edhellen, edro hi ammen!* "
Gandalf paused in surprise for a second, staring at the door. He tried again, raising both arms dramatically up in the air.
"Fennas nogothrim, lasto beth lammen!* " He called loudly.
Again, nothing. This was starting to seem a little silly.
Gandalf gave an annoyed sound, walked up to the archway and pushed against it with his shoulder. He might as well have been trying to push the mountain itself.
"I once knew all the spells in all the tongues of elves and orcs." He muttered irritably, more to himself than any of us.
"What are you going to do then?" Pippin piped up, and the old wizard whirled on him.
"Knock your head against these doors, Perrigrin Took!" He barked, and Pippin and I both flinched. "And if that does not work, and I am permitted a little peace from foolish questions, I will try opening words."
Something about wizards being "subtle" and "quick to anger" stirred in my memory, and I was glad I'd chosen to keep my mouth shut this time. Poor Pippin looked thoroughly taken aback, and mumbled something about getting campfire going. I decided to help him out — no reason we had to sit around getting cold while we waited for Gandalf to crack the lock on the door. I just hoped he figured it out soon, before he decided to just blast it open in a fit of frustration.
Pippin gave me an appreciative smile as I helped him and Merry scrounge up enough dry wood to get a small fire going, and get Sam's small kettle boiling over it. Tea — in my humble opinion — solves most of life problems, if served at the right time and in the right quantities. Grouchy wizards, surly rangers and homesick hobbits were no exception.
"The Mines are no place for a pony, even one so brave as Bill." I heard Aragorn telling Sam quietly as I brewed the tea. I turned to see the larger hobbit sadly stroking the old horses's mane while Aragorn unbridles and unsaddled him. Finally he steered Bill in the opposite direction and gave him a light pat of encouragement to get him moving. Sam bade the faithful pony a quiet farewell and reluctantly let him go. "Don't worry, Sam. He knows the way home."
I felt a bit sad myself watching them — I knew Sam had grown very fond of the pony in the few weeks we'd been traveling. I'd opened my mouth to try and say something reassuring, but the words died on my lips. I could feel a pair of eyes burning into the back of my neck, and I turned to find Legolas leaning against the wall of the cliff just a stone's throw away. He was very deliberately looking anywhere but at me.
I frowned and turned back to the kettle which had started whistling.
"Is there mud on my face? Something stuck in my hair?" I asked quietly. Merry gave me a quizzical look from over the campfire.
"No. Why do you ask?"
"Every time I look away, I can feel Prince Charming over there eyeballing the back of my head."
"Maybe he just likes the shape of your ears." Pippin suggested unhelpfully, his lip stretching into his usual playful smile. "They're very pretty ears."
I raised an eyebrow at him. "Thanks… I think."
I was about to start pouring the tea when something else out of the corner of my eye moved. Out over the lake.
I whipped my head around to look, but saw nothing. I was sure I'd just seen the water move. Except that wasn't possible. There was no wind to make even the smallest ripples, and the small lake should have been far too cold for fish…
The memory hit me like a slap in the face.
'The Watcher in the Water!'
I mentally smacked myself on the forehead. I couldn't believe I'd only just remembered now. Oh it wasn't like it was important or anything. Only that there was a sod-off giant river monster hiding in the lake waiting to attack us when we weren't looking.
Nope, nothing serious at all.
Bloody hell, I needed to warn the other before it spotted us and we all ended up getting dragged into a premature and very damp grave.
I opened my mouth to speak, but the second I did it was as if all the air had been pulled from my lungs. My throat closed over the warning I'd been about to shout, and I choked on a wheezing breath. My eye widened and my hand went to my throat. Merry and Pippin looked up in alarm, but I couldn't speak. I tried again, and this time my tongue fused itself like quick-dry superglue to the roof of my mouth. I hunched over on my knees and started coughing violently trying to dislodge it. Boromir came over and gave me a few gentle slaps on the back as I hunched over.
Finally after about a minute of coughing, I managed to choke out a wheezy 'thank you'.
"You alright, lass?" Gimli called over at me gruffly.
"Yeah," I rasped. "Just… forgot to breathe."
Gimli, Boromir and Aragorn all gave me identical thoroughly unconvinced looks, but I ignored them all. What answer could I give them? I had no sodding idea what just happened. Every time I'd so much as drawn breath to try say something about the river monster, I'd started choking on my own tongue.
"I'm going to go… check the supplies…" I said, my voice still a little rough and croaky.
"Perhaps I should help you." Boromir offered, setting his shield down by where I'd abandoned the tea for Merry and Pippin to deal with. I shook my head hurriedly.
"No, no, that's ok. I've got it."
It was only half a lie.
I did have every intention of checking the supplies. What I wanted more was a chance to sit, get my breath back, and think about what the hell had just happened to me — preferably without any ruggedly handsome men distracting me with their chivalry. Plus, something about what Gimli had said earlier still bothering me, but I'd been practically wringing out my brain trying to remember why.
I scuttled off towards where Aragorn had set down the packs and satchels that Bill had been carrying. I studiously ignored the curious eyes I could feel on the back of my head and began going through each bag, taking inventory of what we had left. It was very similar to the work I'd used to do for the apothecary back in Rivendell, and much less complicated. It only took me five minutes. After going through our food provisions, I decided to check my own medicinal supplies while I was at it; just to keep my hands busy while I thought.
Seven small throwing daggers; five rolls of bandages; two medical satchels with assorted tools; one hunting knife (slightly used with a crudely engraved hilt); and a partridge in a pear tree…
I found myself staring vacantly down at my equipment after a minute. I'd sorted through them three times, checked everything was clean and sharp, and I was still drawing a mental blank. I couldn't think of any explanation as to what had just happened. All I'd done was try and warn them of what was in the lake. Of potential danger.
Could it be some kind of weird unspoken law of bring dropped into a parallel universe?
'Thou shalt not give away plot twists to the original canon characters?'
Then it dawned on me.
It wasn't that I'd been about to warn them of impending danger. I'd been about to warn them of something that I shouldn't have even known was there. The only reason I did know was because I'd already read this part of the story back on Earth. It was hazy and vague, but I remembered it well enough to know the attack was going to happen. I knew what was lurking beneath the water. But the others didn't.
Whatever invisible force it that was keeping me from speaking, it seemed intent on not letting me give away to the Fellowship what was going to happen. And there was only one invisible force resident in my head that knew what I knew…
'Can't let you do that, boss.' Tink's voice rang through my mind, as if she'd been waiting for me to think it.
'Tink?! That was you? You did that choking thing to me? Why?!'
'Because of what you were about to say.' She replied calmly, impervious to my outrage, however silent. 'You were about to tell the others about the Watcher in the Water. You can not do that.'
'And why the hell not? I can't just sit here in silence knowing what's going to happen!' I fired back inside my head.
'We can, and we will.'
I just sat there for a moment, stunned. Whatever Tink was — my subconscious; my id; the personification of my basic primal brain — I had no idea she was capable of doing anything like that. In the two years I'd had her living inside my head, she'd never done anything like this before. The idea that she could spontaneously cut off my airway, or make me choke on my on tongue, was unsettling to say the least.
Then again, I was reasonably sure she wouldn't be in a hurry to try it again. If she did, she'd essentially be choking herself too.
'There'd better be a damn good reason why you did that.' I snapped, still angry and very freaked out. 'You're my subconscious for God sake!'
'I'm also your survival instinct.' Tink answered, still frustratingly calm, but I could hear the irritation creeping into her voice. 'It's my job to stop doing something that's potentially going to get us dead.'
I felt myself frown at that, and my stomach did a nervous little roll.
'Possibly mauled. At this point it could go either way.' She said conversationally, paused, and then added. 'Besides, you'd totally be ruining the plot if you gave it away now.'
'So you're not only my internal babysitter, but also a spoiler nazi now? Wonderful.' I grumbled. I turned to look very slightly over my shoulder to look at the others. Gandalf was still muttering incantations at the door, while Boromir, Aragorn, Gimli and the hobbits sat patiently near the fire. I noticed the tea I'd made hadn't gone unappreciated.
'Why?' I silently asked. 'Why interfere now?'
Tink chose her words with obvious care before she answered me.
'Lets just say that some things you're supposed to learn the hard way. Just, not so hard that you end up killing yourself doing it.'
I was about to tell her that I'd had more than enough unhelpful riddles for one day, when a shadow fell over my hand in the moonlight. I came one muscle spasm away from drawing my hunting knife, but I controlled myself just in time.
"Jesus, don't do that!" I let out a shaky breath of relief at seeing it was only Legolas. He looked different in the dark. The moonlight had turned his long hair from gold to silver, and his handsome face looked less imposing now than it did in direct sunlight. Or maybe that was just because for once he wasn't scowling at me. His blue-grey eyes were still just as sharp and unsettling as ever, but his frown was one of confusion instead of irritation.
"Do what?" He asked me.
"Sneak up on me like that!" I told him shortly, very deliberately putting my sheathed hunting knife back on the ground next to me.
"I wasn't attempting to sneak up on you." He insisted, the faintly irritated tone I was used to hearing from him creeping in. I ignored it, busying myself with the fiddly process of putting my knife pouch back onto my belt.
"Well, you managed it anyway. Congratulations."
I fastened the last buckle and turned to look over at where he'd sat himself down crosslegged on a nearby stone, his bow resting across his lap.
"So why are you here?" I asked.
"You shouldn't wander too far on your own, especially here." He stated plainly, then paused, tilting his head to the side in thought. "I was also curious to know why you've been less… talkative than usual."
'Smooth save there, Prince Charming. You were going to say "obnoxious" weren't you?' Tink commented smugly. I slammed the metaphorical door on her. For my own good or not, I was still really pissed about what she'd done to me earlier.
"Well, I've got a bit on my mind than usual." I told Legolas irritably, turning away again. Then I stopped, and just for a moment thought back to my conversation with Aragorn. I looked over my shoulder at him; paused, then added more amiably; "More than Pippin's raunchy pub ballads anyway."
A minuscule, tiny twitch tugged at the corner of the other elf's mouth. If I'd blinked I might have missed it — but it was there.
"Clearly." He said, his hardened tone softening just a little bit. I saw his gaze flicker down my right shoulder. He was silent for a moment with an uncomfortable expression creeping into his eyes. "How is your arm?"
"Your arm." He repeated stiffly, as if he were embarrassed for even mentioning it.
That caught me off guard. Why did he suddenly care about my arm? He hadn't seemed remotely interested in my continued existence the day before. Now he was asking after my well-being, like some family friend over for Sunday lunch?
I looked down at the limb in question and then back up at him suspiciously.
"Its fine. Just a bit bruised."
He nodded and looked away for a moment. The silence stretching between us was just becoming uncomfortable when he broke it with another question.
"May I ask you something?"
"I suppose so…" I said slowly, both curious and slightly nervous.
"Elves only sleep as Men do when we are deeply wounded or ailing from some unseen sickness." He told me seriously, giving me a pensive look that made me feel a little uncomfortable about what was coming next.
"I'm pretty sure that was a statement. What's your question?" I pressed, and he watched my expression closely.
"You are neither wounded nor poisoned, and yet you sleep. Why?"
Urgh. As far as questions went, that one was a doozie. Sometimes I completely forgot that I was an elf now. A lot of the things I said and did as a human Londoner just didn't match what I was supposed to be here in Arda. Among many things, my sleeping pattern had been the biggest noticeable difference between me and the other elves of Rivendell. I'd learned from Lord Elrond that most elves rested their minds and bodies separately — one going about its usual business while the other took a break. Very rarely did they ever fall into a sleep deep enough to dream. Not like I did.
I'd experimented with it a bit during my two years training, but the most I'd managed to go without slipping into sleep deprived psychosis was about six days. Of course, there was no way I was going to try and explain all that to Legolas — no matter how creepy-unexpected-polite he was suddenly being to me.
"I… ur…" I thought for a second. I'd always been terrible at lying, but hell, it was worth a shot. "I was dropped on my head as a child?"
Legolas gave me the most masterful deadpan look I'd ever seen in my life. He arched one eyebrow at me, and I made disgusted noise, throwing up my hands in defeat.
"Alright, fine. I have no idea why. I get tried, I sleep. Is that so terrible?"
He shrugged, and turned away to look out over the lake.
"I suppose not. I was merely curious."
Another uncomfortably potent silence stretched between us. Occasionally it was broken by the sounds of hobbits talking quietly around the fire, or Gandalf's frustrated grumbling at the riddle on the door.
I peered at Legolas in thought after a little while. He looked content to leave me to my sorting, and it probably would have been the sensible thing to just leave the conversation at that. After all, for once we'd ended on a good note, sort of. Really it was the first time we'd ever managed to speak to each other civilly for more than five minutes. That was an achievement all on its own.
But I just couldn't leave it alone.
If there was anything Aragorn had shown me via his reprimanding speech last night; it was that the one thing I hated more than being talked down to, was a double standard. If I was going to be made to eat my badly chosen words from the past few weeks, then so was he.
I swallowed the last of my pride and turned back to face the other elf in the dark.
"Look, Legolas. How I spoke to you at the Council meeting was disrespectful, and said out of frustration. I apologise for that. It won't happen again."
I said it fast, like ripping of a bandaid. The blond elf turned to look at me, his expression more than little bit shocked. He opened his mouth to speak, but I cut over him before he could get a word out.
"What I wont apologise for, is everything that's happened between us since. I'm not the only one here who's behaved badly. Whatever it is I said or did to offend you enough to treat me like you have, the least you could do is tell me, so we can both get over it."
That really caught him off guard.
Rebuff? Scorn? That I was expecting. I hadn't expected to surprise him so much that he just stared blankly at me, his grey eyes fixed on mine. From the look on his face, I was pretty sure I'd struck something I hadn't intended to with those words.
"There, big dramatic speech over. Feel free to chip in any time now." I muttered uncomfortably, eyeing him for a reaction other than an unsettling grey-blue stare.
He looked at me uncertainly and opened his mouth to speak. Then he hesitated, as if uncertain of how he was supposed to respond.
"I… must admit, I find your behaviour and speech baffling." He finally said slowly after a very long moment of almost painful silence. I heaved a silent sigh of relief. At least he wasn't scowling at me anymore.
"You wouldn't be the first to say so." I agreed, but didn't miss that he was deliberately evading my point. "But that's not an answer. Merry and Pippin are baffling too, and you've treat them just fine."
He sighed through a tiny frustrated noise, but where I expected to see annoyance in his face I just saw discomfort.
"You do not conduct yourself as most ellith I've known. After what happened at Lord Elrond's council, I found myself unsure of how to handle you. Also, it has been a long time since I've witnessed anyone give such an… unconventional first impression." He explained, and I noticed that the tense line of his shoulders had relaxed. Also, the hand he’d been gripping his bow with had loosened. Had he really been that angry? Or, nervous…?
"I think the word you were searching for there was 'memorable'. I gave a memorable first impression." I corrected him, unable to hold back a smug little grin.
Shockingly, he actually smiled at that. I decided right there that I preferred his smile a lot more than his glare.
"True." He agreed, and then paused to look thoughtfully at me. "I will concede that I too have not conducted myself as I should have. It was not my place to treat Lord Elrond's apprentice with such disrespect simply because you're…"
He trailed off, and I tilted my head to the side expectantly.
"I'm a girl?" I offered. He looked uncomfortable again.
"Its fine. You were half right at least. I am pretty terrible at fighting." I gave him what I hoped was a pointed look. "But just because I'm female doesn't automatically make me a liability."
"So I've seen." He said more amiably, but not quite losing the uncomfortable expression on his face. "There is little I can offer for my behaviour, other than my apologies."
"Well, since I can't offer much more, I guess that makes us even." I replied, a small pleased smile appearing my face which he returned.
"Then I hope you can forgive my treatment of you."
I chuckled, "Now you look and talk like a Disney prince. How can I say no? "
He gave me a confused but not displeased look.
"I don't understand. Is this a good thing?"
I decided not to answer him. I just chuckled at the baffled look on his face, smiling to myself like the loon that he probably still thought I was. I put the last of my things away, and started getting to my feet again.
"So how about it, Prince Charming? Think we can tolerate each other and our 'baffling ways' until we reach Mordor?" I grinned. Just because we'd agreed to be civil didn't mean I was going to let him off the hook completely.
Legolas gave me a gimlet look at the sound of his designated nickname, but I saw the corner of his mouth twitch, just a little.
"I think we can certainly try." He said graciously, climbing gracefully to his feet and offering me his hand, just like before. I let him pull me completely to my feet, and this time it didn't feel forced to accept his help. I knew we hadn't come close to patching up all our issues, but it was certainly a start. And a hell of a lot more than I'd dared hope for.
A splash from the lake set my heart to racing in sudden panic.
I whipped around, only to see Merry and Pippin throwing pebbles into the water, trying to get them to skip. My stomach dropped and I went to shout at them to stop, catching myself when I remembered what had happened when I tried that earlier.
If I did that, I'd likely just end up unable to breath again.
I made a frustrated noise, and Legolas looked at me in confusion. Aragorn heard it too, looking up just in time to see the panic on my face directed at the hobbits. Thank God he had no weird choke-on-your-own-tongue curse to stop him doing something about it. Merry had just picked up another stone and was about to throw it when Aragorn came up behind him and caught his wrist.
"Do not disturb the water." He said quietly but sternly.
A clatter drew everyone's attention as Gandalf let his staff drop to the ground in frustration, taking a seat on a nearby stone in defeat at the still sealed door. Frodo rose in his place, looking up at the writing on the archway with a pensive look. His eyes widened in realisation.
"It's a riddle!" He cried suddenly, looking hard up at the ancient inscription. I held my breath, crossing my fingers and hoping he'd finally got it. I knew we likely didn't have much time left.
"'Speak, friend, and enter.' What's the Elvish word for friend?"
Everyone's attention was on Frodo and the door. Which meant no one but me was looking at the lake. Larger ripples had started to move surface of the water…
'Come on, come on, come on!'
"Mellon." Gandalf said clearly, the elvish rolling off his tongue.
The walls of Moria answered with the penetrating sound of stone cracking open, and the carved doors began to swing slowly outwards of their own accord. Gandalf gave a triumphant rumbling laugh, as everyone started getting to their feet to follow. He patted Frodo on the back as he passed, leading the way into the fully open doorway to the dwarven halls. I followed in quickly after them, just a step behind Legolas and Aragorn.
It was very nearly pitch black inside. I could barely see a thing. But it was the smell that hit me like the crest of a wave.
Dust, damp, must, and something else. Sickly sweet and sour, like spoiled milk and burned meat.
I wrinkled my nose in the gloom, but none of the others seemed to have noticed as they followed Gandalf further inside. All except for Legolas. He had the same repulsed expression as me, only it was accompanied by weary alertness, one hand clutching his bow at the ready. He looked over at me, and for a weird second we shared a look of mutual worry.
Something about this really wasn't right, and it was unsettling us both.
"Soon, master elf, you will enjoy the fabled hospitality of the dwarves; roaring fires, malt beer, red meat off the bone!" Gimli's voice entered merrily through the gloom, just a little ahead of us. "This, lass, is the home of my cousin, Balin. And they call it a Mine. A Mine."
He snorted in amusement, just as Gandalf breathed light into the crystal on his staff.
The hallway was instantly illuminated, and with a jolt of horror, I saw what had caused the fowl smell.
"This is no mine." Boromir breathed, coming up behind me. "It's a tomb."
Bodies were everywhere. Desiccated, butchered and rotting away; they were everywhere. They littered the crumbling stair case, the cracked floor, some were even pinned to the walls and pillars with arrows and broken blades. Some were still just recognisable as dwarves, while others were so mangled or burned that it was impossible to tell.
I took an instinctive step backwards in fear, stumbling back into Boromir. He caught me by my bruised arm and steadied me, but I hardly noticed the pain. Something crackled under my foot.
"Eleanor, don't…" Boromir warned me just a little too late.
I looked down to see the crunching sound under my boot had come from a dead dwarf's finger bones, still clutching a blade in a shrivelled hand. I almost threw up.
"No, no…!" Gimli groaned in dread, looking around at the bodies. He rushed over to one and clearly recognised the armour and weapons on the dead dwarves bodies. "No!"
Legolas of the cast-iron stomach, reached down and pulled an arrow out of one corpse's skulls, took one look at it and blanched.
"Goblins!" He said, and it was the first time I'd ever heard him truly panicked. He threw the arrow aside and reached for his own arrows, just as Boromir and Aragorn also armed themselves too.
"We'll make for the Gap of Rohan. We should never have come here!" Boromir insisted firmly and fearfully, taking my shoulder and pulling me back firmly towards the door. My mind and body froze, unable to decide which I should be more afraid of — the monster I knew was lurking in the lake outside, or whatever was hiding in the mountain that had killed all these dwarves?
Turns out, I didn't need to decide.
It all happened much faster than I'd imagined it would. One minute Boromir was shouting at us all to get out. The next, Frodo was screaming, and all the hobbits were yelling.
All of us whirled to see the long grey-green tentacle-like arm, like that of an obscenely oversized octopus, had reached out of the lake behind us and had grabbed Frodo by the ankle. It was trying to drag him into the dark water. Merry and Pippin had grabbed Frodo by his arms and were trying to pull him back, while Sam hacked viciously at the slimy tentacle with his short sword.
With a muffled shriek of pain, the monster beneath the lake released Frodo. But not even a second later, the one arm Sam had managed to fend off with his blade was replaced with an explosion of a dozen more, all of them shooting out of the water straight towards us.
The hobbits were swatted backwards off their feet with one swipe from an arm as thick as a tree trunk, while another seized Frodo by the leg and pulled him down. I shouted his name in panic, lunging back through the door and falling onto my front, trying to grab his hand before he was dragged under. I caught him, but our fingers slipped, and he was pulled up and into the air above the lake, shrieking in terror. I scrambled back to my feet as Boromir and Aragorn rushed past me into the water, swords drawn and going straight for the base of the monster's arms.
Legolas's bow appeared to my left, an arrow already fired and spinning through the air to land with an audible thunk in the arm still holding Frodo upside down. It loosened its grip just enough to let its hold on him slide from Frodo's leg to his ankle. But it didn't drop him. Aragorn and Boromir had managed to hack and slash their way through a forest of gross flailing limbs to just under where Frodo was still dangling.
I cursed aloud. I couldn't just stand there, but there was nothing I could think of to help. I didn't have anything other than my hunting dagger and throwing knives, none of which would have even made a dent in the thing's hide.
Frodo screamed again, and the black waters of the lake parted to reveal the Watcher's head.
It was huge. Huge and hideously ugly, like that bastard child of an octopus and an ocean going sci-fi alien. Two massive black eyes and a gaping maw of a mouth, opened up; and for a moment, I thought Frodo was going to end up as fish food.
But Aragorn saved him just in time, cleaving straight through the limb clutching Frodo with his sword. Frodo dropped with a cry of panic, but Boromir was already there and ready to catch him.
"In to the Mines!" Gandalf shouted at us all, pulling Pippin back onto his feet by the scruff of his cloak. Aragorn and Boromir were sprinting towards us through the water, but the Watcher had recovered and was right behind them.
I dashed forward and pulled a still dazed Merry and Sam up off the bank, tugging them backwards towards the stone doors. Something whistled past my left ear, and thunking straight into one of the creatures arms. I looked up to see it had been just a foot away from latching itself around my neck, before an arrow had stapled it into another larger arm right behind it. The creature howled in fury.
Gandalf was still shouting at us to get into the caves. I ground my teeth and all but shoved Merry and Sam in ahead of me. Another huge arm slammed into the arch above our heads, cracking and breaking the stone until it couldn't support its own weight. Aragorn, Boromir and Frodo all dived through the entrance at the last second, just as the beautifully carved gates of Moria collapsed with a thundering crash behind us, sealing us in.
Pitch blackness engulfed us.
For a moment I totally lost myself.
Since becoming an elf and becoming used to the sharpened senses that came with it, I'd never found myself unable to see. I'd never found myself in such complete and absolute darkness. I didn't make a sound, but internally I was gibbering. Frantically, I felt around on the stone floor in front of me, afraid that if I didn't find something, any kind of proof that I wasn't the only one still alive in there, I'd start screaming.
My fingers closed over warm hand in the dark, and I gripped it tight.
Dim light suddenly illuminated the half collapsed entranceway from the tip of Gandalf's staff. It was weak, but more than enough for us all to see. I squinted around in the gloom and did a silent head count.
One wizard, four hobbits, two men, two elves, one dwarf.
I gasped out the breath of relief I didn't realised I'd been holding in. Everyone was ok. Bruised and shell shocked, but ok.
Finally I allowed myself to look down and see who's hand I'd found in the dark.
He was covered in dust and soaked from traipsing through the lake, but instead of shock and fear in his blue eyes, there was grim determination. He'd obviously seen the fear in my face though, because he quickly gave me a reassuring smile, and my hand a gentle squeeze, before helping me gently to my feet again. My legs were still a little wobbly, so he graciously kept a hand near my elbow just in case I toppled over.
I don't know why or even how I noticed, but for a split second I saw Legolas's gaze flicker between my hand and Boromir's, before swiftly turning his face away.
"We now have but one choice. We must face the long dark of Moria." Gandalf's voice rang through stone hall, throwing back the gloom as he breathed a little more light into the crystal on his staff. "Be on your guard. There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world. It's a four day journey to the other side. Let us hope that our presence will go unnoticed."
He began walking in the direction of the ruined stone steps, and the hobbits all scrambled to follow closely behind him, followed by Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas. Boromir gestured for me to walk ahead of him, and I gratefully obliged.
We might have survived the Watcher in the Water, but I didn't want to even contemplate the idea of becoming lost in this place — with whatever it was I knew was waiting for us inside.
* "Gate of the Elves, open now for us!" (Sindarin)
** "Doorway of the Dwarf-folk, listen to the word of my tongue!" (Sindarin)