Chapter 15: The Voice In My Head
I suppose it was inevitable. I was still unconscious.
My eyes were shut, my side didn’t hurt, and my stomach wasn’t trying to crawl out through my mouth. One mini marathon, a seriously traumatic bodily event, and an unexpected memory recall later, the blackness of deep unconsciousness finally decided it was time to collect its dues… sort of. I was still obviously out like a light, but at least part of my brain had finished rebooting enough to let me think semi-coherently. And my first semi-coherent thought was:
“I think I need to re-evaluate my policy on self-preservation.”
It came out loud, which was how I knew I was back in Dreamland again. The ground I was lying on felt grainy and soft under me, and I could hear the soothing sound of waves hitting the shore not far off. And there was no pain.
Yep. Definitely dreaming.
Which meant the only thing missing now was…
“You’re a fucking lunatic. You know that, boss?” The blunt, familiar voice of my inner self was like a club against my temples, coming from about a foot away from my ears.
“Tink,” I groaned, not moving from where I was lying on my back in the sand. “You’re not seriously going clobber me with a lecture now, are you?”
“Honestly? I still can’t decide whether to slap you or kiss you.” She replied cooly, her voice still very close by. “You just ran for half a day with a poisoned crossbow bolt stuck in your side. That’s a special kind of badass.”
A soft laugh escaped me, and it felt obscenely good to breathe without any pain.
“Does it count as vanity if I accept compliments from my own alter ego?”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself. It was also epically stupid.”
I grunted in acknowledgement of her point, still not opening my eyes.
“You don’t need to be such a wingebag about it, Tink. We’re still alive, aren’t we?” I paused for a moment. “I assume we’re alive? Because if we’re not, that would make this conversation pretty redundant.”
“We're alive. No thanks to you.”
“Well, that’s something at least.” I mumbled, and Tink clucked her tongue in wordless but obviously disapproving reply. I suppose I should have expected this too.
No way something as insignificant as a massive physical trauma could get rid of her so easily. Or the inevitable chasing lecture about survival. But I was still in no mood to get beaten over the head by her. I could try and ignore her. I could pretend she wasn’t there. But, as much as I wanted to, there wasn’t much I could actually do to stop her. So I just sighed and accepted it, like accepting an unpleasant but inevitable fact of life — like disease, taxes, and terribly written teen romance novels making the Times Best Seller list.
Reluctantly, I opened my eyes and sat up.
We were on a beach.
I’d been on a few beaches in my short but colourful life, but none like this. Most people think of white sand, palm trees, turquoise sea and lots of sunshine when they think of beautiful coastlines. This one had none of that, but still managed to look spectacularly beautiful, in an untamed primal sort of way. Tall grey stone cliffs surrounded the mile long stretch of dark gold sand. The sea was rough and crashing against the shore in the way that said a storm was approaching, the sky dark and clouds rolling on the horizon even though the sun still shone on us. Tall, white topped waves would have battered the beachfront where we stood if it hadn’t been for the jagged barrier of rocks and reefs breaking their charge towards the cliffs.
“Another metaphor for trouble coming my way?” I asked aloud, looking out at the thunderclouds rolling over the white-tipped waves.
“Not exactly. But ‘trouble’ would be a good place to start.”
I turned in the direction Tink’s voice had come. She was stood only a few feet away facing away from me, dressed in a pale grey lace dress that stopped just below her knees. Her long hair was loose again, and the wind was billowing it in uncontrolled little wisps all around her head — the same way mine always did in even the gentlest breeze. She had picked up a dried stick from somewhere, and was busy tracing thin lines and swirling patterns in the damp sand.
She stopped when she saw me looking at her, amber eyes curiously cat-like. She stopped in her doodling, and leaned casually on the stick like it was a gentleman’s walking cane and placing a hand on her hip.
“So… ‘Var?’ Kind of a drab name isn’t it?”
My near-perfect elf recall of the memories came back in a rush. The clear image of the boy turned man appeared suddenly behind my eyes, his curly hair the same colour as mine, the same green eyes, and his smile almost identical to mine — sans the dimple I had in my left cheek.
I leaned back on the sand, letting the vision play again and again in my head.
“It’s probably short for something. It felt like a nickname. Unless of course our parents had exceptionally bad taste…” I trailed off, realising what I’d just said without even realising. I felt an honest little smile creep it’s way onto my face. “Heh, our parents… I have a family. I have a brother. Here.”
Tink poked my forehead gently with the end of her gnarled stick.
“Had a brother.” She enunciated plainly, going back to making swirls and flourishes in the sand. “From the sounds of that conversation, you aren’t exactly in close contact anymore.”
“Can’t you go five minutes without stepping on my optimism?” I scowled irritably, letting the image in my mind fall away. Tink gave my a self-righteous look over her shoulder as she turned in a circle, tracing another line by her bare foot.
“Nope, not while I’m acting as your common sense I can’t. You have one more name, boss. And only a nickname. Sorry, but that’s not going to help us much. Not yet. Exciting or not, we don’t have time for optimism right now. We need answers.” She turned and pointed the stick at the end of my nose. “And speaking of time, we need to have a chat about your particular brand of bad timing.”
I pushed the end of the stick out of my face, and fixed her with a glare.
“Timing of what?” I asked, irritated by her attitude but also curious. She rolled her eyes and clucked her tongue impatiently at me.
“Oh don’t play dumb.” She gave her stick-less hand a flick. “ ‘Prince Charming’, boss.”
I stared at her blankly.
“What about him?”
She just looked back at me flatly for a long moment, one hand on her hip and one eyebrow raised; as if expecting me to say something poignant. I shrugged my shoulders, and shook my head in a ‘do I get three guesses?’ gesture. She frowned at me in confusions, then her expression changed to one of genuine surprise, her eyes widening and eyebrows disappearing up into her windswept hair.
“You mean, you haven’t even guessed yet…?”
I threw my sand covered hands out the sides in baffled exasperation.
Then she did something that pissed me off even more than non-specific clue dropping. She started laughing at me.
“For sod sake, Tink!” I yelled over her shrieking, “Would you knock it off!”
She tried to speak, but she was almost doubled over with giggles, tears leaking out the corners of her eyes. I was up off the sand by now, embarrassed by her howling as well as confused by it.
“Ok, now you’re taking the piss.” I growled, kicking sand at her. “I am not sitting here listening to this. Not after everything that’s just happened. Not after…”
A pang of purely emotional pain and guilt hit me just bellow my sternum, the name on my tongue not making it out of my mouth.
The warm but wise face of the old wizard appeared in my thoughts even though his name didn’t make it past my voice. I could have asked him about all this. He might not have had many answers, if any. But either way he knew what I was searching for, and he had wanted to help. And now he couldn’t. I couldn’t ask him for help. I couldn’t talk out my confusing visions with him over breakfast. I couldn’t even ask if he was willing to listen to me vent in return for a properly made cup of tea…
I realised after a long moment that I was just standing there, frozen, staring out at the waves crashing against the reefs. The look on my face must have given my thoughts away entirely, because Tink finally stopped laughing when she saw me, her face shifting from amused to concerned in the space of a breath.
She didn’t say anything. She just dropped her stick, came over, and took hold of my hands. Her fingers were warm while mine felt cold, and she gave them a gentle squeeze, reaching up and rubbing my shoulder comfortingly with her other hand.
I swallowed down the lump that had started to form in the throat.
“Is he really gone?” I asked almost silently. Tink knew who I meant without hearing his name. She looked down, her gold eyes turning a little bit sad.
“I can’t say, boss. I can’t tell the future any more than you can.”
I’d known she was going to answer in that way before I’d even asked the question. But it still sent a little pang of dashed hope through me. And another little bit go guilt. Now that it had happened, I clearly remembered reading about Gandalf’s fall in the books. I remembered almost every detail, right down to the description of the balrog. I just hadn’t remembered when it had counted. When I might have been able to do something about it. Then again, even if I had remembered in time, was there anything I could have done?
Then something else that had been nagging at me came to mind, and I turned to my double, tearing my gaze away from the rough sea before us.
“I’ve been meaning to ask, Tink. Why did you stop me from warning the others? Before Moria I mean, outside the gates.” I asked quietly.
She’d looked saddened when she’d come over to comfort me, but by the time I’d finished speaking that question, her expression was different. She dropped her hand from mine and looked away uncomfortably.
“A lot of reasons.”
“Pick one and go with it.” I replied a bit more forcefully, “Stop trying to dodge the question.”
She still refused to meet my eye, which in my experience was really unusual. Tink was many things; abrasive, blunt, crude, and short tempered. But she was never hesitant.
When she finally answered me, she did it in a very soft voice.
“I did it to protect us, boss.”
“Protect us from what exactly?” I pushed, too intent on finding out what had made her act this way to be subtle. She looked up and fixed me with a blank stare, raising her eyebrows very slightly, as if prompting me to think.
I very nearly smacked myself in the forehead, realising why.
“Right. No simple answers. I should have guessed…”
Tink nodded in affirmation, crossing her arms over her lace dress and watching me intently through past gold cat-like eyes.
“Just think it through.” She prompted slowly, carefully. “You’ll know it when you see it, figuratively speaking.”
So I thought about it. I stared out at the water, and thought back to the time we spent at the side of the lake outside Moria, drawing back the images and sounds until it was playing like a recording in my mind.
“…When you first stopped me from talking,” I began, focusing hard on as many details as I could recall. “I’d been about to warn the others of something… The Watcher in the Water.”
I furrowed my eyebrows at her, still not sure entirely what she was trying to get at. So I thought harder, changing my tactic and focusing instead of on what could have happened if I had been able to warn them…
“If I’d warned them about it before it happened…” I said slowly, following the chain of logic, “Then… Merry wouldn’t have disturbed the water, which wouldn’t have called the River Guardian…”
“And if the River Guardian never attacked?” Tink prompted me again, her tone of voice gaining an edge to it.
“…Then the gate into Moria wouldn’t have collapsed behind us, sealing us in…”
I trailed off as the reality of it all hit me like a punch to the gut. My voice failed, and I suddenly felt like I’d been hit in the face with a sledge hammer. I turned to look at my double, who’s face had turned abruptly impassive.
“You wanted us to get trapped in there!” I said, almost inaudible with shock.
Tink’s amber eyes flickered with something hard to distinguish — something hard, stubborn, and maybe a little bit anxious. Her arms were still crossed defensively across her chest.
“Better Moria than the alternative.” She replied softly, but firmly.
I wasn’t prepared for the rush anger that surged through me. I exploded.
“What the hell, Tink?!” I shouted at her. “What could possibly have been worse than a four day’s trek through a mountain filled with goblins and a fiery god-monster?!”
She didn’t even blink at my outburst. She just said one word.
I stared hard at her, fury and confusion warring for control of my face.
“Wargs?” I managed, my teeth grinding with the effort to stay calm. Tink’s voice remained cool and calm.
“There was a pack of wargs following us, sent from Isengard.” She told me plainly, as if explaining something to a dense child. “They’d been tracking us for about three days. If we hadn’t been sealed into Moria by the River Guardian, then the warg pack would have followed us in. Likely slaughtered us in our sleep.’
“There’s no way you could know that for sure.” I heard myself fire back past the guilt, confusion and rage still swirling inside me. “If I’d been able to warn the others, we could have found a way to…”
“To what?” Tink’s voice suddenly turned to cold steel and icy stone again the heat of mine. “Lets say we did it your way, we found another way over the mountain, and Gandalf survived. What would that accomplish? He might be alive, and we’d definitely be dead.
I glared daggers at her, so furious I could barely speak anymore.
“That still wasn’t your choice to make.” I growled, matching her stony voice with my own. She shrugged, the gesture far too delicate to hold as much weight as it did.
“Maybe, but that’s your problem.” She answered, her voice absolutely voice of any remorse as her gold eyes burned with stubbornness. “Mine is keeping us alive.”
She turned her back on me and began walking away, as if to end the conversation. But I wasn’t done yet. Not by a long shot.
“So if it was between me and one of the others, what then?” I demanded loudly, my voice echoing a bit off the cliffs.
She stopped. I didn’t.
“What if it was Boromir? Aragorn? One of the hobbits?” I asked harshly, not trying to hide the accusation in my tone.
She didn’t turn around.
“You know, for a figment of my subconscious you seem to know a hell of a lot about all this that I don’t.” I spat lividly, not even really thinking about what I was saying until the words were out of my mouth.
Tink didn’t say a word.
She just turned her head very slightly and stared at me over her shoulder, her amber eyes burning like molten gold. I stared back. I could feel there was more in that stare than a mere locked glance. It was a matching of wills. Hers against mine.
I held her gaze, refusing to look away even though I suddenly desperately wanted to. Her expression darkened to something nasty, and it felt like I was suddenly staring down the barrel of a gun…
It frightened me, but I didn’t care.
“You will never do anything like that again. Ever.” I told her simply, calmly, and without any of the hurricane of emotions I was still feeling.
She didn’t react. She didn’t even blink. But I saw the challenge stir in her eyes as she looked back at me.
“As you say, boss.”
Then she just vanished, like smoke dispersing into the dark.
I stood there on the beach alone, staring at the spot where she’d disappeared for what felt like a long time. I knew she wasn’t really gone. Not really. She’d just retreated into a different part of my mind, probably to sulk. Or to plot my gruesome murder.
I shook my head and closed my eyes tiredly, the sounds of the waves echoing all around me off the cliffs. I was suddenly exhausted, my head aching. The mental exertion of feeling so many strong emotions at once obviously taking its toll. But even so, I hadn’t expected to feel quite what I did when I’d held Tink’s stare just then.
It didn’t feel like a mere sharing of gazes.
It felt like the weight of that stare had been a tangible force pushing down against me, trying to force me back.
Tiredness and aches abruptly began to blossom all over me, tearing the thoughts away, and I instinctively knew I was waking up. Properly this time. Just before I did though, I opened my eyes and look down curiously at the sand where Tink had been drawing just before our fight…
Only, she hadn’t just been drawing. She’d been writing.
Elvish, English, Dwarfish runes, Chinese kanji, Hobbiton script. Hundreds of languages from both Earth and Arda covered the sand all around me. Some of the scripts were so scrawling and unfamiliar that I couldn’t even recognise what they were, let alone read them. But I only needed to read one to know that they all said they exact same thing. One word repeated over and over again, stretching off in every direction over the sand.
She’d covered the entire beach with one name.