Chapter 17: Eight Consequences & One Truth
The silence came so fast and so suddenly once Frodo voice’s rang through the clearing, it was like someone had hit mute on the entire forest.
I hadn’t realised how surprised he’d been to see me standing there until I’d heard it in his voice as he said my name. Eight pairs of eyes instantly fixed on me, entirely different expressions on every face; shock, surprise, worry, unease, reprimand, and confusion, but the one thing every face had in common was an unmistakable look of relief.
I just stood there vacantly, shifting from foot to foot, without the faintest idea what to do or say.
The next thing I knew, two curly-haired cannon balls had shot across the clearing and ploughed straight into me, small but strong arms latching around my middle. I had to brace a hand against a tree to keep from being knocked over.
“Merry! Pip! Ow!” I managed to wheeze out, trying to angle myself so their waist height hugs didn’t tear my stitches. They instantly let go, flinching back away from me as if my dress had caught fire.
“Sorry!” they both spluttered in unison, clearly terrified that they might have injured me more. They then started frantically talking over one another at me in increasingly louder voices.
“—forgot you’re hurt—!”
“—shouldn’t have kept quiet—!”
“—gave us a right scare—!”
I was saved from the two hobbits disorienting jabber by Boromir. He gently nudged the two frantic hobbits aside and pulled me sideways into an unexpectedly informal one-armed hug, being carful to avoid my wounded side. I’d been expecting that even less than I had Merry and Pippin’s spirited reactions, but I returned the hug a little awkwardly anyway, my face going red.
“It’s good to see you back on your feet again, Miss Eleanor,” Frodo sounded genuinely relieved as he came up to greet me kindly while Boromir let me go with a warm smile.
“Aye, lass. Looks like you’re not quite so dainty after all,” Gimli sounded like he was almost on the verge of laughing which, oddly, was what started settling my nerves a bit. I returned the light laugh somewhat stiffly, feeling quite bowled over by their jovial welcome, and still kind of unsure of what to say.
Meh. When in doubt, stick with the basics.
“Thanks,” I said awkwardly, before turning to Merry and Pippin who had only just managed to stop talking, “I don’t suppose there’s any breakfast left?”
I should have known better than to doubt the hobbits’ resourcefulness, especially when it came to food. Of course they had extras to spare for me. I barely had time to notice the looks on Aragorn’s and Legolas’s faces as I was ushered towards the circle of cushions that had been set up around a tiny cooking fire.
Aragorn was, as per usual, difficult to read. He looked relieved to see me there and all — at least I think he did — but behind the tense smile I could see the disapproval I’d been expecting, along with something else that had given a faintly concerned tinge to his expression. It was a strange look on him, one I’d never seen before.
Legolas, on the other hand, had an even stranger look on his face. Well, stranger than I was used to. He was looking at me as if he wasn’t sure if I was really there at all — eyes slightly wider than usual, and his mouth ajar as if he’d just been about to say something. He had stopped in mid-stride, frozen to the spot facing us the second he and I had meet gazes.
Then Merry all but shoved me down onto a cushion near the fire, ordering me to stay put while he and Sam busily went about fixing me a hobbit-style breakfast that was (and I quote): “guaranteed to put anyone half-dead back on their feet.” Gimli also gave me a good-natured clap on the shoulder as he passed which very nearly dislocated my arm, but I smiled at him anyway when he slumped down against a tree root again.
“How are you feeling now?” Boromir asked gently, passing me and seating himself opposite me, his sword and whetstone all but forgotten.
“Better, I think. Less dizzy, and I’m not being sick on people’s feet anymore, which is a plus,” I tried to joke lightly. It didn’t have the desired effect as Boromir’s face fell back into worry, the lines in his face deepening a bit. I cleared my throat nervously. “How long have you all been here?”
“Since late yesterday evening,” Legolas told me quietly. He’d managed to unfreeze himself and had taken a seat next to me on some of the cushions. Now that he was closer I could see that, for the first time since I’d met him, he looked honestly tired. There was a weary slant to his tiny smile, and almost invisible dark circles under his greyish-blue eyes.
That struck me as odd. Could elves even get sleep-deprived when they didn’t need to sleep?
“No one would tell us of your condition, only that your wound was severe and you were still being tended to,” he added in an even quieter voice.
I shifted a little uncomfortably on my cloud-like cushion, drawing my legs up under my skirt and resting my arms on my knees. I could feel the pull of my stitches as a reminder that I still wasn’t off the hook yet.
“I’m alright now, just a bit achey and creaky,” I replied, forcing confidence into my voice that I desperately wanted to sound genuine. He didn’t look fooled though; I saw the disbelief appearing in his expression before I even finished talking. I tried to smile reassuringly at him, but I could feel it didn’t really reach my eyes.
“Seriously, Prince Charming, wipe that look off your face. I’m fine, really,” I chuckled, giving his shoulder a playful little shove.
If the look on his face had been strange before, it only got stranger at those words. He still smiled, but it was as if the smile was masking something else hiding just below the surface. He turned from me and reached into one of the nearby packs as the others all settled themselves around the dying fire as well. A moment later, he withdrew what I recognised as my traveling cloak, wrapped into a bundle around something metallic. I could hear it clinking as he gingerly handed it to me.
“You best take these back.”
I already had an inkling as to what it was. Sure enough, as I unfurled it, my hunting knife and throwing daggers — still neatly stashed in their pouch — tumbled into my lap. My face broke into the first genuine smile I’d felt since I’d entered the camp.
“I wondered where those had got to.”
Legolas gave me a warm smile in return, but it still looked a bit strained, as if he was biting his tongue down on saying something more. It was starting to unsettle me a bit, but I was saved from pondering it more as Sam handed me a plate decked out with the full works — everything from bacon to jam covered toast. I thanked him heartily, and tried to distract myself from the feeling of dread in my gut by hastily tucking in.
We talked only for a little while, mostly me asking them to fill me in on everything that had happened since I’d gone under. Frodo, Sam and Pippin explained that I’d been taken ahead of them to Caras Galadhon because of my injury, and it had taken them much longer to reach the heart of the wood without Haldir there to lead them via the quickest rough. Gimli and Boromir occasionally chipped in too, commenting on everything from the hospitality they’d been shown by the elves, to their meeting with Galadriel and Celeborn, the Lady and Lord of the wood. Gimli in particular all but sang the praises of the Lady and her graciousness for letting them stay — though he pointedly didn’t comment on the food provided by the elves.
Despite my hunger, I was still recovering form not eating for three days, and didn’t quit manage to polish off all of my plate before I was full. Legolas, for all his tact beforehand, needn't have bothered holding his tongue. Our resident axe-swinging dwarf — hurling subtly to the wind as usual — went ahead and said what I knew everyone had to be thinking.
“Far be it for me to hammer down the high spirits, but I think you’ve got some explaining to do, lass,” Gimli said with no small amount foreboding. He’d lit his pipe at some point, and was looking at me pointedly through the tendrils of smoke curling up around his face. “What in Mahal’s name were you thinking, staying quiet about a wound like that?”
I didn’t miss the edgy sideways glance he shot at Aragorn. The ranger had sat down too, directly opposite me across the circle, but I was avoiding looking at him. I chewed on a crust nervously, trying to pretend I wasn’t carefully choosing my answer.
“You would have wanted to stop if I’d said something.”
Urgh. I’d known it was a stupid idea even before I’d gone and done it, but it sounded so much worse when I said it aloud. It didn’t take a genius to see the others were in agreement on that.
“Too right we would have!” Merry exclaimed loudly, gesturing non-too subtly to my wounded side with his fork, “You were shot!”
There was a collective murmur of agreement, and I continued to use my slice of toast as a crux to buy time to think. I tried to shrug nonchalantly.
“I was kind of under the impression stopping to rest in the middle of orc territory would have been bad for all of our healths,” I replied with a slightly defensive tone. “And besides, I’m alright now, aren’t I?”
“You still should have said something,” Boromir chipped in, the look of his face still tinged with concern. “And you…”
He trailed off, the worry in his face being replaced with obvious discomfort. He’d picked up his whetstone again and was turning it over and over in his hands, his gaze flickering around at the others. I looked round at them too. They all shared variations of the same expression. Discomfort mixed with worry. And none of them would meet my eye. All except Aragorn. He still hadn’t said a word so far, and that was somehow worse. If his expression was anything to go by, he didn’t have anything good to say about what I’d gone and done.
I slowly put down my plate, my appetite for the hobbit-style breakfast abruptly gone.
“There’s more to this you’re not telling me, isn’t there?”
They all somehow managed to look suddenly even more uncomfortable, the shadows of guilt flicking over each of their faces. I eyed them all, trying to quell the dread stirring inside me and failing entirely. No one answered me. Not all of them looked fully on board with the statement, but no one denied it either. I heaved a heavy sigh, hoping it masked exactly how jittery my nerves suddenly were.
“Alright. Just get it out of your systems. I think we’ll all feel better.”
‘Here it comes…’
“That was incredibly foolish thing you did, Eleanor,” Aragorn told me, though his tone wasn’t anywhere near the level of pissed off I’d expected it to be. He sounded more tired than angry.
I swallowed a bit thickly.
“As a healer you should have known saying nothing of an injury that serious, even for a short while, could easily have killed you. You should have known better,” he continued, and his words stung a bit more than the last had. My jaw clenched imperceptibly.
“I know that, too,” I said again, my teeth grinding a little, but keeping my tone respectful. “I think we can all agree that what I did was fabulously stupid. I’m not in a hurry to repeat the experience.”
Aragorn watched my face closely, but I made sure to keep it as blank as possible — void of so much as a twitched eyebrow. I didn’t trust myself to keep from showing exactly how unsettled I was by the way they were all behaving.
“It is good that you are recovering. We could all do with a chance to rest. Although we are safe for now, it will not stay that way for very long. We will remain here just long enough to regain our strength and plan our next path, since we no longer have our guide,” Aragorn explained in that same precise, unaffected tone he’d used when trying to explaining complicated combat footwork to me. He kept the straight face, but I saw the hobbits’ faces fall at the indirect mention of Gandalf. Legolas tensed slightly, and Boromir and Gimli looked crestfallen too — but none of them said a word.
I glanced round at them again, sympathetic but also impatient. I’d had more than enough suspense dangled in front of my nose for one morning.
“What are you getting at, Aragorn?” I demanded flatly when no one else pitched the question.
You could have heard a penny drop through the eery silence, before Aragorn finally answered me in a diplomatic but firm tone.
“Eleanor, I think when the time comes for us to leave, you should give some serious thought to remaining here in Lothlórien.”
My jaw fell open.
Out of every kind of reaction I’d been anticipating from him — reprimand, anger, a lecture as long as the Battle of the Somme — that was honestly the one thing I hadn’timagined he would say.
I’d known my joining the Fellowship hadn’t been a unanimously adored idea, but Aragorn had been one of the few who hadn’t openly argued against it. Looking back on it, he hadn’t even seemed all that surprised when I’d stood up and offered to help. Yes, he’d made damn sure I knew what I’d got myself into during our chat on Caradhras, but beyond that, he’d never once displayed any wish for me to not be there with them.
So why was he saying it now? Here?
Something niggling at the back of my mind behind the shock and silent outrage whispered that this was only partly to do with my getting injured. I didn’t know what, but I could feel there was something beneath that wasn’t being said.
No one would look at me. Not one of the Fellowship would meet my eye.
All except Aragorn. He was clearly still waiting for my reaction, his expression carefully blank, but the tense line of his shoulders gave away his edginess. He’d obviously come into this prepared for a bad reaction. I stared at him, carefully closing my mouth, not trusting my own voice to remain calm or collected with the hurricane of questions and feelings battling for control inside me.
When the silence finally became too much to bear, Boromir spoke up for the first time since Aragorn’s big revelation had dropped.
“Perhaps it would be easier to have this conversation at another time,” he suggested quietly, as if speaking to himself more than anyone else.
Aragorn released a soft but tired sigh, looking away and rubbing the bridge of his nose.
“Yes, I think that would be—,”
“No,” I cut them both off, my voice utterly flat with icy calm.
That surprised them. Hell, it kind of surprised me too.
I swallowed hard, fighting to keep my voice and expression toneless and carefully neutral. It was hard, but I managed.
“You don’t have a ‘get out of jail free’ card on this one. If you’ve got something to say to me, you can say it now,” I said quietly, still calm, but letting a little dash of my anger leak in.
‘Really, boss? Here, in front of everyone?’ Tink’s concerned voice rang quietly in my head.
I didn’t answer her.
Tink might not have been around when I was still human, but she knew me and my human memories enough to understand. I’ve been told all about my shortcomings for most of my life. From when I started school, to my final year of college, to my breakup with Mark; I’d been told why I shouldn’t do something. Why something I suggested was a bad idea. Why the way I was just wasn’t quite good enough.
And as it turns out, that was ok with me. I was ok with not being perfect. I was ok with occasionally screwing up, and things going pear shaped — as long as I was the one to reap the consequences. What I was not ok with was people trying to ‘help me’ by passive-aggressively belittling me. Not anymore.
I let the silence that hung in the air act as my answer, and Tink shifted nervously in our shared understanding of what it meant.
‘Oh boy,’ she groaned in dread, then faded back into silence.
Aragorn’s neutral expression had slid into a darkened frown, grey eyes still diplomatic but hardened behind the mask.
I wasn’t anything close to hungry anymore, but I picked up a crispy, leftover piece of bacon off my plate and took my time chewing on it. The motion wasn’t really intended to draw out the tense silence hanging in the air, but it did allow me some much needed seconds to get a rein on my fast deteriorating temper.
“So, that’s it, then? The verdict is that I should stay here when you go?” I said finally, looking from face to face and watching their reactions carefully. “And you all think this?”
No one answered my question. All of them were looking absolutely anywhere but at me, including Gimli and Legolas who were all but two feet away. I even looked straight at Boromir, but he was very deliberately looking at a spot over my left shoulder instead of my face.
I felt my blood starting to boil.
“We think that—,” Aragorn started quietly, but I interrupted him in an equally calm but much colder tone.
“You think,” I enunciated the word a little more aggressively than I’d expected myself to sound, “that if I come along I’ll slow you down. Exactly like I would have done if I’d owned up to my wound outside Moria.”
Aragorn’s sharp frown got even sharper, but I didn’t let up.
“This is no joke, Eleanor.”
“I’m not laughing,” I replied tonelessly.
The ranger had long since abandoned his pipe, but only then did his actually bother to extinguish it. The embers went out with a little hiss and a little plum of curling smoke. He set it down without looking away from me, or I from him.
“Your decision to remain silent over your injury was foolish, yes, but this goes beyond that. The fact remains, we are now without a wizard to protect and guide us. And despite your improvement since our departure from Rivendell, you are still not a warrior.”
He let that hang in the air for a few painfully long seconds, but when I went to open my mouth to reply he interrupted me without any warning or any kind of sugar coating.
“The fact also remains, that you are the only female member of this Fellowship, and are simply not possessed of the skills or strengths needed to stay alive on the path we will face to reach Mordor.”
He couldn’t have taken me more by surprise if he’d pulled out a gun and shot me with it.
I stared at him in stunned silence, my mouth working silently and my stomach trying to twist itself into a pretzel. For a few seconds I completely forgot how to breathe. Ok, I’d been prepared for reprimand, disapproval, all that tripe, but not this. Whatever theme I’d expected Aragorn to play on in his inevitable lecture, I had never expected him to sink so low as to drag my gender into it. The fact that I was female. I’d half hoped that we’d moved beyond the flippant misogyny I’d encountered during the Council, but it was obvious now; the fact that I was a woman was still being held against me, even if I hadn’t been fully aware of it up till now.
For a long moment I couldn’t speak. I was just too shocked — and lividly, blood-boiling furious.
If I hadn’t taken those few seconds to stop and really look at the weather-beaten man sitting opposite me across the campfire, I would have probably started spitting fire at him. Aragorn had a good pokerface, better than most, but it wasn’t perfect. There was the briefest flicker of reluctance in his expression before he could banish it, but I saw it.
He was lying.
Oh I was sure my XX chromosomes were certainly part of the problem, but I saw in that moment as I glared at him that he wasn’t being entirely honest. He was trying to use the fact that I was the only girl in this boys-only-club as an excuse. An excuse to cover up what was really going through his head.
But as dear old Shakespeare liked to say: ‘truth will out.’ (1)
“That’s a heap of troll shite, Aragorn.”
I thought for a moment that he was too surprised to respond. I should have known better.
“What?” he asked in a dangerously quiet voice. I ignored it.
“If my being a girl was really a problem to you, you would have said so back in Rivendell, along with everyone else who was there,” I answered in the same cold flat tone I’d used seconds before, trying to pretend I wasn’t boiling over with too many emotions. I visibly saw Gimli and Boromir wince, and although he hid it well, Legolas was close enough for me to see his shoulders stiffen and hands clench from the corner of my eye. I shouldn’t have enjoyed the little twinge of satisfaction I got from that, but I did.
I met Aragorn’s hard gaze with my own and refused to break eye contact no matter how much he stared me down. It was hard. His eyes were like chips of stone boring into mine, but I managed it. I wanted him to know that regardless of what he might think of me, no matter how scary or regal he might be, I would never just roll over and allow myself to get walked on again.
Not even by the one who saved me when I first came here, those two and a half years ago.
“Tell me why you really think I should stay here,” I demanded flatly.
Aragorn narrowed his eyes at me.
“You know why.”
“I really don’t.”
“Perhaps we shouldn’t…” Boromir’s voice cut in, but whatever he was going to suggest died a premature death as both Aragorn and I turned on him in unison and complete silence. The looks on our faces must have been something to behold, because the seasoned warrior of Gondor paled and shut his mouth immediately.
“What possessed you to join this company in the first place I cannot say, Eleanor, but it was not through a selfless want to help. It was an unwise choice, and you know it,” Aragorn said smoothly, turning back to me as if we hadn’t been interrupted.
“No one here has entirely selfless or wise reasons for anything, Aragorn, let alone marching headfirst into the fire-pits of Middle Earth. And regardless of my motives, I joined this Fellowship of my own free choice just as much as you did. I have just as much right to remain as you do,” I countered, then lowered my voice so that only he (and probably Legolas) could hear me clearly: “Last I looked, you weren’t my mentor or my guardian.”
He jerked his chin minutely in a shake of his head.
“No, I am not, but I am at least partially responsible for you, now that Gandalf is no longer here to protect us.”
“And that suddenly gives you the right to imply that I’m useless to you all? That I should sit here like a good little girl twiddling my thumbs while the rest of you march off into the sunset?” I folded my arms over my middle and very deliberately gestured to his left side with my chin. “How’s your arm doing, by the way? Still stiff?”
That did it. I knew immediately I’d kicked a hornet's nest when I saw the blood drain from Aragorn’s face, his jaw muscles working furiously.
“You are being frivolous.”
“And you’ve lost your mind if you think I’d ever agree to stay here because you tried to passive-aggressively order me to.”
“Remaining here is what would be best for you now. You can argue all you wish, but it is what it is, and arguing about it wont change that,” Aragorn countered me sharply, his tone getting less and less neutral by the second. Less and less like our conversation on the mountainside — but the weird part was that, this time, I didn’t care at all.
I didn’t feel scared anymore. I just felt angry.
“Maybe, or maybe not,” I said in a calm, toneless voice. “Either way, that isn’t and will never be your decision to make for me.”
“Manwë’s breath, Eleanor, this task is not a game, or a debate you can win with clever words! Any mistake could cost more than just one of our lives! Least of all foolish mistakes like the one you made! The ones you still make!”
I hadn’t realised I was on my feet until Aragorn stood up too, all but towering a head over me.
“You think I don’t know that? You really think I’m so stupid that I walked into this quest with my eyes shut?! You really think that this,” I jabbed a finger at my side, where we all knew the wound was even though it was covered by my dress, “Wasn’t lesson enough for me to know that?!”
That was the first time I ever saw Aragorn truly lose his temper.
“You know nothing!”
He didn’t shout, or even raise his voice much. It was a look brewing in his eyes that was miles scarier.
“You are a healer’s apprentice, not a warrior! You know nothing of the consequences of your mistakes! You have no experience, can barely defend yourself, and no memory of any kind of life you might have had before two years ago! How could you possibly know what you were getting yourself into when you…”
My stomach plummeted the second he’d said it, as if I’d just gone into a free fall from stepping off a cliff.
I felt all the blood leave my face, and I was suddenly felt cold. My rage was still there, but it had turned from fire to ice inside me. Aragorn took one look at the expression that forced its way onto my face and trailed off. His own face showed the second he realised what he’d done — what he’d just said out loud, in front of all of them.
He snapped his jaw shut, but it was too late.
“What?” Gimli spluttered out.
“You have no memory?” Frodo breathed almost inaudibly quiet with shock.
Now it was my turn to avoid looking at all of them. I couldn’t bear to see the looks on all their faces. I didn’t want to imagine what they were all thinking — putting the pieces together until they all realised the truth about this. The truth Aragorn had been trying to imply to me without actually saying it out loud. That I wasn’t fit to continue with them, not because I was a girl, not even because I was just a healer with no fighting experience.
It was because, for all intents and purposes, I had literally nothing but two meagre years of life in this world to draw upon. I was literally the youngest, most vulnerable, and least experienced one here by decades.
But this wasn’t how I wanted them to find out. Not like this.
“You know what?” I ground out, my jaw clenching so hard over my turbulent voice that I could barely get the words out. A knot had appeared in my throat that I couldn’t get rid of no matter how much I tried. I fixed Aragorn with the hardest glare I could muster, so furious I could scarcely focus my eyes. “Since you brought it up, you can explain that one. You’d obviously do a better job than me anyway. Having so much more life experience.”
I picked up the skirt of my stupidly long dress and went to move past Boromir and Sam, trying not to look at them as I went. I didn’t want to see the look on their faces. I didn’t even realise that Aragorn had seized my wrist at some point until it prevented me from striding away.
“Eleanor, thats not—,”
I jerked my arm sharply out of his grip, which had gone slack with shock. I couldn’t stand the feeling of all their eyes on me. All of them stunned, confused, outraged…
And worst of all, pitying.
My insides writhed and I felt faintly sick. Aragorn, for once, looked completely lost for words as I met his eye again, before I quickly turned my back and started walking away.
“Miss Eleanor? Where are you going?” Sam’s shellshocked voice came suddenly as I moved quickly back towards the stairs.
“Somewhere I can think in peace. I need to clear my head,” I replied calmly and without any malice or emotion, even though I felt anything but calm. I’d be damned if I was going to let any one of them see the tears forcing their way into my eyes.
“Thanks for breakfast.”
I took Merileth up on her prior offer of hospitality for the rest of that day.
It took me a while, but several wrong turns later I found her and about five other handmaidens working busily in the gardens on some pretty extravagant sewing, and they’d welcomed me to join them without so much as a surprised bat of an eyelash.
None of them had asked about the Fellowship (thank God), or even much about me personally, but they definitely made sure to make me feel extremely welcome. I guess Merileth had tipped them off that bombarding me with too many questions at once would be unwise in my “fragile” and “only half recovered” state, but they did talk about pretty much everything else under the sun while they worked.
For my part, I didn’t really join in. I just sat there on a stone bench, listening to them chatter about everything, from the latest news the forest patrols brought to what shade of green would be best for a summer gown. It must have been nice, I thought, having only simple things like work, clothes, and eye-candy related gossip to worry about. I had to admit, it was times like this that I’d found myself a little jealous — almost missing the time when I’d been that care free.
I tried hard not to dwell on it, but I found myself going back to what Aragorn had said before he’d dropped my secret amnesia bomb on the others of the Fellowship.
I thought about how even though I wasn’t exactly helpless anymore, I was still at a severe disadvantage because of my lost past. About the reason I’d decided — however foolishly — to join the Fellowship in the first place. And about what it would be like if I did stay here in Lothlórien when the others inevitably pressed on towards Mordor.
I looked around at the other handmaidens seated on the grass and a few stone benches around me, chatting, smiling, and laughing happily as they worked on their embroidery and hemming.
Would it really be so bad if I did stay? Here, where it was quiet and safe?
It was a question I couldn’t answer, and had resolved not to try to answer until I’d had time to properly cool off and clear all the homicidal thoughts from my head. If there was one thing I’d learned from arguing with Aragorn, it was that the aftermath brooding could do more damage than the argument itself.
I spent the entire morning and afternoon there in the gardens with Merileth and the handmaidens, and it did take my mind off things for a time. Eventually, the later winter light began to wane through the trees as evening approached. Finally, Merileth and the last few handmaidens collected their needlework and left to attend to their other duties — Merileth leaving me with simple directions to find their quarters when I wished to sleep. She also promised to bring along another pot of tea a little later when she came to check up on me.
Say what you like about the rest of Galadriel’s supermodel handmaidens, but Merileth was quickly turning out to be golden in my eyes.
I thanked her, but decided to stay there in the gardens on my own for a little longer. I’d hoped the cooler evening air would help relax me some more, and help me think — but it ended up just making me feel even more tired.
I lay on my back on the stone bench, looking up at the darkening sky and watching as stars began to appear one by one though the gaps in the golden trees. I don’t know how long I just lay there stargazing vacantly, but it was long enough to realise I wasn’t going to get any more productive thought done tonight. I rolled over on the bench and pillowed my head on my arm, letting my eyes fall shut, just for a moment. I remember thinking to myself as I slowly drifted off, that I’d been right — the little yellow flowers dotted all over the grass and around the trees did look like tiny stars, reflecting the light of the silver, glowing elf lamps.
After what seemed like two minutes after I’d finally nodded off, I felt myself being gently shaken awake again. I grumbled in protest, but the insistent hand on my shoulder didn’t relent in its pestering.
“Lady Élanor,” Only the elves ever called me by that pronunciation of my name.
I opened my eyes groggily to find it was Haldir who had dragged me from my slumber.
“The Lady Galadriel wishes to see you,” he told me with a distinct disapproving undertone to it when I didn’t immediately react. “Now.”
Aragorn was one thing, but I had the feeling that after they day I’d had, my Scottish grandmother would have risen from her grave and clouted me for letting a man with no facial hair at all try and boss me around. I sat up on the bench with a groan and rubbed my tired eyes, muttering incoherently as my sleepy brain took an extra few seconds to boot up.
Haldir’s disapproving look deepened. I eyed him. Even before I’d been dropped into Arda, I simply couldn’t stand people who took themselves too seriously. Unfortunately for me, most of the people I’d been living with up until now were well over several hundred, if not thousands of years old. I guess when you were older than most European countries, you tended to get a little set in your ways.
Even so, I decided to be polite… -ish.
“A pleasant morning and fair tidings to you too, good sir,” I grumbled with very slightly less sarcasm than usual.
“It is evening,” he corrected me shortly without a trace of irony. “About nine o’clock.”
I sighed, watching as my joke sailed straight over the Marchwarden’s head. I’d been asleep for only about four hours, and I was still tired.
“Then that explains why I’m so hungry.”
Haldir didn't look impressed, but didn't comment either. He did, however, help me to my feet rather chivalrously. My stitches tugged a bit and I winced.
“How does your wound fare?” he asked me seriously, and despite his cool tone, he honestly looked like he was concerned to know. I pressed a hand to my side and gave a crooked smile.
“Better now. Much better. No more pain, but I’ll be glad to be rid of these stitches.”
Haldir didn’t quite return the smile, but he nodded to show he was pleased to hear it, then turned and started leading me off in a direction across the gardens I hadn’t been yet.
I’d managed to ditch the lovely but ridiculously long, pale-blue dress earlier that afternoon, swapping it for something a little more sensible — well, by Lothlórien standards anyway. One of the slightly shorter handmaidens had agreed to lend me a dress that wasn’t in danger of putting me in an early grave. A white lace number with short sleeves and a comfortably loose fit, and I managed to keep up with Haldir’s long strides without tripping over the hem.
“Thanks for talking the arrow head out of me,” I said quietly after a few minutes of walking in silence. Haldir paused in his stride to glance sideways at me before responding.
“You are welcome, though I would not recommend repeating the experience.”
“Oh I don’t plan to, don’t worry,” I assured him, meaning every syllable of it.
I followed him quite a way through the forest, beneath the city in the trees and through the seemingly endless gardens. Finally, we came to a secluded looking clearing with an archway framing the top of a long stairway leading down. A couple of vaguely familiar looking, dark blond elves who bore a faint resemblance to Haldir stood guard on either side, bows relaxed at their sides but ready for use if need be. One of them was sending a very pointedly displeased look in my direction as we passed them and moved down the wide, polished stone steps.
“Is there something wrong with that guy?” I asked once I was sure we were out of earshot, glancing over my shoulder back at them. Haldir didn’t even break in his stride.
“That was Rúmil and Orophin, my brothers,” he informed me, as if it was an explanation on its own. When I didn’t respond he added with an utterly straight face, “Rúmil was the one who’s boots you vomited upon.”
“Oh, right,” I felt my face heat a little. “Um, sorry.”
“An apology best saved for him, I believe.”
I sensed the edge in Haldir’s tone rather than actually heard it, and looked sideways up at him, trying to pinpoint what it was. I decided to take a wild stab in the dark and guess.
“You think what I did was crazy, don't you,” I said bluntly, my lack of sleep taking away some of my usually charming tact. Haldir didn’t seem to mind though.
“It does not matter what I think,” he answered simply without missing a beat, turning for the first time in our walk to look at me directly. “But I am curious. Why did you say nothing? Did you not trust your companions to care for you adequately?”
“No, I…” I stopped, thinking about it.
I knew the reason, or rather many reasons I’d decided to keep quiet. Shock from Gandalf. Not wanting to slow us all down. Not wanting to get eaten by orcs. Not wanting to be seen as weak…
When put into words, however, none of them really felt like enough to justify it. It’s a lot easier to deal with moral dilemmas when it’s all happening exclusively in your head, and no one else is involved or getting hurt.
“I didn’t want to slow them down,” I said finally, knowing that it didn’t come close to a satisfactory answer, but too tired of thinking about it to care anymore.
Haldir was quiet for a long time as we descended before speaking again. “You have quite a low opinion of your own company.”
“You did not trust that they could help you as well as protect themselves from danger,” he clarified blandly, nodding in the direction of my side. “That is not to say that your motives weren’t admirable, but, in my experience, trust is usually something that has to move in both directions to work.”
That caught me off guard. Don’t get me wrong, I’d been expecting a disdainful comment along those lines when I’d opened the whole conversation. What I hadn’t expected was for Haldir’s point to make so much sense to me, or hit quite such a sensitive nerve.
I was the healer of the Fellowship, responsible for keeping them all “stitched together,” no matter what craziness we ended up facing, and within their limitation, they’d all trusted me to do that. Aragorn with his arm. Frodo with his ribs. Yet, when I’d said nothing about my own injuries, I’d made it clear that I hadn’t returned that trust; not with any of them. It might not have been intended that way, but that didn’t matter. The message I’d given was clear enough.
A rush of a sigh came from me, and I suddenly became fascinated by the texture of the stone steps in front of me. Haldir was still eyeing none too subtly me through his peripherals. Then again, I’d seen that subtlety wasn’t really his forte.
‘Subtlety, or spotting when a certain ash blonde elf maid is practically falling over herself to get him to smile in her direction,’ Tink added quietly, and I knew she was trying to take my mind off my brooding. I smiled a bit, appreciative of her effort even if it didn’t really work.
“They seem to care for you a great deal more than you think,” Haldir broke the silence after a minute, turning away from me with a nonchalant shrug. “Merely an observation.”
“And you notice a lot for someone who doesn't seem to realise what’s right under his nose,” I found myself saying before I could run it past my common sense. Haldir’s head whipped back towards me, a baffled expression on his face, but also a noticeable touch more colour on his cheekbones.
“Nothing,” I said offhandedly, looking away. “Merely an observation.”
The Marchwarden only flushed more, his confusion turning into wary suspicion. He opened his mouth to say something else, but clearly decided against it before a word could come out. He shook his head, as if shaking away a stray thought and didn’t press any further. I didn’t push it either, but I couldn’t help the tiny knowing smile that crept onto my lips.
“We’re almost there. Come, this way.”
Stone steps finally gave way to grass again, though there were not as many flowers in sight in this part of the gardens; only tall, old looking trees that twisted and leaned into one another in a leafy canopy over the forest floor. I followed Haldir through the hall of ancient looking branches until finally it opened up onto a much smaller garden. Two statues of elf maids stood either side, holding those pretty silver lamps, illuminating the modest sized glade and casting soft light onto the other statues that were dotted around the garden. Only a few flowers grew here and there, and most of them were those pretty little yellow flowers I’d seen earlier — the ones that looked like tiny gold stars. A small stone podium sat in the centre of the glade, on which a wide silver bowl sat along with a tall silver water jug right next to it.
I recognised it instantly as Galadriel’s mirror, and sure as the sky is blue, there could be no mirror without the Lady Galadriel herself.
She was dressed once again all in white; a long white satin gown that was so long, it trailed along the ground, yet somehow had managed to stay spotless. She’d seated herself regally on one of the nearby stone benches and was admiring one of the masterfully carved marble statues — one of a kneeling young elf maid, holding what looked like a wreath of wildflowers in her lap, her long hair swept over one shoulder.
“My Lady, she is here,” Haldir announced without raising his voice, before bowing once and vanishing back the way we’d come. I turned my head in confusion to watch him swiftly disappearing up the stairs, and when I turned back, Galadriel was looking at me with those ancient, crystal blue eyes.
Her smile was like warm sunlight breaking through rainclouds after a storm, but where before it held maternal affection and gentleness, now there was a cautious tinge to it. She stood and held out an upturned hand to me, Nenya catching the light and shining like a tiny star, and beckoned me over to her side.
“Come here, child,” she said, her voice gentle and reassuring, but also laced with the tiniest trace of sadness that I couldn’t miss. “We have a great deal to discuss.”
(1) “The Merchant of Venice” by William Shakespeare (Act II Scene 2)