Chapter 20: Arrow To The Knee
The following morning I woke groggy and stiff with an almighty crick in my neck. Morning sunlight and the sound of disgustingly happy bird chatter filtered down through the leaves, and straight into my sleepy eyes.
"Urgh, nufuh…" I grumbled in a very elegant and ladylike fashion, sitting stiffly upright on my sleeping mat. I'd returned to the Fellowship camp instead of the handmaiden's quarters the previous evening, feeling more in the mood for cheerful hobbit banter rather than gossiping she-elf company. A wave of exhaustion had hit me about an hour later, and I'd fallen asleep before the others had returned. Someone had draped a satiny blanket over me at some point while I slept, and I wondered briefly who had put it there as I rubbed my eyes and looked around.
The sun was only just coming up, and though there was enough gold light in the camp to see, it was still gloomy enough to have not disturbed the others. All four hobbits were still fast asleep, snuffling softly where they'd all curled up on the cushions under the awning. Gimli had come back sometime the previous evening, and he was snoozing with his mouth wide open, slumped against a nearby tree. Boromir had returned too, though he seemed to have adopted a more dignified sleeping position, lying on his back on a sleeping mat with one arm slung over his middle. They had all kept a respectable distance from me, though Boromir was the easiest to see, lying almost right in the middle of the camp beside the unlit fire. He was near enough for me to see the relaxed look on his slumbering face, the effect knocking about five years off his usual appearance. He let out a quiet little snorting snore, and I smiled.
The only two who I noticed were missing were Aragorn and Legolas, and there didn't seem to be any sign that they'd returned here last night, let alone slept (or tranced, whatever is was that Legolas did). Both their sleeping mats were still rolled up and packed away.
I didn't give myself the chance to wonder why they'd been absent. I just yawned, stretched, and started getting to my feet as quietly as I could. I was still garbed in the white lace dress I'd been wearing the day before, and as per Legolas's advice, I wanted to change into something a little less flimsy before heading to the training grounds.
As soundlessly as I could manage, I picked my way across the camp, around the slumbering hobbits, and past a still snoring Gimli. I had to step carefully over Boromir since he was sprawled directly in the way of my exit, though it was difficult in my long skirts.
"Morning, my lady."
"Jesus!" I squeaked, stumbling over my own feet and almost crashing headfirst into one of the tent-posts. I caught myself against a tree just in time and looked down to see Boromir peering up at me with a sleepy smile.
"I've never heard that expression before. What does it mean?" he asked innocently, keeping his voice at a whisper as he noticed the hobbits and dwarf still sound asleep. I righted myself and flushed a little, embarrassed at having been spooked so easily.
Heart of a lion, that's me.
"It's, um…n-never mind," I spluttered out just as quietly. "I thought you were sleeping."
"I was," he grinned without getting up, "until you stepped on me."
"That's your own fault for lying face up in the middle of the camp," I shot back primly. "Why are you down there anyway? Something wrong with your sleeping mat?"
He sat up with a soft groan, resting an arm on one knee and glancing straight up at the lightening sky peeking through the canopy.
"I prefer the view from here. It's easier to see the sky," he told me, a peaceful, almost wistful look crossing his face. "After Moria, I found I sleep better with the stars in sight."
I looked up too, following his gaze up to where the dimming light of the stars was still peeking through the gaps in the leaves.
"You and me both," I drew my own gaze reluctantly from the gradually lightening sky to see the look on Boromir's face had fallen slightly. I regarded him curiously as he continued to watch the sky with unfocused eyes. "You haven't been sleeping well?"
I was used to seeing the face of the warrior drawn in concentration or battle-related anger, but this was different. He wasn't an elderly guy by any stretch of the imagination, at most a decade older than me, but something about the lines that had appeared in his face since he woke made him seem older, more tired than I knew he was. He shook his head finally and drew his gaze from the treetops to look at me.
"Since we arrived… dreams. Something the Lady Galadriel said troubles me somewhat…" he said noncommittally, not quite meeting my eye. He gave me an apologetic little sigh, and gave up trying to politely look me in the face. Instead, he turned away, the faintly saddened look returning to his features. "Forgive me, it is nothing you need concern yourself with, my lady."
I pursed my lips, my curiosity and concern creeping back. Seeing Boromir this disheartened and sad was unnerving to say the least.
"Oh no you don't, sir. You already got to hear one of my darkest secrets in HD surround-sound," I responded, keeping my voice quiet but pressing the seriousness of it, fixing him with a look and placing a fist on my hip. I hurried to continue when I saw his brow furrow in renewed confusion, cutting him short before he could open his mouth and ask what new, nonsensical thing I had just come out with yet again. "Spit it out. What could she have said to turn that chivalrous smile upside down?"
Boromir looked for a moment liked he wanted to answer, looking up at me in contemplation. Then he closed his mouth and rubbed a hand over his tired face, as if trying to smooth the worry lines from between his eyebrows.
"I may tell you someday, but for the moment that is a tale I would prefer to keep to myself," he replied reluctantly, getting up from his sleeping spot and gesturing for us to move further away from the others so we wouldn't wake them. I went with him, eyeing him sideways with suspicion. For a moment, I toyed with the idea of pressing him for an answer, but decided against it. He hadn't pushed me for answers I knew he was itching to ask, so it only seemed fair to return the favour.
I sighed and shrugged heavily, glancing away from him as we came to a stop just shy of the stairs.
"I suppose we're all entitled to our secrets, or what's left of them, anyway," I relented, folding my arms. He looked back to me with a faintly pained expression, not quite managing to hide the wince. I didn't comment on it. I already knew what he was thinking, but I'd had enough talking about it yesterday. So, I just smiled tiredly, and gave his arm an amiable little push. "Just don't let it start eating at you, alright? If you ever do want to talk, I can always spare a pointy ear."
Boromir's handsome face broke into a warm, laughing smile through the weariness, and he allowed a mild chuckle to escape with a nod of acceptance.
"I shall keep that in mind," he replied, then added with a little note of apology lacing his quiet tone: "And for what it's worth, I am also sorry for what was said by Aragorn the other day. About—."
"Aragorn can be an insensitive ass sometimes, but he had a fair point," I interrupted with a wave of my hand, feeling a shadow of the sinking dread I'd felt yesterday creeping back, but refusing to let it rule my expression. "I'll admit, it wasn't the way I wanted you all to find out about me, but it's done now."
Boromir opened his mouth as if to say something more, but closed it again. I don't know if he'd picked up on my discomfort, or had read something in my expression, but I was glad he understood that I didn't really want to talk about it — not yet anyway. He just nodded, and then gave me a curious smile laced with amusement.
"I hear from Legolas that you wish to train as an archer," he said eventually, and I mirrored his smile.
"That's the plan," I confirmed. "I think it's obvious that, if I want to stand any chance surviving on this journey, I'm going to need more than medical scalpels and my rapier wit."
"True, though I would not have expected you to choose archery as your focus."
I shrugged a shoulder and wrung my fingers together uneasily.
"I haven't had much luck with swords, and I'm pretty sure you have to be able to lift an axe to be able to swing it."
He actually laughed at that.
"Also true," he chuckled, and it made me feel better about the whole thing. We chuckled quietly together, and only struggled to keep our laughter down when Gimli let out a loud snore from around the corner that shook a few dead leaves from a tree. Boromir recovered first and, though he sill sounded amused, addressed me with an undertone of solemnity. "I am not skilled in the art, but if you ever need assistance training in any skill involving a blade or shield, you need only ask."
I didn't try to hide the wide, honest smile that found its way onto my face, the feeling eclipsing any doubts or unease I might have had about the choice I'd made.
"I'll keep that in mind."
We both left the camp in opposite directions after that, agreeing to meet back there later for lunch. No doubt Sam would be itching to treat us all to one of his growingly popular second breakfasts. I headed quickly for the handmaiden's quarters, still needing to change out of my dress before going to find the training grounds. Merileth was there this time, and though she pursed her lips at my apology for wandering off on my own the other day, she was pleased to hear I'd met and got along well with her brothers. She promptly provided me with my neatly folded riding greens, cleaned boots, and newly polished knives in their sheath, and we talked briefly about the past few days while I changed. I left out the part where I'd accidentally pulled a 'Peeping Tom' on Legolas though.
When I was done, we both left the handmaiden's quarters and descended the walkways through the trees, still chatting amiably, only to find someone waiting for us when we came to the bottom of the last spiralling staircase. At first, I thought it was Haldir; his rigid posture and stance were similar, but as we got closer I realised the man's hair was too dark and his ears not pointy enough to be the Marchwarden. He turned upon hearing us coming, and Merileth and I found ourselves looking at none other than Aragorn waiting patiently with his hands clasped behind his back.
Really, I should have realised it was him sooner. Everyone here in Lothlórien looked pretty similar, with pale blond hair, fair unblemished skin, and an air of nobility — so much so that I'd found myself referring to most of the other male elves of the forest as 'not Haldir or Legolas.' Aragorn had the same air of nobility, sort of, but physically he stuck out like a rusty bent nail among the pristine gold haired elf men of the wood.
The second she saw him, Merileth stiffened and then dipped into an identical curtsy to the one she'd offered me when we first met upon reaching him, though she looked nervous instead of excited this time.
"Lord Aragorn," she greeted formally.
I didn't say anything, forcing my face to remain as blank as a piece of paper, but I'd felt my hands and shoulders tense slightly the second I recognised him. The same non-expression adorned his face as he took a few seconds to just stare back at me, searching my face for a reaction I wasn't willing to give. Finally, he turned to Merileth and offered her a polite bow, and a short, "My lady."
Merileth glanced between us, and got the gist of the atmosphere immediately. With a vague mention of needing to see to her duties, she excused herself, aiming a concerned sideways look at me, then glided away through the gardens.
A potent silence hung in the air between us for several long seconds, neither of us moving or looking away, the both of us either too uncertain or too stubborn to break the tension first. Aragorn caved first.
"May I walk with you?" he asked finally. I shrugged minutely, as if I didn't mind either way.
We walked. Neither of us spoke as we paced side by side, nor did one of us move faster or fall behind the other, despite our significant difference in stride length. We walked like that for several minutes through the grounds, and I could feel the ranger's gaze on my face occasionally, though I refused to meet it with my own. I was half expecting a note of impatience to accompany his voice when he finally did speak, but instead, he just sounded cautious.
"We should speak about what was… what I said last we spoke," he began quietly, despite the fact that we'd gone far enough through the gardens that there was no one around to hear us.
"There isn't a whole lot to talk about, as far as I can see. My secret's out. It's done," I answered, not breaking stride or shifting my gaze from the path ahead. We were walking through a part of the garden's I didn't recognise, and was somewhat focused on trying to remember which way Merileth had said the training grounds were.
"That may be, but that does not mean we should not discuss it," Aragorn said back, his tone unchanged, though I could tell my supposed indifference was making him uncomfortable. "I also wished to apologise."
That made me slow in my strides, turning to look at him properly with mixed surprise and scrutiny. His face was its usual blank slate, though I was more than used to reading the wary expression hidden behind his eyes by now.
"To apologise," I asked directly, unable to mask my curiosity as we continued to walk. "Or to tell me that I'm being reckless?"
"The recklessness is nothing new," he said, then paused before adding: "The bow is a bit unexpected, though."
"Legolas told you?"
"Partly," Aragorn shrugged. "He is worse at lying than you are."
I almost laughed.
"Wow, that certainly is an achievement," I didn't quite manage to keep the amusement out of my voice, or the small smile off my face. It vanished as quickly as it had come with my next question, eyeing him out of my peripherals as I spoke. "So, are you going to try and tell me that it's a foolish idea and to abandon it?"
I'd expected him to give a sharp reprimanding reply, but instead he hesitated, something I wasn't really used to from him. It forced me to look at him properly, only to see his eyebrows drawn together in thought, grey eyes softened but still serious.
"No," he said carefully after a second, still regarding me cautiously. "Though I still believe you would do better to remain when we depart. You would be safe here."
I stopped entirely in my pacing this time, turning to fix him with a respectful but firmly unyielding gaze from my significantly shorter vantage point.
"I know you do, but I already made my decision, Aragorn. It might not be a great decision, or even a good one," I told him simply without malice or anger, raw stubbornness taking their place instead. "But it's mine, and I'm willing to deal with the consequences, whatever they might be."
"So I see," Aragorn agreed rather quickly, not losing the thoughtful crinkle to his brow as he looked down at me, but there was also the teeniest little smile tugging at the edge of his lips. "Despite that, you know I cannot give your decision my approval."
I sighed and rolled my head to the side in a sort of defeated nod of acceptance, my own face reflecting his tentative smile as the tension eased.
"I guessed as much. Shall we just agree that I am, and always will be, a disagreeable lunatic and leave it at that?"
"Why do we not agree instead that it will be better for us all if we trusted one another; really trusted one another In the future?" he suggested, still looking down at me somewhat seriously, though his voice had turned less authoritative and more worrying. "I am not your parent, nor your guardian, and it is your right to have secrets of your own. However, by not saying anything sooner you could have easily…"
"I could have died," I finished for him solemnly. "I know. I'm not sorry for that part…" I stopped, thought about it for a moment, then waved and hand with a defeated noise. "Ok, fine, I am. Dying like that sounds pretty nasty, but what I'm trying to say is that I am sorry for the other part. Not trusting you to help me."
That actually garnered a full smile out of him as he looked down at me, the tension almost completely gone from us both. He rolled his shoulders in a shrug (the one he'd dislocated in Moria, I noted) and gave a little nod of gracious acceptance.
"I suppose it was a trust unearned."
"How about this? The next time I'm mortally wounded and on the brink of death, you'll be the first to know. I promise," I suggested with a tentative smile. Aragorn gave a little groan of mock dread.
"You are going to be utterly unreasonable on this, are you not?"
He didn't quite chuckle, but sighed in defeat through his smile, neither agreeing with me but not reprimanding me either. It was more than I'd dared hoped for, and despite the fact that he still obviously didn't like the idea, I was glad we were able to talk again without it turning into a verbal duel of wills. With one last half hesitant, half relieved smile at me, Aragorn gave me a short pat on the shoulder and turned to move away.
"Do as you think best, Eleanor," he said over his shoulder as he walked across the gardens, jerking a thumb in opposite direction that we'd been walking this whole time. "Though, you should know, the training grounds are that way."
Despite Aragorn's helpful — if belated — pointer, I had to ask for direction to the training grounds three times. First from a young handmaiden, then from one of the passing guards, and finally from a very irritated and sullen looking Haldir, who had given me the most monosyllabic set of directions I'd ever received, before stalking off. By the time I finally did find my way to the training grounds, my irritation at my own useless sense of direction had just about worn off. Trust Aragorn to spice up his apology with a bit of casual embarrassment on my part. In its place, an uncomfortable squirming sensation had take up residence — one which I stubbornly refused to accept as nervousness at seeing Legolas, no matter how much the butterflies in my stomach insisted I was in denial.
I was a little surprised to find the grounds almost entirely empty as I came to a stop at the edge. It was a big space, kitted out with everything from training dummies to ranged targets at different distances. There was even a medium sized sparring ring in the centre of the clearing where a group of three male elves were taking turns running drills with blunted short blades. They paused to glance at me as I moved past, towards the archery targets. One of them, I recognised as Rúmil. He gave me a polite smile and a small nod before resuming his practice match against another elf.
There was, however no sign of Legolas at all, despite the fact that it was already well after dawn.
I heaved a soft sigh of mild relief and went to go and wait by the archery targets. For over ten minutes, I just stood there like a lemon, watching from a distance as Rúmil and his two sparring partners continued practicing, the occasional clang of metal against metal resonating around the clearing. By the fifteen minute mark I was beginning to feel stupid just standing there doing nothing. Tentatively I glanced down at the dagger pouch I'd strapped to my hip. I'd lost one of the seven knives in Moria during the fight with the troll, but I only just noticed that it had been replaced with an identical one at some point.
A tiny smile crept onto my lips.
What the hell, it beat just waiting there for his tardy majesty to show up.
Flipping open the cover on my dagger pouch, I wandered over to the line of stuffed dummies. Pulling out one of the seven throwing knives, I went through the ingrained routine of palming it so I gripped it by the blade, taking aim, and bending my arm back until the hilt almost touched my ear. It felt for a moment as if I was back in Rivendell again, running drills while I waited for one of my tutors to show up. I flicked my wrist, and the knife flew, hitting the target dummy in the lower belly with a thud. I frowned at the dummy, then down at my hand. I'd been aiming for its upper chest. My arms must still be weak from the three day recovery sleep I'd been in. I tried again, and again, and every time the knives hit a little closer to where I'd aimed them, but still not quite right. As I did, my thoughts slowly began to zone out with the memorised routine. On the sixth throw, a stinging sensation shot up my hand and I flinched, almost dropping the blade.
I looked down and saw that I'd cut my finger without noticing. Not very deeply, but just enough to draw a bead of dark red blood from the tip of my ring finger. It had surprised me only because it wasn't something that happened much anymore; not nearly as often as it had when I first started using the intricate little throwing knife set, anyway. For the first month of learning to use them properly from Glorfindel and Elrohir, I'd had to bandage all my fingers, they'd ended up so raw.
Maybe I was more nervous about seeing his highness against after last night than I thought…
I buried that thought quickly, wiping the tiny speck of blood off nonchalantly on my sleeve, retrieved my knives from the target, and went back to practicing.
An over arm throw, then a back handed throw. One more back handed throw, then another over arm throw. Every one of my knives hit the target, but my back handed throws were still skewing quite far off-centre every time. Each time I twisted and crossed my arm over my chest, ready to throw, the stitches in my side would tug and sting. I clucked my tongue irritably and tried again with my second to last knife. Another near-miss. I made a disgusted sound, giving up and throwing the last one over-armed. It hit the practice dummy squarely in the face with a satisfying 'thunk.'
"You have good aim," a voice came from almost directly over my left shoulder. I jumped and spun to find Legolas standing there with his arms folded and a half smug half amused smile on his face. I glared at him.
"How long have you been standing there?" I demanded, trying to sound collected and failing epically. He just kept on smiling serenely at me.
"Long enough to notice that your throws sometimes veer slightly up and to the right," he noted, gesturing at the practice dummy I'd been brutalising.
"Everyone's a critic," I snorted sullenly, but felt his smile catching on my own face as I turned to face him properly. "Also, you're a bit late. You said to meet here at first light."
He moved forward towards me at that, and it was only then I noticed that he was carrying two quivers and an extra bow along with his own. He held up the slightly smaller one to me.
"I was fetching you a weapon," he answered, extending it out to me. "The quartermaster agreed to lend you this to practice with."
I was about to take it from him, but then hesitated. I couldn't quite resist the urge to poke at him a bit for being late. What can I say? I'm a creature of habit.
I gave him an impish look and jerked my chin at the one in his other hand.
"Too precious to share your own, your highness?"
Legolas smiled slyly at me, taking back the smaller bow and offering his own out to me. I hadn't expected him to do that. His bow seemed too important, at least as important to him as my hunting knife was to me. Yet he'd just hand it over to me? The gesture held more weight than I was entirely comfortable with…
I took it. It was heavier than I was expecting, the polished wood smooth and well cared for. He gave me an encouraging nod, still smiling.
"Try," he said.
"Damn!" I wheezed, trying and failing to pull the thing back even half way. The string twanged back with a loud snap. I didn't think I could have guessed at the draw weight on that thing — but whatever it was, it was more than enough to drop any monster. "Just how strong are you?"
Legolas' confused smile turned into a self satisfied smirk, and I could see a laugh dancing behind his eyes. He took his bow back, and handed me mine. Then he helped me retrieve my knives from the poor abused practice dummy.
"We have not had the opportunity to speak of what happened the other day," he said as he pulled the last knife from the dummy's chest and handed it back to me. I fumbled the knife and almost dropped it on my foot as he said that, my face heating as I tried to hold the resurgence of mental images at bay.
"Oh God," I groaned, embarrassment making my cheeks warm. I was suddenly looking anywhere but directly at him in the hope that it would keep me from babbling like an idiot. "Look, I swear I really didn't mean to walk in on you like that. It was an accident, I honestly wasn't trying to spy on you or anything. Though now that I think of it, those other two maids I saw might have been—."
"Actually," he interrupted my rambling quickly, his own face colouring, "I was referring to what Aragorn spoke of. That you have no memory beyond two years past."
Well, that put a hole right through my decorum.
"Oh… right," I felt myself turn bright pink and broke off.
We both just stood there for a moment, staring awkwardly at each other with no real idea what to say in the wake of that. Legolas cleared his throat after minute and looked away from me.
"I only meant to offer my help to you," he explained, a hand coming up to rub uncomfortably at his neck just under his left ear. "I doubt I can do much more than Lord Elrond already has, but whatever support I might offer in helping you solve the mystery of your past, I will give it, if you wish it."
I blinked at that, unsure of what to say.
"Oh, well I…" I didn't really have a reaction planned for this kind of treatment. I'd been more than prepared for our usual verbal duels, snarky banter and occasional witty jibe, but not for him to offer me help, or for him to seem so sincere about it. Though, it wasn't exactly an unpleasant surprise. I couldn't help but smile, despite the uncomfortable warmth creeping up my neck. "Thank you," I answered honestly.
We both smiled shyly at each other, but the second we realised what was happening the moment broke, and we looked away again awkwardly.
"Perhaps we should start training," Legolas suggested and I nodded, still not quite letting myself look directly at him.
"Yes, I think we should."
The both of us quickly leapt on the distraction of what we were both really there for. Legolas provided me with a leather arm guard similar to the ones he wore, and then started talking me through the basics. He demonstrated each step of the process for me as he went, and I made sure to pay attention carefully — proper shooting stance and posture, how to nock an arrow against the string, how to draw back a shot properly, and how best to aim. Finally when he was done showing me, it was my turn to try. He made it all look and sound so much easier than it actually was, even though my loaned bow had a much lighter draw weight than his. He had me practice without an arrow several times — drawing the bowstring back to my cheek and holding it for a second before releasing it, which I'd got the hang of had surprisingly quickly. It was only when we finally introduced an arrow into the equation that things got a little trickier.
I was suddenly very aware of the fact that I was wielding something that had the potential to easily kill someone if I used it flippantly or carelessly. I swallowed, drawing back the shot while Legolas carefully corrected my posture. He'd adopted a short and simple tone with each of his instructions, and I was grateful for that. It made focusing on what I was doing a whole lot easier than if he'd been speaking in the borderline playful way he had earlier.
"Use the corner of your mouth as an anchor. Hold your breath before you release the shot. Keep both your eyes open," he told me, circling around the back of me and correcting as he went. When he came back into view I gave him an inscrutable sideways look without dropping my arms. His eyebrows furrowed. "What?"
I had to force myself not to laugh at the puppy-like expression on his face, and mumbled, "You are a damned Disney prince."
He smiled hesitantly too, though it was a little confused. He corrected my arm position again, pressing a hand gently under my elbow to raise it a bit and backed off.
"Someday you will have to tell me if that is a good thing or not," he mumbled too, and I couldn't tell if he'd intended me to hear it. Instead he gave an 'after you' gesture and said: "Take your shot, my lady."
I did, holding my breath to keep the shot steady before releasing the bowstring. The arrow blurred across the gap between us and the targets, and sank with a thud into the wood an inch and a half from the centre.
Legolas looked genuinely surprised. Hell, I was shocked too, more at the fact that I'd managed to hit the target at all. He glanced sideways at me with his eyebrows pinched and I shrugged.
Neither of us were prepared for the duo of high pitched cheers that came from above and to our left. The pair of us looked up in unison to see Gweredir and Colion sitting high on a flet. They were pulling faces and waving at us both, sitting just close enough to see over the edge, laughing and giggling as only children could at their own jokes.
"Friends of yours?" Legolas asked conversationally, but I could hear his smile.
"They're my new bodyguards," I stated proudly, throwing him a mischievous look over my shoulder as I nocked another arrow. "They've decided you're a potential hazard to my unshakable cheerfulness, and need to be dealt with accordingly."
"I'm flattered," he chuckled.
As it turned out, it had been beginner's luck after all. My next shot still hit the target, but sank into the wood just outside the outermost circle. The second hit just inside the circle. The third somehow managed to miss entirely and sank into the tree a foot above the target. From the platform above, Gweredir and Colion cheered again, and Legolas tried to cover a snort.
"Was that a laugh I heard just now?" I asked dangerously.
"Don't be ridiculous, my lady. I was just clearing my throat," he replied through a contagious smile.
"Of course you were."
It went on like that for I don't know how long. I would shoot as best I could, and Legolas would instruct me on how best to improve, occasionally demonstrating with his own bow. I had been right though, I did learn fast, and the longer we trained and the more I shot, the less often Legolas had to correct me or give me pointers. Pretty soon he was only instructing me every few minutes, the rest of the time filled with us simply talking to fill the silences. Eventually Gweredir and Colion grew bored of watching us and wandered off to play elsewhere. With the two kids gone we continued to talk while I practiced — mostly about what the others had been up to since we arrived, and speculating about what Aragorn was planning for when we eventually left.
It was, dare I admit it, really nice. Nothing near as embarrassing or nerve wracking as I'd expected the previous day. Our initial and catastrophic introduction back in Rivendell aside, I was starting to realise I was growing to enjoy Legolas's company much more than I'd initially thought I ever would. And if the lingering little smile of his was anything to go by, I dared say he thought the same.
"Did something happen with Haldir the other day?" I asked much later, my thoughts drifting back to the grouchy Marchwarden I'd bumped into earlier as I retrieved my arrows from the last round. It was nearing lunchtime, and my aim was gradually improving, though I still had a very long way to go.
"He took a poisoned arrowhead out of your midsection. I would have thought you had noticed." Legolas replied without missing a beat. I mock-glared at him, and gave him a playful punch in the shoulder as I passed.
"I meant since yesterday, smart-ass. He seemed, well, more surly than usual when I saw him this morning."
Legolas gave a long-suffering sigh and leaned against one of the sparring ring's posts as he watched me. Rúmil and his training partners had long since departed and the training grounds were now empty except for us two.
"He is worrying needlessly," Legolas told me. "He believes that the lady he wishes to court may be enamoured with another man."
"Merileth, I know," I answered, reading my next shot, taking aim, and shooting. The arrow hit the target about three inches from the centre this time. "Is she?"
"Is she what?"
"Enamoured with another man?" I turned to peer at my tutor/gossip partner over one shoulder, only to see him scratching his neck and watching my progress in thought.
"I do not think so, she seems very taken with him to me," he said, eyeing me sideways as I adjusted my arm guard.
"Then what's the problem?"
"I believe he has been hesitant to pursue her affections all this time due to her lineage. She, as far as I can tell, is of full Sindar decent, whereas the Marchwarden is of only half Sindar and half Silvan. From what I have heard, he has recently got it into his head that she now has her sights set another ellon of full Sindar decent, and supposedly a better match."
I just looked that Legolas in bemusement.
"And that's important?" I asked. Legolas gave me a faintly disbelieving look and I frowned sharply, tapping the side of my head with my bow. "Hey, no memories over here. Remember?"
'Oh, such beautiful irony,' Tink's voice nearly made me physically jump. I hadn't heard her in a while and I had almost forgotten she was still there, lurking in my head.
Legolas distracted me with a soft noise of comprehension, and nodded in concession of my point. "Do you know anything of the Sindar and Silvan elf clans?" he asked.
"Only by name, not much of what makes them different."
He nodded, and gestured for me to keep practicing while he went on to explain.
"In short, the original Sindarin elves were among those who accepted the summons to come and reside in Valinor by the Valar during the Years of the Trees. Granted, unlike the Noldor, they never actually made it across the sea and into Valinor in the end, settling instead on the western coast of Middle Earth. They supposedly grew wiser and more skilful for their journey and the great kingdom they built there."
I released another half-decent shot and looked back at him, half curious and half fascinated. "And the Silvan clan?"
"The Silvan elves instead decided mid-journey not to accept the Valar's summons after all, and settled into a simpler life in the forests mostly this side of the Misty Mountains. They became reclusive, defensive, and supposedly less wise than many of the other clans. There has been much mixing of blood between the two over the ages, especially since both the two greater woodland realms are now ruled by the Sindar, but apparently some prejudices die hard," Legolas spoke that last part with a note of quiet, long-held anger in his voice. I was suddenly very tempted to question him about it further, but then decided not to — not a good idea if the darkened look on his face was anything to go by. I went back to shooting, focusing on getting my arrows to cluster together as much as I could, even if they were still hitting way off-centre. Legolas prompted me to keep the elbow of my drawing arm up, coming over and pressing a warm hand under said arm. It was much more tiring than it looked, and my wrists were starting to ache.
"So Haldir is, what? Afraid he will tarnish her purebred reputation by overtly displaying his half-blooded affection for her?" I asked, releasing my shot a bit too early and almost missing the target. Legolas cringed slightly at the blunt description (or possibly at my shooting technique) but didn't deny it, either.
"Something along those lines, though I fail to see why is should be such an issue for him. The maid in question doesn't seem to care. Better to simply tell her of his feelings and have done."
I was about to fire another shot, but stopped and lowered the bow, turning to face him incredulously.
"Wait, you mean he hasn't said anything? He's tail-over-tea-kettle for her and he hasn't even told her?"
Legolas gave me a look that was half pained and half amused, another little smile tugging at the edge of his lips.
"I have never heard it said quite like that before, but yes. He is 'tail-over-tea-kettle' for her, but he insists on saying nothing."
"That explains a lot," I sighed, thinking back to every time I'd seen them speaking or walking together, always so formal yet so obviously wanting not to be. "No wonder they're both so painfully awkward around each other all the time."
"In what way am I a beast of burden, exactly?" Legolas asked suddenly, still eyeing me with a curious frown. I eyed him back, my brain taking a moment to catch up with the sudden change in subject.
"Earlier you referred to me as an intelligent beast of burden. Why?"
"Oh, you mean when I called you a 'smart-ass,'" I asked remembering the phrase had slipped out before I'd realised it. He nodded, and I shrugged, waving a hand, vaguely. "It's a mild insult, Legolas. Like calling someone too smart for their own good."
"That makes no sense. Donkeys are neither sentient nor intelligent."
"No, you don't under—," I trailed off, faced with his perfectly serious expression, and threw up both my hands, bow and all. "I could literally spend the rest of my life in this conversation, couldn't I? No. No way, that is a rabbit hole I am not going down with you, Legolas Thranduilion."
Legolas didn't quite pull a disgusted look at the sound of his title, but it was a near miss.
"You heard the name through the handmaidens I take it?" he asked as I went back to practicing again. I gave a quiet sound of affirmation, trying to concentrate on my posture and aim.
"You have quite the fan club in that lot. They couldn't seem to stop nattering about you the other day while I was with them," I explained and took another shot (which actually hit near the centre this time). I heard Legolas groan and wipe a hand over his face behind me. A little smirk appeared on my mouth, then I chewed my lip and added speculatively: "The way they said it though, it sounds like it means a bit more than just who your father is."
"Oh? How do you mean?"
I drew back and lined up my next shot, and heard him hesitate for a moment. I waited patiently for a reply, but when it came it was in a very reluctant and somewhat afflicted tone of voice.
"They use it because it is technically my official title. It mean that my father is Thrandruil, the Sindar Elvenking of the Woodland Realm in the North. Which, by extension, makes me—."
My shot veered wildly up into the trees. It whistled past the ear of a startled guard high on a flet, but I hardly noticed his shouts of outrage — I was too busy gawking slack jawed at Legolas.
"Wait, you mean you're an actual prince?" I spluttered.
He looked deeply uncomfortable, almost embarrassed, but nodded.
I still have no idea why I reacted the way I did, but it all happened before I could stop it. I thought back over the past month since that day we'd first met, back over every time I'd called him "Prince Charming," and took one look at the sheepish expression on his face.
Then I burst out laughing. His expression turned from embarrassed to flummoxed, and it just made me laugh harder.
"Oh hell," I turned away from him, hunching over on myself, trying and failing to cover my snort-giggles with my free hand. "I've been using Disney references to mock an elven prince, for over a month."
"Well, that was… not the reaction I was expecting," Legolas said blankly. I managed to beat down the snickering and faced him, a laughing grin still spread over my face.
"Would you prefer it if I curtsey every time you pass from now on?"
"Are you sure? Maybe a courtly bow and a 'my liege' instead?"
"Manwë's breath, stop!" he huffed in exasperation, but he was smiling minutely, red faced. I started pealing with giggles again, and it felt ludicrously good. It took a minute this time, but I finally managed to get myself back under control again.
"I'm sorry, really. I'll stop now, I promise," I tried to say honestly, though the pair of us were both now struggling to hold back grins, and I was still occasionally snorting with repressed sniggers. He inclined his head to me curiously, one golden eyebrow raised.
"Am I to assume from that response that my status doesn't… bother you?"
"Aside from it meaning I've made a complete idiot of myself for the past month?" I shrugged lightly. "No, it doesn't bother me. Should it?"
He didn't provide me with a verbal answer, but his smile grew wider and noticeably warmer, and it made my insides squirm. I pointedly ignored the feeling, though it wasn't exactly unpleasant. My quiver was empty by now and my fingers were in dire need of a recovery break, so I came over and set my bow down beside where he had leaned his against the sparring ring posts.
"So, your father is the Sindar king of the Woodland realm. Does that makes you fully Sindar too?" I asked, then caught myself, glanced apologetically at him and added. "If it's not too rude to ask, I mean."
"It's alright," he replied as I came to lean back against the fence beside him. He rolled his head back to watch the tree tops rustling above us in thought. "Technically yes, though I was born and raised among the Silvan elves of the norther Woodland Realm. The difference in our blood meant little to me growing up, and even now I still fail to see the importance of it all. Whether or not we originally came from the same place, they are…" His face fell into a conflicted frown as he searched his head for the right words. I watched him curiously, wondering if that was the kind of expression I adopted whenever I thought of Rivendell, or London. A quiet, sad little expression tugged at the corner of my mouth.
"They're your people. It's your home," I finished without thinking about it. Legolas looked directly at me, his look of surprised melting into a crooked smile as me met my eye.
We sat there in surprisingly companionable silence, enjoying the calm quiet of the surrounding forest for a few minutes, just thinking while we took a break from training and talking. I thought about the meeting I'd had with Galadriel as I perched there, along with all the things she'd said about me, and the others. It felt like it had happened weeks ago, even though it had barely been a day and a night since I'd gazed into that mirror. So much had happened in the mean time, but one thing suddenly rose to the forefront of my memory, something she had said about old tales, long forgotten names, and one of my companions possibly being able to help me, if I were to only ask.
I shifted to glance at Legolas again. He wasn't looking at me, instead leaning with his head back and his eyes closed, but I had the distinct feeling he had been watching me curiously moments before. Could he have been the member of the Fellowship Galadriel had been talking about?
There was only one way to find out.
"Can I ask you something else? Not about the shooting or your fancy title I mean," I spoke up seriously. Legolas opened his grey-blue eyes and turned his head to face me with a relaxed, but amused look.
"It certainly has not stopped you yet."
"Well, you have me there," I huffed lightly, turning so my hip was resting agains the post and folding my tired arms over my chest. "You seem to know a lot of elven history off the top of your head. Have you ever heard the name Rávamë before?"
The other elf's smile wavered into confusion, and his spine straightened minutely, but noticeably.
"Why do you ask about that of all things?"
"It's one of the few things Lord Elrond ever managed to help me remember, just the name though. I don't know what it means, or why I remember it," I told him truthfully. He seemed to chew that over for a moment, but I could see the cogs turning, the reluctance growing in his expression. I unfolded my arms and leaned forward just a little so I could meet his uncertain eyes very clearly with my own. "Humour me? Please?"
That one little word obviously seemed to go a long way with him, because he relented with a sigh, rubbing his neck just below his left ear — a mannerism I noticed he only ever seemed to adopt when uncomfortable, or anxious.
"Alright, though I doubt I will be much help. I have only heard it in tales from when I was still a child," Legolas said hesitantly, crossing his arms over his chest and adopting a pensive expression. "Rávamë was supposedly a Maia, one of the lesser spirits of creation called into existence when the world was formed by Eru Illuvatar. She was originally a vassal of Yavanna, the mother of the earth, but grew to admire and learn a great deal from Oromë, the great hunter. She, like many of the other Maiar, as time went by, eventually grew to embody a certain aspect of her patron Valar's domain, helping to shape the world around them and becoming something akin to guardian spirits, I suppose. Rávamë herself embodied the wild but balanced nature of all living beasts and animals Illuvatar created. Her nature was to be untamed and wild, but peaceful and protective at the same time. She had, after all, been taught in both the ways of the hunt by Oromë, but also instructed in the art of only taking what she needed to live from the earth by Yavanna. She was in essence, both a spirit of the predatory hunt, and the natural instinct all creatures have to survive."
I listened intently as he spoke, drinking in the words as they came and letting them whirl around inside my head.
"So she was one of the lesser known Maiar?" I said, a little breathless with intrigued excitement. "Is she still there, in the West?"
"No," Legolas answered. "She left Valinor, and the protection of her patron, Yavanna. According to the stories I heard, her untamed nature meant that she grew tired of the endless hunts and feasts among naught but the elves and other Maiar. She craved the chance to see and explore the rest of the world Illuvatar had created, and that she and the other Maiar had had a hand in shaping. So, when the first Men woke in the East at the first rising of the sun, she wilfully chose to leave Aman and seek them out. According to the stories, she found them, and taught them the ways of the hunt and survival in the same way Oromë and Yavanna had instructed her," he paused for a moment, shaking his head as if shaking fog from this thoughts and looking at me dubiously. "Though it is worth mentioning that these kinds of tales are old, even for the elves, and there is much debate over their accuracy," he added as if in warning. I nodded, though I didn't really hear him.
"What happened to her after that? Do you know?" I asked immediately, honestly not caring a fig at this stage whether the stories were accurate or not. Legolas shook his head.
"No one knows for certain. She was said to have disappeared somewhere in Rhûn to the East, long before I was born," he scratched his chin and said thoughtfully, more to himself than to me. "Before even my father was born, now that I consider it."
I leaned back against the fence next to him, staring up at the trees and struggling to turn over all the information I'd just had dumped on me. Rávamë, was a Maia, or had been once upon a time. The name that had been so infuriatingly elusive in finding finally had a meaning, an identity to go with it — though granted, it was the last thing I'd been expecting. Now that I had it though, I had so many more questions, but the only one I could make sense of in the midst of all the others rattling around in my head was: is that who I had been? I'd felt it like an instinct when I'd first said the name that it wasn't mine, but could I have been wrong? Could that have been who I really was all along?
If the story Legolas had just told me was true, Rávamë had literally been one of the semi-angelic spirits of creation, called into existence by Eru Iluvatar himself before the beginning of time — one of those second only in strength to the Valar themselves. The Maiar were meant to be powerful, graceful beings of infinite wisdom, beauty and knowledge, able to bend and shape the laws of the world with only a spoken word.
I, on the other hand, had trouble getting the lid off a jar of peanut butter most days.
I was neither graceful, nor powerful, not by any standards really. I doubted most would have even believed I was an elf if it wasn't for the fact that my ears pointed so noticeably out from under my wispy brown hair. Also, according to Legolas's story, Rávamë had supposedly vanished some time during the start of the First Age, and that was well over 7000 years ago. Even if I was mad enough to believe I could have somehow been a Maia masquerading as an amnesia struck she-elf, I only had to look in a mirror to know I wasn't even a fifth that old. Elves who where touching on that ancient might not have been marred by wrinkles or grey hairs, but time had still left its mark on them. Lady Galadriel herself was a perfect example of that — the woman didn't look a day over thirty, and yet she left you with no doubt as to exactly how long she'd been treading the earth.
I had no idea how long I’d lived before my mind had been wiped, but however long it was, it wasn’t anything close to that long. I was sure of that, if nothing else. So if Rávamë had never been my name, then why was she so important that it had been the one thing etched so permanently into my mind? Why had that been one of the first and only things to claw its way out of my buried past? And there was another question. Why had Legolas — an apparent history buff, but not much more — been able to tell me what the name meant, when neither Gandalf nor Lord Elrond had? And even more unsettling; had they known but had simply not wanted to tell me? And if so, why?
Urgh, just trying to piece it all together was making my head throb.
Something warm appeared on my arm and I looked down to see Legolas had touched a hand to my shoulder in concern. My expression must have been a sight and a half because he suddenly looked worried.
"Are you alright?"
"I'm fine. Just trying to make sense of this all, and failing spectacularly," I replied, shaking the internal waffling from my head, and rubbing at my temples to get rid of the confused aches. "You say she disappeared sometime in the First Age? What happened to her? Where did she go?"
"The tales do not say," Legolas answered, dropping his hand from my arm though he still looked concerned.
"What? Not at all?"
"Not that I ever heard."
"How can that be? I mean, I get it happened a long time again, but history like that doesn't just vanish."
"I am certain if there was any more to the tale to be found, I would have read it at some point. There were few books regarding those old tales that I didn't finish," he stated matter-of-factly. I gave him a long sideways look, one eyebrow raised. He shrugged, but I saw his cheeks colour, "Though that was a long time ago, back when I was still but an elfling."
"You liked to read? As an elfling?"
A genuinely surprised smile tug at my lip. The mental image of a pint sized Legolas appeared in my head, sitting in a regal high-backed chair with a huge tome open in his lap, his little feet not quite reaching the floor, and my grin widened. His expression turned even more sheepishly embarrassed, and it made him look suddenly much younger.
"I was somewhat reclusive as a child," he explained, rubbing the side of his neck again and glancing anywhere but at me. "I used to spend a great deal of time reading histories and old tales in the palace library instead of training, much to my father's dismay."
"You were a nerd," I giggled quietly in delight. "A history nerd."
Though he still looked faintly embarrassed, and a tad confused, he peered at me in a way that said he couldn't quite decide to be annoyed or pleased by the reaction.
"You would not be the first to think it foolish."
I gave my hand a short wave of dismissal, still beaming.
"Feh, their loss is my gain. No one else could tell me what that name meant," I leant back against the fence again and inclined my head to him again. "Thank you for that."
Maybe it was just my abruptly high spirits, but the smile Legolas gave me right then was enough to warm me all the way through to the tips of my fingers and toes.
"You are welcome."
I hadn't quite realised how close we were until I realised I felt the warmth radiating off him against my upper arm and shoulder. I shifted away instinctively, putting a somewhat more respectable distance between us before he could notice my unease, even though — bizarrely — I hadn't really wanted to go anywhere. His eyes flicked momentarily to the gap now between us, and I cleared my throat awkwardly, trying to ignore the twisting feeling in my gut that wasn't hunger.
"I should probably head back to the camp, I promised I'd join the others for lunch," I mumbled, suddenly remembering that I'd agreed to meet Boromir earlier that morning. I also really wanted the chance to mull over everything I had just learned in peace for a while. Legolas nodded, getting up from the fence and stooping to pick up his bow and quiver.
"I'll join you shortly. I have some things to see to first. We can continue training later, if your hands are not too sore," he gestured questioningly at where I was still clutching my armguard. I shrugged and wiggled the fingers of my free hand at him.
"They're going to have to toughen up sooner or later. Might as well be sooner."
He chuckled and nodded at that, and the sound brought a warm smile to my lips again. I bent down, picked up my own bow and quiver too, and was just about to turn to head off when I was stopped by a question.
"May I ask you something first?" Legolas said abruptly. I slung my quiver over one shoulder and turned back to him.
"Those words on your knife, what do they mean?"
"Those names carved into the handle of your knife. 'Andrew. Sophia. Theo. Katie. February 10th. Don't forget.'" he quoted, reading from memory the eight words carved into the hilt of my gifted knife. My expression must have changed because he tilted his head to the side in confused concern, and asked more gently. "What do they mean?"
A dull, familiar ache appeared in my chest, right under my solar plexus. I swallowed quickly before the lump could appear in my throat. I'd carved those eight important words into the wood of my hunting knife's hilt the same day I'd been taken in by Lord Elrond, almost three years ago. I'd done it so that no matter how long I was here, I would always remember where I'd come from, and what I was working to get back to. I was getting better at masking the sadness I felt at thinking about them by now, especially now that I had confided in the hobbits at least — a burden shared is a burden halved and all that. However, that still didn't make the instinctive unease about sharing my biggest secret go away. I hadn't been expecting to be confronted with the question so soon, let alone from someone who had unwittingly memorised the names of my parents, brother, and best friend back on Earth.
I just stood there for a moment, thinking furiously about what to say. All the while, Legolas just waited patiently with a curious but concerned look in his grey-blue eyes. Finally, I heaved a heavy sigh of defeat.
"It's a… long story. One I'm not really sure I'm ready to tell. Not just yet anyway," I answered, a hint of regret tingeing my words. I wanted to tell him, honestly, but I felt on some instinctive base level that now wasn't the time. Not yet. Legolas's face fell a little, but he gave me a serene little 'I understand' nod of acceptance. I felt suddenly guilty looking up at him then, for not having the courage to just tell him then and there everything I'd told the hobbits. Then a thought struck me, and I indicated to him with a small smile. "I tell you what, I'll make you a deal. I'll tell you what they mean, if you tell me what mîr nín means."
Legolas's eyes widened slightly, and I saw the colour retreat from his face in very apparent shock.
I raised my brows in surprise at him, having not expecting that kind of reaction at all.
"You said it when Haldir was taking that arrowhead out of me. I heard you. What does it mean?"
In the past few hours I'd seen many new expressions on the face of the tall elf. Humour, confusion, sheepishness, even honest worry — but I had never expected in my life to see genuine panic set in his normally calm face. He tried to cover it, smoothing his expression into a neutral mask, but he couldn't quite keep it from seeping into his eyes.
"It was a slip of the tongue. It means nothing," he insisted, very deliberately not looking me in the face. I clucked my tongue, stepped forward and took hold of his forearm. He almost flinched as my fingers brushed the skin of his wrist, stopping him from bolting.
"Oh no you don't, your highness," I countered firmly. "I might have lost my memories, but I'm not that far gone. Tell me what it means."
He looked helplessly away from me across the empty training grounds, his gaze flicking between his only escape route, and my hand still latched around his wrist, keeping him held there. His skin was noticeably warm under my palm, and odd as it was, I was sure the tips of his ears had gone ever so slightly pink. He cleared his throat and forced himself to look at me again with obvious effort.
"You truly do not know?" he asked, as if not quite sure if he believed me. I shook my head in honest response. My Sindarin was reasonably decent by now, but there were still some pretty big non-crucial gaps in my vocabulary that sorely needed filling.
"No. Should I?"
His face relaxed a little as he looked down at me, though he still bore something of a resemblance to a spooked stag getting ready to make a run for it. He gave me a tiny, slightly crooked smile.
"Perhaps someday I will tell you, but not today."
I sighed in defeat, but smiled graciously, letting go of his arm and staring to turn away.
"If you say so, Prince Charming."
"Must you keep calling me that?"
"Oh fine, I'll stop," I agreed, stopping and peering over my shoulder at him. I pointed a finger back at him. "But only if you promise to use my name from now on, no more of this 'my lady' nonsense."
His crooked smile became something far warmer, less formal, and just a little bit devious. For a moment I saw a glimpse of the playfully boyish expression he'd worn during our encounter the day before by the Looking Pools. It was a look that, despite its irritatingly smug handsomeness, I was growing rather fond of seeing on him.
"A tough bargain indeed," he said finally. "I'll see you later then, Eleanor."
I smiled back too, if a little more shyly, quickly turning and moving away before he could see the unwilling but pleased colour rising in my own face.
"See you later, Legolas."