Chapter 8: An Abundance of Fancy Titles
Frodo Baggins finished his recovery much faster than I think even Lord Elrond had been expecting. I'd been ordered by my mentor to tend to him during his recuperation — which mostly involved mixing up and applying topical salves and changing bandages. With the Morgul blade splinter gone, the rest of his injuries were fairly minor, and he would slip in and out of semi-consciousness whenever I was there.
Bilbo and Gandalf had been coming in to see him regularly, and on the third day of treatment Glorfindel had come up to me in the hall outside and bluntly stated: "Master Frodo is awake. Your attendance is no longer required." Then he'd glided gracefully off down a passageway.
'Probably to go and drop-kick puppies, or take candy from small children,' I'd thought sourly.
That of course meant it was back to work as usual for me. Elrond had me organising the herb stocks in the sanatorium this time. Cataloguing, checking dates of the harvest, making sure they were properly stored. It was mind numbingly dull work, but it left me with to think over what was happening.
It had been two years since I'd come to Arda, but my limited memories of Tolkien's stories hadn't faded much. I'd made sure of that. From my own fragmented recall of the books, and from talking with Bilbo about his adventures, I had a pretty good idea which part of Tolkien's 'story' I'd ended up in.
Frodo had been brought to Rivendell after being stabbed with a Morgul blade. Gandalf was here, Aragorn had returned as well, and the One Ring was here too. It hardly took a rocket scientist to put the pieces together. Especially when Lord Elrond told me the that there was to be a meeting of emissaries from all the free races of Middle Earth.
And it was to be held here in Rivendell, today.
And I was already late.
The reason for my tardiness was thanks to the towering pile of record books I'd been given the last minute task of returning to the apothecary on the other side of the house. Each book was as thick as my arm, stuffed to the bindings with loose bits of parchment, and weighed about the same as a small dog. I'd just about managed to stumble to the top of the stairs without dropping any or tripping over my dress, when something big and solid as a brick wall barrelled into me from my right.
If I hadn't been so weighed down with all the books, I would have been hurled backwards off my feet and into the air. As it was, I was saved from being bulldozed back down the stairs by a large hand seizing me by the wrist. The record books weren't so lucky. They were catapulted out of my arms, and crashed thunderously back down the stone staircase while loose pages flew in every direction like party streamers.
Hell. I was going to get hell for this.
I whirled on the spot, more than ready to give the idiot that had ploughed into me a pointy-ear-full when my tongue suddenly lost it's ability to function. The man standing before me, still holding me firmly by the wrist, was not an elf.
The only coherent thought I could form at seeing him was; 'Oh thank God, someone with a beard!'
"I'm so sorry!" He spluttered, quickly releasing my arm as if it was a hot poker fresh out of the fire. I'd barely opened my mouth to answer him when he stooped and started hastily picking up the papers that had been scattered like confetti over the landing.
I just stared down at him like an idiot.
He was a tall man, or at least he would have been if he'd been standing, with auburn hair he'd neglected to cut in a while. It fell almost to the tops of his leather shoulder guards. He was also broad across the shoulders, a trait I'd only seen in Aragorn and the elves who trained serious in swordplay. It was small wonder he'd nearly sent me flying just by walking into me. He stood up to hand me one of the books he'd knocked out of my arms, and I got a good view of a really nice pair of blue eyes to go with the russet bread. Clearly he'd won some kind of genetic lottery at birth, because he was handsome. Really, handsome.
After a few months of living in Rivendell I'd given up feeling self conscious about my own appearance, shortly after my first dress fitting with the house's seamstress. When you lived in a place where everyone was beautiful enough to make Kate Moss look like a shrivelled hag, worrying about your own physical attractiveness kind of lost its relevance. There was no way I was ever going to be able to stand next to Arwen, or Glorfindel, or even Lindir and feel like anything but a toad. I'd had over two years to get used to feeling like the ugly stepsister, and it had stopped bothering me a long time ago.
But now it did.
"Please forgive my clumsiness, my lady." He apologised again, stacking the disarrayed papers and handing them back to me.
As was my custom when life presents me with someone of greater than average attractiveness: I started babbling like an idiot.
"Oh, don't worry!" I stammered breathlessly, "Thanks for, um… not throwing me down the stairs."
'Smooth, Boss, very smooth.'
'Shut it, Tink. You're not helping.' I silently growled at my internal double. She chuckled and fell obediently silent.
The human man scooped up another of the book and the last bits of paper within easy reach, but instead of handing them over, he held onto them and extended his hand palm up to me. For two horrible seconds I had no idea what to do. I just stared stupidly at him. Then I hastily started juggling the heavy books into one arm and allowed him to take my free hand. If he was bothered by my obvious lack of social graces, he made no show of it.
"Boromir, son of Denethor the Steward of Gondor, my lady." He introduced himself, and I felt my heart skip a couple of frantic beats as he stooped formally over my hand, "I'm here to attend the—."
"You're here for Master Elrond's council!" I blurted before I could stop myself; suddenly remembering him, or at least his name. Boromir gave me a very startled look and I slammed the lid down on my internal jar of spoilers before I could give anything away, "I mean, of course you are! Why else would you be here, right? Ha ha!"
I started laughing, but it came out a bit too high pitched and not burdened with much dignity, so I tried to subtly turn it into a cough. Boromir just nodded and smiled politely down at me, which only made it harder to focus on speaking like an intelligent being.
"Yes, I was on my way there now. But I'm afraid I've found myself quite lost. These halls are quite the maze."
"It's alright, I used to get lost all the time when I first got here." I said, but inside my head I was banging my head against a wall. Jeez, since when had I turned into the simpering, doe-eyed heroine from a trashy romance novel? And who gave him the right to be that good looking and charming? I never had this problem with elvish men. They were all too pretty…
"You're not also here as an emissary for the Council. Are you, my lady?" Boromir asked, looking at me with polite curiosity.
"No. Well, not really, sort of…" I stumbled over my word, still trying to pull the shreds of my dignity back around me. He gave me another rather nice smile, raising a questioning eyebrow and clearing expecting an explanation. I tried to ignore it and coughed again to get my squeaking voice under control and looked down at the books in my arms. "I suppose you'll find out soon enough. I… have to return these first. Do you need me to show you to the hall?"
"I think that would be best, since I'm very likely to lose my way again if you abandon me here." He chuckled lightly, and began picking up the last of the papers littering the stairs, "Allow me."
"Oh you really don't have to—."
"I insist." He interrupted me with another small smile, "It is the least I can offer in return for my clumsiness."
I couldn't bring myself to argue. We spent the next five minutes collecting the last remaining bits of parchment off the stairs and landing, before Boromir chivalrously (and maybe a little foolishly) offered to help me deliver them to the apothecary too. She was a scary looking she-elf with the piercing grey gaze of an angry harpy, and she reminded me vividly of a librarian who'd once worked at my primary school. She gave me a thoroughly disapproving look at the shabby state the record books were in, but I'd already started herding Boromir back out the door before she could give me a grilling.
"Well, that was bracing." He muttered quietly the moment we'd retreated to safety back down the hall, "I've encountered trolls with more forgiving dispositions than your herb-master."
I snorted in a very un-lady like fashion.
"I did try to warn you. She's always been grouchier than usual around me." I gestured up at him. He all but towered over me by more than a foot, "I should probably be thanking you though. You just saved me from a very long lecture."
"I live to serve, my lady." He chuckled amiably. His smile must have been contagious because I couldn't help but smile back.
"Eleanor." I told him, "My name's Eleanor."
"A pleasure, Lady Eleanor."
I twitched a bit at the 'lady' part, but was pleased to hear him use the proper pronunciation of my name for a change. I couldn't bring myself to be repelled by the cheesy dialogue. It had been years since I'd had the chance to talk to someone who looked like they were within a decade of my own age.
When we finally arrived at the entrance to the hall I let Boromir walk in ahead of me, subtly trying to use his considerably bigger frame to disguise my own. It almost worked.
The hall was already full to the brim with emissaries from the elves, men, dwarves; and everyone already seated in a semi-circle and talking quietly amongst themselves. Only three people even noticed I was there at all. Gandalf, who smiled almost invisibly at me. Aragorn, who gave me only the tiniest nod of acknowledgment. And Glorfindel, who eyed me from were he'd been talking with two other unfamiliar golden haired elves.
'Tic, tac, toe, three blond supermodels in a row.' I chuckled silently to myself, schooling my expression and deliberately avoiding their gazes. Glorfindel in particular was giving me a withering look, and I had to fight not to scowl back at him.
He'd disapproved of me on principle since I'd quit learning swordplay from him a few months ago, in favour of something less likely to end in surprise amputations. To his credit, he had a good reason to dislike me — I might have told him in a fit of pain induced anger exactly where he could shove his "noble blade" before stalking out of the training ground. I'd been made to apologise of course, but it turns out elf lords as old as Glorfindel tended to hold grudges for a very, very long time.
"Lord Boromir." Elrond stood and welcomed the human man at my side with a formal bow of the head, bringing his hand to his heart in the elven sign of greeting. Then his eyes fell on me.
"Apprentice." He acknowledged me more quietly and with far less approval at my tardiness, gesturing minutely with his chin for me to take my seat. Boromir gave me a mildly surprised look at the revelation of my 'title,' which I met with a sheepish rise and fall of my shoulder before quickly taking my place beside my mentor.
As Lord Elrond's ward and apprentice, I had the seat directly on his left, while Arwen (who was never late for anything) as his daughter and only present heir, had the honour of sitting at his right. We were there as a show of formality for the visiting emissaries — more so Arwen than me. The only real reason I was even there was because most of the emissaries had heard that Lord Elrond was training a new apprentice, and they were all expecting to see her there in support of her master's council.
It was for that reason that I was under very strict instructions to keep my mouth firmly shut for the entire proceedings. Two years as my teacher had been long enough for Lord Elrond to learn that my mouth tended to run whenever I was nervous.
"Strangers from distant lands, friends of old, you've been summoned here to answer the threat of Mordor. Middle Earth stands upon the brink of destruction, none can escape it. You will unite or you will fall. Each race is bound to this fate, this one doom."
Elrond, along with everyone else in the room, turned to face the hobbit who was perched beside Gandalf and looking pretty anxious about being here.
"Bring forth the Ring, Frodo."
I gave Frodo what I hoped was an encouraging little smile as he got to his feet, gingerly moving forward to where a stone podium had been set up, and placing the innocent looking gold ring onto it.
"So it is true." I heard Boromir's voice whisper as everyone in the hall fell into hushed mutterings as well. The atmosphere in the open air hall suddenly felt thick and heavy, and I knew without drawing upon my knowledge of the books that it was the effect of the Ring. No one in the semi-circle of different races seemed to be immune to it. I could see Aragorn eyeing Boromir out of the corner of his eye as the other man rose slowly out of his chair.
"I had a dream." He started slowly, far more dazed and less controlled than I'd seen him in the hall outside minutes before, "I saw the Eastern sky grow dark. But in the West a pale light lingered. It was crying 'doom is near at hand, Isildur's bane is found'. Isildur's bane…"
As if not fully realising what he was doing, Boromir's hand began to drift out towards the Ring. I felt my hands gripping the armrests of my chair hard enough to turn my knuckles white. I didn't remember this part. I didn't remember anyone succumbing to the Ring this quickly.
I wanted so badly to shout a warning, but my mouth remained tightly shut.
'Don't touch it!' My I screamed silently, but Lord Elrond didn't.
"Boromir!" He thundered aloud.
Then without warning, actual thunder boomed through the hall. It shook the pillars, rattled the leaves from nearby trees, and the autumn sunlight abruptly drained from the room as if covered by a storm cloud. I didn't even realise that it was Gandalf's voice making the ground shake until I saw he'd stood up and his lips moving. He was speaking in a horrible twisting language that I couldn't understand, but could feel writhing all the way up through me like a serpent. It made my head spin and my eyes lose focus, and something deep in the darkest parts of my mind broke with an audible snap.
Then suddenly I was not in the council hall anymore…
I was standing in a field littered with the corpses of men, elves, horses, and horrifying beasts I didn't have names for. I was staring down at the body of a woman in dark armour lying in the bloodstained grass. A woman I didn't know by name.
A woman I'd just killed.
I recognised the blade protruding from her chest as my own, somehow. I'd thrust it through her heart seconds before. She was smiling up at me with a victorious grin on her beautiful face as the light faded from her inhuman yellow eyes, their pupils slitted like a cat's.
"Well played, mîth pazâth.* Well played." She laughed through the blood filling her mouth, pale flickers of gold fire collecting around the wound in her chest. The disturbing yellow colour was draining from her eyes as she looked at up me, "Now it's your turn."
Then the thunder suddenly stopped, and I was back in my body again. I could hear myself gasping for breath as if I was being held under water.
"Jesus Christ!" I rasped between breaths, slumping bonelessly in my seat and trying to pull my senses back together.
Whatever had just happened, I clearly hadn't been the only one who'd been affected. Prying my eyes open and looking around, I saw almost all of the elves present had gone pale and breathless too. Arwen was hunched over herself and looked like she was about to be sick.
Lord Elrond seemed to be the only one who remained in reasonable control of himself because he whirled on the old wizard with very near outrage, "Never before had any voice uttered the words of that tongue here in Imladris!"
"I do not ask your pardon, Master Elrond, for the Black Speech of Mordor may yet be heard in every corner of the West! The Ring is altogether Evil!" Gandalf countered, somehow managing to capitalise the word 'evil' without even raising his voice.
So that had been it. He'd been speaking the language created by Sauron himself — no wonder the frigging earth had started shaking. But that still didn't explain what on earth what I'd seen. It had been like a movie playing behind my eyes…
'Tink,' I called inside my head, 'what the hell just happened? What was that I just saw?'
I heard the same confusion and excitement as mine reflected in her voice when she replied. 'I'm not sure. It looked like a memory of a dream, but… more real. Whatever it was, it happened too fast for me to get much more than you did.
'A memory?' I froze in my chair as the thought formed in my mind, 'You mean that could that have been one of my memories?'
I was vaguely aware of the fact that Boromir had started grandstanding again, but I wasn't listening anymore. My brain had gone from zero to full speed in seconds. Whatever that was I'd just seen, it had been the first thing to even come remotely close to a recovered memory I'd found since I'd been here. It had made no sense, and had been only seconds long; but after two years of waiting it was something.
I looked up from where I'd been staring at my hands to find Gandalf staring at me.
Everyone else seemed to have recovered from his impression of a Skrillex concert, their attention now focused on Boromir, but Gandalf's focus was fixed entirely on me. His normally kindly blue eyes were narrowed in an expression I couldn't read. Flickers of confusions, shock, and something else I didn't recognise all whispered across his face.
He'd seen something. Whatever had just happened to me, he knew something about it. I was sure of it.
I wasn't given a chance to so much as open my mouth to question him because Aragorn's commanding voice suddenly rang across the hall like a warning bell. "You cannot wield it, none of us can!" He spoke up with a severe look at Boromir, having been suspiciously silent up until now, "The One Ring answers to Sauron alone, it has no other master."
As kind and polite as Boromir had been to me, I saw right then that he was more than capable of looking down his nose at someone he deemed inferior.
"And what would a Ranger know of this matter?" He sneered. He'd clearly intended the question as rhetorical, because he and everyone else in the room looked stunned when one of the blond supermodel elves came to his feet.
"This is no mere Ranger," The male elf with shocking grey-blue eyes stated boldly, aiming them in a razor-sharp glare at Boromir, "This is Aragorn, son of Arathorn. You owe him your allegiance."
Boromir's eyebrows shot up, and he turned back to Aragorn with a renewed look of disbelief, thought this time it was tinged with shock. "Aragorn? This is Isildur's heir?"
"And heir to the throne of Gondor." The blond elf added, still fixing Boromir with a rather unsettling stare. I saw Aragorn put his face in his hands.
"Havo dad, Legolas.**" Aragorn told the elf with an almost embarrassed shake of his head.
I looked over at them all curiously. So that was Legolas? I'd been a soppy teenager back when I'd read the Fellowship of the Rings, but even then I'd never pictured him being quite so… pretty. Even among the other golden haired elf lords, he managed to look like a pissed off Disney prince. He also looked more than ready to start off at Boromir again, but Aragorn abruptly fixed him with such a hard look that he closed his mouth and remained silent.
'Know thy place, pretty boy.' I thought just a little bit smugly, pleased to finally see someone else on the receiving end of Aragorn's 'stop-talking-or-unpleasant-things-will-follow' glare.
"Gondor has no king," Boromir murmured quietly at the elf with a hard look all this own, then turned to Aragorn with his sneer back in place once again, "Gondor needs no king."
I already knew Aragorn was no push over by any stretch of the imagination, but it still irked me to see him let Boromir talk to him that way and give no reaction at all. I peered over at him, trying to read his deliberately blank expression, but he avoided my gaze along with everyone else's in the room.
"Aragorn is right, we cannot use it." Gandalf announced once Boromir was seated again.
"Then you have only once choice." Elrond continued before anyone else could argue, "The ring must be destroyed."
"Then what are we waiting for?!" One of the dwarves with a huge red beard was suddenly up out of his seat and swinging a battle axe the size of my leg down at the Ring with a bellowing shout. I'd known what was going to happen before the axe came down.
What I hadn't expected to happen was for the blade to explode upon impact, or for me to get hit in the face with a flying piece of the broken handle.
A blunt but big piece of wood clouted me right between the eyes, and I shrieked and almost fell backwards out of my chair. Both my hands flew up and clamped over my face as pain exploded behind my eyes. The blow hadn't quite been enough to break my nose, but it still felt like I'd been socked in the face with well pitched a rounders ball.
"What sorcery is this that shatters dwarven steel like glass?!" The dwarf bellowed in outrage, his shouting sending waves of pain through my temples and drilling holes in my eardrums.
"You seriously thought hitting one of the damned Rings of Power with an axe was actually going to work?!" I bit furiously at him without thinking, burning pain still pulsing through my entire face. It was only when I lowered my hands from my throbbing nose that I realised I hadn't snapped the words quietly; so much as angrily shouted them across the entire room.
Everyone was staring at me, mixed reactions of shock and outrage on every face; human, dwarf and elf.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Elrond slump in his chair and pinch the bridge of his nose. I felt a tiny pang of shame in my gut. I didn't get a chance to sink through my chair in embarrassment because the redheaded dwarf was already back on his feet, beard brisling in indignation.
"And who are you to speak out like that to any of us here, girl?" He yelled at me, and I swear to God I saw a tiny bit of spit fly. I opened my mouth to bite back an angry retort, but Elrond cut sharply across me.
"Élanor is a ward of my house, and my apprentice." He stated with calm diplomacy, but aimed a severe sideways look at me and I dearly wished for the floor to swallow me whole, "And though you'll have to forgive her forthright manner of speaking, Gimli son of Gloin, she is correct. The Ring cannot be destroyed by any craft we here possess. It was made in the fires of Mount Doom, and only there can it be unmade. It must be taken deep into Mordor and cast back into the fiery chasm from whence it came."
He let his piercing gaze sweep one over everyone in the room and finished, "One of you must do this."
A thick silence rang through the entire hall. If a comedic cricket had started chirping in the background it wouldn't have been out of place.
"One does not simply walk into Mordor." Boromir broke it with an exasperated disbelieving tone, "Its Black Gates are guarded by more than just orcs. There is evil there that does no sleep. And the Great Eye is ever watchful. It is a barren wasteland, riddled with fire, and ash, and dust. Even the air you breathe is a poisonous fume. Not with ten thousand men could you do this. It is folly!"
"Have you heard nothing Lord Elrond has said?" Disney prince Legolas was on his feet once again, and this time he wasn't bothering to be diplomatic, "The ring must be destroyed!"
"And I suppose you think you're the one to do it!" The redheaded dwarf who I now knew as Gimli fired back, also getting to his feet and aiming his pint sized wrath at the blond elf opposite him.
"And if we fail, what then? What happens when Sauron takes back what is his?!" Boromir shouted over them both.
"I will be dead before I see the Ring in the hands of an elf!"
The chaos that ensued next could have put most bar fights to shame. Men, elves, dwarves, everyone in the room was suddenly on their feet, shouting and pointing fingers. I was half expecting someone to whip out a smashed beer bottle and turn it into a real blast form my bartending days. The only people in the entire hall who weren't contributing to the mayhem were Lord Elrond, Gandalf, Frodo, Arwen and me.
"This is insane." I mumbled in disbelief, just watching at the entire room dissolving into testosterone driven chaos, "Somebody's head's going to end up being paraded around on a spike at this rate."
"Be grateful it isn't your head, apprentice." Elrond said grimly, still pinching the bridge of his nose. I swallowed nervously. It was an empty threat, I knew, but it was more than enough to show exactly how angry he was with me for the scene I'd just caused.
A small, clear voice cut through the mayhem of the council chamber. It was a voice I hadn't heard up until then, but I knew without looking who it belonged to.
"I will take it! I will take it! I will take the Ring to Mordor!" Frodo said bravely, though his bright blue eyes held fear and his face was scared as all eyes suddenly fell on him, "Although… I do not know the way."
Gandalf was the first to rise out of his chair and come to stand by the little hobbit, resting a companionable hand on his shoulder. "I will help you bear this burden, Frodo Baggins, as long as it is yours to bear."
I turned and saw Aragorn rise too, far more solemn than Gandalf but just as determined. "By my life or death, if I can protect you, I will. You have my sword."
"And you have my bow."
"And my axe."
I watched as both Legolas and Gimli too came to stand beside Frodo and Aragorn, though neither of them looking particularly pleased about being next to each other. Legolas in particular looked close to rolling his eyes.
'Five down,' Tink whispered in my head, 'Four left to go.'
My heart started thudding in excitement as I watched Boromir slowly rising from his seat too. His eyes flickered briefly over the Ring one more time, before he smiled that warming smile of his at Frodo.
"You carry the fate of us all, little one." He said softly but with finality, "If this is indeed the will of this council, then Gondor will see it done."
Time slowed down for me in that moment as I looked around at them all, warring with myself inside where I still sat glued to my seat beside Lord Elrond.
Every instinct in me was screaming that this was it! This was the opportunity I'd been waiting over two years for! If there was any chance left to help me finally remember who I'd been here and get home, it was this. My better sense was also growling at me to be quiet. What good would getting involved in this do? I'd read the books, albeit a long time ago. I already knew what was going to happen, mostly. What would getting involved accomplish? I'd just be throwing myself into danger on the off chance that I might find another clue to my past. But my instincts argues that staying obediently silent now would mean I'd be letting the only clue I'd had in years walk right out of my life, probably forever.
That's what it boiled down to in those few second. If I stayed quiet I'd get no answers; but at least I'd be safe. It would have been sensible to sit quietly and do nothing, but…
'Hell, I've never been good at being sensible...'
Slowly, I rose out of my chair too.
"So will I." I said, my voice a bit rough with nerves.
Elrond's head whipped around so fast I'm surprised he didn't give himself whiplash. "Élanor, what are you…?"
"You cannot be serious, girl." Gimli talked across the elf lord without missing a beat, eyeing me contemptuously behind thick eyebrows.
Doubt suddenly gripped me, and I almost sat back down again. But then I could suddenly hear a memory of my running coach's voice playing in my mind. He was repeating the lecture he'd given me right before my first 5k race: "If you start telling yourself 'I can't do it', then you've already lost."
So I stood there firmly, staring the gruff looking dwarf down as best I could from my significantly higher vantage point, keeping a harsh and haughty glare plastered onto my face. He didn't need to know that my hands were shaking and my knees were trembling.
"Actually, I'm perfectly serious."
"The dwarf is right." I recognised the voice of Legolas and looked up from Gimli to find him staring straight past me at Lord Elrond as if I wasn't even there. "She is no warrior. She cannot have the experience or the capability of defending herself should we face danger along the way."
That irked me. At least the dwarf had had the decency to voice his displeasure at me, not my teacher.
"I'm still here you know!" I bristled indignantly. Legolas finally turned his sharp grey eyes on me, sending me a cold look. It was actually kind of impressive how intimidating he managed to appear, considering he was almost as pretty as Arwen. If I hadn't already taken an immediate and thorough disliking to the guy's attitude, I might have asked him to teach me how he did it.
"You'd be a liability." He said flatly, and for some reason the words both chilled me and enraged me at the same time. I scowled, my pride and hope stung, and before I knew what I was saying the words were already out of my mouth.
"Liability suggests uselessness," I said, my tone icy, "And I wouldn't be useless to you."
Every one of the men in the hall except for Gandalf, Elrond, Frodo and Aragorn looked at me with damn near tangible levels of scepticism.
"Oh? And what kind of useful purpose is it you are suggesting then, lassie?" Gimli enunciated the nickname as if it was some sort of curse word meant to insult me. I started to speak again, but Frodo's small clear voice rose up out of the silence.
"I remember you," He said, and I turned to see him looking up at me as if trying to recall a memory that was very, very fuzzy, "You were there when I was being healed, and while I was recovering. You helped treat me."
"I… yeah, I was." I confirmed, shifting a little conformably from foot to foot. Strange that it was Frodo's tone of gratitude that had unnerved me more than the hostile voices of the others present, "Though, mostly that was Master Elrond's work. He took the Morgul splinter out of you."
Frodo frowned slightly, still fixing me with a startlingly blue gaze. I pointedly ignored the harsh stares and glares of the others present, and instead I spoke only to the hobbit who was still looking up at me with an expression I couldn't read.
"It's true, I am not a warrior, Mr. Baggins," I said hesitantly, choosing my words as carefully as I could, "But I've dealt with most injuries before. Broken bones, lacerations, concussions, burns. I can treat your wounds and stitch you back together as well as I can stitch up any clothes that need mending. If you'll let me to join you, I will do my best to keep you and everyone who follows you in one piece."
I eyed Legolas and added, "Maybe two pieces."
The blond elf narrowed his grey-blue eyes at me, his lips pressed into a thin line. Then Gandalf came out with something I really didn't expected to hear from any of them.
"I believe she should be allowed to join us."
If there's been surprised in the room when I'd stood up and offered to join them, there was damn near awed shock when Gandalf backed me up. He ignored the baffled looks (mine included) effortlessly, eyed me with a tiny conspiratorial twinkle in his eye and continued, "We can carry all the bandages and antidotes we wish, but that would be no substitute for a trained healer. And bar Lord Elrond himself, I doubt you could hope to find one present and willing with a steadier hand and a calmer head than his own apprentice."
I tried not to gulp.
Grateful as I was to Gandalf for his vote of confidence, he might have been exaggerating my abilities for the benefit of the crowd. Most elven healers had hundreds of years to master their craft. By comparison, my two years of intensive study with Lord Elrond probably equated to little more than an elvish crash course in first aid.
My mentor appeared to be thinking the exact same thing, because his frown was so deep that it looked as if a thunder cloud had rolled in on his eyebrows.
"Here!" Something, or rather someone, suddenly shot out of the bushed right behind me. A rather rotund looking hobbit with reddish gold curly hair pushed past us all and forced his way to Frodo's side, "Mr. Frodo's not going anywhere without me!"
"No, indeed not. It seems hardly possible to separate you two, even when he was invited to a secret council and you were not." Elrond commended dryly, though there was an amused smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
"Oi! We're coming too!" Two more hobbits came sprinting out from where they'd been hiding behind two nearby pillars and came to a stop on Frodo's other side, grinning excitedly, "You'll have to send us home tied up in a sack to stop us!"
"Anyway, you need people of intelligence on this sort of mission, quest… thing." The shorter one said sagely.
I found myself laughing despite my nerves and the hobbit grinned cheerily up at me. My giggles died quickly though when I turned to find my mentor looking at my seriously. He didn't look angry, at least not that I could tell. He looked… worried. Almost pained.
He gave my a searching look and finally said quietly, "If this is truly your choice, apprentice, then I will not stop you."
I couldn't explain why, but I felt an unexpected shot of sadness mix in with my anxiousness and excitement at those words. Then he swept his gaze from me and over the entire group of us standing there in the middle of the council hall.
"Ten companions?" He said quietly,"So be it; you shall be the Fellowship of the Ring."
All four hobbits smiled, but it was the shorter one next to me who said with a completely straight face: "Right… where are we going?"
* "little princess" (Adûnaic - speculative translation)
** "Sit down, Legolas." (Sindarin)