The Choice

Chapter 14

'Just keep running,' that is what she kept telling herself as she observed the men pulling farther and farther away from her. Even the hefty dwarf was faring better than she was. Every step sent agonizing pain through her body and every breath felt like knives in her chest. How long had they been running? It seemed like hours, though she knew from the sun's location, that was not so. Her feet ached where blisters were forming and where the jagged rocks beneath her feet dug into her skin.

Unable to lift her feet accordingly as she ran, her foot caught on the pointed end of rock, sending her plummeting to the ground. A plume of dust rose around her, making her cough. Slowing pushing up, she grimaced from the pain. She hurt in places she did not even know existed on her body. Evelyn looked at her now bleeding palms covered in dirt, and was quiet positive it would fester. That was just what she needed, an infection to top off her exquisite luck of late. To add to her dismay she found her trousers ripped at the knees, which were also bleeding. She sat for a few long minutes, her head on her knees, wishing she were anywhere but here. She felt so alone and lost, but she knew she could not stay still long, with each passing moment the others pulled farther ahead. But staying here would be so easy.

Grudgingly she managed to push herself up, wobbling as she did so. The world spun around her before she shut her eyes tight, hoping the world would right itself—and it did, eventually. Summoning all the strength she could muster she started running once more, the figures of the men now little black dots on the horizon. Maybe they had forgotten her, or maybe they planned to leave her on purpose. Either way she was going to continue even if it killed her. She might as well choose the way she perished in the wild.

Her running turned into more of a dragging gait as the hours past. Her legs no longer hurt because she could no longer feel them; they just seemed to move out of habit. She knew she was on the verge of heat exhaustion when she stopped sweating, but still she kept on. No longer could she see the men in front of her as the sun sank below the horizon. Evelyn knew she should be worried, but she was just too fatigued and her mind was becoming clouded. The stars were playing tricks on her mind. They seemed to leap at her, trying to snag her limbs, to capture her. The rocks jutted out of the ground like huge monsters wanting her as their next meal. Little gasps escaped her lips as she struggled to release herself from the figments of her imagination.

Finally, she fell again with a slight scream to her hands and knees. Everything was spiraling around her and Evelyn knew then she was going to be sick. She retched. However, for the lack of food in her belly, only bile came up, stinging the back of her throat like a hot poker. Tears stung her eyes before trailing down her now black face, leaving a trail of cleansed skin in their wake. She retched again. 'Just keep going,' she told herself again, she had to. Her steps now alternated between stumbles as she strained to keep moving.

Strong hands gripped her upper arms, pulling her upright. Fighting the force was not even an option; she just stood limply in his grasp trying to focus on the face. Had one of the monsters finally caught her? Fear seized her, but she found she could do nothing but stare wide eyed ahead. It took many moments to realize what was holding her was no monster, but a person. The starlight illuminated the pale face looking down at her, and the blond hair shown like spun gold; he must be an angel, she thought, thinking she was surely dying. She felt herself being lifted from the ground; yes, this angel was coming to take her home. Evelyn felt a moment of embarrassment in her last few moments of consciousness. She knew she was a repugnant sight, covered in her own blood and vomit, with a nice coating of dirt to top it off.

Legolas looked down at the woman in his arms, still muttering curses in elvish. She was well past the point of exhaustion, and in no shape to be able to continue their travels come morning. She was filthy, he noted then, looking at her form in his arms. He felt another pang of sympathy for her, seeing the ripped and bloodied clothing, he knew she took a good many hard falls. This was no place for her. His sympathy was, however, short lived. He thought of the hobbits now captive by the Uruks. They would never catch them in time with her in tow. Sighing, he took the woman to their make shift camp. As he set her down, he heard her mumble a word to which he was not familiar.

"Aingeal." Her voice was cracked and barely audible. If he did not know better, he would have thought she was calling him a name. Legolas stood then, walking off without sparing a backwards glance.

The peaceful slumber of unconsciousness did not last long. Raised voices woke her from nearby. Tempted to shift to hear better, she stopped herself, knowing her movement would be noticed. Her curiosity was piqued. They spoke in Westron, clearly not worried about her being awake.

"There is no other choice, Aragorn, if we are to reach the Uruks." Legolas hissed under his breath, his frustration evident by his tone. Evelyn could almost picture his face, forehead creased with wrinkles, eyes narrowed, and no more than thinslits. She was thinking viper.

"We cannot just leave a defenseless woman alone in the wilds." Aragorn stated flatly, rubbing a dirtied hand over his face. Though she could not see his face, she could feel his exasperation. Guilt tore through her; it was her fault after all.

Of course, the cold hard truth was that she needed to be left behind. However, could she do that? She wanted to help Merry and Pippin; she desperately wanted her little friends to live. Nevertheless, she did not want to die, and being alone in the wilderness with naught but a sword and immobile muscles could only mean her death. She was being selfish, maybe and self-preserving, but could any normal person blame her? This was not her world, nor her time. She was not brought up to give her life for a cause as these men clearly were. If the hobbits died, she paused in her thoughts to speak a silent prayer; she would just have to find a way to live with the guilt that she survived when they did not. What else could she do?

"What would you have us do? She will not be able to travel come dawn."

"I can stay behind with the lassie, keep her safe." Gimli interjected, shocking them all. It took all her will power not to jerk her head to look at the dwarf.

"It would be dangerous to split up, though I cannot think of a better alternative." Aragorn replied. He was not happy with the situation, wondering like all the others why Galadriel had sent her. Now faced with a precarious choice, he was not sure there was a completely correct solution. Though he could not deny he approved of Gimli's plan over leaving her alone. Should they be attacked, he had to hope they would be able to hold their own.

The men kept talking, but soon she found the lull of their voices and her state of exhaustion sending her back into a dreamless sleep, or so she thought.

She was running. The hard impact of the concrete under her feet jarred her legs. Water splashed from puddles collected in rivets along the uneven sidewalk. The fear pumped adrenaline through her veins. She could feel them closing the gap that lay between them. It would not be long now. Turning she saw the masked faces of her attackers and those of some horrid creatures one would only think could ever exist in nightmares.

She woke with a start, ready to panic feeling a pressure on her shoulders. Blue eyes bore into hers. The face was unreadable, and for that, she was silently glad. The fact was, she was tired of his condescending glares and tired of trying to act as if they did not bother her.

"A nightmare." He told her as he released his hold on her, standing to tower over her. She let him walk a ways off before she found her voice to thank him.

"Thank you." She wished she had not spoken, her voice sounded like a frog, and the words came out more like a croak than an actual human voice.

Legolas turned slightly, eyeing her quickly. "You were disturbing my watch." He stated mater of factly and turned on his heels stalking to a rock jutting into the sky. There he took his perch, never looking back.

Though the dreams were nothing knew, she was still scared to go back to sleep for fear of them reoccurring. She tossed and turned relentlessly trying to keep herself awake. Nevertheless, try as hard as she might, she could not fight the fatigue. This time though, her dreams stayed at bay and she did not wake until close to midday.

The first sensation she was conscious of was of something hard under her back, it was throbbing. She opened her eyes, only to shut them again. The bright afternoon sun burned her eyes, bringing tears. All she could see was white after so much darkness, she groaned in protest. Wait, she thought to herself, why was it light outside? The last she remembered it was dark and the elf had awoken her. How long had she slept? If it was light outside, it meant the company would be on the move, only she knew she was stationary. Had they truly left her behind? The thought sent adrenaline pumping through her, her heart already beating through her chest, she sat bold upright with the knowledge, instantly regretting it. For the moment, all thoughts of being left vanished from her mind.

"Son of a bitch." She moaned through the pain. In her memory, she did not think she had ever been so sore, and she would be shocked if her muscle ever worked right again. Evelyn was sure all of them had to be shredded, the way they felt. Dropping her head onto her knew, she wrapped her arms around her legs and focused on taking deep relaxing breaths. She needed her mind clear to figure out what her next move would be. Staying out in the open, alone, was not an option.

The clearing of a throat drew her from her contemplation, and she winced as her head jerked up. She looked straight into the eyes of the dwarf. She had not noticed before, but he had blue eyes, not the cold icy blue eyes like the elf. No, his were a deep blue, reminding her of the sea. She could see he was a war hardened warrior, but there was a softness their too, one she saw with Aragorn, and one missing from a certain elf prince.

"That was gruff language for a lass." He told her, the corner of his lip twitching slightly.

She dropped her gaze to the ground. "Sorry," she mumbled, "I thought I was alone." He grunted in reply.

They sat in silence for a time after that, which was interrupted as Gimli pushed himself to stand to walk her way. Evelyn eyed him cautiously, but did not move, he seemed to be bringing her something. As he got closer, she could see he was eyeing her just a warily, as if scared she might scream and run. A part of her wanted to. A small part, albeit, was trying to push itself out of its confines. Some was from fear of the dwarf, and the other from frustration. Though the more rational side of her brain was in control for the moment, knowing that if he wanted her dead, he had plenty of opportunities while she slept, and here she was alive and breathing—which now that she thought about it, was still quite painful.

"Here. Not much, but it is food none the less." He said as his large dirty hand handed her a plate. Before this point, she had not really realized how hungry she truly was. Quickly grabbing the plate, she took no time to start devouring the salty preserved meats, and stale bread. Food, she thought, had never tasted so good. How long since she last ate? She had made sure she always ate when they stopped whether she felt hungry or no, knowing she would need the fuel.

Gimli sat watching her, amused. The woman greedily dug into the food like a ravenous dog, caring not for proper etiquette and manners. Yes, the thought, his earlier assumption had been correct, he could definitely like this one. He watched as she suddenly stopped, seemingly in deep thought.

"How long have I been asleep?"

"Near over two days lassie."

She nearly choked on the hard bread. Two days? No small wonder she had awoken from such a terrible pain in her back and the ferocity of the sun's rays on her eyes. Moreover, the poor dwarf had been stuck with her. She was miserable company.

"I'm sorry you had to stay behind on my account."

He snorted before speaking again in his thick brogue, "Worry ye self not, t'was but my duty."

Looking at him long and hard, she saw no lie in his words, but she just could not fathom how he could hold her no ill will. He was a warrior, a soldier on earth, clearly not one to want to sit idle when the chance for battle is upon him, of course like the others; he had many years to practice hiding his feelings. Yet here he sat watching her pathetic self the past two days.

"Your duty was to the hobbits, not to me my lord."

His eyes narrowed in her direction, this time it was he giving the hard looks. "Ye know little of dwarfish culture I take lass."

"No." she replied, feeling abashed, she knew much, but she still knew so little of the world and people around her. She felt like she was five again, about to be scolded by her father.

"We dwarves protect our women. Ye may not be a dwarfish woman, but ye a woman no less, and 'tis my right to protect ye." He rebuked, and she stayed quite.

She felt the urge to argue with the stubborn man, but thought better of it. What interested her more was his home. She had read the books the Valar had given her and those of the elves, but little information had she read on the dwarves. "Will you tell me of your home?" She watched as his angered features slowly melted away and a bright joy took its place at her interest.

And so the story telling began. He started with the overthrow of Erebor by Smaug the terrible. His rendition made the image all too clear in her mind, but she let him continue, trying to erase the sounds of the imaginary screams of the people dying in the flames. He told of the wanderings of his people until Thorin Oakenshield took back the Lonely Mountain where he know made his home. The description of the mountain hall held her captured. She could, in her mind, picture the long cavernous hall, with its stone archways and columns leading to the thrones of the King under the mountain. She could see the people bustling about their day, selling and trading their goods, mothers chasing after their children, the men working gin the mines. Evelyn had to admit the dwarf was a wonderful storyteller, though she thought he would prefer if she kept thought opinion to herself.

He went on to talk of the dwarf women, and her picture of the beautiful mom and running child quickly changed. Beards! The women had beards? That she could not believe, it was impossible. No man would want a woman with facial hair. Gimli must have caught onto her quizzical stare.

"I kid ye not lassie, our women have right fine beards, some even to rival the men's!"

That did it, and Evelyn burst into a fit of laughter that made her breath hitch in pain. The dwarf gave her a rather sour and pointed look. It quickly made her stifle the laughter, "Sorry. Where I am from men prefer less hair on their women."

"Pah!" he sputtered, and she watched the spit fling from his mouth, "The hairier the better I say!" and she laughed again. Despite the pain, it felt good to laugh, even at the expense of the dwarf telling her stories. Soon even Gimli gave a soft chuckle to join in her mirth, however short lived.

Evening was falling, and still fatigued, Evelyn started making ready to attempt sleep once more, when Gimli's hand snapped tightly around her own. She froze. He had never ventured close enough to touch her, and his rough calloused hand on her wrist now, brought fear rising like bile. The need to break away from his grip tore through her, and the only thing halting her attempt was the fact his gaze was focused solely on the darkening horizon. What her eyes saw next carried its own terror. One she hoped to have never seen again.

"Better grab your sword lassie."

She did not remember reaching for it, but its cool weight was there in her hands, the dwarf beside her had a rather frightful axe held in his grip. In any other circumstance she would have loved to look at the intricate carvings it beheld, now, however, she needed to make herself stop trembling.

"There are only a few, five at most. I do not need to tell ye, they will show no mercy. Fight only if ye have no option." Gimli told her, voice firm and commanding as he made to stand in front of her. She felt a slight glow of pride in the dwarf as he did so, but it was soon quenched by the thought he could very well end up like Boromir. He perished trying to save her—the hobbits likely to die because of it. What would the consequence of Gimli's death on her account? She did not know, but knew she would not live to find out. Either they both would live, or she would die keeping him alive if it came to it. She only hoped the Valar would give her the resolve to see it done. Alone, she was sure she could.

As they drew closer, she realized these creatures, although hideous, were different from the Uruks encountered at the falls. These were shorter, less muscular, but faster than their larger counter parts. Though she could hear them barking at each other in some horrid speech, to Evelyn they seemed less intelligent and wilder. However, she was not inclined to waste time to find truth to her assumptions.

A battle cry echoed around her as Gimli charged forward into the mix, trying to draw the attention to himself. He hit the leaders as fast as his short legs would carry, sending them all flying to the ground a good few feet away. And though they lived, they were dazed and confused as he jumped to his feet, attacking all those who came near. Gallant as his intentions were, they only proved to work momentarily, the orcs had seen the woman with him before his charge, they knew easy prey when they saw it, and left only two to stay engaged with him as the others stalked menacingly toward their prey.

One let forth a guttural chuckle, "Look a'here, the wee sharlob wansta fight, eh?"

"Don'a worry, we wilna hurt ya much." Another said, smiling showing his yellow and pointed fangs.

She could feel her heart racing faster and faster, wanting to flee, but something held her still. It was as if her feet were in concrete. No, they probably would not kill her, not at first. She could see their animalistic intentions plainly in their great feral eyes. She would welcome death before that fate befell her.

Shifting her eyes between the three in front of her, she waited for one to makes its move, hoping she would be fast enough to react. She was…barely. The blow hit her own sword, sending ripples of pain down her arm, but she held on. The creature was clearly angry and charged again without hesitation. All the while, the others cheered him on.

Blow for blow she was able to block him, at least, she thought bitterly, her training had somewhat paid off. But how long could she hold him? How long before the others decided to join in to make quick work of her? The new fear was very real as she saw them begin to inch closer, mouths watering in anticipation. Then they hit the ground rolling, much like dirty bowling pins. The commotion around her made her confused; she no longer knew where her opponent was, or the others for that matter. She could hear raucous yells, that could only be Gimli and Evelyn looked frantically for him when an arm snaked roughly around her neck and a sharp point dug into her side. A knife. Her body froze all over again as her vision began to darken with vision from the past. The pain was back all over her body as if she was still lying in the ally as the men left her for dead.

"Enough playing, kill the dwarf." A voice spoke harshly against her ear, his speech much clearer and proper than the ones who spoke earlier. That was enough to get her mind working properly again. With wide eyes, she saw that three of the monsters held him by the arms and girth, ready for the deathblow. This is exactly what she told herself she would not let happen, and now another was going to protect her.

Evelyn shut her eyes, clenching them so hard it hurt, and even that could not stop the tears from slipping through. Trust in yourself, a voice seemed to echo in her mind, you know what you must do.

Again the voice behind her spoke, "Get on wi' it!" annoyance clear in his voice.

"NO!" she heard her voice scream as she ripped an arm free from her capture, lunging toward the dwarf. She felt the knife at her side dig into her flesh, but she felt no pain. What she felt was a strange tingling throughout her whole body that wanted to consume her. She was both frightened and awed with what happened next. A blinding crystal light sprang from her hand, hitting the creatures dead in the chest as it encased them in cocoons of icy stones, leaving Gimli free to fall to the ground. His eyes, she was sure, mirrored her own, as she too fell to the ground when the remaining orc dropped her to flee for his life.

Gimli, being the first to recover, scrambled to his feet, and cautiously walked to the woman who was still sprawled rather un-lady like on the ground, starring at the encapsulated orcs. He was not sure what phenomenon had just occurred, and from the look on Evelyn's face, neither did she, even if it was by her doing. Whatever it was, it just saved both their hides. Crouching before her, he gingerly reached out a hand to her. She took it without seeming to glance in his direction. Grunting with effort, he hauled her upright, surprised by her weight. Observing as she walked to the peculiar pillars, he could do nothing but follow. In their own way, they were quite beautiful architecture. Frightenly cold. Much like winter, he thought, with its wondrous cold beauty. She drew up her hand, poised to touch the structure, pausing, then light as a feather she laid her finger upon its hard surface and it shatter into billions of fragments at their feet. Yes, he thought, just like winter—so strong and so devouring, yet so fragile.

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