The Choice

Chapter 31

The old dwarf rocked back on his heels, as he rubbed his bearded chin with a grime covered hand. He regarded the strange woman in front of him keenly. What was he to make of her? The four of them owed her their life, and probably, the lives of what was left of their armies and their people. However, he was also positive she had killed his captured men. She was not human, nor was she of elf kind. Glóin sighed. Gingerly he reached out, placed a hand on the woman's arm, and reeled back—she was ice cold. Recovering himself, prepared this time for the coolness of her sin, he searched for a pulse. It was there, faint and thready, but there. For now she lived, through looking at the condition the Easterlings had left her in, he was not sure if she would make it. Even so, for now, she drew breath and they would have to decide what was to be done with her.

He looked around. All around them, the camp was in carnage. What use to be Easterlings, were now pillars of solid ice, the outline of people barely visible inside. Involuntarily, he shivered, reflecting on how it must be to die in such a way. Those that escaped her target zone had fled. He fixed his green eyes back to her thin face. Glóin could not be sure how long she had been their prisoner but they had left their mark on her. Her cheekbones stuck out prominently from her face as well as her collarbones. Her clothes were in rags and soaked in blood, which he could only assume was hers, as her body was riddled with wounds. He pitied her.

"Glóin," A hoarse voice spoke above his head, though he did not turn his eyes from the woman. "What say ye of the lass?"

"I have verra many thoughts Dáin," he told his King with a solemn voice. And indeed, he did. Do they save the woman that saved their people from almost certain destruction but in turn had also killed some of their own? She could wake and kill them all just as easy as she had the Easterling army, she could wake and aid them, or she may never wake up again. Then there was the fact that nearly stopped his heart. She knew Gimli, she had been with his son. His son was no fool, he would not alley himself with the enemy, and then the enemy was verra cunning. Finally, he spoke again.

"I do not believe her an agent of the enemy. For all her wrongdoings, she was the Easterlings prisoner, and former companion to me son. I verra much believe we should take the lass with us. We owe her many lives." Glóin informed him.

Dáin stood a long moment over the older dwarf, his own mulled thoughts all spilling around together in his head. He knew his friends had done the same, held the same thoughts and fears. He could not help but to think that if she had truly wanted them dead, she could have just as easily encased them in ice as she had the Easterlings, yet she had spared them. They were the only ones untouched by her wrath. That could not have been coincidence, it had to have taken considerable effort on her part to make sure all that power was controlled and aimed only where she decided.

"Aye, then, she will go with us. Then we shall plan our next move."

They had very little in the way of supplies, and what the Easterlings had was mostly destroyed. They were many miles from the gates of Erebor and they had no means to carry the woman, even the Lord Brand and his son were much to weary. Every moment, they wasted searching for supplies, was a moment they lost traveling across the war stricken land and to their armies that surely believed them dead.

A shrill whinny pierced the air, startling all the men from their search. They scanned the horizon in curiosity. There were no horses left in the camp, they had all fled the woman's storm. And this one was coming from the wrong direction. The Easterling's horses fled toward their homeland to the East, to what they knew. This whinny came from the west.

A tall, slender, dark horse soon appeared to them, snorting and prancing around them. It was a well-bred beast, and well-muscled, though it looked like it had been sometime without a human touch. Though its hide was silk and rich in color, it was smeared with dust and mud, and its mane and tail were in knots. The mare walked straight to the unconscious woman, sniffing her softly, giving her soft welcoming nickers, though they remain unanswered by the woman. It was clear to the men the horse knew her and by some miracle had found her.

To add to their astonishment, the horse bent down on its front knees by the woman, its head bobbing up and down in what seemed to be an invitation to hoist the woman on her back.

"The Valar be with this woman." Brand stated, staring in awe at the scene before him. Walking forward, his son close behind, they laid the woman gently across the horse's broad back and began their slow journey home.

'Come to us child.' She heard the voice whisper in her mind, so sweet and soft, tugging her, urging her to follow. Letting herself go, she reached out for the voice, reached out into the nothing that surround her, her vision was black. Evelyn felt herself walking, her body weightless as if she were a feather floating in the breeze. She felt buoyant. She should be frightened that her vision was black, that she knew she was no longer in her body, but she did not. A strange sense of peace and belonging enveloped her. She continued to follow to the voice that was leading her.

Slowly light began to fill her visual field. Gently at first, soft rays of golden sunlight shone through filtered windows. Beyond the open windows, a shimmering blue caught her eyes as the sea rose up to meet the cliffs on the other side and white sea birds flew around the coastline. The sounds of the crashing waves were the first sounds she heard. She could smell the salt air around her, thinking of Ireland.

Then her feet touched solid ground. Evelyn stopped walking. Under her feet, she saw she was standing a smooth glistening stone floor, inlayed with intricate patterns of florals and vine. On either side, were row upon row of columns that arched from the ceiling. Looking up she saw the ceiling an ever changing mural—a history of Middle-Earth. It was beautiful and terrifying to behold, for all the sadness of the world seemed to be portrayed there. Yet, there was happiness and triumph as well, but it did not cover the loss it took to gain. The hundreds of columns reached up from the floor in labyrinthine vines that smoothed out to hold a shimmering blue substance that gave light to the vast hall.

She walked to the balcony where the sun was low in the pristine blue sky. The filtered light fit the halls she stood in, offering warmth and comfort. Evelyn grabbed the railing and leaned forward taking in a large breath, smelling the ocean far below her and closed her eyes.

When she finally opened them again, she turned to look at the woman that had appeared beside her. She was not frightened of her, her presence was gentle, just like this place she was in, but it was also sad and full of grief.

The woman beside her had skin of the palest porcelain that glimmered in the strange blue light behind them. Her eyes, grey like a mourning dove that held a deeper anguish than any Evelyn had seen before. In her eyes, she saw all the grief portrayed on the ceiling behind them. Her cheeks permanently tear stained. Her long wavy black hair was adorned in a circlet of silver, which matched her necklace. The dress she wore was of the deepest purple, stitched in silver thread. It looked to be made of the softest velvet, and touched the ground just barely over her feet.

They stood in silence.

If she was here in Nienna's Halls, surely she had passed from Arda. A tear slid silently from her eye. She would not see her friends again; she would not see Legolas again for many years to come, until he decided to sail to the shores or, Heaven forbid, he was killed and passed to the Halls of Mandos only to be released when his soul was healed. She shivered and pushed the thought away for now.

"Lady Nienna, am I dead?" Her voice quivered as she spoke, and she saw from her peripheral vision the Valier eyeing her closely, seeming to decide whether to answer.

She smiled sadly, "I fear the answer is not so simple to answer my child, for there is much yet you still do not know." The Valar pushed a large book towards her. Evelyn had not remembered seeing it before, but she reached out for it anyway. "This is where it starts, and this is where I leave you for now."

Holding on to the book, Evelyn walked to the end of the balcony, seating herself down against the stone wall, which she found surprisingly warm. The book was old and dusty, and clearly had not been used in many years, ages perhaps. Setting it on her lap, she carefully opened its bindings, which creaked and groaned in protest. With a deep breath, she began reading the beautiful script written on the pages.

"But when they were come into the Void, Ilúvatar said to them: 'Behold your Music!' And he showed to them a vision, giving to them sight where before was only hearing; arid they saw a new World made visible before them, and it was globed amid the Void, and it was sustained therein, but was not of it. And as they looked and wondered this World began to unfold its history, and it seemed to them that it lived and grew."… "Now the Valar took to themselves shape and hue; and because they were drawn into the World by love of the Children of Iluvatar, for whom they hoped, they took shape after that manner which they had beheld in the Vision of Iluvatar, save only in majesty and splendour. Moreover their shape comes of their knowledge of the visible World, rather than of the World itself; and they need it not, save only as we use raiment, and yet we may be naked and suffer no loss of our being."

'The creation of Arda and the Valar,' she thought to herself and continued reading.

"With the Valar came other spirits whose being also began before the World, of the same order as the Valar, but of less degree. These are the Maiar, people of the Valar, and their servants ans helpers. Their number is not known to the Elves, and few have names in any of the tongues of the Children of Ilúvatar; for though it is otherwise in Aman, in Middle-earth the Maiar have seldom appeared in form visible to Elves and Men."… "Wisest of the Maiar was Olórin. He too dwelt in Lórien, but his ways took him often to the house of Nienna, and of her he learned pity and patience. Of Melian much is told in the Quenta Silmarillion. But of Olórin that tale does not speak; for though he loved the Elves, he walked among them unseen, or in form as one of them, and they did not know whence came the fair visions or the promptings of wisdom that he put into their hearts. In the later days he was the friend of all the Children of Ilúvatar, and took pity on their sorrows; and those who listened to him awoke from despair and put away their imaginations of darkness."

She smiled to herself with just one though in her mind, 'Gandalf.'

She was not sure how long she sat there reading when a new paragraph stopped her.

"Ilúvatar then began his other creations, as the Ainur turned their songs into creations. These Ainur he created in the likeness of the Maiar but within them he infused the four elements of nature. He called them the Kelvarwë—beings of nature, and of those, Narwë was the first awoken."

Evelyn swallowed the lump in her throat, her mind reeling back to her time in the gardens of Lòrien, What Irmo and Este had spoken to her of her father, "You are much like a Maia … if my father was immortal…"

"You see now why your question was not so easily answered?" The gentle voice of Nienna asked her. The Valier was once again standing before her, a hand outstretched towards her.

How had she not put it together before, what had she missed when she was last here? They had told her everything, plain as day, now that she looked back on her time here. She was told her father was immortal, that she was given his bloodline, and that she was a Maiar in all sense of the term.

She reached out and took Nienna's hand, rising to her feet, following the woman through her halls.

"You soul is immortal, it cannot be killed, but the earthly form it takes can as it suffers all the hardships the bodies of Middle-Earth do: famine, love, pity, sorrow, happiness, pain. But your physical being yet clings; it has not given up on your return."

"My return?" she questioned, disbelief filling her eyes as she looked at the woman beside her.

"Yes, my child, you will have a choice in the end. But that time has not yet come, you have much healing yet before you." Nienna looked to the young elemental before her

"Why have you brought her here?" Halla questioned her husband, as he and their son, lay her on the cot he had made her prepare. Her eyes, like cat eyes, bore into them, even the Lords or Erebor; she held them just as responsible. Looking at the mangled woman in front of her she felt a stirring of anger and of pity. Her before her lay the woman who had killed many of their prisoners, and then turned to save her men and the remaining populations of Dale and Erebor. And her husbanded beseeched her to tend to her, had he lost his mind?

"Woman! Like it or no, she is here, and your hand or another's will tend to her. Though we all know, none matches your healing skills. Whether either of us likes it, you owe her your King and son's life as well as those of King Dain and Lord Gloin. She will be healed to our best ability and hopefully, Valar willing, alive until we get her to Gondor." King Brand chastised his willful, but ever loving wife of many years. He was tired and weary, he felt not like dealing with his wife's temper as he slumped into the nearest chair, watching her mouth form an o. He rarely spoke to her as a king, and on the rare occasions he did, he normally got such a reaction. His son Bard II ignored them, settling himself in another chair by the fire.

"Gondor?" was all she could manage to sputter out. She was a hard woman, she knew that, but she loved her husband and son, and it was rare when she angered him to such harsh words against her. She, looked again at the woman. Could such a deed as she performed counter the bad? She was not sure, but one thing was clear to Halla. It was her husband's wish to see her tended and taken to Gondor and she would not disobey him, she could only hope his choice was the right one. Surely, he did not mean to accompany a group to take her there?

"Aye, my wife, to Gondor. I will only take those men with me who volunteer and join King Dáin and Glóin on their march. The woman's last words were of Lord Gimli riding to war to Gondor and I will not forsake our allies now. Bard will lead in my stead."

"What?!" his son exclaimed, clambering from his slouch in the old worn chair. His eyes where wide with disbelief.

"You have proven yourself time and time again, my son, especially in these last days of battle. When I return we will hold a proper coronation." He smiled at the excitement and terror he saw reflected in his son's eyes that so mirrored his own.

"You have only just returned to us! Surely you do not have to go?!" Halla demanded, tears brimming in her eyes.

"If what I believe is true, though I will not utter the thoughts here, I will do what I must to see the King of Gondor on his throne. Moreover, if taking this Woman to Gondor is the key, then that is what I must do. This war is bigger than just us my love."

"Fine!" She spat, tossing her dirty apron to the ground as she spun on her heels into the kitchen, where the strange woman lay. The looks she shot at her were filled with hate, she blamed her for taking her husband away from her again on the very eve of his return, when she had known for sure he was dead.

Halla yanked the curtain behind her closed, hardening her face as she set to work, not exactly being gently with the woman on the cot, as she flipped her over. Her breath hitched as she inhaled sharply, pushing back from the table slightly, slipping on the blood now pooling on her floor. She swallowed the lump in her throat as a rough hand laid on her shoulder. She looked into her husband's sad eyes.

"I know you are angry, but just know, she took those lashes defying the Easterlings orders to kill us. She has done evil deeds, but she is no more evil than you or I." he spoke those words softly in her ear and then left her in silence, as her hate slowly transformed into pity and silent tears ran down her face.

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