"Karina! Where are those bandages?!"
"Here!" she said, squeezing through the elves rushing to and fro through the medical tent, bandages trailing from her arms. "I can wrap his leg while you work on the next one." Duross disappeared into the throng as Karina began bandaging the soldier's leg. The elf was unconscious, having lost a great deal of blood from the wounds in his head, chest, and leg. Duross had finished treating the worst of them, leaving Karina to bind the bloody wound in his leg.
Finishing, she rushed over to the next elf, where Duross was trying to set the shattered bones in his arm. Only the elves that could not be treated on the battlefield and return to the fight were brought back to the camp, but so far there had been a steady stream of severely wounded elves. Karina felt as if a quarter of Gil-galad's army had already been through the tent in the last six days. And still they kept coming, the ongoing battle ensuring constant work for the healers. She felt sick thinking about how many must have fallen already.
"Karina," Duross said, looking over the cot at her as he knelt beside his patient, who had gritted teeth as the healer worked on his arm. "I think you need to know something."
"What?" she asked, confused. She glanced up at Duross, but continued working, wiping the blood from the soldier's face with a damp cloth. He had spoken with such a solemn, understanding way that Karina couldn't help but feel wary. All he had done in the last few days is snap loudly to get her attention. This was something new.
"I just received word that the armies that King Amdir and King Oropher have returned from the front," he said quietly, eyes on his patient. "The Silvan ranks have been decimated. Amdir's forces were driven into the marshes and many were lost. Oropher's were caught in a strike from the north." He paused, meeting Karina's eyes. "Neither king survived."
Karina felt her heart stop. She knew King Oropher would not survive the war. Thranduil was to take his place as king when the war ended. But there was still over seven years of battle left in the war. She had not expected the king to die so soon. Her eyes stung with tears as she looked down, trying to focus on her work again. Oropher had been so kind to her, she could not believe he was gone. The tears began to fall as she thought of Thranduil. He had lost his father. He would now have to take up the mantle of leadership. She could not imagine what he was feeling.
"You may go to him if you wish," Duross said softly, eyes still on her. "I will manage here. Go."
Karina needed no further encouragement. Placing the rag she held back in the water bowl, she fled, pulling her bloody apron off over her head and flinging it to the side as she tore out of the medical tent. Tears blinded her as she raced through the tents, ignoring the darkness and emptiness that had filled the camp since the armies had left. Her feet knew her path, and she quickly found herself outside the royal tent, pausing to wipe the tears from her eyes as she looked up at the guards.
"May I see him?" she asked pleadingly, looking up at the soldiers. Silently, one of them entered the tent, returning a moment later and giving her a small nod. She brushed past him into the tent, eyes quickly falling on the form of Thranduil. He looked utterly defeated, his shoulders slumped forward as he sat behind a desk, head in his hands. His eyes looked haunted as they rose to see who had come to see him.
"Karina," he breathed, rising slowly and starting around his desk towards her. She met him half way, hugging his waist tightly, burying her face in his chest. His arms wrapped around her shoulders as he held her just as tightly.
"I heard," she said softly, not letting go. "I am so sorry, Thranduil." Her grief had made her forget herself, addressing him so informally. But if he noticed, he said nothing, just burying his face in her neck and pulling her tighter to him. What he needed now was comfort, someone to look at him not as the new leader of his people, but as a person, just an ordinary elf. And Karina was more than willing to give him that.
"I don't know what to do, Karina," he said after a while. His voice was scared and child-like, all his emotions on display for her to witness. "I cannot do this without my father. I cannot do this alone."
"You aren't alone. I am here for you. I will not let you do this alone. I can't let you."
"I don't want you to," he whispered, warm breath tickling her neck. Karina's tears fell on the front of Thranduil's robes as she continued standing there in his embrace, unwilling to let him go. It was a long time before Thranduil let go of her, cupping her face in his hands as he looked down into her bloodshot eyes.
"Will you do something for me, Karina?"
"Of course. Anything," she said earnestly, tears still welling in her eyes. Thranduil took her hand, leading her over to a velvet chair and sitting her down in it. Karina watched him, her hand still in his as he lowered himself down to sit at her feet, his silver robes pooling around him.
"It was not your meditation that put my mind at ease before the battle," he said softly, looking up at her, eyes swirling with unbridled emotion. "As you sat in front of me with your eyes closed, I couldn't help but watch you, listening to your soft, melodious voice. I was in a trance, all darkness and sadness gone for a little while. I would only ask for the chance to have that again. If you will, I would only request that you bless me with the sound of your singing."
"What shall I sing?" she asked, feeling her face flush at his words. "I do not know any of your songs."
"Sing whatever you like. I just wish to hear your voice in song."
Karina hesitated for a moment. She had never had a very good singing voice in her world, but elves were supposed to be gifted singers. If Thranduil wanted her to sing, she would. But she wasn't sure what to sing. What was appropriate for a time like this? She opened her mouth and started singing the first thing that popped into her head. It just happened to be Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
Karina finished her song and decided to start another. She continued singing a medley of songs, getting lost in her own memories. She only faintly noticed Thranduil shift on the floor below her, resting his head on her thigh as he closed his eyes. He still held Karina's left hand in his, but with her free hand, Karina began subconsciously running the fingers of her free hand through his hair, tracing the outline of his ear and jaw line. Thranduil's free hand massaged her calf gently. For a while, they could forget the war.
As Karina finished her songs, unable to think of another, the full weight of what she was doing hit her. Her cheeks darkened once more as she realized the intimate scene she found herself in. She should not be doing this. Not with the war going on, and the death of King Oropher so fresh in their minds.
"Thank you," Thranduil said gently, oblivious to her fearful thoughts. "You have no idea what comfort your voice brings in these dark times."
"Thranduil," Karina said softly, making him look up at her. Sighing, she slid off the chair and lowered herself onto the floor beside him. Thinking carefully about her words, she continued. "Thranduil, you know I will do whatever I can to help you through this. I intend to give up my position as a healer and fight by your side when you return to battle. I now feel like that is where I belong. Fighting beside you."
"Karina," Thranduil said, reaching up and tucking her hair behind her ear. "I don't want you doing this because you feel like you have to. You know I want to stand beside you when you step onto the battlefield, but if you are not ready, do not force yourself to face the horrors of this war."
"I have already seen my fair share of horrors," she replied, thinking of the blood that now covered the ground in the medical tent. "I am ready to take up the sword and stand beside you. I told you I would not let you face this alone."
They stared into each other's eyes for awhile, silently trying to read each other's thoughts. Karina didn't know who moved first. Perhaps they did so simultaneously. All she knew was that her heart was stuck in her throat as she closed her eyes and kissed Thranduil. She fervently hoped she had not kissed him first, feeling guilty at taking advantage of his vulnerability. But as she continued kissing him passionately, letting her body take over, all she could muster the ability to think about was how intensely and desperately she loved him. She had thought she had fallen in love before, but that experience felt so insignificant next to what she was now feeling for the elven prince. Perhaps it was a result of the darkness around her contrasting so vividly against the light she felt in Thranduil's arms. Whatever it was, it took her breath away. Words could not accurately describe how much she needed him, or how much she felt needed as he hungrily kissed her back.
"I never want you to leave my side, Karina," Thranduil whispered against her lips, his hand tangled into her dark hair as he held her to him. "I love you."
"I won't," she whispered back. "I love you so much, Thranduil." Quickly, she captured his lips in another deep kiss.
"You look beautiful."
"Thank you," Karina laughed, smiling at Thranduil. "But I do not think that is the point."
"Regardless," he said, kissing her ear. "It is the truth."
Karina's eyes returned to the mirror in front of her. She wondered why they had bothered bringing a mirror with them on a war campaign, but she refrained from asking, as it would undoubtedly return Thranduil's thoughts to his father. Instead, she just observed the surprisingly well-fitting armor that she had donned. It was silver plate armor over a shirt of mail and a forest green tunic. She was particularly grateful for elven smiths at the moment, as it was infinitely lighter than what she expected it to be when Thranduil first showed it to her.
She had stayed with Thranduil for the last several hours, keeping his thoughts off of his pain. After a brief absence to inform Duross that she was no longer going to stay with the healers, she had returned only to find him pouring over maps again, the darkness creeping back into his eyes. With effort, she had successfully pulled him back into the light. At least for the moment.
"You look like a princess," he said softly, pulling her into a kiss. Karina did not fight back.
"I may look like one, but that is as far as it goes," Karina said as they broke apart again. "I am as common as they come."
"That is simply not true," Thranduil said, looking lovingly into her eyes. "I could tell you were special from the moment we met. You are my princess."
"Pretty words, Prince," she said with a smile. "I think I could be convinced to fall in love with you if you were to continue such flattery."
"I guess I have no choice then," he said with a grin, bending down to give her another kiss. But he paused, looking over her shoulder. Karina turned to see a soldier standing in front of the tent entrance.
"What is it, Conuiden?"
"King Gil-galad's forces have been repulsed from their attack on the Morannon. They currently are entrenched a mile from the gate, holding back the hordes with their archers. Another assault will be launched at dawn."
"Thank you," Thranduil said, indicating for his officer to leave. News from the front had sobered both elves, returning their minds to the grim reality ahead.
"We shall be joining them in the morning, then?" Karina said softly, watching Thranduil walk towards his desk, taking his seat slowly. She began taking off the armor as he poured over his maps once more.
"Our numbers may be severely depleted," he replied tiredly. "But we have some of the greatest archers still among our ranks. We must relieve what archers we can in Gil-galad's forces."
"Have you thought of any other methods for breaking through the gate?"
"That was your job," Thranduil said, not looking up from the parchment he was sifting through.
"That doesn't mean you can't think of something. I will wait until I see the battlefield and what we are up against," she replied, taking off her chest plate. "I am hoping for a revelation once I see the gate itself."
"It is an intimidating structure. It will not be an easy task, no matter what you come up with."
"I am sure. What is the plan for tomorrow?"
"Our archers will be sent to the front lines to take the place of a portion of Gil-galad's troops, while our foot soldiers will take the right flank as we drive a wedge through to the Morannon."
"The last wedge did not work so well, why are you doing it again?"
"Gil-galad is convinced it is the best method."
"Well I am not," Karina said, scowling down at the maps on the desk, leaning on the edge across from Thranduil. "I need a look at the terrain. I wish we were on the defensive; I have so many plans for defensive strategy."
"Let us hope those don't become necessary," Thranduil said, looking up at her. "We are in no position to defend the lowlands if we are pushed back that far. We have taken the hills as Amdir wanted, which has given us a tiny bit of breathing room. We will be joining forces with the dwarves tomorrow as we strike hard and fast from the north. They are more heavily armed than we are and will provide a defense as we push through the orc ranks. You, my lady, will not leave my side as I lead our troops in the charge."
"While I am grateful you are letting me stand at your side, do you think it is wise? I have been thinking, and I am worried how your lieutenants will feel about this arrangement. Perhaps I should remain behind in the hills and not give you something additional to worry about."
"What happened to your fearless optimism?" Thranduil asked, eyeing her closely. "My lieutenants will do as I say. What remains of my father's personal guard will now be your guard."
"That is quite an honor considering I have so recently joined your ranks."
"It is war and anything can happen, but I am determined to keep you alive as long as possible," Thranduil said, taking one of her hands and kissing each of her fingers individually. "If I have to, I will sacrifice myself and make you my successor."
"Please, what do I know about running an army?" Karina said with laugh. She would never let Thranduil sacrifice himself for her anyway. He was too important.
"You're strong, outspoken, creative, inspiring…You have all the traits of a leader."
"But none of the experience. I am tiny, next to all of you. I am only twenty-four, remember?"
"Many here think I am too young to lead," Thranduil said gently. "And yet tomorrow they will still follow me into battle."
"You are a prince, groomed to lead. I have no similar claim. But it really doesn't matter, because that is never going to happen."
"Perhaps," Karina said with a smile, her eyes on the maps. She gasped as she was rather unexpectedly pulled into Thranduil's embrace. Her smile widened as he looked down at her with a raised eyebrow, the most maddeningly seductive smirk on his face.
"I would feel much better if you told me exactly what was going to happen in this war."
"You know I can't do that," she said, doing her best to resist his gaze. "Even if I did know all the details, it could be dangerous to divulge that sort of information."
"I cannot stand your teasing about this. We should not keep secrets from each other."
"No matter how intently you look at me like that, Thranduil," Karina said, prying his hands off of her. "I am not telling you any more about your future. You will just have to trust me." She made to walk away but did not make it very far. Thranduil pulled her back into his arms, their bodies touching and his lips hovering over hers.
"Is there nothing I can do to convince you otherwise?" he whispered softly, his warm breath tickling her lips. Karina was strong willed, but Thranduil had a power over her that no one had ever come close to before. And he knew it.
"Nothing," she said, her voice wavering slightly. Thranduil's smirk grew, knowing he was the cause for her nervousness. "I should have refrained from telling you anything at all."
"I do not believe you. I can feel you trembling. With one kiss you would spill your heart to me."
"And with another I could make you forget your desire to hear your future," Karina replied, finding her strength once more. Thranduil may have a hold on her heart, but his was not safe from her either. "Would you rather not stay here with me, in the present, than lose yourself in the future?"
"I cannot deny such a desire, melamin," he admitted quietly. "My only wish is to know that you are in my present and future."
"You know I cannot answer that question even if I wished. I have told you, my story is not written in our tales. My fate is not set as yours is. Or I am unaware of it, at least."
"I do not ask for your prophecies in this case," Thranduil said, his lips brushing against hers. She repressed a shiver that ran down her spine at his touch. "I ask that you assure me that I will remain in your heart and you will not leave my side."
"That I can freely admit. I am yours for as long as you want me."
"'Till the end of Arda," Thranduil said, finally giving her the kiss he had promised.