Thranduil leaned against a boulder, eyes watching the fire burning in the distance. The light Karina's impromptu battle plan had started was still burning fiercely beside the Morannon, and had reportedly started spreading north as the wind shifted, scorching a black line across the earth and creating havoc in the enemy camp. The attackers used the disarray of the enemy to regroup, leaving a shallow line of archers and shield bearers to defend from any attacks that were launched towards them during the night.
The prince shifted slightly, brushing away the long dark hair that stuck to his cheek before returning it to rest on Karina's temple. She was on the verge of falling asleep, and she only dully registered the subtle movements. The day had been emotionally exhausting for her, if not terribly physical. The funeral pyre erected for King Oropher and the rest of the elves that had been strung up behind the enemy lines had been burned quickly after a short ceremony of remembrance among the Silvan elves. King Gil-galad had turned up as the pyre was lit and offered his condolences to Thranduil, as well as kind words of encouragement and praise for Karina's bravery, though he had asked her firmly not to interfere with his battle plans in the future. It was after his departure that Thranduil had sat down beside this boulder, holding Karina close as she cried silently before starting to drift into slumber.
She felt so comfortable, curled up in Thranduil's embrace. They had both shed their armor and were in only the green Silvan tunics that they wore beneath the metal plates. Karina had even removed her boots, which sat beside her as she rested against Thranduil's chest. If only they were not on the edge of a war, she would never move from the safety of his arms.
"Shh!" he hissed quietly. Karina could feel the irritation causing Thranduil's muscles to tense as he glared at the newcomer. "What do you want?"
"Your commanders are looking for you. There appears to be an argument between some of them and the dwarves." Karina actually felt the growl in Thranduil's chest as he reacted to the news, knowing he had to go address the situation himself. Since he apparently was loath to move primarily because he thought she was sleeping, Karina saved him the trouble.
"It's alright, I'm awake," she said softly, sitting up and pulling away from him. "We better go solve this problem quickly."
"We?" Thranduil asked, his irritation vanishing as his eyes met hers. "Are you a mediator now?"
"Don't sound so surprised. I have already been a soldier, a strategist, and a healer today, I can be a mediator as well."
"At this point I can easily believe you are capable of anything, my lady," Thranduil said with a smirk, standing and holding out a hand for her. "You might want to put your boots on."
"Very well," Karina said with a sigh, grabbing them and sliding them on quickly. She didn't really care to put them back on, but there could be stray arrows lying about that could put a nice slice in the soft skin of her foot. She had faced a similar incident with barbed wire once. It was not an enjoyable experience.
The pair quickly followed the messenger towards the main force of the Silvan army, which had settled in a valley beneath the northern hills. Karina could see scouts and guards posted along the tops of the nearest ones, eyes scanning the surrounding area for possible threats. As they entered the temporary camp, elves parted to let Thranduil through. But most eyes were on Karina, and whispers could be heard as she followed closely behind the prince as he made for the gathering of his commanders.
"What is going on?" Thranduil asked in a deep voice that carried across the valley, ensuring he had the attention of those who were still in a heated argument. This voice commanded respect and screamed of authority. It was so very different from the gentle voice he used when he addressed Karina. Even in his anger he had not commanded her respect the way he did now from the elves around him. "Why have you pulled me away from my father's funeral pyre?"
"Prince Thranduil," said one elf, turning to him as the prince and bowing as the latter stopped in front of the commanders, Karina at his shoulder. "Commander Amutek has informed us that he is no longer willing to as our guard to the north."
"I do not understand how this has become a problem, Commander," Thranduil said, eyes meeting those of a dwarf with black hair, gray streaks in his thick beard. "I was under the impression we had worked out any problems between us on this account."
"You and your elves are just using us as shields," the commander said, glaring at Thranduil. "We take the hits while you cower behind our ranks. We are facing the full force of the orc armies while you do nothing but fire arrows over our heads."
"You know as well as I that that is not true," Thranduil said firmly, his voice even as he addressed the angry dwarf. "We have been engaging the enemy in the east, pressing our own forces towards the Morannon. Your armor is stronger than ours, and your king agreed to shield the sides of our advance to prevent incursions into the heart of our armies, cutting off those ahead from those behind. We have already suffered heavy losses and cannot hold against the forces of Mordor on our own."
"We too have suffered heavy losses," Amutek said gruffly. "Our shields are broad and our axes sharp, but we are being buried under the waves of orcs that are coming over the hills. We need your archers to thin the tide."
"Our archers are doing what they can. We lost many in the first assault, and many more are on the front lines assisting King Gil-galad's forces. We cannot give you more than we have available."
Karina stood silently with the soldiers, watching the prince debate strategy, numbers, and capabilities with dwarf commander. She was mesmerized, seeing him so deftly maneuver the conversation, providing diplomatic answers to every question or concern raised by the opposite party. Though she had said she wanted to help mediate the problem, he did not need it. His skills in that realm were beyond compare. He never raised his voice, never speaking with anything but respect for the dwarf before him. In the end, the dwarf walked away looking satisfied, despite Thranduil agreeing to offer very little in exchange for the continued cooperation of the dwarf army. Only a few additional squads of archers were to be provided to assist them in defending the heights.
As soon as the party of dwarves left, the prince was drawn into several other debates, some concerning battle plans, others concerning logistics, and several solemn conversations about how many had been lost that day. Karina stood uncertainly in the mix of elves seeking a word with Thranduil, trying to stay out of the way, but not wanting to lose him in the crowd.
"My lady, why don't you come with me?"
Karina felt a hand on her elbow and looked around, eyes meeting Dagnir's. She glanced back at Thranduil, who was mostly hidden behind the rows of elves trying to get his attention. She wanted to continue watching him solve all his subjects' concerns, in awe of his calm and the ease at which he dispensed orders. But she also did not want to become a problem, so she allowed herself to be led away by the guard, who took her to a temporary tent that had been erected far behind the front lines.
"This is the Prince's temporary quarters," Dagnir said in answer to Karina's unasked question. "I believe you will be more comfortable waiting for Prince Thranduil in here. He uses it for meetings with the advisors and to sleep when he can. Your armor has been brought back here already, so there is no need to fetch it yourself."
"Thank you, Dagnir," Karina said with a smile. "Would you happen to know where I could grab a quick meal?" It was growing dark, and she had not eaten since before the attack at dawn.
"I will have something brought to you," Dagnir said, bowing his head as he left Karina outside the prince's tent to fetch her something to eat. Karina turned, hesitating for a moment before entering the tent.
Karina sat at Thranduil's desk, pouring over maps and diagrams once more as she ate, though she had been holding her spoon halfway to her mouth for several minutes, the once warm stew now cold and dripping steadily on the corner of the desk. She looked up abruptly as the tent flaps opened, Thranduil striding inside purposefully. He did not even look around at Karina as he made straight for the cot in the corner, falling face first onto it and not moving.
"Thranduil?" Karina asked hesitantly, noticing the damp patch on the desk and trying to wipe it up with her sleeve as she watched the prince remain resolutely still. She heard a muffled groan indicating he heard her, but he refused to budge. Sighing, Karina stood and walked over to the cot, sitting perched on the edge as she reached out to put a hand on Thranduil's shoulder. "Is everything alright?"
"No," was the short muffled reply. Karina began running her fingers through his hair, hoping to coax him into talking about it. It took a long time before Thranduil finally moved, though it was only enough to turn his head to the side with a heavy sigh. Karina gently tucked his loose blonde hair behind his ear, frowning when she saw his eyes were bloodshot as he stared into the empty space of the tent.
"Do you want to tell me about it?" she asked softly, not wanting to push him if he was unwilling to share. But the evidence of the tears he'd shed bothered her, and she desperately wished she could do more to help him.
"I am not sure I can, in all honesty," Thranduil said, sighing once more, closing his eyes. "I am just so overwhelmed with everything that has happened in the last week. I am trying to remain strong for my people, but many do not believe me capable of leading. I do not even know most of them, since I have never lived among them. I can see it in their eyes. They do not trust me to lead. They do not trust me to make the right decisions when they are called for, the painful ones if they are necessary."
"You just have to show them that you are as good of a ruler as your father was, maybe even better." Karina shifted, leaning down to rest her head on Thranduil's shoulder, her arm over his back as she shifted her hips lower so she could lean comfortably against him on the cot. "I for one was impressed with how you diffused the conflict with the dwarves earlier. It might have been manipulative, but it was amazing to watch, seeing you deftly direct the conversation so the commander thought he won when he got so very little for his efforts. I never much cared for the scheming of politicians like that in the past, but I have a feeling that such skills will be important in proving yourself to your people. Perhaps I am not helping matters…"
"What do you mean?" he asked sharply.
"I keep seeing them watching me and whispering amongst themselves. I am not sure it is you they do not trust, but me. I appeared out of nowhere, and it is obvious that I am your close confidant. I have no rank, no title, no reason to be among your army, let alone at your side in battle, protected by your father's guard, and now here in your tent when you should be meeting with advisors and commanders. It is rather suspicious, you must admit."
"Karina," Thranduil said, sitting up slowly. Karina was forced to sit up too, meeting his eyes as he took one of her hands and brought it to his lips before returning it to his lap, rubbing her knuckles gently. "This is not because of you. If you do not want to fight anymore, then you may stay here once the fighting begins again, but do not think that I will give you up just because there are rumors circulating."
"I never thought you would, nor do I want to sit idly by while you continue fighting. But you must address your advisors concerns about me if it will make them feel better. Am I right in believing that you have not explained my presence to your commanders?"
"It was not their concern. They do not need to know."
"They do, though," Karina said, squeezing his hand. "I am sure several of them think I am here as a spy or some agent of Sauron. They are concerned, at the very least. My actions today probably did not help matters, as I could have disrupted every plan King Gil-galad made if my scheming had failed. Call them in to speak their minds, have them voice their concerns. They will not trust you as they should if you keep secrets."
"How do I explain your presence, though?" Thranduil said softly. "I cannot simply say that I love you and want you by my side as we battle the forces of Mordor. They will only see you as a distraction and advise me to return you to the main camp as quickly as possible."
"Tell them the truth," Karina said earnestly. "Tell them I am an Adonnen, and the Valar gave me the gifts of swordplay and strategy. That will explain why I am now your advisor, and why I am on the front lines. Tell them that your father and King Gil-galad believe in me, and that both recognized that my purpose in this life was to help you. If they wish to question me themselves, then let them. I will do whatever I must to help you gain their respect and trust."
"You are alright with them knowing? Word will spread that you are an Adonnen, and suspicions may grow. My advisors may have some strong misgivings. Some of them may have met Adonnen before, or heard the stories of the malevolent ones."
"I cannot keep my origins hidden if it is detrimental to your ability to lead," Karina said firmly. "I want to stay by your side, but it is more important for the elves you command to see you as their prince and future king. Meet with them now, before rumors spread further. I am sure my presence here in your tent is already common knowledge. I will leave so you can speak to them in private. I do wish to go see the healers as well, to see if I can do anything further for the elf that was rescued earlier, or perhaps I can be of assistance with others."
"Are you absolutely sure this is what you want?" he asked, putting a hand on her cheek gently. She just smiled, turning her head to kiss his palm gently as she wrapped her fingers around his.
"Yes. I am here to help you, Thranduil, not hinder you. Do what you must. I will go where I am needed most, even if that means returning to the main camp to give your advisors time to determine if I am worth having on the front lines."
"I love you Karina," Thranduil said softly, leaning forward and giving her a gentle kiss. "Thank you."
"I love you, too," she said with a smile. "Now do what you must to fix this. I will be back later."
Karina didn't give him room to argue. She stood and left swiftly, making directly for the ring of healers, catching sight of Sircil and winding through the melee in order to reach her.
"How is he?" she asked, watching as the other elleth cleaned a shallow wound in a soldier's thigh.
"Our half dead patient?" she asked without looking up. "He is trying to live still, but I can't say for sure if he will make it. He woke briefly but couldn't speak. I want to get him stable before we send him back to Duross."
"Is there anything I can do?"
"If he wakes, see if you can get him to drink some water. If you are willing, we could really use your help on others when you are done examining him. We are overwhelmed."
"Of course," Karina said, leaving to check on her patient. Her eyes scanned the hill, dotted with blankets where elves lay in various states of medical care, the healers darting in between them to treat them as quickly as they could. There was no distinction between Noldor and Silvan armies here. Even some men and dwarves lay amongst the wounded. All were equal in death, and it was little different when on the threshold. The healers knew their duty was to save as many lives as they could. Race mattered little.
She found her patient quickly, immediately getting to work examining the work that had been done on him since she last left. His breathing was shallow and ragged, barely detectable even to her elven ears and eyes. Knowing that watching him would not change his condition from pure strength of her own will, she quickly started on other patients, determined to keep busy and her mind off what might be happening in Thranduil's tent at that moment.
Turning, Karina's eyes met those of a elleth lying on a bloodstained blanket, a cloth pad pressed to her right ear and a bandaged wrapped thickly around her right arm. With her left arm, she had propped herself up to look around at Karina.
"Do you need something?" Karina asked, her eyes quickly taking in the extent of the elleth's bandages. Though hidden by blood and grime, she could see the green uniform of a Silvan archer.
"How is Tirfin?"
"Tirfin," the lady repeated in a hoarse voice, looking down. "The elf you brought back half alive."
Karina was suddenly wary. Silently, she studied the face of the elleth in front of her. There was pain in her eyes, undoubtedly brought on by the uncomfortable position she put herself in to talk to Karina. But the tone of her voice hinted to Karina something that was clearly evident behind the cover of the physical pain. This elleth loved the dying elf now lying several hundred meters to the west. The emotional pain of knowing he was drifting somewhere between the world of the living and the world of the dead was far more painful than any physical wounds.
"He lives still," Karina answered slowly. "But has not stabilized enough to make the move back to camp."
"Can you tell me when he wakes?" she asked, almost desperately, the fear and doubt strong in her eyes now.
"Of course," Karina said, feeling a wave of sympathy suddenly wash over her. What if that had been Thranduil? She would have been just as desperate to know he was safe. And because of her lingering human nature, she probably would have had far less control than this seasoned soldier. "Of course I will." She tried not to think what would happen if the elf Tirfin did not wake. She was unsure she could deliver that message.