Karina felt an overwhelming sense of peace and contentment when she woke. It was quickly clear why.
"Thranduil, may I get up?"
She sighed, settling back onto the mattress, closing her eyes as she relished the feeling of having Thranduil's arm wrapped around her waist, pulling her tightly to his chest as he lay beside her on the bed. She was not about to argue for her freedom. It felt too wonderful to be where she was at that moment.
"Did you come up with a plan?" he asked finally, interrupting the content silence they were both enjoying.
"I was not awake long enough to do more than glance at the map," Karina admitted softly. "But I have come to the conclusion that we need to go over the Morannon instead of through it."
"What do you mean?" Thranduil asked, shifting behind her. She opened her eyes and looked up to see him leaning over her curiously, propped up on his elbow as his silver hair fell over his shoulders and tickled her nose.
"I mean the Morannon is too thick to go through without siege equipment or artillery," she said, brushing his hair out of his face, revealing the dark wounds still marring his handsome face. "The only hope we have is to open it up from the inside."
"While that seems logical from a purely theoretical standpoint, my love, there is the problem of actually accomplishing such a fantastical feat. I cannot imagine how we would begin to undergo such a venture."
"Nor can I, but I shall think on it more. I do not know what King Gil-galad intends with his frontal assault, but he is making virtually no progress and something must change."
"So you keep saying," Thranduil said, kissing her ear before sitting up. Karina instantly felt the loss and rose with him, following the heat he still radiated.
"And I will continue to say so until something changes. We will run out of soldiers before he breaks through that gate."
"I will not argue with you, melamin, but we have been through this many times. We have little other choice. What you are suggesting is just not possible." He stood, holding out his hand to help her up.
"Of course it is," she scoffed, accepting the hand and rising swiftly. "It is the only possible way for the Alliance to enter Mordor."
"Then what do you suggest we do?"
Karina was silent for a while, a frown upon her face as she thought about the problem. Her mind was going into the realm of ridiculous again, involving detailed disguises and a great amount of luck. Thranduil laughed at the strange look on her face, kissing her forehead before returning to his desk, intent on letting her puzzle things over while he worked on his own plans.
"Why can't we send a company across the mountains?" Karina blurted out suddenly, making Thranduil jump in surprise.
"What do you mean?"
"We are not Hobbits, surely a company of elves is nimble enough to scale these mountains. Then they can open the gates from the inside."
"You have seen those mountains, Karina. An army cannot pass them except through the Morannon."
"Perhaps not an army, but a few individuals could. If only we had eagles, that would certainly be useful. How far is it to Minas Morgul in the south? Perhaps a company could cross there. But it would be easiest if a small company could cross the mountains here and take out the trolls or whatever other creatures are responsible for opening the gates. Simply wait until it opens to allow more orcs through and then keep them from being shut again while Gil-galad leads the charge. Yes, that must be it. Without eagles, that is the only way."
"You are not making sense again, love," Thranduil said, sounding worried. "Do you mean Minas Ithil? Lord Anarion, King Elendil's son, took the city back from Sauron but it is still not an easy passage into Mordor from there, and it is a very long trek south. I do suppose eagles would be helpful, but I do not think the great eagles will join us in this fight. I simply do not think you can get a force large enough to scale these mountains and also take the gate from behind. It would be slaughtered before it reached the summit."
"Then do not cross so close to the Morannon. Surely there is a way around to the north or south. A place that is hidden from the watchful gaze of the enemy."
"You are welcome to look at these maps, but I think you will find it is not as easy as you are making it sound."
"Can you arrange a meeting with Gil-galad? I want to speak to him about this as soon as possible."
"Hold on," Thranduil said, standing again and looking at her sternly from across his desk. "You will need to come up with a much more organized plan before you bring it to King Gil-galad. Once you have something detailed with a thoughtful report to give, I will support you, but right now I cannot afford to stick my neck out for you for another convoluted and ill-conceived plan. Give me something concrete and we will talk about it."
"Fine, I will."
Karina grabbed a blank sheet of parchment, an ink well, and a quill from Thranduil's desk, seating herself down in a corner of the tent with a book to write on. She began scribbling away, muttering to herself as she looked very un-elven with her back hunched over and her legs crossed under her. Thranduil watched her for a while, wondering if she might be suffering from some injury he could not see, but decided that her Adonnen origins were probably just making her quirks more prominent when she got agitated. He let her get on with it as he went back to his charts and reports, deciding grimly how to proceed with what few elves he still had at his command.
"Where are you going?" Thranduil asked abruptly, making Karina pause as she was about to exit his tent with her arms full of the notes she had been taking for the last two hours.
"You said to come up with a concrete plan, and I am going to go do so."
"I thought that's what you were doing here?"
"I was. But I need to go find some more information first."
"What are you up to?" he asked suspiciously, eyes narrowed as he watched her twitch anxiously, clearly trying to escape without telling him what it was she was planning.
"Just going to get organized. I'll be back eventually." Before she could take two more steps towards the exit, Thranduil was beside her, his hand firmly grasped around her arm as he snatched a loose piece of parchment from her hands. "Hey!"
"What is this?" Thranduil asked, brow furrowed as his eyes skimmed the rough map he was holding. "Are these the locations you want to send soldiers through?"
"Yes. I was thinking multiple points of ascension to maximize the chance of success. I just need to see if they are accessible from the Dagorlad."
"No," Thranduil said, making her flinch from the amount of authority in his voice. "You are absolutely not going to inspect these mountains yourself."
"No," he repeated, snatching the rest of her notes from her hand, earning a scowl from Karina. "You are not risking your life on this. I will not let you go out poking around the mountains when they are crawling with orcs and trolls and wargs and who knows what other foul creatures."
"You can't stop me," Karina challenged, putting her hands on her hips and surprising him with the venom in her own voice. "You are not my prince. You have no authority over me."
"Oh yes I do," Thranduil snapped back, tossing the mess of parchment onto his desk so he could attempt to intimidate her more effectively. "You are a part of my army, and therefore under my command. I forbid you from leaving this camp unless you are accompanied by me or your guard."
"You cannot do that!" Karina protested loudly.
"Do not argue with me, Karina!" Thranduil thundered back. "You are not leaving here until I say so. I will put you under a full guard if you try to defy me."
"Then what am I supposed to do about these?" she asked angrily, gesturing at the scattered parchment. "I cannot have a proper plan without doing recon!"
"I will send someone out to investigate when we have bodies to spare," Thranduil replied tersely.
"And what am I supposed to do until then? Elves and men and dwarves are dying by the thousands! We cannot wait any longer."
"There is no guaranty your plan will change that," Thranduil said wearily, rubbing his forehead as the fight left him. "Just stay here, Karina. Please. For me. I have already lost my father to a foolish charge, I do not want to lose you, too."
Karina deflated quickly at this, still annoyed but feeling her heart go out to Thranduil all the same. She took his hand in hers and closed the gap between them, meeting his brilliant blue eyes and seeing the concern for her mirrored in them.
"I love you Thranduil and I do not want to leave you, you know that right?" she said softly, pausing to wait for his acknowledgement. When he smiled at her softly, kissing her forehead, she continued. "But my life is not worth more than all those that are suffering in this attempt on the gate. Will you not let me try to fix this?"
"I am sorry, Karina, but no, I cannot let you do this. If you were to fall now, I would be lost. Please, just wait. I will send scouts with more training than you to find locations to cross the peaks. There are elves trained for these sorts of covert missions. Whatever skills the Valar have given you, I will not risk your life on the hope that stealth was one of them."
"Do you promise?" Karina asked, looking up at him pleadingly. He kissed her gently on the mouth, his breath tickling her lips as he pulled away just far enough to whisper a response.
Karina was still slightly annoyed at being denied leave to investigate the mountains, but she stayed with Thranduil as he wished, letting her plan go on hold for a moment. Not that she could have escaped, anyway. Thranduil rarely let her out of his sight, and had her escorted back and forth to her tent when she went. She wondered what those guards must have thought. They knew she spent virtually no time in her own quarters, and had spent many long hours along with their prince in his tent. They had almost certainly heard their argument about tactics, but they surely had to wonder what she was doing there the rest of the time. Thranduil had several advisors visit him for long periods of time during the few days they remained in camp, but none stayed nearly as long as she did. Even under the guise that she was his healer, it was a little suspicious.
"You opened your stitches again," she accused him sternly, examining the cut that was healing slowly at his side. "I am starting to get the feeling you like bleeding. If you keep this up, I will have to cauterize it."
"It is in a most uncomfortable place," Thranduil whined, letting her rewrap his bandages around his waist. "It is hard to avoid hitting it."
"My lord, a word?"
"What is it, Commander?"
"King Gil-galad wishes to have a meeting with you within the hour to discuss the next attack. He has pulled many of his forces from the gate, leaving behind a rear guard to keep back the forces of Mordor."
"Has he new insight into how we are going to break through the defenses?" Thranduil asked, sliding his shirt on, glancing up at the messenger in front of him.
"I am not sure, your majesty. He will explain further once you are able to meet with him and Elendil."
"Thank you," Thranduil said, dismissing his commander. He smiled standing to fix his tunic. "I guess you will have to hold off on your lecture, Karina." When there was no reply, he looked around. "Karina?" She was nowhere in his tent and he growled, cursing as he finished dressing for his meeting with Gil-galad. He knew exactly where she was, and he was going to give her quite a stern lecture when he found her.