Karina knew she was in trouble. When Thranduil found her, she would be lucky if she ever escaped his watchful gaze again. But she was finally doing something important, and she was determined to do it right. He would just have to be angry later. For the moment, she was shut away in a tent with Prince Amroth, son of Amdir and leader of his father's diminished forces, and his commanders.
"Here," she said, pointing to a position just north of the Morannon on the map. "I think this ravine looks promising. From the reports I have looked at, there do not appear to be any enemy troops launching assaults from there, so there is a good chance it is not defended."
"You realize that there might be a company sitting in wait there anyway, right?" Prince Amroth commented with a frown. "That is a large enough area several thousand orcs could be hidden in those rocks."
"That could be true of any of these locations," Karina pointed out, gesturing at the map where she had outlined all the locations she thought should be scouted for strategic purposes. "Stealth is important here, and if your scouts are as good as King Gil-galad claims, then they should have no trouble finding a company of orcs before being spotted. The point is to find weak points in their defenses that we can infiltrate with small numbers. We do not need to worry about hiding an army."
"Has the King informed you about his plans with siege equipment?" the Prince asked, leaning on the table and looking at Karina with a frown. "These plans of yours will be moot in just a few weeks."
"I do not think you all realize how strong those gates are," Karina replied seriously. "Even with siege equipment, I do not think you will break through quickly. With my plan, we can use the trebuchets and catapults to distract and draw out the armies while we sneak in behind. It will take some time to get into position as it is, since I doubt those mountains are easy to climb, and navigation will be even more difficult on the other side."
"How do you know so much about the gates?" Amroth asked suspiciously, narrowing his eyes at Karina.
"I am merely making an educated guess based on what we know of Sauron," she replied evenly, glancing up at him before letting her eyes return to the map. "It seems logical that he would make them as thick as possible for just this reason. I personally have not seen the gates open, but am I right in assuming that they are at least a couple feet thick?"
"More, probably," Amroth admitted grudgingly. "But with strong enough equipment…"
"Unless you have an army of trolls at your disposal, I doubt very much you will be able to move large enough projectiles at a large enough quantity to make it through that wall in the time period you are looking for. Besides, to get close enough to use them, you will be vulnerable to attacks from the mountains."
"I think you underestimate our builders and the range of our weapons," Amroth replied defensively. But Karina was not listening.
"If only we had black powder, that would certainly be helpful. But if it fell into the wrong hands, that could be devastating. Could change the entire course of the future…"
"Let us not think about what we do not have but instead focus on what we do have."
"Right, of course. Please, Prince Amroth, just send a few scouts to see if ascent is possible. I assure you, it will be a much easier assault if we can get the gates open from the inside."
"Since King Gil-galad trusts and supports you, I will see it done," he said with a short nod of his head. "I am taking a big risk here, I hope you know. This better turn up something."
"Whether we find passage into Mordor or not, I am certain your scouts will return with valuable intelligence that we can put to use in further battle plans. I am glad Gil-galad has decided to draw back for a time. Lives will be saved through prudence over recklessness."
"Perhaps, but if we wait too long the situation could worsen astronomically. No one knows what vile things Sauron has lying in wait beyond the gate."
"The Alliance will face them sooner or later, it is best to be prepared. Are you certain you do not wish for me to go with your scouts? I know which regions I want explored and I can make further plans along the way."
"Absolutely not," Amroth said, pulling the map away from her and rolling it up. "If I may be frank, you have no experience whatsoever with this sort of mission, and I am not going to risk the lives of my people even further by forcing them to keep an eye on you as well. Not even the King could convince me otherwise. At any rate, I have no desire to face down Prince Thranduil should he find out that I have sent you off on such a mission."
"This is my choice. He has no sway over my actions."
"I doubt he would agree," Amroth said, nodding to his commanders. They began packing up the maps further and preparing to depart. "But as I would not let you go even without the threat of his retribution, there is little point in having this conversation. If you will excuse me, I must return to meet with the Kings. I will send out scouts as soon as I have run these plans by Gil-galad."
"Will you inform me of any changes or updates?"
"I have little doubt Thranduil will inform you when news arrives," Amroth said tartly. He bowed stiffly, departing swiftly from the tent before she could argue further. Karina bit her lip and looked around the empty tent, her courage quickly failing. Now that her plan was in motion, she had little else to do but return to Thranduil. He would not at all be pleased to hear she had gone over his head instead of waiting as he had asked. She wondered how long she could avoid the confrontation. He was, after all, meeting with the Kings at that moment. Making up her mind, she departed Amroth's tent, quickly devising the best route back to her own tent without being spotted by Thranduil's guards. After that, she was going to go hide. As much as she told herself she was going to go be useful instead of sitting around waiting for Thranduil to finish, she knew that she was just trying to put off the inevitable clash.
Duross did not even ask why Karina was there. He just put her to work. And for that she was grateful. She was a little nervous for a while, glancing up around her every minute or so, jumping at ever new voice that entered the tent, but she soon became too absorbed in surgeries to think about the very angry prince that would find her sooner or later.
"Hold her down," Duross instructed firmly, making four sets of hands reach out simultaneously to grab the elleth that was struggling on the operating table. Karina held her shoulder down firmly, choosing to look at the fear in her eyes instead of Duross, his surgeon's saw in his hand. This was by far the worst part of her job. The elleth on the table had been given a strong sleeping draught, but she fought it, tears streaming down her eyes, knowing what was coming next.
"Shh, it is alright," Karina said in attempt to be comforting. It was hard, straining as she was to keep the elleth on the table. "It will be over soon. Relax, let the potion take effect."
"No, no!" the elleth screamed wildly, trying to pull back. "Please, I do not want you to!"
"You will die if we don't," Karina said sympathetically. She very well might die anyway. She would not be the first to lose the will to live. "It will be alright. It is not as bad as you think."
The elleth screamed as the saw touched her flesh. Try as she could, Karina could not block out the screams of pain and the horrible sound of metal on bone. This was not the first time she had been in surgery with Duross, but even so, it hit her just as hard as it did then. Her chest tightened, her throat constricted, and she felt her fingers bruising the shoulder she was holding. Focusing on that did not block out the sickening crunch of bone breaking, or the smell that it gave off, causing bile to rise into her constricted throat. Mercifully, the elleth passed out, the pain and anguish too much. Karina let her go with a shaking sigh. Oh, how she hated that.
"We have another one," Duross said to her left before disappearing into the chaos to seek out his next patient. Before departing, Karina steeled herself for another look. The elleth had suffered from a shattered hand, crushed beneath the club of a troll. It had been ripped to shreds by the nails and spikes of that club. But now, there was only a bloody stump at the end of her wrist, being tended quickly by one of the healers to stem the flow.
Amputations were by far the worst. In humans, it was sad to see, a soldier with shrapnel in his leg that forced it to be removed. In elves, it was unbearable. To watch the light fading from them as they fought, weakening until they lay pitiable on the table, unconsciously waiting for the saw to severe away a part of them. The conscious elleth had been horrendous. It was bad enough when they were unaware of the process. Many did not wake, knowing that part of them was gone, losing the will to live. Karina could not blame them. It was an awful sight to see, the elves that lost limbs. The life seemed drained from them, all joy gone and replaced by a solemn acceptance of their fate. These elves were less than perfect now, and it made Karina miserable to see. She had no idea what would happen to them now. She hoped that they would not be shunned for their disfigurement. To be brought so low and then rejected from everything they once knew; it would break her. And what about the soldiers who had limbs severed in battle? She had seen a number of those, too, while on the front lines. She was too afraid to ask for their fate.
Moving automatically through the tent, she found Duross again, standing over an ellon with a chunk taken out of his leg, as if it was bitten off by some monstrous beast. It very well might have been, Karina thought, wondering if wargs had finally been brought into the fray.
"This one we might not have to remove," Duross said softly, examining the bloody bone fracture sticking out of the wound. "If it is set and treated, the flesh might grow back in time. Karina, fetch a splint and wrappings." She quickly changed course to do as Duross instructed. She was relieved that there would be one less amputation to witness.
Mercifully, the number of elves being brought back slowed down now that the battle was not waging. Karina and the other healers began cleaning up the tent, taking a long time to do so as inevitably a patient would need assistance in the middle of any task. Solemnly, several elves were removed from the tent, having passed from their injuries or misery. Whether lucky or not, the elleth with the severed hand woke once more, just as Karina was passing to toss away soiled bandages.
"Do you need something?" Karina asked sympathetically, pausing in her chores to watch the elleth look around, trying to get her bearings. She opened her mouth, but no sound came out. "Do you want water?" A nod sent Karina scurrying away, returning a moment later with a small glass, carefully helping the elleth sit up to drink. The elleth attempted to take the glass from Karina, but she reached out with her left hand, and it was at that moment that she realized it was no longer there.
Forgetting the water, she broke down with a strangled sob, her right hand shaking as she cradled the injured limb, curling up in pain and sorrow as her body shook miserably. Karina set the glass down, fighting back her own tears that seemed always ready to fall these days, and put her arm around the elleth to comfort her.
"It will be alright, dear," she said soothingly. "You still live. While you live, there is still hope."
"What hope?" she choked out. "I was an archer. I loved being an archer. I cannot even hold a bow now. What am I supposed to do?"
"There are ways around it. I have seen people with worse injuries than this accomplish amazing things. People who have lost both legs winning races, people without hands making beautiful paintings."
"Machines. Mechanical attachments. Or just sheer will."
"I do not want to be a mechanical. That sounds horrific. I want to be me."
"There has to be something else you can do."
With impeccably bad timing, Thranduil chose that moment to appear, stomping through the open end of the tent in a flurry of green and silver robes with a murderous glare at anyone that dared to be within ten feet of him. Sensing the familiar feel of his anger, Karina turned abruptly, grabbing the glass and shoving it at the distraught elleth as she stood.
"I will be back. Here, try to drink this."
"I am sorry, Your Grace," said a very frightened young healer, staring up at Thranduil with wide eyes as she intercepted him, his hands on his hips and looking like he was on the warpath. "But you cannot be in here right now. We are—"
"Where is Karina?" he demanded loudly, successfully getting the attention of every conscious elf within the tent. The poor healer addressing him was speechless at his outburst.
"I will take care of this, Indiel," Karina said softly, gently steering the healer away from the danger as she appeared in Thranduil's line of sight, feeling the fury he was getting ready to rain down on her. She looked up at him sternly and continued, addressing him tartly, "Shall we go outside before you disrupt the healers further?"
Without a word, he spun on his heels, marching out the way he came with Karina following, gathering her courage to face the onslaught. He had the sense to walk some distance away from the healers, but there were still a number of elves bustling around them when he finally stopped, unleashing his anger against Karina.
"What the hell did you think you were doing?!" he demanded, hands on his hips once more, fire in his eyes as he stood to his full height menacingly in front of Karina, daring her to argue with him. Of course, she took his challenge.
"I was trying to save lives!" she replied just as furiously, mimicking his pose as she began shouting back, elves around them giving them a wide berth and watching with confusion. "We do not have time to wait around for the perfect opportunity to arise. We have to act now while we can!"
"That does not give you the authority to undermine me by going to the King!" Thranduil shouted back, oblivious to the spectators. "You are under my command, and I will not be ignored!"
"I am not under your command, and I was not ignoring you! I am here to serve the Valar, not you, so I can do whatever I please. I took your wisdom into account, and decided that I should get a second opinion."
"Do not give me that rubbish. Just because Gil-galad favors you does not mean you can run wild, taking whatever resource you want to accomplish your convoluted schemes. You asked to join my army, so I expect you to listen to my orders!"
"I followed your orders; I did not leave the camp!"
"But you refused to wait to bring you flimsy plan to the King!"
"Because the only way it was not going to be flimsy was to get his help!"
"And so you went running off, appealed to the King, and then went to make plans with Amroth without telling me?"
"Is that what this is about?" Karina asked incredulously, also not taking into account that they had an audience. "You are jealous that I was working with Amroth on this and not you?"
"That is not what this discussion is about," Thranduil growled testily, though clearly it was not an inaccurate statement. "You had no right to go appeal to the King as you did. You are under my command whether you like it or not, and I expect you to treat me as such."
"That does not give you the right to storm into Gil-galad's camp, disrupting his healers, and frightening everyone. There are people with bigger problems than you in that tent, ones that need my help more than you. And if you do not mind, Prince Thranduil, I have duties to attend to. May I be excused?"
"No!" he said, grabbing her arm as she attempted to storm away. "You are not excused! You are returning with me and we are going to continue this discussion."
"Prince Thranduil, kindly release Lady Karina."
Both elves looked around sharply, eyes falling on Lord Aradae standing a few feet away. His face was calm but his eyes were challenging Thranduil as he stared at the Prince, waiting for him to comply.
"This is not your concern, Aradae," Thranduil hissed, venom in every word.
"You are disrupting King Gil-galad's camp, and therefore it is my concern. You also threaten Lady Karina, and that I cannot allow under any circumstances."
"I am not threatening her," Thranduil snapped back, his hand still tightly wrapped around Karina's forearm. "If she returns to my camp, then this will no longer be an issue."
"King Gil-galad is already growing impatient, Prince. He will not be happy when he hears how you have been treating Karina."
Thranduil was silent, looking murderous as he glanced between Aradae and Karina, the latter surprisingly quiet as she waited to see how this would play out. His grip slackened as he let go, his face turning into a mask of indifference, though his eyes were as stormy as ever.
"Very well," he said in a deceptively calm voice. "I shall leave. I shall not bother either of you again." He stalked away, the crowd parting to let him through, leaving Karina and Aradae to watch him disappear without another word.