"Are you alright?" Aradae asked softly, putting a hand on Karina's arm as she continued staring after Thranduil.
"Yes, I am alright," she said, feeling tired and worn out. Between the amputations and the fight with Thranduil, it was unsurprising. But what had upset her the most was the look of hurt and utter devastation that had flickered in Thranduil's eyes as he turned away. It was not his pride she had hurt. It was his heart.
"Did he hurt you?"
"No, of course not," Karina said as if this was a ridiculous statement. It was. "But I hurt him, and I cannot do anything about it because I have to finish up here first."
"He was worried about you," Aradae said gently, his hand still on her shoulder for comfort. "He burst into King Gil-galad's tent rather forcefully not long after you left, trying to act like nothing was amiss. I thought he was going to kill either Gil-galad or Amroth when he found out that you were out putting your plan into motion. He must have immediately thought you had been sent out scouting after he was told, and it took some convincing to calm him down."
"I should not have gone over his head like that," Karina admitted with a sigh, turning to go back to the healer's tent, aware that many pairs of eyes were still watching her. "But I just could not wait any longer."
"I know," Aradae said as he followed slowly. "And I am certain he will forgive you after he has had the time to reflect."
"I hope so," Karina said with a half-hearted smile. "But right now I have to cheer someone up, and I am not sure I am cheerful enough myself to manage it. Wish me luck."
"Good luck," Aradae said, bowing his head before she disappeared back inside.
"Do forgive me," Karina said, coming up behind the elleth she had been speaking to when Thranduil interrupted. The elleth looked around, the glass of water still clutched in her hand. "That was rude of me to leave you like that. I was supposed to be helping you. And I have not even bothered to ask you your name!"
"It is alright, my lady," the elleth said softly. "I am Thalaras. Are you alright?"
"Of course!" she said a little too brightly. "It was you we were discussing, not me."
"Do not lie, Lady Karina. What is wrong?" Karina was surprised at the second voice from her left. Turning, her eyes widened to see Lord Ricyll sitting propped up on a cot next to Thalaras. Her eyes wandered downward, noting with horror that he had bandages wrapped around his chest, arm, and abdomen. But most noticeable was that from the knee down, his right leg was gone.
"Good heavens, I did not realize you were here," Karina said, completely ignoring his question. "What happened, Lord Ricyll?"
"Most of my leg was taken off by an orc," he said casually as if they were having a pleasant conversation over tea. "The rest was removed by these fine folks here, since it was of little use to me at that point."
"I am so sorry," Karina said miserably, eyes moving down to his severed limb again. She sat down heavily next to Thalaras on her cot, feeling the weight of the war hit her full in the face once more. It was one thing seeing unknown elves being injured like this. It was another to see someone she knew being cut down. It was always harder when there was a name to the face of the wounded.
"It is not your fault," Ricyll said, wincing as he sat up further. "As I was saying to Thalaras, it is not so bad, really. We are alive despite the odds, and we can still find ways to help the war effort, even if we cannot fight as we use to. Though your idea about mechanical attachments was interesting. I was thinking of maybe finding a smith to make me a metal leg with blades on the side. That would be quite something."
Karina could not help but smile at that idea, imagining Ricyll charging into battle and waving his leg around like a sword. She looked up when she felt a hand on her shoulder. To her surprise, Thalaras was smiling as she too tried to comfort Karina.
"And maybe I can get some sort of claw to hold onto a bow. As long as I can still draw an arrow with my right, I can probably find a way to fight. It would take some getting used to, but I might find I like the change."
"I hope you can find a way to keep doing what you love," Karina said, smiling back gratefully. "But should I not be the one comforting you both? You have lost much already, and I cannot imagine what that feels like."
"You lost your home and your life, did you not?" Ricyll asked pointedly. "Yet you are still here fighting our battles for us, with no reason to care at all what happens in this war. The least we can do is try to keep your spirits up while you selflessly go about helping us in this uphill battle. So tell us, what is troubling you? That is not a face of someone who should be working to cheer up others."
"It is nothing," Karina tried again with a sigh. "Nothing worth mentioning, anyway. It is a silly thing, really."
"If it troubles you so much, it must not be trivial," Thalaras pressed. "What happened with Prince Thranduil? Ricyll said you are quite close, but he did not seem too pleased when he burst in here."
"He is angry with me," Karina said needlessly. It had been clear to everyone in the medical tent that Thranduil was angry. "I went over his head and sought Gil-galad's assistance on a war plan I have been working on. I was too focused on saving lives to think about protocol. He believes I should have waiting until I had a stronger plan that he could bring before the King. I disobeyed his wishes and broke the chain of command. I suppose he is right. I am a part of his army, technically. I should have listened."
"That seems a silly thing to fight over," Thalaras said thoughtfully. "Especially if you think this plan will save lives. Surely that is not it."
"He says that is what the problem is, but I think he may be mostly upset that I snuck away from him and began enacting my plan without his knowledge. Aradae says he was anxious that I might have gone out with the scouting parties. He can be over protective sometimes. And I think he is a bit resentful that I am working with Prince Amroth on my plan instead of him. He is frightfully jealous, you know."
"It is true then?" Thalaras asked softly, glancing around to see if there were other ears listening. "You have bound yourselves together, despite the war?"
"Bound ourselves?" Karina asked, puzzled. She was not sure exactly what that entailed, but the way Thalaras said it, it sounded to her like the elvish equivalent of a marriage. "No, of course not. But I do love him very much, and I am certain he loves me." Pausing for a moment, she glanced between Ricyll and Thalaras. "Who has been saying we are bound?"
"Many people," Ricyll said gently. "Is it that surprising? Your relationship has been rather public, and it gives people something to talk about rather than the war."
"I knew I was going to be the topic of gossip because I am an Adonnen, but I guess I did not realize my relationship with Thranduil would be part of the conversation, too. I suppose it is not so surprising, since he is a Prince."
"It is all very fascinating when you look at it from an outsider perspective," Ricyll said as if it was all a scientific experiment. "You are an Adonnen, have been in the camp for maybe two months now, you have been first a healer then a soldier leading a rescue mission behind enemy lines, and somehow while doing all of this you became Thranduil's closest confidant and for all we know, if you pardon me being so blunt about it, his lover as well. Calling you his wife would not seem such a big step after all that." Karina blushed and looked down at this summation of her life. So, she had been right. Being bound was the equivalent of being married. It seemed rather stupid to get married in the middle of a war, especially when, as Ricyll pointed out, she had only known him for a couple months. No matter how much she loved him, she could not imagine marrying Thranduil, or anyone, under such circumstances.
"I think the only reason people haven't started calling you Princess is because they believe you both want to keep it secret," Thalaras said softy. "I have heard a few call you that in conversation."
"I am not though!" Karina said earnestly, uneasy about being thought of as Thranduil's wife. Admittedly, it was what she secretly wanted, but she had no desire to rush into it. Especially not knowing what the Valar had planned for her. More than anything, she was afraid how people would view her then. Would she be able to lead his armies? Or would everyone just think she was after his power and position? She hoped these rumors would not hinder her or Thranduil. But considering they were already so prevalent, she wasn't sure she could stop them if they did.
"I doubt very many will believe you if you try to convince them otherwise," Ricyll said with a sympathetic smile, confirming her suspicions. "I have known Thranduil for a long time, and I can tell you with certainty that if he has his way, you will be a princess before long." Karina blushed darkly again at this statement.
"Maybe not anymore. You did not see the look he gave me when Aradae interfered with our conversation."
"Conversation?" Ricyll said, bemused. "My dear lady, we could hear you both arguing from here. He certainly seemed angry when he came in, but rest assured, it is just because he was worried about you. He lets his temper get the best of him when he is anxious."
"Should I go apologize, or wait until he has had time to think first?" Karina asked, biting her lip. "I feel awful about what I did."
"You shouldn't. You did what you thought was necessary. Give him a day or two. He will realize how foolish he has been acting. If he is too stubborn to seek you out by then, you can go give him a piece of your mind and he will come round." Karina smiled gratefully, feeling slightly better after Ricyll's words of encouragement. He was so kind, worrying about her when he was sitting in bed with a missing leg. She was exceedingly grateful to him for pulling Thalaras out of her misery as well. Seeing as how her own petty problems had somehow brought her patients' minds off of their situation, she thought perhaps she could get used to being known as a princess. All she wanted to do was help, and if her being the topic of conversation was the way to do that, so be it. It would take some getting used to, having her private life be analyzed like she was some kind of Hollywood celebrity, but she thought perhaps in time, she would figure out how to deal with it. Privately, she wondered how those people starting the rumors would react when they heard about her very public row with Thranduil. It would certainly give them lots to talk about.
Karina spent the next couple days with the healers, finding herself quite caught up in changing bandages, dispensing healing or sleeping draughts, and chatting amicably with Ricyll and Thalaras. With the battle stalled still, there were few new patients, so Karina got to know several of the wounded soldiers fairly well. Especially since most were injured so badly they could barely sit up on their own and needed her help to do the simplest tasks. She was grateful the more experienced healers did most of this work, and she generally just wrapped wounds while conversing cheerily with the wounded. Much to her surprise, the general attitude around the tent was rather cheerful during that time. It took her some time to realize why, but it seemed quite obvious after she figured it out.
"You are becoming something of a menace, Ricyll," she scolded him while helping him to eat dinner on her third day in the tent. "It won't be long before you are going to have to do this on your own because none of the healers will come near you."
"Even you, Princess?" he teased, grinning as Karina handed him a slice of apple and cheese. Ignoring his comment, she instead wondered how much longer they would have fresh fruit like this. She guessed soon everyone would be living off of waybread and water.
"I was going to go see Thranduil tomorrow," she explained, cutting another slice off as he ate the first. "I do not know what will happen to me after that."
"You are going to miss all the fun!" he said, grinning like a naughty child. Karina would never have guessed this great elven soldier would have the humor of a six-year-old, but he had been horribly wicked to all the healers—and some of the patients—for the last two days. Nothing sinister, but he had taken to tying apron strings to whatever he could if they strayed too close to him for too long, or launching pieces of his meals with a spoon at unsuspecting elves, letting out a triumphant "Ha!" whenever he hit one he was aiming at. This was why Karina was now in charge of feeding him, so he did not have the means or opportunity to continue his reign of terror.
Though the healers were less than pleased with his antics, having to clean up the messes he made from splattered food or spilled potions when apron strings pulled them off tables, but his childishness amused the patients that would otherwise be stuck with nothing but their thoughts to entertain them. Karina was half tempted to sneak him additional tools to fuel his one-man circus, but decided they had already wasted enough food and healing potions on his crusade. They would probably need all that they could spare in the years to come. If he was going to cause trouble, she was not going to help.
"I am sure Thalaras will relate it all to me later," Karina said with a smile, glancing over at the elleth beside them. With a book on her lap, her severed wrist supporting the edge, she just grinned, not looking up.
"I will certainly tattle if you keep getting gravy on my cot," she shot at Ricyll, who tried and failed to look repentant.
"Betrayed by my own comrades," Ricyll sighed, deciding he could fake sorrowful better than repentant. "It is going to be a long war, with friends like you both."
"It could be worse," Karina commented, passing him more apple and cheese. "You could be stuck with a one-eyed dwarf for company instead. Or a man struck down with trench fever."
"I would at least take the dwarf over you two. You females can be so fickle sometimes. I never know what to expect. Dwarves are pretty much always the same: gruff and stubbornly irritable."
"It is a small wonder you are not married, with that sort of attitude," Thalaras replied, giving him a withering glare as she glanced up from her book. "I cannot imagine many ellyth would put up with your attitude for very long."
"Well, my sister did. I only got beat up a few times."
"I am not at all surprised," Thalaras said airily, returning to her book.
"Enough about me," Ricyll said brightly, turning to Karina. "Have you figured out what you are going to say to Prince Thranduil tomorrow?"
"I have no idea," Karina said with a sigh. "It will probably depend on his temperament at the time. I can plan all I like, but he will inevitably make me forget all the preparations I have made as soon as he opens his mouth."
"Just don't let him guilt you into an apology," Ricyll said seriously. "You did nothing wrong. If he is stubborn and decides to argue again, argue right back and tell him that I will give him a piece of my mind if he keeps being an idiot."
"Do you think he will start arguing again?"
"I do not know. Maybe there will be news from the scouts and he will have to admit that your plan and some merit after all. He might not be happy about it, but he will see reason eventually."
"Hopefully it will be sooner rather than later. I hate fighting with him."
"Is this your first fight?" Thalaras asked, looking up from her book to join in the conversation with interest.
"Yes," Karina said thoughtfully. "I suppose it is."
"Then he has yet to learn that he is always going to be wrong when you fight. He will learn."
"Let us hope so," Karina said with a laugh. Ricyll just rolled his eyes, muttering something about ellyth under his breath.