Karina was restless and worried. To help her heal, she was sent to Duross. He lectured her about uncontrolled healing, but also complimented her on her work, having heard how Thranduil was already returning to the battlefield despite his near-death experience. Karina let herself recover slowly back in the healing tent, helping with little things. But with Ricyll and Thalaras elsewhere to make room for more injured soldiers, she found it much more depressing than last time. With the battle raging once more, there was a steady flow of severely wounded soldiers. Gil-galad had revised his battle plan, however, and there seemed to be less injuries than before. Karina was not sure if this was good or bad. It was not clear if less were being injured, or if more were simply dying on the battlefield.
Duross often made her leave the depressing confines of the healers' tent, telling her to go rest and recover. But Karina quickly came to dread this time by herself. It gave her far too much time to think about what might be happening to Thranduil on the front lines. Instead of resting as she should, her hours of peace and solitude were spent pacing back and forth in Thranduil's empty tent, chewing on her lip and wondering what was happening. She had a vague idea what Gil-galad was going to do with the new information he had obtained from the orcs, but nothing definitive had been done yet. Not that she knew of, anyway.
To fill her time with something, she began reorganizing Thranduil's things—completely rearranging all his personal belongs and snooping shamelessly—or pouring over maps and sifting through correspondences and notes from all the meetings prior to the beginning of the war. Most of these meant little to her, as they were often detailed accounts of inventories and armories written up by people whose names she did not recognize. She did find a few more recent letters detailing supply trains on their way, bringing more food and supplies for the soldiers. These she read through carefully, curious as to how they planned to resupply over the long impending war. Seven years was a long time to be feeding an entrenched army. Not that anyone but her knew just how long their effort would last.
When she had gone through every letter, memorized every map, and organized them in a system she was sure would only irritate Thranduil later, she began making some notes of her own. As was her habit now, she let her mind wander to increasingly more irrational theories of how to push forward with the new information from their hostages. It was soothing, even if it was not particularly useful. She was not sure she had all the current intel, as nothing new had been shared with her before her departure from the forward camp. She hoped that Brandorn had been able to glean at least something new from the orc. After she had slept and processed the torturing she had witnessed, she had been horrified at her own ability to suggest such awful things be done to a living creature. She was not sure what had come over her, but it made her feel ill once more, knowing such a violent and twisted person was hidden somewhere inside her own mind.
To get the image out of her head of the grotesquely mutilated creature, she began scribbling all over one of Thranduil's maps, using the information she did know to draw up plans for troop movement in front of the Morannon and over the mountains to attack the Gate from behind. She knew it was a useless effort, but went on anyway. She felt she had become superfluous, having exhausted all her knowledge of the affair. Now it was up to the real leaders to decide how to proceed. They were, after all, far more in tune with their own armies than she. But the truth of this did not stop her making a mess of her map of the Dagorlad, scrawling arrows in every direction and writing hasty notes along them with questions or comments about their intent.
The one fact she knew going forward was that the best way to ensure access through the gate was to have soldiers on the inside preventing it from being closed. She had heard a number of discussions on the subject, and knew there were several theories of action being debated.
Knowing that trolls were responsible for opening the gate, some well-placed bowmen in the mountains could take them down once the doors were wide. But they had no way of knowing when and if the Gate would be opened. An attack on the door's mechanisms might be equally successful, as it would be harder to replace broken metal parts than trolls, but they had no way of knowing what the inner mechanisms looked like or how hard it would be to break them. Not unless their hostages were intimately versed in mechanics and had been persuaded to share their knowledge.
Upon exhausting all other avenues with the information she had, Karina concluded that the best way to access Mordor was to take down the trolls when the armies were released. But there were still too many problems with that plan. She hoped Gil-galad would have a way to quickly access the gate and break through. Considering how hard it had been thus far, she could not fathom how he intended to see such a plan through to victory.
Karina was hunched over Thranduil's desk, scribbling away in frustration when she heard voices outside the tent. She looked up in time to see Thranduil enter, looking tired and worn but thankfully unharmed. He paused a few steps in, looking around in confusion at all his things in different places from where he had left them. Karina, too relieved to see him safe to care, flew around the desk, launching herself at him regardless of the fact he was still in most of his armor and was covered in a thick coat of black blood.
Thranduil caught her with a curious look on his face. Holding her out at arm's length, he looked her up and down, noting that not all the black stains on her dress were from orc blood transferred from his own clothing.
"What have you been doing, love?" he asked gently, a slight frown on his face. "You were supposed to be resting, yet here I find you have completely rearranged my quarters and you are absolutely covered in ink."
"I could not rest; not when I knew you were on the front lines without me. I had to keep busy to stop myself from going mad with worry. Duross would not let me work more than a few hours at a time, and so I did what I could to occupy myself here."
"Why have you moved everything? I shall never find my things now."
"You do have a surprising amount of accouterments for being on a military campaign. I apologize, but it made me feel better about your absence. And I have reorganized the documents on your desk, too," she said, looking slightly guilty as she glanced up at him from under her lashes. "I was thinking about strategy and wanted to make sure I had as much information as possible."
"I take it you have been at this for a while, judging by the amount of ink all over you," Thranduil said, amusement dancing in his eyes as he raised an eyebrow and wiped a thumb across her temple, coming away slightly blacker from the ink upon her brow.
"Just an hour or two. Forgive me, but I borrowed one of your maps to outline my ideas. You had several others; I hoped it would not be a problem."
"That depends which one you used, I suppose," he said, gently leading her back towards the desk before going to remove the rest of his armor and his soiled outer tunic. "But I am too tired to worry about it at the moment. I have not slept since you left."
"That was almost a week ago!" Karina gasped, refraining from telling him she had barely slept either in her worry. "You need a nice hot bath and then to head straight to bed."
"How much you must enjoy ordering me around, my lady," Thranduil said, seemingly unperturbed by this fact. "I will consent. But there is something I must tell you first."
Karina was instantly on edge. She could hear the change in tone as the humor left him, replaced by a solemnity that sent a shiver up her spine. She felt the urge to flee. She would not like whatever Thrandul said.
He looked at her with such a world-weary face Karina felt in her heart what it must be before he said a word. Still, as he spoke, she felt as if the air temperature had dropped suddenly, her skin going cold. With a low voice, Thranduil spoke: "Lord Aradae is dead."
"How?" she managed to whisper, her hands trembling. How could this be? Her mind was having trouble processing the news. Could he really be gone?
"A javelin caught him in the chest. It was a heavy troll weapon and pierced his armor. It was over quickly."
Karina found this to be little comfort. A sob broke free of her throat, and instantly she felt Thranduil's warm and comforting embrace surround her. She broke down, tears flowing thickly down her cheeks. All her fears about Thranduil's fate were realized at the sudden and unexpected news that her friend and confidant had been killed instead.
"He will find peace in the Halls of Mandos," Thranduil assured her gently. "His suffering was short, and he is free from the fear and pain of this war."
Karina was unable to say anything as she clung to Thranduil, thanking the Valar that at least her prince was still alive and whole, safe for the moment beside her. His loss would break her, of that she was certain. If it were to happen when she was back at the camp, hearing about it only secondhand, she would surely fade from heartbreak. Or, perhaps more likely, she would attempt a suicide mission into Mordor to take out the Black Gate on her own. She had to keep repeating to herself that he would live to rule Mirkwood through the Third Age. But it was useless. In her mind, she could not get rid of the image of him shredded and bloody on a cot, unconscious and on the verge of death. She feared that her mere presence would change the outcome of the story. Too many conflicting emotions brought her these unsettling thoughts. But they only made her cling tighter to the green tunic in her fingers.
It took her a few minutes to get herself under control, but when she did, she pulled away, a hardened look on her face despite her red eyes and the evidence of tears.
"I am alright," she said hoarsely as Thranduil met her eyes with sympathy. "You should be resting. I will leave you to it."
"Karina," Thranduil said gently, stopping her as she made to leave the tent. She turned to him wearily. He opened his mouth, but no words came out. Apparently rethinking his words, he instead simply said, "I love you."
Unable to speak for fear another sob would break lose. Karina kissed Thranduil's cheek briefly before disappearing out of his tent, leaving him to bathe and sleep. She barely made it back to her own tent before she broke down in a cry of anguish, sinking to her knees and burying her face in her hands. She did not understand it. She had seen the horrible results of the war. She had seen the death and destruction, the chaos and the brutality. Yet the reality had never hit her as hard as it did now. Not even the mutilated body of King Oropher had done this too her. Not even Thranduil's unconscious form had brought her such anguish.
Perhaps it was her weakened state. Perhaps it was her emotional vulnerability. Perhaps this was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. Whatever it was, Thranduil's words had torn her to pieces. Without even seeing a body, news of Aradae's death was enough to shatter the strong walls that had protected her over the course of the war.
And she had run away. Despite all the waiting for him to return, she had fled rather than let him see her tears. She had hidden her weakness from Thranduil. He had seen her brought low before, seen her physical failings. But to have him see her emotional faltering was too much to bear. She had seen him at his weakest, yet she could not give him the same. It felt too personal. It felt wrong. And she did not understand why. She loved him, and despite their whirlwind romance, she was certain she would love him forever more if given the chance. Yet still she would not share all of herself with him.
But her weakness broke through in full as she knelt in a trembling heap on the ground, hidden from the world in her own private grief. Thoughts of Aradae, his kindness and his patience, distracted her from wondering why she chose solitude over the comfort she knew she could get in Thranduil's arms. She could still remember his kind eyes. His smile was the first she had seen upon her arrival in this world. His was the first voice that had welcomed her with warmth. Before she knew Thranduil, before she felt his love, she had felt the gentle kindness from Aradae. Even against the Prince's hostility, he had been cheerful. Even when she had been foolish and unreasonable at the Morannon, he had supported her. When Thranduil had been against her, Aradae had stood by her. And even the promise of bliss in the Halls of Mandos was not enough to take away the aching sorrow at his loss.
Her shoulders shook from her sobs until she had worn herself out. All she could think of was her own loss, selfish as it was. She had known her friend for only a few short months, but it felt like years. In times of strife, it does not take long for strangers to become close compatriots. And the loss of these friends in such times can hurt just as much as any blade or arrow. Karina had lost friends before, but she had always been able to return to peaceful normalcy and denial for solace. She would find no such escape here. Seven years the war would rage. Death was the only escape until the end. But even then, the memories of pain would linger on.
With the last of her strength, Karina pushed herself to her feet, shuffling towards her cot in the corner. There was little else she could do but sleep. Her physical and emotional weakness weighted too heavily on her to allow her any other options. So she lay in bed, staring unseeingly at the ceiling as her tears fell silently for her lost friend. He would be missed.