Karina wandered quite a distance, munching on her ad hoc meal, eyes taking in everything around her. She was largely ignored as the elves around her sat together talking or finished up their work for the day. She was brought back to a brief period of her youth when she had thought that the greatest thing in the world would be to marry an elf. Thinking about it now, her younger self had the right idea. The elves around her were all flawless and graceful creatures, bowing their heads respectfully when they caught sight of her. This contrasted sharply when she reached the edge of the human camps.
She had barely taken a dozen steps before she heard men cat-calling, some getting up to come chat with her. Deflecting their questions, she quickly retreated, knowing what ideas men had when they saw a lone woman. She also found the smell of them quite repulsive, between the beer and the lack of hygiene. If not for her new elven senses, it wouldn't have bothered her so much, but it was positively revolting and she decided then and there not to try such an adventure again if she could help it. She may have grown up as a human, but she certainly liked the elves more than the humans in this world.
Wandering in between the camps, she came across the dwarven camp suddenly, sitting off on a hill far from the elves and men. She was more cautious observing this camp than the previous one, slipping quietly past the guards, who were lounging around fires on the outskirts, apparently unconcerned about potential infiltration from the other camps. She watched them for a while, sitting around drinking much like the men, but many were still busy working on armor and swords, even this late in the evening. Smiling, she slipped back out of the camp, leaving them to their work. They were certainly shorter and hairier than men, but they did not appear to be bad people. She knew there was bad blood between elves and dwarves (though she could not recall the reason), but she did not find them as revolting as the men.
As she wandered back into the elven camp, she let her thoughts take her out of the present for a while. All things considered, she really could not complain about her current situation. She was alive, for starters, which she had not expected after the wound she had received. She was far more beautiful than she had ever been in her other life, and even after a full day of work and toil, she felt fresh and alive. The food tasted better than the Ramen noodles she often ate for meals, and the elves seemed like incredibly kind folk. Perhaps arriving just in time for a war was not ideal, but she supposed this war was not going to be as taxing as the one she had died fighting. Sure, thousands would die in the years of war, but in the end, she knew Sauron would be defeated. Not that she could share this knowledge with anyone else. The war on drugs and against gang violence was all but hopeless in Chicago. It only seemed to get worse every year, with no end in sight. Once one gang was removed from power, another took its place, frequently one worse than the last.
She was so engrossed in her thoughts that she almost walked right into an elf that appeared on the path in front of her.
"Oh, excuse me," she said, glancing up at him then making to walk around him.
"Are you alright, my lady?" he asked, concern in his voice as he put a hand on her arm, cocking his head to the side slightly to look at her face. "You seem quite troubled this evening."
"No, I am alright," she said quickly, giving him a reassuring smile. It's not like he would understand her reasons for worry even if she told them to him. "I was just thinking."
"What about?" he asked, his hand still on her arm, preventing her from escaping.
"War," she said simply. "If you'll excuse me, I really should be getting back…" It was at this point that she realized she had no idea where she was. She was in the middle of the sea of tents, but she had wandered so far, it appeared she was in a completely different part of the camp. Somewhere on the other side of one of the hills was the medical tent, but she wasn't entirely sure which direction she should go to get there. She hadn't wandered in anything resembling a straight line, so her sense of direction failed her.
"Are you lost?" the elf asked, noticing her looking around with her brow furrowed.
"Perhaps," Karina said softly, biting her lip as she thought back to the route she had taken. "Could you point me in the direction of the medical tent?"
"Umm, the one Duross runs. I think it's that way," she said, gesturing to the west.
"You are with King Gil-galad's army?" the elf asked in mild surprise. "What are you doing all the way out here?"
"I just arrived in camp and wanted to see the rest of the armies," she said honestly, hoping he wasn't going to ask too many more questions. "If you just point me in the right direction…"
"You have wandered a long way, my lady," the elf said, finally taking his hand off of her arm. "I cannot in good conscience let you continue wandering through the camp on your own. I will escort you back to your quarters."
"That is not necessary," she said quickly, dreading the idea of having to converse with him all the way back to where she belonged. She wasn't sure she could avoid giving away anything about her origins for that long. "I managed to get myself here, I can get myself back."
"Be that as it may, I would feel much better if I knew you got back safely. Besides," he said with a charming smile, holding out his arm for her. "It is not often these days that I am able to take a walk under the stars with a beautiful lady."
Karina felt her cheeks heat up at this statement, and looked away from him. He seemed like he would make for pleasant company, and she really did need to get back quickly, so she only hesitated for a moment before she took his proffered arm carefully, letting him steer her away through the tents.
"Please forgive me, but I have not yet asked for your name. What shall I call you, my lady?"
She hesitated for a moment, wondering if she should give him a fake name. After all, her real name only brought up curious questions. But as she desperately sought out an elven name, she found her mind had gone blank. The only feminine elf names she knew were of important ladies, names that would instantly arouse suspicion.
"Have you forgotten it?" her companion asked, amused at her silence.
"No, I just was wondering if perhaps I should give you a false name instead of my own," she said honestly, making the elf beside her raise his eyebrow curiously.
"Why would you wish to do that?"
"My name is unusual, my lord. I do not much care to answer questions about it."
"If you would share it with me, I promise I will not ask you any questions."
With a sigh, she responded. "Karina."
"That is a lovely name," her companion said with a smile. "Lady Karina, it is a true honor to meet you. My name is Thranduil."
"Thranduil?" she said, her surprise evident, making the elf look down at her again.
"You have heard of me?" he said evenly.
"Certainly," Karina answered, feeling incredibly intimidated now that she knew who her escort was that evening. "You are the son of King Oropher, right?"
"Yes, I am," he said, taking a sudden left down a new row of tents. "I do hope that does not deter you from continued companionship with me."
"No, I was just surprised," she responded. And why wouldn't she be? Apart from Elrond, Thranduil was the most famous elf she remembered from her Tolkien phase. The Hobbit had always been her favorite, so naturally the elven king was well known to her. But the elf next to her was not yet the king she knew so much about. He was still a prince, not yet hardened by the evils he saw in Mordor. Still, she felt a blush rise on her cheeks once more, her nervousness growing. She should have recognized him from the start. Though she had not taken much time to observe the king, Thranduil did look quite a lot like Oropher. But more importantly, she wondered if Oropher had informed his son of her strange origins yet. Did he know who she was?
"Surely not as surprised as I was to see a strange maiden wandering on her own through our campsite this late at night," he said cheerfully. "I would have thought all young ladies would have gone to bed hours ago."
"I found myself quite restless, despite the long day I have had," she said honestly, trying not to freeze up at being in the presence of the elven prince. "And I had many thoughts that needed to be sorted out before I retired for the evening." Again with the Shakespeare.
"And have you sorted them all out yet?" Thranduil asked kindly, nodding his greeting to a group of elves sitting around a fire before returning his eyes to Karina.
"Not yet," she admitted. In reality, she felt her thoughts becoming even more jumbled as she continued through the camp on the arm of the future king of Mirkwood.
"Is there anything that perhaps I could help with?"
"I doubt it, my lord. I do not think I can even put into words the strange thoughts in my head."
"I am intrigued," the elf said with a soft smile. "But if those thoughts are yours alone, then I shall refrain from pushing further."
"Thank you, your grace," she said quietly. The pair walked in silence for a while, weaving in between tents as they crested a hill. Karina's eyes scanned the camp in front of them, looking for the medical tent. Her eyes easily found Gil-galad's quarters, but she could not remember which way she had gone to reach the medical tent. There were several larger tents scattered around the camp, so she wasn't sure which one was her destination.
"Tell me, Lady Karina," Thranduil said suddenly as they descended the hilltop. "Where is it that you call home?"
"I would rather not say," Karina said hesitantly. "As with my name, it is unusual, and will only cause uncomfortable questions."
"Is there anything about yourself that you are willing to share with me?"
"Umm," she said, biting her lip in thought. Was there anything from her old life that she could share? "I love reading."
"And what is your favorite thing to read?"
"I enjoy lots of things," Karina said, her nervousness starting to dissipate as she thought of happier times. "I love a good mystery novel, but I think adventures are my favorite."
"What is your favorite book?" Here, Karina paused again. She was half tempted to say The Hobbit, but thought that would be unwise.
"I am not sure I could pick a favorite," she said instead. "There are far too many that I enjoy."
"Fair enough," Thranduil said. "What else?"
"I like riding," Karina admitted, thinking back to all the horseback riding lessons she had been given growing up. "But it has been a while since I rode."
"Have you not traveled much recently?"
"Not really," she replied, which was true enough. She had not left Chicago for over a year. True, she rode around in a police cruiser every day, but she couldn't explain that to Thranduil.
"So you like reading and horses and do not travel frequently," Thranduil said thoughtfully. "And yet you clearly have a thirst for adventure. Is that why you became a healer for the army?"
"Not exactly. I became a healer quite by accident. I am not very good at it yet. I only recently started."
"You are training to be a healer in Gil-galad's army? That is brave of you, to start out in a war."
"It was not intentional. To be honest," she said without thinking, "I would probably do better as a soldier."
"Is that so?" Thranduil said, very interested now. "Do you have fighting experience?"
"In a way," Karina said, her face screwed up as she considered her past fighting experience. "Not with swords or bows though. I suppose I can claim to be a student of military strategy." This was true enough. She had done a great deal of training at the academy for dealing with gang violence and drug busts, which were sort of like fighting a war. You had to think about physical and psychological aspects in both.
"And what does your expertise say about our upcoming battle?"
"Do you want my honest opinion?"
"I think it is incredibly flawed."
"How is that?"
"I don't know much about the strategies you intend to employ, but I have never seen much sense in just throwing your army against another's to see who has superior numbers and fighting strength. Too many lives are lost that way."
"And how would you fight a war like this?"
"I am unfamiliar with that term," Thranduil said in slight awe of the lady beside him and her blunt way of criticizing the army around her. "What tactics are you referring to?"
"Basically, you attack the enemy stealthily, and retreat before he is able to muster his strength and attack you in retaliation. It's kind of like you hit them and then run, relocating so they are unable to attack you, striking at random times and places to keep them guessing and disorganized."
"Ah yes. That is intriguing, but I am not sure that would work against the enemy we face. The armies of Mordor are vast and well-entrenched. It will take a strong show of force to break through their lines."
"Not necessarily. A well-crafted strategy could create confusion and disarray, making a full frontal assault less likely to decimate your numbers. I know this is not your land you fight on, but you could use the terrain to your advantage. Have small attack units hidden in the hills, constantly harassing the enemy, perhaps drawing some away from the main force to be easily picked off by a larger force of your own soldiers. As Sun Tzu said, be like water. Move around obstacles, don't try and use muscle to get through them."
"Who is Sun Tzu?" Thranduil asked curiously. Cursing herself for her lack of control while ranting, Karina quickly salvaged the conversation.
"A philosopher I know," she said, brushing it off as insignificant. "The point is, there is a better way to go about this war."
"Can I just say, Lady Karina, you astound me. In just our brief conversation, I find I do not know what to make of you. You speak so forcefully about the strategies of war, but you sound so young and innocent in other matters. Can you at least tell me how old you are? Because I am baffled by the extremes of your personality."
"That is an excellent question," Karina said. She wasn't sure how she should answer the question. As she had explained to Gil-galad, she had been twenty-four when she died, but her new body was less than a day old, despite the fact that she looked like an adult.
"You do not know?"
"No, I do not. I find there are gaps in my memory that leave me unclear about many things in my past." Good, nice and vague, but hopefully enough to give her room to fall back on if she let something else slip.
"I am sorry," Thranduil said, looking genuinely concerned. "How much of your memory has been lost?"
"I do not recall anything from more than twenty years ago," she said. It was true, after all.
"Curious," Thranduil said simply. They fell back into silence after this. They walked for several long minutes before Thranduil spoke again.
"You said King Gil-galad has requested you join the healers, but have you considered trying to learn to fight as well?"
"I don't think I will have time. Duross has me busy all day with preparing for the war."
"I am not sure I am supposed to be sharing this information," Thranduil said softly, looking around to make sure there was no one within earshot. "But my father has told me it will be a quite some time before we go to war. Sauron's forces are still behind the Black Gate, and there are so many opinionated kings that there has been trouble creating a strategy at all. I doubt Duross will continue having work for you after the first few days. After that, you should try learning the sword or bow."
"That is troubling news," Karina said. She knew that many lives were lost in the war, but she hadn't realized there were so many conflicts among the kings. She supposed it made sense. There were ancient rifts between the races, and each probably wanted their own army to have the glory. That's what happens when men are in charge, Karina thought, before revising her statement to say males. After all, she was certain the male elves and dwarves were just as much at fault as the men.
"Perhaps, but hopefully with so many voices, we shall be able to come up with an optimal plan using all our strengths," Thranduil replied. "The point is, you should have time to at least learn the basics."
"A few weeks is not a lot of time to learn those skills," Karina said skeptically. "I really have very little background to work from."
"There are plenty around here who would be more than happy to give you basic lessons. If you would like, I would be happy to offer you some instruction when I have the time."
"That is very kind of you, but I am sure you have better things to be doing. I am sure after we part ways you shall easily forget me."
"Nonsense," Thranduil said, giving her another charming smile. "I find you fascinating, Lady Karina. If we were to never see one another again, I would still remember this conversation for many years to come. And I would rather be teaching you to fight than listening to my father complain, or going over military reports for the tenth time." As much as Karina wanted to believe that Thranduil meant what he said, she was sure that King Oropher would be certain to quash any cause for interaction between her and the prince. And if Thranduil found out what she was, she was pretty sure he would be less than enthusiastic about his offer.
"You say that now, but I think you would change your mind quickly."
"I take that as a challenge," he said, his grin widening. "I will take it upon myself to teach you both the sword and the bow."
"Really, that is not necessary," Karina said quickly, not wanting to draw him into making a promise he would regret. "I should be focused on healing anyway."
"At least give me a chance to see if you have any inherent talent," Thranduil said enthusiastically. "You probably won't be on the battlefield anytime soon, but we can see if perhaps in the future that is where you will belong."
"I don't think that is necessary," she replied, feeling herself losing control of the conversation. "You are far too important to waste time on me, and we are from different camps. It doesn't make sense for you to come all the way out here just to watch me brandish a sword."
"I think it would be a welcome distraction from the overall situation," he persisted. "Would you at least give me the pleasure of giving you one lesson to see if you like it or not?"
"I shall think about it," Karina said, giving up on arguing with him. With luck, he would forget about her and she wouldn't have to worry about him any further. His persistence was admirable, but she didn't see why he cared.
"Wonderful," Thranduil said, suddenly stopping outside the medical tent. Karina hadn't realized they had reached their destination. She had been desperately trying to think of a way to deter Thranduil, apart from telling him she was an Adonnen. Oropher would likely tell him anyway, but she wasn't going to be the one to do it. "I shall come back sometime in the next few days to see how you are doing."
"I will be very busy learning to be a healer," she said, attempting once more to deter him. "I am not sure I will have any free time."
"We shall see," Thranduil said turning to her with a grin. "Until then, it was a pleasure meeting you, my lady. Thank you for your company."
"Thank you, Prince Thranduil, for escorting me back here," she replied with a quick smile. "I think I will retire for the evening."
"You are most welcome," he said, taking her hand and kissing it gently, his smile still firmly in place. "Goodnight, Lady Karina."
"Goodnight," she replied, giving him an awkward curtsy before quickly disappearing into the healers' tent. As the flap shut behind her, she breathed a sigh of relief, grateful to have escaped Thranduil finally. To think, she had just spent nearly an hour with one of the most important elves of the Third Age. And he had flirted with her, trying to coax her into agreeing to spend more time with him. She wasn't sure what to think of that.
"Karina, where have you been?" She looked up to see Sircil sitting up a few cots away, her brow furrowed. "It is well after midnight and we have an early morning tomorrow."
"I went for a walk and got lost," Karina explained softly, not wanting to wake the other sleeping elves. "As much as I hate to admit it, if Prince Thranduil had not brought me back here, I might not have made it back at all."
"Prince Thranduil?" Sircil asked in surprise. "You were in King Oropher's camp? You certainly wandered a long way. I wouldn't recommend you wander that far away again. The Silvan elves are a bit wild."
"They did not seem nearly as bad as the men," Karina commented, sitting on her cot and taking off her shoes.
"You went to the Elendil's camp?!" Sircil hissed. "Why on earth would you go there?"
"I just wanted to see what the armies of men and dwarves looked like," Karina said, not realizing that was a problem.
"You went to the dwarves' camp too?! Karina, that was a very bad idea."
"Nothing happened," she replied with a shrug. "I was just curious."
"I would suggest you reign in your curiosity in the future," Sircil said, watching Karina lie down on her cot. "Focus on learning your healing skills."
Karina didn't reply. Perhaps it had been a bad idea to wander, but she certainly didn't want to focus only on healing. She thought it would get boring very quickly. Especially if Thranduil was right and the war wasn't starting soon. One day of Duross's lectures weren't bad, but weeks of them would get on her nerves.