It turned out Thranduil's predictions were accurate. Word from King Gil-galad soon reached the healers that they would not be going to war for at least another week, perhaps longer. Not long after that, Duross told his healers that they should be ready to move at moment's notice, but that for the time being, they were free from their duties. Except for Karina. Duross took this opportunity to begin instructing her in the more complicated measures she may be forced to take once soldiers were injured on the front lines. Two days of this, and Karina was feeling mentally exhausted. On the third day, she took action.
"Lord Duross," Karina said slowly, coming up to him after she finished reading a particularly graphic book on surgery, complete with pictures. "Would it be possible for me to take a break from studying? I find myself overwhelmed and need a chance to sort through my thoughts."
Duross looked up at her with a blank face, silently observing her for a long time before he decided to speak. "I suppose I can allow it. I will continue teaching you in the mornings, then you may have free time in the afternoon. I am sure you are still adjusting to our world."
"I have been doing fairly well, I think. It is hard to answer personal questions, but I am learning to avoid them quickly."
"Indeed. I will see you at dawn tomorrow. Rest, find something relaxing to do. Enjoy this short peace while you can."
"Thank you, my lord," Karina said, curtseying and hurrying out of the tent before he concocted some new method to teach her medicine.
She didn't know how, but within an hour of her release, Thranduil appeared at her elbow, a smile on his face.
"Good lord, you scared me," she said, jumping as she turned around and saw him standing beside her. "What are you doing here?"
"I understand you have the afternoon off," he said, taking her hand and kissing her fingers. She noticed a leather bag on his back as he bent down slightly. "You did say I could give you a sword fighting and archery lesson if you had free time."
"I did, didn't I?" Karina said, rather regretting her actions now. "Must I learn? My mind is already frayed from the studying I have been doing for the last few days. I think it would be wiser to take this time and sleep."
"Nonsense," Thranduil said with a grin. "You should at least learn the basics in case you are on the battlefield and are forced to take up arms."
"Very well," Karina said with a sigh. "If I must." Pleased with her compliance, Thranduil took her arm and began steering her through the tents quickly. It did not take long for her to lose her bearings once more.
"Where are we going?"
"To an open space to practice. King Gil-galad has a practice field of sorts nearby that I thought we could utilize for our purposes."
"You mean I have to do this in front of people?" she said, nervous at the thought of embarrassing herself in front of the soldiers. She had every reason to believe she would do so in front of Thranduil, and that was bad enough.
"You will do fine. I will not make you do anything too difficult."
"I was not lying when I said I have little background on which to work. It will not be pretty."
"I think you will be surprised. You are an elf now. There is natural grace and skill in you that we just have to tap into."
"What if there isn't? I am not like you; I could still be mostly human. I have my human thoughts and feelings still, after all."
"But you also speak flawless in both Quenya and Sindarin. I assume you did not pick that up in your world."
"I hadn't realized I was speaking in either, to be honest. At least not until I started taking notes for Duross and found my hand naturally writing in your language, not English. It was like my brain was doing all the translating."
"If you have the skill in you to write tengwar, you have the skill to fight as well," Thranduil said confidently. "I am eager to see just how much." Karina let out a long breath. So much for a relaxing afternoon. This was no doubt going to be an interesting experience.
It was a short walk to the practice fields, and to Karina's dismay, they were occupied.
"Prince Thrandil! To what do we owe your illustrious presence?"
"Lord Ricyll, my friend! I do hope this means your sword fighting has improved since last we sparred." Thranduil let go of Karina to walk up to a dark haired elf dressed in leather armor, a sword in one hand as he grasped Thranduil's forearm in greeting with the other.
"Shall we have another match so I can prove that I have indeed increased my skill since then?"
"Perhaps another time. I am here on a mission, as it were, to determine whether Lady Karina has any inherent skill with a blade or bow." Karina smiled nervously and curtseyed at Ricyll and the elf turned to look at her.
"It is always an elleth with you, is it not?" Ricyll said, shaking his head. "What makes you think she is fit to wield a weapon?"
"My instincts tell me she has a hidden talent that I am determined to unlock," Thranduil said pleasantly as his eyes sparkled mischievously. "I must only ascertain what that skill is."
"Lady Karina," the elf behind Ricyll said, coming forward and bowing his head, taking her fingers and kissing them. "I hope you have adjusted well enough to life in our camp."
"Lord Aradae, how good to see you again," Karina said with a happy smile, recognizing the elf in front of her. "I find myself rather busy learning the art of healing, but I find the company of the elves in King Gil-galad's camp quite pleasing."
"You have met?" Thranduil asked, looking between the elleth and the elf.
"Oh yes," Karina said, eyes meeting his. "Lord Aradae is one of the elves that found me by the Anduin."
"This is the elleth you found, Aradae?" Ricyll said curiously, coming over and kissing Karina's hand as well. "I must say, I am offended you did not share with me how radiant she is. It is a pleasure, Lady Karina. I am Ricyll, Lieutenant for my lord Gil-galad." Karina blushed, smiling shyly. She hadn't been necessarily ugly as a human, but to be called radiant and beautiful by elven lords, who saw elven maidens every day, was a bit overwhelming.
"It is an honor, Lord Ricyll. I do apologize for interrupting your practice."
"Think nothing of it, my lady. But why would a fine young lady such as yourself consent to sword fighting lessons from a rouge such as Prince Thranduil?"
"It is complicated," Karina said, not wanting to explain being an Adonnen. It was likely Aradae was not aware of the Adonnen, or he would have said something upon finding her, but she couldn't be sure the same was true for Ricyll.
"Lady Karina will potentially join the healers on the battlefield, and she must be prepared to fight if it becomes necessary," Thranduil said, walking around behind her and steering her away from the other two elves. "You both will not mind if we practice over here, will you?"
"Not at all," Ricyll said, putting his sword away and following Thranduil and Karina. "In fact, I would be honored if you would let me help with the lesson. And I am sure Aradae would be willing to help with your archery, my lady."
"I would appreciate that," Karina said, glancing up at the two elves beside her before her eyes returned to Thranduil, who was pulling out pieces of leather armor from his bag. "Where did you get those?"
"We have quite a few elleths in our camp who are soldiers," Thranduil said matter-of-factly. "I found one who is about your size and she kindly let me borrow her practice gear."
"Do you expect me to use a real sword?" she asked, noticing he had pulled a silver sword from the bag. His own was strapped to his back, having been hidden by the large bag he carried.
"Certainly. You will be using a real one on the battlefield, you better get used to the feeling." It all became very real to Karina at that moment, realizing what she was getting herself into.
"I don't know about this. The closest thing to a sword I've ever held is a hunting knife." Or perhaps a branding iron, which she had frequently brandished like a sword in her youth, though she decided against sharing this information.
"Have a little faith, my lady. Here, put on the gear and then we can get started."
"Very well." Slowly, Karina put on her gear, cognizant of the fact that Aradae and Ricyll were watching her closely. She was certain she would do poorly with such pressure, even if she did have some basic skill.
"Here, this sword should suit you well," Thranduil said once she finished pulling on a set of thick gloves. Hesitantly, she reached out to take the sword. To her surprise, it was incredibly light. She examined the blade curiously.
"It is so light," she said, glancing up at Thranduil.
"And yet it is of the strongest steel. Are you ready?"
"As I'll ever be," she said, taking a deep breath. She held the sword up awkwardly, not sure how she should begin, as Thranduil pulled his own long sword from its sheath. He spun it expertly in his hand a few times before letting it settle at an angle in front of his chest. Clearly, he was a master swordsman. Karina's nervousness grew.
"Just do what comes naturally. I will go slowly until you figure out the rhythm."
"You mean you aren't going to give me any instructions?" she said anxiously, eyes wide in fear.
"No. I want to see what you can do first."
"Do not get hit," Ricyll offered by way of advice. Karina heard the humor in his voice, but ignored him as Thranduil swung his sword towards her. She brought hers up and winced as the blades met, the sharp ringing of metal on metal harsh on her delicate ears. He took another swing and she deflected that blow awkwardly, her body contorted uncomfortably.
"You are going to have to move your feet," Ricyll said, actually providing helpful advice this time. Karina moved her foot back as she deflected a high blow from Thranduil, which slid down the length of her blade, unsettling her footing.
"Don't just block everything. You will have to attack at some point," Thranduil said as his sword came at her from the side. She stopped it with her sword oriented vertically, making the point come dangerously close to her head as it moved towards her under the force of Thranduil's strike. If he had been using his full strength, she might have lost an ear.
She gave a half-hearted swing at Thranduil, who easily blocked it, and promptly disarmed her with little effort.
"Perhaps you were meant to be healer after all," he said, brow furrowed. "You definitely look like you have never handled a blade."
"I told you I would be horrible," Karina replied tartly. "You wouldn't believe me."
"Why don't we give a demonstration?" Ricyll said with a grin. Thranduil bowed his head, getting into a starting position once more as Ricyll pulled out his own sword. In a fraction of a second, the two elven lords came together in a whirlwind of movement. Karina stared in awe as they both moved fluidly, swords meeting repeatedly as they spun around one another, rapidly attacking from all directions. She had watched a lot of action movies in her lifetime, but Hollywood could never do justice to the magnificence she saw right in front of her. Everything she had read about elves seemed possible in that moment. They were indeed the most graceful and skilled fighters in any world.
"You seem quite surprised at the lords' skill, my lady," Aradae offered softly. She had been so engrossed in the fight that she had not noticed him approach.
"As you well know, I have not been in the presence of elves for long, and though I have heard of their skill, the stories fall utterly short of reality."
"How did you come across Prince Thranduil? I had thought you would largely stay around the medical tents."
"I wandered around through the other camps the night I arrived," Karina said, watching Thranduil duck under Ricyll's blade and slice up toward the elf's arm, swords connecting with a clang. "I became quite lost, and Prince Thranduil returned me to where I belonged."
"I see," Aradae said, his own eyes following the movement before them. "And how did the topic of sword fighting lessons come up?"
"I may have mentioned my interest in the subject, as well as my disinclination to be confined to the healers' tent. It is unfortunate that I am such a poor student."
"Perhaps you will be better at archery. It is a safer position as well, though it would do you good to learn the sword in case the need arises."
"You are an archer then?"
"One of many, yes. Using a bow brings me a great deal of joy, though I expect it will be lessened as a result of our mission here."
"I can imagine. That is why I agreed to this impromptu lesson. I think I will need all the help I can get."
"The important thing to remember is to keep moving and stay alert. It is one thing if you are sparring, another if you are on a battlefield. If you start focusing on a single enemy, that is when another comes up and stabs you in the back. Your survival instincts will help you block the worst of most attacks. Orcs and men are slower than elves, so you should be able to defend yourself well enough if you maintain your balance and do not panic."
"That will be a challenge in and of itself," Karina responded with a sigh, just as Thranduil managed to do an elaborate spin his sword point stopping less than a centimeter from Ricyll's throat.
"You have indeed improved, my friend," Thranduil said, pulling his sword away. He did not look in the least bit tired despite the intense effort he had just put into the match. "You nearly had me several times."
"As always, I find myself feeling unqualified to be a lieutenant after crossing swords with you, my lord," Ricyll said with a grin, putting his sword away. "Someday perhaps I shall best you, but I fear that day will not come in the near future."
"Regardless, it was a well fought battle," Thranduil said, putting his hand on his friend's shoulder before turning to Karina. "Did you learn anything, my lady?"
"That a few weeks will not be enough to prepare me for combat," Karina said simply. "I do not think I will ever be half as skilled as either of you."
"Survival is the most important part, so as long as we can get you to the point where you can defend yourself, then I shall be happy," Thranduil said with a smile. "Would you like to try again?"
"I suppose," she said, closing her eyes for a moment. She could do this. She may not have fought with a sword before, but she had faced down gangs at gunpoint, and chased armed criminals through some of the worst areas of the city. All she needed was the focus she brought to work every day, letting her instincts guide her actions. Taking a deep breath, she let it out as she lifted her sword to the ready, opening her eyes and find Thranduil standing in front of her, waiting for her. "I am ready."