Karina quickly fell into a routine of morning healing lessons, afternoon sparring lessons, and evening meals outside the healer's tent with Thranduil. It was hard enough getting the three elven kings to agree on a strategy, but once the men and dwarf lords were included in the decision-making, progress all but ground to a halt. Thranduil confided in Karina that he found the elders to be acting like children, bickering over the smallest detail.
"Perhaps you with your strategic wisdom can talk some sense into them," he said at one point, smiling at the foolishness of the idea.
"You know very well none of the great lords would listen to a word I said in counsel. I think the one thing they would all agree on is not to follow my advice."
"That shall be our backup plan if they do not agree on something quickly," Thranduil said with a laugh.
The prolonged stagnation of the camp had a bad effect on the overall morale. Though heartier than the men or dwarves, the elves began to feel it too. There was a great anxiety that hovered over the sea of tents, whether it was anxiousness to finally fight, anxiousness at the thought of an attack by the forces of Mordor, or simple anxiousness to do anything at all besides sit in the camp, waiting. Karina was certainly feeling it, but she could tell it was worse for Thranduil. Though he showed patience when they sparred, not pushing her too hard, she could tell his muscles were aching for a good fight.
"You are restless, my lord," she commented as they sat under the stars one evening. "Perhaps you should join the patrols gathering intelligence to the southeast."
"My father would never allow such a thing," Thranduil replied, the regret evident in his words. "He says I am young and inexperienced when it comes to battle and I should be patient."
"Have you fought in any wars before?"
"Some. I was there during the wars at the end of the last age, though I was young and did not see the worst of the fighting. And there were a number of battles fought on our way here," Thranduil said as he leaned back on his elbow, eating an apple. It was unlikely they would have such treats for much longer once the battle began. "I fought alongside King Gil-galad and his officers. They were only short skirmishes, however, and this fight will only get worse as time goes on. It is the intention of the kings to break through the Morannon and lay siege to Barad-dur. It will be grim on the Dagorlad, but the siege in Mordor will be far worse than any of us here want to acknowledge."
"I do not relish the thought of entering that place," Karina said with a shudder. "I have heard far too much about the dark things that fester in the wastes."
"I have been meaning to ask you about that," Thranduil said, sitting up and meeting her eyes. "For being new to this world, you are fairly well informed about certain parts of it. By all rights, you should have not known who I was when we met, having only been in the camp for a few hours. You seemed quite shocked to meet me, like you had heard tales or something. And now your knowledge of Mordor? Surely no one would have cared to explain all the dark things that live there when we feel the weight of Sauron's power on us as we sit here. Do you have another friend funneling information to you, or is there some other way you have gained such knowledge?"
"Um," Karina said, trying to find the words to explain her strange knowledge of certain aspects of Middle Earth. "I am not sure I should say."
"You will drive me mad if you continue to keep such secrets from me," Thranduil said sternly. "I insist. At least inform me of how you learned my name."
"Very well," Karina sighed. "Your world is not so utterly strange to me, because in my world, it is a story. A tale that was written by a scholar to show the battle between good and evil in its extremes. It is hard to know good and bad in my world. There are so many gray areas. People do bad things because they truly believe in their hearts that it is the right thing to do. Good people are forced to do bad things, and bad people hide behind kind façades. It is easier to see good and evil in your world, I think, and so it is a cherished tale among my people."
"So you know everything that will happen here?" Thranduil said earnestly. "You know who will live and who will die."
"Not exactly," Karina said hesitantly. "This time in your history is but a fraction of the story that was told. Most of what I know is in the distant future, in another age. I do not know the details of what will transpire at this battle. All I know is what the results will mean millennia in the future."
"So is it a good or bad thing that you know my name? Was my death important in the story, or did I survive to affect the future?"
"Though everything I have heard about meddling in time tells me not to, I will tell you this. You have an important role to play in the future of Middle Earth. More important than my own."
"I think I understand your burden now," Thranduil said, running his fingers through his pale blonde hair. "You have now given me a similar one. To know that I am important in the affairs of my world is both fantastic and horrific, to think I must live up to your expectations."
"You need not worry about your burden," Karina said with a smile. "Or my expectations of you. Words on a page cannot capture who you truly are, or what your actions mean. Perhaps merely my presence here has altered the story I know."
"Are you mentioned in the story?"
"No, at least not to my knowledge. It is possible I appear as an unnamed character, or I am absent from the events of the tales I am familiar with." Karina very much doubted this, but kept her thoughts to herself. Gil-galad had said that all the Adonnen died after fulfilling their destinies. It was likely she died years before The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, possibly in the very war that was creeping closer by the hour. It would have been nice to live long enough to change her name to something elvish and become a part of the world, but that did not seem too promising considering what she knew.
"It is a strange feeling, to think that people in another world and another time are reading about your actions. It makes me reconsider many things I have done over the years."
"As I said," Karina said, laughing at his concerned look. "Most of the events I know of are far in the future. It is your future actions you should worry about, not the past ones."
"Comforting," Thranduil said sarcastically. "I very much wish I had not asked, now."
"Save your worry for another day. Worry about the present and the looming battle. That is where your focus should remain."
"You are right, of course," he said with a smile. "Perhaps when we make the journey west to Lindon you will tell me more of my future, my lady." Karina shook her head at his cheekiness, rolling her eyes to emphasize her point.
"I do not think I shall tell you any more of your fate," Karina said matter-of-factly. "That is privileged information and you have not proven yourself capable of handling such a responsibility."
"I am offended," Thranduil declared haughtily. "After all I have done since you arrived, you still do not trust me."
"I trust you, but I think it is a better idea not to give you too much knowledge of the future. That is Lady Galadriel's realm."
"Ah ha! So Lady Galadriel is important in the future."
"Is she not now?" Karina asked, confused. She was fairly certain Galadriel had always been a major figure in Middle Earth.
"Well, yes, she is," Thranduil said with a shrug. "But it is good to know that she will be around to bring light to the darkness. Does that mean we defeat Sauron in this war?"
"I cannot say," Karina said, knowing the dark truth about what happened at the end of the War of the Last Alliance. "You already know too much."
"Very well, I shall stop pestering you."
"There is no need to stop on my account." The elves looked up to see Aradae standing over them, a pleasant smile on his face."
"Lord Aradae, how are you this evening?" Karina asked, standing quickly to greet him. Thranduil rose slower, eyes darting between Karina and Aradae. "I have not seen you for a few days and wondered what you have been doing to occupy your time."
"King Gil-galad has been working tirelessly to concoct a battle plan that will appease all parties," Aradae explained, though this was not news to either Karina or Thranduil. "I have been running plans back and forth between the kings for several days now. I can report that negotiations are going well and we shall soon be ready to march on the Morannon."
"That is good news," Karina said, though she had decidedly mixed feelings about it, as she was sure they all did. "Even the dwarves are coming around?"
"Slowly, but they are as restless as all of us and eager for a fight."
"I had not realized you both were spending time with each other," Thranduil said lightly, changing the subject faster than the flight of a runaway meth dealer Karina had once chased through the projects. Both elves looked at him at the abrupt change he had introduced.
"I have been helping Lady Karina with her archery when I have the time," Aradae explained simply. "She has improved significantly already, though she is not as naturally gifted as she is at swordplay."
"Indeed?" Thranduil asked, though his eyes flashed. While his face was quite passive, his eyes appeared to be challenging Aradae. "That is good news. You should see her with the sword now. She has improved rapidly every day we have practiced."
"I have no doubts," Aradae said gently, either not noticing Thranduil's fiery look or choosing to ignore it. "It will not be long before she is cutting a swath through orcs straight to the Morannon, leading the charge."
"Flattering as that is," Karina said with a laugh, making Thranduil's eyes dart back to her. "I have no desire to go charging into battle in such a manner. I intend to use my skills to retrieve the wounded from the battlefield, and that is all. With luck, I will be far behind the front lines, treating the wounded so they can be brought back here to heal."
"An honorable chore," Aradae admitted. "I think you shall make an excellent healer. I do not envy the work load you will have shortly, though. Night and day, you will be tending the wounds of our comrades, facing the horrors of battle in your own way."
"That is very cheerful of you," Karina said, giving him a scathing look. "Perhaps we should all talk about Bambi's mother dying and Kennedy's assassination while we are at it."
"What?" both Aradae and Thranduil said, looking at her, bewildered.
"Never mind," Karina said with a sigh. "Did you have a reason for visiting, Aradae?"
"Indeed I did. King Gil-galad has asked me to check up on your progress with learning to heal and adjusting to the camp, so I was supposed to talk with Duross, if I can find him."
"He should be in the back of the medical tent," Karina said, gesturing behind her. "I think he is going over his inventory for the hundredth time."
"I shall have to distract him for a moment," Aradae said, bowing his head before turning and disappearing into the medical tent.
"You didn't tell me you were still doing archery with Aradae," Thranduil said, yanking the conversation back a few steps.
"It has only been a couple times for brief intervals," Karina said dismissively. "He was sent to check on me not long after our first practice session, and he offered to continue the lesson if I was interested."
"That does not explain why you failed to share this information with me," Thranduil persisted accusingly.
"I wasn't aware I had to," Karina said tartly, not liking Thranduil's tone. "If you are jealous of me spending time with people other than you, you should say something instead of getting angry about it."
"Very well," Thranduil said, his voice returning to a calm, regal air. "I am jealous of you spending time with Aradae." Though she had bluntly asked him to admit this, she was rather surprised he had complied.
"There is no reason for you to be jealous," Karina said kindly, her eyes softening. She had grown quite fond of Thranduil over the last few weeks together, and despite his quirks and princely title, she had more than once let her thoughts stray to the future as she thought of him. She still did not have direction in her life. Her purpose was not yet revealed. How wonderful it would be for her purpose in Middle Earth to be Thranduil's wife. To be the mother of the famous Legolas. Tolkien never did say anything about the elf's mother. Was it because of her strange name and origin? It wouldn't have fit with the story he was telling, so were those details left out on purpose? She was not blind, and had quickly picked up on Thranduil's unusual attachment to her. She didn't know why he showered her with time and affection when she had seen firsthand what beautiful ladies had joined the camp, dressed in their battle gear. But she did not complain. As much as she tried to fight these idea, knowing that it could very well be her fate to die in battle, they lingered.
"If you are keeping secrets from me about spending time with elves apart from me, how can I not be jealous?" Thranduil said, taking her hands in his.
"You know that if I were to choose, I would rather spend the day sparring with you than shooting with Aradae."
"Do I know that? It could only be because you have a strong desire to hit me with your sword." The dark look in Thranduil's eyes told Karina that he was remembering the way Aradae had stood so close to her, helping her shoot his bow. She sighed, knowing that he was not going to let it go no matter what she said.
"You must trust me, my lord. I do enjoy Aradae's company, but if I had to choose between the two of you, I would always pick you."
"Do not mock me."
"I would never mock you," Karina said with a smile. She reached up and gently cupped his cheeks with her thin hands. His expression of jealousy and anger vanished instantly. "You are my dearest friend in the world, Thranduil."
"I am hurt, my lady." Both elves looked around as Aradae stepped out of the tent again. Karina's hands fell to her sides.
"You are my friend as well, Aradae," she said with a smile up at him. "I just had to reassure Prince Thranduil that I would not abandon him for your company."
"I would never ask that of you," the elf said pleasantly, undoubtedly noticing the intense stare he was getting from the prince at that moment. "But I must report back to the king. Duross informs me that you are progressing well enough to be useful when the time comes, so I suppose that shall have to be good enough."
"We shall have to see how I perform under pressure. I shall see you soon, I hope?"
"I will do my best to return within the next few days," Aradae said, taking her hand and kissing it, a mischievous glint in his eyes as they flickered onto Thranduil for a moment. "Good day, my lady."
"Good day," she replied, watching him depart for a moment before her eyes met Thranduil's, jealousy in them once again.
"Enough with your dark looks," she commanded sternly, starting to grow weary of this attitude the prince had developed. "If you refuse to take my words as truth, then I shall bid you farewell until you can look at me with a kinder expression." She was well known in her precinct for being a no-nonsense sort of cop, and she was not going to deal with Thranduil's moodiness if he chose to continue pouting. She started walking away from him but found herself quickly pulled back, stopping only inches from him.
"You are quite bold, my lady, to try and command me." Thranduil looked down at her not with his dark, angry glare, but with a new expression that Karina was unfamiliar with.
"As I have told you before, there are no kings in my realm," she said tartly, bracing herself for a fight. In a battle of skill, Thranduil would easily best her. But she had a quick, sharp wit, and would not be bested in a matter of words or will. "You may be a prince, but my allegiance is not to you. In fact, I answer to no one but the Valar that brought me here. My purpose is my own."
"You talk bravely for one who is at my mercy."
"Do not make the mistake of thinking I am at your mercy. I may not be as seasoned a warrior as you, but if called for, I could quickly escape your grip."
"And how long would you be free before I caught you once more?"
"That depends on the method for which I extracted myself."
The two elves immediately abandoned their staring contest to look around at the newcomer.
"Yes?" Karina asked pleasantly, smiling at the young healer.
"Duross would like a word with you."
"Certainly. Perhaps you should return to your camp, Prince Thranduil. I am certain that if Aradae's news is true, you will be needed shortly." She pulled free of his grip and left him standing outside the medical tent, disappearing inside to find Duross pacing back and forth at the opposite end.
"What service can I offer you, my lord?" Karina said evenly, holding her hands behind her back.
"This is a great task I ask of you, my dear," Duross said, showing a level of emotion that she had never observed on his face. "But the king requests it." Karina waited patiently, eyes following him as he did several laps around the back of the tent before continuing. "He has heard of your skills with a blade. He has asked to see your talent for himself. I do believe he wishes to make you a part of his entourage."
Of all things Karina had been contemplating, this was not what she had expected him to say.
"What do you mean? Join him in battle?"
"Yes. To fight by his side at the head of his army. From what Lord Aradae told me, he appears to have decided your purpose is not to heal, but to be a lieutenant in his army. A good luck charm, as it were."
"I am nowhere near qualified enough to hold such a position," Karina said fearfully. "I have improved with the sword, yes, but I am not ready to go to battle."
"Few are," Duross said, pausing in front of her. It was with a fatherly expression that he met her eyes, concern in his voice. "But if the king is impressed with your swordplay, you will join him on the front lines."
"I do not wish to be in such a position," Karina declared. "Can I not refuse?"
"He is the High King of the Noldor. I think it would be very unwise for you to do so."
"When must I demonstrate my skill for him?" she asked, dreading the answer.
"Tomorrow morning he will send guards to fetch you. I suggest you be ready." He paused, still looking down at her scared face. "I am truly sorry, Karina. I will silently hope for his displeasure so you may join me here once more."
"Thank you," Karina said softly, knowing that was an incredibly kind thing for him to say. It was what she wanted as well. But first she had to vent her frustration and fears, and there was only one person who could help her.
Departing the medical tent, she looked around quickly. Not seeing him anywhere, she raced away through the tents. She knew he had not gone far. He was walking slowly with his head down, presumably deep in thought, when she caught up to him. He looked around upon hearing hurried footsteps coming towards him, and caught sight of her just in time to brace himself as she threw herself into his arms, hugging him tightly.
"Karina?" Thranduil asked, completely confused at her peculiar behavior. "What has happened?"
"I should never have let you teach me the sword," she muttered against his chest, not looking up at him. He apparently heard her, however.
"Why is that, mellonamin?" he asked, running his fingers through her long dark hair as he held her close. "What causes you so much distress?"
"King Gil-galad has heard of my skill with a blade," she said, turning her head to the side, sighing as she rested her ear against his chest, taking comfort from the strong beat of the prince's heart. "Tomorrow, I am to demonstrate my skill."
"Surely that is a good thing," Thranduil said curiously. "You did say you wished to fight."
"Not on the front lines!" Karina said earnestly, finally meeting his blue eyes with her pale green ones. "If he is impressed with me, I am to become part of his entourage. He thinks I will be a good luck charm during the battle."
Thranduil was silent. Karina held him tightly, taking comfort in his strength. Though he was not the king she had read about, that king was in there somewhere, and that was enough. She knew that Thranduil would weather all storms and still stand strong when the time of the elves in Middle Earth came to an end. She needed that strength now as her own time seemed to be swiftly drawing to a close. No matter how much she had improved, or how much talent she had been given, she was certain she would not last long on the front lines in the greatest battle since the First Age.
"He cannot use you like that," Thranduil said, shock and disgust in his voice. "He cannot force you onto the front lines. Less than a month ago you picked up a sword for the first time."
"I don't know how to get out of it though. I cannot perform poorly on purpose, or he will suspect my deception. Or he may just put me on the front lines anyway as cannon fodder."
"Again with your strange words," Thranduil said, leaning back so he could look into her eyes with a comforting smile on his face. "Dare I ask what this means?"
"It means I am expendable," Karina said softly, fear making her voice waiver.
"That you are not," Thranduil assured her. "You are an Adonnen. There is great purpose in your life."
"Not if I die in the first hour of fighting," she replied grimly. "If only I had my gun…"