"I am sorry, Thranduil, but I do not think I can be of any help."
"Could you at the very least ask him to hold off on putting her on the front lines?"
"I very much doubt King Gil-galad will heed any of my counsel on the matter," King Oropher said seriously, his eyes flickering from his son to the lady at his side. "He appears convinced that Lady Karina is to be used for his own purposes. That being said, I shall do what I can. I will speak to him in the morning, before your fight, my lady."
"Thank you, King Oropher," Karina said, curtseying respectfully. She had known very little about Oropher upon her arrival, but she found him to be a surprisingly wise and down-to-earth king. He genuinely seemed interested in helping her in her plight.
"You may take her back to Gil-galad's camp," Oropher said, taking a seat behind his desk. "Then we must speak of battle plans."
"Yes, my lord," Thranduil said, bowing to his father before leading Karina out of the royal tent.
"Do you think he will be able to do anything?" Karina asked nervously as they walked back through the camp, the last rays of sun disappearing slowly behind the hills.
"I do not know. King Gil-galad is indeed a wise and noble ruler, but he and my father do not often see eye to eye. I fear his pleas will fall on deaf ears."
"Whether it works or not, I am grateful to you, and your father. I am glad I am not standing on my own against the king."
"You will never have to stand alone," Thranduil assured her, pulling her tighter to his side as they walked. "I find it a little strange, however, that your friend Aradae did not tell you of Gil-galad's intentions himself." Karina noticed the way he had emphasized friend, and sighed.
"He very well may not have known. He could have just delivered a letter to Duross. Or he may have been sworn to secrecy. I may be his friend, but his loyalty is to the king."
"I suppose," Thranduil said airily. She couldn't tell if he was angry at Aradae, or pleased at the thought of his deception. She decided she would rather not know. They walked in silence for a while before Karina spoke again.
"Will you be there tomorrow? For the demonstration?"
"Would you like me to be there?"
"Yes," she said softly. "I will need your support if I am to get through it."
"Then I will be there. Whether the king wishes it or not."
The following morning, Karina felt like she was going to the electric chair. If Gil-galad made her fight, there was little doubt it would be like getting the death sentence. Her stomach was filled with butterflies, but she forced down a quick meal before standing outside the medical tent, waiting for her escort.
"Good morning, my lady." She looked up to see Aradae standing patiently in front of her, a calm smile on his face. She did not return it, her nerves making her hands shake and her knees weak.
"Good morning," she said back, though she thought it was anything but a good morning. "I take it you are here to escort me to my fate?"
"I am sorry for not informing you of King Gil-galad's interest in such things. He asked me to keep silent."
"It is alright, Aradae. I admire your loyalty. Shall we? I would rather get this over with."
"Of course," he said, holding out his arm. "My lady?" Karina took his offered arm and let him lead her back into the sea of tents. She had figured out where the major points were in the camp by now, but she was grateful for the comforting presence of Aradae.
They had not gone far before they rather unexpectedly ran into Duross.
"Lord Duross? What are you doing here?"
"I have decided to accompany you to your meeting with the king. I am determined to make my case against your positioning in his army if he must be swayed."
"Thank you, my lord," Karina said gratefully. Duross offered his arm to her, and she took it quickly with her free arm before they continued on their journey. Having both of them there was of immense comfort. But it wasn't enough to stifle the panic that tried to burst forth at the mere sight of King Gil-galad's tent. She released Aradae so he could announce her arrival, leaving her alone with Duross.
"It will be alright, my dear," he said, patting her hand comfortingly. "Whatever happens, know that there are those of us who will work ceaselessly to ensure your safety."
"You don't know how much I appreciate you coming, my lord," Karina said, looking up at him. "Your support helps set my mind at ease."
"As an Adonnen, I know you have no family to support you in such things. But you have proven to be a very welcome assistant over the last few weeks. You remind me of my daughter, still young and innocent at heart. I left her in Lindon when I departed with the King, and I miss her cheerful smile greatly."
"I am sorry you must be parted with her for so long," Karina said, forgetting her own troubles for the moment. She thought about her own parents, probably grieving at the death of their daughter. If only they could know her soul still lived.
"I am grateful for the separation. It means that she is safe on the shores of the sea. If we fail here, she will sail into the west, and continue living away from this darkness."
"You are indeed wise, Lord Duross," Karina said with a smile. "You have saved your daughter and now lighten my heart. The Valar know why I am here. I do not think my purpose is complete, but if I die, it shall not be the worst thing that could befall me."
"I will do everything in my power to prevent that fate," Duross said, just as the tent flaps were pulled open for them to enter. Duross led her over to the throne where King Gil-galad sat patiently. It was not really a throne, merely a high-backed chair, but he sat in it as if it were one. Around him stood what Karina assumed to be his advisors and lieutenants, and to her great relief, King Oropher and Thranduil. She met Thranduil's gaze briefly, feeling the last bit of her anxiety starting to melt, knowing he was there for her. She felt a sense of peace fall over her as Duross stopped in front of Gil-galad, bowing low. Karina curtseyed politely. Still the healer beside Karina refused to let her go as he stood firmly at her shoulder as the king addressed the lady before him.
"I have heard many things about your last few weeks in my camp, Lady Karina," the king said, eyes boring into her. "You have studied hard and served Lord Duross well as a healer, my guards have become fond of you…" Here he glanced at Aradae and Ricyll, who both stood off to the side watching the scene before them. "And you have taken it upon yourself to learn to fight with a blade, which is why I asked you here today." Karina remained silent, waiting for him to continue. "I have heard great things, my lady. I simply require a demonstration of your skill. As all present know, you are an Adonnen, and I seek to unearth the meaning of your arrival here. I think perhaps observing your skill myself can lend me some answers."
"If that is your wish, my lord, I will do as you ask," Karina said evenly. The king made a vague gesture to someone behind Karina. She was separated from Duross by a beautiful blonde elleth in fine royal blue robes and led to the north side of the tent. Pulling aside another tent flap, the two entered a small adjacent tent, where Karina found a uniform and armor sitting on a chair.
"Lady Karina, I am Maethiel. I serve on the king's personal guard, and he has asked me to prepare you for your fight."
"It is a pleasure to meet you, my lady. I am assuming this uniform is for me?"
"Correct. I will help you dress."
It did not take long with Maethiel's help for Karina to get dressed. Gil-galad had provided her with the royal blue tunic and leggings of all his soldiers, and polished green armor to go over it. As it was elvish armor, it weighed no more than her leather armor had, but she knew it was of the strongest steel. She quickly realized, however, that something was missing.
"I do not have a sword," Karina said, looking around like she may have missed it, her last glove half on.
"Your sword is with Prince Thranduil," Maethiel said calmly, pulling on Karina's glove and fitting the final bracer on her forearm. "He suggested that you would be more comfortable using the one you've been practicing with. Are you ready?"
"I think so," Karina said, realizing she actually meant it. In her armor, with her friends waiting just outside, and nothing to lose, she stepped out into the main tent, her face set. As Maethiel walk around her to join the rest of Gil-galad's soldiers, Thranduil strode towards her, the familiar silver sword in his hands. It was then that she realized he too was dressed in armor. Brilliantly silver armor with fine leaf prints over a dark green tunic and leggings.
"Why are you in armor?" she whispered in surprise as he came close, holding her sword out to her.
"Who did you think you were fighting?"
"And the king agreed?"
"I'll explain later," he said, taking a step away from her. Grasping her sword, Karina walked towards the king. As Maethiel had instructed, she saluted the king and his advisors with her blade. She went the extra step and saluted King Oropher, who stood to the king's right with two of his own advisors. She turned, taking her place in the center of the tent, bringing her blade up to the ready. Thranduil did the same across from her, his blue eyes meeting hers. She closed her eyes momentarily, taking a deep breath. She opened her eyes and let out her breath, just in time to block an attack from Thranduil. During their sparring, he had frequently taken the first strike in this manner, and she was prepared.
They danced in a whirlwind of green and blue and silver, striking blow after blow and spinning away. Feeling the fire of adrenaline coursing through her, Karina forgot her purpose in being in the tent, sparing with Thranduil. She could see the thrill of combat in the prince's eyes, and it drove her to delve further into herself, seeking to unleash all of her skill against her opponent. Not to prove herself to the king, but simply for the ecstasy she would feel at defeating the famous prince.
Swords clashed in rapid succession, the echo swallowed by the thick fabric of the tent. There was a perpetual smirk on Thranduil's face as he continued driving blow after blow at Karina. She was determined to wipe it from his face for no other reason than to be able to gloat later. After dodging a high swing, she lunged towards him with a strike aimed at his ribs. He met her sword with his own, hilts close together as her back foot followed her front, bringing her in close to Thranduil. For a brief second, they were inches apart.
She could see the excitement bright in his eyes and the curl of his mouth grew into a full smirk as their eyes met briefly before Karina spun out of his reach. In that fraction of a moment, Karina had very dearly wanted to end the fight the way they always ended in the movies: with a kiss. But her elven body automatically did what her head knew it should, and broke free of Thranduil before such a hasty action occurred.
Breathing hard, Karina met his eyes once more, matching his steps as he circled slowly. With a series of quick strikes, Thranduil attacked once more, narrowly missing her left arm as she blocked his sword. She knew he was going to beat her. Kissing him probably would have given her a victory, but that really was not an option when she was currently in the presence of two kings, one of them Thranduil's father, and all their advisors.
No sooner had she thought this that Thranduil feigned at her left, causing her to lose her balance as she dodged out of the way. He was on her in an instant, disarming her and holding his sword at her neck.
"You are mine," he said in a soft, deep voice, barely above a whisper. Karina met his eyes in surprise, wondering what exactly he meant by such a bold statement. Apparently, she had been the only one to hear it, however.
"Most impressive," King Gil-galad said, standing and approaching the combatants. Thranduil brought his sword down, sheathing it and stepping out of the way so the king could address Karina. "You indeed do have some skill. And you have only recently learned the art?"
"I had never used a sword until a few weeks ago, your majesty," Karina said, meeting his eye.
"I can clearly see that you were meant for bigger things than healing," he continued, watching her closely. "However, you seem to have gained many supporters in the short time you have been here. From quite a few people I have heard that you are not yet ready to see battle. Before I make my decision," he said slowly, pausing as he studied her face. "I would like a private word with King Oropher."
Immediately, the elves present began to filter out of the tent. Thranduil was at her side quickly, handing over her sword and scabbard, along with her discarded dress. "Come," he said quietly. "We shall wait outside to hear his decision." Karina let him lead her out of the tent with the rest of the elves, and they took up a post across the path from the entrance. They were joined by Duross, Aradae, Ricyll, Maethiel, and to her surprise, Captain Corulang.
"Good morning, Captain," Karina said, bowing her head in greeting. "How have you faired since we last spoke?"
"I have been well, my lady," Corulang replied with a return bow. "I wished to inform you that I was very impressed with your skills during the match. You held your own very well against Prince Thranduil."
"Thank you, Captain," she said, before the arrival of another elf distracted her.
"Lady Karina," said a tall, dark haired elf she did not recognize. "I wish to introduce myself. I am Lord Elrond."
"Lord Elrond?" she said in shock, eyes wide. He was by far the most famous of the elves in her world. Simply to see him, regal and wise, standing in front of her was almost too much.
"You have heard of me?" he said, intrigued, one thin dark eyebrow rising in curiosity.
"Certainly," Karina replied, trying to reign in her shock and awe. "I doubt there are very many who have not. It is an honor to meet you, my lord."
"Indeed," Elrond replied, though his eyebrow was still raised as he looked at her curiously. She had the feeling he was suspicious about her vague answer. She had told Thranduil already of his future, but she wasn't sure she should make a habit of it to all of the elves. "It is an honor to meet you. When I was young I knew of the Adonnen, but I never had the pleasure of meeting one."
"I am sure you are more informed on their history than I," Karina said pleasantly. Despite being intimidated at his presence, Karina still felt the strong sense of stability and kindness about the elf lord. She could see why he was held in such high regard, even after only a few sentences. "I know very little about what is currently happening to me."
"You need not worry, my lady. The Valar will be sure your purpose is fulfilled. You seem to already be on the path to greatness."
"I can only hope that my purpose is a benevolent one."
"I am certain it is. I wish you a long, happy life in search of that purpose." He bowed and took his leave after this. Karina watched him go, unsure of how to react to his departing words. She knew of his gift of foresight, so she felt a great deal of hope at his words. It sounded as though he had seen her purpose was benevolent. But what did he mean by the last sentence? Was that another vision, of her happy and her true purpose far in the distant future, or was that just a wish for her, knowing that her fate would be death? It was not unrealistic to think he knew such intimate details about the Adonnen.
"I too wished to express my high regards for your skill level," Maethiel said, getting Karina's attention off of her musings. "I find myself still questioning if I heard you right. Only three weeks?"
"Yes," Karina replied with a smile. "The Valar gave me such gifts so I could complete the task I was sent here for. I only wish I knew what that was."
"Whatever your purpose, you have allies here that will help you," Captain Corulang said, to which Maethiel, Aradae, and Ricyll agreed.
"You are not alone," Aradae agreed. "When you discover your purpose, we will help you fulfill your mission."
"I would be proud to call you my sister-at-arms," Maethiel added, putting a hand on Karina's shoulder.
"As would I," Ricyll said from her left. "Even in the three weeks since I first saw you spar, I can see enormous improvement. With the years ahead of you, it is conceivable you will surpass us all. Perhaps that is your purpose."
"I would keep you behind the front lines until the end of this war if I could," Duross added. "But after that display, I doubt myself. Your destiny clearly lies in wielding a blade."
During this entire conversation, Thranduil had stood silently beside Karina. She had not forgotten he was there, but she started at his soft voice in her ear.
"Whatever your destiny, I will be there to face it with you."
"Thank you," Karina said, holding Thranduil's eyes captive for a moment before looking around at the elves around her. "All of you. It means so much to me to no longer feel alone in this world."
"Lady Karina." The group looked around and saw King Oropher standing in front of Gil-galad's tent. Karina quickly started towards him. Thranduil started following, but his father gave him a look, and he stopped in his tracks.
"What news, my lord?"
"King Gil-galad has agreed that you are not ready to see the front lines. You may stay with Duross for the time being."
"Thank you!" Karina said enthusiastically, relief washing over her. Perhaps she was not going to meet her fate quite yet. "What changed his mind? I do not want to sound proud or cocky, but I have only heard praise for my fighting."
"It was not the fight that he was watching, my lady," King Oropher said softly. "He admitted before you arrived that you were still too young in the ways of war to be exposed to the front lines at the start."
"Then why did he wish to speak with you?"
"He and I have agreed that your role in this world is not connected to the king himself. Clearly, if anyone is to have a part in your life and your mission, it is Prince Thranduil."
"I do not understand what you mean, my lord," Karina said honestly, quite confused.
"I think it is quite obvious to all those who have observed your relationship that it is quickly moving beyond the realm of friendship. After I spoke with him this morning, King Gil-galad was interested in seeing for himself if there is a love that is blossoming between you two." Karina felt her ears and cheeks turn red at this comment. It would not have bothered her so much if it had not been Thranduil's father saying such things. "We have decided that if you wish to join Thranduil on the front lines in the future, then such action will go unopposed by either of us. You are still welcome to stay with Duross in the medical tent as long as you like, but you will have a place in my army if that is what you wish."
"This does not bother you?" Karina asked, very conscious of the fact that her face was scarlet still, and Thranduil's eyes were watching her closely. "My relationship with the prince, I mean."
"If it is what the Valar sent you for, I will not stand in the way. You are not at all what I pictured for my son, but sometimes these things turn out better than expected. You have my blessing, whatever your choice. Both of you. Will you be staying with Duross for a while, then?"
"I think I will stay there until I feel the call to battle," Karina said, glad to be off the subject of her and Thranduil. "I have no doubts that the Valar will put me where I need to be when I am needed."
"Wise words, my lady," the king said with a half smile. "I must speak to King Gil-galad about the battle tomorrow. Good day, my lady."
"My lord," she said, bowing her head as he disappeared back into the tent. As she turned around, she found Thranduil standing directly in front of her.
"What did he say?"
"I am to stay with Duross until I wish to join the battle," Karina said with a smile. "But when that happens, I will not be forced to fight beside the king. It is my choice whether I wish to find amongst King Gil-galad's army, or your father's."
"Really?" Thranduil said, a grin on his face. "And which would you pick if you had to choose?"
"I would feel much safer fighting back to back with you, my lord, than anyone else in this world." She laughed lightly as Thranduil picked her up in a tight hug, spinning her around.
"So what is the news?"
"I am going to be allowed to stay with the healers as long as I wish."
"Excellent news!" Duross said happily. "I am glad that I shall have you by my side when the fighting starts."
"I think perhaps you should change out of the uniform then," Thranduil commented, looking down at her outfit. "You won't be needing it."
"Thank the Valar for that," Karina said, still held tightly by Thranduil. She felt immense elation. She was not going to die in the first battle of the war. She was going to be a healer. And the king had given his blessing on her relationship with Thranduil. However it was to be defined, the king would accept it.