Disclaimer: I do not own The Lord of the Rings, the books or the movies, I am only writing this for fun! Please enjoy!
Changing History: Choices
Her pen swirled over the page in careful strokes, lines, curls, and dots coming together to form letters, then words. Concentration made her hand ache, but the satisfaction she felt with the pages and pages of beautiful script that filled the notebook made the hand cramp feel worthwhile. She smiled as the pen effortlessly ticked upward and began the loop that would form the next letter.
"Ooh look, Mel's practicing her fancy made-up language again!"
The pen jerked and an ugly jagged mark cut across the line. Melody Bernston swallowed and lifted the pen from the page, resisting the urge to slam the notebook shut against the prying eyes of her overly chipper coworker. She took a quick breath to try to steady her nerves, and then pushed her brown curls out of her face to shine a fake smile on the perky blonde with the too-wide blue eyes that put Mel's own green eyes to shame.
"Hey Jenna." Mel said, trying and failing to sound happy to see her.
Jenna didn't seem to mind though, her full lips spreading in a cherry red smile and fluttering her fake lashes weighed down with so much mascara Mel wondered how her lids continued to open. She put her elbows on Mel's desk and leaned over, insinuating herself into what little space Mel had in her cubicle. Mel gritted her teeth and refused to budge as Jenna's perfume stuffed itself down her nose and throat.
"Sooooo, whatcha writin'?" Jenna asked, drawing out the words in her high, squeaky voice.
It was supposed to sound cute. Mel thought she sounded like she'd been sucking helium.
"Nothing, just doodling."
Mel tried to tug the notebook closer, only to realize it was stuck under Jenna's elbow. She just smoothed the pages instead.
"Isn't this that tinker language?"
"Tengwar." Mel corrected automatically, then winced.
"Right, Tangware!" Jenna said, tittering happily and twirling a finger in her bleached curls, "That's the fairy language in those movies, right? It's so pretty, you should do calligraphy, my aunt does calligraphy and she makes loads of dough on wedding invitations…"
It's Tengwar, Mel thought as Jenna prattled on, Elves, not fairies, and it isn't a language, it's an alphabet. I could spell out, 'Jenna is an empty-headed busy body' and you'd think it was beautiful. Maybe I should try that next…
Mel immediately felt bad for her unkind thoughts. After all, it wasn't Jenna's fault that she didn't care. Jenna didn't care about the difference between language and alphabet, or Elves and fairies, didn't care that "those movies" made Mel laugh and cry each and every time she watched them. Jenna didn't care about the rich and complex history of a world that didn't exist. She didn't understand and she didn't care. And that wasn't her fault. It wasn't anyone's fault that Mel was an obsessed freak of nature.
But if not being a freak of nature meant rattling on in a high pitched clown voice about everything and nothing, then Mel would proudly proclaim herself a freak until the day she died.
"… oh, and Mr. Halliday asked me to let you know that he needs the Accounts Receivable paperwork, like, yesterday, so, you know, as soon as you get it ready…"
Jenna's babbling finally caught Mel's attention and she latched onto it like a lifeline.
"Oh god, I better get to work on it, I completely forgot!" she exclaimed, allowing some of her very real urgency to seep into her voice, hoping it would give Jenna the hint to hit the road.
"Well, you know, he always gets so worked up about this stuff, I mean, it's not like it's, you know, life and death or anything…"
"Seriously, Jenna, I haven't even started, I should really get to work." Mel said, trying very hard not to sound exasperated.
"Oh! Well, maybe I can help!" Jenna said, her huge eyes bright.
"No!" Mel said, maybe a little too quickly, "No, thanks, I just need to get working on it. Besides, shouldn't you be back at your desk? What if the phone rings?"
Jenna seemed to consider that for a moment, a frown puckering her lips and furrowing her brow.
"Yeah, I guess you're right. You'll be okay though, right? I'd hate for you to get in trouble."
Mel resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Jenna wouldn't give a rat's ass if Mel was fired tomorrow.
A few hours and one tedious Accounts Receivable spreadsheet later, Mel slung her bag over her shoulder and headed out into the crisp October air. The wind tossed her hair into her face, but the breeze smelled fresh and comforting, and Mel breathed deep to internalize the smell.
She reached into her bag and pulled out her phone. No new messages, but the background photo made her smile, two identical teenage faces with tongues sticking out, hovered over by an older woman who looked as if she were about to fall over laughing any second. She thought about calling her mom, ask how the twins were liking they're first year of high school, see if the pumpkins grew in big enough to carve this year, but a gust of wind whistling in her ear made her think better of it and she stuffed the phone back in her bag. Maybe she would call when she got home.
It was just a twenty minute walk from the office to her apartment. On nice days like this one, Mel left her car and took the path through a small wooded area that might barely be called a park, if anybody were to bother. She liked the path, the way the trees closed in, muffling the noise and evidence of the outside world. If she stopped right in the middle between home and work, she could close her eyes and almost believe that she was back in the woods surrounding her folks' cabin, not a soul to be seen for miles around. Most of the time, she didn't miss it at all. She liked living in the city, liked the energy of thousands of people all humming around her. But some days, all she really wanted was to be in a place where she could just be her crazy, Lord of the Rings obsessed, self, with no one around to judge.
Today felt like one of those days. She propped herself up on a tree and dropped her bag on the ground by her feet. She closed her eyes and let out a long breath. She felt a little chill through her red turtleneck, she wouldn't stay for long, but it was nice to just be for a while. She let her mind wander. Her job was fine, her apartment was fine, she really had nothing to complain about. But some days, like this one, she felt like she was drifting. She had never done anything that really mattered.
Her mom was at least a conservationist. She was one of those hippie types that recycled everything, grew her own food, and planted trees on Arbor Day. Mel couldn't even keep a houseplant alive.
And her dad… Well, her dad worked a lot. He was a prosecuting attorney for the state of Ohio, so he was constantly saving people's lives. At least, that's what Mel had always believed. Of course, she hadn't seen her dad in a few years, so it was hard to tell. But at least he was out there, doing something. Mel was in a dead end job going nowhere.
It wasn't even a job she particularly liked. She didn't hate it. God knows it was better than waitressing, but if it all went up tomorrow she wouldn't shed any tears. She hadn't even made any friends in the few years that she'd lived here. She was sure Jenna thought they were 'besties', but that was through no fault of Mel's. She kicked at the leaves under her feet, feeling pretty sorry for herself.
Maybe she was going through a quarter-life crisis.
God, that sounded so pretentious.
She kicked the leaves again and something pinged against a rock jutting out of the path. Mel crouched down and dug in the leaves for a minute, before she finally emerged with a shiny gold ring in her palm. It was small and delicate, a green stone set between two smaller crystals. Mel didn't want to get too far ahead of herself, but it looked like an emerald… with diamonds…
She turned the ring over in her hands, watching the stones catch the late afternoon light. Real or fake, it looked expensive. Mel looked around for any sign of the owner, but that was silly. There was no one else on the path, she would have heard them or seen them. She should probably take it to the police, someone was surely looking for it. She twirled it one more time, then slipped it on her right ring finger. It fit, but that was no big surprise, she had pretty average size hands. She had pretty average everything. She lifted her hand and let the light catch on the emerald. It was pretty, even on her average size hand.
A breeze blew through the trees and it sounded like they were whispering to each other. It made Mel smile.
Then she heard someone walking through the brush.
She whirled around, searching for the source of the noise. But something wasn't right. She wasn't where she had been before. She immediately rejected that idea. It was crazy. She was just turned around, that was all. That was why the trees looked different, why they seemed to be in different places.
The footsteps were getting closer.
Maybe whoever owned the ring was looking for it. That's why her heart felt like it was in her throat, she felt guilty for trying on the ring and now someone was looking for it. She wrapped her hand around it, thought about pulling it off.
But what if this wasn't the owner. How would she know? It was getting dark, she had spent more time in the woods than she'd meant to. What if she wasn't the only crazy person that enjoyed the cool evening breeze through the leaves? Not all crazy people were as harmless as she was. She lowered herself to the ground and reached behind her for her bag, hoping her pepper spray was still in that inner pocket…
She couldn't find her bag. She turned around, dug in the leaves, starting to feel the first tendrils of panic creep into her brain. Where was her bag? She was sure she'd had it when she left the office, she remembered specifically that she'd picked it up. She looked around frantically. Nothing seemed familiar anymore. The trees were different, the leaves were different, everything had changed.
She stood up, determined that she was going to run, she was going to run into the trees and keep running until she found a street or a sign or a house, anything to get her bearings back. The park wasn't that big, she was bound to run into something…
Her thoughts stopped short when the owner of the footsteps emerged into the golden light of the setting sun.
He was big, at least half a foot taller than she was, with broad shoulders and lots of fur and leather. And he looked like he'd been to hell and back. His clothes were muddy and torn, his long, dark hair tangled and damp. He had a small cut on his cheek that looked like it was barely healed. His eyes were intense as he stared at her, clearly just as surprised as she was. Mel felt like a doe caught in the headlights of a semi-truck, wide-eyed and gaping.
Then she got a good look at his clothes. Beneath all the mud, she could make out that there had once been blue and silver in there somewhere, and underneath…
He was wearing chainmail. Chainmail, for god's sake! And a freaking sword! Now that she was looking at him properly, she realized that he looked like one of those role players in those fantasy games they played in the big park downtown every third Saturday. Suddenly, she felt a little better. A role player. She'd been about to run scared from a freaking role player! God, she felt stupid.
She let out a relieved little giggle. At least she wasn't nearly as lost as this guy was.
"God, you scared me to death!" she said, a little breathlessly, "I think you've got the wrong day, dude, the players meet on Saturdays, and its downtown."
He stared at her, a perplexed expression on his face. He didn't say anything for another long moment. Mel started to feel a little uncomfortable. She wondered if his sword was real.
He opened his mouth, closed it, then tried again.
"Forgive me, my lady…"
God, this guy is really into it…
"…but I fear that I do not fully understand your strange words. Are you a messenger from Lord Elrond sent as escort?"
Elrond? That made Mel's ears perk up. She didn't know that they did Lord of the Rings roleplay. Maybe she should check it out.
You know, on another day when she wasn't wondering whether or not she was lost, or crazy, or both.
"Look, I appreciate the dedication, really I do." She said, "But you can drop the act now and just admit that you're lost. It's okay, I walk through here every day and apparently I'm lost too."
The man's eyes narrowed and he quirked his head to the side, curiously.
"I am not lost." He said, "But if you often wander these lands then may I assume Imladris is your home? Perhaps we should walk together, since the light is nearly gone."
A breeze blew through the trees again and Mel jerked her head up. She could have sworn she heard voices whispering in the leaves. But there was nothing there of course, it was just the wind. She shivered and rubbed her arms through her sweater. Something wasn't right. Something was definitely… not right. Nothing about this place looked right at all and she just couldn't shake the feeling that somehow she wasn't in the same place she had been before. She wanted her bag. She wanted her phone. She wanted her mom.
There was a rustle and Mel squeaked and jumped back. The man froze in the act of taking a second step toward her, one hand at the clasp of his cloak at his throat. She swallowed and tried to remember how to breathe. He very slowly removed his hand from the clasp and put both his hands in the air, a gesture of surrender and peace.
"I am not going to hurt you, my lady." He said, his deep voice a soothing rumble, "On my honor as Captain of the White Tower, you are safe with me."
She didn't feel safe. She felt like she was having a break down. This guy wasn't dropping the act and the sword that still swung at his belt was making her more than a little nervous. She wondered for a brief second if it was sharp, then quickly decided that it didn't matter. This guy, whoever he was, was bigger than her, looked twice as strong as her, and was clearly in the middle of a psychotic break… or was that her? She wasn't entirely sure anymore.
"May I ask for your name?" he asked, his voice still soft and soothing.
"You first." Mel said, and then regretted the words almost as quickly.
His eyes narrowed and his hand lowered to rest gently on the pommel of his sword. Then he bowed.
"I am called Boromir, son of Denethor the ruling Steward of Gondor."
Her heart lurched and she felt a bolt of panic rip through her chest as the wind roared through the leaves. And then she remembered… right… Lord of the Rings player… And that was when she started to get angry.
"Look, I'm sure you think this is all really funny, or entertaining, or whatever, but I can promise you that it's not, okay? It's really, really not, so can you just cut the crap and tell me your real name, please?"
The man was staring at her with a hardened expression and she saw him tense. She tried not to flinch away.
Don't let him know you're scared…
"I have given you my name, and yet I still wait to hear yours." The man-who-could-not-possibly-be-Boromir said, all softness gone from his tone, "Evil walks throughout all these lands, my lady, and caution is to be admired. But I stand before you with all the standards of my house and office, and you give me nothing but strange and angry words to speak for your own character. Of us two, I believe I might have the better reason for suspicion."
Something wasn't right, Mel didn't know what it was but something in the back of her mind was telling her over and over that something wasn't right. The leaves blew over her head and the branches creaked around her and she looked up. These trees weren't familiar to her, any of them. She didn't know where she was, but it wasn't the park. It wasn't her imagination or her fear, it was just plain fact. She knew the path between her apartment and her office and she was no longer on it. So where the hell was she?!
Mel's eyes jumped back to the man in front of her. His face was flat and emotionless as a stone, but his voice told her that he was getting annoyed. She looked at him, really looked at him. Strong, broad-shouldered, about six and half feet tall, dark brown hair framing a chiseled face and gray eyes that were boring into her with such an intensity that Mel almost flinched under them.
I stand before you with all the standards of my house and office…
Her eyes flicked down to the hand that rested on his sword. On his wrist was tied a leather vambrace, and etched on it was the White Tree of Gondor, the symbol of Minas Tirith. And hanging by the sword was a carved white horn with a silver inlaid tip.
On my honor as Captain of the White Tower…
"Woman, who are you?" He said, his voice hard and biting, "Do not try my patience; I have not much left to give."
She couldn't breathe. Her lungs could not remember how to take in oxygen. She took a step back to try to get some space, to try to think… and tripped over a rock under her foot, going down hard on her back.
"My lady!" the-man-who-could-possibly-be-Boromir exclaimed, taking an involuntary step toward her.
"No, stay back, just stay back!" she shouted, scrambling through the fallen leaves until her back hit a tree trunk, her outstretched hand shaking as she warded him off.
He froze again, not coming any nearer.
"Are you alright?" he asked, sounding as if he wasn't sure whether to be concerned or suspicious.
"I just… I just need a minute… please…" she gasped, trying to catch her breath and still feeling like her lungs weren't working properly, "Please, I just… I don't know what's going on, just… I just want to go home."
She hated that her voice sounded so cracked and panicky and close to tears. She was stronger than this, damn it, she'd never been afraid of the unfamiliar before! She'd moved across the country on a whim for God's sake! More than once! She swallowed and closed her eyes, forcing air in and out until it started to feel natural again.
She didn't realize she was shivering until something soft, warm, and heavy fell over her. She jerked and her eyes flew open and Boromir took a hurried step back, his hands both outstretched in a sign of surrender.
"Forgive me, my lady. You seemed chilled."
He was missing his furred cloak and it took Mel a few seconds longer than it should have to realize that it was draped over her. It might have been blue once, but was now more of a dirty gray, and it smelled of dirt and leather and another smell that Mel could not quite identify, a green smell. It was also warm, very warm and Mel was cold, inside and out. She clutched the cloak to her almost involuntarily as the wind blew through the branches, sending the leaves into a murmuring chatter with each gust. Boromir (or not-Boromir, Mel still wasn't entirely convinced that she wasn't being played) remained where he was, his face calm and questioning, but no longer hostile.
"Tha… Thank you." She managed to stutter.
He nodded, but said no more, and did not move again. They stared at one another for a long moment, Mel still trying to wrap her mind around what could possibly be happening to her. Dreaming? Maybe she had been knocked out by a passing squirrel and she was having a very vivid dream. Or a hallucination, that was also possible, someone could have slipped something into her afternoon coffee at the office. Jen would probably think that was hilarious…
She shifted and winced. Her backside was definitely bruised and she definitely felt the pain radiating from it. So dream was less likely, but she wasn't yet ready to rule out hallucination. Could you feel pain in a hallucination?
"Please," she said, softly, carefully, "Can you tell me where I am?"
Boromir's face softened a bit and he lowered his hands slowly.
"You are in the foothills just west of the Misty Mountains," he said, "Near to the elven city of Imladris, the realm of Lord Elrond Half-elven."
Mel breathed in through her nose and noted the bite in the air. Her mind started to work without her permission, taking in the state of Boromir's clothes and the chill in the air and their location…
"Can you tell me the date?" she asked.
"Only if you will tell me your name."
She stared at him for a moment, speechless. He inclined his head, and his expression was firm if not hostile.
"I understand that you are lost and frightened, my lady," he said, "But I cannot help you if I know nothing about you."
She sighed. She didn't see any harm, even if a part of her still wondered if this weren't some sort of elaborate prank.
"Mel." She said and he raised an eyebrow, "My name is Melody Bernston. Most people just call me, Mel."
Boromir inclined his head graciously, "Well met, Lady Melody. The date is October the 24th."
She chewed on her lip absently. Well, at least the date was the same as she remembered, she supposed that counted for something. Her mind wandered to the timeline that she had nearly memorized, the date sparking a hint of familiarity. It was the day before…
Rivendell… Frodo… Council…
"How far did you say we are from Rivendell?" she asked.
Boromir's eyes narrowed and his expression hardened.
"I did not say."
Mel rolled her eyes just half a second before she thought better of it.
"I… Yes, technically I know that," she said, "Could you tell me how far away we are?"
"I know not." He answered, "I have never journeyed there myself. I only know to follow this road and I will be met on my way. Have you journeyed to the hidden valley, my lady?"
Mel stared at him, his voice stiff and suspicious again. What had she said to set him off now?
"No," she answered, "I don't… I don't know how I got here."
The words tumbled out of her mouth before she thought them through. Boromir's expression didn't falter.
"Where are you from, Lady Melody?" he asked.
Mel fought the hysteria that was threatening to bubble up her throat.
"No where you've ever heard of, believe me." She said.
"Tell me." He said, "I was born in the White City of Minas Tirith, tutored by the finest of scholars. There is not a land in Middle-Earth that I am not familiar with."
"Exactly." Mel said.
Boromir gave her a blank look.
"I don't understand," He said, "Explain."
Mel stared at him, wondering why she let her mouth run away with her. There was no version of this conversation that didn't sound completely ridiculous, even in her head. So in lieu of logical thought, she just plowed ahead, letting her words fall where they may. After all, hallucinations didn't care if she made sense, right?
"I'm not from any place in Middle-Earth." She said, "I don't even know what you would call where I'm from. I don't think it exists here. I was just taking a walk, minding my own business, I stopped for a second, and then I wasn't where I was before. I was here and you were there and I'm pretty sure I'm going crazy, so… yeah. That's the story."
Boromir stared at her, no expression on his face but puzzlement. He waited for a beat, as if to make sure she was done speaking, and then he nodded.
"I see," he said, "That does explain your strange speech and mode of dress."
Mode of…? What was wrong with her…? She pushed back the cloak that she was still huddled in and looked at her red turtleneck, blue jeans, and sneakers. She snorted.
"Yeah, I guess I do look a little ridiculous…"
She trailed off, and then stared up at the man, still studying her curiously.
"Wait, you believe me?"
Boromir came back from the far off place his mind had gone and met her eyes.
"Should I not?" he asked, "It is a strange circumstance, but these are strange times and we are in a strange land. Many believe this to be a place of magic, as old as the world itself. I do not often put stock in such tales, but… the circumstances that have brought me to this place have opened my mind to many possibilities that I might once have called folly. And you have an air of truth about you, that much I know. However mysterious you may appear, you are not lying."
Well, there was that at least. Mel let out a breath of relief. She had expected a little more argument honestly, even from a hallucination.
Boromir's eyes wandered off again as he thought, then he nodded decisively.
"I believe we should continue on to Rivendell," he said, "Lord Elrond will have better knowledge of such things than I, he will help you."
That made sense… you know, if you put aside the fact that Mel still wasn't completely convinced that she wasn't hallucinating. Of course, sitting in the middle of the woods, waiting to freeze or starve to death wasn't really high on her list of things to do today… or ever. And she'd never been one to sit and do nothing anyway.
Decided, Mel stood and brushed the dirt and leaves off Boromir's cloak before handing it back to him.
"Right, Rivendell." She said, "Let's go."
Boromir looked at the cloak in her hand, then back at her. Then he took it and, before Mel could even blink, he had flung it over her shoulders and clasped it at her throat.
"I hope you can forgive it's ragged condition, Lady Melody." he said, "It has seen me through much and it will keep you warm."
"Oh no, it's okay, I don't…"
But Boromir was already walking off, leaving her standing behind on the path, gaping like an idiot. She got herself together and hurried after him, scurrying along at his heels, secretly thankful for the warmth of the cloak. She rubbed the fur against her cheek. It was strangely comforting.
"I must confess, there is one aspect of your tale that bothers me." Boromir said as he walked.
"You mean besides basically everything?" Mel said, then cringed as she realized she was still just letting words fall from her mouth without thinking. Maybe it was a coping mechanism.
Boromir didn't even flinch.
"If you come from this other place, this place that does not exist, how did you know that Imladris and Rivendell were the same?"
Mel slammed to a stop, then realized that Boromir was still walking and jogged to catch up. Crap. This was it. The nail in her coffin, there was no way she could make this sound believable.
"There was a guy…" Mel said, cringing as she realize how completely ridiculous this was going to sound, "This man, his name was Tolkien. He wrote… stories. Stories about Middle-Earth, about Rivendell and Minas Tirith and…"
She bit her lip, stopping her mouth. There was only one place this conversation could go, and she didn't see anything good coming out of it, not knowing what she knew. She watched Boromir's back for a minute and saw his eyes in her mind's eye, hard and angry, soft and compassionate. She shook it away.
"Anyway, he wrote about a lot of things, but they were just stories. I read them. A lot. I've got most of it memorized actually. They're kind of a big deal, where I'm from."
Well, to some people… she added in her head, but did not speak aloud.
Boromir made a noise, not quite a hum, not quite a grunt.
"So you know of Middle-Earth, but you do not belong to it." He said, as if digesting the information, "Interesting. Perhaps this Tolkien has visited in the same manner as you and Lord Elrond knows of him. You might return in the same way he did."
Now that was a possibility Mel hadn't considered. She mulled it over in her mind. If Tolkien had been here, and this was where he'd gotten his stories, that would make for an interesting twist for sure…
Wait… when had she stopped treating this like a hallucination? It wasn't real, it was too crazy! She stared at Boromir's back in front of her, watching him move through the woods confidently, never faltering in his steps. He wasn't what she would have expected him to be. He was… kind. And smart. And actually a bit younger looking than she'd imagined, even knowing his bloodline and the slightly extended lifespan of his people. She had just… never been able to picture it properly before.
She didn't realize she was spinning the emerald ring around her finger until it caught on a thread of the cloak and pinched her skin. She jumped and stared down at it, surprised. She'd actually forgotten she was still wearing it. The wind brushed the tops of the trees, sending the leaves above into a hushed murmur. Mel could almost imagine that she heard a word, echoed in the wind, blowing away just before she could catch it…
Boromir stopped and Mel almost ran into him. The sun had set, leaving behind only a hint of pink and gold as the stars started to twinkle against the darkened horizon. Boromir glanced back at her and then reached out and took her elbow, easing her forward.
"Look, my lady," He said, "The place of tales, both yours and mine."
They stood upon a ridge looking down into a quiet little valley, white buildings half hidden in the forest, blending perfectly into the surroundings. As Mel watched, tiny lights began to blink on throughout the valley, flaring up and lighting the darkness that descended on the place, like tiny stars come to earth.
"Rivendell…" she whispered, feeling a hush fall over her, an almost reverent awe.
Boromir turned to her, and for the first time, he smiled. His eyes lit up with it, even in the dim light of dusk, and his entire expression changed. Mel felt her heart skip. Oh… He was… He was handsome. Oh, that was… that was bad. Mel could see absolutely no variation of this that was in any way good. She swallowed and took a step back, out of his reach, and he must have seen something in her face because his smile faltered and his expression reverted back to something akin to indifference.
"Come." He said.
He turned and began the descent into the valley and Mel had no choice but to follow.