It took several blurry turns, down several unfamiliar hallways, for Mel to admit that running out on Boromir might not have been her most brilliant idea. She had been upset (still was), but that was no reason to leave him with no explanation. He had rescued her in the woods when she was friendless and scared, and had shown her more kindness and patience than she had probably deserved. She owed him at least a little courtesy.
Not to mention she was now thoroughly and completely lost.
She took another turn into an unfamiliar, empty hallway and stopped, pressing her back to the wall and closing her eyes to stop tears of frustration and humiliation from escaping. She was so stupid! If there truly was some sort of greater purpose behind her appearance here, clearly there had been some sort of a mix-up or misunderstanding along the way. No Higher Power in their right mind could possibly consider her useful, especially not the way she was acting right now.
She took a deep breath and tried to think. Lord Elrond had said that he wanted her to attend the council this afternoon. She had spent her morning with Legolas, touring the house. The sun had been far overhead when she had been sitting with Boromir. She needed to find the council room. If she missed the opportunity to witness one of the most important moments in Middle-Earth's history…
Voices echoed around the far corner of the hall. Mel froze and listened.
"…telling ya, they'll not listen to reason!" a gruff voice grumbled, "Can't trust these pointy-eared tree-lovers, you mark my words!"
"We've got no choice, son." Said another voice, older, but still gruff and with the same brogue, "The king has sent us to deliver the message and so we…"
The voices trailed off, becoming more muffled by the second. Mel sprang into action, sprinting lightly down the hallway and peeking around the corner. No one was there. But there was another hallway that branched off and the echoes of the voices followed. Mel tiptoed down the deserted hall and glanced around the next corner. Two short, stout creatures with long, course hair (one white, one a fiery red) turned left into an open courtyard and disappeared. Mel smiled. She couldn't imagine there were that many dwarves at the Last Homely House. She slipped down the hall and turned to follow Gimli and his father Gloin, hardly believing her luck. Maybe there was something to this Fate and Higher Power talk after all.
They twisted and turned through the halls (some of which Mel was certain she had already passed), and finally the path opened up into the beautiful terrace where the council was to be held. She had stayed far enough behind to escape notice from the dwarves, but when she walked in after them Legolas' sharp eyes found her immediately and he stood, lifting a hand to wave her over. Mel smiled and took the offered seat next to him.
"I see that you found your way without too much trouble," he said, leaning over and murmuring in her ear, "Though it is a bit unfair to take advantage of those with lesser intelligence, Mel. I would never have expected it of you."
Mel looked over and saw the twinkle in his eye as he smiled at her. She nudged him playfully with her elbow.
"Don't be silly, Legolas," she said, flicking a glance at the dwarves who were conversing in whispers punctuated by suspicious glances, "I wasn't taking advantage, I was utilizing my resources. All things have their uses."
His grin widened and he inclined his head.
"Well said, my friend." He said.
Mel jerked and stared at him, pleasantly shocked. Was that just a common term for those who are not your enemy? Or were they really…?
All thought fled when Boromir walked in. Their eyes met across the stone courtyard and he jerked to a stop, surprised. He held her gaze for several moments, searching her face, as if trying to ask a question of her with only his expression. Mel had a flash of false memory, of seeing the life in his eyes go out, and she looked away before he could see that she was upset. A sick knot twisted her stomach and she gripped the edge of her chair to keep from squirming.
She sucked in a breath and looked at Legolas. He was just on the verge of touching her, his hand hovering in the air over her shoulder, his eyes swimming with concern.
"Mel, are you well?" He asked, "You've gone rather pale."
She forced another breath through her nose and a smile onto her face.
"Yeah," she said, "Yeah, I'm okay. Just… You know what, it's nothing. Not important."
It was the worst lie she had ever told and Legolas wasn't stupid. But true to his word, he didn't press her, though his eyes still betrayed his concern. She was grateful for it.
She forced herself to look up, to face this thing that she was allowing to continue, but Boromir had already moved, crossing the room and taking a seat, brooding into the middle distance. He did not meet her eyes again.
Elrond swept in, gave Mel the most infinitesimal of nods, and without preamble began the council. Mel took a moment to survey those that had gathered, mostly elves that she couldn't identify. There were of course the two dwarves and a few men (including Boromir), but Mel couldn't be really sure which was Aragorn. She knew he was here, but picking him out of the unidentified men was guesswork and Mel didn't feel very confident in her skills at the moment. There was also an old man, dressed all in gray… seated next to a boy. A small boy, his feet swinging off the edge of his seat nervously, his eyes downcast…
"Bring forth the Ring, Frodo."
The hobbit jumped, staring around the council room as if he wasn't quite sure of the wisdom of Elrond's command. But he reluctantly did as he was bid, sliding to the ground and reaching into his pocket as he approached the pedestal in the center of the terrace. The wind gusted through the trees surrounding the court, sending the leaves fluttering down around them in whispering mutters of uneasy sound. Frodo reached out and set down a little gold object. And then he retreated, settling into his chair with a sigh. Mel watched him carefully, knowing what a burden it had already put on him… and how much more it would take.
"So it is true…" Boromir whispered.
Mel's eyes snapped to him, but he did not look at her. He had eyes only for that little bit of gold that gleamed against the setting sun. Absently, Mel's fingers twisted the ring on her hand.
I know you, Calenhiril…
The voice whispered, almost slithering into her thoughts and Mel jumped, dropping her hands and staring at the pedestal. Calenhiril? What did that mean? Was it a name? What did it have to do with her?
I know of your purpose… your destiny… your fear… There is no hope for those that have already been lost… There is none left who can save them…
Mel's heart jumped and her eyes flew to Boromir, fear clutching at her throat. He was staring at her, his gaze intense, unnerving, fearful. Mel swallowed. What did the voice whisper in his ear? Why was he afraid? And why was he looking at her?
With what seemed to be a vast amount of effort, Boromir tore his gaze from hers and stood.
"In a dream…" he said, "…I saw the eastern sky grow dark. But in the west a pale light lingered. A voice was crying, 'Your doom is near at hand. Isildur's Bane is found.'"
He started to approach the ring, and Mel tensed.
"Isildur's Bane…" he murmured, his finger hovering over the golden band.
No. This couldn't happen. He was too good, too kind, too noble. Mel would not allow this! She shot to her feet without thought, just as Elrond leaped to his, both yelling in unison, Elrond warning, Mel pleading.
"Ash nazg durbatulûk…" the man in gray, Gandalf of course, began reciting.
Mel fell back into her chair gasping as the air turned heavy in her lungs.
"Ash nazg gimbatul…"
The sky turned dark in an instant and thunder rolled over their heads. Mel saw Legolas flinch beside her, and impulsively she grabbed his hand. He gripped her fingers and held on tightly.
"Ash nazg thrakatulûk, agh burzum-ishi krimpatul…"
As Gandalf finished, the sky lightened again and Mel heard a bird chirp overhead. Everything else was silent. She took a deep shuddering breath and looked at Legolas. His eyes remained closed a moment longer, taking deep breaths as though to steady himself. Mel leaned over and whispered close to his ear.
"Are you okay?"
She wished her voice wasn't shaking. Legolas opened his eyes and smiled at her.
"Yes, thank you. Are you?"
Mel nodded. Then she realized she was still holding his hand. She let go and put her hands in her lap
"Sorry." She said, feeling a blush creeping into her cheeks.
Legolas reached out and touched the back of her hand, brushing it with his finger tips.
"There is no need to apologize for kindness. It was comforting to have a friend."
A friend… That was the second time today that Legolas had called her a friend. She looked up, searching his eyes, and wondered if he really meant it.
"Never before has any voice uttered the words of that tongue here in Imladris!"
"I do not ask your pardon, Master Elrond," Gandalf replied, sounding as weak and drained as he looked, "For the Black Speech of Mordor may still be heard in every corner of the West!"
He glared at Boromir.
"The Ring is altogether evil!"
Boromir was already shaking his head before the wizard even sat down.
"No, it is a gift!" He said, whirling to face the other members of the Council, "A gift to the foes of Mordor! Why not use this ring?"
Mel closed her eyes, silently pleading, stop, stop, please stop, even though she knew that her pleas would go unanswered.
"Give Gondor the weapon of the Enemy! Let us use it against him!"
"You cannot wield it; none of us can!"
Mel's eyes flew open and she searched for that voice. She found it in a man sitting across the room, his long hair and scruffy appearance disguising his heritage perfectly. Mel would never have guessed…
"The Ring answers to Sauron alone," Aragorn said, "It has no other master!"
"And what would a Ranger know of this matter?" Boromir sneered.
Mel barely knew the man, but it was all she could do not to get out of her chair and slap that look off his face. This wasn't the man who had led her out of the woods… or maybe it was. Maybe she had been blind. Maybe…
"This is no mere Ranger!" Legolas exclaimed, leaping to his feet, "He is Aragorn, son of Arathorn. You owe him your allegiance."
It was the exact wrong thing to say, and Mel knew it.
"Aragorn?" Boromir said skeptically, "This is Isildur's heir?"
He looked at Mel, met her eyes, asked for contradiction. Contradiction that Mel couldn't give him. When she met his eyes and did not refute the claim, he cast his eyes down and scowled. There was nothing she could do. Nothing…
"And heir to the throne of Gondor!" Legolas said, triumphant.
"Havo dad, Legolas." Aragorn said, raising a hand, pleading.
Legolas looked as if he might protest. Despite her own knowledge, Mel reached out and tugged his sleeve. He looked back at her and she shook her head ever so slightly, tugging his sleeve again. He stared at her curiously, but surprisingly did as she silently asked and sat. She smiled at him gratefully.
"Gondor has no king."
She looked up into burning eyes, eyes that flashed like a lightning storm, eyes that were staring directly at her.
"Gondor needs no king."
Mel managed to hold his stare steadily, even though all she wanted to do was flinch away. She wasn't trying to be aggressive, she wasn't trying to push him away, but it certainly wasn't her fault that this scruffy Ranger of the North just happened to have the correct bloodline to rule the kingdom Boromir had been raised to love and protect. And she certainly wasn't going to back down just to repair his damaged ego. He could forget it.
She flicked her eyes to his seat and then back to him. This startled him and he raised his eyebrows at her, but (again, surprisingly) did as she silently asked, sitting down and then made a small bow of his head in her direction. Mel didn't know how to respond to that.
"Aragorn is right," Gandalf said, and Mel was grateful for the excuse to put her eyes elsewhere, "We cannot use it."
Oh… right… Ring… that was a big deal…
"You have only one choice. The Ring must be destroyed."
The tension in the room was so thick you could have cut it with a knife. Or a sword. Whichever was handy.
"What are we waiting for?"
The red-bearded dwarf leapt to his feet and charged the pedestal, axe raised over his head.
"Gimli!" Mel shouted, coming to her feet despite herself.
The axe hit the Ring with all the might of a dwarf behind it. There was a resounding clang and an exploding boom. Mel covered her ears and cried out, the sound seeming to echo in her mind as well as her ears. Gimli hit the floor on his back, the remnants of his shattered axe all around him. He stared up for a moment, stunned. And then he turned a suspicious glare on Mel. Mel straightened, trying to think of something she could say, but nothing came to her. Before either could speak, Lord Elrond saved her, a knowing smirk on his ageless face.
"The Ring cannot be destroyed, Gimli son of Gloin, by any craft we here possess."
Legolas gently touched Mel's wrist and she realized she was still standing. She allowed the elf to tug her down into her seat again, as she had done for him not two minutes ago, meeting his puzzled gaze with an unsteady smile.
"The Ring was made in the fires of Mount Doom," Lord Elrond said, "Only there can it be unmade. It must be taken deep into Mordor and cast back into the fiery chasm from which it came. One of you must do this."
And then… there was silence. You could have a heard someone drop a pin a mile away that's how quiet it was.
"One does not just simply walk into Mordor." Boromir said.
Oh ye of little faith… Mel thought, smiling despite herself.
"Its black gates are guarded by more than just orcs. And the great Eye is ever watchful. It's a barren wasteland, riddled with fire and ash. The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume."
The smile was gone, replaced by a chill that ran down Mel's spine. It was creepy enough in the book and in the movie, but to have it described like that by a real person was enough to give her nightmares for the rest of her life. And to make it worse, he kept looking at her, as if begging her to talk some sense into these people.
"Not with ten thousand men could you do this. It is folly!"
"Have you heard nothing that Lord Elrond has said?" cried Legolas leaping to his feet, his eyes flashing, "The Ring must be destroyed!"
"And I suppose you think you're the one to do it!" exclaimed Gimli, glaring at the elf-prince. Legolas looked down at the dwarf with irritation that was bordering on irate.
"And if we fail what then?" Boromir said, rising from his chair, "What happens when Sauron takes back what is his?"
"I will be dead before I see the ring in the hands of an elf!"
At this all of the elves in attendance (except Elrond, of course) leapt to their feet in dismay and would have probably torn the foolish dwarf limb from limb if Legolas hadn't, surprisingly, held them back. Before you could say 'Arda gone awry' everyone, excluding Elrond, Aragorn, Frodo and Mel was yelling and insulting one another and their respective races with any and all of the foul names they could think of. Mel watched Frodo with interest as he studied the Ring. She knew what it was doing to him. She saw the resolve build in his eyes until he stood.
"I will take it!"
Mel smiled, even though no one was paying the slightest bit of attention to her.
"I will take it!" He shouted even louder, taking a bold step forward.
This time, he was heard. The arguing council quieted all around him. They turned and stared, elves and dwarves and men.
"I will take the Ring to Mordor." Frodo said, his eyes flashing with an angry determination.
"I think that you are right to do this, Frodo," Lord Elrond said with a quiet conviction in his voice, "This is the time of the Shire folk, when they arise from their quiet fields to shake the towers and councils of the great. It is a heavy burden and I will not lay it on you, but you take it freely and so I give it to you and say that your choice is right."
Mel jumped and a startled laugh escaped her as a pudgy hobbit jumped from the bushes behind her and slid to a stop next to Frodo, his arms crossed stubbornly.
"Surely you would not send him alone, my lord!" the hobbit said, his posture not showing even an ounce of the deference that the title he used suggested.
Elrond, for his part, looked more amused than annoyed.
"No indeed!" He said, "You at least shall go with him, for it seems hardly possible to separate you even when he is summoned to a secret council and you are not."
Sam's rigorous stance wilted a bit then, and he blushed furiously, but did not move one inch from where he stood. Frodo smiled fondly at his friend and clapped him on the shoulder, the angry frustration of earlier nowhere to be seen.
"And other companions shall be chosen also, to aid you on your journey," Lord Elrond said, a more authoritative tone to his voice and bearing, "But for now, if it please the members of this council, I request that we turn our attention to another matter."
Mel jerked and turned a terrified stare up to Lord Elrond, who responded with a kind smile.
"Please, step forward Mel."
A/N: Alright, we got through the first part of the Council (at the risk of boring you all to death, though I do hope it wasn't that bad :P). Luckily, you don't have to wait for Part 2! :D Onward!