"Please step forward, Mel."
Mel felt the bottom drop out from under her and her stomach went with it. She had never had much trouble with stage fright, but this felt like a completely different animal from standing in front of her high school speech class and giving a talk about ferrets.
She managed a few shallow breaths before she forced herself to stand up. Lord Elrond held out an arm to her, gesturing her to his side, still smiling kindly. Mel tried to focus on that smile. She had Lord Elrond's approval, what else did she really need? That thought got her across the floor and turned to face the council. And then her tentative courage failed her. Her knees went a little wobbly looking out on that sea of confused, curious faces, some still glaring at one another as if itching for any reason to start a fight. Lord Elrond, either out of courtesy or because he sensed her unsteadiness, took her elbow gently in his hand. Mel was grateful for the support, however nominal.
"We have spoken of a Ring of great evil and destruction," Lord Elrond said, "And now I turn our attention to a ring of mystery, whose power and purpose is hidden, even from me."
There was a murmur through the gathered members. Mel felt her heart pounding against her ribcage and she looked up at Lord Elrond.
"Perhaps, my dear, you should tell your tale for the benefit of those present." He said, with an encouraging smile.
He patted her arm and then sat in his chair, leaving her standing alone facing a sea of faces that judged her every move and word. Oh god, they were going to laugh her out of Rivendell!
Well… not all of them.
Boromir was looking at her with a thoughtful expression. He knew her story. She had told it to him and he had not dismissed her. He had believed her. And he still believed her; she could see it in his eyes. He hadn't given up or decided she was crazy. He might be irritated with her, sure, but he didn't think she was crazy.
She took a deep breath. She could do this. She could definitely do this.
"What I'm about to tell you may seem kind of… well, odd, but it's the honest truth."
One more deep breath. She could do this.
"I'm not from this world."
Silence. No one spoke. Mel felt the need to fill the silence.
"I'm not from Middle-Earth. I'm not from Across the Sea. I'm… I'm not from anywhere."
She kept talking. She told them everything, she showed them the ring she had found in the forest, explained that she had been somehow transported here, found by Boromir, and brought to Rivendell. Every eye turned to Boromir when he was mentioned, but his eyes did not leave Mel's as he answered their silent question.
"It's true," he said, a small smile on his lips, "I found Melody in the forest, dressed in what I can only suppose is the garb of her own people, spouting angry nonsense and as frightened as I have ever seen another living soul."
Mel blushed and dropped her eyes. She had been scared to death and she had lashed out in anger, and he had been kind to her. Mel wondered if she would ever be able to repay him for that.
"When she first told me her tale, I saw the air of truth in her. I brought her here, to the shelter and wisdom of Lord Elrond, in hopes that she might be returned safely to her home, wherever that might be."
"Then on this, at least, we must agree!"
Mel jerked her eyes up and saw that Legolas was grinning so widely that she thought his face might split.
"What did I tell you, Mel? All revealed in its good time!" He said cheerfully, before pushing to his feet and addressing the council, "My friends, I too have witnessed and been perplexed by this good lady's appearance and manner. Her knowledge of names and places, but unfamiliarity with customs and mannerisms, intrigued me and I made it a goal to befriend her, perhaps to divulge her secrets."
He met her eyes and smiled broadly.
"I was disappointed to discover, not a spy or evil malice, but a lovely, intelligent woman, with an insatiable curiosity and love of our ways and histories. And now her mystery is solved at last and I can think of no reason to disbelieve her tale. As Lord Boromir has said, she has an air of truth to her that cannot be refuted."
Mel smiled at Legolas gratefully. She now had the word of not only Lord Elrond, but also the Prince of Mirkwood and the son of the Steward of Gondor on her side. The other members of the council whispered among themselves, but none seemed eager to stand against the word of three of their most distinguished members.
Well, all except one.
Gimli had been scowling at her from his chair since she'd started talking, but until now Mel had ignored him. Legolas' proclamation of faith, however, seemed to be the last straw for the dwarf. He hopped to his feet and stuck his chin out defiantly.
"Well it all seems a bit out of place to me!"
Oh no… Mel thought to herself, but kept silent and tried to keep her face carefully neutral.
Don't let them know you're afraid…
"She just shows up in the woods, supposedly from another world, that no one has heard of or seen. But she's a dwarven ring on her finger, knowledge of our world and ways, and the gift of foresight…"
"I don't have foresight." Mel interrupted, more confused than anything now.
"You knew my name!" Gimli said, as if pointing out a fatal flaw in her story, "We have never been introduced, how did you know my name except by divine gift? How do you propose to have a divine gift with regards to our world if you are not, yourself, of this world? It doesn't make sense!"
"I don't have foresight, it was Tolkien!" Mel said, "I just read his books, I didn't even think this place was real!"
"Am I the only one that thinks this is just a bit suspicious?" Gimli said, turning to address the rest of the council, "Are we to believe this nonsense just because a couple of elves and one man have decided to take this woman's words as face value?"
"Have a care, Gloin's son." Aragorn said quietly, "One of those elves of whom you speak is your host."
"And is just as susceptible to witchcraft as the rest of us, I'd wager!" Gimli said.
Mel shuddered. The council was beginning to murmur again. Witchcraft. She had not thought of witchcraft. She had a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach, and a completely unfounded image filled her mind, piles of wood being stacked in the courtyard, watching the flames come closer and closer as the crowd looked on, watching, waiting for her to burn…
Mel jerked at the small soft voice in her head, and then a bush behind Gimli's chair shot out it's branches and wrapped around the dwarf's feet, hands and midsection.
"What?!" he yelled as he was lifted into the air. "Put me down! What trickery is this?! Put me down, I say! I'll chop you to pieces if you don't let me go!"
Mel gaped for a solid five seconds as the dwarf swung helplessly in the air. What…? What was happening? The tiny voice in her mind replied.
"He will not take you… You will not burn…"
Lord Elrond's voice in her ear made her jump. He was beside her again, his hand on her elbow, his eyes on the display in front of him. She thought she caught a trace of amusement in his voice.
"Mel, is this your doing?"
Mel turned back to the swinging dwarf and a wave of hysterical laughter threatened to bubble up her throat. She only barely managed to contain it. Was she doing this? It didn't feel like it. It wasn't the action she would have picked to convince the council that she wasn't a witch, for sure. There was nothing about this that was helping her cause… but it was really damn funny.
"My lord," she said, when she was finally sure that she wasn't going to burst into laughter when she opened her mouth, "I have no idea what's going on."
Gimli had finally given up fighting and was just hanging in the air with his arms crossed, glaring at Mel.
"Try to put him down." Elrond prodded, "It might be that this magic is a defensive mechanism and is triggered by your fear, out of your control."
"If this is anything but intentional I'll eat my braids!" Gimli shouted, "Put me down instantly, witch, or so help me…"
"You'll what?" Mel asked, starting to lose patience, "Annoy me to death? I have twin sisters, Master Dwarf, your threats are nothing to me."
Gimli's mouth opened and closed a few times, his face turning an interesting shade of purple before he finally shut it for good and glared silently at her.
Lord Elrond's voice was a gentle reminder and Mel nodded. She closed her eyes. She searched her mind for that tiny voice, the voice that she knew was actually responsible for the incident with the plant. She could feel it, a little green spark in a corner of her mind. She prodded that spark and it unfolded before her, curling around her consciousness almost protectively.
"You need to put him down." Mel thought to herself, hoping that the message was conveyed in the same way the unbidden picture in her mind had been conveyed to the tiny voice.
She heard the leaves on the bush rustle once and she opened her eyes. The bush was shuddering and she heard the tiny voice.
"Are you sure? He will hurt you, Calenhiril, I saw, I saw it, he will burn you."
Mel shivered. There it was again, Calenhiril, the name the Ring had spoken in her mind. What was it? What did it mean? She would tell Lord Elrond later, maybe he would know more…
"What is happening?!" Gimli shouted, his eyes wide in fear as the bush shivered and swayed with him in it's grip.
Mel brought her focus back to the task.
"Release him," she said, "He won't hurt me. I'm with friends."
She pictured Legolas and Elrond and Boromir, the three people in this room that she had at least a reasonable certainty would protect her if it came to that. She didn't think it would, but she pictured them anyway, to reassure the small voice in her head… Oh god, she was talking to herself! No time to think about that now, focus, focus…
The bush shuddered once more, and then gently, Gimli was placed on the ground, the tendrils of delicate branches unraveling from around him and curling back in on themselves. She felt an overwhelming sense of relief that she wasn't sure was entirely her own. She smiled.
But the moment Gimli was free, the dwarf reached for an axe at his belt and lunged for the now-fully-normal bush.
"NO!" Mel screamed, running to stop him, but she was too far, too slow, too late…
Faster than thought, Boromir was up and had the stunned dwarf on the ground, a dagger at his throat.
"Be careful, dwarf," He growled, soft and dangerous, "Or this will cease to be fun and games."
Gimli swallowed hard. There was an uncertain pause. Then Gimli's axe hit the floor with a clatter. Boromir removed the dagger slowly and rose, allowing the dwarf to find his feet. Gimli rubbed the spot at his throat tentatively, he and Boromir glaring at one another. Then Boromir nodded and returned to his seat, giving the dwarf not another backward glance. Gimli slowly picked up his axe and replaced it in his belt. But when he tried to return to his own seat, he finally saw Mel sitting there, waiting. The dwarf sighed and approached her warily.
"May I have my seat, my lady?" He said, grudgingly.
"I will have that axe first." Mel said primly, holding out her hand.
"Come now! I won't chop down your bewitched bush!"
"He's not bewitched," Mel said (and wondered briefly when the bush had become a 'he'), "And if you don't plan on chopping him up, then you have no need of your axe."
"I will not give up my one defense!" Gimli exclaimed, his eyes flicking over the council, mostly elves, mostly all angry at him for one reason or another. Mel smirked. He should have thought of that before…
"Then you will not have your seat." She replied firmly, "You can sit on the floor or take my chair, if you prefer."
Mel pointed to the only other empty place in the circle, right next to Legolas, who was smiling in a way that was almost feral. It was a little frightening, even to Mel, she could admit it.
"Come lad," an old grizzled voice spoke from Mel's right and she jumped. In all the excitement, she'd actually forgotten that there was, in fact, another dwarf present.
Gloin sat in his seat contentedly, his nose nearly buried in his own full white beard, hands clasped over his belly, a twinkle in his eyes as he regarded his hot-headed son.
"Every fine warrior can admit when he's been outwitted." Gloin said, winking surreptitiously at Mel (to her surprise and delight), "Take your medicine graciously, boy, and accept the terms of defeat. They are not so high, and allow for other battles to be won and lost another day."
Mel tried to hide her grin, she really did. But she wasn't sure she did such a great job. Gimli glared at her for another moment. Then, finally, muttering under his breath about 'confounded women', 'bewitch us all', and 'emotional hogwash', he handed over his axe. Mel smiled triumphantly and returned to her seat beside Legolas, cradling the spoils of her battle in her lap. Legolas looked like he wanted to say something, but Lord Elrond spoke first.
"I have never heard of a dwarven ring that had power over the growing things of the earth. Gimli, Gloin, have you any knowledge of such a thing?"
"The bauble is dwarven-make sure as anything," Gloin said from his contented position (Gimli continued to sulk and say nothing), "I would know the work of my kinsmen anywhere. But I can think of no tales or myths that might explain it's origins or the powers invested therein. Once I return to Erebor, the libraries might contain something of use, but…"
The old dwarf spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness. Mel felt the tiny glimmer of hope in the pit of her stomach fade.
"It seems the mystery continues." Lord Elrond said, "Not only how you came to us, Mel, but the power with which you seem to have been gifted. Perhaps there is purpose to your coming here, not yet revealed."
Her eyes flicked to Boromir. He was looking at her with a small knowing smirk on his lips. Mel rolled her eyes and ignored him. It didn't matter. She couldn't stay. And the sooner she was gone, the better.
"We will study this further and see what can be learned. As for the matter of the Ringbearer, his companions will be chosen and announced in due course. This council is concluded."