The next day, Lord Elrond sought Mel out and sat her down in a small, secluded courtyard, just the two of them.
"Now," he said, his tone quiet but firm, "I want you to tell me exactly what happened yesterday, what you felt, what you saw, what you heard, anything you can think of. Leave nothing out."
So she did. She even told him about the little voice in her head, which made her feel a little bit like she might be having a psychotic break (but really, what didn't make her feel like she was having a breakdown these day?), and this more than anything actually seemed to please the elf-lord.
"If your ring is speaking to you, then it responds not only to your subconscious instincts, but to your conscious thoughts as well." He explained, "This means that the power might be easier to control than I supposed."
"It gave me a name," she said, "Calenhiril. Does that mean anything to you?"
"Green Lady," Lord Elrond mused, "Apropos, if nothing else. I do find it odd that the bearer of a dwarven ring would be named in the elven tongue. Such a merging of our cultures is not unheard of, but it is suggestive of a power far more ancient than I thought. I will have to look through some of my older records…"
He trailed off for a moment, deep in thought, and Mel sat very still watching him think. Finally he shook his head slightly and his eyes cleared. He smiled at her and took her hand in his.
"I will do everything I can to determine the source of this power, Mel, and to find a way home for you." he said, "You have my word."
Mel returned his smile.
"I know. Thank you. I really can't thank you enough for everything you've done, Lord Elrond. If it hadn't been for you and…"
She trailed off. She hadn't spoken to Boromir since the Council. He had left and she hadn't seen him since. The truth was she thought he might be angry at her. He had defended her at the Council, sure, but he had also seemed upset by her refusal to stand by him against Aragorn's claim. Actually, they had been in a tumultuous tumble of emotional highs and lows ever since they had laid eyes on each other. And that had only been two days ago…
"Oh… Forgive me, I… didn't mean to intrude."
Boromir's voice cut into her thoughts and she jerked her eyes up, surprised speechless. Lord Elrond, to his credit, didn't miss a beat as he swept gracefully to his feet.
"Not at all, I was just leaving."
He bowed to Mel with a murmured promise to share the results of his search and then he was gone. Mel sat awkwardly on the bench for a few moments, fiddling with her ring, before realizing that Boromir might be waiting for her to leave.
"Oh, I guess, um, I should…"
"Do you have a moment?"
She stared up at him. He had his hands clasped behind him, rigid and stiff, his eyes cast somewhere over her right shoulder. She involuntarily looked behind her to see if he was maybe talking to someone else. But of course there was no one there.
"I… yeah. Yeah, I… guess I have all day."
He nodded and then turned on his heel, heading off at a leisurely pace down one of the tiled walkways. It took Mel a few seconds to realize she was supposed to be following and she rushed to catch up. For a few minutes they walked in silence under the elegant stone archways. Mel wasn't quite sure what to do with her hands. Boromir had his clasped firmly behind his back, but it didn't seem all that comfortable if his stiff posture was any indication. She kept alternating between twirling her ring around her finger (something that was becoming an annoyingly persistent habit) and bunching her hands in the fabric of her dress. Boromir never even twitched, gave no hint of nervous energy whatsoever. In fact, he was the picture of stillness, staring ahead with a calm, distant expression that seemed to make Mel's restless gestures all the more glaringly obvious. Finally, she couldn't stand it anymore.
"Look, you don't have to do this." She blurted out.
Boromir flinched and finally looked at her, clearly surprised.
"This…" she said, waving a hand between them vaguely, "I know, I know I must be really strange to you, and you've been nothing but nice to me, and I'm… I'm grateful, really, you'll never know how incredibly grateful I am, but if it's too much, if you'd rather just kind of forget you ever met me that's fine, really, I'll be okay, I just…"
She stopped talking and dropped her hands (which had been waving around in increasingly frantic gestures). Boromir's voice was soft and… almost amused. They had stopped walking and Boromir's tense shoulders had relaxed a fraction. There was the hint of smile on his lips.
"Every morning for as long as I can remember, I have woken with the knowledge that evil lurked just to the East, within sight of my walls. Since I was old enough to wield a sword, I have been fighting creatures so twisted and grotesque as to be almost unrecognizable. I have ordered men into battles from which I knew they would not return and I have watched darkness creep ever closer to those whom I love every day of my life. So yes, you are lost and you are frightened and you are undoubtedly strange, but you will never be 'too much.'"
Mel swallowed. Of course. She was being stupid, imagining that anything about her might be overwhelming or freak him out. The bravest man she'd ever known… well, read about anyway… freaked out over one girl. It sounded ridiculous now that she was thinking about it.
Boromir paused and shuffled a bit, the very first obvious sign of discomfort he'd made.
"I had thought… perhaps you might be angry, after my appalling behavior yesterday."
Mel stared at him. Then a laugh escaped her before she could successfully smother it in her hands. Boromir looked up from the ground, his brow furrowed.
"I'm sorry." She said, "That was… I'm sorry, but it's funny because I was actually thinking that you were mad at me!"
Boromir nodded his head solemnly, his eyes dropping back to the ground between them.
"Yes, I… I feel I should apologize for that as well, in fact that was the very reason I wanted to speak to you, I just… I didn't know where to begin."
"The beginning usually works." She said, smiling.
He met her eyes and then inclined his head slightly toward her.
"The beginning then." He said, "I am sorry I disagreed with you on the balcony. It is not my place to tell you what you should or should not do with your life. Your destiny should be determined by your decisions and yours alone, and I am sorry that I upset you. More than anything, I am sorry for that."
That last seemed to almost be an afterthought, spoken softly, hesitantly, and Mel's breath hitched as she desperately tried to keep her heartbeat regulated. She swallowed and nodded an acknowledgment, but she didn't trust herself to speak which, as it turned out, was a good thing because Boromir wasn't done.
"I am sorry that I allowed my temper to get the best of me during council and I am sorry that any of that anger might have mistakenly been directed at you. I am sorry that I was not able to control my reaction when the dwarf threatened you and that I might have inadvertently frightened you with my actions. And finally, I am deeply sorry it has taken me so long to seek you out and lay out my transgressions. I hope that you can find it within you to forgive me because I… I would prefer us not to be at odds, even if friendship is no longer possible."
Mel was… well, frankly she was a little overwhelmed. That was the most thorough and elegant apology she had ever heard, and she didn't really feel like she had the words to accept it as graciously as it deserved. There were several seconds of silence as Mel tried to gather herself and think of something even remotely adequate to say in response.
Right. Start at the beginning.
"You don't have to be sorry for disagreeing with me."
Boromir looked up and tilted his head to the side ever so slightly. Mel kept talking, hoping momentum would carry her along.
"Honestly, what you said, that you even considered the possibility that I might stay and that it might be a good thing? That means a lot to me. And you didn't upset me."
He raised an eyebrow at her and she backed down a little.
"Well, okay, I was upset, but… you didn't do anything to make me upset, so you don't need to apologize for that either. And losing your temper at the council, I was expecting it a little bit so that's okay too."
"You were expecting…?"
Boromir's puzzled expression suddenly darkened.
"You knew…" He said, "…about the Ranger."
"Aragorn," Mel said, almost automatically, "Yes."
"From your books."
Mel nodded. Boromir closed his eyes and took a long, deep breath through his nose.
"I'm sorry," he said finally, "It's… it's difficult to accept…"
"I know." Mel said quickly, "Trust me, I know."
She reached out a hand, almost touching his arm, but changed her mind at the last minute and dropped it.
"And you didn't scare me, by the way."
He opened his eyes, startled into looking at her again.
"When you went after Gimli. Honestly, I didn't even realize anything had happened until he was already on the floor and by that time it was a little too late to be scared. I'm grateful, but I don't think he would really have hurt me, you know?"
Boromir narrowed his eyes.
"I did not care for his tone," he said, "Or his accusations. I think you should show him caution."
Mel rolled her eyes.
"I appreciate your concern, Boromir, but really, I don't think he'd hurt me, especially not here in Rivendell."
"You didn't seem so confident in that assumption yesterday, when you wrapped him up in branches and hoisted him into the air."
"That wasn't me."
"Who was it then?"
Boromir's voice was soft and playful, and his posture had relaxed completely. Mel stared at him for a moment, enjoying the transformation and…
She jerked her head up and looked around. The little girl's voice was soft and distant, saying the name in a child's playful singsong.
"Caleeeennnhiriiiillll… This way!"
There was an echoing giggle and Mel wondered how in the world it could echo when it was only in her head…
She jumped when Boromir touched her elbow.
"What?" she yelped, "Sorry, I just… what did you say?"
Boromir narrowed his eyes.
"Are you quite alright?" He asked, "You just… Did you hear something?"
"No!" Mel squeaked, "I mean, no, no of course not, why, did you hear something? I didn't hear anything."
Mel gritted her teeth and forced herself not to react to the childish taunt.
Boromir's brow furrowed.
"Melody, what's wrong?"
"Nothing…" Mel insisted, her eyes flicking unbidden over Boromir's shoulder, down a long corridor.
The child continued to laugh in her head. Oh god, she was going completely insane!
"Nothing's wrong, okay? I'm fine." She said, forcing a smile at Boromir. She even touched his arm, gripping his tunic as the little girl's voice continued to giggle and call out to her, "I just… I have something… There's a thing I have to do, I just thought of it. I, uh, I'll see you later, okay?"
Without giving him time to respond, she squeezed his arm and slipped past him into the corridor, walking as fast as she could without actually breaking into a run. Her mind was racing, her heart pounding. This wasn't the same voice she'd heard at the council. That had been a young voice, but not quite this young, more like a teenage boy. This was clearly a little girl's voice; she knew what little girls sounded like. She was especially familiar with the laughter of little girls. Her sisters laughed a lot, though they weren't so little anymore.
"A new game!" The little girl exclaimed, "Oh come find me, Calenhiril, come find me!"
The corridor branched off in opposite directions and Mel slid to stop. The little girl giggled, but it seemed to be coming from everywhere… or nowhere since it was all in her head. Oh god, she was going nuts…
"Left is right and right is wrong!" the little girl chanted in a silly singsong voice.
Left is… what? It took Mel a little longer than should have been strictly necessary to figure out what the little girl was trying to tell her. Peals of laughter echoed in the silence. Mel was trying not to panic. Finally she turned left and kept walking. The little girl was humming now, a silly little tune that Mel couldn't place. This corridor was made up of arched windows all along the length, open to the sun on both sides, and Mel passed from light to shadow and back several times before she reached the end. A pair of wooden double doors blocked the entryway.
"Almost there!" the little girl said cheerfully, "Come find me, Calenhiril!"
Mel put her hand on one of the doors and gave it a little push. It swung open smoothly and she peeked inside. It looked like a small library. There were cramped rows of bookshelves filled with tomes and loosely bound parchments, a single table with two chairs, and the perimeter of the room was punctuated with the same arched windows as the hallway, allowing beams of sunshine to highlight the dust motes floating in the air.
"Hello?" Mel called out tentatively.
No answer. The place looked deserted.
The little girl giggled again. Mel stepped into the room.
"How about a… a new rule?" Mel said, trying not to feel too ridiculous talking to empty air, "For the game? I'll start walking and if I'm getting closer, you say "warmer", but if I'm getting farther away you say "colder". Okay?"
The girl gasped.
"Ooooh! I like this game, I like it!"
Mel took a few steps to the right of the door.
"Colder!" the child exclaimed happily.
Mel immediately changed directions, walking along the left edge of the library, keeping her eyes peeled for any sign of… well anything really.
"Warmer… Warmer… Keep going, Calenhiril!"
Mel was nearly halfway along the wall and she didn't see anything. She passed though the light of one of the windows, scanning the bookshelves…
"Whoops! Getting colder now!"
Mel stopped. The girl giggled. She took two steps back.
"Warm as summer sunshine!"
Mel paused. She was standing in the light of the window. There was nothing in the library but old dusty books. She turned and glanced outside. There was a little courtyard, with a few flower beds and a tall, slender tree waving its branches in the window.
"You found me, you found me!" The little girl exclaimed and the tree's branches shook and scraped along the stone of the archway.
But there was no breeze to move them.
"Please don't mind her. She's been like this all year."
Mel whirled around, searching for the voice that had joined the child's giggle in her mind, a man's voice, smooth and elegant, exactly the type of voice Mel might expect to hear in a library in Rivendell. But she didn't see anything that looked like…
"I anxiously await the day she grows into something akin to decent company. I'm afraid that might be a few more years in the waiting, unfortunately. If I have to play one more game of 'I Spy'…"
"I spy something pretty!"
There was a long-suffering sigh and the leaves of a potted bush with beautiful pink and white flowers rustled slightly.
"Yavanna is clearly testing me…"
"Play, Rod, play! I spy something pretty! And it has brown leaves and pale bark and four legs!"
"Calenhiril has only two legs, child, those others are 'arms', we've been over this."
"But they look the same… Why do their branches have so many different names?"
Another sigh and rustle from the potted plant.
"What have I done to merit this torture?"
Mel felt a little dizzy. She put a shaking hand on the window sill and tried to think. A tree… She… She had been talking to…
"Oh dear…" The man's voice said, "Oh dear me, you'd better sit down I think, Calenhiril, your bark… I mean, your skin has gone rather pale."
Mel slid down until she was sitting on the floor with her back to the wall. The bush rustled a bit and then seemed to settle.
"I think… That is, I believe introductions are perhaps in order." He said, sounding a bit flustered, "I am called Rhododendron, though the child seems to have a bit of trouble with that, so she calls me…"
"Rod!" the little girl (tree, the tree, Mel was talking to a TREE!) said, sounding quite proud of herself, "And I'm Birch! Rod is my friend, he's the only one who talks to me. We're best friends, aren't we, Rod?"
"Yes, child, of course we are." Rod answered with that same tolerant fondness that underscored every word he spoke to her.
"Okay…" Mel said, taking a deep breath, "Okay, no need to panic. I'm hearing voices. Voices that belong to plants. Okay, I can do this. Everything's going to be fine. I can totally do this."
"You aren't crazy, you know." Birch said with the sincerity and candor born of childish innocence, "You're Calenhiril. You're supposed to talk to us!"
"For once the child is right." Rod agreed, "You needn't be afraid, Calenhiril. We're here to help you."
"Help me?" Mel huffed, "What do you mean, help me?"
"The one who wears the Yavannacor carries a great burden," Rod said, "Her work is not complete until all of Yavanna's children have been brought to the light. We are here to help you in any way we can, Calenhiril."
"Yavannacor?" Mel asked.
"The ring you now wear."
Mel jerked her hand away from the ring she'd been twirling absently.
"The stone-children made it!" Birch said proudly, like a child showing off her knowledge to a parent.
"You call them dwarves." Rod explained, "They forged the Yavannacor in a time long forgotten, before they were forced into their long slumber, as a gift to assuage the wrath of their Maker's wife. Yavanna took this ring and sent it far away, across land and sea, and spoke that it would only be found by one who could honor the bond between all children, be they of earth, or stone, or light. This one she would name as her own and would call upon her only at great need."
"Is this supposed to help me not freak out?" Mel asked, "Because, I'll be honest, I'm kind of freaking out! Why me? Why in the world would some ring pick me for anything? I don't have any special connection with the earth! No offense but, I can't even keep houseplants alive! I actually had a cactus die on me once. A cactus! Do you understand? There has clearly been some sort of a mistake, because I am the wrong girl for this job!"
"Yavanna doesn't make mistakes, only happy accidents." Birch said cheerfully.
"That is not helping!" Mel squeaked, and then clapped her hands over her mouth.
She thought she'd heard footsteps. Oh god, if someone caught her talking to herself, all alone in some deserted library, they'd lock her up for sure…
It started up again, the distinct slap of running footsteps on stone echoing in the closed off space.
"No, no, Pippin, this way!"
"I thought you said we should take a right turn…"
"No, I said make the right turn!"
"But this is a left turn…"
"Would you hurry up, they're going to catch us!"
The two little hobbits ran in and quickly put their backs to the door, heaving it closed with a resounding thud, then leaned there for a moment, catching their breath. Their arms were filled with what appeared to be silver cutlery. Mel was glad her hand was still over her mouth to stifle her urge to giggle.
Pippin took a quick glance around the room.
"Well," he said, "This definitely isn't the same armory we were in yesterday!"
Merry caught sight of Mel sitting on the floor with a hand over her mouth, trying not to burst into a fit of hysterical laughter. His face lit up.
"Miss Mel!" He exclaimed, elbowing his cousin, "Look, Pip, it's Miss Mel!"
Pippin grinned and raised a hand to wave at her.
"Oh hello there, Miss…"
Unfortunately in his excitement, Pippin seemed to have forgotten that his arms were full of silverware and when he lifted his hand, the whole pile went clattering to the floor. Pippin winced and Merry slapped his younger cousin upside the head.
"Now you've gone and done it!" Merry hissed, "They'll have heard that for sure!"
Sure enough, there was an echo of exclamation and Mel could hear more running footsteps in the halls. Pippin bent down to scoop up the dropped silver, clutching it to his chest, and both hobbits looked up with wide eyes, searching for a way out. Mel rolled her eyes.
"Over here!" she hissed, motioning the two hobbits toward her, "Keep your heads down!"
Bent over double so as not to be seen out the tall windows, the two hobbits ran toward her. She shoved them back into the corner beside Rod, whose branches rustled indignantly.
"Calenhiril, what on earth…?"
"Just keep down, don't move, don't make a noise." Mel whispered to the two hobbits, who both nodded so vigorously that their curls bounced.
She could hear Birch giggling in her head.
"It's hide and seek, we're going to play hide and seek!"
A small smile quirked the corner of Mel's lips, but she quickly wiped it away. Someone pounded on the door.
"Open up you miscreants!" A cultured elven voice shouted, "We know you're in there and we know what you've done! Open up!"
Mel took a deep breath and stood up. She could see across the courtyard into the hallway through the windows. There was a tall, dark-haired elf standing just outside the door with a red-headed elf wearing an apron smudged with flour. The dark-haired elf pounded on the door again.
"I'm warning you, don't make us come in there, or Lord Elrond will hear of this!"
Mel straightened her dress and hurried to the door. She took a deep breath and glanced back at the two hobbits still crouched in the corner with wide, mischievous eyes. She gave them one last motion for quiet. Then, she calmly opened the door.
The two elves froze. The taller one lowered his hand, which looked like he'd been just about to pound on the door again, and cleared his throat.
"My lady, forgive me," He said, smoothly and elegantly, "We were just… You haven't happened to see two small hobbits pass this way?"
"Carrying armfuls of my spoons?" the red-headed elf added.
Mel raised an eyebrow. Just spoons? She hadn't noticed that the hobbits only had spoons…
"No, I'm afraid not." She said, in the most dignified voice she could muster, "I only came here because it seemed such a quiet and deserted place, I thought I might be alone for a while. I haven't seen anyone."
"Liar, liar! Liar, liar!" Birch squealed, dissolving into peals of laughter.
Mel managed to ignore her.
"Are you sure?" The red-headed elf asked, pushing past his dark-haired companion, "I could have sworn that I saw the little trouble-makers…"
The dark-haired elf put a hand on the other's chest, holding him back.
"Peace, Caranion." He said, giving Mel an apologetic look, "I'm sure we'll find them. If you see them, my lady, could you please ask that they return my friend's good silverware to the kitchen? We would be most grateful."
"Of course." Mel said, smiling sweetly.
The two elves bowed and left, Caranion looking over his shoulder once reluctantly. Mel watched until they turned the corner and were well out of sight. Then she softly closed the door and pressed her forehead to the wood, closing her eyes.
"Spoons?" Mel asked, turning her head so she could eye the hobbits, "Really guys? Spoons?"
Twin smiles broke out across their expressive faces. Mel rolled her eyes and sat down in her original spot on the floor, wrapping her arms around her knees.
"You do plan to take them back eventually, right?" she asked.
"Actually, we were going to leave them in the armory and wait for someone to find them." Merry said.
"But someone got us turned around and so we ended up here instead." Pippin said.
"It's not my fault you don't know your right from your left!"
"You said to turn right!"
"I did not!"
Mel buried her face in her knees and started giggling helplessly. Birch was laughing right along with her and she could hear the young tree's branches scraping the stone of the window sill.
"Oh, I like your little friends, Calenhiril!" Birch exclaimed, "We should play more games, do you think they'd play 'I Spy' with me?"
"They can't hear you, child." Rod reminded her gently, "Only Calenhiril can hear you."
"Oh… right. Sometimes I forget."
For the first time, the childish voice sounded a little sad. Mel stood up and looked out into the little courtyard. Empty. A few well-tended flower beds, and Birch standing tall and slim in her corner. Mel reached out and touched the tendrils of branches that were waving close to the window. The little girl giggled and the branches shuddered.
"I spy something pretty…" She thought to herself.
"Nope, I already spied you, Calenhiril!" Birch exclaimed.
Mel jumped. Then she remembered the Council and the small bush and how her thoughts had been transferred to it. They could read her thoughts. Mel's smile widened.
"Well I spy something pretty with silver bark and long branches and orange leaves." She answered in her head.
The young tree shivered again and laughed.
"That's me, that's me!"
"Don't let it go to your head, child." Rod said, but beneath the stern tone Mel thought she could almost hear a smile.
"Is it safe to come out do you think, Miss Mel?"
Merry's voice cut jarringly into her thoughts. Mel looked down at the two hobbits, still crouched close to her feet, clutching their pilfered spoons. She rolled her eyes and glanced through the windows. She couldn't see anyone in the surrounding hallways.
"I think you're probably safe." She said.
The hobbits stood up and rearranged their stolen goods to be easier to carry.
"You wouldn't happen to have found a map of this place anywhere, would you Miss Mel?" Pippin asked, smiling up at her, "Being as we're in a library and all…"
"There is a map under glass at the front of the room, Calenhiril." Rod said confidently.
Mel immediately turned and headed in that direction, the hobbits following close at her heels. She found the map on a pedestal and between the two hobbits (who had to stand in a chair to be able to read the map) they were able to determine the location of the armory where they had meant to drop their ill-gotten goods. Mel did her best to memorize their current location and other bits of the map, but she knew it was probably useless. She had never been good at that sort of thing.
"Come on!" Merry said, hopping out of the chair, Pippin following, "Quick, before Lindir gets wise and comes back for us!"
"I think I'd better go along with you," Mel said, "I need to find Lord Elrond and someone needs to make sure you guys stay out of trouble."
Merry and Pippin exchanged a look and then shrugged.
"Alright, come on then!" Merry said, zipping out the door, Pippin right on his heels.
Mel rolled her eyes and followed the hobbits, pausing just for a second and looking back toward the pink and white flowered bush. She could just see the tips of Birch's branches waving through the window.
"Bye, Calenhiril!" the little girl said, "Come play any time!"
"I'll be back." She thought.
"Come on, Miss Mel!" Pippin's shout echoed down the hall.
Mel smiled and ran after him.