Mel spent the rest of that day with the rhododendron offering what company and solace she could, but the next morning she woke early, determined to meet with Lord Elrond. She was surprised to find him in their usual meeting place at the usual time, and he seemed just as surprised to see her.
"I owe you an apology," Mel began as they walked along the garden path, "I was… I was really upset yesterday. I know I was acting like a child, I shouldn't have run out on you like that. I know you're doing everything that you can, and you certainly don't owe me anything. I know that, and I hope you know how grateful I am for all your help."
Elrond smiled kindly at her.
"I will do whatever I can to help you, Mel." He said, "You've become very dear to me, and a dear friend to my sons as well. I hope you know that you are welcome in my house for as long as you wish."
"That's… kind of the other reason I'm here." Mel said.
Lord Elrond inclined his head to her and waited. Mel took a breath and reviewed what she had been muddling through in her head.
"Well, I'm not going home anytime soon. I get that. I'm not okay with it, but I get it. And, I've been thinking, there has to be a reason I was brought here, to this specific place and time. I mean, stuff like this doesn't just happen randomly, right?"
The elf-lord nodded, but it was almost an absent motion and Mel wasn't sure if he was agreeing or just acknowledging that she was speaking. She hurried on.
"And if I was brought here for a reason and I'm stuck here anyway, I should probably be doing something worthwhile with my time, even if it's not necessarily the thing I was sent here to do, which it could be, I mean, we don't really know do we? That's the whole point, we don't know, and if I just sit on my hands and do nothing then I might never know and…"
Lord Elrond held up a hand and Mel fell silent. Her fingers were fidgeting with the ring on her finger and she forced them to still.
"Mel," he said, softly, "What are you asking of me?"
Mel took a breath and plunged in.
"The thing is, there is nothing more important going on right now than the Ring and the Fellowship. So I'm asking you for permission to join them."
For a moment, Lord Elrond said nothing. His face was a smooth blank, his head tilted ever so slightly to the side. Then he sighed and his shoulders lowered ever so slightly.
"Mel, please understand I know what you must be feeling right now." He said, "Searching for meaning and purpose at a time like this is natural. But we must be patient…"
"I have been patient." Mel interrupted, and Elrond raised an eyebrow, "As I'm very fond of reminding your sons, Lord Elrond, I am not an elf. I don't have a couple hundred years to wait around, hoping that eventually my way will be made clear. I want to do what I can, while I can."
"I know you want to help," Lord Elrond replied, and Mel had to fight not to bristle at the hint of condescension in his tone, "But that is precisely why I cannot allow this. You have grown close to several of those that have been chosen to accompany the Ringbearer. Their quest, as it now stands, wavers precariously on the border between victory and failure. You know this. And you must know that if you follow them, it alters everything, even if you cannot see it, even if it seems a small thing. You could change everything."
"Maybe that's what I'm supposed to do."
The words were so close to Boromir's that it actually shocked Mel that they were coming out of her mouth.
"Maybe… Maybe I'm supposed to change something. There has to be a reason that I'm here… There must be…"
Lord Elrond smiled sympathetically.
"Perhaps," he said, "But I cannot allow the risk, not with so much at stake. I'm sorry, Mel. Tomorrow evening, Frodo Baggins and his companions will leave Imladris, and you must say your farewells."
Mel felt as if she'd been punched in the gut. Tomorrow… They were leaving tomorrow. How had she let time get away from her so quickly? That meant it was December 24th. Christmas Eve. Her mom and her sisters would be sitting on the couch at home, listening to Bing Crosby croon "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas…", fake, plastic tree blinking and shimmering in the corner, "It's a Wonderful Life" flickering on the TV… And her friends were leaving her. Leaving her on Christmas. Legolas, Merry, Pippin, Boromir. Even Elladan and Elrohir, not now, but soon, soon they would all leave her to fight in the war that was coming, and she would be alone. Alone on Christmas…
Come on, Mel, keep it together. Don't lose it now. Focus!
She barely heard the rest of what Lord Elrond said, something about a dinner in honor of the companions and the quest, a few more useless platitudes and flat apologies. She nodded in all the right places and in less than five minutes found herself taking her leave of the elf.
Mel went back to her room and shut the door. Her mind was racing. Okay, so getting Lord Elrond's permission had been a long shot. She had sort of known that going in. And besides, it was a bad idea anyway. She knew that. There was too much at stake, there were too many variables, she'd said as much to Boromir, her own arguments coming back to haunt her. If she interfered with the course of events as she knew them, no one could predict the effect it would have on the future of this world. Even the littlest thing could spell disaster.
So, the question was: what was she going to do now? She was a little out of her depth. But no matter what she told herself, Mel couldn't get the thought of out of her head, the niggling idea that had planted itself two months ago, that she wasn't meant to just sit idly by. She was meant to be doing something!
She must have dozed off, curled up on her bed and hugging a pillow, because a sharp rap on her door jerked her awake. She blinked blearily. The shadows had lengthened. It was nearly evening. She'd wasted an entire day of her life. She groaned and flopped back onto the bed, seriously considering ignoring whoever was knocking and pretending she wasn't in.
"Mel? You know I can hear you in there."
Legolas' muffled and yet distinctly amused voice made her groan again and toss a pillow over her face. Maybe she could just smother herself…
"Are you going to let me in, or am I meant to break the door down?"
Mel sighed, tossed the pillow away, slowly rolled off the bed, and shuffled toward the door, patting at her wild hair half-heartedly. Legolas stood in the hallway, looking impeccable in silver and forest-green, his hair pulled back and gleamingly straight, an amused smirk on his face. Mel hated him for the briefest of moments.
The elf looked her up and down, and then raised an eyebrow.
"You're not going to dinner looking like that are you?"
Mel scowled at him and tugged at her rumpled dress self-consciously, but before she could conjure up a scathing retort, Legolas pushed past her and threw open her wardrobe with a flourish.
"Now, let's see what we have…"
"Excuse me," Mel said, standing in the still open door with her hands on her hips, "I didn't ask for your help."
"Ah, sweet mellon-nîn," Legolas said, glancing over his shoulder, "You did not need to."
Despite the smirk still playing on his lips, there was something in his eyes that gave Mel pause, a hint of fond concern that underscored the playfulness of his tone. It still flabbergasted her sometimes, that Legolas really did consider her a friend. Some days it was surreal. Today, it was just… nice.
"Ah, here we are!" he exclaimed, pulling a dress from the back of the closet and holding it up for her inspection, raising an eyebrow.
"Well?" he asked, "Are you going to shut the door, or do you plan to change in front of all and sundry?"
Mel deflated a little and rolled her eyes, marching up to the elf and snatching the dress out of his hand.
"Out." She ordered, a smile twitching at the corner of her lips.
"I will return for you shortly." He said, bowing and leaving her, shutting the door softly behind him.
Mel sighed and rubbed the green velvet of the dress between her fingers. If this was going to be her life, she might as well get used to it.
Less than an hour later, the party was in full swing. It was subdued, but it was definitely a party: wine flowed freely, people milled about, there were piles of food everywhere, music was played, songs were sung. Legolas and Mel joined the festivities and it took less than a minute for Merry and Pippin to appear, shouting her name, running and dodging across the room until they came skidding to a halt in front of her.
"Wow, Mel, you clean up nicely!" Pippin said.
Merry smacked the back of his cousin's head.
"Idiot, is that any way to talk to a lady?"
Pippin rubbed his head and Mel tried to hide her smile, fiddling nervously with the gold cord that belted her dress and trying to resist the urge to keep touching her hair. She'd brushed it out which had been good enough for her, but Legolas had insisted on a little something more.
"I finnedh bain," he'd said in accented Sindarin, as his nimble fingers had quickly plaited two small braids at her temples, encircling her head like a crown, "Too pretty to leave to its own devices, mellon-nîn."
The hobbits soon had her by her elbows, dragging her to the tables, shoving food on her plate and a cup of wine in her hand, chattering all the while. They sat at a table with Frodo and Sam, with whom she exchanged polite hellos. Legolas sat with them, and she caught sight of Elladan and Elrohir, seated on the front dais by their father and they exchanged smiles. Mel recognized several others as well, Arwen seated with her brothers (and so dazzlingly beautiful that Mel's stomach clenched in a knot just looking at her), Aragorn engaged in conversation with a group of men dressed in the faded green and brown of the Dúnedain Rangers, and even Gimli, seated with his father, scowled at her momentarily across the room.
Mel was well into her first glass of wine and debating the wisdom of a second, when she glanced at the door and saw Boromir standing at the top of the stairs, dressed in a dark blue tunic embroidered with the White Tree in silver, his sword and the horn of Gondor at his side. He took in the room in a single glance, passing right over her without recognition. Mel's heart jumped and she took a nervous gulp of her wine. He swept the room again, and this time he spotted her. His head quirked to the side and a small smile twitched at the corners of his lips. She gave him a friendly little wave and started to stand, but suddenly he was surrounded by a group of elves, all talking excitedly. As they started to lead him away, he threw an apologetic glance at Mel who waved him off and turned back to the table, raising her wine glass for another sip.
Legolas was watching her, an enigmatic smile on his face. Mel forced herself to finish her slow sip of wine before she spoke, her voice completely neutral.
The elf's smile widened and he pulled his own glass closer, swirling the contents lazily.
"I will never understand the race of Men," he said, "Your lives are so fleeting and yet…"
He trailed off, his eyes flicking somewhere over her shoulder, and then shrugged, tossing back the last of his wine and refilling his glass. Mel was wracking her brain for a suitable reply that didn't sound defensive (because she wasn't defensive, why should she be defensive?), but just then Pippin was tugging on her sleeve and asking if she would please explain cheese pizza again for Sam because he couldn't remember if the tomato sauce came before or after the cheese, and that started a whole new conversation about the merits of pizza toppings and Mel was just about to explain the concept of cheese-stuffed crust, when a throat was cleared softly behind her and all other words died on her lips.
Boromir was standing over her shoulder, his eyes crinkling with the effort it was taking him not to laugh. Mel grinned up at him.
"Did you decide to come join us?" She asked.
"If you'll allow me." He replied.
She waved at a seat next to her on the bench. Boromir grinned at the hobbits and ruffled Pippin's hair before he sat. Legolas slid a glass of wine across the table and Boromir took it with a gracious nod.
"You looked like you were under attack over there." Mel said, gesturing at the elves that had surrounded him earlier, "I thought I might have to come rescue you."
"They wished to know of the battles in the West." He said, "There wasn't much fresh news I could give them. Darkness creeps ever closer and there is little that can be done."
His eyes darkened and Mel buried herself in second glass of wine for a moment. She didn't like that look. It made her nervous. But then he glanced up and a smile brightened his face.
"But let's not talk of such things now. You look lovely, Melody."
Mel tried not to choke.
"You too… I mean, look nice… you look nice."
Her face was burning and she set down her wine glass. She clearly needed to lay off that stuff. Legolas was staring at her over the rim of his own glass, his eyes sparkling with suppressed laughter. She glared at him, but that only seemed to make it worse.
A hush fell over the hall and Lord Elrond stood to his feet.
"I believe we all know why we are gathered here this evening."
"To eat!" someone shouted from the back.
Everyone laughed, but the sound was full of a nervous tension. Elrond waited with an indulgent smile until the last titters had ceased.
"Tomorrow at dusk, the Ringbearer, Frodo Baggins, will depart this land," he continued, "Eight companions he shall have, to guide and protect him from the perils he will face. Among them, his faithful friend Samwise Gamgee and his cousins Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took."
The four hobbits stood and faced the applauding crowd. They looked grim and determined, maybe even a little frightened. Mel resisted the urge to tuck Pippin under her arm when he sat down next to her again.
"Traveling with them are Gandalf the Grey, Legolas, Prince of the realm of Mirkwood, Gimli son of Gloin, Aragorn son of Arathorn, and Boromir, son of Denethor."
Boromir stood stiffly beside her, his face stern and distant. Mel felt her stomach drop. She shuddered at the memory of what was to happen to him. It made her stomach churn until she could no longer look at the food on the table without feeling sick. Her face was on fire and she felt stifled by the crowd that had suddenly gathered around their table, murmuring well-wishes and encouragement. She couldn't breathe. She needed out. She pushed through the moving bodies and managed to slip out the door into the hallway without anyone noticing. It still felt incredibly hot. She just needed to breathe.
She made it outside without incident and inhaled deeply of the cold night air. Everything inside her loosened, the knots in her stomach, the tension in her shoulders, the tightness in her chest. This garden was familiar, as were the soft voices in her head. Most of the trees were "asleep" as Rod had put it, but there was still a steady murmur from a group of relatively small pine trees in the far corner that called themselves collectively "The Pine Grove" (though Mel wasn't really sure if there were enough of them to technically constitute a grove), and that was where Mel headed, slipping beneath the branches and breathing deeply of the trees' green, woodsy scent.
"Calenhiril…" they whispered in her mind, echoing one another in various tones, "Calenhiril, why are you sad? Calenhiril, what can we do; how can we help?"
She sighed and sat down cross-legged in the center of the group, the clear sky above her, the trees all around.
"There's nothing you can do." She answered, "I'm not sad. I just don't know what I'm supposed to do."
The trees murmured amongst themselves, until one of them spoke up timidly.
"But Calenhiril, you are sad." He said.
Mel sighed and flopped onto her back. The image of Boromir at Amon-hen played out to her again, a terrible loop of slow, horrifying detail.
"Yeah," she said, "I guess you're right. I am sad. I'm also a pathetic excuse for a human being who has no right to be here. Yavanna, what were you thinking?"
The trees rustled around her, murmuring and whispering in an indistinguishable hush. Mel shut her eyes, but that left her with only her imagination which was somehow worse, and she quickly opened them again. The night was clear and the stars were bright carpets of scattered light in the sky. She wondered which was Eärendil, the only star in this world that she knew. She took a deep breath, trying to internalize the stillness in the air.
"Calenhiril," The timid voice spoke again, "Calenhiril, there is a man, a man in the garden. I think he is looking for you."
Mel felt her chest constrict, but she forced herself to stay still. Maybe whoever it was would just…
"He's walking this way."
She closed her eyes and waited, listening to the sound of boots in the grass and the scraping of tree bark.
"There you are."
She opened her eyes. Boromir was leaning against one of the pines, arms folded and a small smile on his lips.
"I've been looking for you." He said.
"I know." She replied, without thinking.
An odd look passed over his face, but Mel ignored it, flopping her head back into the grass and staring up at the stars.
"You'll ruin that beautiful dress, you know."
"Maybe. It could be worse. I hear orc blood never comes out."
She heard him huff a laugh and she smiled.
"You laugh more than I thought you would."
The words slipped out of her mouth before she could think them through, and she bit her tongue, inwardly cursing her stupidity.
"Perhaps that is because you bring more humor to my life."
Mel kept her eyes firmly on the sky above her. A lump was forming in her throat and she was afraid she might choke on it. She tried to swallow it down, but it wouldn't budge.
"What troubles you, Melody?" he asked, his voice quiet, "I haven't seen you these past two days, and tonight you seem so… lost. More lost even than that first day I found you wandering the forest."
"It's nothing," she said, "I'm fine."
"Melody, you are a horrible liar." He said, a hint of amusement in his tone, "It might be endearing if I were watching you attempt it with someone else. But I am your friend… at least, I hope we are friends, and I worry about you, now that…"
"I just want to know that you're going to be alright."
She sighed and propped herself up on her elbows so she could look at him. His eyes were cast on the ground and he was pushing at a clump of pine needles with the toe of his boot.
"I'm fine," she emphasized, and before he could protest she added, "It's you I'm worried about."
Boromir opened his mouth as if to speak, but then he closed it again and paused a moment, his head tilted curiously. Mel realized almost immediately that she had misspoken and she found herself scrambling to recover.
"I mean, you know, all of you, this fellowship thing, I'm worried about you guys, and I've been thinking about what you said, ever since Elrond said he can't send me home and I just…"
Boromir's whole body straightened stiffly and his eyes burned into her. Mel nearly flinched away. Oh, right… she hadn't told him. She hadn't told anyone.
Mel's voice cracked. She swallowed and tried again.
"We had a talk. A couple days ago. He's not giving up, he just… He told me to prepare for the possibility that I might be in for an… extended stay."
Boromir closed his eyes and he sagged back against the tree once more, almost deflating.
"Oh Melody…" he said, softly, gently, and Mel didn't think she could handle that right now, so she plunged ahead as if she hadn't heard him.
"So, anyway, since then I've been thinking a lot about what you said, about figuring out why I'm here, that there has to be a reason, right? And I don't think it's here, in Rivendell, but Lord Elrond says I can't go with you, which is where all the action is, so, I just, I don't really know what to do with myself, and I'm just stuck worrying uselessly, which really isn't my style. I'm going to know everything that is happening to you, and I won't be able to do a damn thing about it."
She flopped back into the grass and gave a little frustrated huff.
"Perhaps it's for the best," Boromir said, carefully choosing his words, "After all, you yourself said that it wouldn't be wise to change the history of our world."
"And you told me maybe that was why I'm here in the first place."
Mel lifted her head just enough to give Boromir a smirk.
"Funny how we've both hopped the fence on the issue isn't it? Not that it matters. I won't be at the only place I would want history to change."
He was smirking mischievously and Mel's smile widened before she dropped her head back onto the grass.
"Nice try. But I wouldn't want to ruin your little adventure."
She could almost hear his shrug.
Silence fell between them and Mel tried to think of something to fill it before Boromir attempted to revisit the issue of her more permanent resident status, with soft words and compassion that she wasn't ready to hear without tears.
"Boromir, where is Eärendil?"
She heard the sound of his tunic rubbing against the tree bark and the shuffle of his boots.
She lifted her head to glance at him. He was looking into the sky, pointing in a vaguely upwards direction. She rolled her eyes and let her head flop back into the grass.
"Oh god, thanks, that was so incredibly helpful…" she said dryly.
She heard him sigh and then suddenly he dropped down onto the grass beside her, sprawled out on his back, shoulders touching. He grabbed her hand and extended it, guiding her gaze above them and just slightly to the left.
"Right there," He murmured, "The star of Eärendil the Mariner, born of the light of the Silmaril which he risked all to carry beyond the Circles of the World."
Mel smiled. She could see it now. And now that she had seen it, she knew that she would not lose it. She closed her eyes and let out a long, slow breath. She tried to memorize how this felt, the warmth of Boromir's arm against hers, the smell of the grass and the pine needles, the stillness in the air between them.
"I'll come back for you, Melody."
Boromir's voice was soft and gentle and Mel closed her eyes to keep from allowing her emotions to take over. She needed to breathe; she had to remember to breathe.
"When this is over. I'll come back and I'll take you to my city, and anywhere else you want to go. We'll explore the whole of Middle-Earth if you wish it."
A huff of laughter escaped her and she tried to use that as an excuse to take a deep ragged breath.
"I'd… I'd like that." She said finally, "I really would."
There was another silence. Mel was the one who broke it.
"Boromir?" she murmured.
"Are you scared?"
He stiffened beside her and didn't answer for a moment. Mel turned her head to look at him. His eyes were wide as he stared into the vastness of the sky.
"More than you can imagine." He whispered.
He turned his head and met her eyes. He looked as if he were searching her for something, asking questions that he couldn't voice and she couldn't answer.
"What do you know, Melody?"
She swallowed the lump in her throat and gave a little shrug.
Boromir smiled and Mel's heart fluttered. She stomped down on it viciously and reminded herself once again to breathe.
"No," he said, "You don't know everything. You just think that you do."
Mel opened her mouth to respond, but the words stuck in her throat.
I know enough...
Instead, she sat up, giving herself space to think.
"They're probably sending out a search party by now."
Boromir sat up too, hooking his arms around his knees. Mel pointedly did not look at him, afraid of what she might see.
"That could very well be. I did tell Legolas that once I found you, I would drag you back to the party with all speed. But then, you are a hard woman to drag anywhere."
Mel glanced at him without really meaning to. He was grinning at her and he was just himself. No future hanging over him. He got to his feet and offered her his hand.
"Come. Let's see if the hobbits have in fact eaten all the food in Rivendell."
Mel grinned and allowed him to pull her to her feet.
"I wouldn't put it past them."
(website used for reference is phrasebooks)
(all translations are Sindarin, unless otherwise noted)
mellon-nîn- friend of mine/my friend
i finnedh bain- You have pretty hair
A/N: And with that I think the worst of the major revisions are completed! If anyone sees any major flaws or problems (or if you just really hate something I've changed and want to let me know) please feel free to drop me a line, either in a review or a PM, I'd love to hear from you! There are still going to be some changes in the chapters ahead, but nothing quite like the last three chapters have done. Onward!
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