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In Aragorn's Safekeeping
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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10
Fleeing

Author Notes: Words in italics are elvish and in this chapter and subsequent chapters there may be long conversations in elvish, I’ve found it easier to do it this way. I will still have a few elvish words sprinkled in here and there throughout the story and I will continue to translate those at the end of the chapter where appropriate.

Also, in what I believe is a departure from canon, Aragorn sees Celeborn and Galadriel as his grandparents and they see him as their grandson. Not only is he betrothed to their granddaughter but he was raised in Rivendell by their son-in-law.


~~~

Absolutely stunned the Fellowship stood staring at the broken bridge where Gandalf had stood a moment before unable to believe that he had fallen. It was Boromir who first shook himself out of his daze and grabbed Aragorn's arm pulling him towards the others who were gathered around Legolas.

"We must leave!"

The urgency in his voice captured the attention of Aragorn and Thomas who looked at him blankly before nodding. Shaking the others they ran up the steps, following Boromir and pushing the hobbits and Rebecca in front of them. Aragorn looked back to see Legolas who had remained, heedless of the arrows that were beginning to fall around him. He rushed back to his friend and firmly grasped his arm.

"Come, mellon nín, we cannot linger."

Legolas turned tear-filled eyes on Aragorn and whispered, "How can this be Aragorn? How can Gandalf die?"

"I know not, mellon, I know not," Aragorn's eyes matched the grief in Legolas's. "But we must go on. His death must not be in vain."

Nodding abruptly, Legolas took a deep breath as his eyes hardened slightly, "Then let us go."

They sprinted after the others and soon caught up as they neared the exit of Moria. Legolas stayed in the rear of the group while Aragorn joined Boromir at the front. Slowing down as they came to the door, Aragorn saw orcs guarding it. Rushing forward with Boromir and Gimli the orcs were soon lying dead, scattered across the eastern entrance to the mines.

The Fellowship left Moria blinking in the bright, mid-morning sunshine. Looking around at the others, Aragorn took in the hobbits’ and Rebecca's tear-stained faces and sighed inwardly. He wanted to stop and let them rest, but he knew there was no time; they had to reach a place of safety first. Hardening his heart to their grief... and his own, he called out, "We must keep moving and get as far away from Moria by nightfall as possible."

Groaning, they all followed along behind Aragorn as he headed away from the mountains. The hobbits clustered together seeking comfort from one another as they did their best to keep up with the rapid pace Aragorn set. With a sharp glance at Aragorn, Legolas sprinted off into the woods ahead.

Thomas's face was white with shock as he followed closely behind Aragorn. He had been somewhat prepared for orcs, but not for that monster, or to see Gandalf fall. Shuddering, he wondered what other monsters lurked in Middle-earth. He glanced around nervously, as if one might pop out from behind a tree at any time. He swallowed hard and tightened his grip on the scimitar he still carried.

Rebecca walked alongside Boromir, hot tears streaming down her face. It wasn't just Gandalf dying, though that had been truly and utterly horrifying. But just seeing the balrog itself was terrifying and the battle with the orcs and actually helping to kill something, evil or not, was something she would never forget. Rebecca grimaced, remembering the feel of her dagger slicing into the orc. Unconsciously edging closer to Boromir she accidentally brushed up against him.

Boromir jumped slightly at the contact and looked down at her with surprise on his face. "Lady Rebecca..." he paused, "I share your grief," he finally stated.

Rebecca glanced up at him for a moment with her frightened brown eyes before looking away again. "I know," she whispered, "it was horrible to watch... but it's not just that. Fighting the orcs..." she shuddered. "And-and I just want to go home," she finished miserably wiping tears away with the sleeve of her filthy sweater.

Boromir replied softly, "I know you do and I am sorry you cannot. As for Gandalf, I do not know how to comfort you. I shall miss his wisdom and guidance. But I have seen much death in my life and it no longer surprises me much. I forget it is not the same in your world." Rebecca nodded as he continued, "You are strong, my lady, and when you have rested things will not appear so bleak."

Staring at her feet as Boromir spoke; Rebecca was comforted more by the kindness in his voice than by what he said and soon her tears ceased flowing.

--

Several hours after leaving Moria, Aragorn noticed that Frodo and Sam were lagging behind the rest of the Fellowship. Remembering that they and Thomas had been injured and their wounds had not been tended, he cursed himself inwardly, realizing he had let his grief overwhelm his duty.

"Frodo! Sam! Thomas! I have forgotten your injuries. Forgive me," Aragorn called as he hastened back. "The rest of you sit while I tend to them." Aragorn glanced at the others, stopping when his gaze fell on Rebecca. He started to say something, but stopped when Boromir frowned and shook his head. Aragorn nodded and turned back to his three patients.

Aragorn gently parted Sam's hair where an orc's blade had slashed into his head above his left ear. The wound was now caked with dried blood and Aragorn took a cloth, dampened it with water from his waterskin and gently sponged it clean. Sam hissed in pain as the blood was removed.

"I am sorry, Sam. I will soon be done, though I will need to put in a few stitches."

Sam just grunted and stared at the ground, frowning. Aragorn quickly and carefully put in the stitches and wrapped bandages around his head. Finished, Aragorn turned to Thomas and examined his arm.

"You seem to have the blessing of the Valar, Thomas. This was close to a major vein, but did not hit it."

"I know... it didn't bleed for too long."

"You survived your first battle with orcs," Aragorn commented as he continued to clean and bind the wound.

"Only because of Rebecca."

"Oh?" Aragorn looked up sharply.

"She stabbed an orc from behind that had me down. It gave me time to get up and kill it." Thomas glanced over to where Rebecca was sitting next to Boromir with her head in her hands.

Aragorn followed his gaze.

"She saved my life."

"She has a lot of courage, though she does not see it in herself." He paused frowning, "But she must be exhausted, she barely slept last night and then all of this..." Aragorn shook his head as he finished tying off the bandage. There was nothing he could do now for Rebecca. They had to keep moving. He patted Thomas on the shoulder as he stood and moved over to Frodo.

"Now, Frodo I need to check on you."

"I'm fine, Aragorn."

"No, you are not." Aragorn stared down at the hobbit. "You had a heavy spear thrust into your side and you are not keeping up with us. Now I insist that you take off your tunic and let me examine you, Frodo!" Aragorn's grief, exhaustion and frustration were all evident in his voice as he spoke and everyone looked up at him in surprise.

Reluctantly, Frodo began unbuttoning his tunic until Aragorn could see something bright and glimmering underneath.

"What are you wearing?" Aragorn poked the metal and then started laughing quietly. "Now I understand. This is mithril! Did Bilbo give you this?"

Frodo nodded as everyone crowded around to see; gasping in awe at the sight of the beautiful mail shirt. Carefully, Aragorn peeled if off of Frodo revealing deep, heavy bruising around his right side. Aragorn lightly pressed his fingers against the hobbit's ribs which made Frodo wince in pain.

"I do not think any are broken, but I will wrap them and make you something for the pain. And then you must put this back on. I am much relieved knowing you have it."

Frodo smiled faintly up at him, "I was glad I had it on today. But I can handle the pain. Let's keep moving... I would rather not run into any more orcs this day."

Aragorn looked at him doubtfully before glancing up at the sun. "Indeed we should move on, we have many miles yet until we reach Lorien." Finally out of bandages, Aragorn ripped off several strips from his tunic, stopping Frodo's protests before he could even start. "I will be fine, Frodo. Now, put this back on and we can leave." He stood and helped Frodo gingerly to his feet before leaving to discuss their route with Legolas.

As soon as Frodo was dressed they pressed on towards Lothlórien. Rebecca continued walking close to Boromir though she had looked for Thomas. But he was shadowing Aragorn and she had no energy to speed up and walk with him. The short break had given her time to gather herself and while she was no longer crying her mind was swirling as she walked along.

Rebecca had not thought that things could get any worse than simply being here and now she realized how foolish that had been. She grimaced when she remembered that she had thought that wolves and wargs were bad – they were almost nothing compared to orcs… and as for a balrog, there was nothing to describe it. Rebecca had known about orcs and Sauron and death... but to see it happen to someone she knew was something that she had not been able to prepare for ahead of time. What if she had to watch Aragorn, or Boromir, or Thomas, or Legolas, or any of them die? Swallowing hard she wondered what would happen to her if that happened, she guessed that she would probably be dead, too, so it probably wouldn’t matter. Rebecca decided that all of this was just too scary and she didn't think she could do this anymore. She snorted inwardly as she realized she had no choice. But she also suddenly realized that she had stabbed that orc even though she was scared to death and that she could do it again if she had to. Rebecca shook her head and sighed softly in frustration. She knew she really needed to stop having this same conversation in her head and have more confidence in herself, but it was so hard. From things they had said, Rebecca could sense that Aragorn and Boromir had more confidence in her than she had in herself, though she wondered if they were just being kind. Deciding that she should just think about puppies or kitties or something warm and fuzzy to get her mind off of all of this stuff, Rebecca laughed quietly.

"Lady Rebecca?"

Rebecca looked up to see Pippin, Merry, and Boromir's concerned eyes on her.

"Yes-yes, Merry?"

"Are you all right? You don't look well and then you laughed and I was worried…" Merry’s voice trailed off.

Rebecca blushed in embarrassment. "I'm all right. I've just been thinking... about the day..." she paused to wipe away the tears that started trickling down her face. "And then I laughed... because I was trying to think about something... nice to make the pain go away... but it doesn't help." Rebecca voice dropped to a whisper and she swallowed hard as she looked away from the steady gaze of the hobbits and Boromir.

"Oh. Well, you should walk with me and Merry then. We can't take the pain away, but maybe you can forget about it for a little while."

Rebecca looked at Pippin in surprise as he held his hand out to her. His eyes held the same grief as Merry's and that she had seen in the others and that she was sure was mirrored in her own and yet he was willing to reach out to her. Although she thought that maybe she could take some of his grief too. With a grateful smile, Rebecca reached out and clasped his hand. "Thanks, I'd like that."

Nodding, Pippin pulled her between him and Merry and started chattering quietly about things in the Shire. Rebecca listened to his stories in relief and occasionally told him and Merry a story of her home.

--

Daylight was fading when they finally approached the woods of Lothlórien. Aragorn slowed to a stop, his mind suddenly caught up in memories of other, happier, times. The others gathered around and looked at him inquisitively.

"What is this place, Aragorn?" Rebecca whispered. "It feels so... I don't know the words to describe it. Peaceful... and the air is different..." her voice trailed off.

Around her the hobbits and Thomas nodded in agreement as they stared curiously into the forest.

"This, Lady Rebecca, is Lothlórien, home of Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel, two of the wisest and most ancient elves in Middle-earth. What you feel is their presence and the presence of the elves. Anywhere that elves live for any length of time there is a difference in the surrounding areas that is hard to describe."

"Aragorn, is it safe here? Even in Gondor we hear stories of these woods."

"We will be quite safe, Boromir. Only that which is evil or brings evil needs to fear crossing these borders. Besides," Aragorn smiled faintly, "I am well known here."

"What about dwarves? We also hear stories of this 'lady'..." Gimli practically spat out the word, "and I do not want to risk my life here among these elves."

Legolas glared down at the smaller being and opened his mouth to reply, but then just shook his head and stared off into the distance.

"Gimli, all I can say is that you will be under my protection. These elves are different than the elves of Rivendell and Mirkwood. They have fewer dealings with other peoples, but they are honorable, and we really have no other choice."

Looking around at the others, Gimli nodded abruptly, "Then let’s move on and take our chances."

The Fellowship moved deeper into the woods seeking shelter for the night. They crossed the Nimrodel, a cold swift-moving river that brought refreshment to their tired bodies as they stopped to wash and clean off the last of the black orc blood that stained their hands and arms. Aragorn led them on until finally calling a halt near a dense stand of trees. Legolas decided to sleep in a tree, but as he leapt up to grab a branch, a stern voice called out, “Daro!” Shocked, Legolas dropped back down. Ghostlike, elves appeared silently from the trees surrounding them, their bows nocked, but pointed at the ground. From the tree above, one elf jumped down, landing lightly on his feet in front of Aragorn.

Rebecca stared around her in awe. Elves! Lots of elves. Most of them had varying shades of blonde hair, like Legolas, but some seemed to have silver hair. They appeared stern and cold as they watched the Fellowship unblinkingly. She edged closer to Aragorn nervously which drew the attention of the elf who was talking quietly with him.

"You are traveling with a maiden, Aragorn?"

"Yes, it is a long and strange story, Haldir. We met Rebecca and Thomas,"
Aragorn nodded in Thomas's direction, "about a week after leaving Imladris. They were injured and we had no choice but to bring them with us." Aragorn shrugged slightly.

The strange elf swiftly looked Rebecca up and down with his piercing icy blue eyes, causing her to blush with embarrassment and she slid even further behind Aragorn staring at the ground. She knew they were talking about her and Thomas because she had heard Aragorn say their names and she wondered what they were saying. She knew it was probably not about how wonderful she looked as she thought about her unwashed hair and body and her filthy clothes.

"I believe I have embarrassed the fair maiden, Aragorn," a spark of amusement in his eyes meant only for Aragorn to see.

"I am not surprised. She is young, but is also surprisingly resilient." Aragorn turned and looked down at Rebecca, "Come, Lady Rebecca and meet my friend, Haldir." Aragorn put his hand gently on her shoulder and steered her around in front of him. Rebecca took a deep breath and looked up at the tall blonde elf before her.

"Well met, Lady Rebecca. I am Haldir, Captain of the Lothlórien Guard." He gave Rebecca a deep bow as he regarded her gravely.

Rebecca smiled at him nervously, "Umm, well met Captain Haldir. It's-it's very nice to meet you." She bowed back though not as deeply as she wasn't sure if it was something women were even supposed to do or just men.

Haldir's eyes sparkled with amusement as he turned back to Aragorn, "And the rest of your company?"

Aragorn moved about the Fellowship as he introduced them to Haldir. "This is Frodo...Sam...Merry...Pippin...," each hobbit gave Haldir a bow which was returned in kind. Aragorn then introduced Boromir and Thomas.

Thomas noticed that Haldir looked him over carefully and he wondered what Aragorn had said about him. He stared curiously at this new elf as Haldir moved past him. The bow he and the other elves carried were longer and more elaborate than Legolas's. Their grey clothing allowed them to blend in with the silver grey tree trunks of the woods that were all around them and so it was not surprising that they were able to surround the Fellowship so easily.

Raised voices pulled Thomas from his thoughts and he looked up to see Haldir sneering down at Gimli. He hadn't heard what had been said, but it must have been bad because Aragorn had his hand on Gimli's shoulder holding him back. Thomas had never understood what went on between Legolas and Gimli, who were always saying nasty little things to each other, though Aragorn usually made them stop. But now it appeared that it was something between this new elf and Gimli, too. Thomas exchanged confused looks with Rebecca and shrugged; she shook her head slightly in annoyance and whispered, "Why do they treat him like that?"

"I don't know. I thought it was just Legolas and Gimli who didn't get along, maybe all elves and dwarves are like that."

"Must be. I wonder why. Elves are wonderful!" Thomas frowned slightly at Rebecca's whispered enthusiasm, "And Gimli is... nice enough."

"We'll just have to add it to our ever growing list of things to learn," Thomas grinned at Rebecca who smiled.
Introductions over, most of the Lothlórien elves slipped off into the trees as quietly as they had appeared until only Haldir and two others remained.

"These are my brothers, Rúmil and Orophin." The elves bowed before disappearing rapidly up nearby trees. "They do not speak much of the Common Tongue. The hobbits and Lady Rebecca may stay on the talan with me and my brothers while the rest of you may stay on that one," he pointed to where a silver rope was being let down from a nearby tree. "Aragorn, I am holding you personally responsible for the dwarf." Aragorn nodded.

Rebecca looked at Haldir in horror. She did not want to stay on a 'talan', whatever it was, with him and his brothers. The hobbits would be there, but they couldn't protect her from these elves if they tried to hurt her. Rebecca looked over at Aragorn beseechingly, "Aragorn," she whispered fearfully. Hearing her choked voice he looked over from where he was talking with Haldir. Taking one look at her; he walked over, pulling her off to the side.

"Rebecca, what is wrong?" he asked softly.

"I-I don't want to sleep somewhere different from you... and everyone, Aragorn. I don't know these elves." A stray tear trickled down her cheek and she angrily wiped it away.

"Look at me, Rebecca..." Aragorn paused until she did so, "Do you trust me?" Rebecca nodded, confused by the question. "Then you know that I would not let you sleep or be someplace that is not safe for you. I have known Haldir for much of my life and I trust him with my life... and yours. He is an honorable elf. As is every elf I have ever met, Rebecca. Elves are different than humans, but they are kind and noble." Aragorn looked at her closely, taking in her utter exhaustion and fear-filled eyes.

"Rebecca, this has been an exhausting day. Full of horrible things for all of us." Aragorn's voice dropped off to a low whisper and Rebecca saw that his grief-stricken eyes had filled with tears. Impulsively she reached out and grabbed his hand, gripping it tightly in an attempt to comfort him, remembering, for the first time, how close he and Gandalf had been.

"I'm sorry, Aragorn... I forgot he was your close friend. I was just so scared during the whole thing and..."

"It is all right, Rebecca," Aragorn's voice was under control again, although she could hear the undercurrent of grief in it still. "You do not need to explain." He took a deep breath. "In any case, it has been a long day and you need to sleep. Will you be all right now, sleeping with Haldir and the hobbits?"

"I'll be fine."

"Good." Aragorn looked at her one more time before hugging her closely, "And, thank you."

Returning to the others, Rebecca quietly followed the hobbits and Haldir to a large silver-barked tree where a long slender rope was hanging, looking at it in horror at the thought of climbing it. She tilted her head back to see how far up they would have to climb and she almost fell backwards it was so high. "Pippin," she hissed, grabbing the young hobbit’s arm, "how are we going to climb that high? Are hobbits good rope climbers?" Pippin shook his head mutely, his eyes wide with fear. "Well, we can do it, Pip! If you can do it, I can do it... heck, even Gimli's going to have to climb!" Her voice shook slightly and she tried to smile encouragingly at Pippin, but mostly she was trying to convince herself.

"Do not fear, Lady Rebecca, my brother and I will not let you fall," Haldir glanced back at her.

"Oh, thank you, Captain Haldir," Rebecca smiled at him nervously.

"You may call me Haldir, Lady Rebecca, only my wardens call me Captain."

"All right," Rebecca nodded.

Haldir directed first Frodo and then Sam to ascend the tree using the rope. There were knots and those seemed to really help the hobbits. As the hobbits climbed, Rúmil moved alongside them effortlessly, ready to help them if needed. Rebecca glanced over to the tree some distance away where the others were staying, but the rapidly fading light made it impossible to see anything.

"You will be safe here with me and my brothers, Lady Rebecca," Haldir's voice sounded quietly from beside her.

Startled, Rebecca looked up to see Haldir looking down at her with what she thought might be concern. "I-I know that. Aragorn trusts you and I trust him."

Haldir actually smiled at that comment, "You are wise to place your trust in Aragorn, Lady Rebecca. He is the only mortal I have ever trusted in all the long years of my life... and that is a very long time."

Rebecca nodded and felt herself relax slightly as she smiled tentatively at Haldir.

"Now come, Lady Rebecca, it is your turn."

Turning around Rebecca saw that the hobbits had disappeared into the foliage above. Taking a deep breath she approached the rope biting her lip nervously as she reached out to grab it. She paused looking down at her broken wrist uncertainly.

"Uh... Haldir I don't think I can do this... my wrist is hurt," Rebecca held up her arm. "I sort of forgot, it's doing so much better and I'm tired." Rebecca was apologetic. "Do I have to stay down here?" She asked him fearfully.

"No, Lady Rebecca you will not stay here," Haldir stated calmly. "It would not be safe. I shall carry you to the talan."

"Carry me? You can't carry me up there!"

"Why not?" Haldir stared at her questioningly.

"You might drop me... and I'm too heavy for you to carry." Rebecca's voice was thick with embarrassment and she stared down at her feet, once again cursing her broken wrist and wondering how many more weeks it would be before it was fully healed.

"Lady Rebecca, I will not drop you and you are definitely not too heavy. You said that you would trust me, did you not?"

Rebecca nodded reluctantly and looked up into his icy blue eyes, "Yes, I did."

"Well?" Haldir smiled faintly.

"All right, then let's get it over with."

"Good." Without another word, Haldir scooped her up gently, with one arm under her knees and one arm around her back. "Put your arms around my neck and hold on tightly." Rebecca hastened to obey and when she was secure, Haldir grabbed the rope and started rapidly to the top, arriving quicker than Rebecca would have thought possible. He set her down gently and then pulled the rope up, neatly coiling it to one side of the hole.

"Th-thank you, Haldir."

"You are most welcome, my lady." Haldir gave her a short bow and left to talk with Rúmil.

Rebecca stared after him shaking her head, amazed at his strength and agility. She did not understand how someone so slender could have that kind of strength, but Legolas did too and so she knew it was just an elvish quality.

"You didn't even have to climb!" Pippin's vaguely accusing voice caused Rebecca to look up and she was startled to see him looking at her angrily.

"Pippin!" Frodo scolded.

Rebecca stared at Pippin wide-eyed, "I-I couldn't do it Pippin... my wrist..." Shocked and somewhat baffled at his outburst, she turned away from him and the other hobbits, resting her head on her pulled up knees with a weary sigh. Muffled whispers and a small yelp told her that Pippin was being scolded, but she didn't really care. She knew he didn't really mean anything... he was just as tired as she was. Rebecca yawned and decided to find her bedroll so she could sleep.

"Rebecca?" Pippin's voice was low and uncertain.

Rebecca opened her eyes and squinted up at him in the growing darkness, "Yes, Pip?"

"I-I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. It was mean and I forgot about your wrist. I'm glad you didn't have to climb."

Rebecca patted his arm gently, "It's all right. I forgot about my wrist too until I started to climb. I'm not mad at you. We're both tired...and I'm thirsty... and hungry," Rebecca frowned thoughtfully, "We didn't even eat lunch. You must be starving!" She stifled a giggle at the glum expressions on the hobbits’ faces as Sam muttered,

"And the food is with the others so there won't be no supper either."

"Oh, well... I'm sorry. I'm hungry too, but mostly I just want to sleep." The hobbits nodded in agreement and turned to find their bedrolls. Their way was blocked by Haldir who had approached silently and now stood holding out some leaf-wrapped packages.

"Try these, Lady Rebecca, Master Hobbits. It should satisfy your hunger."

Eager hobbit hands reached for the food while Rebecca took hers carefully.

Unwrapping it quickly, Pippin looked up at Haldir questioningly. "What is it? Cram?" he sniffed before nibbling on a corner. Finding it to his taste he rapidly started eating it not bothering to listen to Haldir's reply.

"It is lembas, little one."

"Thank you, Haldir. It's very good." Rebecca ate slowly, savoring each bite of the invigorating lembas. "It's nice to have something different to eat."

Haldir nodded in acknowledgment. "My brothers and I are leaving for a short time to check on the borders. Do not fear, we will return swiftly." With that, Haldir and his brothers vanished into the surrounding treetops as if they had never been there. Rebecca and the hobbits stared after them.

"Elves!" Merry finally whispered, shaking his head in amazement before returning to his supper.

--

Grunts and low guttural voices awoke Thomas sometime in the middle of the night. As he fumbled for his sword, a hand firmly clasped his wrist to hold it still, while at the same time, a finger was laid warningly on his lips. Thomas nodded his head slightly and the hands were withdrawn. He listened as orcs passed beneath the trees, praying the creatures would not discover them. He couldn’t imagine having to fight now and he realized that Aragorn had told him the truth long ago – that you didn’t just fight when you were rested. Finally the last of the orcs passed and the sounds faded into the distance as the creatures moved deeper into the woods.

"They are gone, Thomas, go back to sleep," Legolas spoke quietly.

"Will they come back?"

"No. The Galadhrim will not let any leave the woods alive. We are quite safe now."

Thomas rolled over and instantly fell back asleep.

--

Dawn found the Fellowship well on their way to Caras Galadhon. It was a brisk two day walk to the elven city, but within the borders of Lothlórien they were protected and safe. The further in they walked the larger and more beautiful the trees became, with some trees having silver bark and golden leaves. Small sun-dappled glades and the sounds of singing birds brought a measure of peace to their weary bodies and souls.

Aragorn noticed with amusement that Thomas was sticking close to him again. He wasn't sure if Thomas was even aware of it himself or if it was some kind of unconscious reaction to the events of the previous day. Aragorn glanced back at him,

"How is your arm, Thomas?"

"What? Oh, it's fine."

"Good. If we stay here a few days to rest, I want Legolas to begin teaching you to use a bow. I also want you to continue to practice with me and Boromir."

"Yes, sir. Legolas and I talked a little bit about that in...," Thomas cleared his throat, "Moria."

Aragorn nodded before frowning down at the scimitar Thomas carried.

"We need to get you a sword as well. I will ask my... Lord Celeborn if he will provide something for you. And clothes, too... for you and Rebecca." Aragorn glanced back to where Rebecca was walking alone behind the hobbits.

"That would be great!"

"Sword or clothes?" Aragorn looked down at Thomas with his eyebrow raised questioningly.

"Well-well both. But, honestly, clean clothes are what I meant."

Aragorn laughed and Thomas thought he heard a muffled noise from Haldir, who was leading them, but he couldn't be sure.

"Rebecca and I haven't had clean clothes since we've been here, Aragorn," he pointed out indignantly.

"It has only been a fortnight, Thomas. Though your clothes are ripped and torn and the material is quite thin."

"In my world we get clean clothes almost every day and we take baths every day too."

Aragorn almost stopped in his tracks as he stared at Thomas. "Every day?"

"Yes."

"No wonder it has been so hard for Rebecca. Though she has not complained, I have seen her expressions as she looks at her clothes or her joy when we come to a stream and she can really wash."

Haldir looked back from the front of the column, "Aragorn, what did Thomas mean about 'his world'?"

Thomas looked at Aragorn apologetically, but Aragorn just smiled. "It is all right; I will explain it to Haldir. I told you, that it was a long and strange story, but we appear to have the time now, so..."

--

Enjoying the beauty of the Lothlórien woods, Rebecca walked alone behind the hobbits. The peacefulness and the very air that surrounded her seemed almost magical and she felt refreshed and revived even as she walked. She knew from listening to Aragorn that the elves who dwelt in this forest had somehow created a 'cocoon' around these woods that kept out evil. But this cocoon also served to keep in all of the goodness of the elves. Rebecca wondered again about the 'magic' of the elves and the incredible power they seemed to possess.

Gazing into the woods at some of the unusual trees, Rebecca started thinking about this elven city they were approaching. Aragorn had told her it was the most beautiful place he had ever seen. Rebecca was just excited to see some form of civilization again after weeks outdoors. She just hoped it had hot water and bathtubs so she could get clean. There would be women there too, at least elf women and hopefully some would be here. Glancing down at herself Rebecca shuddered, and she wondered if she could buy some new clothes, though she didn’t have any money. Maybe Aragorn could buy her some, though he had done so much for her already and she knew she would never be able to pay him back. Thomas had told her that Boromir was like a prince so he might have money, or Legolas. Rebecca sighed softly and glanced ahead at Legolas, careful not to look too long because she knew by now that he would notice and look back at her. She wondered if he had relatives here. Haldir had been very respectful towards him last night, though he was that way with everyone except Gimli. Remembering something Boromir had mentioned the day before, Rebecca dropped back to speak with him.

"Boromir, you said yesterday that there were stories in your country about this place."

"Yes..." Boromir answered cautiously and frowned slightly, "why?"

"Well, what kind of stories? Are they in books? Can I read them when I get to your city? Do you have libraries? Are..."

"Peace, Lady Rebecca slow down, I can only answer one question at a time."

"I'm sorry," Rebecca smiled sheepishly. "It's something I've wanted to ask you for a long time and I kept forgetting. And you mentioning stories reminded me," Rebecca looked up at Boromir. "I really miss reading books, Boromir." She shrugged slightly, "I read all the time at home... not that we've had time so far," they laughed briefly, "but maybe someday."

Boromir smiled fondly at Rebecca, "You sound like my brother."

"You have a brother?"

"Yes, Faramir. He's younger than me."

"That's nice. To have a brother, I mean."

"Well, you will like him I think. He enjoys reading and libraries and writing. Things of that nature." Boromir waved his hand dismissively. "But he is also a fierce warrior and is the Captain of my Ithilien Rangers. He will be able to tell you what books and stories are in our library. Of course you will be able to borrow whatever you want."

"Thanks, that will be wonderful!"

The sound of rushing water caught Rebecca's attention and she realized they had come to the edge of a fast moving river. But there was no bridge.

"How do we cross this?"

"I know not," he looked down at Rebecca with a small smile, "I am sure the elves have a hidden way."

"They do seem to be good at that, don't they?"

"Indeed they do. I am sure there is no bridge as a protective measure for their city." Boromir shrugged, "I would do the same."

Rebecca nodded and watched as an elf appeared on the far side of the river and threw a rope across to Haldir. He secured it tightly to a tree and nimbly walked across it to the other side of the river.

"I don't think I can do that, Boromir," Rebecca muttered quietly.

"Me, either!" Boromir chuckled, "But have patience; Haldir knows we are not elves."

Two more ropes were quickly thrown across the river and attached to trees so that the mortals would have hand 'rails' for balance.

The hobbits crossed first, grasping both ropes as if their lives depended on it and staring straight ahead at the elves waiting on the other side. Thomas, Gimli, and Boromir crossed rapidly in quick succession, though Gimli had a bad moment when the weight of his axes almost pulled him off balance. Rebecca stepped forward next, thinking how she was really starting to hate the sight of rope as she placed her foot on the 'bridge'.

"Lady Rebecca, what are you doing?" a firm pair of hands grasped her waist and gently pulled her back.

Confused, she turned to see that Legolas had pulled her back and was now looking down at her with a slight frown.
"I told you she would try, mellon nín, " Aragorn said with a faint smile.

"You did, but I did not think she would truly attempt it."

"What's the matter?" Rebecca looked back and forth between Aragorn and Legolas. "If they did it, I can do it," she pointed across to where the others were waiting.

"They do not have broken wrists, Rebecca," Aragorn chided softly. "You will not have the strength or the balance with one arm to support yourself."

Rebecca groaned in frustration, "When will this be healed, Aragorn? I'm so tired of this."

"A month... though we will ask an elven healer to help you."

Rebecca's eyes lit up, "That would be wonderful!"

"Right now, however, Legolas is going to carry you across the river."

Nodding in resignation, Rebecca sighed, "Of course he is. Elves seem to be carrying me everywhere these days," she mumbled.

Legolas looked down at Rebecca with amusement in his eyes, "That is because elves delight in carrying beautiful maidens." Legolas swiftly picked her up and she clung tightly to his shoulders, shutting her eyes in embarrassment as her cheeks turned bright red. "Ready?" he asked softly. At her nod, he started across the bridge. "Open your eyes."

Legolas set her down next to Thomas and Rebecca looked up at him with awe, "I didn't even feel you move!"

He shrugged gracefully and smiled, "I am an elf... it is how I move."

After Aragorn crossed, Rebecca and Thomas were preparing to move on when Haldir spoke up.

"Now that we have crossed the Celebrant the dwarf must be blindfolded in accordance with our laws." His voice was not cold or unkind, but this was said so matter-of-factly and without question that Rebecca and Thomas stared at each other in bewilderment.

"But," Gimli protested loudly, "I have done nothing wrong! I'll not wear a blindfold. I'm not an enemy. Why am I singled out?" he cried.

"It is our law and I cannot change it. I am only allowing you entrance at the request of Lord Aragorn. But you must wear a blindfold for no dwarf may see the secret paths that lead to our city."

"Then I shall return to my home."

"You cannot. Once you have entered my Lady's realm you may not leave without speaking with her." Haldir stared down challengingly at Gimli.

"I will wear a blindfold with you, Gimli." Thomas spoke quietly and stepped up beside the dwarf. Gimli blinked and looked up in surprise.

"Thank you lad, but..."

"I will too..." Rebecca broke in. "I don't understand why Haldir is being so mean and why elves..." she glared at Legolas, "and dwarves don't get along, but I'll wear one with you."

"All of us will wear a blindfold, Haldir. Gimli should not be singled out." Aragorn spoke commandingly and his look at Legolas stopped any protest the elf was about to utter. As Haldir nodded in agreement, Aragorn looked thoughtfully at Thomas and Rebecca wondering what made them stand up for Gimli. He knew neither of them were particularly close to Gimli, in fact Rebecca often seemed to avoid him. He decided that it was probably the fact that he was part of the group, their ‘family’ now. Whatever their reason, it was well done.

As Haldir approached with his blindfold, Aragorn sighed. "Lord Aragorn, Haldir? Just, Aragorn," he spoke quietly. "Only Legolas knows of my relationship to the Lord and Lady, and I do not know if I shall tell the others.”

Haldir nodded, "As you wish, my lord. Now as you commanded, I am afraid I must place this blindfold on you."

"I will miss the beauty of the woods as we walk,"
Aragorn commented as he turned around.

"You do not have to wear this. Only the dwarf does."

"Ah, but I do. Rebecca and Thomas were quite right in sticking up for Gimli."

"But he is a dwarf!"

"I know, Haldir, I know, and elves and dwarves do not get along. But we are all one company traveling together and we have to get along or we will fail... I think that is tight enough, Haldir!"

"Forgive me, I thought I was tying the dwarf's,"
he mumbled.

Aragorn laughed, "Gimli is an excellent warrior and he has a good heart, Haldir. You just do not know him..."

"And I do not wish to either."


Aragorn sighed, "We should probably move on."

"Let us depart then."


--

The afternoon slowly passed as the Fellowship walked blindfolded through the forest. Each person was led by an elf and the paths were so smooth and clear that no one even stumbled. There was little speech because few of the elves spoke the common tongue and it was difficult to communicate with those in front or behind when walking in single file.

As dusk approached they stopped at what was evidently a clearing at the side of the trail. The elf guiding Rebecca helped her sit down next to someone with a tree behind her to lean against.

"Are you well, Rebecca?"

Rebecca turned to her left, "I'm fine, Aragorn... how did you know it was me?"

Aragorn laughed quietly, "Only my eyes are covered, Rebecca, all of my other senses work just fine. I have known the sound of your step since I first met you. The sound of your breathing is different than all of the others. Your hand also brushed my hair as you sat down... shall I go on?"

"No, you've made your point," Rebecca laughed as well. "I don't know why I'm ever surprised at the things you do." Lowering her voice she whispered, "Will they make us wear these blindfolds all night, Aragorn?"

"Yes, it is their law and Haldir has not the authority to break it."

"Oh, I thought maybe once it was dark and we couldn't see anything anyway we could take it off. It's so strange wearing it."

"Are you in pain, Rebecca?" Thomas spoke up suddenly from the other side of her.

"Oh, no... just wondering is all."

They sat quietly for a moment and listened to the sounds of the forest. Finally, Aragorn asked the question he had been pondering all afternoon.

"Thomas," he asked quietly so as not to be overheard, "why did you stand with Gimli?"

Thomas paused in thought before answering, "It's wrong to treat someone differently because of their race, Aragorn and that was the only reason that I could see that Haldir was making Gimli wear one." He spoke with quiet conviction.

"Was that your reason, Rebecca?"

"No... not exactly, though I totally agree with Thomas. It's just Gimli is one of us... like my-my family here," Rebecca swallowed hard, "and I couldn't stand to see him treated that way."

Aragorn nodded slowly, forgetting that they could not see him, "I was proud of you for standing up for him. It was well done."

Both Rebecca and Thomas smiled at his words.

"Aragorn, why do elves and dwarves hate each other?"

"It is a long story, Thomas, but the conflict goes back many, many centuries and there is fault on both sides," Aragorn sighed softly.

"It just surprises me, Aragorn, to see elves acting... so..."

"Childish?" Aragorn smothered a laugh as he thought of the elves he knew.

"Well, I guess. They are so old. It seems they would get over whatever happened."

"But remember, Rebecca... they are old and they have perfect memories so sometimes it is difficult to get over things easily. I was raised with elves and believe me, they do not forget!"

"How come you like Gimli then? I mean if you were raised with elves... and why were you raised with elves anyway?"

"One question at a time, Rebecca! I like Gimli because of who he is... he is my friend..."

Their conversation was interrupted when Haldir and Rúmil brought dinner. It was some sort of dried fruit and more of the Lembas bread, but it tasted delicious. Thomas and Rebecca were grateful for the change from their usual diet of tough dried meat and cram that they had eaten for days. Haldir also gave them their bedrolls and after eating, Thomas and Rebecca curled up and went quickly to sleep.

Aragorn however filled his pipe and asked Haldir to bring him a light from the fire. He sat smoking quietly long into the night, grieving the loss of Gandalf. Remembering all of the times they had spent together over the years, all of the things Gandalf had taught him as a young man and had continued to teach him through the years. There had been many good times together in Rivendell but many more difficult, dangerous times as they worked together to protect the northern parts of Middle-earth.

Aragorn shook his head slightly in disbelief and tears filled his eyes behind the blindfold, how can Gandalf die? I will miss him. His wisdom, his guidance... his pushing and pulling me along this path that may lead me to be a king. But his friendship is what I will miss the most. Aragorn sighed softly wishing he could take the blindfold off so he could see the stars or take a walk or do something... anything besides just sitting here brooding. Finally he emptied his pipe, wrapped his cloak tightly about himself and slept.

--

Faint sunlight filtered around the edge of Aragorn's blindfold as he awoke. Gracefully stretching before standing, he carefully stepped over Rebecca's sleeping form and unerringly approached the fire where he heard Haldir’s and Legolas's low voices. Touching their shoulders lightly as he passed, he crouched down next to Legolas, warming his hands at the fire.

"Good morning, Mellyn nín, " Aragorn spoke quietly.

Haldir and Legolas responded in kind and the three talked quietly as the others slowly awoke around them. Rebecca, as usual, was the last to awake, but jumped up quickly when she remembered they would be reaching a city sometime during the day.

The Fellowship and their guides quickly headed down the path toward Caras Galadhon, anxious to reach it before nightfall. About mid-morning, Haldir stopped the column to speak with an elf who had intercepted them. After talking with him briefly, Haldir approached Gimli.

"I have news from my Lady Galadriel. She says that all may walk in these woods freely. Since the dwarf, Gimli, felt grievously insulted by this blindfold, I will remove his first that he may be the first to gaze upon the beauty of our Golden Wood."

Haldir quickly removed Gimli's blindfold before stepping back and bowing slightly to the dwarf. Gimli blinked in the sudden light and as his eyes adjusted he looked around in awe at the towering mallorn trees with their silver bark and golden flowers. The woods here were all mallorn trees and they had thick trunks and grew closely together. The rest of the group soon had their blindfolds removed and they joined Gimli in his open-mouthed look of awe as they stared at the woods that surrounded them.

"Come," Haldir beckoned them on, "we should make faster time now."

Free of the blindfolds, they did indeed move more easily. The woods grew even more beautiful as the day progressed. There were flowers and flowering bushes and the sounds of the birds seemed more musical.

How can there be flowers blooming in January, Rebecca wondered, though it wasn’t very cold. She decided it was some type of elven magic and she smiled.

Rebecca found herself walking with the hobbits again, though little conversation passed between them. She was tired and thinking about the city and she noticed that Frodo seemed particularly quiet and withdrawn. There were dark circles under his eyes and she noticed his hand kept fiddling with the chain that held the Ring. He's not doing well, she thought sadly. She wished she could help him and she wondered if she could carry the Ring for awhile so he could rest. Rebecca started and shook her head in disbelief wondering where that thought had come from. She knew there was no way she was touching that evil thing, but wondered why the thought had even popped into her head. She glanced at Frodo again and looked ahead to Aragorn, determined to talk to him at the next opportunity. Rebecca slowed her steps slightly until she was walking well behind the hobbits, unwilling at the moment to be near Frodo. Instead she focused her thoughts on the elven city.

--

It was late when the Fellowship caught the first glimpse of Caras Galadhon. It was breathtaking. It was surrounded by a small grassy embankment that was similar to a moat except it held no water. They approached a wooden gate where Haldir knocked and spoke some words and it opened for them. The giant mallorn trees above them were filled with twinkling lights and the sounds of elvish voices and laughter drifted down to them as they crossed a wide lawn to the largest mallorn tree they had seen thus far. As they stopped at the base of the tree, Thomas and Rebecca moved closer to Aragorn and he smiled at them reassuringly.

"It's beautiful, Aragorn!"

"Where are the elves?"

"The elves are in their homes... their talans are in the trees above us. You will see them as we climb, Thomas."

A horn sounded from above and the group started climbing the stairs. They climbed and climbed and climbed. They passed through talans on the way up... some small and some seeming to be walkways that led to other talans or other trees.

Finally, just when both Rebecca and Thomas thought they couldn’t take another step they reached a large talan. Rebecca thought it was larger than a gymnasium would be on earth. While several elves were standing along the sides, it was the two elves sitting at the end of the hall that immediately drew the attention of the Fellowship. Even sitting down you could tell that Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel were tall, taller than most elves. They were dressed in pure white robes that sparkled in the lights hanging from the branches of the tree that surrounded the talan. Celeborn had beautiful silver hair and silver blue eyes that spoke of moonlight, while Galadriel's hair was as golden as the sun and her eyes were a light shade of grey that had shimmering flecks of starlight reflecting in their depths. The two elves stood in greeting.

"Welcome to Caras Galadhon," Galadriel spoke graciously in greeting, nodding slightly.

Rebecca stared at her unblinking. She was the most beautiful woman... female she had ever seen and she was female and it had been so long since she had seen a female – woman or elf. Rebecca bit her lip nervously wondering if she would be able to talk to her later.

'Patience, child', an amused voice said in her head. Rebecca jerked and looked around, wondering what was going on. Her eyes fell on the lady elf... Galadriel and the elf smiled slightly at her. Rebecca wondered if the voice she had heard had come from her. She swallowed hard and decided she better pay closer attention to what was going on, though she also inched closer to Aragorn.

Thomas, too, was awestruck by the majesty and power of Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel. He had been thoroughly impressed by Legolas and his incredible warrior skills, his innate grace, his gentleness and all of his other skills. But this was different. This was wisdom beyond his ability to understand and an incredible power of some kind that he could sense but not comprehend. And if Legolas and Haldir seemed old, these elves were truly ancient and he found he could not look at them for long. Yet there was also a sense of goodness and purity in the Lord and Lady.

Rebecca and Thomas listened quietly as Celeborn and Galadriel questioned Aragorn and the others about the journey from Rivendell. As Aragorn told the part about finding them, Celeborn's piercing gaze fell first upon Thomas and then Rebecca. But neither could hold his gaze for more than a few seconds and they looked down at the floor. A moment passed and then Aragorn continued on with the story.

Relieved, Rebecca and Thomas exchanged glances from the corners of their eyes, but kept their heads down, trying not to draw attention to themselves, though they heard their names mentioned several times as Aragorn spoke. Tears trickled down their cheeks when Aragorn told Celeborn and Galadriel about Gandalf's fall in Moria. They looked up in shock at Celeborn's anger at Gimli and the dwarves for stirring up the balrog only to hear Galadriel sooth away his anger.

Finally Celeborn gave them all a warning that the Fellowship was on the brink of failure and that it would only take a little thing to push them over the edge. But then Galadriel spoke up,

"But there is still hope," and she looked at each member of the Fellowship and read their hearts to reveal their deepest longings and desires. None could endure her gaze for long except for Legolas and Aragorn. "Now you are weary and soiled. Haldir will escort you down to the tents we have prepared for you on the lawn. Aragorn, would you remain here, along with Thomas and Lady Rebecca?"

Aragorn nodded with a slight smile though Thomas and Rebecca exchanged nervous glances as they watched their friends led away.

As the last of the Fellowship members disappeared down the stairs, Celeborn rose and approached his grandson, embracing him firmly, "It is long since I have seen you, Estel."

"I know, Daeradar, I know."
Aragorn smiled up at Celeborn before moving over to greet his grandmother. He bowed, "Daernaneth."

She cupped his check gently as she kissed his forehead, "Estel."

Confused, Rebecca and Thomas watched as they greeted each other like family. As the three continued to speak quietly to each other in elvish, Thomas whispered to Rebecca, "The longer I'm here the more confused I am. I know Aragorn is a man, but he was raised by elves. Not these elves because this isn't Rivendell. But they obviously know him pretty well. Do you think he is part elf, Rebecca?"

A slight noise interrupted Thomas and they both looked up to see Galadriel looking at them with a hint of amusement in her eyes.

"Estel, you need to tell these children who you are, but not tonight. They are weary and in need of rest. However, I did ask you to stay behind for a reason." Suddenly, Galadriel was standing right in front of them. "Lady Rebecca, I would offer you healing for your wrist if you would allow that."

"Oh, would you please? That would be wonderful!" Rebecca grinned.

Galadriel gently grasped Rebecca's arm and slowly undid the bandages, removing the socks and arrow shafts and handing it all to Thomas who was hovering nearby. Rebecca gasped in horror at the way her wrist looked – the skin pasty-white and all wrinkled.

"It will be fine, child." Galadriel laid her hands on the wrist, one on top and one underneath and spoke softly in elvish for several moments. As she spoke, Rebecca could feel warmth flood through her wrist and hand, followed by a tingling sensation. As Galadriel released her hand, Rebecca looked down to see her hand looked perfectly normal – no discolorations of any kind. She flexed her fingers gingerly and when there was no pain she tried her wrist and found it was also pain-free. Rebecca looked up at Galadriel with both joy and awe.

"Thank you so much... you don't know how much this means to me."

"Oh, I have an idea," Galadriel said with a faint smile. "But you are welcome, child. Now, I have made arrangements for you to have a private talan. I also have new clothes for both you and Thomas."

Thomas and Rebecca grinned at each other.

"And, yes, you may have a warm bath."

Rebecca sighed, it sounded too good to be true, except... "Uh, excuse me, Lady Galadriel?"

"Yes, child?"

"What did you mean about a private talan?"

"Your own room, with a private bath and sitting area."

"Oh. And where will Aragorn and Thomas and everyone else be?"

"In tents down on the lawn."

"Why can't I be with them?" Rebecca looked up at Galadriel questioningly.

"Child, your heart has longed for a private place since you have been in Middle-earth, has it not?" Galadriel gazed down at her kindly.

Rebecca nodded reluctantly, "Yes" she whispered.

Thomas looked at Galadriel wondering how she could know what Rebecca had wanted the whole time she had been in Middle-earth and if she knew the same kind of stuff about him. 'Yes, I do, Young Thomas', he heard Galadriel's amused voice respond in his head. Worried at that thought, Thomas hung his head, hoping that his thoughts wouldn't somehow be used against him. He started when he felt an arm slip around his shoulder and he looked up to see Aragorn gazing at him with understanding while Celeborn stood just beyond watching him intently.

"Fear not, Thomas. Lady Galadriel means neither you nor Rebecca any harm. She has special... gifts to see into people, but she will not use that knowledge for ill purposes."

Thomas studied Aragorn for a moment and then nodded once as he released the breath he didn't realize he'd been holding. "Thanks, it's strange to have someone talking in my head."

"I know." Aragorn responded dryly, "I have had to deal with it often in my life."

Thomas smiled and turned back to Rebecca and Galadriel. Evidently Rebecca had decided to use the talan and Thomas grinned, glad that she would have a nice place to rest.

"Brethil," Galadriel called quietly and one of the ellyth standing on the sides of the hall quickly approached.

"Lady Rebecca, this is Brethil. She is one of the few Lothlórien elves who speak the common tongue." Brethil bowed first to Galadriel and then to Rebecca.

"Well met, Lady Rebecca." Brethil had a sweet musical voice to go along with her long shimmering silver hair and her startling light green eyes.

"Well met, Brethil," Rebecca bowed in return.

"Lady Rebecca, Brethil will show you to your talan and help you get settled. She will also be your guide while you are here."

"Thank you, Lady Galadriel. You are most kind." Rebecca smiled up at her before glancing over at Aragorn and Thomas. Aragorn gave her an encouraging smile while Thomas just stared.

Rebecca gave them a small wave before taking a deep breath and following Brethil from the talan.

~~~

Elvish translations: Daro - stop. Daeradar - Grandfather. Daernaneth - Grandmother


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