Keeper of Realities - Part 4 - Ace hardware to Gifts
Dressed in a simple green blouse and black slacks, the young Qua strode confidently through the local Ace Hardware. Despite her height of only 4'3" it was obvious to all around her that she was much older than her size would indicate. Actually, none of them had any idea what age. It could have been anything between 16 and hundreds of years old. She had that look in her face that could have placed her at any time: an ageless face with old eyes and a young form. Laurie had grown up too quickly.
She walked with seeming sang-froid down the narrow rows to the section selling all sorts of dangerous looking tools, including saws, hoes, and scythes. She picked up one of the last of these, then tilted her head to one side, as if listening. A low buzzing sound, audible to no ears save hers sang through the entire store.
"Get out of the store." Laurie said privately to the person next to her in a low voice. When he seemed not to respond to this strange request, the Qua raised her voice so that all could here: "Everyone! evacuate the store immediately. This is not a drill. Hurry!" This last word was said with so much force that even the shopper next to her practically ran for the exit; after glancing one last time at Laurie's fair face.
The entire store, staff and customers alike obeyed this command without question. They had to get out of the store. Everyone knew that. Laurie said it; it must be done.
At least, every one save a small, deaf boy.
Mothers ran outside with their children, dragging everyone they could find with them with shouts of "Get away!!" Then one young woman, she couldn't have been more than 25 stopped in her tracks screaming.
"Tommy? Where is he? Oh, no!! My, son! my son!!" but the crowd pushed her back; she could not get to her poor deaf son inside Ace Hardware. She did not scream for him long.
A loud explosion that deafened all near sounded. The store burst into flame. Everyone stood in silent shock, the young mother crying "Tommy."
From out of the fires, a small, crouched figure carried a boy clinging around its neck. The figure - a lady - set Tommy down in front of his mother, and whispered something into its ear. "Mommy!" Tommy cried, "Mommy its alright, don't cry!"
"I was just worried about you," she answered.
"Don't be, Mommy. I'm alright."
"Of course you are, of . . . you heard me!"
"Yes, mommy. I can hear now." The young boy called Tommy replied. "That nice lady said if I was going to live, I might as well hear. She had the most prettiest voice, Mommy!" The young woman looked up, in amazed admiration. She had to thank this lady. Where was she?
But Laurie was gone, Frodo realized; as he awoke with a jerk. She hadn't been seen for their entire stay at Lothlórien. Well, it was odd to expect her to. She was not, after all, technically part of the Company.
Faintly, just before the "dream" faded, Frodo wondered. What is an Ace Hardware? Who were all those strange people? Why do I not recognize any thing where she was? Laurie had her cloak down then. I wonder why she had it up earlier. Oh, well. I'm sure she'll take it off when we go. When WE go.
Shaking his head, Frodo got up. They were leaving that very day. His mind traveled back briefly to the previous day's meeting, and more especially the Mirror of Galadriel.
Soon after breakfast, Frodo and the others of the Company began to pack their slender goods away. Elves who could speak their tongue came with lembas and rope. They were clothed in the garb of the elves and went to the fountain in the middle of a lawn to say goodbyes.
"Is Lady Laurina coming?" Aragorn asked the Ringbearer privately when they had a minute. "I have not seen her since we arrived in Lórien.
Frodo looked at the ranger in surprise. He had not heard from Laurie either? "I have not seen Laura," he replied. "However, I believe she will come if we ask her."
"Little favour that will do us if she is not here! You have not seen her? That is bad news, for I had hope of her assistance. Perhaps she knows what Gandalf meant to do."
"I don't doubt she does," answered Frodo. "But I do not know if she would tell you."
"She . . . I suppose she doesn't like answering questions," said Frodo. "I've never really thought of it before."
"Maybe our luck will hold. But how may I find her," Aragorn asked, his eyes urgent. "Have you an idea? Will she come to you?"
"Strider," Frodo said, slowly. "She comes to no one. I do not know her, and if my dream is anything to go by, Laura must be very far indeed from here!"
"Your dream? No, do not tell me now. We must go!" Haldir came walking towards them over the green grass of the glade. Frodo greeted him with delight.
"I have returned from the Northern Fences," said the Elf, "and now I am sent to guide you again, but this time, out of Lórien.
As they walked through Caras Galdon, the green ways were empty, but Laurie seemed to materialize out of them to walk gracefully beside Aragorn. "You are leaving today," she said, simply.
"You may come, if you wish," Aragorn returned. "Now that Gandalf is gone, it may be wise to have with us one who knew him well. Do you know what he intended?"
"I do," the Qua answered.
"Will you not tell me?"
"No," Laurie turned her shaded face up to look at Aragorn. Now, though she wore a cloak - one of Lothlórien! - it was easy to see her face from underneath. It was fully healed without a trace of burn. "For it does not matter now - Gandalf will not guide you on this stage, so what he intended will not work. Unless, that is, you wish me to take his place?"
"In part, I do. In part. What he meant must be discussed."
"I cannot go into Mordor; but I will follow the Ringbearer as far as the gate."
"You cannot go in!" exclaimed Aragorn. "But I was lead to believe your power was much greater than that!"
"Perhaps it is," Laurie answered, softly. "In which case that would be a perfect cause for the fact that I will not enter. However, I will come, if you ask."
"I do," said Aragorn, perhaps a little too quickly. "I do not know why, but . . ." he broke off for a moment. "Here we are." Laurie studied the ranger for a moment. She knew his thought.
It was around noon, and the company came upon three small boats holding ropes. Sam exclaimed at these, saying that he had been worried the entire trip for the lack of ropes; yet he wished to know more of them. The Elves answered it was a pity they did not know sooner, or he might have been taught.
The Fellowship was arranged with Boromir, Merry, and Pippin in one boat; Aragorn, Frodo, and Sam in the next; and Legolas with Gimli in the last. Laurie had somehow acquired a forth boat, small - not more than two or three feet in diameter - and shaped like a silver lily pad. She sat on top lightly; and no water touched her, though the brim of the "boat" could not have been more than an inch or two high.
To steer, she had a curiously shaped paddle with a slender leaf-shaped blade on each end by which the Qua could maneuver quickly and efficiently while being alone in the odd tiny boat. Laurie quickly paddled beside the boat with Aragorn in quick, methodical stokes.
After turning a bend in the river, the Company came upon a large, swan-shaped boat on which stood the Lady Galadriel with Celeborn and several other elves. The Lady sang, and all listened in admiration to her voice.
When they had eaten and drunk, the Lady Galadriel rose from the grass to present gifts to each of the company. To Aragorn she gave a sheath for Andúril as well as an elf-stone from his beloved. To Boromir she gave a golden belt; to Merry and Pippin each a small, silver belt with a golden flower clasp. To Legolas, she gave a bow such as those used in Lothlórien. On Gimli's request - after some persuasion - she gave three golden hairs.
"To you, knew though you be to the Fellowship, Laurina," she said, turning to the Qua. "We have little to give. Yet this may come in use, simple though it seems." Then the Lady gave to Laurie a quarterstaff, cut down to the Qua's size. It was of simple design, made from the wood of a mallorn tree, though near the top was silver engraving. "The top has a blade, hidden from view." Added the Lady. And to the surprise of all present, Laurie caressed a certain part of the inscription. A sharp, thin, scythe-like blade slid out. It glimmered in the sunlight for a moment, before disappearing back into the staff.
Laurie gave a gracious bow and stepped back. "I thank you, my Lady," she said in a soft voice that rang clearly through the swan boat. The Galadriel then turned and presented Frodo with a phial containing the light of Eärendil's star set amid the waters of her fountain.
Then the Lady bid the Company farewell, and sent them down the river once more.