Coralie awoke with a start. The night was old and the fresh smell of a new morning hung in the air. Fading stars twinkled softly overhead. She looked towards the campfire, and saw the huddled figures of Aragorn, Legolas and Gandalf. No, she had not hit her head on some tree limb and the awful realization crept over her that she really was here in the company of these strange men. She shook her head.

“I don’t believe this,” she thought.

Gandalf and Aragorn were both drawing on their pipes. Their muffled voices carried a soft air of urgency about them. The rest of the camp was still asleep. She could hear Gimli still snoring softly.

“Strike! Time to point Penelope at the porcelain!” she said as she rolled over in her sleeping bag. “Might as well do me ablutions while I’m at it, I need a cold bath to clear my head,” Coralie thought to herself as she lay there contemplating her next move. Legolas looked briefly over to where she lay rolled up in her sleeping bag and then towards Boromir huddled over near Gimli. The hobbits looked as peaceful as if they were sleeping in their own beds. Day had not quite struck.

“All is as it should be,” he thought as he gave his attention to the continuing conversation between Aragorn and Gandalf.

“Since our open attempt on the mountain-pass our plight has become more desperate, I fear. I see now little hope, if we do not soon vanish from sight for a while, and cover our trail. Therefore I advise that we go neither over the mountains, nor round them, but under them. That is a road at any rate that the Enemy will least expect us to take.” Gandalf said soberly.

“It is not of the ring, nor of us others that I am thinking now, but of you Gandalf. And I say to you: if you pass the doors of Moria, beware!” answered Aragorn.

“I do not wish to go to Moria,” said Legolas soberly.

Not wanting to draw attention to herself, Coralie quickly and quietly slid out of her sleeping bag, grabbed her pack and lit off through the woods. She was wearing her long underwear and socks. Her feet made no sound. A little ways down the slope, through the trees, she thought she had heard the sound of water tinkling over rocks. She was right.

A little stream had washed itself into a small rock-pool before continuing its joyful journey down the hill.

“Smasher! This is a great place for a drover’s breakfast!” she thought as she sat down and took off her socks. Reaching into her backpack, she took out her bath gear and laid out her clothing for the day. “I’m stuck out here in the bush with a bunch of spunky blokes,” she thought. “No point looking and smelling like a dog’s breakfast.”

In a brace of shakes, she had slipped off her clothes and slid into the water. The water was up to her neck. This pool was deeper than she thought. She gasped!

“Crikey! Better get my cogs into gear! Bloody Hell!” She reached for her shampoo and started lathering quickly. The sweet scent of strawberry milkshake fillled the air.

She softly sung a tune to herself. There was nothing better than a bath, first thing in the morning. She was a little more used to the water now, but it was still invigorating nonetheless. Washing her hair and cleaning her teeth had truly woken her up. Climbing out of the pool, she quickly grabbed her towel and began drying herself in the cool, crisp air. Morning dew hung on the leaves of the overhanging trees. As she applied her matching body lotion to her long limbs and torso, she surveyed the awakening countryside before her. They were almost down in the valley under Caradhras now. It was quite narrow with steepening walls toward the eastern end. She could see that they would have to climb up some more in order to get out of the valley if they went that way. In the distance she could dimly make out the very faint outline of stairs.

Applying her chap stick and gloss, Coralie looked at her watch. She had enjoyed her brief moment of solitude but time was fleeting. She’d been gone half an hour!

“Fair Dinks! If I don’t get back up there in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, they’ll have the search and rescue squad out looking for me…. and we can’t have that now can we!” she groaned.

Quickly she pulled on her clothing. The path she had taken down to the pool was before her. With pack in hand she started to make her way back up.

Boromir stepped out from behind a tree.

“None of us should wander alone. You least of all,” he said holding aloft a stack of firewood in his broad arms.

Coralie started. “How long have you been there Boromir?”

“Just long enough to enjoy the sights and the sounds of the morning, Coralie,” he countered looking down at her slyly. She looked up at his giant frame blocking her path and knew she was outmatched. They were all alone. For an instant she felt fear as she looked up into his boorishly grinning face. Gathering her courage she looked up at him and made to go on.

“So are you the search and rescue squad or something? Worried I’d lost my way on the path eh?”

“There are other ways, Coralie, other paths we might take.” As she stepped forward he put up an arm and leant on the other tree, blocking her path. He still held the firewood with his other arm. Instinctively she stepped backwards.

“Why do you recoil? I am no thief! I would not rob you of your virtue!”

Coralie suddenly laughed out loud! She knew she had to turn this situation around fast. Unswinging her pack, she threw it at Boromir, hard.

“Horse feathers! Look if you want to make one’s alley good, heave this onto your mud guts will ya? No point mooching around. Nickywoop!”

Coralie knew that he had absolutely no idea that she had told him to get lost in no uncertain terms as she had used a friendly, almost bantering tone which to his ears sounded as though she were appealing to his masculinity. She smiled up at him from beneath her mascara. Her heart pounded away in her chest, unsure of his next move. She prayed that he had taken the bait.

Boromir looked down at her face. Her sweet scent took his breath away. Was that strawberries? Her lips were a glorious wet pink, the like of which he had never seen before. There was something both feminine and strong about her at once. She had thrown that pack at him with some force. He could see her slim muscled form beneath her leggings and t-shirt. This was not one of the soft, weak maidens of his homeland he was used to. He looked down at the hands she now held on her slim hips, questioning him. They had not known hard work. Her nails were manicured and long. This was a lady of leisure, not some woman of the fields to be taken at will. He was confused. Her manner of speaking was coarse, as those used to waiting upon men at tables in some ribald inn, yet she held herself proudly like a queen. But she showed no modesty either and did not attempt to cover herself from his eyes. What manner of woman was this? A new desire arose in him. She was clearly more challenging than he had first thought.

“Methinks a lengthy hunt increases the appetite and that the chase may be just as merry,” he deliberated to himself.

“Well, I will show you that the Lords of Gondor are equal to the task you have set them, m’lady,” he said with a flourishing bow. “I presume by your speech, although difficult to understand, that you wish me to carry your pack. I am ever at your service. After you.”

Feeling quite relieved Coralie stepped out in front of Boromir. She was trembling from head to toe, but dared not allow him to see this sudden weakness. Suddenly she stumbled over a rock.

“Fool!” she thought to herself. Boromir’s arm shot out to steady her.

“Well, Coralie it looks as if you’ve finally found that rock you wished to stone the crows with.” he laughed. She looked up at him and saw genuine mirth in his eyes. The darkness had left them. He was trying to be friendly. They both laughed out loud with relief. Legolas appeared before them bow in hand. He had a concerned look upon his face.

“Lady, is anything amiss?” he queried eyeing Boromir.

She immediately felt great waves of relief wash over her as she looked up at him. She was determined though to put on her best Academy Award performance for his benefit. Coralie slapped him on the shoulder as she passed him by. “Nothing to worry about Leggy ol’ chum. Boromir kindly offered to carry my pack up the hill for me. What a sweetheart!”

Boromir cast his eyes to the ground and followed her. Legolas watched them go on ahead as he brought up the rear. Something was wrong. He could not quite put his finger on it.

Coralie had joked with him on the path and was laughing with Boromir when he found them. Boromir though was a different matter. He had not met his eye when he sought it, almost as if he had something to hide. By all accounts it would seem that he had worried about her safety needlessly. She had not appeared in a distressed state. Perhaps he and Aragorn had misread Boromir. He puzzled this on his way up the path. Coralie turned a little way ahead to look back down at him. Their eyes met. Then he knew…….. the smell of strawberries mingled with the faint scent of fear.

Translation of Australianisms….

“Horse feathers! Look if you want to make one’s alley good, heave this onto your mud guts will ya? No point mooching around. Nickywoop!” :-

“Nonsense! If you want to make a good impression on me, carry my pack….now rack off quick!”