Legolas sat with Coralie’s head in his lap as Aragorn changed the dressing on her arm. He had replaced his jerkin after the sweat dried upon his back, for though the wind had turned to the south; the night air was a little chill and damp beside the stream.
“How does she look?” asked Boromir coming over to join them with a cup of tea for Aragorn and Legolas. Gimli had found the strawberry kiwi tea in her pack after Boromir had found her stove, and was busy preparing more for both himself and Boromir. Nodding their thanks, they each took a cup gratefully.
“Still no change,” replied Aragorn.
The stars were continuing to trace their inexorable path through the worn mantle of the night sky, but still there was no improvement in Coralie’s condition. Beads of sweat formed on her brow. It seemed to Legolas that no matter how many times he wiped her forehead, it was still wet with perspiration almost as soon as he had finished. Indeed the corner of the blanket he was using was beginning to dampen. In contrast to the icy cold that had overtaken her before, she was now extremely warm to the touch. Looking down at her, he noticed tiny rivulets of perspiration running the length of her face, then gathering in a small pool in the hollow of her neck. Her shirt was clinging to her torso as well. Vainly he tried to mop up the moisture.
“Don’t go,” she groaned.
Legolas stroked her brow, mopping up more sweat.
“Don’t go. Grandpa! Don’t leave! Grandpa! Come back! I’m sorry! Please don’t go!” she was more insistent now. Aragorn clicked his tongue and felt her forehead.
“She’s burning up!”
“She’s crying for her Grandfather. She’s delirious Aragorn,” replied Legolas.
“Don’t leave me!” she cried aloud.
“Hush Titheniel,” soothed Legolas.
Coralie’s voice dropped to a whisper as she continued to cry for her Grandfather.
“Titheniel. Little maiden,” said Aragorn ruefully, “How is it then, that this `little maiden’ had me so bluffed, that I failed in my duty toward her, allowing her to succumb to the poison of an Orc’s blade?” He ran his hands through his hair as if to emphasize his frustration.
“It is not your fault,” answered Legolas.
“Perhaps I did not wield the knife myself, but my neglect of her should not be overlooked.”
“But…” Legolas interrupted.
“I failed her Legolas,” Aragorn looked at his friend soberly. “I swore an oath to her on the road. She did not hear it, but that does not make it any less valid,” he sighed “I should have been more vigilant.” His eyes fell to the head that Legolas cradled in his lap.
They were all listening now. Aragorn did not lightly take an oath without purpose.
“I swore her to myself as sister, Legolas. My sister!” he repeated the latter to add emphasis, “I swore to protect her by either my life or death, and I have done neither. It is I who live, and she, whose life now hangs in the balance. Her present condition is entirely my fault.”
The three of them shook their heads in wonderment at him. Aragorn had sworn her to himself as sister, and although he had done so privately, this was just as binding for a man of honor, such as himself.
“Why?” Aragorn had anticipated the unspoken question, “How can I explain this?” he sighed. “I feel a certain kinship with her. I don’t really know why for certain. Gandalf pointed some of this out to me in Moria, but I actually felt this kinship between us ere that, and swore my oath unto her before we entered the mines. Gandalf merely confirmed my own heart’s belief. She is also alone in this world, (if what Gandalf said is true about her coming from the future, and I for my part have no cause to doubt him,) and as a result she has no family here, no man to stand up for her. This leaves her in a very vulnerable position, and I would not have her taken advantage of. Now that I have sworn her to kin, if anyone sought to harm her, or dishonor her in any way, then they do so at their own peril, for they would then be held accountable unto me.”
His eyes lingered on Boromir for a moment before he went on.
“She is a kindred spirit and a member of our Company, and now the leadership has fallen upon my shoulders, as Gandalf is no more. I would treat her with the honor that she deserves. All the more considering how she availed herself against our foes in the Chamber and…” his voice faltered, “in that accursed well.”
He looked at each one in turn, measuring their response as they fixed their gaze upon his set features.
“My oath was not misplaced. Coralie is more worthy than any of us fully realize. She saved the Quest Gentlemen, from certain ruin. I do not know how it happened, but the Ring escaped Frodo for a moment, and somehow, she ended up with it and found herself in deadly peril. I would know exactly what happened, for I am only putting the pieces together. Boromir, you have her pack. That device of hers is in it. She wore it throughout the battle. I want to see if it can tell me more.”
Boromir found the Clie easily and passed it over. Sitting down next to Legolas, Aragorn examined the device for a moment and switched it on. He had some experience with the Clie from taking video and pictures of the Fellowship around the campfire when Coralie had first joined them. It was an intriguing device, and the music it contained had certainly entertained Frodo and the hobbits, but now Aragorn sought to play it for another purpose.
With sickening reality, the player provided a previously unseen window, into the events that had transpired in the Chamber. This was much more than the mere retelling of a tale, where the listener needed to engage the use of their imagination, in order to see the story played out in their mind’s eye. Aragorn held in his hand, the entire battle, and more, through the objective device that Coralie had worn on her wrist. Although fragmented by the general chaos, the true tale of the events could still be read. With grim fascination, both Aragorn and Legolas relived the battle as their eyes were held fast by the small screen in Aragorn’s palm. Gimli, and Boromir, had by now settled themselves behind them both as the video played.
Plainly now they could witness for themselves, Coralie’s struggle with the Orc, that they had all missed in their desperation to save Frodo from the troll. But most amazing of all, to these seasoned warriors, was the fact that it was she, who had engaged the Orc to prevent him from escaping with the Ring, rather than had been previously supposed, that the Orc had originally attacked her. The mystery of how she came to be found hanging in the well was solved. But now, the full horror of what this `little maiden’ had gone through, alone with her adversary was revealed.
The Clie had been attached to her left wrist as she clung to the spike in the well and continued to record without her knowledge. It had been used effectively as a weapon against the troll and various Orcs for the great flash of light it could produce. At times they could see her hand reach for the laser-light she wore around her neck. The video fully told them the details of Coralie’s battle from her standpoint. They could almost feel the Orc’s hateful breath on their own persons when they saw a close-up of his face as he roared his defiance at Coralie after she had struck him and grabbed the ring from around his neck, thrusting it into her mouth as she continued to wrestle with her foe. He had repaid her blow with his cruel knife, and they were just able to make out the flash of the blade as the camera had swung around on her wrist. Then came the final struggle before the Orc plummeted to certain death, and the muffled sounds of choked sobs as she hung there in the dizzying void, unable to climb out without aid.
Eventually, they could hear their own shouts when they finally found her, and caught brief glimpses at awkward angles of their faces appearing overhead, as Legolas’ form drew her out of the well. Yet the moving pictures did not end there. Instead they went on to show the repositioning of Coralie’s shoulder by Aragorn and Legolas and then the Company’s flight through the Dwarrowdelf, followed by their mad rush down the broken stone steps as they fled the Balrog.
Broken pieces of the larger puzzle were finally being put together, albeit via a jumble of assorted pictures that were not even graceful in their execution. Gandalf stood upon the bridge for what seemed an eternity as he faced the Balrog alone. Severed images, as the camera swung about resurrected both Gandalf’s last moments and Coralie’s unmistakable efforts to master her own fear, including her uncompromising rush after Aragorn and Boromir in their last desperate bid to aid the wizard, before Legolas dragged her back.
The final race to freedom was before them, and then the sunshine of the open world, and their profound grief, before Aragorn had finally found Coralie’s player still attached to her wrist and switched it off.
Sighing, they looked at Coralie for a moment. She was still muttering softly to herself, in the grip of the fever, as Legolas mopped her wet brow again with the corner of the blanket. From what they knew of her, this was a teacher of children, not a warrior. Furthermore, she had never been tested in the furnace of combat either. Even she had admitted, that actual fighting was still the province of men in her own society, and had thus enjoyed a peaceful existence, thanks to her countrymen who had gone before her, and fought bravely for what was right and true. This untried maiden had been willing to lay down her life for them, and each one felt keenly the sacrifice she was prepared to make on their behalf.
“I was partially right, but now I understand the full tale more truly and I regret the knowledge of it.” Aragorn leaned forward and held his head in his hands. To the others’ eyes he seemed weary beyond all reckoning.
“Gandalf! I grieve your loss more than my heart can bear. I have need of your counsel now more than ever.” Legolas gripped Aragorn’s arm with his left hand.
“It is not your fault, brother,” Legolas’ calm gaze held his eyes with their certainty of truth.
“Gandalf!” The soft cry drew their attention to the broken form that lay beside them.
“Gandalf! It is all my fault!” she groaned.
“No Lady! The fault is mine!” cried Aragorn as he took her hand, stroking her arm. Drawing his hand away, he looked at the moisture that clung to it.
“Gimli! Get that stove working again and boil some more water. Legolas! Find Haldir. I need more athelas.” Aragorn tended Coralie’s wet brow as Legolas flew down the ladder. She seemed even hotter to his touch than before, and the purple bruise that swept across her forehead, was darkening against her fair skin. Boromir knelt beside him.
“Is she getting worse?”
“Perhaps. The crisis is not over. `Twas but a mere lull in the storm,” his grey eyes were grim with foreboding. Boromir clasped his shoulder.
“What can I do Aragorn?”
“Pray Boromir. Pray with all your might. Mayhap Eru will bend His ear toward us.”
Legolas returned a little while later with the fresh athelas and placed it in the small pot of water that Gimli was tending. Aragorn called him over.
“Stand! Stand!” Coralie was still muttering, but now her voice had taken on a different tone. There was a desperate urgency about it. Legolas bent down to hear her, but suddenly stiffened and sat upright as if listening.
“What is it?” asked Aragorn.
“Stand Gandalf!” They started at the shout from Coralie. Aragorn quickly placed a hand over her mouth.
“Gimli, turn off the stove. There are Orc’s about.”
Extinguishing the little light of the stove plunged them all into darkness as abruptly as if a thick curtain had been drawn about them. Some ways off, they heard a harsh laugh and the tread of many feet below followed by the sharp ring of metal. Gradually the sounds faded away into the surrounding woods. They waited with baited breath until nothing more could be heard. All was silent.
Suddenly a head appeared through the hole in the flet. Looking over in alarm, they saw it was Haldir wearing his grey hooded cloak, and relaxed a little.
“A strong company of Orcs has passed. They crossed the Nimrodel – curse their foul feet in its clean water! – and went on down the old road beside the river. They seemed to pick up some scent, and they searched the ground for a while near the place where you halted. The three of us could not challenge a hundred, so we went ahead and spoke with feigned voices, leading them into the wood. Orophin has now gone in haste back to our dwellings to warn our people. None of the Orcs will ever return out of Lórien. And there will be many Elves hidden on the northern border before another night falls. But you must take the road south as soon as it is fully light. How goes it with the maiden?”
“Not well. She has been poisoned,” answered Legolas.
“Another reason for us to exact vengeance on these invaders. I must see to the hobbits. Farewell,” said Haldir as he slipped out of sight.
Gimli relit the stove. In the small light, they could see Aragorn shaking his hand. He held it up and examined the broken skin. Looking at Legolas he smiled wryly.
“She bit me!”
Legolas smiled back at him. “I would call that sibling rivalry.”
A shuddering gasp from Coralie brought their attention back to her. By now her clothes were wringing wet from perspiration, and her hair hung in dripping strands that clung to her features.
“Ai! She is soaked through,” cried Legolas.
“Her body is seeking to expel the poison. It is not good for her to be so wet with such a high fever. She will catch another chill.” They looked at each other through the dim light, recalling the previous battle.
“We must take off her clothes. Be quick!” responded Aragorn.
“Take off her clothes?” interjected Boromir.
Aragorn rounded on him. “Would you have her die for some feigned modesty on your part Boromir?” he turned to the Dwarf who sat anxiously by the stove. “Gimli, find something in her bag that we can soak in some of that water you are simmering with the athelas. She must have some spare clothing. Make sure it is light in weight.”
Gimli began to rummage through her things. At first he examined her underpants and leggings, and deeming them to be unsuitable for the purpose discarded them until at last he found two singlets.
“I have never seen so many things in one pack before,” he muttered as he wondered at the construction of the expandable pack.
Aragorn was slipping off Coralie’s t-shirt as Legolas removed her shoes and socks, and tossed her shirt to Boromir. Gimli looked over at Aragorn and Legolas as he tied up Coralie’s pack.
“If the contents of this pack are any indication, you can be sure that the Lady has a multitude of clothing on beneath her outer garments anyway,” interjected the Dwarf.
“Here! Gather up her clothes and lay them out to dry somewhere.”
Noticing the laser light still hanging on its chain around her neck, Aragorn tried to unfasten it.
“No!” Coralie moaned as her hand stole to the little light and held it firmly in her grasp. Gently he tried to pry open the fingers that held it fast, but found he could not.
“Twould seem to be of some importance to her,” he sighed relinquishing the small battle.
“Your pardon Lady,” Legolas followed suit with the jeans and leggings, which then fell sodden at Boromir’s feet.
“There is no need to remove any more clothing,” said Aragorn as she was now dressed only in gym shorts and a crop top beneath the layers. Though this too was wet through, it did not bode as much of a hazard as being fully dressed in sopping clothing.
“I am relieved to hear you say that Aragorn. If you hadn’t sworn herself to you as kin, we may be facing a dilemma right now,” responded Legolas with his eyebrows raised.
“First we must dry her off,” said Aragorn reaching for a blanket. Hurriedly, they dried her body as best they could. No sooner had they done so, than new beads of sweat appeared upon her skin. She began to moan again under their ministrations. Grimly, Aragorn looked at the blanket. Already it was slightly damp.
“Boromir. We need you to gather up the blankets and dry them out for us. Keep a ready supply handy. We have two spares right?” The man nodded. “We shall keep hers separate as the material is not absorbent, and besides we need something to cover her with later.” He turned again to the Dwarf. “Gimli, we will bathe her with the clothing soaked in the athelas. What did you find?”
Gimli held up the two singlets.
“These should do,” said Aragorn examining them further. “Just pour a little water over them at a time. We must make our supply last.” Gimli did as he was bidden and handed a wet singlet each to Aragorn and Legolas.
“We must bathe her lightly first then dry her off again, and keep doing this until the sweating stops. Perhaps the virtue of the athelas will penetrate somewhat into her skin, and attack the poison via another route.” Nodding, Legolas followed Aragorn’s instructions.
“Stand your ground!” Coralie began again.
Aragorn and Legolas exchanged worried frowns as they ministered to her needs. Coralie was becoming increasingly agitated. Again they dried her with the blanket. Boromir exchanged the wet cover for a dry one as Gimli brought over the singlets soaked in fresh athelas again. Aragorn and Legolas repeated the procedure as Coralie continued to call out in her fever.
“Stand! Gandalf Stand! Gird yourself with truth!” she called aloud. “Gandalf!” Suddenly she lifted her arm up above her head as if to ward off a blow. “Don’t give up! Gandalf!” her voice trailed off as Aragorn caught her arm and lowered it gently to her side.
“She calls out to Gandalf!” cried Legolas.
“This is the fever talking,” responded Aragorn.
Another change of blankets, followed by another gentle laving with the athelas. It was becoming more difficult to attend to her as she tossed from side to side. Aragorn felt her brow. The heat almost exploded through her skin.
“He will fight for you! Stand your ground! Let your hands be strong!” she cried as they dried her wet limbs yet again. It was hard to keep her in their grasp as she writhed about on the wooden floor.
“Her delirium increases. Somehow we must bring down her fever!” said Legolas as Coralie groaned again.
Suddenly she sat up again, taking them by surprise. Her eyes now open, burned as if lit with an intense fire from within. Raising her arm, she pointed to some unseen space beyond them. Gently, they tried to restrain her and lower her down, but she held firm against their grasp.
“You shall not die, but live and declare the works of Eru! It is He, who will deliver your soul from the battle. It is He, who stands in the gap and you will prevail!”
“She is fey!” Aragorn took hold of Coralie’s arm and found he could not lower it without hurting her. With a commanding tone, full of authority she continued speaking into the present darkness that surrounded them on all sides.
“You shall tread down the wicked for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet. Death is swallowed up in victory. Death is swallowed up in victory!”
Without warning, her shoulders slumped and she fell back just as suddenly as she had arisen. Legolas caught her and gently laid her down. Her lips were still moving, but her voice barely rose above a whisper.
Aragorn breathed a sigh of relief as he and Legolas began to dry her off. Gimli brought over the wet singlets again. Aragorn held up his hand.
“Wait! I don’t think we need them. Look Legolas. She seems dry.”
Legolas nodded in agreement. “You are right Aragorn.”
Indeed her skin no longer cast the sheen of the continual drip of moisture. Aragorn signaled for them to cover her with her sleeping bag. As he draped the cover around her shoulders, he leaned in to try and catch her whispered words.
“What is she saying? Her voice is barely above a whisper. I can’t make it out,” asked Aragorn unable to catch her words.
Legolas bent down to hear.
“ `lavrol nâ he. Pêd brass,“
“She is babbling. It is the fever talking,” he replied, slipping into Sindarin unawares.
Suddenly she was awake and grasped him by the shoulder.
“Na Eru, ûnon `lavrol! Maetho annin! Ranc chon gant he“
“I am not babbling, by Eru! Stand with me!” And then she fell back as in a swoon.
Aragorn and Legolas looked at each other in surprise and spoke the other’s thoughts aloud in unison.
“Edhellen vîn ped he!“
“She speaks Elvish!”