*Two days later*
The stars above them flickered as tiny, distant candles as night’s darkness enveloped them. Roaring fires littered the camp and men talked and drank merrily, for their quest was nearly at its end, if they could just get the girl back to Minas Tirith. Little did they know that this mission would be harder than it seemed. Guards were set at each tent and at the edges of the site to watch for bandits and thieves.
The four of them sat by the fire as it crackled, watching the licking flames leap into the cool night air. As usual, Gimli and Legolas found some reason to argue, but Elboron and Morelen were both silent.
Any person unacquainted with the dwarf and elf would assume that they hated each other, for indeed dwarves and elves usually disliked the other, but this was merely one of their long-held traditions. It was because of their differences that they had remained such good friends over the years. These discussions were more debates than all-out arguments, and this one carried on long into the night. Occasionally, Elboron would add something to the conversation but Morelen maintained an icy silence that the others noticed and could appreciate.
“Just forfeit, master dwarf; this one defeat I will not hold against you.” Laughed the elf, his bright eyes merry and twinkling from the firelight.
Gimli had his arms folded across his chest and his mouth was pursed, trying to find some hole in the elf’s defenses, only to find that there were none.
“What do you mean; you won’t hold it over him? Of course you will!” Elboron argued humorously.
The elf winked at him said, “Maybe I won’t. If I’m feeling charitable”
Gimli chuckled, his laugh deep and rumbling, and said with a sigh, “Well, these old bones are not what they used to be. Know that I am not conceding defeat, Legolas,” He wagged a thick, sausage-like finger at the elf to emphasize his point, “I am merely postponing its end. But for now, the warmth of my bed calls to me. G’night, milady.” The dwarf nodded curtly and trudged back to his tent.
“I think I will as well,” added Morelen after a few minutes of silence. Both Legolas and Elboron jumped at her sudden words, and she continued, “Good night.” She stood and stalked off, dodging laughing men with hands full of overflowing ales.
“Where is her tent?” Legolas asked after she had left.
Elboron looked weary, but replied, “On the other side of camp. She requested it.”
“I don’t like it,” Legolas murmured, his brow furrowed. “Tell the guards around the edges of the camp to keep extra watch. We don’t want our young charge to run off.”
Suddenly, someone a couple tents over called to Legolas and he slowly stood from his seat by the fire, gracefully stretching his tired limbs, and then left Elboron alone by the fire.
Long he stared into its golden depths, forgetting completely about the elf’s suggestion to him considering the perimeter guards. He gazed deeply into its burning intensity as he did in Lebennin, perhaps looking for the solution to some unknown problem. For about an hour he sat there, silent, as fire after fire was extinguished, until only his remained. The camp was nearly silent. The air around him became colder and he shivered as the face of the moon hung bright above him, a brilliant, silver, unblinking eye.
Just as he prepared to put himself to bed, a man approached him, a guard. His sword clanked against his leg as he walked and his face was lit rather peculiarly as he neared the fire.
“My lord Elboron,” murmured the man, “the lady is out of her tent, with her horse.”
Instinctively Elboron stood and he said with a frown, “What? Are you one of the outer guards?”
“No. She is out of earshot and sight from them. I was just…”
The man looked somewhat embarrassed. “I was just in the area, taking care of some business when I saw her.”
The soldier’s source of embarrassment dawned upon Elboron, but he cared not.
“Anyway,” the man finished, “I think you should go to her.”
“Where is she?”
“In the woods just outside her tent, sir.” He replied.
Respectfully he bowed and walked away, leaving Elboron alone to ponder this. Which of course he didn’t. Quietly he put out the fire and scowled, jogging lightly, his eyes squinting in the darkness of the night.
Suddenly he saw her, and not in her night attire, either. Her hair was pulled back into an unkempt knot and she was urgently packing something into the bags of Sûlroch’s saddle.
“And where do you think you’re going, princess?” Elboron asked her, his arms folded across his broad chest.
Instantly her dark eyes shifted to him and she looked terribly startled. She knew she could never outrun him, but Sûlroch certainly could. In a panic, she attempted to jump up on her horse, but he was too tall for her.
“Oh no, you don’t.” Elboron grunted as he bolted towards her and tried to pull her from the stirrups.
“Let me go!” She gritted her teeth, attempting to kick him off. Unfortunately, she did not predict that it would throw her off balance, for she was already partway on the horse, and she toppled over backwards. They landed on the ground with a painful thud and it took the breath from her chest, leaving her wheezing, panting, fighting for air. Still she struggled, trying to get out of his iron grip and back onto the horse.
“Let go! I swear I’ll–” Her face was inadvertently shoved into the dirt, muffling her threat.
Now she was just plain angry and suddenly, getting away was not quite as important as punching her pursuer in the face. She turned on him and fought hard, launching quick jabs aimed at his face and stomach. Unfortunately for her, he was quicker, and he dodged most of the blows sent his way. They wrestled and rolled around in the dirt like two brawling boys until they were both breathing hard, their chests heaving with the strenuous exercise.
“Stop struggling! Bloody hell, woman, hold still!”
He gasped as she kneed him in the stomach; he doubled over but somehow managed to hold on. Eventually, she was able to get on top of him and put all of her weight on his thrashing limbs. Her raven hair obscured her face and it looked to Elboron like he was wrestling with a wraith, a servant of the dark lord, a figure made entirely of shadows. He tried rolling to either side but she had him down.
What in the– I am a grown man! I should not be losing to this girl! This is PATHETIC! His thoughts screamed.
So as a last resort, stealthily, he lifted up one leg and launched her up over his head. Her back hit the ground with a painful thud and before she could get up to move, he had rolled backwards, straddling her stomach. Eventually, he was able to pin her to the ground, despite her endless writhing and twisting beneath him.
She’s tougher than I thought. I always did underestimate her, He mused, almost laughing at the memory, though he was shaken from it when she tried to bite his hand.
“Get off me you brainless oaf!” She screamed right in his ear, deafening him for a moment. He shook his head gently until he could hear again, and finally she stopped moving. His arms held down hers, her legs motionless beneath him. She stared into his eyes with cold hatred, her lips trembling with fury.
About time, he thought dryly.
“What will it take to get you off of me?!” She growled, suddenly renewing her attempts to wriggle away from him. He had chained her wrists to the earth with his hands and it looked as if she was shackled to the ground, a prisoner to the grass and leaves.
Elboron didn’t like to admit it, and he certainly wouldn’t have said anything to her, but something strange and completely unexpected happened as their skin met, and he noticed from her expression that she felt the same unease. It felt as if a lightning bolt had surged through him, his heart thundering in his chest, his skin tingling. Her breath felt warm on his lips and their bodies were mere inches apart, as if an invisible wall filled the space between them. Their noses nearly touched and their eyes formed a direct link, locked in a wordless battle from which neither would retreat. Instinct told him to jump back from the electricity, but he needed to glean a few things from Morelen first, and he knew she wouldn’t be cooperative unless she could not escape him. He had never been this close to a woman before and the experience was delicious, exhilarating, as much as it was terrifying.
This is Morelen, the annoying, unladylike, arrogant girl I knew years ago; she hasn’t changed at all! Why do I feel as though things are so different now, so awkward? She’s still just the unruly little kid I used to know… he tried to convince himself, but it was obvious that she was not a little girl anymore. Their childhood innocence had evaporated, leaving them with a terrible sense of awkwardness and unaccustomed feelings of physical attraction. Time had certainly taken its toll. She was a woman, and he was a man; they had grown up.
He feverishly hoped the night’s darkness hid his increasingly reddening ears and blushing cheeks. He tried to shake off the strange sensations that assailed him and he said huskily,
“Answer some questions for me.”
“Why are you running?” He asked her, his stare relentless.
She struggled anew and he said quietly, “Will you ever learn?”
In the dark, she couldn’t tell if it was actually a grin that spread across his face, or if it was merely the night’s shadows playing across his hardened features. She managed to release her legs out from under his but before she could completely emasculate him, he managed to lean his legs back onto her knees and hold her down. She literally could not move an inch now, no matter how creative she became. She was not going anywhere anytime soon. It felt like she was being strapped down to a table, even though she fought viciously to free herself from his bonds.
“I am stronger than you now, Morelen. You might have been able to beat me when we were children, but not anymore. Even when we were little,” he chuckled, remembering their muddy, carefree, childhood days, “you would never give up, even if defeat seemed inevitable.”
A small smile tugged at the corners of her mouth, but she then she remembered that this man, for he was a man now, was on top of her and forcing her to answer questions she didn’t want to answer. She didn’t want to think of the consequences of her actions, and he was making her do so.
Perhaps it was the awkwardness of the situation that made her so irritable, because when they were little, this position meant nothing to them.
It certainly did now!
She was trembling beneath him, her heart fluttering nervously in her chest like the twitchy, beating wings of a dying bird. Her nostrils reluctantly took in his inviting, musky scent, and though a part of her was repulsed by him, something else in her reveled in his scent. His eyes were the color of a stormy sky and they bore mercilessly into hers, as they hadn’t done when they were children, and his hard, contoured body was that of a man, not a child. She felt completely trapped underneath his weight and the only response she could conjure came out harsher than she had intended,
“Why do you care?” She spat.
“Because you were one of my best friends.”
“Were?” She said the word with specific emphasis, her voice void of emotion.
“Are.” He corrected her. He hesitated then said, “Answer my question.”
“I barely even know you, and I don’t have to answer anything! GET OFF OF ME!!” She roared.
Elboron thought he saw a hint of fear in her eyes, but then knew he must have been mistaken, for that cold, bitter stare returned full force.
“Well, Morelen, we can stay like this forever, until you explain to me why you are running. Again.” He sighed patiently, observing his surroundings as though he planned to wait there for as long as it would take. “I’m just as stubborn as you are.”
Now she was smiling, but it was a sardonic grin, and she scoffed, “Ha! Not on your life, buddy! What do you honestly think people are going to assume when they see us like this? `What a wonderful place for a dalliance, eh Elboron?'”
Uncertainty flickered in his colorless eyes, for indeed what would they think if someone walked by (as unlikely as it was, for the moon and stars were nearly done their full rotation) and saw her ensnared so beneath him?
He pushed himself up angrily and growled, “Fine.”
She jumped to her feet and began to eagerly brush herself off, looking around for her horse and means of escape.
As he walked away, he murmured, “What’s happened to you? You never used to be scared of anything.”
“What did you say?” She called after him, challenging him to speak louder and say his thoughts straight to her face.
He stopped dead in his tracks and then whirled around, snarling, “I said that you never used to be afraid of anything; hell, even I was not as brave as you! But now, the `fearless’ Morelen runs from life’s problems, expecting them to disappear. I hate to tell you, princess; they don’t; they just get worse! But go, run, if you wish. Maybe you’ll find another loving king and queen to accept you warmly into their home.”
He turned on his heel and stalked off, his fingers bunched into fists, his knuckles white with the strength of his rage.
She watched him head back to the camp, speechless, tears streaming down her face. Her emotions raged within her and she fell to her knees feebly, her head resting helplessly against her chest.
Why do I feel so weak where I was once invincible?
“But I d-don’t belong *sniffle* here.” She despaired through the sobs once he had gone from her sight, her hands open to the fast approaching dawn in complete vulnerability…