The sound of dripping water entered Lothriel’s darkened senses, and she stirred where she had been lain. A layer of cloaks had been spread beneath her, but it did not quite ward off the chill of the cold stone beneath.
The blurred blackness of her dreamless sleep faded as light at last found its way into her eyes, and the image of a marbled stalactite, wet and shimmering and ceaselessly dripping, came slowly into focus, hanging down from the sparkling ceiling of a vast subterranean chamber.
She could hear the voices of women and children nearby, though she had been given a slight measure of privacy by a low ridge of stone. Her bed had been set up in a curved, half cave of stone, and she was alone here, but for one other person, whose presence hovered near. Somewhere, further away in the cave, Lothriel could hear the high wail of a tiny baby. The sound clenched Lothriel’s heart tightly, in a way that such a helpless, pleading cry had not done before, though she could not place why. It was because of the orcs, she guessed. If she did not go back, if she did not do her part to help, all these women, all these helpless tiny children would die. She had to get up.
The voice was feminine, and spoken in the common tongue, and she turned head to the side to see a mortal woman kneeling beside her. She was young with golden hair hanging long and unbound down her back, and a proud noble look in her eyes, much like that which the king of these brave Rohirrim bore. Perhaps she was a daughter, Lothriel guessed, or at least a near kinswoman. A white cloth and a bowl of what appeared to be water rested in her small, slender hands. The cloth that she had been sponging lightly against the side of Lothriel’s face had a spot of blood on it, and she wondered absently how it had gotten there. What had happened? The side of her face felt strangely numb, though a low ache was beginning to pulse deep in the skin, and she wondered if that had anything to do with the blood upon the cloth.
A smile came to the pale, lightly freckled face of the maiden as Lothriel lifted her gaze, and their eyes met. “You are awake.” The young woman smiled as her clear, blue eyes, full of intelligence and gentle compassion flashed thoughtfully over Lothriel’s face. She placed a cool, gentle hand against the unscathed side of her face, and softly murmured, “How do you feel?”
Lothriel closed her eyes, her mind aching as she forced herself to translate the words in her mind, and then spoke slowly. “B-bad.” She stammered, struggling to form words in her mouth that the young mortal could understand.
The maiden pursed her lips sympathetically. “I am sorry.” She whispered with concern. “Is it your wound? Does it hurt terribly?”
“Wound?” Lothriel asked. What did that word mean? Oh, it was a struggle to try and understand! She had not spoken the common tongue in centuries.
“You were hurt.” The mortal maiden spoke slowly and patiently as she pushed a stray lock of hair behind the curve of her rounded ear. She reached tentatively out to the side of Lothriel’s face, but did not quite touch a spot on the side of her face that Lothriel was beginning to note ached and throbbed.
“Where are-, am I?” Lothriel asked softly. The maiden clearly meant no harm, but it was disarming to remember very little of what had happened before, to know nothing of how she had gotten here. She remembered the armory, Haldir’s reluctant acceptance of her presence, his embrace, his kiss, but nothing after that.
“You were wounded, my lady.” The maiden spoke slowly, and rather sadly. “A piece of grating hit your head. When you were brought in, we thought at first, that you were dead. But you were still breathing.”
Lothriel shook her head, understanding little of what the maiden said.
“An Elf brought you to us before he returned to the battle.” The maiden continued slowly. “Your brother, I think.”
At these words, her memories at last, flooded back. The grating, the wall, the deafening explosion, and the blast of burning pain in the side of her face, flinging her backward, and bringing a cloud of boiling darkness to her mind.
“Husband’s brother.” Lothriel said slowly. And as she thought of Haldir, she gasped and sat up quickly. But she suddenly regretted doing so, as the incessant nausea that had been gradually gnawing away at her stomach, suddenly clutched her in an overpowering, inescapable wave. It was all she could do to turn her head to the side before she retched. The maiden’s hand comfortingly found her shoulder, running across her back now and again as Lothriel’s stomach clenched over and over until the entire contents of her stomach were dispelled upon the cold stone of the cave beneath her makeshift bed. She was glad there were no others nearby, though she could hear voices of women and children around a bend of rock.
“I- I a-am sorry.” Lothriel stuttered, feeling the shame of her sickness heating her cheeks.
“There is no need to be sorry.” The maiden spoke now in a soothing coo, offering her the white cloth so that she might clean the remnants from her lips. “After what you have been through-,” she paused as if she did not wish to continued, and her eyes inadvertently fell to Lothriel’s flat stomach beneath the cloth of her tunic. She looked as if she wished to speak again, but Lothriel quickly interrupted her.
“My husband.” She gulped. “Where?”
“My lady, perhaps you should not-,”
“Where?” Lothriel demanded, shrugging off the maiden’s caring arm, and clambering weakly to her feet. Her armor had been removed, and had been set nearby upon a shelf of stone. Her bow and her quiver were there as well, with her sheathed sword beside them but her helmet and cloak were nowhere to be seen. They must have been lost, or ruined, somehow.
The maiden surveyed Lothriel’s determined face with an expression that showed both worry and admiration as the Elf strode to her armor, and began to fasten it back upon her body and her limbs.
Lothriel huffed impatiently as she fastened the belt of her quiver and her sword’s scabbard across her chest. “I go back. Help fight.” Lothriel declared once her armament was as complete as it could be, and her bow was gripped tightly in her fist.
“You are ill prepared to return to the battle.” The maiden protested, moving to block her exit from the narrow stone cove. Beyond the young mortal’s shoulder, Lothriel could see a path leading away and up the slope of slanting rock face to a narrow opening. That must be the way out.
“You are wounded, and weak.” The maiden continued. “I have not even dressed your wound yet-,”
The maiden’s words were cut off in the middle of her thought by a gasp of surprise as Lothriel dropped into a crouch upon the floor, spun her leg out, a trick Haldir had taught her centuries before, and caught the maiden’s ankle, jerking her weight out from under her, and spilling her, rather awkwardly, onto her backside.
Just as deftly, Lothriel was upon her feet again, and striding toward the pathway that would lead her out. But she had gone not two paces before she felt her own feet jerked out from under her, and with a gasp, she stumbled clumsily to her knees as she heard the metallic rasp of a sword being drawn, not her own. Letting her fall carry her forward, she rolled fully over, until her feet were beneath her again, hopped upright, and drew her sword in the same motion as she turned, to see the maiden, a sword in her hand, the blade inches from her face.
The mortal woman gulped to see Lothriel’s sword unsheathed as well, and wavering only a finger’s span in front of her.
“Foolish,” Lothriel said, drawing her words out carefully as she drew her sword away, and lowered the point toward the ground, “for friends to fight. Yes?”
“Agreed.” The maiden conceded, reluctant admiration glowing in her bright blue eyes. “Clearly, you are not as weak as I thought.”
And with these words, the maiden stepped back, picked up a leather scabbard that had been leaning against the rough stone wall where Lothriel had not noticed it, and slid the weapon back with a determined clap.
“You show me where to go?” Lothriel asked, her words plaintive. “I go back. My husband is there.”
The maiden’s eyes softened at this, and a thin smile came to her lips. “That way.” She said at last, pointing to the passage Lothriel had noticed before.
“Thank you.” Lothriel said, placing a hand upon her heart in a gesture of thanks, and began to turn away before she paused, and as an afterthought turned, and extended her hand. “My name, a- is, Lothriel. Of Lórien.”
“Éowyn. Of Rohan.” The maiden said, and extended her own hand.
Lothriel clasped her forearm firmly, offered her new friend a slender smile, and turned away toward the cave opening.