Too soon for Kalem’s liking, they stood outside the door to the study. Kalem took a deep breath, said, “Keep your head down and your mouth shut,” and knocked on the the door.
An answer came almost immediately, “What is it?”
“Your supper, milord,” Kalem called back.
“Bring it in.”
Kalem took another deep breath, pushed open the door, and walked in. The study was very gloomy, being only lit by firelight and a few candles. Books lined the walls and papers littered all the desks, save one.
On this one, Kalem placed her tray down, motioning for the others to do the same. They did silently, Legolas trying valiantly to not look like a prince and succeeding, almost.
“There are three courses here, milord,” Kalem continued, “a flagon of ale and a pitcher of water, will that be all?”
A grunt came from the old, balding, “plump” man seated in a chair, puoring over some documents.
“we will take our leave then,” Kalem walked quickly towards the door. Just as she reached for the doorknob, however, the Lord looked up.
“Wait a moment,” he said suspiciously,”Who are these two men?”
She faltered,”They are..uh..well, you see-“
“We came to help with the harvest and are leaving tomorrow,” Strider came in.
Brilliant, she thought, he’s bloody brilliant.
“Oh,” the Lord said, then asked,”but why are you helping the kitchen maid?”
Kalem did not miss a beat,”I required their assistance.”
The lord, mercilessly, was not satisfied,”Then why do you have bows and blades with you?”
Strider and Kalem looked at each other, then at the elf, at a loss.
Legolas, thank Eru, had an answer swiftly,”We just came from hunting in the wood. There was little meat left in the kitchen.”
The Lord nodded,”I see,” he glanced at Legolas, then did a double take,”What, in Eru’s name happened to your ears? Be you elven?”
“They have been this way for as long as I can remember, but my parents were not of the First Born,” Legolas replied, his face impassive.
“Strange,” the Lord muttered, then,”Alright, that is all, you may go.”
Kalem forced herself to walk calmy out of the room, every instinct screaming at her to run. But, once Strider shut the door behind them, she bolted.
Bounding, silent and catlike, down the stairs, through the courtyard and into the kitchen, she was closely followed by Strider and Legolas. As soon as they were in, she shut the door and leaned against it, gasping.
“I, thought, we were, all, for the, Halls of Mandos back there,” she panted.
“As did I,” Legolas said fervently, not winded in the slightest.
“You were brilliant back there, the both of you,”Kalem added, her breathing returning to normal.
Dina, who had run up to Strider and tugged at his cloak until he picked her up, spoke in an awed voice, “Did the Lord know who you were?”
“No, he did not,” Strider assured her,”We told him we were helping with the harvest and he believed us.”
Dina’s gray eyes were as saucers,”Ohhhhhhhhhhhh,” then she giggled he looks funny, like a big nuthatch. Kali?”
Kalem looked up from the kettle she was checking,”yes, Dina?”
“Shouldn’t we get ready for the party?” Dina cocked her head and furrowed her brow.
“Well, I have to get this soup in a pot, get some bread, meat and the pies, tidy you up a bit and then we can leave.”
Dina looked at Strider, then Legolas, then the hobbits, then at Kalem again,”Can they come, too?”
“If they want,”the twelve year old looking questioningly at the men, elf, hobbits and dwarf,”You do not have to bathe or anything like that. It will be a lot of fun.”
“The hobbits will go,”Merry and Pippin said in unison, giving Sam and Frodo no room for arguements.
It took a little convincing to get the taller races to come, a lot for Gimli, but between Dina’s charms and Kalem’s amazing persuasive tongue, the eleven strong party set out, carrying food or, in Strider’s case, Dina.
The servants’ hall was full to bursting with food and merriment. Everyone accepted the newcomers in the openhearted country fashoin. The hobbits ate and talked, Gimli glowered, and Gandalf smoked his pipe and smiled. Strider “danced” with Dina and even got Kalem out for a few reels. They all, Dina included, forced Boromir out onto the floor with almost every eligible woman there. Several girls tried to catch Legolas’ eye and he seemed rather uncomfortable about it.
Kalem felt sorry for the elf and decided to distract him by teaching him the jig, enlisting Strider’s help. This resulted in no end of the nirth of Gimli, Merry, Pippin and Sam. Even Frodo laughed alound when Legolas started jigging better than some men who had been dancing ever since they could walk.
One of the chief events of the night, however, was the swordfights. Many of the man could handle a sword fairly well, some were even good, but none were prepared for the skill of Strider. He disarmed every man who came up against him in two minutes flat for each. Just when it seemed that no one else would challange him, Kalem took up someone’s sword and stepped in front of him.
“Do you know how to handle a sword?” Strider asked, though not incredulously, as though he was used to the idea of females wielding blades.
For answer, Kalem smile wickedly and said,”Let’s play.”
“I’ll take that as a yes,” strider retorted, and the duel that followed was one that was retold many times around winter fires.
Blow after blow, block after block, it went on. It seemed as though the Ranger win easily, as with the others. But Kalem held on and gradually warmed up to full fighting capability. She had a fluid, almost elven-like grace and balance, as well as formidible physical strength. This was known to the servants and they were used to it, but it surprised and impressed the nine newcomers, right down to Legolas.
After what seemed like an age of parries and thrusts, both Strider and Kalem were starting to get worn out, but the girl had a few tricks up her sleeve.
She started to thrudt low, as if for the knee, then, as the man started to block, Kalem changed tact came up in a wide arc and hit Strider’s hand with just enough force to bruise it knock the sword form his grip. Stepping cooly forward, she held the blade softly against his throat,”Have fun?” she asked sarcasticly.
“Much,” Strider replied, eyeing the sword.
Laughing, Kalem backed off and returning the borrowed sword to it’s dumbstruck owner.
The twelve year old walked over to Dina, who was asleep on Legolas’ lap, and gathering her up in her arms,” Come along, it is time for bed,”
Dina merely moaned at this and they all left, Frodo and Sam helping thier two drunked fellows.
TO BE CONTINUED…