It was well past sunset before the scouting parties returned. Maida was standing in the main hall, awaiting them as they appeared. She spotted Thranduil first, and was happy to see that he was unharmed. She approached, seeing Haldir and the other Marchwardens and scouts behind him. Legolas entered last. Maida started to greet them, but she was quickly stunned into silence.
“By Eru,” she breathed, staring at the trembling form in Legolas’s arms. “Is that. . .?”
“We found her in the forest,” Legolas replied. “She is a child of men.”
“Is she hurt?” Maida approached, examining the child’s pale face. There was an exhausted but fearful look in her eyes.
“We do not think so,” Legolas replied.
Carefully, Maida took the child into her arms, offering smiles to keep her calm. For a moment, the child was stiff and tense, but then she relaxed and gave a very tired sigh. Maida felt her tiny arms slide around her neck.
“Hush, little one,” she said soothingly. “You are safe here.”
“She does not understand us,” Thranduil said. “Nor does she seem to understand Westron.” He glanced around the hall, seemingly looking for Amalindë, who had not yet arrived. “She is of men, but not of any race we are familiar with.”
At that moment, Amalindë appeared, immediately walking towards her husband with a relieved look on her face. Thranduil met her halfway, and they spoke quietly together for a moment before the Queen of Mirkwood turned to see the child. She was expressionless for several long moments.
“Maida,” she finally said. “Take the child to the healer’s chambers and have her looked after.”
There was a serious tone to her voice, which confused Maida. But she obeyed, quietly carrying the child through the maze of dark, quiet corridors to the healer’s chambers. When she entered, she found the front room deserted.
“Réyis?” Maida called.
There was no answer. Maida sighed, hoping the old healer was not down in the wine rooms again. She carried the child into one of the small bedchambers adjacent the front room and set her down on the bed. The child drew her legs up to her chest and sat there, looking up at Maida balefully. Maida kneeled before her.
“What is your name?” she asked.
The child stared at her, clearly uncomprehending. Maida thought for a moment, trying to think of a way to communicate. Finally, she pointed at herself.
“Maida,” she said bluntly. “I am Maida.” She pointed at the child. “Who are you?”
The child blinked, relaxing slightly. Maida was relieved to see that she seemed to be understanding. She pointed at herself again.
“Maida,” she said. She pointed to the child. “And you?”
“Lucy,” the child replied.
“Lucy,” she echoed, nodding. “That is a very pretty name.” She paused. “It is very nice to meet you, Lucy.”
The child took a deep breath, and with a hopeful look in her eyes she started to speak. Now it was Maida’s turn to be confused. She could not understand a word the child spoke. She was gesturing as well, first covering her mouth and then clutching her chest. Maida shook her head, baffled. After a minute, the child silenced, tears flowing down her face.
“I apologize, Lucy,” Maida said, frowning and shaking her head. “I do not know what you are trying to say.”
Lucy was trembling again, her eyes so desperate for understanding that Maida’s heart pained for her. But she was at a loss for what to do.
“Ai, Valar,” she muttered. “What is there to be done?”
It was then that she realized just how dirty and wet Lucy was.
“Lucy, I need you to stay here,” Maida said, standing and holding up her hands in a gesture she hoped the child would understand. She grasped the sleeve of her own dress. “I am going to get you some fresh clothes.”
Lucy blinked, but did not move as Maida returned to the front room. Réyis kept spare clothing in a large wardrobe in the far corner, and she hoped there would be something in there to fit Lucy. She opened it and started digging through the disorganized clutter inside. Réyis was not known for being especially tidy, and this was proof of that. Maida knew that if Amalindë ever saw the state of this wardrobe, she would have him up through the night completely rearranging it. And after ten minutes of fruitless digging, she was sorely tempted to report on the old healer.
Finally though, Maida found a plain blue dress that seemed small enough to fit Lucy. Sighing in relief, she stood and headed back into the bedchamber. Lucy was curled up on the bed, awake but firmly sucking on one of her thumbs. Maida smiled at her.
“Here, Lucy,” she said, offering the dress. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”
Lucy slowly followed her into the small bathing room and allowed Maida to wash her face and hands with a damp cloth. But when she tried to help Lucy remove her clothing, the child became very shy, taking several steps back. Maida smiled softly.
“I will wait for you outside,” she said, handing the dress to her.
It was while she was waiting for the child to finish that Amalindë arrived. Maida moved to greet her.
“How is she?” Amalindë asked.
“She is well, I think,” Maida replied. “I do not believe she is injured.” She paused, looking towards the bathing room door. “Her name is Lucy. That is all I have been able to find out.”
There was silence for a moment. Maida looked back at her aunt, wondering what she was thinking. Amalindë seemed strangely solemn.
“What has been decided?” Maida asked.
“The appearance of the child is worrisome,” Amalindë replied. “There has been no evidence of any party of men in our lands for months. Someone has left her behind, but there was no evidence of her before the last patrol before the storm.” She paused. “The only explanation Thranduil and I could think of is that it was the Nazgul that brought her.”
Maida gasped, completely shocked.
“What would a Nazgul want with an innocent child?”
“I do not know.” Amalindë shook her head. “Thranduil thinks she may be a threat sent by the enemy. But I cannot bring myself to believe that. She does look like just an innocent child.”
Maida stared at Amalindë, unable to think of a reply. She too could not see anything at all threatening about Lucy.
At that moment, the bathing room door opened and Lucy appeared. Maida smiled encouragingly at her, seeing a very pretty little girl standing before them.
“Maida?” she asked tentatively, gazing worriedly at Amalindë.
“Do not be afraid,” Maida replied, offering her hand.
Lucy approached her, and Maida lifted her into her arms. The child gripped her tightly, and after a moment hid her face in the curve of her neck. Amalindë approached, slowly setting a hand on Lucy’s arm. Maida felt the child tense.
“If a Nazgul did bring her, we cannot be sure that she is safe,” Amalindë said with a sigh. “Maida, Thranduil and I know how perceptive you are. You can read the minds and hearts of men.” She smiled slightly. “Lord Elrond told us that he believes you possess the gift of foresight.”
Despite her mood, Maida smiled. Though her ability to gaze into the future was very limited, she had a fair sense of the present, and of the feelings and thoughts of men. Thranduil liked having her nearby when he dealt with men from the north, with which the Mirkwood Elves did a brisk trade. She could tell when they had other motives than what the Elf King preferred.
“Maida, I wish for you to try and see into Lucy’s mind,” Amalindë said. “Try and find out where she came from, and if she has anything to do with our enemies.”
“I will do what I can,” Maida said, slowly shifting Lucy so she could look into her eyes.
Lucy gazed back at her with watering eyes, and Maida smiled to comfort her even as she tried to gently intrude into her thoughts. For a moment, she could perceive only Lucy’s great fear and confusion. Then, she met a massively strong barrier, greater than what the child could possibly be capable of making alone. With a growing worry, Maida sought to puncture the barrier.
Suddenly, Maida sensed mental recoil. She felt a sudden thump against her breast that felt as though it had come from Lucy’s ribs. Lucy let out a horrible scream of agony and began to struggle violently. Maida could not hold on to her, and was forced to drop her onto the bed. Lucy curled up, clutching her chest as she sobbed hysterically. For a moment, Maida was breathless. Having to pull out of a mental connection so abruptly was equivalent to getting kicked in the gut. Amalindë gripped her shoulders.
“What happened?” she asked, fear in her voice. “Maida?”
“I do not know,” Maida replied, gently freeing herself from Amalindë and approaching the child. “Lucy. Lucy, I am so sorry.”
The child did not respond. When Maida approached her, she screamed and recoiled, tears streaming down her face. She felt Amalindë grab hold of her arm.
“Let us leave,” she said. “Come, Maida.”
Maida followed Amalindë to the front room and shut the bedchamber door behind her. As they listened, Lucy’s cries slowly diminished. Maida closed her eyes and pressed her forehead against the door.
“What have I done?” she murmured, a tear of her own sliding slowly down her cheek. “How could I have hurt her?”
“Do not blame yourself, Maida,” Amalindë said gently. “It was I who asked you to do it. The fault is mine.” She hesitated. “What did you feel?”
“I felt her fear,” Maida replied, turning to face Amalindë. “But then I felt a barrier. A powerful one. And when I tried to break through, something recoiled from me.”
“Recoiled?” Amalindë asked, a confused look on her face.
“It was not Lucy,” Maida said quickly. “It felt like. . .like something else. Like Lucy was not the only one there.”
“Not the only one there?”
Maida and Amalindë turned. Thranduil was standing in the doorway, Legolas and Haldir behind him. He entered, glancing towards the door.
Amalindë retold what had occurred. Maida was silent as the two conversed. Legolas moved to stand with her, listening for a moment before settling a hand on her shoulder.
“What is going to happen, Legolas?” Maida asked.
“I do not know,” Legolas replied.
“Maida,” Thranduil said suddenly. Maida turned. “Are you sure it felt like there were two inhabitants in her body?”
“That barrier was too strong for it to have come from her,” Maida replied. But then, she abruptly realized what she was saying. “But what could possibly be inside her that is of any threat to us?”
“Any number of things,” Thranduil replied. “A malevolent spirit, or a weapon of the enemy.”
Maida’s mind was racing. She could not bring herself to believe any ill of the child, but the barrier she had felt had been completely unnatural. She doubted the Lady Galadriel herself could have formed a barrier so strong. . .
“What about Lady Galadriel?” she asked. “She will be able to tell us exactly what is going on.”
“The Lady Galadriel has retired for the night,” Haldir replied.
Thranduil nodded at Maida, showing he approved of her idea, then turned to Haldir.
“Then the child will have to stay in there tonight,” he said. “I will have guards posted at the door.”
Maida heard Legolas clear his throat, and glanced up at him. He was beckoning her to follow him. She did so, and they left the room together in silence.
“She will be alright,” Legolas said reassuringly. “I am sure Lady Galadriel will know how to help her.”
Maida nodded, but did not reply. They parted a short while later, and she retreated to her bedchambers.
The night continued on relatively quietly. As Maida lay in her bed, she listened to the sound of activity in the palace diminish into silence. Despite all of her efforts, she could not stop thinking about how Lucy had screamed. Though she did not know how, she had hurt her. And now the poor child was lying in a cold bed, alone and absolutely terrified.
Maida rose from her bed, throwing a robe over her shoulders as she headed out into the corridor. She was not going to let Lucy spend the night alone. She would sit with her, and try to comfort her as best she could.
She met nobody else on her way to the healer’s chambers. The palace was quiet, most of its inhabitants having retired for the night. However, when she entered the healer’s front room, she found one of the Marchwardens standing guard at the child’s door. It was the dark-haired Elf she had given her cloak to. He greeted her with a smile and a slight bow.
“I had expected you would return, Lady Maida,” he said.
Maida studied the Marchwarden for a moment, then returned the smile as she approached.
“How is she?” she asked, gesturing to the door.
“I believe she is sleeping, though I have not checked,” the Marchwarden replied. “I assume that is what you are here to do?”
“Yes,” Maida replied, now slightly curious. This particular Marchwarden was nowhere near as stern and commanding as the others. He seemed genuinely pleasant and friendly. “And who are you, if I may ask?”
“Of course,” he said, bowing again. “Forgive my manners. I am Thendril.”
“And you are from Lórien?” Maida asked.
“Hard as it may be to believe,” he replied, clearly knowing that she had referred to the shade of his hair. “It comes from my father.”
Maida continued to smile as she reached for the door. Before opening it, though, she gazed around the front room again.
“Has Réyis not returned?” she asked.
“Réyis?” Thendril asked.
“The healer,” Maida replied. She shook her head. “Probably out drunk in the wine room. . .again.” She sighed. “I do not know why my aunt insists on keeping that old fool our primary healer.”
Without waiting for a response from Thendril, she opened the door and stepped into the small bedchamber. Lucy was curled up on the bed with her back to the door, shaking slightly. Maida was surprised to see she seemed to still be awake.
“Lucy,” she said gently, seeing the child stiffen. “Lucy, are you alright?”
Slowly, Maida approached the bed. Lucy turned and glanced at her, her face flushed red from crying. Maida tried to appear as gentle as possible.
“I will not hurt you,” Maida replied. “I swear.” She sat down on the edge of the bed, never taking her gaze away from her. “I am here to help you, Lucy.”
Lucy whimpered, but to Maida’s relief she did not try and move away. Carefully, she reached out and grasped the child’s tiny body, gathering her into an embrace. Maida could sense that she was still deeply afraid, but no longer possessed the strength to resist. From the doorway, Thendril chuckled.
“You have a way with children,” he commented.
“I just want her to feel better,” Maida replied. “I. . .”
She froze, because at that moment, she had felt the strange thump again where Lucy’s chest rested against her. Instantly, Lucy started to scream, scrambling backwards and falling off the bed. Maida leapt to her feet, Thendril rushing to her side as Lucy rolled around on the floor, gripping her chest.
“Lucy!” she cried, moving to her side. “Lucy, what is it?”
The child abruptly kicked out at her, causing Maida to stumble backwards to avoid being struck. With continued shrieks and cries of pain, Lucy scrambled to her feet and ran into the bathing room, slamming the door behind her. Before Maida and Thendril could follow, the lock clicked into place. All they could hear now was Lucy’s continued screaming, and the sounds of objects breaking.
“Lucy!” Maida shouted, banging her fist against the door. “Lucy, open the door!”
Lucy’s screams were taking on a new, terrible pitch. Maida gasped in horror as she listened to the horrid sounds. A louder crash echoed the screams, and a sudden impact against the door caused her to stumble backwards a few paces.
“Does Réyis have the keys to this door?” Thendril demanded, struggling fruitlessly to break the door open.
“Yes,” Maida replied.
“Then go find him,” he ordered. “I’ll keep trying to break this door down.”
Maida quickly turned and raced out of the room, almost colliding headlong into Amalindë as she turned into the corridor.
“What is going on?” Amalindë demanded.
“I do not know,” Maida replied breathlessly. “Lucy has locked herself in the bathing room. I am going to go find Réyis.”
“Then hurry!” Amalindë ordered, moving past her and entering the healer’s quarters.
Maida turned and ran down the corridor as fast as she could, hearing others start to rouse from sleep at the sounds of Lucy’s screams, which echoed even this far away. She was petrified for the child, and hoped against hope that Réyis was indeed in the wine room.
To her relief, she found the old healer when she reached the stairway to the lower level. Réyis was mercifully alert.
“I was helping one of the wine-tenders,” Réyis explained as they ran together back through the palace. “Cut up pretty badly on broken glass from a window that smashed during the storm. Thranduil told me he did not think the child needed my help, so I did not come to check on her.”
Maida would have replied, but her words were derailed when, abruptly, Lucy’s muffled screams silenced. She and Réyis exchanged a worried look, but did not lessen their pace. A few minutes later, they reached the door to the healer’s chambers. They entered the bedchamber just in time to see Thendril break the bathing room door open. Maida paused as Amalindë pushed passed Thendril and entered the room, gripping Réyis’s arm to hold him back. It would be unwise to crowd Lucy now and frighten her further.
“Lu. . .” Amalindë began to say, but then her mouth fell open. All color drained from her face, and her eyes grew wide with shock and horror.
“What is it, Milady?” Thendril asked, moving around the door.
Maida stared at them, completely confused. Confusion turned to fright when Thendril’s face blanched, his eyes as wide and horrified as those of Amalindë.
“What is it?” Maida asked, striding forward. “Thendril? Amalindë?”
Before she could reach them, Thendril had grabbed Amalindë’s shoulders and firmly pushed her out of the bathing room. Maida could see her aunt was in deep shock, but she could not understand why. Amalindë stumbled, but Maida grabbed her and held her steady. She was almost dragged down when Amalindë’s legs buckled, but she was able to brace her aunt as she sank to the floor. Her heart was fluttering with fear.
“Amalindë!” she cried. “Amalindë, what is wrong?”
“She is in shock,” Réyis said, handing a blanket to Maida. “Wrap her in this, and keep her warm.” He stood, striding over to Thendril, who was still standing in the bathing room. “What is wrong with the child?”
Maida watched the old healer as he stepped around Thendril, staring at whatever had shocked Amalindë so badly. His face quickly turned a pale shade of grey.
“By the Valar,” he muttered. “What happened to her?”
“What is it?” Maida demanded. “What is wrong with Lucy?”
But then, as Réyis gripped the door to steady himself, he opened it far enough for Maida to see the reflection of the room in a full-length mirror on the wall. Lucy was sprawled in the middle of the room, her face twisted in an expression of terrible pain and fear. Blood was splattered all around her.
Her chest was torn wide open.