Aragorn had done his best to heal physical wounds, but only Boromir’s gentle touch and quiet voice could rouse Tasana from her sorrow. “Get the map, Legolas. We must reach the elves in Lothlorien by tonight,” Aragorn directed. The Dunedain knew the territory the best from his wandering youth, and hid his depression fairly well, so Strider had picked up the lead after Gandalf fell to certain death.
“Give us a night, Aragorn. We’ve gone too hard, too fast, and lost so much. Your sister can hardly see through her grief,” Boromir argued, laying a protective hand on Tasana’s shoulder.
“If we rest even a single night here we’ll have a host of orcs upon us in the morning,” Strider replied soberly, hoisting his backpack. “Will the wolves be available, Chev’yahna? We made much better time with their help.”
“No, the packs dare not hunt in elven territory,” she choked out between sobs. In the short time she had known Gandalf, the wise old wizard had touched Tasana more deeply than few others could ever have done. His quiet, commanding form, for all his eccentricities, had been a pillar of hope and an anchor of wisdom on this mad quest. Tasana did not have his power, though. His death had taught her that her strength was not enough to overcome evil.
“Come with me, Chev’yahna,” Boromir said gently, guiding her along. As they passed through the hills, her tears slowed, but she was not yet prepared to walk without Boromir’s comforting hand on her shoulder.
Gradually the drab gray stone of the near lifeless foothills was replaced by rolling grassy knolls and stray, dwarfed broadleaved trees. After a hike that lasted the entire afternoon and most of the evening, the party entered the edge of Lothlorien. “The Golden Wood where the trees never lose their leaves,” Legolas breathed. “It certainly puts my home in Mirkwood to shame.”
The great golden boughs were beautiful, Tasana privately admitted. They were not her familiar South Woods, but the smell of the forest breeze lightened her spirits and heightened her senses. Including, unfortunately, her seer’s sense.
Though she had barely picked it up since the night he had first met Mithilira, the taint of treachery upon Boromir had redoubled in potency. He leaned toward Tasana to kiss her lips, but she recoiled from him irrationally. “What’s wrong, Chev’yahna?” he asked anxiously.
“I- I thought I saw something behind you,” she explained lamely. “It’s gone now; whatever it was.”
“A huntress doesn’t survive very long by spooking at every hare’s shadow that passes her by.” Aragorn raised an eyebrow. “What was it?”
“Just a deer, most likely,” Tasana gave her brother a guilty smile. “I get a little jumpy after an orc raid.” She could not fool the ranger that easily, but her expression told him to hold further questions until they had more privacy.
Boromir was no naïve fool, either. He looked more than a little hurt by Tasana’s sudden brush-off, but backed away gallantly to conserve his dignity, kissing the woods-woman’s hand as a lord might kiss that of his equal’s unmarried sister. No man plotting to destroy the company and its mission would give her that calf-eyed look that melted her heart, Tasana thought to herself as Boromir slipped away to the rear of the group.
The threat of treachery she sensed could not be directed at her; perhaps it was not even planned. Boromir didn’t look as if he was even aware of such a possibility. The warning in her heart was meant for another in the group, but Tasana did not know whom. Boromir bore no one any serious grudges.
Certainly, he and Aragorn had clashed several times over her and the Ring. Boromir had mentioned his wish to wield the Dark Lord’s own weapon against Sauron out of a desire to save Gondor on many occasions. Strider cautioned him against the wild, ravaging seduction of the One Ring, but the steward’s heir continued to stare at the chain Frodo wore about his neck with a suspiciously dark glint in his eyes. Boromir had also gotten into shouting matches with the dwarf, but it was neither for Gimli nor Aragorn that Tasana truly feared.
“I doubt we’ll meet up with the elves tonight. We had best find some sturdy trees away from the road to spend the night in.” Aragorn cut into her dark musings. Glad for the rest, even the hobbits who came from a race that had not built a two-story home since the first century did not complain of vertigo. Tasana, who had spent half her life sleeping in trees, found the firm, solid branches beneath her cured a feeling of homesickness the woods-woman had not realized she had been suffering from.
* * *
That night she dreamed she was running through the South Woods in their spring glory, the pack at her side and the company before her. Something marred the tranquility of the woodlands, though. Tasana looked toward the sun and instead saw an eye of fire, a flame-red, burning, lidless eye that boded death for all who saw it. Sauron.
As soon as Tasana recognized the symbol of the Dark Lord, it blurred and split into two cold blue elven eyes, at once beautiful and terrible to look upon; eyes of ice that could test and judge a person better than Mithilira’s nose. They looked upon the lady Warg and saw pointless death, upon Strider and saw hidden suffering and sleepless nights. The eyes saw slavery in Merry and Pippin’s futures, and fearful, hopeless flights in store for Sam and Frodo, fraught with pain, treachery, and torture. The frosty gaze saw self- imposed exile and heartbreak in Legolas’s future and uneasy wanderings in Gimli’s. The heartless, unfeeling eyes began to turn upon Boromir to pronounce his doom, which would surely be death, but Tasana cried out, distracting the eyes from their intended target. The icy blue irises looked toward her sharply; and Tasana screamed in fear as they examined the depths of her frail soul, judging her fate.
“Tasana Rivermerchant, you were not meant to come here.” A disembodied voice spoke, fraught with the power and grace of a queen.
“Tasana, Tasana!” her name echoed mockingly from the trees.
“Tasana, wake up. You’re on the next watch.” She rubbed her eyes to find them looking into a pair of gray irises in a face not unlike her own.
“Strider. Boromir will betray us, but he will not – must not – die for it.” She could no longer keep the warning to herself, not after that dream that felt so much like prophecy. Tasana felt she could count on her brother to believe her and prepare for what might come; besides, she would have no better opportunity to tell him in secret than during the changeover of the watch.
“How do you know?” Aragorn looked surprised at the sudden revelation, but not quite as surprised as Tasana might have liked. What about the steward’s son could make the ranger so suspicious of Boromir?
“I’ve smelled it upon him. Do not attempt to stop him; otherwise he may hurt you. I know he will come to his senses eventually.” She warned her brother, laying a cautionary hand on his arm as Strider contemplated the sleeping younger man with a protective, dangerous glint in his flinty eyes.
“I trust your judgment, Chev’yahna, but if he tries to hurt you I will be forced to kill him.” Aragorn squeezed her arm softly. “The same goes for any other man.”
“Boromir would never do anything to harm me, Strider, you know that.” She shook her head, smiling gently. “Good night, Aragorn. Sleep well.”
“That’s hardly reassuring, Tasana. Between you and Frodo, you’ll probably be predicting all nine Nagzül and Sauron himself riding down upon us within the week.” He kept his tone casual, but the Dunedain was frightened by his sister’s prophecies and the hobbit’s fears.
“Not yet, Strider. They have not found us yet.” She returned his squeeze before slipping out of the tree and down to the forest floor. The familiar birds of the day had already sunk into an uneasy sleep, but Tasana could hear an owl hooting in the distance. After it stopped, she heard another noise: the soft pad of a hunting cat, or an elf. “Gimli, did you hear something?” She asked the dwarf with whom she was sharing watch.
“Just an owl, but it’s flown away now.” He dismissed her concern.
“No, something besides that.” Tasana was reluctant to put a name to the noise; it was so faint it might have simply been a product of her imagination.
“I have the eyes of a hawk and the ears of a fox. I think I would have heard anything important, Chev’yahna,” he said stubbornly, tossing his axe from hand to hand.
“The dwarf breathes so loudly I could have shot him in the dark,” said a voice to their left. A light haired archer stepped out from the underbrush. He had his bow in hand, but looked more amused than threatening.
“Legolas?” Gimli blurted disbelievingly. The archer was obviously an elf, but he didn’t resemble the Mirkwood prince.
“My name is Haldir. Welcome to Lothlorien, travelers.” Tasana couldn’t resist flashing Gimli a look that screamed ‘I told you so.’ Another pair of elves came into their line of sight, chatting animatedly with Haldir in their own tongue. Tasana wished Legolas or Frodo was there to translate.
The first archer turned back to her and Gimli. “The lady of these woods has been expecting you. She will have guest rooms prepared for your group if you will follow us.” He paused as one of his companions gestured sharply at Gimli. “I’m afraid the dwarf will have to be blindfolded on the way in to Lothlorien proper. None of his kind have been freely admitted into our land since the days of Durin.”
“We must discuss this with the rest of our party,” Tasana said diplomatically, attempting to forestall Gimli’s rising ire. “Please give us until morning.”
“We do not allow travelers to pass this far into the wood unaccompanied. My brother will stay here with you until you decide. Until morning, then,” Haldir said just as smoothly, gesturing to one of the other elves.
“Gimli, why don’t we go up and inform the others of the elves’ kind offer? We could use a real bed for once.” Tasana gave the remaining archer a slight bow, then shimmied up the tree after Gimli.
“They say this forest is ruled by an elven witch,” the dwarf was telling the sleepy, nervous hobbits who were already suffering from their racial fear of heights. “A witch who can pull all who see her eyes under her spell.”
“Gimli, they say the same thing about the South Woods, save the sorceress is a human with Wargs for her familiars.” Tasana interrupted his frightening hearth-story with a laugh. It was a yarn best saved for small children, but the dwarven fairy tale of the witch of Lothlorien brought the icy blue eyes of her dream uncomfortably to the forefront of Tasana’s mind.
Gimli paused, studying the expression on her face. Cocky, confident, and at peace, there was still a small hint of fear, depression, and indecision in her green eyes that Tasana could not hide. “How fortunate then, that we have a sorceress on our side, as well.” The dwarf did not sound as if he were entirely joking.
Everyone knew it would be best to accept the elves’ offer to insure good will toward their quest and safe passage through the forest. The people of Lothlorien patrolled the wood to keep their treelike homes safe from invaders, but those who did not live in the forest could quickly become hopelessly lost.
The elves were certainly relaxing their security for the company just by allowing Gimli to enter as far as he had, but even Legolas agreed it was not fair that the dwarf would have to enter the Golden Wood blindfolded. The tensions between elf and dwarf were old, but pointless and little more than a stumbling block in this war against the Dark Lord. In order to appease both the elves’ concerns for safety and Gimli’s grumbling over racial unfairness, Frodo suggested letting the elves blindfold them all.
“What, and be led like prisoners of war into the home of our allies after the men of Gondor have spent their entire lives protecting them from the threat of Mordor?” Boromir asked haughtily, his temper flaring. Tasana and Aragorn shared a look and rolled their eyes skyward. Tasana supposed Boromir had a point, but his arrogance was uncalled for.
“You remember those orcs in Moria, Lord Boromir? The Balrog? Neither your troops nor my wolves could guard Lothlorien from those.” She pointed out. “If they truly are our allies, as you are so quick to bring up, they deserve our trust and respect for their customs, even if these do not immediately suit our needs.”
“True enough, Chev’yahna,” Boromir inclined his head. There was still a glint of stiff-necked hubris in his eyes, but he was willing to give up the argument for the chance to come back into Tasana’s good graces. “I spoke in haste. I will agree to the blindfold if you insist upon it.”
“As will I, though I intend to hold our guide personally responsible for every rock that causes a stumble,” Gimli growled, thumbing his axe. He repeated this to the elven archer waiting below, who waited until they had reached the path among the trees beyond the river to blindfold the group.
The trail was smooth, but contained many twists and turns, requiring each member of the company to require an escort. When Haldir, who had returned with the other guides, told them to remove their blindfolds, a wondrous sight stood before their eyes.
Even in the dark the city in the trees of Lothlorien was breathtaking, with warmly glowing lights visible in every tree and tall, aesthetic marble statues and fountains in the clearings. Houses and stairs were carved as if they naturally grew out of the trees that way, and not a single rotting plant marred the beauty of the forest, with its tall, willowy, golden leaved trees that Tasana had never seen the like of.
“It is truly a fantastic sight for weary eyes, but currently I would much rather the sight of a good, soft mattress with plenty of pillows and a warm blanket.” Boromir said, slipping an arm around Tasana’s shoulders. When he thought her brother wasn’t looking he added softly in her ear, “Preferably with you between the sheets.” He stole a kiss once more.
“We shall see what we can arrange, my lord Boromir.” She fluttered her eyelashes at him, deepening the kiss.
“Do you two ever stop?” Aragorn removed Boromir’s hand from where it had drifted down to Tasana’s waist.
“I can’t wait to meet this Arwen of yours, Strider. Legolas tells me you’re just as naughty around her.” Tasana gave her brother an impudent grin, laying her head upon Boromir’s chest.
The Dunedain knew his efforts to be useless, but gave it one more try while trying to hide his indulging smile. “As your elder brother, it is my duty to supervise your interactions with a potential suitor. Just so long as you know your limits, Boromir.” Tasana’s warning flitted through the ranger’s mind. He could only hope she had not forgotten it.
“I do,” Boromir answered him, holding his beloved woods-woman close and rocking her slowly.
A guide arrived then to lead them to the bathhouses. Tasana separated from Boromir and Aragorn with a quick kiss for each, and then found a warm tub of water waiting for her. Glad for the chance to soak sore muscles and sleep in a soft bed, she barely gave a thought to her wolf sense or the eyes of a witch that night.