Lauren, back in her room, began to prepare for her departure. It would be at least a few week’s journey to reach the mountains of shadow, and then who knows how long to find the tablet. She’d need provisions and weapons. What about companions? Her mind asked. She knew the answer to that even before the question came to her. There would be none. She could not ask any of her friends to accompany her, it would be simply a waste of their time and with her luck, they’d end up dead. She still had not forgiven herself for the attack on her companions on their journey to Lorien. That evil would surely find a way to hinder her if not take her away to some unknown end. No, she could not jeopardize the life of any she cared for.
Though she was hesitant to acknowledge the fact, she realized that she would need to slip away at night. It would be impossible to go alone in daylight and she felt safer thinking that most things that might be after her would be asleep. She was just about to decide upon a method to achieve her supplies when she heard the harsh clink of metal hitting metal. She realized it had been going on for some time now.
She stepped out of the tree to the sight of Elphir and Elladan in the middle of a spar. The pair seemed evenly matched, but Elphir caught sight of Lauren and glanced her way for a moment. Elladan noticed the break in his concentration and used it to his full advantage. In a split second Elphir’s sword lay on the ground, severed from his hand.
“That should teach you not to challenge an elf, especially when you wish to question his skill,” commented Elladan with a smile, helping him to his feet.
“Well done,” Lauren clapped as a wide grin spread across her face.
Elphir, noticing, came over to her and asked, “I suppose you found that amusing?”
Lauren shrugged, “It would have been more amusing if I were the one sparring.”
“In that case,” said Elphir, tossing her a sword, “Let the match begin.”
Lauren caught the sword hilt first and weighed it in her hand. It was a bit slimmer than what she was used to. She took a few practise strokes and, satisfied with its performance, brought the sword in front her. ” Very well,” she said as she acknowledged his challenge. She stood still for a moment then lunged at Elphir in flurry of swift strokes. He barely had enough time to block before her next strike landed.
“You’ve quickened since our last spar,” he remarked.
“Of course, since then I’ve encountered merciless orcs. Something like that leaves an impression,” she replied and relented on him a little so that now they parried back and forth, fighting a more evenly matched duel.
“Would you like to come to Dol Amroth with me? You told me you haven’t seen much of Middle Earth and my father, Prince Imrahil, would welcome us with a feast fit for a king.”
Lauren kept her pace as she thought carefully of the best answer she could give, the invitation had caught her off guard and had made her a bit nervous. She had seen the look in Elphir’s eyes that spoke of more than she was ready for. Finally, she answered, “Perhaps one day, I wish to stay here a little while longer.” She wasn’t lying outright, she assured herself, she did want to stay in Lothlorien, she simply did not add that she wouldn’t be following through with her wish.
A hint of red touched Elphir’s eyes as he answered coldly, “As you wish my lady.” His voice contained no emotion, yet it was not entirely his own. After a moment, he erupted, pushing her back towards the trees, a red glare now emanating from his eyes.
“Is my hospitality not fit for you? Do you plan to stay with a diminishing people all your life? Will you forsake your kin?” he yelled as best he could with his now rasp and menacing voice.
Lauren, surprised by this sudden onslaught, loosened her grip on her sword and it flew from her hand with Elphir’s next blow.
Elphir continued his rambling with his sword drawing ever nearer to her throat. “All they do is feast and sing, loosing all touch with the reality that there is work to be done! Is that what you want? To be spoiled by those who do not deserve what they have?”
She tried to explain, growing ever more fearful of his sudden rage, but Elphir cut her off, seemingly calmed. The red drained from his eyes, returning them to their welcoming blue-green hue. His voice became his own again. He lowered his sword, filling Lauren with relief and continued, “I’m sorry my lady, I do not know what came over me.” He threw his sword down and walked away, hand on his forehead. He glanced back at her, with deep remorseful eyes, showing some of his confusion at his outburst. She walked over and hugged him, “Don’t worry about it,” she said. He smiled, and walked away. She let him go, knowing that it would be best to leave him to his thoughts.
She began to gather the weapons and put them back onto the rack. Her hand shook as she reached for a blade; an after affect of one of her friends seemingly turning on her. She calmed her nerves and reviewed what had happened. She knew Elphir would never try to attack her and that he hadn’t been himself. That voice he had used had been so familiar. Where had she heard it before?
Her resolve to leave Lothlorien hardened, at least then she would be alone, unable to hurt or distort anyone but herself. She shook her head to chase away all these menacing thoughts and, deciding to make the best of her time left, grabbed a sword to practise a move Elrohir had shown her. She had no doubt that she would need what skills she had to survive the trip to the mountains of shadow. Though Sauron had been defeated a few years ago, she had heard whisperings of a strange shadow over Mordor.
“Your footwork is a little on the tasteless side. It’s crying for help,” remarked a voice from behind. She turned to see Thialfir grinning broadly.
“If it is, it’s your fault, you’re my instructor,” she shot back, returning his grin.
“Why does everyone always blame me?” he asked in mock exasperation, then drew his sword and went through the difficult combination with her.
Once they had finished, he grabbed two pairs of daggers. “I believe it is time for another lesson, now that you are officially a warrior, we can’t have you mastering just one weapon. Although I realize that the bow is out of the question, perhaps daggers will suite you better,” he teased.
” I’ll just ignore that part about the bow,” she started, ” Wait a minute, what did you say about me being a warrior?” she asked while the common expression `What are you smoking’ drifted through her mind at the thought of being called a warrior. Luckily she kept her mouth shut, knowing that such an expression would have no meaning to an elf from Middle Earth.
” `Tis true. You have fought and killed, although much sooner than I had hoped and in more dire circumstances,” he explained with true compassion, and added with the utmost sincerity, “You also saved my life… twice.”
Lauren remembered that day in vivid clarity. The thought of those orcs still made her retch. The way they had been prepared to kill without a second’s thought, the way they had anticipated with glee the torture of Elphir and Thialfir, the way they had carried out their brutal task all made them inhuman and yet, she could barely live with herself knowing that she’d killed them. Now that’s what you call ironic, she thought bitterly. She felt a hand take hers and realised that she had been trembling, consumed with anger, fear and remorse.
Thialfir caught her gaze, knowing exactly what she was going through. It happens to all who kill for the first time. “Lauren,” he said softly, ” I know it is hard to accept. I went through the same experience, but you had no other choice. If you had not killed we would both be dead now.” She nodded and gently slipped her hand from his, taking two of the knives from his hand and looking at him expectantly.
Thialfir sighed inwardly, wishing he could help Lauren accept what she had done instead of seeing her bury it away. Nevertheless, he began the lesson, doing much the same he had on their first lesson, weeks ago, only with different techniques and different weapons.
Two hours later they had begun sparring with the basic techniques. Lauren remained oddly silent and only sent him slightly annoyed looks whenever her daggers flew from her hand on account of his blows. To Lauren’s delight, she finally managed to disarm Thialfir on her tenth attempt. Thialfir tried to conceal his hand since she had accidentally cut it, and did not want her to worry.
A smile spread across her face as she returned to her old humorous self. With both knives held near Thialfir, she began to tease, “And now what shall I do with-” but stopped and flung her knives to the ground as she saw the slow trickle of blood from Thialfir’s clenched fist.
“Thialfir, I am so sorry, you know I didn’t mean to. Here, let me see,” she said.
“Do not think on it, it’s just a scratch,” he said trying to hide his hand behind his back.
“No, no, no, no. You’re coming with me,” she said as she dragged him, despite his protests, into the nearby dwelling.
Once inside she poured water from a pitcher into a small bowl in which she soaked a handkerchief. “Now, open your hand,” she ordered when she saw his still clenched fist.
“Uh uh,” he answered in a tone very much like a three year old.
“Thialfir, come on.”
“No,” he said as he shook his head vigorously.
“Thialfir,” she groaned, pleading with him.
Seeing how upset she was, he relented and opened his bloodied palm. She gently cleansed the surrounding area until the small gash appeared; a thin straight line cutting through his palm, rimmed in red as the blood continued to flow. She lifted her eyes to him, filled with guilt and remorse, then placed her hand over his, feeling the wound and willing it to close. She hid her other hand behind her back as an invisible blade sliced the soft flesh open. When she lifted her hand, the gash had disappeared from his palm.
“Better?” she whispered.
“Much,” he answered as his eyes softened and he gently pulled her hand from behind her back and brushed his lips against her fingers. His touch sent shivers through her as she met his eyes.
His expression hardened as he felt something wet on her palm. He turned her hand over, “Oh Elbereth, is this what happens when you heal?”
She nodded, then gazed down at her palm, when she looked back into his eyes the gash on her hand was also gone. “It’s not that bad,” she smiled.
Thialfir, still sceptical, inspected her other hand to ensure that she hadn’t transferred the wound.
“Satisfied?” she asked.
“Somewhat,” he answered, “I still do not want for you to be hurt, no matter what the consequences are for me.”
“So you would rather I suffer through my guilt?” she asked, half teasing half serious.
“I would rather you not suffer at all,” he answered, all humour gone from his voice. He reached his hand forward, hesitated for a moment, then tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear. His hand, instead of going back to his side, fell gently on hers. She let it rest there a moment, then slowly pulled away. Sensing her discomfort, he rose and said, “Come, we are still but halfway through our lesson.”