Disclaimer: I do not own Lord of the Rings and I write this story as an avid fan with no profit or gain.
The elves sat on the flet, eyes scanning the forest floor. After three days of skirmishes with orcs, most animals had fled the area. Only the occasional rabbit or deer dared to run below the patrol. Rúmil couldn't help but frown, the forest felt wrong without the sounds of life in it. The eerie silence made the elves uncomfortable. Rúmil only had to glance at the elves to his left and right to see their bodies tense and faces tight. Something was wrong, Rúmil thought. Beyond the borders of Lothlórien, the world was changing. Orcs and threats existed, but their presence in Lothlórien had proven rare. In all his years, Rúmil could not recall another time when orcs pressed so aggressively into the elven lands. Despite the guards of Lothlórien protecting the forest and driving the hordes out, more orcs arrived. In response, Haldir the Marchwarden had ordered double guards on the borders. Rúmil had never been on patrol this long before, but the two orcs he had killed the previous night washed away any weariness he felt. Orcs could not be allowed to pass the border.
"Perhaps the foul creatures have decided to give up," murmured the elf to Rúmil's right. Orophin spoke quietly and slowly readjusted the bow on his shoulder. He was a tall elf, taller than even Haldir, with golden hair pulled back neatly. As his older brother, Orophin had served in the guard for eighty years longer than Rúmil.
"Have you ever seen them attack with such numbers before?" Rúmil asked.
Orophin shook his head, "Not in my time. Haldir said it has been many years since this many have attempted to cross into our land."
The brothers fell into silence. Rúmil returned his gaze to the forest floor and thought about his eldest brother with only a hint of envy. Haldir was back in the city, enjoying his turn away from the border and sleeping away in a proper bed. No, Rúmil chastised himself, Haldir would not be relaxing at home. As Marchwarden, Haldir never allowed himself the luxury of relaxing. He took his responsibility far too seriously. In fact, Rúmil would not be surprised if Haldir arrived any day now to relieve them early. Two days, Rúmil reminded himself, only two more days until respite. The longer patrols were beginning to affect the elves. Elves had high endurance, but constant battle against a freshly arriving and energized enemy inevitably eroded that endurance. Their numbers dwindled too, Rúmil thought darkly, remembering the two elves they'd lost in the past day alone. Only two more days until Haldir's patrol was scheduled to arrive and relieve them.
Without warning, the loudest and most frightening noise Rúmil had ever heard thundered through the forest. The sheer volume of it caused half the elves to jolt to attention in the flet. Very few things indeed could shake up an elf. The tree which held the flet seemed to shudder for a moment before going still again. As quickly as it arrived, the sound was over, lasting no more than a second. As the echo began to fade away, the elves stared at one another in bewilderment.
"What in the name of the Valar was that?" hissed one of the guards.
Rúmil stood up, fear and adrenaline rushing through him. The elves all turned to Orophin, who was their leader. Just as Rúmil opened his mouth to speak, Orophin held up hand.
"Listen," Orophin snapped. "Hear that?"
Rúmil reached up and tucked stray hairs behind his ear. Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath and focused. He could hear the slight breeze pushing past the leaves and… shouts in the distance. Opening his eyes, he met the dark blue orbs of his older brother's intense gaze. They both recognized the sounds of running orcs.
"North," Orophin announced and without further prompting, the elves leapt off the flet. With inhuman grace, they jumped from platform to platform. Traveling above in the branches was faster than trying to run through the bushes and roots on the forest ground. As they ran, another sound made Rúmil's stomach drop- The unmistakable sound of a woman's high pitched scream. Rúmil, Orophin, and the rest of the patrol picked up their speed and soon arrived at the chaos. A horde of orcs in dark, broken armor were chasing after something. They ran and stumbled noisily through the forest greenery with weapons raised. Rúmil's nose wrinkled. Even from up high the stench of orcs was strong. Orophin silently gave orders with arm motions and the elven guards spread out amongst the branches. Each elf moved with such graces along the flets they made no sound, the orcs appeared not to even realize their presence. Rúmil took his respective position and drew what would be his first of many arrows. The elves stood in the shadow of the leaves and waited for Orophin to give the order.
The orc in the front of the pack came to a sudden stop, causing the orc behind him to come crashing into his back. Snarling, the apparent leader turned and glared at his companions. "Smell her out!" He growled, his voice was rough and callous. "She's here somewhere."
"Meat!" A stout orc broke away from the horde and called into the forest. It sniffed loudly and continued to taunt its prey, "We know you're out there! Come out, come out wherever you're hiding."
Orophin lowered his arm swiftly and the arrows began to rain down on the orcs. Their screeches and wails had no effect on the elves. With countless years of training and experience, the elven warriors loaded and fired their arrows faster than the orcs could run. The orcs crashed into one another and a few blindly fired arrows into the air above them. Within seconds, the screams of the orcs came to an end and there was nothing but an array of bodies lying on the forest floor. One by one, the elves jumped down and landed softly and quietly below.
Rúmil landed next to an orc. Curling his lip in disgust, he reached down and yanked his two arrows from the monster's back. The arrow tips came out cleanly, covered in thick dark orc blood. Unbroken arrows could be used again and with patrols doubled and out for longer watches, supplies needed to be managed conservatively. Placing them back in his quiver of remaining arrows, Rúmil observed the other elves searching the bodies of the orcs. However, Orophin was striding some distance away. His body was crouched, as if following a trail in the dirt.
"Stranger, show yourself." Orophin spoke loudly and Rúmil remembered the woman's scream. The younger elf ran after his brother and several elves followed. Looking down, he saw strange tracks in the dirt. He'd never seen tracks like these before.
"What sort of creature walks on two legs like an elf?" Beriadan whispered in horror. Only ninety years old, Beriadan was the youngest member of the Lothlorien guard. He had joined four years ago. With the least experience, Beriadan was easily the most cautious and anxious elf in Orophin's patrol. Usually, Rúmil found Beriadan's worries amusing and sometimes the others played tricks on the new recruit. However, no one mocked Beriadan this time.
"I do not know," Rúmil answered truthfully. He notched an arrow and followed his older brother, tense and alert.
"Show yourself," Orophin ordered again, withdrawing his elven blades as the group of elves began to close in on the tracks. "Come out or-"
Orophin stopped speaking and the elves whirled around. From the direction of the orcs' initial travel came the cackling of more orcs. Their footsteps were crazed and unorganized, but there was something different about this group. As the elves listened, they all heard the one set of footsteps that differed from the rest. Orophin pursed his lips and glanced between the direction of the incoming attack and the strange footsteps, deciding which to pursue. Making a decision, he nodded to the elves, "Get ready, we will not have the element of surprise this time."
Together, they ran back to the remainder of the patrol who had stayed behind with the orc bodies and together, the patrol lined up. Every one of the eighteen elves had an arrow at the ready. All eighteen elves had only one target in mind. Unlike the first group of orcs, this second one brought along a troll. As they drew nearer, the troll's grunts and heavy wheezing from running was unmistakable. Rúmil's concentration broke suddenly, as he thought about the trail of footsteps behind them. What if that creature came up behind them and attacked? At first he had thought it was an elleth or human wearing strange shoes, but what if Beriadan was right? What if it was a different kind of creature?
He looked behind the line of elven archers, but saw and heard nothing. The roar of the incoming troll forced Rúmil to forget his worries and turn back around. Rúmil had not seen a troll in Lothlorien in at least seventy years. What was causing the orcs to act so desperately? What were they trying to accomplish? Trolls had thick skin, it would take many arrows to take it down.
"What is that?" Beriadan's voice was steady and Rúmil admired the new guard's courage, but the fear in Beriadan's face still showed.
"A troll," Orophin answered calmly. "Aim for its eyes so we may blind it, but arrows will not have much effect. Whoever can get close must use a blade to take it down."
Suddenly, the orcs and troll arrived. Arrows shot through the air towards the massive troll. Its skin was blotched blue and brown, covered in dirt and now some blood from the many arrows that impaled it. Unfortunately, many of the arrows had been blocked with a primitive wooden plank that the troll used as a shield. With the first wave of arrows shot, the real battle began. Orcs cackled and threw themselves at the elves who were forced to fight hand to hand. Rúmil, like many of his fellow elves, decided against the bow and pulled out his blades. Rúmil's arms moved rapidly and efficiently through the air, his blades cutting through orc flesh. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the troll swing a club towards him and Rúmil threw himself to the ground just in time. Instead of hitting him, the club collided into the orc that was about to throw his ax into Rúmil. The blow sent the orc through the air, spraying black blood onto Rúmil. Jumping to his feet, he ran through the opening between the troll's legs, sliding his blades along the beast's legs. They cut, but it was not enough to bring the troll down. The troll howled in pain and tried to grab Rúmil who managed to escape the giant hands.
But Orophin was not so lucky. Rúmil watched in horror as his older brother cut down an orc with a final blow to the chest, but was knocked off his feet as the troll clasped its fingers around Orophin's torso. Rúmil had fought countless times at his both his brothers' sides. Only a handful of times had either Orophin or Haldir been in enough danger for Rúmil to worry. The three brothers were warriors and thus were accustomed to injuries and wounds, but Rúmil felt sheer panic as he watched the troll triumphantly lift the shouting Orophin into the air.
"NO!" Rúmil tried to run towards the troll, but an orc blocked his path. The orc smiled and revealed decaying, sharp teeth. The orc lifted a thick sword and Rúmil was forced to defend himself. Half his attention focused on the troll's lifted arm, he felt his heart freeze as the troll's muscles moved and the hand tightened around Orophin's body. Only a few more seconds and his brother would undoubtedly be crushed to death. Several other elves shouted in alarm and arrows shot at the troll. Two arrows pierced the troll's hand and it yowled, but the hand continued to squeeze. Orophin's scream distracted Rúmil so that he failed to block the orc's blade. It stabbed into his shoulder. Pain shot through him and Rúmil fell back, barely able to parry the orc's blade again with his remaining good arm.
Orophin's screams were overwhelmed with the loudest and most violent noise Rúmil had ever heard in his life. For the second time, the mysterious thunderous noise cut through the forest. It was the same noise that had initially scared the patrol earlier before the woman's scream. The battle came to a halt. Orcs, elves, and troll alike comically froze in place as their heads turned in the same direction. Standing at the edge of the battle, hiding slightly behind a tree was a human woman. If she hadn't just caused a noise equal to only thunder, they might have missed her presence entirely. The woman wore strange clothing with a pattern of brown and green colors, obviously meant to blend in with the forestry background. She wore a hat of the same pattern, but her thick boots were dark black. The color of her skin was slightly brown and her face slender. The expression she wore was a mixture of fear, determination, and shock. It was an expression Rúmil would never forget. Cautiously, the woman stepped out fully from behind the tree with her right arm outstretched, holding up a black piece of metal.
No one moved as she opened her mouth and spoke sharply. The words were entirely lost on Rúmil and most likely, all others as well. Few orcs or elves, and no trolls for that matter, knew the Common Tongue in this part of Middle Earth. Besides Elvish, most guards only knew enough Orkish to get by in interrogations. Only Haldir and few elves in all of Lothlorien could speak the Common Tongue. The woman faltered, uncertain at the lack of response. Stubbornly, she tried again but was cut off when one orc regained his senses. Angrily, it threw a knife in her direction. With reflexes that seemed far too natural for a woman, the mortal dodged the knife. Her movement seemed to wake up the rest of the battle participants. Instantly, the violence resumed. Orophin cried out in pain and Rúmil recovered faster than his opponent, cutting the orc down. Just as he took his first leap towards the troll, the woman shouted and BOOM!
For a third time, the thunderous sound cut through the air. This time, the elves knew exactly where it came from. The mysterious sound came from the woman, but not her exactly. The sound seemed to come from the metal she held in her hand. It was so small and Rúmil stared at her in bewilderment, until movement from the corner of his eye caused him to turn away from her. The troll was swaying on his legs weakly. Elves and orcs alike paused in their warfare to watch in astonishment as a single, thick trail of blood made its way from a hole dead center in the troll's forehead. The hole was abnormally circular. The troll collapsed suddenly to the ground, dead and still. The orcs began to scream in fright and retreated hastily, nervously glancing back at the mortal woman. Rúmil wasted no time in running to his brother's side. The troll had dropped Orophin to the ground and now the elf lay wheezing heavily, face contorted in pain. Rúmil touched the Orophin's side gingerly and pulled away as his brother yelped in pain.
"I think you have several broken ribs," Rúmil informed his brother gravely. "We need to get him back to the city! You, retrieve the cot! Hurry!"
The nearest elf ran off. Above in the flets would be a medical cot for Orophin to lay on and be carried back. For now, Orophin would need to wait on the ground for it to arrive.
"She saved me," Orophin sounded amazed and his neck twisted slightly so he could look at the woman. Rúmil looked with him and they watched as she waved her deadly black weapon around at the elves. She was yelling in the common tongue again, her voice more panicky this time. With the battle over, the elves were able to get a proper look at her. She was tall for a woman, tall like an elleth but not as slender. While elleths were slender and graceful, this woman was tall but lean. Her upper garb had its sleeves rolled up meticulously and besides the cuts from branches on her tan arms, the muscle tone was clear. Her face was slightly hidden under the hat, but he could see thick, dark eyelashes with brown eyes beneath. Mortals seldom ventured into the forest, but out of the few he had seen, none had looked anything like this mortal. From her clothing to her skin tone, she was startling different.
Rúmil never learned how to speak the common tongue fluently, but Haldir had taught him basic words. He slowly stood up from where he knelt by Orophin. His movement caused the woman to point the black metal thing at him. Rúmil stiffened and he glanced at the dead troll a few feet away. Whatever weapon she held, it was powerful enough to kill a troll with one strike. He looked at her with what he hope was a friendly expression and he lifted his hands, showing that he held no weapons.
"Peace," He said uncertainly. Rúmil prayed to the Valar that was the right word in the common tongue. He gained some confidence when the woman's arm relaxed slightly.
"Peace," He said again. This time, he took a small step forward. The woman became rigid once more and Rúmil winced. He shook his head and smiled, "Peace!"
The woman spoke rapidly in her language. Her tone sounded questioning and her eyes darted around nervously.
Resorting back to Elvish, he spoke softly, "We do not understand you, my lady."
Hearing him speak his own language, the mortal woman's eyes widened. The elves watched as comprehension flooded over her face. She paused, deciding on her next words. With her free hand, she pointed to Rúmil then gestured to the rest of the elves. Then, she said inquiringly, "Peace?"
Relief coursed through Rúmil. Excitedly he nodded his head, "Peace."
Keeping his hands up, he turned to his fellow guards and said softly, "Slowly put down your weapons. We must show the mortal that we do not mean her harm." They followed his instructions and thankfully, the woman did not use her weapon. She watched them as they all lifted their hands to mimic Rúmil. After several long moments, the woman gradually lowered her own weapon but did not drop it. Taking this as an encouraging gesture, Rúmil took one more step towards the woman and when she did not raise her weapon again, he pointed to her right.
There stood an elf, with the medical cot in hand. He stood there waiting for permission to move. Rúmil pointed from the elf back to Orophin and explained even though she would not understand him, "He needs a healer. Please."
Never in his life did Rúmil imagine himself asking a mortal for permission to save his brother's life. Mortals were supposed to be selfish, power hungry beings and he worried what she might do next. To his relief, she understood immediately and nodded. The elves immediately moved towards Orophin and several, including Rúmil, gingerly moved a moaning Orophin onto the cot. Two elves lifted the cot to their shoulders and moved off, disappearing into the trees. When they were gone, the remaining elves looked back to the mortal woman.
She boldly walked towards them, a determination in her face and stride. At her waist hung the black weapon that had killed the troll. The elves stood together, but Rúmil stepped out to meet her. When she was within two feet of him, she stopped and pointed at him meaningfully. Rúmil frowned, unsure of what to make of her gesture. She tilted her head in confusion back. After a moment, she turned her hand inward and pointed to herself, "Lauren."
"What is a Lauren?" Beriadan spoke out nervously from behind Rúmil.
The mortal woman smiled excitedly when Beriadan said the strange word. She pointed to herself vigorously and repeated several times, "Lauren. Lauren. Lauren."
"I think she is telling us her name," Rúmil pointed to her, "Lauren."
Lauren nodded her head and then pointed at him. She waited patiently.
Rúmil pointed to himself and said, "Rúmil."
"Ruuumill," She tried out his name, sounding it out. Pleased, she nodded and then gestured to the forest around them. Her face was questioning and he immediately knew what she asked.
"Lothlorien," He informed her.
Lauren's brows furrowed and then spoke rapidly in the common tongue. Remembering they could not understand her, she looked exasperated and then pointed in the direction the elves had carried Orophin away. "Peace?"
Rúmil nodded and began to walk that way, "Peace."
Journeying with Lauren the mortal proved tense. The elves kept to themselves and the mortal made no attempt to engage them in conversation. Rúmil had attempted to run ahead but was forced to stop when Lauren immediately pulled out her black weapon and shouted, "Peace!" Clearly, she didn't feel comfortable with him leaving. He couldn't blame her though, he was the only one who could speak a word of her language. That must have brought her comfort. Even though he yearned to race ahead and see how Orophin fared, he stayed behind. In compromise, he kept a fast pace and was pleasantly surprised when Lauren did not protest. She kept up with the elves without complaint, but she was very loud and her footsteps clumsy. The other patrols would be able to hear her coming from a mile away. Several times Lauren tripped over the roots but she did not fall behind. When they reached their flets, Rúmil ordered everyone in the patrol to stand the remainder of their watch. Despite the unexplained mortal and her weapon, the borders still needed guards. Rúmil only took Beriadan with him and Lauren.
The three travelled for several hours and soon, the sun began to rise in the sky. Streams of warm sun that made it through the dense canopy replaced the cool moonlight. Lauren looked around in wonder as they continued and it brought Rúmil pleasure to know that she found his home beautiful. After another hour, he noticed Lauren begin to slow.
Beriadan voiced his concern first, "We should stop and rest. The mortal is tiring."
"I agree," Rúmil came to a stop at the foot of a tree. "I'll climb and fetch the ladder."
As they spoke, Lauren watched the pair with a look of suspicion. The shadow from her hat made the mortal look especially dangerous, never mind the weapon of death at her waist. She asked a question and pointed at the ground then tapped her foot impatiently.
Beriadan attempted to communicate with her this time. To Rúmil's entertainment, the young elf lifted his hands and then the rested his head on them trying to imitate sleep.
"Mortals sleep with their eyes shut," Rúmil reminded his fellow elf, trying not to laugh. "They also snore, make wheezing noises."
Cheeks burning in embarrassment, Beriadan continued his charade. Complying with Rúmil's suggestion, he closed his eyes and attempted mortal snoring. It sounded more like choking, but Lauren made a sound of understanding. Then she shook her head and pointed ahead of them, "Peace."
"Seems like she wants to continue," Rúmil was still smiling, "Despite your wonderful offer of respite."
"Let us continue then," Beriadan cleared his throat and with pride, walked on. They travelled for the rest of the morning until the sun was high in the sky. Though they slowed down, Rúmil was content that they reached the outskirts of the city in good time. As the trees cleared away to reveal an overlook of the city, he heard Lauren catch her breath. The two elves watched as the mortal's face alit with unmistakable awe. For the first time, the mortal did not have a trace of fear or mistrust in her expression. Rúmil took the time to fully survey the mortal. She was indeed toned with muscle, but not enough to compare to a man or elf. Still, her body was unlike anything he'd seen. Unlike elleth who wore their long hair freely, Lauren had dark hair that was pulled tightly in a bun beneath her hat. He couldn't help but wonder how long it was. She seemed almost masculine, opposite of the famously graceful and beautiful female elves. Mortals aged differently than elves and Rúmil didn't know enough about women to make a guess at her age, but clearly she was not a child.
"Welcome to Lothlorien," Rúmil told her, feeling sincere in his welcome. Never had a mortal been able to walk freely and without blindfold into their borders, but she had saved his companions from battle and Orophin from sure death.
"Lothlorien," Lauren snapped out of her reverie. She said something in the common tongue and even though the elves could not understand, they knew it was a compliment. After seeing their destination, Lauren's pace increased and she seemed less defensive.
Both Rúmil and Beriadan paused not five minutes later. Not expecting the sudden stop, Lauren walked into Beriadan's back and jumped away. Before she could say anything, a dozen elves seemed to drop out of the sky. The frightened mortal withdrew her black weapon and aimed it warily at the closest elf to her. He was a well-built elf and looked similar to the rest. They all had the same light, golden hair, pulled back by thin braids, revealing pointed ears. Her gaze rested for several extra moments on the newcomer's ears and her eyes narrowed.
"Peace!" Rúmil did not hesitate to stand between his eldest brother and Lauren. He pointed to himself then to the Marchwarden, "Rúmil. Haldir."
Lauren bit her lip in contemplation, then nodded and lowered the black weapon. Haldir looked to the woman and said, "This is the mortal Orophin spoke of?"
Rúmil turned to face his eldest brother, "How is he?"
"He will survive but the healers said it will be a long recovery, he has many broken bones," Haldir shared. "He claims that a mortal woman saved his life."
"It's true," Rúmil confirmed. "Her name is Lauren and she speaks only common tongue. Beware Haldir, she has a weapon that killed a troll in one attack. It is as loud as thunder and-"
"We heard three times a noise unexplained," Haldir cut in. "Where is this weapon?"
"At her waist," Rúmil swallowed hard. "Haldir, it is nothing like I have ever heard of or seen. Whatever it does, it cut through a troll's skin without trouble and she stood over twenty feet away!"
"Did she use it against any of us?" Haldir asked seriously.
"No," Rúmil shook his head vigorously. "Brother, I think she can be trusted. She is suspicious of us naturally, but has made no move to harm us."
Pondering this information, Haldir stepped forward and bowed slightly, "You have my thanks, my lady. You saved my brother's life."
Lauren took a step back, shocked at the sudden use of English. She sputtered, causing the elf named Haldir to cock his eyebrow at her. He seemed almost condescending. Embarrassed, Lauren recovered and said, "Y-You can understand me?"
"Clearly," Haldir wasted no time and asked, "How does a mortal woman dressed in such garb make her way into Lothlorien?"
"Mortal?" Lauren frowned but then waved her hands in a defensive mode, "Wait, no. First of all, what are you?"
"I am an elf," Haldir responded calmly. "I am the Marchwarden of Lothlorien. Who are you?"
She didn't respond right away. Instead, Lauren looked from one elf to the next. She examined their clothing, their weapons, and most of all their ears. Then Lauren stared hard at the ground, her fingers pulling nervously at her shirt.
"I asked you a question mortal," The elf repeated. His voice was hard without the slightest bit of compassion. Rúmil winced slightly and wondered how any elleth could ever find his brother attractive. Rúmil knew Haldir was not truly a cruel elf, but the Marchwarden had much to learn when it came to speaking with elleth… Or in this case, to a woman. Too many times, Rúmil had witnessed Haldir destroy any chance of companionship with an elleth. Haldir only knew how to speak to soldiers and forgot that not everyone was war hardened border guard. This led to several elleth running away in tears and a confused Haldir behind.
Surprisingly, Lauren did not seem disturbed by the tone. If anything, it seemed to snap her out of her distress. The mortal woman's head snapped up and her eyes met the stare of the Marchwarden evenly. When she spoke, her voice proved strong and calm, "My name is First Lieutenant Lauren Harris, United States Marine Corps and there's been a terrible accident."