"Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens."
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Chapter 9: Bedside Manners

I wasn't there when Frodo woke.

It was morning, and I slept blissfully in my room, my addled brain giving in after the last shard of the Morgol blade had been extracted. I didn't emerge until past one, and by then Frodo slept again. I couldn't begrudge him the opportunity. Lord knew we wouldn't get much rest after this.

But I was restless, so I washed my face and dressed and made my way through the strangely empty halls of Rivendell to a quiet porch, and, as weariness took over again, I found a seat.

The breeze was a cool one. Summer had turned to fall, but I found that comforting. Cider days. Pumpkin days. Time to dress up and pretend to be people we're not.

Back home I'd be pulling the last of the garden up, bedding down what was left. dad would be scouring the fields for any potatoes the farmers had missed, any apples. There'd be a hay bale we had no use for, and I'd check the cracks in the barn, because of course he'd forgotten.

Dad is gone, I reminded myself. It's just me now.

When had my life gotten so lonely?

I didn't hear a step, just noticed a change in the air. It got stiller somehow, greener, like the forest closing in, though before me were waterfalls and sunshine.

"Forgive me," said a voice, soft and rough, as I stood and turned.

A man stood before me – an Elf. He was cleaner than he should have been, for there was an air of travel about him, a quality I recognized but could not put my finger to. His hair was long and blonde, and his face young even by Elven standards. His eyes held shadows, but not as many as some I'd seen. Elrond's, for one.

Those eyes, as they stared at me, widened almost imperceptibly.

"My lady?"

"Raelyn," I said, with as good a courtesy as I could make.

"Yes, but…"

"You might have known my aunt."

"Queen Scilla of Dale," said the Elf. "Yes, I knew her. If you are her niece, then...you are not from Middle Earth."

'''Fraid not," I snorted. "Got here by accident, just like my aunt…" I hesitated, winding my fingers together. "Did you know her well?"

The Elf came further into the room, waved a hand at the bench I'd been sitting on.

"Please," I said, sitting back down and making room.

He took a seat. "Forgive me. I have not introduced myself. My name is Legolas."

"Prince of Mirkwood?"

He winced, almost imperceptibly. "I am. I know your aunt because we fought in the Battle of Five Armies together, and because she was a…guest of my father's for a short while. Tell me, how did you come to be here?"

I shrugged. "No idea. I'll leave that mystery to Gandalf and Elrond. I've got bigger problems."

His eyebrows lowered, his eyes focused. I had rarely felt such scrutiny. "What problems are those?"

I sighed, looked down at my hands. "How to tell my friends I'm staying until this is done."

"I see." Legolas looked away, his gaze now on the water before us. "Then it is as we have suspected. These are troubling times."

There was no denying it. I nodded.

He looked at me again. "Will you be guiding us then, as you aunt did?"

"I don't know about that, but I know I'll be here."

He smiled then, softly, almost, not quite a smile. The smile of someone who has few things to smile about. "I am glad to hear it. Your coming is a small omen, perhaps, but a good one."

I blushed. "You people have an extraordinary amount of faith in me and my friends."

Legolas considered this. "We have learned to accept help when it comes. That it comes unsought for seems to be a sign that we are not entirely alone in our struggles."

My turn to do some considering. I'd been whisked away to Middle Earth, presumably by a book and a handkerchief. But how had my friends gotten here? And why? A moment before I'd been bemoaning my loneliness, but they had crossed centuries to come after me.

I stood up, waved Legolas down before he could follow. "Thank you. I…have something to do."

His voice floated after me as I left, "Yes…of course."

I found Jimmy and John in the hallway outside Frodo's rooms. Jimmy was leaning against the wall, frowning down at John where he sat on the floor, throwing a stone at the far wall and catching it as it bounced back.

"Hey," I said softly.

John stood up, brushing himself off, and both boys surveyed me carefully.

"Quite a mess you've got us in," Jimmy said finally.

"Yes, well…" I shifted my feet uncomfortably. "Maybe they can send you home now, so you don't have to be in the middle of it."

"Don't be ridiculous," Jimmy said, at the same time John said, "Hell no."

"I think we're going to throw a Ring into a mountain," John added.

"Shh!" I hissed at him. "They don't know that yet! By the way…how well do you remember the books?"

John opened and closed his mouth, then shrugged. "I read them in…Actually, no. My mom read them to me and my sister."

"I read them again last summer," Jimmy said. "You're right. Things are a little different." He looked at John. "And you've never read a book in your life."

John grinned. "Pretty sure I read Dr. Seuss."

"I'm pretty sure you looked at the pictures. That doesn't count."

"Sure it does. 'See. Spot. Run.' I saw Spot run. Therefore, I read it."

Jimmy had opened his mouth to retort, but I was already laughing. I laughed loudly and shamelessly. It'd been so long since I'd laughed.

"Thank you," I said to their astonished, simple faces. "I don't know what I'd have done without you all these years. I need to get back to Frodo now. If you see my brother, would you tell him where I am? We'll worry about rings and mountains and John's illiteracy after I've talked to him."

They muttered something after me, but I'd already turned, knowing they'd be embarrassed.