I'm still working on the next chapter of Elemental, but since I now have 115 pages of this new story written, I thought I would go ahead and throw up the first chapter and see if there's any interest. Let me know your thoughts!
The timeline on this is from well before the events of The Hobbit, until after LOTR. I think. I'm nowhere near the end of the story yet.
Elizabeth took a look around the deck of her cabin cruiser, running her hand across the gleaming wood and chrome of the Aqua Vitae. It was a fine and seaworthy little yacht that had served her well in the five years she had owned it, and was the final link to who and what she had been before arriving on the shores of Middle-earth.
She smiled, another thrill of amazement running through her. After the trails of legends, tall tales and sightings from fisherman and sailors alike she had doggedly followed, it still made her giddy that she had accomplished something so seemingly impossible. It was as unlikely as discovering a way to enter a Fae realm, but really, who was to say that wasn't possible too? It was not the first time she had known the supposedly impossible to be reality in her life, and perhaps it would not be the last. Her dear brother surely would have been proud of her.
Securing the heavy bags of treasure and other miscellany to her horse, she took a final look around the little cove where she had hidden her vessel. It had been nearly two years of adapting to a new land, and learning to speak Westron had been the first task that took some time to accomplish. It was not as difficult to slip into the rhythms of life in her new land as she had feared. In fact, she felt calm and peaceful returning to such similar customs and ways of dress as she had been born to. It was like slipping into an old, favorite pair of shoes, long buried in the back of the closet.
Elizabeth was never enamored of machines and technology, but she recognized they served a purpose, despite shrinking the world to a tiny place and making it much more difficult to erase your tracks when you wanted to just...disappear. But she had never realized how wearying it truly was to live in a world of phones, computers, televisions, instant communication and the like.
There was never any peace and seldom any quiet or time for reflection, as there had been such an abundance of in earlier centuries. No, the modern world was always racing for bigger, faster, better. The next great discovery or breakthrough. It was mind-numbing and sometimes soul-destroying, as well as lonely. There were millions of people all connected through technology, yet perversely isolated in spite of it. An age of contradictions and fractured humans that left her feeling adrift, where there was no longer a place for her left to flee to.
She was tired; incredibly weary, and more than a little melancholy after so much time on her own. Hopefully, the path she had finally chosen to take would be the right one. All the gossip and tales she had heard in the taverns and from what scholars she had been able to find seemed to agree. The Elvenking of Mirkwood was renowned as a very wise and proud sovereign, and he was very fond of gems and treasure.
Mounting the stallion, she clicked her tongue at her horse to get him moving and led the two other horses that carried all her belongings, beginning the trek back to Belfalas. It was time to hire a guide and hit the road, and perhaps find a new life that would not end in further disappointments and despair.
Elizabeth stared in amazement at the vast forest in front of her, stretching in either direction farther than the eye could see. She tilted her head, a swell of anticipation rising in her. There was something truly magical among the trees ahead; she didn't know what it was, but she could feel it in her bones.
Mirkwood, as some named it, sounded so very ominous, but for all she could see, it was lush, verdant leaves on vigorous trees in the spring sunshine. Despite hearing of some evil that supposedly resided there, all she felt was a desire to enter every time the branches swayed in the gentle breeze, almost as though they were beckoning her.
Turning, she smiled at the gruff guide and the four guards he engaged to protect them as a precaution on their perilous journey. Although it had been remarkably smooth, and other than one horse going lame, which they had replaced not long after, they encountered no danger at all.
"Well, shall we? I think we should be able to go quite a ways in before loss of light forces us to camp." She looked again to Eluric, her smile faltering as he stared grimly at the forest and shook his head.
"Nay, Miss. This is as far as the lads and I go. You'll be on your own from here if you choose to carry on with this."
Frowning, she looked at the other men, but all of them avoided her eyes except Thurmond, the leader of the guards, and his expression was closed and harsh. Lips parting in dismay, she sought Eluric's gaze.
"What exactly are you saying? I've paid you all very well for this venture, and you agreed to take me to the elven kingdom, not leave me here at the edge of the woods."
He looked uncomfortable but pressed his lips together stubbornly, his salt and pepper beard quivering with the movement.
"Aye, you have paid us well, which is why we've come so far with a strange lass like yourself." When she stiffened in her saddle, he held out a placating hand. "Now, I meant no insult, it's more than clear you're a lady from some fine family, which is why I can't understand why you wanted to come here. You could have got a fine husband in Dol Amroth with your looks and wealth..."
"I have no interest in a husband, Eluric," she said sharply. "I have had one and do not require another."
He sighed, running a hand through his unkempt hair. "Be that as it may, lady, did you not hear what the last peddler we met had to say of this place? Giant spiders spawn here, and the elf king is a powerful sorcerer!"
She laughed humorlessly. "Yes, I heard him! I just had more sense than to count his words as anything other than gossip." Scoffing, she shook her head, muttering in English, "Superstitious ass."
He jerked his head at the men around him, ignoring the strange sounding words she often spoke to herself in. "We have families. None of us can take the risk of going in there," he said, pointing toward the trees. "I will give some of the gold back, if you like, since I did say I would take you all the way there when we struck the bargain."
She urged her horse to the hindest of the guardsman and briskly took the leads for her pack horses from him. Walking the animals closer to the path leading into the forest, she stopped to look at the men, her face a cold, proud mask. When she spoke, her voice was stern.
"You may keep the gold, for I gave you my word and I shan't break it, whether you do or no. I can see now the mettle you are all made of." With her back to the men, she urged her horses down the path that disappeared into the trees, her voice floating back toward them.
"I do not fear spiders or sorcerers. Let them come if they dare, and meet an Englishwoman."
Wiping the sweat from her brow, Elizabeth stared up into the thick canopy of the trees overhead. She could not put her finger on it, but she was sure the forest had eyes that followed her as she rode along. The hair rising on the back of her neck was like alarm bells, and she found herself constantly scanning the trees around her, looking for movement.
Firmly pulling her horse to a standstill, she dismounted and unbuttoned her riding jacket, peeling it off and sighing in relief as the breeze blew gently, cooling her quickly through the thinner blouse she wore beneath the thick coat. She had been traveling for hours on her own, and as the sun took its course, the muted light in the forest was beginning to dim.
It was unnerving being completely on her own after journeying with the hired men for so many weeks, which she admitted might be the reason for her feeling so skittish. They weren't the brightest or most cheerful lot, but as she had gotten used to them, there was a kind of comfort that came from learned familiarity. Likely there was nothing to fear or that should cause alarm in the woods, and it was only their fearful talk that had her on edge.
Wondering how much further she might go before she would be forced to camp, she bent to tighten a strap that had loosened on one of her packs. Straightening, she looked up into the arresting blue eyes of a tall, lithe man standing not four feet away from her. Drawing a surprised breath, for she had heard no sound of his approach, they stared openly at one another.
Tilting her head, she could see in her peripheral vision that she was surrounded by others on all sides, but she could not tear her eyes from the one who stood before her; long blond-hair, the brightest eyes of a blue summer sky she had ever seen, and hauntingly beautiful.
"Are you an elf?" she asked, her eyes wandering to his delicately pointed ears and realizing he could be nothing but. A thrill raced through her at the thought.
He moved forward with a graceful fluidity in his stride and touched her horse, the beast nuzzling eagerly against him.
"I am an elf." His eyes glinted with humor, his voice melodious but undeniably masculine. "This is a horse, and you a woman, that much is certain. But as to what you do in Greenwood or what your business is in coming here, that is a mystery. One I must know the answer to."
She grinned, relieved and nearly giddy to have found the people she had been seeking with no trouble at all, and neither a spider nor sorcerer in sight.
"My name is Elizabeth Seymour, and I come to beg an audience with the king of Greenwood the Great, although I'm sorry I do not know his name as none I asked could tell me."
The elf listened to her intently, eyes sharp on her, although he appeared relaxed and at ease, continuing to caress the tired horse. He moved away from the large beast, walking closer until he was in the woman's personal space, his eyes examining hers searchingly and keenly.
She resisted the urge to back away, instead taking note of his strong jaw, straight nose and proud bearing. In so many ways, he was not so different to mankind, yet there was still an undeniable otherness about him that was readily apparent. His movements were almost cat-like in their grace, and she realized his skin actually seemed to have a bit of a….glow. Incredible.
"You speak the truth," he announced finally, signaling to someone behind her and speaking rapidly in another language. She turned and saw many more brown-haired elves come out from the trees, two of them taking her pack horses and leading them further down the path she had been following.
The blonde elf motioned for her to mount, which she quickly did, sucking in a surprised breath when he leapt up nimbly behind her. Taking the reins from her, he urged the horse forward into a quick trot, then slowed to a walk after they passed the pack animals. She turned her head enough to see his face, finding him even more startlingly handsome up close.
"May I know your name, Sir, or should I just keep calling you 'golden-haired elf' in my head?" He laughed, the sound rich and fair, making her smile.
"I am called Legolas, and our king's name that you wondered at is Thranduil. I do not know if the king will agree to see you this day, but as there is no harm in trying I will take you to the halls. It is an odd thing to come across a young woman alone, wandering through our woods."
"Legolas," she repeated softly, "and Thranduil. Lovely names." She smiled and shrugged. "I was one of a party. Five men I hired to guide me here from Dol Amroth, but none of them were willing to brave the woods and so left me to come on my own."
The elf frowned disapprovingly. "I suppose I know what manner of men they were, if they abandoned a lady to a place they themselves feared to enter." He slipped a steadying arm around her waist and adjusted the reins in his hand.
"Hold tight, Elizabeth Seymour, and we shall be at the halls anon." The horse shot ahead, Legolas guiding him deftly through the trees and underbrush.
They traveled swiftly, but full dark had fallen before they reached the halls, making Elizabeth wonder how the elf was able to see in the thick black her own eyes couldn't pierce, but chalked it up to some superiority of his race.
When they stopped, he jumped down and reached up, pulling her down easily and setting her on her feet. She took a moment to stretch her arms over her head, feeling the kinks in her back relax.
Looking around, she smiled when another elf walked up, waiting patiently while they conversed in another language. The dark-haired elf led the horse away, and Legolas touched her arm to get her attention.
"The halls are this way." She followed him down a winding pathway, able to see very little in the dim light, but vast gates were soon visible, lit in the soft glow of lanterns. After they passed through they were shut behind them, and she again followed Legolas down walkways that opened out into a vast and beautiful cavern.
When they came to what looked like a lounging area or waiting room, there was yet another dark-haired elf that flicked his eyes briefly over her, then bowed to Legolas and began conversing rapidly in the pleasantly melodic language that seemed to be their native tongue.
With nothing better to do, she crossed her arms and set to observing the two elves. The brunette one had bowed to Legolas, so he was obviously a subordinate or servant. Was the first elf she met someone of importance, perhaps the leader of a forest army? He had the dangerous mien of a warrior, and she noted he wore knives and a quiver of arrows, although she had seen no bow.
He appeared as though he were a young man, or….elf rather, perhaps late twenties at most? Her eyes dropped from his knives on his back to his clothing. A fine, deep green suede and there was a shirt of mail peeking out, and his boots were also well made.
Legolas looked over, catching her eye and smiling in an amused manner, seemingly very aware of her scrutiny. Shrugging, she smiled unrepentantly and turned away, examining the furniture in the room around her. Lots of wood, and rich fabrics everywhere. It was clearly not a poor kingdom.
Whirling back to face the blonde elf, she raised her brows in inquiry.
"The king has retired for the evening, so you will be given a room to stay in until it pleases him to see you, although I cannot say when that may be. This is Galion," he said, indicating the other elf. "He is steward to the king, and will take you to where you may rest and refresh yourself."
He said something to Galion in the other language again and turned to her.
"Pleasant rest to you, Elizabeth Seymour, and perhaps I may see you again another time."
She bowed her head and cocked a mischievous brow, addressing him in English.
"Good night, pretty elf Legolas. Perhaps I'll have pleasant dreams of you."
He tilted his head, brow furrowed quizzically.
Smiling innocently, she looked up at him. "I said: 'good night, Legolas, and thank you for all your help,' in my language, called English.
He gave her a cryptic look, nodded his head once and left back the way they had come. Turning to Galion, she smiled her most charming smile.
"Can you tell me if Legolas is head of your army, or what position he holds in this kingdom?"
The steward stared down his nose at her in a superior manner. "That is King Thranduil's son, Prince Legolas, mortal, and you would do well to remember it. Now, follow me."
Prince? Elizabeth mulled silently over that as they walked, twisting and turning down passages and over walkways until she was quite lost and would never have been able to find her way back out without assistance.
For a prince, Legolas had seemed awfully...nice? Very pleasant and kind, in fact. If he was the prince, then perhaps she had nothing to worry about, as his father might also be just as kind and accommodating.
….Or perhaps not. Best not to presume and be disappointed. Kings were seldom paragons of sweetness and light, were they? No indeed, she thought, laughing inwardly. Otherwise, it would not be necessary to come before them bearing gifts.
Galion opened a door and beckoned her inside. A lamp was already lit within, illuminating the room and revealing a narrow bed, several chairs and a small desk. All her possessions, including her chests from the pack horses, were stacked in neat rows along the far wall. If nothing else, elves seemed to be incredibly efficient. Turning to Galion with a pleased smile, she took a hesitant step toward him.
"Am I permitted to leave this room, or am I confined here until it please your king to see me?"
He clasped his hands behind his back and lifted his chin higher, looking every bit the part of a snooty butler, and she had known many. She pressed her lips together to hide her smile.
"During the day, you will be allowed time out to walk, with a guide. In the evening, you must remain in your room, and there will be a guard posted outside, in case you should forget. You will be brought food at mealtimes."
Time out to walk? He made her sound like a horse!
"And what about bathing? I see no facilities here, so perhaps you have separate areas for that and I may be taken now? I would hate to get into a fresh bed, as filthy as I am now."
He looked at her in pleased astonishment. "You wish to bathe? Oh! I thought your kind seldom cared to."
She adopted a haughty look to rival his. "I assure you, my practices have nothing whatever in common with uncouth and filthy folk. It is my custom to bathe daily when possible, and just now I am very dirty from the road and smell of horse. Most unpleasant."
He smiled slightly and nodded. "You may eat now," he said, indicating the meal waiting on a low table, "and I will send a female servant to take you to bathe shortly." Without another word, he turned and left.
Elizabeth sat down on one of the chairs, looking around the room slowly, hardly able to fathom that she was actually sitting in a kingdom of elves.
Two full days passed without word from anyone. Elizabeth was regularly led to bathing rooms and brought meals. She was taken out for exercise with a completely silent and taciturn elf named Pedirion, who after the third attempt to draw him into conversation she had given up on. Her dress that she planned to wear to meet the king had been taken out and prepared, with all the accompanying accessories.
There was really very little she could occupy herself with, so she took to elf watching. Her room faced out onto a large cavern, and elves could often be seen coming and going. She discovered that all the elves seemed to wear their hair quite long, and some had decorative braids like the Prince had worn and some did not. There were many colors of hair among them, but the most common seemed to be a nut-brown or a much lighter, reddish-brown. There were a good many blondes as well, but none with a gold as pale as Legolas. Hair as dark as her almost-black shade was not seen at all, making her stick out wherever she went.
Her eye was drawn by a russet-haired elf walking quickly on an opposite walkway, several other elves following neatly behind. His face was set in stern lines, and his gaze swept the area around him in sharp awareness. He wore a light style of armor in silver and gold and a sword at his hip, similar to what her night guard wore, but more ornate and what seemed to indicate higher rank. She had never seen a group of elves in armor. Was it possible they had come for her?
Turning to face where they would arrive if they truly had been sent for her, she waited with bated breath until the severe elf stood directly before her, staring down with little expression in his warm, brown eyes the color of milk chocolate.
"You are the mortal called Elizabeth Seymour?" At her nod, he continued. "I am Feren, captain of the kingsguard. King Thranduil will see you now if you are prepared to appear before him."
She smiled in relief, glad the wait was finally over and turned toward her room. "I need but ten minutes to change, please, and I'll be right out."
He gave a brief nod but otherwise moved not a muscle, and she slipped inside her chamber, determined to be thorough in her dressing, but quick.
Fastening her earrings into her pierced lobes, she opened the door, smiling widely at the mini double-take she caught from the guard captain, hoping that was a good sign regarding her appearance and not a bad one.
"Captain, I have a small chest with a gift for the king, if you would allow one of your guards to carry it for me?"
Turning to one of the guards behind him, Feren said something in the elven language, and she led the guard to where the chest rested on a table, following him back out.
They created quite a processional, a human woman, and her five elven guards with swords and armor. When they arrived outside the throne room, there was none other standing there than the Prince. His brows rose, and twice his blue eyes swept her up and down, astonishment evident in his expression. Stepping forward, he lifted her hand and kissed it.
"My lady...Elizabeth. You did not tell me you were a person of rank when we met."
Her mouth twisted in wry amusement as she curtsied. "Neither did you mention your title to me, Prince Legolas."
Grinning rakishly, he released her hand. "I suppose neither of us wished to boast. But truly, you look lovely. Is this a fashion from your land? I have never seen such a gown before, and the color so vibrant."
"Yes, indeed, quite a popular style of raiment for formal affairs. I hope it is fine enough to greet an elven king, for I admit I know nothing at all of your culture and practices. I will be forced to rely on what I was taught in the courts of man and trust I will not give offense here."
The Prince raised a teasing brow. "I feel certain you will not give offense, Lady Elizabeth. My father has not beheaded anyone recently nor thrown any into the dungeons in at least a year."
She paled at his words and he chuckled, trying to look contrite and failing. "Forgive me, it was only a jest, and a poorly timed one at that."
By the time Elizabeth calmed her racing heart from the Prince's words, Feren returned from the throne room.
"Lady Elizabeth," he said, copying the Prince's address to her. "The king will see you now."
Into the lion's den I go, she thought, trying to ignore the nervous flutter in her stomach, and giving the Prince a hesitant smile of farewell.
She was escorted into the throne room, her eyes scanning the space with interest. But it was when she caught sight of the golden-haired being sitting atop a high throne, wearing an ornate crown of polished wood interlaced with golden flowers, that her steps briefly faltered.
While she had thought the Prince had an impressive, otherworldly beauty, this creature sprawled comfortably across his wood and stone throne was truly god-like; an angelic, majestic vision, clad in the finest garments. The eyes of frosty blue that stared down on her held the look of ancient wisdom and a razor-sharp cunning, while the strong jaw and proud angle of his head promised this was not a person who would be easily handled.
Instantly dropping her eyes to the floor, she swallowed and attempted to wrestle her fear into submission. It was entirely possible she had bitten off more than she could chew with this elf king. Sending up a quick prayer for courage, she finished her walk to the base of the throne accompanied by the frantic beat of her thundering heart.