Disclaimer: I own none of it. Except Penny. I do own her (well, someone's got to). The rest is all the property of The Great Man Himself (JRRT) before whom we are not worthy. I hope I do not get him turning over too fast: a gentle rotation, perhaps, rather than an out-and-out spin.
This story was written in response to THIS story challenge as proffered by Viv on : "Stuck (Really) in Middle-earth - We've read them before: 21st c. gal is zatted back to Middle-earth. But what would it really be like for a modern person to find herself (or himself) in Middle-earth? Fic should tackle such issues as getting lost, not having appropriate survival skills, craving twinkies and other processed-food treats, having no air conditioning, being surprised by the plumbing (or lack of it) situation, experiencing uncomfortable allergies to dragon scales, etc. The intrepid time-traveller could also answer, once and for all, those niggling questions (do elves wear underwear?) and set the record straight."
This is what I came up with ...
(Warning: strong language, especially in chapter 4 when Penny gets VERY upset indeed)
Edit, Feb 6th 2008: By popular request I have made a Character List for both this and the sequel (Okay, NOWPanic). Should you ever need it, you can find it here: http://boz4pm(dot)livejournal(dot)com/268905(dot)html. :)
Chapter 1 - "You have to be kidding..."
This was a good dream...
Roxanna opened her eyes and found herself staring at a clear blue sky. The sun was shining, the birds were singing in the nearby forest. She sat up and looked around herself. She beamed.
On the other side of the nearby river she could see delicately carved buildings that shone brilliantly in the sunshine. She gasped in wonder. She recognised it immediately as Rivendell, home of Elrond (that bloke who looked exactly like the one from that computer film with Keanu Reeves in it). She closed her eyes and opened them again. No, she was not dreaming: she was really here. Here, in Middle Earth, by some wonderful miracle.
This was her destiny. Aged fourteen and with perfect skin, teeth and nose, she knew she was meant to be here. Her pointy ears had always meant she was picked on at school but here things would be different. She would fall in love with Legolas and the entire Fellowship would fall in love with her. She would save Boromir, warn them about the Balrog, perhaps persuade Theoden not to fight and die in battle.
She heard the sound of hooves and turned, smiling, to see two horses approaching. One had a tall man atop its saddle who was unkempt in appearance but stunningly good-looking underneath his stubble. The other horse, also with a saddle and bridle, carried an even taller figure with long flowing blonde hair and behind him sat a short squat bearded man in a helmet.
She beamed again, flashing those perfect teeth at them. "Hello there, Aragorn! Legolas! Gimli! Wow, it's really great to see you guys, you know!"
They stopped their mounts and descended, eyeing her warily. Aragorn spoke. "What are you doing here? You are young to be wandering unaccompanied in these parts."
"Ah, but Aragorn, you gorgeous hunk you," she grinned, "I am Elrond's long lost niece."
Roxanna suddenly felt slightly nervous.
The man, elf and dwarf exchanged a look. "What do you think?" asked Gimli.
Legolas shook his head. "No doubt about it."
Aragorn nodded. "My sentiments exactly." He drew his sword. "Die, Oh Mary- Sue, spawn of Morgoth!"
Roxanna's head flew several yards before it rolled into a hollow.
There was a snort of laughter from Penny as she turned over in her sleep. Yes, this was a very good dream. She could still smell the fresh air and sense the fresh outdoors even now. She could feel herself waking up but in that half-dream state where the line between fantasy and reality is blurred.
This was terribly vivid, though. She could even feel a drizzle on her face. She rolled over and as she did so, her cheek hit something wet and cold. She sat bolt upright in shock and her eyes wide open. She looked around her... and started screaming.
After a while she stopped long enough to take a breath. 'What the bloody hell is going on!' she thought to herself, still trying to take in where she was. Well, not that she knew where she was. She definitely knew where she was not and that was at home, in bed, waiting for the alarm to go off so she could trudge her way to another day at the office.
She pinched herself. Hard. She pinched herself again. She slapped herself.
No, she was definitely awake and this was not a dream.
She stared, open-mouthed, at the scene around her. She was in the middle of a field. Well, actually to be more precise, since she could see no fence or boundary markers anywhere, in the middle of the great outdoors. There were hills round about and a wood to one side in the distance. It was drizzling. She was cold, wet and still in her pyjamas.
She tried to focus. Who the hell would do something like this to her? How had they got in to her flat? Without her waking up? And, more to the point, where the hell was she? 'Bastards didn't even get me dressed, or give me shoes or a coat!' she thought. She was going to kill someone when she got home. Heads would roll, and very likely there would be various people she would not be speaking to again for a very long time, if ever. She did not even have money or credit-cards with her. How was she going to get home? She was beginning to panic a little now. She could feel tears in her eyes.
"Get a hold of yourself, woman," she muttered. First things first, she needed to find a phone. Or find a person. Anyone, in fact. There had to be someone nearby, a house or a farm or something.
She looked around her: nothing for miles into the horizon. No building or moving thing anywhere that she could tell. She shivered slightly. She was freezing her backside off. She could not feel her toes anymore. She started hopping about from one naked foot to the other, rubbing her hands together and blowing on them as she tried to consider her next move. She scanned the hills. They might give her a vantage point. There were three fairly big ones so she made her way to the one that looked the nearest.
It was hard going. She kept stepping on stones, thistles and stinging things. At one point she stepped into nothing and disappeared up to her neck in a bog. She managed to crawl out, swearing loudly, now absolutely soaked to the skin, filthy, in pain and stinking. She was really going to kill someone when she got back home.
As she hobbled along the side of the bog she realised it stretched interminably between her and the hill she was aiming for. She had no idea how long she had been walking. Even if she could have judged where the sun had moved to it was invisible through the lowering grey rain clouds that filled the entire sky above her. She turned and ambled toward the next nearest hill. It was a lot further away than she had realised and a lot steeper and bigger than it looked when she reached it at last.
By the time she finally reached the summit she was exhausted, her feet cut to ribbons, and the drizzle had become a steady rain. She shivered and clutched her arms about herself as she scanned the horizon from her vantage point. Only now did she realise that the rain would limit her vision quite considerably and she could not in fact see terribly far. There were no signs of life anywhere that she could tell. She cupped her hands to her mouth and yelled as loud as she could.
"HELLOOO! ANYONE AROUND? HELLO! HELP! ANYONE?"
She could hear her voice fading into the rain around her. She strained to listen, but heard nothing. Not that she would have heard much above the patter of the rain, falling heavier now, around her. She felt utterly wretched.
As she turned around and around, still shouting every now and then, scanning as far as she could squint into the distance she thought she spotted something. In the opposite direction from which she had walked there seemed to be a line. A brown line that meandered along in the distance. A road or a river, perhaps? If it was a road then there may be a car she could flag down. At the very least it would have to lead somewhere: a house or a town or village. "Thank God," she murmured and, wrapping her arms about her sodden clothes in a useless attempt to keep warm, she headed off.
In a nearby wood, Gildor and his companion had heard the shouting. They had both immediately strung their bows and then quietly headed for the edge of the trees where they could see what was causing the noise. They gasped in disbelief: some idiot was screaming at the top of the hill, waving their arms about, and generally calling a great deal of attention to themselves. In these dangerous times it was about the most stupid thing you could do.
Gildor peered through the rain.
"Human," he murmured to the man by his side, "A female but I have never seen clothes such as those in all my many years. She is soaked to the skin and... yes... she is barefoot."
Halbarad looked stunned. "Barefoot! She must be mad!"
Gildor nodded. "Well, mad or no she won't stay alive too long if she keeps that up." The woman had started shouting again. They could both hear her clearly enough but neither understood what she was saying.
The man shook his head and sighed, "I will go and see what she is about."
"Rather you than me my friend," Gildor grinned. "Well, in that case, I shall continue on my way. You are heading East as it is, but I must visit old Bombadil. I have not seen him in a while."
Halbarad nodded in acknowledgement. "Navaer."
"Navaer," called Gildor over his shoulder.
Halbarad watched as Penny trudged down the side of the hill and headed towards the road. He could see she was shivering even from this distance. Every now and then she stumbled or cried out as her cut feet trod on something sharp. He sighed and shook his head once more. Why him? Always he seemed to end up with the lunatics or foolhardy. No doubt she had come from Bree. He would take her there and leave her there. They would look after her.
Penny was nearing the road.
Well, 'road' seemed a little grand for what looked little more than a dirt track. She sighed. No chance of a passing car along here, unless possibly a Range Rover or tractor. Still, it was a sign of life in this wilderness and it had to lead somewhere. She was so cold now she barely noticed the rain anymore. Her feet were completely numb for which she was grateful: at least it meant she could not feel the cuts and bruises anymore. Dimly she was aware of a gnawing pain on her thigh and another on her leg just behind her knee. They had been growing steadily for some time. She ignored them and just kept heading for the road.
Suddenly she heard a voice behind her. She gasped, spinning round, to see a horse with a tall man, wrapped in a cloak, staring at her through the downpour.
"Oh, thank God!" She grinned. "Hi. I know this probably looks really weird, but I have no idea where I am or how I got here. Could you take me to a phone, please?"
The man did not answer.
She scowled. Great. She finally runs into someone and they turn out to be a complete Neanderthal. Brilliant. Absolutely fantastic.
"Hello?" She waved her hand at him, "Anyone home?"
Now she had stopped moving she was shivering again, quite violently. The man got down from his horse and came towards her. As he did so she saw he had a sword hung from his belt and a bow and quiver on his back.
'Even better,' she groaned inwardly, 'I've wandered into the middle of some bloody re-enactment society shindig. Dear God!'
He stood before her, hands on hips. He spoke once more, clearly a question but what language he was talking in she had no idea. She stared at him open mouthed.
"Sorry? I don't understand."
Maybe it was the accent. He repeated his question, or at least she thought he did, she couldn't be sure, but no, it was just as incomprehensible as the last time.
She tried a different tack.
"Me," she pointed at herself, "lost. You know, 'lost'?"
She looked around her looking confused, scratching her head and then shrugging her shoulders at him in an effort to explain. He stared at her in bewilderment. She sighed.
"Phone? Umm.. House? Hotel? Taxi rank? Oh, God! HELP ME, GODDAMMIT!"
She started swearing profusely and turned to leave. This was clearly completely hopeless. The man was obviously a moron.
She was stopped by a hand on her shoulder. He was looking kindly at her and he had removed his cloak, which he now wrapped round her. Well, that was gentlemanly of him. Maybe he was not such a complete moron, then. She smiled gratefully at him as she shivered into it and wrapped it round herself. "Thank you," she said slowly.
He seemed to guess what she was saying, smiled and nodded his head. Then before she could do anything more he lifted her up and onto the horse and then quickly climbed the saddle to sit behind her.
As he did so she realised he stank. Absolutely reeked of she knew not what. Unwashed odour filled her nostrils, and mixed with the smell of damp horse and damp leather. Her head spun and she pinched her nose shut. The man pulled the reigns and the horse galloped off towards the trees.
Penny had never been on a horse and screamed as it struck out. Suddenly she felt an arm round her waist to steady her. This bloke was getting a bit fresh wasn't he? She was grateful all the same. She didn't feel like she would fall off now. She shut her eyes though, unable to cope with it all.
Soon enough they were under the cover of the trees and out of the worst of the rain. He stopped his horse, climbed down and offered her his hand. She took it and began to slide rather inelegantly out of the saddle. In the end he had to take hold off her and lift her to the ground before she completely fell on her backside. She turned to him but he was gone, disappearing into the gloom.
It wasn't long, though, before he was back with a bundle of twigs and dry moss that he soon built into a pile. He produced a tinderbox and set a fire going. Then he beckoned her over to it and she sat gratefully thawing out her fingers against it. She was still soaking wet and cold, but this was at least a little better than ambling about in the rain.
She looked at him. Tunic, leggings, boots, arm guards, sword, daggers, bow, the whole works. Must have cost him a pretty packet. My, these reconstruction guys were dedicated. She had gone out with one once. Mad as a bicycle. Very sweet but completely barking. She could not cope with it in the end. She barely saw him because every weekend was spent driving the length and breadth of the country taking part in the Battle of Tewkesbury or some such.
The man was talking to her again, asking questions. There was nothing in what he said that sounded even vaguely familiar. She shrugged and smiled apologetically at him.
Then it was her turn. "Do you speak English? Parlez-vous Francais? Sprechen zie Deutch? Espagnole? Italiano? Er.. Mandarin Chinese? Anything!" He looked just as baffled as she no doubt had just done. This was not going well.
Halbarad, meanwhile, was very confused. She clearly didn't understand a word he said and whatever she was speaking it was no language he had ever heard before. He wished suddenly Aragorn were with him, or even an elf. Aragorn had travelled widely and might have recognised her tongue, as might an elf if well read enough. He sighed. He had tried asking her who she was, where she lived, what she was doing here, but to no avail. He had used Westron, Sindarin, even dredged up his limited Quenya. He tried throwing a few Easterling terms at her – the little vocab he knew of – and that got no response either.
It flashed through his mind that he should keep on his guard. These were strange times and much evil afoot. The more he thought about it the more he did not like it: a stranger, clearly not speaking the language (or pretending not to), in strange clothes and muttering in a foreign tongue. No, he didn't like this at all. If no one recognised her in Bree he might have to consider taking her with him. Elrond would to know about this and would know what to do with her. He was going to keep on his guard with this one.
Penny shivered once more. The feeling was coming back into her toes and she could feel the cuts stinging. She shifted slightly and winced as she did so.
The man said something to her, stood to his horse and rifled through his pack. He produced a pot, which he filled with water from his water sac and hung above the fire to warm a little. He wandered off into the darkness of the trees once more, looking down at the ground on either side of him as he did so. He soon found what he was looking for. He cut some athelas, returned to the fire, put the herbs in a bowl and poured the warm water over it.
She watched him fascinated. 'Foreign battle-reconstructionist who fancies himself as an outdoor woodsman and is hippy herbalist. My God I do pick 'em!' she thought to herself.
He was pulling some material into strips and soaking them into the athelas. Then he reached out his hand to her, smiling. She looked at him utterly mystified. He pointed at her legs and said something. She shook her head still not sure what he was driving at. He sighed and bent down to pull out a leg to hold her by the ankle. He pointed at her foot and repeated the word he had just said.
"Oh!" she said. Then she smiled. "Thank you."
Halbarad washed her feet clean of the dirt and inspected the damage. He shook his head. She had seriously hurt herself, stupid woman. The soles of her feet were covered in scratches and cuts, even a bruise here and there. He could see a rash forming on one side of her ankle, though what on earth could have caused it he had no idea. There was nothing round here that could have caused it as far as he knew. He pulled out the few thorns he could see by the light of the fire. Then he wrapped her foot in the athelas soaked bandages and tied it securely. Then he did the same with the other one.
As he did so her pyjama trouser leg slipped down her leg exposing her calf and knee. She could now see one of those two spots of pain she had felt earlier - the other one being on her thigh. She screamed.
Halbarad looked up at her suddenly. She was scrabbling at the back of her knee screaming and whimpering in alarm and disgust. He stopped her saying, "Let me see," and saw she had a huge leech attached to her.
Without a word he took a burning stick from the fire and touched it against the leech, which fell off instantly. The woman scrabbled backwards on her backside as quickly as she could. He stood now, still brandishing the stick.
"Are there any others?" he was asking. He could see she didn't understand. "Any more? Like this?" he said, picking up the leech and waving it at her. She screeched something at him and waved her hands in terror. He sighed, threw the leech to one side and came over to her. He spoke gently, "Look I can get them off easily enough, but you need to tell me if there are any more? Do you really not understand what I am saying to you?" Her eyes were wide with fear and he could see tears in them.
Penny loathed creepy crawlies at the best of times but that had been truly vile. When he had just come at her with a burning stick too! Madman! And now he was twittering at her in his own language and waving the damn thing at her.
"Don't you bring that anywhere near me!" she squealed. He seemed to understand because he threw it away then. He was talking to her again, gently, but insistent. She had no idea what he was driving at. She shook her head and shrugged.
He stood, went to his pack once more and started unpacking it. Near the bottom he found what he was looking for - a spare pair of leggings and an undertunic. They would swamp her but at least they were dry. She would catch her death if she stayed in those clothes of hers. Even if they were dry they would not keep out the cold night air. He threw them at her.
"Here. Put these on."
She stared at him, then nodded, then turned to look as if to where she might dress. He pointedly turned his back on her, taking back the now cold stick to the fire and then continued walking till he was on the edge of the little clearing and kept his back to her.
Even so Penny still decided not to risk it, and hid behind a tree. As she peeled off her sodden pyjama top she shivered in the growing dusk. She looked down and felt her back for any more of those foul leeches but couldn't see or feel any. She pulled on his tunic. It was a bit big for her, but she rolled the sleeves up a little and it was better than nothing. She sniffed at it. Yup, that stank too, though not quite as badly as he did. Mainly of leather and mustiness and sweat. She made a face.
She pulled off her pyjama bottoms and inspected her thigh. Yup another one. Oh God, and this one was HUGE. She whimpered, resisting the urge to scream because that would just bring him running over. She closed her eyes and screwed up her courage and pulled at it. Yeurgh! It was slimy and disgusting and she really thought she was going to throw up. It wouldn't budge.
She looked round the tree. He was still there, on the far side, his back to her. She crept out toward the fire and took a branch from it. Still trying to keep one eye on him to make sure he didn't turn round (though what she would have done if he had she had no idea, other than scream at him and run back to the tree) she gingerly hovered the stick over the leech.
"Eewwww...," she whispered under her breath as she pressed the hot end against it and with a sizzle it dropped off and fell to the floor.
As she stuck the stick back in the fire she glanced up at the man. Had his head moved just then? She stared at him. He was stock still. She scampered back to her tree and quickly pulled on the leggings and tied the fastenings. As she did so she suddenly wondered how authentic his costume was. He clearly didn't wash that much when he was 'in role'. Did he wear underwear? And if not, had he worn these leggings before? She bent and sniffed...
Oh my God. She was not going to think about it. She was NOT going to think about it. She was SO going to kill someone when she got home.