It was still dark when she woke up again. Soft footsteps in the grass disturbed her, though she was not alarmed, as she often was when some soft sound woke her in the middle of her sleep. Lazily, she opened her eyes up, just a crack, and saw light-footed elves changing the guard. She sighed deeply and pulled her soft covers up against her chin. So warm, and so tired…
…and such a sharp thing digging into her ribs. Ow!
"Oh honestly, mom," she groaned, turning to one side and firmly expecting to see the bright numbers of her digital alarm clock. "I just won't shower this morning. Lemme sleep."
A soft, dark voice murmured next to her, "We all want to sleep, but I am afraid you have been summoned to see the White Lady. She will wait until you are ready, but we are guests here."
Her eyes opened all the way, and before she could help it, a goofy grin broke all over her face. Desperately, Cassandra tried to hide it with one hand, but unfortunately, her mouth exceeded the surface area of her palm. He was smiling just as widely back down at her, and—since this seemed to be quite the day for her body moving without her mind's consent—she leaned forward and planted a small, shy kiss on his lips.
"Sorry," she whispered, looking at him from over the edge of her glasses, which she had fumbled for as she stared at her palms. "Galadriel, did you say? I have to take a bath, or at least brush my teeth…"
Oh goodness. There was something so very attractive about a man who did not seem to care whether you smelled like sweat and cave mold. Must concentrate, Cassandra, her mind told her, bath, teeth, kiss Boromir—no, no!—meet Galadriel.
But his hands were on her and so was his mouth and…oh, God! Aragorn was walking by!
As Boromir continued to hinder her morning's progress, Aragorn gave her one slightly amused, slightly teasing glance. He must have thought, as she certainly did at that moment, that they were beginning a relationship. But oh! She remembered—there was the slight problem of him dying.
She sighed, feeling suddenly very close to tears, and that gave her the strength to push him away—after a few more good kisses. She smiled at him and arched one eyebrow, staggering completely gracelessly to her feet.
"Must go have a bath." She told him, tapping him playfully on the nose, "Naughty boy, you should go explain to Galadriel why I'll be late."
As she turned to get away from him and go towards the swimming hole, his strong arms encircled her from behind and his lovely voice told her that he would be more than happy to do so, provided he could help her bathe. Oh goodness. 'That could be fun,' her mind told her.
"I cannot HELP," she drawled, "but think that that won't be the most effective way of moving either of our days along. I can manage by myself, thanks."
Of course, then he had to hold her back for a few minutes to express his supreme disappointment, but at last, laughing to herself, she finally managed to escape him. Of course, once he had turned away, she immediately wanted to go back, but when she rubbed the back of her neck and felt the layers of grime there, from mud and filthy water and cave dust, she remembered the wonderful thing that was water. And the water in Lothlorien was nothing if not the best, cleanest, most wonderful bath water she had ever felt. Really, she was bathing in a swimming hole and the stones were so smooth she felt like she was walking on imported tile. Elves rocked!
One bath, a teeth scrub—no toothbrush though—and a change of clothes later, with her hair hanging smooth and wet down the back of her black tunic, she felt absolutely, 100 ready for another make-out session. NO! She felt ready to do the important thing—yes, important thing—and meet Galadriel.
Aragorn and Legolas both were waiting for her back at the campsite, and after she tossed her dirty clothes in with the rest of her sack—to be washed later—they began the long ascent to what seemed to be the main hall of the Lothlorien elves. Being as it was much lighter out now, Cassandra could take in the other beauties of the society. But at first, until she learned to train her eyes to see what was barely there, there was nothing for her to look at. At first, all she could see were endless rows of gray-barked trees with long, winding staircases in spotless white birch. But slowly, slowly, her eyes began to mark the shapes of the cleverly concealed elven homes. One house, she noticed with delight and awe, actually expanded the trunk of the tree and rose straight up for several stories. Another split its multiple rooms along a series of branches, and Cassandra could barely make out the web of silver netting connecting one room to the other. She would never have seen that house at all were it not for the little elven girl who seemed to be walking on thin air.
She could hardly believe that these were the same people who wanted to abandon Middle Earth because they felt the battle was hopeless.
She looked up after another moment or so of climbing and nearly fell off the stairs. A little elven boy was staring down at her from the inside of a particularly wide branch. She heard whispers coming from inside, and when he noticed that she was looking at him, he ducked back into what must be his room. Cassandra could not believe it. That little kid was having a sleepover! Small world.
She felt odd all of a sudden, thinking back to her own friends and the sleepovers that she had. For almost the first time since she had come to be there, she wondered how she was going to get home. And more importantly, she wondered whether or not she really wanted to go back to what had been her normal life. Was it better to stay here? But her friends, her parents…her culture and life had been there. How long had she been in this alternate life? Did they miss her? Did they think she was dead?
Cassandra scoffed under her breath, disgusted with herself. How could she not have thought about this before? It seemed almost crazy, but the thought just had not crossed her mind. Weird. Her stomach turned over as she imagined her mother and father, sick with grief, on the phone with some impersonal police officer and hearing how another day had gone by without sight of their girl. How could she not have worried about them?
It was surreal and frightening, all of a sudden, the game she was playing here. The figures of Legolas and Aragorn, walking in front of her, seemed muted and gray even in the warm sunshine of the fall morning. She swallowed and took several deep breaths. What was she doing here? What was going on?!
She stopped walking and put her hand against the solid tree trunk, praying that she would not be sick on the immaculate stairs. She wondered, briefly, crazily, if they were teflon covered and if nothing would stick.
Aragorn noted the sound of the footsteps missing behind him and he turned and started, seeing the ashen face of the girl standing behind him. Her eyes seemed very large behind her glasses and underneath her tan her skin had gone terribly pale. The hand that gripped the trunk of the tree was trembling, and the young man knew that that his friend was on the edge of the mental realization that Gandalf had told him she would have eventually. No one can be so utterly transplanted and be perfectly fine. She had survived for a long time on her guts and sense, and now she was coming to understand that that would not hold her up forever. He reached her, coming back down the stairs, at the same time as she collapsed and threw up.
"My God, my God, where AM I?" she groaned, leaning on her elbows and looking through the slats on the stairs. She could smell her last night's dinner, and she felt like crying. It was just too much! How, how, how, how, how had she come to be there? What the hell was going on?
Strong arms around her, something soft pressed to her lips and wiping away the bile and the tears flowing fast from her eyes. Cassandra almost did not notice.
"God, where am I?" she groaned again, gritting her teeth and trying to get a grip on herself. Her heart was racing and her mind was going crazy and she just could not seem to focus on the gray clothed figure beside her. "How am I going to get home?"
Aragorn reacted fast. Although Gandalf had apprised him of her situation—as he had been second-in-command, he had been told to keep it to himself. She was likely to say anything now that her mind was so unfocused. "Legolas, go fetch Boromir and bring him here, and then tell Lady Galadriel that I shall attend her to explain the situation as quickly as I may." No one could know of what she knew until the story had come to its end.
Legolas was already around the corner of the tree by the time he had spoken. But he was confused. Cassandra had never struck him as the kind of girl to have unexplained breakdowns in mental and emotional health, and if she were, Gandalf certainly would not have been an advocate for her. He decided to concentrate on getting to Boromir, who, he knew as well as Aragorn, would be fairly likely to bring her comfort. He had noticed the growing relationship between them with pleasure—Boromir was a good man, and like all the older members of the Fellowship, he knew that the young steward needed someone to rely on. Now more than ever.
Cassandra was crying a little less when Boromir reached her, but she was still sitting rigidly still with her gaze locked straight ahead inside the circle of Aragorn's arms. She was murmuring under her breath, and the king had to admit that he was worried for her, now more than ever. She seemed to be a little less focused than before, not, as he was hoping, a bit more lucid. He wondered if he could dare leave Boromir alone with her.
"She's having a nervous breakdown." Aragorn's voice was brief as the pair of them, holding her gently, started to carry her down the winding stairs.
His clipped, measured tone of voice, Aragorn knew, covered an extremely turbulent interior, and he was slightly worried about his reaction, should Cassandra be in any serious danger. "I believe it has something," he began, "to do with her visions. Something may have disturbed her. Gandalf told me that this could happen."
"Will she be all right?"
"I am going to ask the Lady Galadriel what we can do for her—she has frequent visions herself as well."
They had reached the ground level now.
"Is there nothing else to be done?" Boromir's voice was an agony of restraint.
"Stay with her here," Aragorn lay her on the ground for a moment to arrange the blankets and pillows in the softest way possible, hoping that the hobbits would stay away from her until she was better. Or, at least, silent. "I will go speak to the White Lady."
Boromir nodded and helped the other man arrange the girl on the pillows. Her eyes were shut tightly, so tightly that her whole face seemed to scrunch up—and her glasses (so she called them) had slipped to one side of her face. To keep the finely wrought things from being crushed or broken, he took them off and lay them in the little niche where Cassandra kept them when she slept. Then there was nothing for him to do except feel her disturbingly warm forehead in wretched anxiety, and hold her hands, wishing she could speak to him.
Legolas, who had remained near them while he watched them get Cassandra comfortable, asked if he could do anything for her.
"Your guess may be as good as mine," Boromir sighed, looking up at the elf, "maybe we should sponge off her forehead? She feels warm."
Legolas nodded and took a small pitcher with him as he jogged towards the nearest well.
Cassandra sighed heavily, deeply, and opened her eyes. They were filled with tears. She looked at Boromir, her eyes unfocused, and murmured, "I want to go home."
"Home is not that far away," he whispered, stroking her wet hair, "you will be there soon."
"Home is a dimension away," she sighed, "I want to go home…how do I get there from here? Where is here?"
"This is Middle Earth," he said, thinking it might be best to humor her until she regained some kind of stability, "you are in Lothlorien. Your country is not far from here."
Cassandra laughed. "It doesn't matter. I'll die here—never make it home, I can't, I can't. I don't have the magic to do it. I got here by magic, and that's how I'll get back…"
Boromir was about to go against his instinct and ask her what in the world she meant, but it was too late. She was fast asleep. But breathing calmly, and normally. And while her forehead was still fevered, he decided to take it as a good sign.