Girl Falls Into Middle-Earth
Niamh was used to odd things happening to her – keys vanishing and reappearing in strange places, objects discovered in the fridge that belonged in her make-up bag – so the strange and unusual was not something she had difficulty accepting. She had even, although she never told anyone this, dabbled with 'magic' when she was about thirteen – though when she said magic she meant mixing different coloured candles, and staring at them for a few minutes (until she got bored or "Friends" came on the telly.)
However she was not used to falling down a hole in the ground and landing in tombs. This was an entirely new occurrence in her experience. She sighed, grateful at least that she had kept her bag and that her Discman appeared to be in good working order. Resetting her glasses on her, very, short nose she peered around her. It was time she had her eyes tested again – she looked like a badger, squinting at everything.
She sat up slowly, groaning as every muscle in her body protested. Nothing seemed to be broken, though for all she knew she could have a concussion or a damaged spine or a punctured lung…She stopped herself. Clearly she had been watching too much ER, and this was the result – a litany of possible injuries.
Niamh nearly jumped out of her skin when she saw the nine men (well actually a bearded boy, four men, and four small boys) all staring at her. It was very dark and she couldn't really see their faces, but somehow she guessed that they were scared of something.
She leaned forward, peering once again, and saw that they had swords (and axes and bows and big sticks). This was not good. In Niamhs's experience men who liked swords, let alone carried them around as if ready to use them at any time, were to be avoided. Well not her experience so much as common sense – men who favoured offensive weapons were bad news.
Slowly she slid down off the slab of marble she had landed on – but evidently not slowly enough, for the blond man immediately thrust his bow at her throat. She squealed and held her hands up – how could anyone feel threatened by a tiny, slightly pudgy, shortsighted girl? She didn't even know how to punch someone!
Something cracked under her foot, and Niamh realised she had crushed something. A skull. She scrambled away from it as quickly as possible – skeletons and weapons. The blond man looked at her quizzically, and Niamh tried to look as unthreatening as possible (something of a challenge, as the only thing less threatening then her was a kitten). There was still an arrow aimed at her throat.
The old man snapped something at them all, and suddenly Niamh found herself being picked up by the two dark men. They lifted her by the armpits and carried her, ignoring all her protests. Her glasses slid off her nose again, and she jerked her head back in an attempt to push them back up.
One of the men seemed to be trying to talk to her, but she didn't recognise the language. He went through several, and one sounded, not familiar, but vaguely similar to her 'native' language. Cursing the months she had spent studying French and German instead of Irish, Niamh said, "Niamh is ainm dom. Cá bhfuil muid?"
The man cocked his head (which was covered by the most shockingly dirty hair Niamh had ever seen in her life) and she risked another sentence. "Tá eagla orm – ná theastaigh loim a mharú." Clearly it sounded familiar to him, but it was equally clear that he had no idea what she was saying.
She was thrown to the floor quite roughly, and one of them pushed her to the floor while the other gathered skeletons. As she realised what they had in mind, she shrieked "Ná mharaigh liom, le do thoil, ná mharaigh loim." They ignored her, and soon she was buried beneath a pile of corpses.
Niamh opened her mouth to scream again, and breathed in the stench of decay. She was going to be sick. She spent the next ten minutes struggling to keep what little breakfast she had eaten (her intention had been to buy a muffin in the school canteen) in her stomach, and not all over the nest of dead bodies in which she was buried. Bad as her situation was, she thought it would be better not to make it worse.
She was losing the battle when a hand seized her arm and dragged her to her feet. The dirty haired man had a tight grip of her wrist and he nearly yanked her arm from her socket as he started to run.
He moved so quickly that Niamh was in constant danger of falling, and she only caught brief glimpses of her surroundings (which was probably a good thing, as the creatures that were following them looked like small, smelly demons, and might have induced panic had she not been concentrating on staying upright.)
As they ran across a ludicrously narrow bridge, Niamh could hear a horrible sound behind her, and though she had no idea what on earth it could be, she out her hands over her ears anyway. Once they had reached the other side, the man released her, and though he looked extremely tense (probably understandable given the circumstances, though Niamh was more than a little unclear as to what those were) he did look at her in a way that let her know he wouldn't hurt her. Niamh couldn't explain how she knew this, but she did.
She scampered further away from the edge when she saw an arrow, an actual arrow, hit the ground not a metre from her and shatter. This was a very strange place, and Niamh was definitely curious as to what Dublin County Council had been doing in the so-called 'Port Tunnel' – any place that looked less like a tunnel for trucks and cars was hard to imagine.
And then something terrible happened. She hadn't been looking, being too fixated on the presence of the arrow, and wanting to shield herself from the dreadful noise, but upon hearing the men cry out, she turned to see the oldest of them plummet off the bridge.
She couldn't help but glad that it had been the old man, rather than one of the children, that had slipped, but she could tell from their reaction that the others were devastated, and even if she spoke their language, she doubted her reaction would be appreciated.
Yet again she was pulled, at great speed, by the dark man; usually such treatment would have earned a sharp and lengthy protest from her, but…it would be beyond pointless to do so when he wouldn't understand even her faltering Irish. And anyway, given what she had just seen, Niamh rather thought she would prefer to have the men with swords protecting her, even if it was all very odd.
Nonetheless, Niamh had always been on the plumper side of normally built, and she avoided all exercise on principle (the principle being that she didn't like it, and it only made her sweaty and red-faced, and there was no point to PE anyway), so within ten minutes she felt as if she might have a heart attack, or a stroke or possibly a pulmonary embolism…She cut that thought off quickly. Definitely, she had definitely been watching too much ER.
It was also extremely difficult to run when her glasses kept bouncing down, and then almost off her nose, and eventually Niamh gave in and put them in the pocket of her bag, hoping that they wouldn't been damaged. Her breath sounded like she was on the verge of collapse, but the dark man made it quite clear (and only by manner, which was quite an impressive achievement when one thought about it) that it was either run at great speed or be dragged.
She had no idea where they were going, and the landscape looked completely foreign to her. There were mountains around Dublin, but they were only snow-capped in the depth of winter, and it appeared to be summer here (at least so she guessed, from the deep blue sky and the sunshine), and while Ireland was green, as green as this place even, it also had houses, and roads, both things that were distinctly lacking in this environment.
Eventually the dark man allowed her to slow her pace, though he glared at her fiercely when she looked as though she might stop. Gratefully, she joined the two children at the back, trying not to look at their feet. She had no idea what kind of illness or syndrome would cause thick hair to grow all over a child's foot, but she was far too well mannered to stare.
It was many hours before they reached their destination, and having been buried under corpses, shot at, forced to watch a man die and run for miles, Niamh was beyond exhausted, stumbling on every third step. To be fair to the men who accompanied her, after the third time she fell (landing badly and scratching her cheek on a low-hanging twig) the blond man, who was far to be pretty to be real (though not, upon careful consideration, quite as pretty as Johnny Depp) walked with her, catching her elbow when she looked as though she might fall. Though she was rather unnerved by his pointed ears and habit of checking his bow for any weaknesses, Niamh was grateful for the help.
She nearly cried when she saw the treehouse, but, with great difficulty, she managed to contain her hysterics and haul herself up nearly thirty feet of ladder. It was insane the way these people lived.
She could tell most of the party was nearly as worn out as she was, though a strong sense of sorrow (unsurprisingly) hung over the party. Niamh just barely managed to keep herself awake to eat some of the food the owners of the treehouse offered, and lay down as soon as she had finished. She couldn't remember her head hitting the ground.
Later on that night she was woken by the dark man tucking a blanket around her, which caused her to jump back in shock and stare at him in confusion, before she remembered where she was. She took the blanket gratefully however, and managed to give him a small smile, though she doubted it actually mattered to him.
The next day they had to walk, again, though Niamh's calf muscles felt like an especially wobbly variety of jelly. At least this time there was no running. They stared at her like she was a space alien, but eventually she managed to tell them her name, which they were all able to pronounce with surprising ease (well, except for the bearded boy.) Most people had much more difficulty with Irish names.
The city they reached by nightfall was absolutely stunning, but Niamh felt so broken down and tired and isolated that she didn't really care. She longed for someone to speak to, or even to hear a few words of English, and believed quite fervently that she was going to have a good long cry once she was alone.
It was one of the great mysteries of that time, how the lady Niamh had come to Moria, so strangely attired, and with no mastery of any civilised language. The Fellowship rescued her from a most perilous situation, and she was always most grateful to the King and Legolas of Mirkwood, who had given her special aid during that time. They left her in Lothlorien, where she was taken in most kindly by the elves, who sheltered her throughout the war and taught her many secrets, including their language.
When she was finally able to speak fluently, the Lady Niamh told of her homeland, which, in truth, sounded so utterly strange that even the Wise were uncertain as to where she might be speaking of, and even Elessar, who had travelled so far in Arda, was perplexed. When it finally became clear that she could never be returned to her people, the Lady Niamh wept many bitter tears, but she accepted her fate with great courage, and upon Elessar's request, bid farewell to the Elves, and moved to the great city of Minas Tirith, where she took up a post in the King's household. Eventually she married another servant of the King's, and lived for a long time in the Citadel, where she helped to care for the King's children.
Although many thought her strange, for her tales of her distant and bizarre home, the Lady Niamh was regarded with much respect in Minas Tirith, for she had lived with the Elves of Lorien, of whom she always spoke with great gratitude and affection (although she never revealed any of the secrets they had told her, as they had requested.) When she died, there was much mourning in the city, for the people had come to love her as she grew older, and they learned that her disturbing tales were not the product of a fevered or feeble mind. The King's family in particular, always cherished a sincere affection and regard for the Lady Niamh, and they erected a monument to her after her death.Glossary
Niamh is ainm dom. Cá bhfuil muid? : My name is Niamh. Where are we?
Tá eagla orm – ná theastaigh loim a mharú : I'm frightened – I don't want to die.
Ná mharaigh liom, le do thoil, ná mharaigh loim : Don't kill me, please, don't kill me.