Author's Note: Unlike my POTC story, I'm going to keep my readers in the dark about the added character's background, identity, etc. from the beginning. To reveal her past, I'm going to have flashbacks. Another thing that I'm going to do more is the switching of points of view. However much I would love to stay on my character's point of view, the mystery I want surrounding her is ten times more potent than that of Laura Lark from my other story. -This- means that my added character is thinking to herself, aside from the letter in this chapter, I'll italicize flashbacks, and I'll just write translations for any elvish. Advice is always welcome. I hope you enjoy this!

Prologue: The Favor

The messenger ran into the village of Combe like the wind. The wizard who had sent him on this errand several days ago had insisted that the letter be delivered "yesterday." Besides, having dealings with fearful wizards was enough to the messenger to race in itself: to get the letter out of his hands. On the other end of town, the man nearly tripped over the drunk stumbling along the roadside. Screeching to a sudden stop, he looked up at the hanging inn sign, which was attached to a dark, two story building. Confirming that it read "The Inn of the Hunting Horn," he nearly fell through the doorway, panting. Swiping the curly, red hair out of his face, the messenger scanned the dim, lamp-lit common room with his eyes. Picking the innkeeper out as the one behind the scratched counter, he trotted over to the double-chinned woman.

"Are…are you the innkeeper?" he breathlessly asked to confirm his thought. There were three other people in the room who could have been the place's owner with the way they were offering more ale to the dozen or so others sitting at the tables.

"Is there something I can get you, lad?" the rather homely woman cheerfully asked, turning her bright green eyes to the man. They looked ready to laugh at a moment's notice.

Holding the letter out to the woman, he went on,

"I was told to deliver this to a ranger staying here…called…"

"Falathiel?" the woman finished for him when he stuttered. "It apparently means huntress, however I don't know why a few people insist on calling her that…possibly as a hint to the sender. Around here, and probably many other places, she's known as Drifter." Then, snatching the note from the man and looking at the seal, she continued, "No wonder you were told to ask for Falathiel. She hasn't gotten a letter from old Gandalf in years…at least while she was here."

Once again, the messenger stammered.

"Oh, of course," the innkeeper said, pulling a chair up for the man and pouring a mug of wine. "I'll make sure Drifter gets the letter."

--

The woman sat in a carved wooden chair in front of the warm hearth in her room. The only way anyone could possibly tell that she was a woman with the cloak still shadowing her face was her small form. When the door creaked open, she shot up with a hand on her sword. She couldn't have been taller than five feet and a few inches when not hunched over, ready to spring the way she was as the innkeeper slipped in.

"Sorry to disturb you, miss, but a messenger came with a letter about an hour ago. I would have come sooner, but the guests tonight are rather demanding."

At the innkeeper's apology, the woman relaxed and parted her shapely lips to show perfect teeth in a kind smile. Her voice was of a medium pitch, hinting at a sweet and soft voice which had turned to a slightly lower key after years of hardship.

"You have nothing to be sorry for, Clorissa. And, please stop calling me miss. You have known me long enough to simply say my name."

"Of course, Drifter, about this letter…" The large woman's hand stopped halfway to her long apron as her gaze fell upon Drifter's wet and dirty appearance. "Goodness, girl! Aren't you going to wash up? Do I have to go through this with you every three months when you stay here?"

Drifter raised her hand to stop the other woman's speech.

"Alright, mother hen, I'll bathe. I know I'll be back in this state by this time tomorrow, but I'll bathe…now may I have the letter?"

Squinting her eyes at the still-hooded young woman in front of her, the innkeeper replied,

"Not until you and your clothes are clean. Now, hand them over and they'll be done in an hour."

Sighing, Drifter removed her soaked cloak, revealing a mess of light brown, shoulder-length curls (at least they were shoulder-length and brown in the dirty knots they were in) and deep blue eyes.

"Come on," Clorissa coaxed while Drifter slowly removed her worn boots.

When the girl was finally stripped down to a light blanket wrapped around her, the other woman bustled out the door, saying,

"I'll be right back with hot water."

An hour later, Drifter was clean and back in her clothes. Her arms were crossed as Clorissa looked her up and down.

"Well, at least you had the sense to brush your hair this time," the large woman commented.

"That is because last time, you very nearly ripped it out doing it yourself. Now, may I please have the letter and some peace and quiet?"

"Yes, as soon as I get your hair back. You always have it nearly covering your lovely face."

As the chubby hand reached for Drifter's hair, the smaller woman grabbed the letter from where she knew it would be and dodged away.

"You should know better than almost anyone to try pulling my hair back."

"Oh, fine. I suppose you'll be gone in the morning?"

"Most likely, dear Clorissa. Good night."

"Same to you dear," Clorissa answered, shutting the door after exiting.

"Gandalf," Drifter wondered at the seal before opening it.

"Drifter, You know that I would normally come to you myself, but these are urgent times. It has been found. It is in the possession of a hobbit, Frodo Baggins, who I sent to Bree with a companion of his. I plan on meeting them there, however, I would like your help in bringing them to Rivendell. Strider will also be there. If I do not arrive at Bree the day after you receive this letter, continue on with Strider and the hobbits. I will meet you at Rivendell. The hobbit in whose hands I have entrusted the item in question will be staying at the Inn of the Prancing Pony and will be using the name of Mr. Underhill. Make haste and protect this hobbit with your life. The fate of Middle-Earth hangs in the balance. My condolences for the hardship you have been forced to endure. Gandalf"

"Very well, old friend, but I do not need your condolences," Drifter said to the letter before throwing it into the fire. "Now to collect a few things I'll need for this day-long walk. Baggins…that was the name of someone Gandalf traveled with years ago."

Thanks for reading! Please, R&R.