Disclaimer: I like my life…it doesn't include the burden of owning Lord of the Rings or Twilight characters or plotlines.

Chapter 14: Lothlorien – Part I – Take me to your leader…then to the shower room…or maybe the other way around

I was worried.

Legolas was smiling…and I mean really smiling.

As in 'I was looking around for who put amphetamines in his morning coffee' smiling.

Why worried about this usually positive happenstance, you ask?

Well, for one thing, this was the first time I'd ever seen him show teeth for longer than ten seconds (elves seemed to carry a balanced temperament…when not being overwhelmed by goblins and whatnot). According to my basic knowledge on elfish behavior, extreme emotions were not common for the pointy-eared beings…at least not in expressing them. So this whole rainbows-and-butterflies attitude held merit for its awkwardness.

Second, extreme happiness in no way fit the mood that stunk up the air of the morning we awoke (or became active again in my case). The entire night had been spent tossing and turning, small gaps of quiet sobs, Sam begging Frodo to actually fall asleep, and me mentally replaying the death of five orcs I killed during last night's hunt (I didn't feel guilty…just worried that maybe one of Big Nose' guards caught me throwing bodies into the river's rapids). Basically the entire Fellowship got really crappy sleep – except Jake (who could sleep through a plane crash…trust me, he's actually done it). So we all awoke with puffy eyes and grim faces…a hoard of bunny rabbits could have overrun us at this point.

Along with exhaustion, the morning sun also brought a brand new wave of despair and overall negativity.

The hobbits were either still deeply depressed, scared out of their wits, or anxious over Frodo's current mental health (that last one was mostly carried by Samwise). Boromir was getting frigidity over something mulling around in his head, and spent his time pulling and beating on his armor or frowning every time Aragorn showed off his sweet elfish language skills (apparently the Steward of Gondor never insisted on schooling his heir on that ability). Speaking of our newly instated head-honcho, Aragorn was the first to rise and immediately started the day off with conversing about this and that with Haldir (hopefully pleading that we all miss the whole introducing us to the elfish sorceress part of the Lothlorien tour and giving us another two days of sleep and rest).

As I said before, Legolas awoke and skipped around (okay, he didn't actually skip…but if there had been room on the filet I guarantee he would have)…with a big, fat smile on his face. Practically giggling with glee at being immersed with his own kind again.

As I laid there, on one of the cots spread out by the guards for our sleeping necessity, people around me groaned and moaned as they awoke to another bright sunny day in the enchanted forest.

"Damned elves. Don't know how they sleep on these damned things. Back will be killin' me till Mordor."

Cracking a grin at Gimli's complaining, I kept my eyes shut and stayed still beside Jacob while everyone else stretched and blinked their eyes as the rising sun.

After conversing with Haldir for a few minutes, Aragorn turned to his quarry (us) and announced we were to be leaving in less than twenty minutes. "By sundown," he went on, "We shall be in Caras Galadhon. The home of Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel."

Crap. We were going to meet the sorceress. Note to self: stay away from apples and spinning wheels…wait, I think that second one was a bad fairy and not sorceress…whatever, if she has green skin, I'm grabbing Frodo and zipping him all the way to Mount Doom…screw Aragorn's hospitality appreciation clause.

"Orc dung," the dwarf growled under his breath (my sentiments exactly, friend).

Perhaps if I stayed still long enough, they'd all think me dead and leave me behind to kill a few hundred orcs.

"Bella. Jacob. Arise and ready yourselves," Aragorn ordered as his towering body cast a shadow over our heads.


Opening my eyes, I stared up through the branches to the clear sky overhead. Again, the trees and leaves glowed faintly alongside a gentle hum. Breathing in and out the life of the forest that surrounded us.

This was the sort of stuff fairytales were made of. Lucky me.

Hopping to my feet, I touched my hair again to see if it had magically straightened out and became less mucked up overnight, qualifying me as a candidate for the beautiful damsel character of this story. The crusty shell of wadded up knots I fingered through daintily took me out of the running unfortunately.

Cripes, I needed a bath. Sniffing the air tentatively, I included the entire Fellowship on that thought. Was Haldir honestly going to allow us to meet his superiors smelling like an old morgue filled with pig feces?

A muffled snore broke my thoughts on bleach and scrubbing, so I looked down at my brother who was still sound asleep on his cot.

Smelly, stomach churning from too much orc blood in the past few days, and basically stressed beyond my limits, I didn't even call out his name again to wake him before my boot smacked Jake square in his ever-exposed stomach.

"Uggg!" he jolted awake in pain. Focusing his eyes, he gazed up at me in confusion that gave way to severe annoyance pretty quickly. "What the hell, Bella!?" he asked in a raspy, dry voice.

I shrugged. "Sorry," I replied, not too serious about the remorse part of apologizing, "Crappy morning proceeded by a few crappy weeks."

"Come!" Legolas practically danced around us with singular energy, "We must start for Caras Galadhon if we are to see it by sundown!" With that, His Royal Highness leapt onto the rope ladder and slide down to the forest ground.

I shook my head in disbelief after him.

Seriously, who was dealing the shrooms?

Finally the Fellowship was up and ready for departure. I volunteered to piggy-back Pip down the tree, and bent down so the little guy could climb on when a roar erupted from behind.

"I'll be damned before that happens!"

Whipping our heads around, Pippin and I saw Gimli's bright red face glare up at Haldir who was eyeing fireballs right back at the dwarf. Aside the warring two was a very uncomfortable Aragorn, tensed up and watching both creatures with apprehension.

"Gimli," Aragorn softly said to his companion, "Please-"

"It's an insult, Aragorn!" the dwarf shouted back before the ranger could finish, "An insult to m' honor! An insult to m' name!"

Peering up at me, Pippin whispered, "What do you think happened?"

Shrugging, I motioned for the hobbit to wait as I decided to act on the unwise choice of stepping into the scene of hostility. Calmly walking over to the other side of the filet, I approached the three and placed a happy grin on my face (you ever get to that point of slight insanity where a big problem pops up and instead of your usual reasoning, you just plant a smile on your face and say 'Screw it. Life sucks today anyway. Might as well express my mental breakdown to others'?…yeah, I was at that point). Only Aragorn appeared to acknowledge me, and expressed some wariness. Per the usual response of a man born and bred to be large and in charge, his expression was one of "go away and let me handle this!" (So silly mortal, do ye not know loony vampires are impervious to your expressions?...Not to mention I would have ignored it as a mentally capable mortal anyway).

"Hey guys," I greeted the scowling dwarf and Marchwarden nonchalantly, "What's cha doin?"

Gimli held no qualms in getting me involved, since he immediately thundered out, "This pointy-eared, mistrustful goat demands I wear a blindfold! He says a dwarf can't be trusted with the location of their beloved city."

I quenched the snicker tempting to erupt at Haldir being called a "goat," and nodded saying, "I see." Then, turning my attention to the big nosed "goat," a single eyebrow raised as if to question, 'A blindfold? Really? Do you not think that a tad extreme?'

Finally turning his head away from the vein-bursting dwarf, the Marchwarden eyed me and replied to my accusing look, "We mean nothing personal against Master Gimli-"

"The hell ye' don't, laddy!"


"-but," Haldir continued after Aragorn, "We have not allowed a member of the dwarf race in Caras Galadhon since the awakening of the balrog. (really?...you're honestly using that as a time of reference I would recognize?...doesn't anyone realize I do not possess encyclopedic knowledge on all things Middle Earth!?) Already the White Lady and Her Lord show apprehension to the Ring of Power into their realm. Allowing a dwarf and vampire to enter without precautions will no doubt create greater fear than that which already whispers through these woods."

To some degree I understood his reasoning…wait…did he just say dwarf and vampire?

Placing greater warning into his stare towards me, Aragorn confirmed in an even tone, "The Border Guard has requested you wear a blindfold as well, Bella."

Snort. Yeah, that'll happen.

Crossing my arms and stepping back in protest, I gave the snide remark, "You can try to get a blindfold on me."

Now his warning was tipping on furiousness at my blatant disregard for political politeness, and Aragorn faced Gimli and I, possibly ready to kick us both off the team.

To be honest, I wasn't in my greatest state of emotional stability that morning…what with wanting a hot bath and soap so badly I would have waltzed with Legolas to get it…still, I'm not quite positive I was resolved enough to get kicked off the Fellowship just for the sake of my pride.

Gimli, on the other hand, I could have seen going the distance.

Species hatred can be a scary thing.

Gritting his teeth, Aragorn's face fell and he closed his eyes with a sigh. Rubbing a very possible headache pounding into his temple, the fatigue crawling through his bones made itself known as he pulled out the Ace of all Ace cards.

"Gandalf would have willed you both do this," he gave us both a not-quite-pleading face, "For the sake of Frodo and our mission."

I felt the big, hot air filled pride bubble in my chest go POP.

I, a trusted and very able protector of the One Really Big Evil Ring of Ultimate Destruction, was going to wear a freakin blindfold today.


At least, they allowed Gimli and I to get down the stupid tree first.

Apparently, in respect to Legolas and his manic bipolar mood, Caras Galadhon is a pretty awesome sight to behold. I can't convey a totally unbiased report on the view of Galadriel's home, since Pippin (who was more than pleased to hold my hand and act as my eyes as Haldir marched the Fellowship over the river and through the woods) practically was at a loss of words to describe the heart of Elvendom (Haldir's words…not mine…'Elvendom' isn't even a word).

Thanks to the Fellowship's chronic depression, no one had an appetite so we never stopped for food breaks and made it to the heart of Lothlorien before sunset. Stepping out before the ground dipped into a valley, the view caused all non-Lothlorien natives (save the blindfolded of us) to gasp. My skin did drum up the humming a tad more as we started down into the valley area.

I felt the sun's heat start to really disappear when Haldir halted the group and allowed the blindfolds to be removed.

The sight around us kept Gimli and mine's tongue from giving off a few well-deserved curses.

Caras Galadhon's landscape easily took the cake for the tallest trees in existence. Dozens of them, each a football field wide in radius, rose as tall as small mountains. Built beautifully in spirals going up the trees were stairways that ran off into bridges and large filets that acted as tree houses large enough for viability.

Literally, it was a city in the trees.

Leading us through the bases of the giant trees, Haldir finally started up one of the staircases. We followed in a pace slow enough that the sun was down by the time we hit the halfway point. As soon as night fell, the city in the trees alit itself with hundreds of white lamps that appears as stars floating among the windows and roofs of the tree houses.

Walking behind Pippin and in front of Merry (Legolas led after the Marchwarden…apparently acting as liaison since he qualified for the pointy-eared requirement…and Jacob and the rest of the taller folks took up the rear after myself and the hobbits)…I could feel the eyes of hundreds of elves stare at us from their homes and building's balconies.

Not usually all that concerned with my appearance, it did irk me to have to present myself to a bunch of clean, great smelling beauty queens and kings (all with well-brushed, flowing blonde hair and wearing soft pastel outfits) with a rat's nest for hair and orc gut stains on my clothes and under my fingernails.

Once again, thanks be to God for taking away my ability to blush.

Making our way past prying eyes, Haldir stepped aside and motioned us to enter a particularly large tree house lit up with so many lamps, every part of the white wood glowed like moonlight.

For a moment, I looked around with everyone else at the glorious realm, but stopped when something caught my vamp senses.

It…she…she was definitely a she. She smelled old…and yet new. Like an elf…except…more…elfish. That humming that had carried through our entire journey since entering Lothlorien sailed into my ears as a soft song filled with air and life. There were no words, only waves of an energy that was pure and clean. Strong yet gentle in its touch.

I breathed in the scent of power, instantly feeling a hundred times more refreshed. Even standing this close to her felt as if laying down on the softest bed comforter.

Warm and safe.

Then, as if walking out of light itself, stepped two beings as unearthly tall as the trees their home was built upon.

The pair definitely consisted of a male and female. As they walked down the steps from the above chamber of the tree house, a hand gently clasped to the other, my awe of them swept away any self-conscious shame in gazing over them as if memorizing a masterpiece on the wall.

The male was reached a height slightly taller than his partner. His face was handsome and filled with that ageless manifested elder and youth. Similar to most other elves I'd encountered, his expression didn't give anything away but it wasn't as inquisitive and severe as Elrond's had been. Long, trademark blond hair reached down and rested on the silver and blue robe that managed to appear more regal than creepy. In fact, this guy's outfit would border on pajamas if not for his no-nonsense, All-Powerful demeanor.

Trust me, you did not want to suggest to this guy that his wardrobe reminded you of a dojo or that one protest in the sixties with John Lennon and Yoko in bed.

He might look more serious and magical and then the world would implode within itself.

Any threat of implosion, though, was way more possible with the lady at this guy's side. Remember how Arwen glowed the first time we met in the library? Well, her visual radiance compares to this female elf like a flam on a match would to flames engulfing a skyscraper.

The lady glowed so much one would expect to find a midget elf behind her with a spotlight shining to frame her figure.

A tower of sweeping gold hair and pearl white tresses of cloth spilled gently to the ground, the ringlet crown on her head wasn't gaudy or presumptuous. It's gold sat across the elf-lady's forehead as a frank and quiet statement to this couple's undeniable rank of regal nobility.

Beyond nobility in fact…the lady and elf-lord combined afforded power and life so adamantly, it felt as if we had stepped into the heart of a glowing star.

Don't ask me what the color of their eyes were though…no way was I going there. Actually, once my brain caught up with my eyes drinking in the elf pair, I shot my face away and began taking a keen interest in the way the tree branches grew around the gazebo type structure of the tree house.

"The Enemy knows you have entered here," the male-elf laid it straight out to us. What he said got me to stare back at the pair, wondering if this threat meant we were about to be thrown out (I wonder if there would be time for a quick dunk in the river beforehand?…seriously, it would only take a minute to do). Eyes fixed in the blue robed elf, my companions and I waited warily on where this statement was going.

He continued, expression neither fearful nor tormented as he read over each of our dim and dirty faces, "What hope you had in secrecy is now gone (well that blows…give us crappy news, tell us all hope is gone, and then kick us to the curb…yep, Lothlorien, the place I want to vacation). Ten there are here, yet eleven there were, set out from Rivendell. Tell me, where is Gandalf?"


I'm pretty certain my jaw hung at that question. Seriously…this guy was apparently romantically involved (that hand-holding as they were coming down the stairs was not to keep her from tripping on her gown) with a telepath chalk-full of magic-filling (not to mention, he certainly gave off quite a bit of his own supernatural whammy), and he didn't know that the one wizard we brought along was dead?

Twisting my head to get a good look at where Haldir stepped aside to give his superiors a clean shot at us weary travelers, I caught his eye and shook my head a little with a somewhat peeved off visage that veered on disappointment at his lack of noticing the non-freakin-attendance of a tall, bearded guy with a pointy hat and staff.

Predictively, he just sneered back a little and returned to revering the glowing couple.

Well sorry, buddy. I wasn't aware your one duty in life was to find out if visitors were carrying around rings of uber-evil-powers and then tell them to go screw-off.

"I much desire to speak with him," elf-lord without a clue went on, "I can no longer see him from afar."

Well this was about to get awkward.

'Hey, bad news, but…we kinda let Gandalf fall off a ledge to his doom, and he didn't have his magical staff so there was no magical Glinda-type bubble to float him back up to safety…Yeah…So…How about a room for the night?'

Yeah, I wasn't the one to make that announcement.

"Gandalf the Grey did not pass the borders of this land," tall, mystical elf-lady said, speaking as if she was reading it off a piece of paper just found, "He has fallen into shadow."

Then came the pregnant pause of another wave a drowning despair when something very terrible and very real is brought into raw attention once again. All the Fellowship's eyes (mine included) sank to the ground, unable to bear meeting another's for fear the sorrow would collapse the shaky calm holding our frail hope and courage together.

"He…He was taken," a strong voice to my immediate right shook slightly as it drawled out the words with evident pain.

Earlier today, Legolas' quality of happiness had both irked and surprised me. At hearing his attempt to divulge the truth of Gandalf's fate, again I felt shock at being introduced to a new depth of his character. There was such sorrow and mourning in his voice. Sliding my gaze to the elf's face, for what was really the first time since leaving Moria I took time to notice the bruises that lined his cheek and dried up scrapes in his perfect eyebrows. His sea blue eyes were no longer alert and searching the premise for unfound dangers, but tired and too firm…holding back the pain that pounded on gates to be let out.

My chest started to swell with pain as I discovered how very much in mourning Gandalf's death brought upon Legolas. I guess I never really thought about what he meant to the elf. Because Gandalf never really got concerned over Legolas' safety like he did for Frodo or the other hobbits, or how he would always take Aragorn aside for super-secret-leader meetings, I figured Legolas and Gandalf didn't really know each other before this quest.

The melancholy brooding in the crevices of Legolas' eyes, lips, and face as well as beating down on his chest screamed back that I was so very, very wrong to make that assumption.

Swallowing and turning his gaze away for a moment, a need spear-headed through me for a second to grab his arm and urge him to continue. That I would give my strength to him for this small task. Instead, I positioned my weight away in fear that I might actually act and started chewing on my lip. "He was taken by both Flame and Shadow," Legolas found the courage to continue, his eyes back on the couple and drawing from un-hesitated hatred at the demon that took our wizard as he spoke of it, "A Balrog of Morgoth. For we went needlessly into the net of Moria."

Hearing the name of the actual place, my brain pulled attention away from Legolas' hanging head and took a glance at Gimli. Sure enough, the name of his deceased cousin's home (the place he so ardently supported marching into) wrote guilt and shame all over the dwarf.

Again, another of my quarry blamed themselves for the death of Gandalf. Frodo's face was diseased with it since we started towards Lothlorien. Legolas clearly was hurting with some shame (though, don't ask me how any of this was he fault). I'd bet money everyone else probably found someway to put themselves in the guilty chair for Gandalf's death.

Didn't they all see it was really my fault for not acting?

"Needless were none of the deeds of Gandalf in life," the lady contradicted Legolas gently but firmly, "We do not yet know his whole purpose. Do not let the great emptiness of Khazad-dûm fill your heart, Gimli, son of Glóin. For the world has grown full of peril. And in all lands, love is now mingled with grief."

We all were now watching her. Literally hanging on every word…because in a way we had to. This wasn't some philosophical blowhard reading off a fortune cookie. It wouldn't have surprised me in the least if these two were old enough to have known the world before grief was a normal occurrence.

I wonder what that did to someone's hope in creation? Watching it fall from the pillar of glory it once stood so proudly upon?

'Even in your short years of immortality, Bella, you know the answer to that question.'

My searching gaze into nothingness sprang alive and I looked up at the female elf standing gracefully tall and serene…as if you'd never guess she possessed the ability to speak into someone's mind.

Cocking my head to the side, I thought back with clear mental wording (I'd admit, the prideful side of Bella wanted to prove a telepathy card wasn't anything new to the table), 'Aww…so you are Galadriel, the Lady of Lorien.'

Despite her gaze fixed on Sam for the moment, I caught a slight inching of a grin on Galadriel's mouth when she apparently heard this. Confirming her identity to me. For a moment, I thought back to her reply and pondered its meaning. Yes, in over five hundred years I'd seen joyful things turn to grief.

Forks, the town I once called home, after returning every several decades for short visits, I watched the generations of descendants of my old friends and Jacob's tribe move away. The town slowly dwindled as families left for cities or greener pastures, until eventually the place my house once stood was the guard post of a nuclear plant that sat over half of town's limits.

Landmarks for the few memories I enjoyed no longer existed.

Even more personal was my relationship with the Cullens. I loved them, true, but underlining each time they came to my house in Iceland or I ventured to Alaska or Canada or wherever they were setting up shop, there rumbled the old fights, unspoken apologies, sorrow at the very fact that we all were living long enough in a sad state of blood thirsty immortals. We loved each other yet could not let go of the love of the life that could have been as mortals.

For Edward and I, this underlining agitation at being around one another was always at its worst.

Speaking of the Cullens…

'You mentioned before!' my mind formed the words in a mental voice that sounded like me yelling (what!?...I had no idea how telepathy worked…were their noise volumes…if I thought in a quiet tone, maybe she wouldn't hear me), 'When…things occurred…negative things…that the Olympic coven was hanging around!'

This time, Galadriel directed her gaze towards me with shocking blue eyes full of mirth. Apparently my need to be heard by mentally shouting was hilarious to a seasoned mental-communicator. Smiling slightly for a second, she sombered up and went back to saying whatever to the rest of the group.

'You need not shout so loud, young one,' her voice in my head was clearly laughing, 'And yes, I spoke truth to you the day before. Master Carlisle, his mate and coven have awaited your arrival with anticipation for some time. They were very pleased when word came of the Fellowship's presence in Caras Galadhon.'

Hearing the Cullen's excitement at seeing me brought the mental picture of Alice's probable reaction of literally jumping up and down and talking a million words a second…that brought an amused smile to my face. Clearing away the morbid thoughts from before about all the garbage in my family's history (please…introduce me to the one family in existence without garbage and I'll give you every penny in every Swiss bank account I hold), I allowed the aching pain in my chest to give way to growing, joyful anticipation of being with the Cullen's again.

Carlisle would enjoy stories about Imladris (the thought of him and Elrond actually becoming suedo-intellectual-friends wasn't that farfetched). I'm positive he was just drinking up this entire alternative-realm experience. Note to self: remember to take him aside while I was in Lothlorien and tell about the Balrog (that was one experience I'm sure he'd analyze without freaking out…not sure the same could be said about everyone else).

Jasper and Emmett I would for sure share tales about all the fighting and orc-slaying.

Esme…from her a hug would suffice (the thought of a proper hug at the moment made me all the more ready to get this whole meet-and-greet over with…touch wasn't usually my thing, but these days hadn't been all that usual).

Rosalie and Alice would probably want to show me all the awesome gowns…hold up! Remembering how vanity-fixed my girlfriends were immediately brought to mind my rat-nest hair. Reaching a hand up and padded the gunky mess again, I almost moaned at how much crap I was in for when those two got sight of my current state.

Ongoing orcs battles or not…I would never hear the end of it. Alice might have even deemed me unfit to have hair and attempt to shave it all off. Shudder.

"Go now and rest," Galadriel bade us with a slight raise of her arm in direction towards the exit (yeah!...we got the thumbs up for staying).

I missed the rest of what she said since her voice, still very amused at my freaking out (the other's minds were probably not dwelling on their inevitable doom awaiting them from two high maintenance female vampires due to their grudged up battle appearance). 'Bella, if you wish to clean up before meeting with the Olympic coven…I would not find that request unwise,' the elf sorceress' mind slanted a little at the second portion of her thought, suggesting she understood, to some degree, why I was suddenly so worried about my stupid hair.

I snorted a little at the idea of Alice and Rosalie leaving a lasting impression of a powerful elf noblewoman. 'So Rosalie and Alice's impeccable sense of fashion is known in these parts, I'm guessin?' my mind replied.

The elf lady simply sent a smile my way.

Oh yeah, my sisters made themselves known.

'I will have someone lead you to a bath once your company is led out,' was all she allowed back.

"Yeah!" I cheered a little loudly, fisting my hand in a victory pound.

Both Legolas and Jake sent me weirded out looks on their tired faces…I shrugged them off and dreamed about my upcoming salvation of water and soap.

Aragorn bowed – cueing the rest of us to bow – and then followed Haldir's lead out of the royal tree house. Seeing as how room and board had been secured for the night, the overall feel of the group turned from a rigid front of nervousness to relief and eagerness to finally get rest. We passed through the arch doorway and were about to get onto the bridge to another tree stairway when, out from the corner, a tall radiant female elf approached.

Hair blonde (Arwen and the twins must be diamonds in the rough with their dark locks). Tall (dwarfed by Galadriel and…blue robed elf who was probably her husband) and angelic. She floated toward us in an aqua green gown and approached Haldir. Speaking to one another in soft tones, the Marchwarden ceased the conversation and then looked over directly at me.

"Mistress Bella," he spoke, any earlier animosity hidden away, "This lady shall take you to the private baths. After which, you shall be escorted to where the Olympic coven is roomed."

At this announcement, all the guys turned and seemed to suddenly realize that my appearance was indeed a catastrophe.

For whatever tortured reason, I solely met Legolas' eyes and found his searching over my entire person. When they directed toward the crown of my head, I felt my stomach drop and clenched my arm muscles to keep at bay the urge to reach up and hug my head away from his gaze.

When he noticed my own staring back, the elf turned his face to the ground in what might have been shame (on the other hand, he was probably just sick of looking the dump of a female…alright, enough self-pity Bella…who gives a rip what the perfect elf prince with the sky blue eyes thinks anyway?). Releasing my chewed-up lip, I lifted my chin at their gazes and walked unabashfully toward the elf maiden as if the word "filthy" did even exist in my vocabulary.

"Bella," his voice spoke up as Legolas stepped in my direction.

Crap. Keep composure. Do not reach for hair to pull it all out.

Allowing myself the indulgence of biting my bottom lip again for a moment, I turned my head to face His Royal Highness and concentrated my thoughts on not imagining all the mean, verbal insults running through his head but focusing instead on my feet not leaping off the bridge a fraying panic.


Knees locked in place. Face interested yet unaffected. Way to keep it together, Swan.

Legolas stopped right in front of my and opened his mouth to say something…then hesitated.

During my mortal years, at this point, my heart would have been hitting a record high and I probably would have upchucked on his elf boots.

Vampire Bella, though, she's totally cool with close proximity to unworldly attractive elfin royalty.

Finally find words to speak, he motioned at my waste and said, "Your weaponry. Shall I take care of it while you…clean up?"

"S-sure. Yeah!" I started nodding like it meant life or death and worked needlessly fast to unhinge the short sword on my belt and grab the twin knives from my boots. Handing them over to awaiting hands, I gave Legolas a quick grin then turned back to the elf maiden.

Her and Haldir were staring back at us as if Legolas and I had just gotten done with an elaborate high five or something just as out-of-place and awkward.

"Let's go," I threw my arms out at the lady, ready to physically push her on her way.

Without meeting Legolas' face again, I gave the rest of the guys a quick wave goodbye.

"I'll meet up with you and the Cullen's later," Jake said with a wink (I sent him an eye growl in thanks for it).

My less that sane appearance and that – whatever- that occurred with all my freaking out and Legolas suddenly becoming a gentleman must have offered a not so stellar review for my character since the elf maiden didn't speak one word to me as she took pains to stay several feet ahead as she led me down a different tree stairway. Once on the ground, we weaved past many of the football-field trees to an area walled off with stone bricks covered in flowering vines. She led me along the wall until we can to a walk-in passage that's direct sight inward was blocked by intentional positions of large shrubs. Stepping pasts the shrubs, I found myself in a large garden of several waterfalls, fountains, and pools of water. Some emitted steam from their heated contents and each smelled of different arrays of flowers and minerals. From various spots grew willow-type trees with flowery tendrils laying low to block the view of areas of pools for privacy purposes.

The answers to my prayers. An elfish bath house – garden – whatever.

I fixed my eyes directly into my elf guide's soft, green backside so to avoid accidentally getting a view of some naked elf (hopefully female…I'm praying for female….if these end up being coed baths, I'll keep the rat hair) exposing herself in the nudey nude.

One of the last bathes in the garden was a cold one with a fountain spring trickling fresh smelling water slightly scented with salts and minerals. Silver and golden lamps, bottles, and containers sat scattered along the side of the pool alongside a small pile of folded towels.

Apparently word got ahead of our arrival. Great service. Employees lack certain bedside manner though.

Gesturing to the obvious pool of bathing water before us (as if I'd been staring at the sky the entire time), the maiden then bowed to me and left quite abruptly.

"Thank you," I called after her disappearing aqua green gown.


The oh-so-close opportunity of refreshing and replenishing liquid heaven kept any annoyance at her handicap in people skills from becoming a problem.

I was going to enjoy this.

Glancing around one time, I gave a half-hearted effort to assure my brain there wasn't an audience around. Then, not bothering to care if I rip any of it (save the durable boots that were living up to Arwen's praise), I peeled off the mucky layers of stained, soiled travel garb. Dumping them in a pile beside my carefully placed boots, I allow apprehension towards a possible Peeping-Tom incident to fall away and took in the feel of fresh, clean air against my naked pores and soft, fertile grass cushioned under my feet.

Closing my eyes to concentrate on the feel of cold liquid against my toes and ankle, I dipped a foot into the pool and relished in the welcomed sensation. Instantly the rest of my flesh called to the water and I plunged feet-first in. Happily, the deepest portion of the small pool stepped down to the level that the water reached up to my forehead (logically this was so since your average female elf was about half a foot taller than me).

At first, I simply bobbed under the water; letting my muscles relax in the bath. With the whole of my being letting go of restraint, my brain began to flow with the slow current of the fountain-pressured water.

For the first time in a long while, some real privacy was given. In this underwater haven, there was no Ring of Power, no Balrog, no elves, no rangers, and only one vampire. Instead of my life being bombarded by other supernaturals, I found myself surrounded by ghosts.

Ghosts of Arwen's forlonging tears as the love of her life walked away.

Boromir's fear of his own weakness.

Gimli losing his cousin.

Frodo's graven face struggling to keep up hope every single day since leaving Imladris.

Sam's unwavering and humble loyalty to his friends.

Aragorn's emotional immobility that balanced out the rest of the Fellowship's hysterical breakdowns.

Legolas' pain at having to relive the loss of Gandalf.

Gandalf…Gandalf's order to continue. To push past our tears, fears, struggles, emotions, and pain. The ghosts of that wizard's honest to goodness faith that we were always stronger than all our weaknesses. Stronger even than the stupid, repulsive piece of crap Ring in Frodo's pocket.

After about twenty minutes suspended underwater, the past few months silently replaying in a self-debrief through my mind's eyes, I decided to actually begin washing and pushed my toes, from the stone bottom of the pool, towards the edge where all the bottles of sweet smelling potions sat. Opening and sniffing one after another, I recognized a few from the washroom provided by Elrond's household. In the fourth container, I screwed off the glass top and found a cream Tinu (awww…miss her) had introduced me to as an excellent hair cleanser. It smelled of honey butter and rain and literally heated up hair upon contact, easily washing away after dirt and/or orc waste. Scooping a larger than needed wad into my fingers, I carefully scrubbed it into the drenched knots and felt the films of blood and demon octopus guts fall away from my hair.

I must have gone through the same hair routine three times before switching to body wash. With a body brush with gentle teeth and a liquid soap scented similarly to cherry blossoms, the next hour was spent scrubbing and re-scrubbing every inch and crevice of my epidermis. Satisfied that the smells of dwarf graveyards, orc saliva, and Balrog ash were as fumigated as much as possible for the present (some smells you just had to give time to go away completely), I set down the HAZMAT tools and dunked myself under the water again to savor the reacquired feel of a clean body.

Oooohhhh…it felt good.

Coming up to the surface, I wiped soaked strands of sweet smelling hair from my face and sighed both in relaxation and recognition that this haven was only temporary.

I had a family to visit and a Fellowship to checkup on.

Kicking over to the edge where the pile of towels sat, I put a hand on the top one and glanced around from options in clothes.

The art of towel toga was not in my gifts, and no way was I running around these woods in a wrapped towel, soaking wet.

To my dissatisfaction and fear, the only apparent choices were either a towel or my soiled scrapes of traveler's clothes.

Crap. Not good.

Perhaps I could run around at top vamp speed and raid some elf's closet.

I'm sure Little Miss Sunshine Guide from before wouldn't miss one of her many nursery color appropriate gowns.

"Salutations, naked one. Looking for something?"

I screamed and immediately grabbed for a towel to cover my naked chest.

AN: Who has walked in on our birthday-suited heroine? Tune in next time to find out. And please tip your author with a review.