Chapter 1: Can't Stay Here
"It is not your place to alter the course of this world. Nor to save those marked for death."
I turned in a circle, trying to determine where the deep stern voice had come from. Nothing met my gaze, only blackness for as far as I could see. Reaching out with my hands, I tried to find something to grasp. Yet only emptiness met my fingers.
"Am I dead?" I asked, surprised by the calm of my voice.
I had the impression of amusement, though I could neither see nor hear it.
"You have not yet passed from the plane of the living."
"Then where the hell am I and what the hell is going on?" I huffed.
"This is not Hell, least not as I understand it from your world's dogma."
"What's going on?" I repeated in a slow angry tone.
"Your actions have been as such that I felt it time to speak with you," he spoke, the sternness returning.
"And just who the hell—who are you?" I turned around, trying to pinpoint the direction the voice was coming from, but it seemed to be all around me. "Where are you? This talking to a disembodied voice thing is clichéd and creepy."
At once, I was standing back in the forest at Parth Galen, the scattered bodies of Orcs and Uruk-Hai all around. Laid against a nearby tree was the bloodied body of Boromir, his sightless eyes still gazing up at the treetops.
I stepped towards him when another man suddenly appeared beside Boromir's prone form.
"He's dead. But the others should have returned his body to the river," I said lowly. "Why is his body still here?"
The other man waved a dark hand over the body and it disappeared. "Indeed. They have given the son of Gondor what burial they could," that deep voice responded.
He turned to face me, and I took a shocked step back at the face that matched the deep resonating voice.
"James Earl Jones!" I exclaimed. "Fuuuuck, I've gone crazy again. Haven't I? Or I'm still crazy."
He looked down at himself in confusion. "Who pray tell, is James Earl Jones?"
"You don't know who you are?" I couldn't believe I was even having this conversation.
"I certainly know who I am. However, as one of the Valar, your mortal mind cannot withstand my true form. I appear to mortals as they wish to see me. It is your mind that has chosen this form."
"And my subconscious chose James Earl Jones?"
"It would seem."
"Huh. You do kinda sound like him, but I suppose that's my subconscious at work too." I looked at him suspiciously. "If you say 'Lane, I am your father,' I'm gonna know I'm crazy."
"I do not understand this reference."
I shook my head. "Why am I here? Why are you here?"
"To help you understand why you cannot interfere with fate." His voice and face narrowed, bordering on angry as he spoke.
"You mean trying to protect Boromir?"
"What did I do wrong? What would it have hurt?" I demanded, stepping away from the scene of carnage and looking back down the hill I'd come running up to save Boromir.
He came to stand beside me as we gazed through the forest. "All things exist in a tenuous balance." He explained, his voice taking on a flat affect. "Strength and weakness. Light and dark. Life and death. Each must counter the other. Change the course of one, and the pendulum will swing wildly in the other direction to achieve balance once more."
"Saving Boromir really would have changed that much?" I asked, not turning to look at the James Earl Jones doppelgänger. It was hard enough having this conversation while listening to his voice.
"Must I truly answer that?"
I sighed, knowing the truth. "No."
Knowing it didn't change my regret at the necessity of his death. Boromir remaining alive would have been a domino effect. Without it, Denethor would not be driven mad by grief and would possibly fight Aragorn's rise to the throne. And ever loyal, had Boromir lived, he would have sided with his father. Aragorn's people might very well be split on their own loyalty, whether to support their ruling Steward, or their returning King.
What of Faramir's happiness? Without Denethor's grief driving him to madness, Faramir might not be sent out to reclaim Osgiliath, and if he were not injured, he would not be in the healing rooms to meet Éowyn.
And if Boromir still lived, he would not regain the honor he'd tarnished in his attempt to take the Ring. In death, he would receive an illustrious funeral performed by celebrated warriors and friends.
As a soldier myself, I knew it was no little thing to live without honor.
"Just because I know what the outcome had to be, doesn't mean it was easy to live with," I finally told him.
"The things that must be done are oft the hardest to 'live with,'" he agreed. "Keep their courses from being traveled and you may very well die with it. This is a lesson you must remember. You cannot change fate without consequence."
Hearing the spoken and unspoken threat, I turned to face him. "If you're so worried about me screwing the fate of this world up, why don't you just send me back to my world," I snarled. "Why am I even here?"
"That I cannot say. How you came to be here is puzzling even among the Valar," he calmly responded.
"Look, how doesn't really matter to me. Just send me back."
He finally turned to look at me, slowly shaking his head. "Do you truly wish to return to your world?"
"No. But I don't want to screw up this world either."
"It is not so simple a task to transport you from one world to another."
"And yet some old Gypsy woman could do it. Come on, just what kind of powers do you have, James?"
He grunted. "The magic that brought you here was an accidental deviation in powers."
"Great. It's an accident that I'm even here. Where do I belong now?"
"It may have been incidental that you found your way here, but you have etched out a path here. Removing you from the circles of this world would not be easy nor pleasant. Yet I fear it must be done. The world of your birth must also be the one of your death, else balance shall be lost."
"So what am I supposed to do? What's going to happen to me?"
"The Valar have not decided. We are split on the matter."
"Except for you not so subtly threatening me about changing the course of this world," I commented.
He tilted his head as he looked at me. "Do you know who I am?"
"You mean you're not James Earl Jones?" I laughed derisively. He continued staring, a disconcerting sight since he wore so famous a face. I crossed my arms. "I'm guessing by things you've said that you're Death. Although if you are, I don't know why my mind doesn't picture you with a scythe and black robe."
He tilted his head and stared at me, seeming to see into my very being.
"I do not understand this portrayal of 'Death' in your world. Yet I would venture you do not see me as such because this visage is meant to be frightening and I do not believe you fear dying any longer."
I shrugged. "I openly welcomed it once. I guess I have lost that kind of fear of you, Death."
"I hold dominion over more than simply death. I was called Námo; the Judge of the Dead, and Keeper of souls in my Halls of Waiting."
"So you really don't look like James Earl Jones?" I wondered.
He stared at me, and as I gazed back, the illusion wavered. Beneath it was a face that held all the features of every face that had ever been and none of them at the same time. Almost like an image in rippling water—it was ever changing. Then, the illusion slipped back in place.
I stepped back nervously.
"I am neither fearsome nor evil. I deal evil to evil, but those of goodness receive justice in my halls. All receive justice in one form or another," he explained.
"But you're still warning me not to mess with fate?"
His face darkened. "I am explaining to you that regardless of what the other Valar decide, if you change the balance of the lives under my dominion, I will deal you a fitting end in return."
He stepped back, and suddenly I was no longer in Parth Galen, but staring up at the gray sky as my back connected roughly with the ground.
"We're sick of carting these prisoners around," the large Uruk that had tossed me to the ground proclaimed as he straightened.
Even in the gray sky, the small amount of light was too bright. My head pounded as my vision blurred and dark spots flashed in my vision. As the throbbing in my head continued to beat an erratic tempo, I rolled over onto my side and heaved the contents of my stomach. Even when my stomach was empty, my abdominal muscles continued to constrict as I dry heaved.
I forced deep breaths and closed my eyes, eventually regaining some control, though the pounding in my head continued. Still on my side, I opened my eyes again to take in our surroundings. I pulled my shirt up and glanced at the purple bruises on my stomach. The Orc must have carried me over his shoulder in a fireman's carry.
Rolling over, I was relieved to see the hobbits. Merry appeared to be sporting a similar wound to the back of his head, and hadn't quite come around yet, but Pippin was worriedly looking about.
"It's okay, Pip. Everything will be fine," I whispered to Pippin.
"Quiet, you!" an Orc growled as a kick landed in my hip when I rolled away from it.
I rolled further away and gritted my teeth, refusing to let them hear my pain. As I clenched my teeth and waited for the pain to pass, I considered my dream, vision, or whatever the hell that had been. Maybe I'd had some bad mushrooms or something.
Was it real or had it been a dream brought on by whatever damage my brain had received when I was knocked out? That made more sense, after all, if Morgan Freeman played God, maybe it made sense that my mind would come up with Darth Vader as Death or Námo—whatever.
I could hear the guttural voices of the Orcs arguing over something so I rolled back again and listened.
"Orders are we take the Halflings and the woman to our master. They are not for killing."
I looked over at Pippin's terrified face. "It'll be fine," I told him in a bare whisper.
Then one of the Orcs cut the bands of rope at my ankles. Grabbing my throat, he yanked upwards as I scrambled to get my feet under me.
"They must be good for sport then," said the Orc still squeezing my throat from behind me, "and only one kind of sport a woman could be good for." He laughed then at his proclamation, a sick distorted sound.
My hands were bound in front of me, but I still managed to throw my right elbow into the Orc's side hard enough to loosen his grip on my throat. When his hand fell away, I spun around to face him as I backed away.
The Orc snarled at me and started towards the hobbits. "I don't have to kill them to get some sport out of the Halflings."
He pulled back his leg to deliver a kick to Pippin, but I stepped back towards him, swinging my leg forward to block the kick with my shin.
"Pick on someone your own size," I growled.
He whirled towards me, fist raised and swinging towards me in a punch.
I raised my bound hands and pivoted, letting the blow glance by.
"I'm gonna kill those Halflings and you," the Orc yelled, his anger escalating.
As he stepped towards the hobbits again, I stepped in front of him and drove my bound hands up into the middle of his face, enjoying the wet crunch of the creature's nose driving upwards.
I'd put all of the force in my arms into the blow and reveled at the sight of the Orc crumpling lifeless to the earth.
"None of you touch those hobbits," I bellowed.
Several more Orcs rushed towards me then, but the large black Orc who seemed to be in charge stepped in between, his large sword swinging as he dispatched several of his advancing comrades.
"Put up your weapons!" the large Orc shouted when the fighting had abated. "No more of this! We make for the stair, straight west. We will run day and night. Is that clear?"
I glanced at the hobbits, watching as Pippin covertly used the knife of a dead Orc to cut the bindings of his wrist and reloop them over his hands to hide his deed. Ata boy, Pip. He looked up and I grinned at him before wiping the expression from my face.
Order—or a facsimile thereof—finally restored, the large Orc, Uglúk, announced we were moving again and ordered the hobbits picked up again.
I glanced around at all the many Orcs, but knew there were too great in numbers to possible stop them. Merry and Pippin were roughly slung over the backs of Orcs, but none of the Orcs stepped any closer to me.
"You run now," Uglúk growled at me.
"What does your master want with me?"
"The master thinks you know something and wants your knowledge. Now run."
My blood ran cold at his words, but I knew enough to realize I couldn't let my mind dwell on it.
Having no other choice, I nodded and fell in line with the Orcs, running awkwardly because of my bound hands.
At least they hadn't been smart enough to rebind my hands behind me.
By the time the Orcs stopped again and tossed the hobbits to the ground, I was heaving from my awkward running and battered body. And my head felt like it was about to split open.
As I bent over to regain my breath, I watched them cut the ropes on the feet of the hobbits.
Merry was starting to come around, and one of the Orcs cruelly yanked the bandage from his head and smeared a dark ointment over his head wound.
I was so focused on Merry that I didn't notice another Orc come up behind me until the harsh and swift kick to the back of my knees forced me to collapse. With a rough yank at my nape, the Orc slathered a similar foul smelling goo to my own head wound before grabbing my scalp and yanking my head back to pour an equally foul liquid down my throat.
Sputtering, I leaned forward and kicked out blindly at the Orc, barely connecting but thankful for even that little bit. At least he walked away.
"Hullo, Pippin, Lane!" Merry forced out cheerfully. "So you've both come on this little expedition, too? Where do we get bed and breakfast?"
"Hullo, Merry," I returned. "No bed and I think that was breakfast."
"None of that!" Uglúk snarled. "No more talk!
Soon we were running on again, three guards around each of us. I kept the two hobbits in front of me, wanting to keep an eye on them.
I watched with glee as Pippin dove from the pathway under a brush, pulling his brooch from his cloak and dropping it on the ground as the Orcs pulled him back into line. Pippin was becoming wily and maturing before my very eyes.
Hours or even days later—I'd long since lost track—we finally stopped again.
We were all given stale bread, more foul smelling draught, and what appeared to be pieces of raw dried flesh. The hobbits flung the meat away, unnerved by its ghastly appearance. I flung it away too, reminded too much of my previous stay in captivity.
At least this time, I had the hobbits to fight for and protect. I wasn't utterly alone this time.
On we ran again, but now there was a real air of nervousness among the Orcs, for now, we were being tracked by a band of horsemen from Rohan.
As we ran, the riders hemmed the band of Orcs in against the forest, some of the riders firing their bows and bringing down Orcs as we ran. One arrow sliced across my right bicep, painfully grazing my arm as I silently cursed the aim of the Rohirrim who didn't know we were captives among the Orcs.
The next time we stopped, I gratefully collapsed on the ground and shut my eyes, letting sleep take me. The hobbits had been carried on and off, but I'd been forced to run ever since I'd come to.
Commotion and loud clashes suddenly woke me; I sat up to see the Orcs running about as the Rohirrim attacked. Pippin had his hands free and was freeing Merry from his bonds.
Pippin ran towards me and pulled at my bonds, but the ropes were tightened from my running and pulling at the bonds, making the skin raw and swollen.
I pushed him away, knowing they couldn't waste time. "Go, Pip. You and Merry get out of here."
"We can't leave you, Lane," he protested.
"I can take care of myself, Pip. You two have to make for the woods. You'll be trampled if you stay here. I'll be fine. Go and don't stop," I ordered, pushing him away.
Thankfully, he listened, turning and grabbing Merry as they ran away together.
My nap had given me a slight boost in energy, and my adrenaline was kicking in, erasing the feel of the aches and pains and the wounds that still bled in favor of my instinct to survive.
I stood just as an Orc grabbed me and delivered a punishing blow to my midsection, I turned away from it, but the blow still caught me low in the ribs.
Spinning and forcing my elbow into the Orc, I cast about for a weapon. Nothing was in sight.
Then I remembered the ivory hairpin Galadriel had given me. Long, straight, and sharp. I reached over my head and yanked the hairpiece out, my braid uncoiling down my back.
The Orc ran towards me again, knife raised overhand. My bound hands thrust my makeshift stiletto in an underhand motion, driving it up under the Orc's ribcage.
I slid my bloodied makeshift weapon into my belt, and grabbed the knife from the Orc's limp hand, wedging it between my knees as I sawed on my bonds, cutting my hands in my haste, but my hands were finally free.
A horse streaked past me as I stood, the swinging sword of its rider barely missing me.
With a growl, I grabbed a discarded Orc sword, swinging the heavy coarse blade at the nearest Orc. Best way to make the Rohirrim see I wasn't an Orc, was to start fighting against the Orcs.
I pushed pain and fatigue from my mind. Focusing instead on each movement and each placement of my feet as I wove around the dwindling Orcs, cutting through one after another.
Hearing footfalls and heaving breaths behind me, I spun and slashed downward with my heavy blade, the sword catching against the block of another sword.
I started to pull back and attack again when my brain finally registered what my eyes were telling me, that my blade had clashed with another mortal's blade. A human.
One of the Rohirrim stared back at me from on foot, his eyes wide with shock as he took in my appearance.
I looked around to see the last of the Orcs finally being dispatched by the roving horseman, their spears darting out at anything still moving.
My blade fell away, dropping from hands that once again registered its overwhelming heft.
The Rohirric soldier on foot said something to me, but I didn't speak his language and stared blankly back at him.
He stepped closer. "Are you badly injured, my lady?" he asked in Westron.
I glanced around again, and then down at myself. My clothes and skin were streaked black and red. The stinking black blood of the Orcs covered me like a canvas with my own red blood swirling eclectically in homage to an abstract painting.
Even the wound to my arm that I'd received the day we'd been captured was bleeding again. My head wound too no doubt.
There hadn't been time to consider my wounds much before, but now, I could feel the itchiness of dried blood on my head and arm that hadn't been washed away. Now, more would join it.
"You are safe, my lady," the man told me as he cautiously approached. I must have seemed either too dangerous or too fragile for him to approach so carefully, and I feared it was the latter.
"I'm Lane," I informed him as I felt my knees buckle.
The ground was fast approaching as my eyes fluttered and closed again.
My eyes opened lazily to the sight of a thatched roof. Strange thoughts and emotions of concern and worry overwhelmed me.
For several panicked moments, I was afraid I couldn't shut the thoughts out, but a little bit at a time, I was able to rebuild my barriers and close off the thoughts.
As my body actually shook with the effort of closing the thoughts out, I was startled to realize that this was the first time I'd heard anyone's thoughts since I'd first woken up in the captivity of the Orcs. Shocking to realize that I hadn't noticed it's absence until it came rushing back.
Was it possible my head injury had disabled my disability? If so, maybe a splitting headache was a small price to pay for the normalcy of not hearing others' thoughts.
I pushed up on my elbows just as a woman came bustling into the room with a tray. She laid it down and rushed up to me, clucking in what I assumed now was Rohirric, and pushing me back into the bed.
"Where am I?" I asked her as I allowed her to push me down again.
Her head tilted as she looked at me. "Lord Éomer said he wasn't sure if you spoke Rohirric." My eyebrows shot up at that. I wondered if he was the one who'd been fighting the Orcs on foot before I blacked out. "You are in Edoras, my lady, and have been for two days."
"'Two days?'" I repeated in surprise.
"Aye, you've been resting for two days and you need many more." She spoke Westron well, but her accent was heavy, forcing me to really listen to catch all her words.
"How did I get here?" I asked the plump woman as she bustled about. Her hair had probably once been a stunning strawberry blond, for it still held the rumor of the color, but the color had faded and streaked with gray.
She came back to the bed I had been laid in carrying a bowl of broth and a goblet. I reached for the goblet first, eager to chase away the cottonmouth sensation. Surprisingly, it wasn't water that met my lips, but light, sweet mead.
"One of the riders of Lord Éomer's éored was sent back to Meduseld to bring you to the safety of the Lady Éowyn. She tended your wounds but bade me keep you safe within my house," she explained. I was grateful her speech had slowed down, making her easier to understand.
"What do you mean 'she bade you keep me safe'?" I repeated as I set the goblet down and slowly started on the broth. I felt famished, but my stomach had been empty for days and was already clenching at the liquid unexpectedly filling it.
The woman leaned closer and whispered conspiratorially, "Tis no longer safe within the Halls of Meduseld. I worked within those halls since I was a child, but the Lady Éowyn has sent nearly all the servants away. The others do not realize, but she fears for their safety and honor while those with twisted tongues lurk about. The King no longer knows friend from foe. They say just this morning Lord Éomer was arrested and jailed upon his return."
She shook her head sadly and continued, "No, 'tis not safe to be about the Halls of Meduseld for those who have an association with his lordship. You're safest to remain here until you've healed, child. A miracle it is you yet live after your captivity among such foul creatures."
"What do I call you?" I asked, rather than think about what was already done.
"Oh! Bless me!" she flustered. "You may call me Byrde. I forgot my manners. And how should I address you, my lady?"
"Lane. Just Lane. None of that 'lady' business."
"Of course, whatever you wish, child."
I smiled at her motherly tone and pushed the bowl away. "Thank you for your kindness, but I think that's all my stomach can handle for now."
She gathered the bowl and patted my shoulder as she stood to leave. "Rest, dear."
I waited until she'd closed the doors and drew back the bedspread. I was dressed in a loose, undyed cotton shift. My left forearm was wrapped in bandages, as was my right bicep when I pulled up the sleeve. Wiggling on the bed, I pulled up the shift to examine the shades of purple and green covering my stomach.
Where an Orc had kicked me in my hip was still darkened nearly black and quite tender even to movement. Without much flesh there, I knew the bone itself was bruised and would be slow to heal.
But as I sat up, the sharpest pain was the grating in my lower left ribs. I gasped and struggled to control my breathing. Probing the rib, I found nothing out of place, but the pain was so sharp, I knew the rib had to be cracked even if it wasn't completely broken.
My head still seemed to be splitting open, but I could feel the threads of stitches along the gash. No bandage could adequately stay on the back of my head, but it had been stitched well and didn't appear to be bleeding.
Altogether, I felt like I'd gone a few rounds with a meat grinder—and lost—but I knew no permanent damage was done.
Rest would be a wonderful luxury, but there was nothing so badly injured that I'd do any harm to it by getting up. My joints and muscles felt sore and stiff from my inactivity. The bruises would hurt, no doubt, but my muscles would eventually loosen if I got up and stretched them some.
I stood on shaky legs and allowed my muscles to refamiliarize themselves with holding my weight. I felt like an old woman as I crossed the room to stand by the short dresser. Several of my things were laid out on top and my boots on the ground next to a stool. My clothes seemed to be gone, but miraculously, my cloak was clean and neatly folded on the dresser. The clothes I assumed were torn and bloodied beyond repair, but I was shocked the cloak wasn't as well.
My jackknife from my boot was on the dresser, along with the photos I'd kept wrapped in soft suede in my jerkin. Pulling my shift away from my chest, I reaffirmed that the necklace Galadriel had given me and my dog tags were also still in place.
My fingers lightly caressed the long ivory hairpin Galadriel had given me, lying beside Andreth's shorter pin. I hadn't understood Galadriel's knowing smile when I'd coiled my braid and slid the hairpin through it, but I realized now, she'd probably known just how her gift would be useful to me.
It was no longer streaked with black blood; Byrde must have cleaned it as well. It was once again clean polished ivory.
A plain dark brown dress and unbleached underskirts were also laid out on top of the dresser with a cream-colored blouse. Determined to stay up and moving, I reluctantly exchanged the sift for the dress. Not much of an improvement in my opinion, but at least I'd be able to walk outside without creating an uproar.
I was just finishing tying the laces down the sides of the dress when I felt the pressing of several minds closing in. Moving to listen at the bedroom door, I heard several deep voices making obvious demands in Rohirric.
"The child is still healing," Byrde's angry voice announced, suddenly becoming clear over the din of angry Rohirric words. "Just what crime could she possible be guilty of? She's not even awoken yet." I realized my caretaker was deliberately speaking loudly and in Westron so I would hear her words and take warning. I just prayed the guards didn't pay it any attention.
"Our orders are to bring the woman before Lord Gríma and King Théoden. There her fate will be decided."
My breath caught. I knew Gríma was in league with Saruman, who had in fact ordered my own capture as well as the hobbits. I still didn't know why, but I was damn sure I didn't want to wait around to find out from Gríma.
I shoved my boots on; thankful the skirt of my dress was long and would hopefully hide the boots not made for dresses.
My jackknife and bundle of photos I slid into my boot next and then I knotted my hair into a bun, sliding the ivory hairpin through the knot. Andreth's hairpin I quickly slid onto my necklace and tucked into the blouse.
I cast about the room, but had no other possessions but for my cloak. I hadn't seen my bag or weapons since that day at Parth Galen, and I regretted their loss, though it would make my escape easier now.
The bedroom had no outside door, but did have a small window with the shutters pulled closed. Carefully opening them, I peeked out to see the back of the house I was in was butted closely against the back of another, leaving a narrow walkway. Which was blissfully empty.
With gritted teeth—and many choice words under my breath—I hoisted myself onto the windowsill and finally through the window onto the ground. My ribs and arms were screaming from the maneuver, demanding that I stop and rest, but I could hear the voices of the guards getting louder and angrier as they argued with Byrde. She wouldn't be able to hold them off much longer.
Shuffling down the narrow alleyway with my cloak under one arm, I made my way towards the concentration of noise and the heart of the city. It would be easier to get lost in the crowd.
As I skirted the edge of a house and into the bigger thoroughfare where I snatched an apron and a large headscarf off a clothesline. They were still slightly damp, but dry enough.
The headscarf was over-large, but would nicely hide my features and hair—including the distinctive ivory hairpin.
Thus attired, and walking with my head down, I was able to disappear into the tide of Rohirric people bustling down the road as they went about their day.
As a scout, I knew how to blend in with the local populace and avoid capture. It would be no different here.
I sighed deeply as I considered my situation—and then cursed myself as the action caused a stabbing pain that ran along my ribs.
I could avoid Gríma's men for a few days. And then, Legolas would arrive with the others. And I would be safe.
Provided I caught no one's attention between now and then.
Piece of cake.
I was only half starved from my time with the Orcs, and damaged enough that my gait more resembled the hobble of an old woman.
Yeah, piece of cake, all right. Maybe I should walk up to Meduseld now and tell them to just throw me in with Éomer.
A/N: Thanks so much for sticking with the story and joining us for part two!
If you're at all interested, I made some banners for the two stories, and you can find their links on my bio page.
Thanks again, and let me know what you think!