PART ONE: ANACHRONISM
Chapter XLVI: Failed Dating Life The Sequel
I don't know if Éowyn was aware that Aragorn was betrothed to Arwen or not, but either way, she tried her best to flirt. Aragorn seemed pretty oblivious to the whole thing, talking to her as if she were just another noble woman come to chat to him about something as mild as the weather. Éowyn kept blushing and stammering, and Aragorn plodded along with the conversation out of obligation and courtesy. It was one of the most amusing things I have ever seen. At one point, Éowyn mentioned that her uncle kept searching for marriage proposals for her, and Aragorn said that Théoden was a wise king who would find someone noble and lordly for Éowyn to wed. Could two more oblivious people exist in this world?
Legolas and Gimli's drinking competition came to an end somewhere near twenty ales when Gimli roared "here's to the dwarves that go swimming with little, hairy women" and then passed out on the floor. Legolas stood there for a moment, staring at his right hand.
"I feel a tingling sensation in the tips of my fingers," he said. "I think it is affecting me."
…stupid pretty boy elf.
At one point, Bonnie got really wasted and started trying to pick fights with everyone in sight. Kind of a bad idea since the majority of the people in the room were riders of Rohan. I'm pretty sure Bonnie woke up unexplained bruises the next morning—unexplained because she couldn't remember a thing from the night before. Though, I have to admit it was really funny to watch Bonnie go up to random strangers and say, "Whatcoo lookin' at? Huh? You got a problem? I got a problem—you. And your stupid beard. What kind of beard is that? It looks like sumthun crawled onto your chin and died."
According to Legolas, she had been like this when she got drunk amongst the elves. Thranduil had found her most amusing and invited her to all their parties afterwards. Except one night, Drunk Bonnie made the mistake of insulting Thranduil (she couldn't tell the difference between him and his moose), so Thranduil banned her from drinking for a while—and that's when I showed up to take her back to Ohio.
Oh! And then, Merry and Pippin thought it would be a good idea to teach me some hobbit dances—since I was almost short enough to be a hobbit. (Don't listen to them, a foot is still a big height difference.) Anyways, my dancing lesson might have been one of the most embarrassing experiences of my life. I tripped over the still unconscious Gimli and knocked over Gandalf. I was sent flying, head first, across the room and tackled Aragorn (interrupting his conversation with Éowyn, so that might not have been a bad thing). Éomer, Taysend, and Gaenry stood to the side, roaring with laughter. At least they go some amusement out of my suffering.
Eventually, the night of celebration and sorrow came to an end. We slept in the Golden Hall, because there was not room enough in Edoras to house all the guests. The Fellowship and riders who had come from across the Riddermark slept on the floor. Thankfully, Théoden would not let unmarried men and women sleep in the same room, so Éowyn, Bonnie and I slept in a separate room—on actual beds.
I remember vaguely what I dreamed about that night. I think it was a good dream. Something about pink elephants on white cliffs. But now that I think about it, maybe I dreamed of the afterlife, because Boromir was there. And Dorthin. Everyone was there. Legolas was stepped on by the pink elephant, but then he sprung back to normal size as if nothing had happened. Gimli and I were disappointed. Kíli said that was for the best though, because the elf probably had parasites.
My dream came to a halt, and I sat bolt-upright in my bed, gasping.
"What was that?" Éowyn leapt from her bed and grabbed hold of her iron sword.
Bonnie sat up in bed and rubbed her aching head. The alcohol caused her to slur her words. "What's goin' on?"
Éowyn started towards the source of the noise. It seemed to be coming from the main hall where the men were sleeping.
"Why would you go that way?" I cried. "Run the opposite direction!"
"Don't be such a coward, Ana." Bonnie slid from her own bed and stumbled after Éowyn.
I groaned. I still thought running the other way was the smartest choice, but after making sure I had the Sword Breaker unsheathed and in-hand, I followed. Bonnie didn't have a weapon, so she raised her fists. We stood side by side behind Éowyn as she pushed open the door to the main hall.
We were greeted with chaos. Some of the men were sitting up, looking about wildly, still hung-over from the night before. Some of the men were running around the room, trying to figure out what to do. Blankets were thrown everywhere, and some of the empty ale kegs had been upturned. People were shouting and yelling and someone kept on screaming. Then, I saw who it was. Pippin sat on the floor, his pale hands clutching a black stone. The stone was a perfect sphere. It was pitch black except that somewhere in its depths a red light flickered, ever burning. Pippin's eyes had rolled back into his head, showing only the whites, and his lips were open in an endless scream.
"Pippin!" My voice couldn't reach him.
"There you are!" Pushing his blankets aside, Nick leapt across the room to join us. He grabbed a hold of our wrists. "What's going on? Ana?"
I couldn't answer him because I didn't know myself. I could only watch in horror as Gandalf grasped Pippin by the shoulder and the hobbit dropped the orb.
"The Palantír!" cried Legolas.
The black orb rolled across the floor of the hall. A deep rumbling seemed to fill the room; the sound of the Palantír rolling on wood grew louder and louder and the rest of the noises in the room—the screaming, the shouting, the voices—dimmed into silence. I could not tear my eyes away from the orb.
Bonnie tried to move me out of the way, but I remained rooted to the ground.
The Palantír was moving towards me. With every second it came closer and closer. It was black. And yet it seemed to be made of a thousand different colors. Some part of me knew that is was a dangerous object, and yet I couldn't help but think that it's beautiful.
Aragorn tried to stop it, but he missed. The orb kept rolling. I took a step back.
From the darkness, a fiery eye opened.
You must be wondering what the Palantír is (and if you do know, just be quiet and roll with it, okay). I found most of this out much later, but this seems like an appropriate time to explain. The Palantír is one of the seven Seeing-Stones that were created in the First Age and given by the elves to the men of Númenor. After the fall of Númenor in the Second Age, Elrond, Elladan, and Elrohir brought the Seeing-Stones to Middle Earth and placed them in towers guarded by the Dúnedain. Most of the stones were lost over the ages. The one Pippin had used was the Palantír that had been housed in Orthanc, Saruman's tower. Apparently, Saruman had been using the Palantír to speak to Sauron.
So, anyway, now that the history lesson is over, back to the story.
A shattering gasp rose in my throat, and I knelt down on the sidewalk, Nick and Bonnie on either side of me. The deep rumble of car engines surrounded me, and the world was bathed in pale light as the sun started to peak over the horizon. A couple people on the sidewalk stared at us in surprise. They exchanged whispered disapprovals and walked a little faster. Nick released my wrist and got to his feet, his hands trembling ever so slightly. Bonnie seemed more confused than anything else. She looked left, then right, and then left again.
"What was that?" she asked.
"We Skipped," said Nick. "It tends to happen."
"Not that," said Bonnie. "The stone ball thing. What was that?"
"Legolas called it the Palantír," said Nick. "No idea what that means."
Bonnie and Nick turned to me. I was still crouched down on the ground, taking short, gasping breaths. I tried to calm my racing heart, but I couldn't get rid of the image of the burning eye embedded in the heart of the stone. The Palantír? What was that? I had no idea, and I wouldn't find out until much later; however, I did know that it wasn't good—or maybe it had originally been good but had now become corrupted. But things that had a way of trapping my attention like that tended to be bad news.
"Ana?" nick hesitantly touched my arm.
"Yeah?" I stood and grinned at Nick. "That was wild, huh? Everyone was freaking out. When I heard the screams from the other room, I thought somebody had died. Turns out it was just a rolling rock. What did Legolas call it? The Planter? It didn't look like a plant."
Nick and Bonnie stared at me. I could see their brains working behind their eyes, trying to figure out if I was serious or not.
"The Palantír," said Nick. "Jeez girl, get your words right."
"Sounds stupid," I said. "Sounds elvish."
"Elves aren't as stupid as you think they are," said Bonnie. "They're actually really fun…"
"Nope." I put a hand in front of Bonnie's face to stop her from talking. "I will not have such blasphemy spoken in my presence."
Bonnie whacked me over the back of the head.
"It's a journey, Ana. You don't become fit in just one work out, it takes hundreds of visits to the gym. Day after day after day—you have to be committed."
I almost dropped the five pound weight. "Ah…"
"Are you committed, Ana?"
"I guess so…" The weight was really heavy. I know it was just five pounds, but, shit, that weight was heavy, My arms felt like stone. My legs felt like sausages. My head was pounding. I was coated in sweat. I felt gross. I felt unfit. And I did not want to be there.
"What kind of answer is that? You came to me and said you wanted to get in shape. You said your life depended on it. And now you're giving me some kind of half-hearted answer. Are you committed, Ana?"
I took a deep breath. "Yes!"
"Good. Now take a break."
I dropped the weight and collapsed on the mat beside it. Oh my God, I was unfit.
I hadn't Skipped to Middle Earth in three weeks, not since the Palantír incident. Nick and Bonnie had tried a couple more times to get me to talk about the Palantír or the celebration that had taken place in Rohan, but I knew nothing more about it than they did and I found that I'd rather not discuss the Palantír and I wanted to discuss Dorthin even less. Eventually, they gave up asking about Middle Earth.
My twenty-second birthday passed with thankfully no Skipping. Nick, Bonnie, Karen and I spent the day playing laser tag like proper adults before going out to a bar. My mother called the next day, and ignoring my hangover, she proceeded to nag me about needing to get my life together and repeatedly saying that I could tell her anything. I told her I loved her and hung up shortly after that.
Those Skip-free three weeks were not bad, I suppose. The good news: I found a minimum-wage job as an ice cream scooper. The bad news: my neighbor Jack was still avoiding me. The worse news: I made a stupid decision to start exercising at the local gym. I'd decided it was time for me to properly get fit; that way, the next time I was attacked by orcs or wargs or a balrog, I would be able to run as well as any dwarf. Of course, I had forgotten that joining and gym and hiring a trainer would actual involve effort.
Trainer Mike was a mildly attractive demon dressed in basketball shorts and an overly large t-shirt. I swear there were horns somewhere underneath his messy, brown hair. He stood somewhere over six foot (not as tall as Éomer, but he was getting pretty damn close) and he was beefy. He had biceps the size of my head. (Warning: I might be prone to a little exaggeration.) When I'd first shown up at the gym to inquire about a personal trainer, Mike had been standing at the front desk. He'd taken one look at me and promised to whip me into shape, no matter how inconsistent I might be in terms of showing up for sessions. Well, anyone who would put up with my absences was good enough for me, and I'd agreed to sign on with him with little hesitation.
So, after three weeks with Trainer Mike, I was lying on the floor of the gym, groaning in agony, muscles too sore to move. I was thirsty, but according to the thirst-to-pain ratio, moving to get water wasn't worth the pain it caused.
The worst part was that my workouts were in the center of the gym, which meant that the fit people who ran on treadmills and lifted weights on a regular basis could witness all my humiliating unfitness. Amongst the clanking, metal apparatuses and sweaty, healthy people, Trainer Mike would have me do pushups (I can do a whole successful five pushups per minute) and sit ups (twenty per minute) and run a mile on the tread mill (I was up to a nine minute mile on that thing) and do sprints (think of turtle trying to run). It was a humiliating experience.
"Do you need help?" asked a smooth, masculine voice.
I rolled over onto my back and stared up. A guy was standing over me. And not just any guy—an incredibly hot guy. The kind of guy with tanned skin, short black hair, big brown eyes, an easy smile, and perfect dimples—not to mention his body was well sculpted. Can I just say: hamana hamana hamana yumyum hamana hamana.
"Hi," I said. "My name is Ana Stonbit. Age twenty-two. Birthday September 28th. Star sign Libra. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio. Hair color blonde. Eye color blue. Height four-foot-eight. Life goal to settle down and never move. Favorite color is blue. Least favorite color olive. I like coffee, dwarves, and sappy romance movies. I dislike graveyards, high heels, elves, and horror movies. I'm terrified of spiders, heights, and horses. I like long walks on the beach, romantic dinners, and all other cheesy romantic gestures found in rom coms. Currently single. Feel free to stalk me."
The guy stared at me for a good minute before he turned around and walked away.
"Wait!" I tried to get up, but my muscles hurt so much that my limbs just flailed about uselessly. Eventually, I gave up and just lay there, mourning over my inability to attract the opposite sex. Why? Why did this always happen to me? I was an average young woman with a fun personality! Why weren't men attracted to me? Why? I just wanted to be loved!
Don't. Say. Anything.
I know you're smirking as you read this—I can just picture your face—but don't you dare say a word. Or I will place the curse of the undead on you. I mean it.
Anyway, while I was lying on the gym mat having a pity party, Trainer Mike returned for part two of my excruciatingly painful workout.
"Ana," barked Trainer Mike, "get on your feet! I can practically see you gain weight as you lie there."
"Is that even possible?" I asked.
"On your feet!"
At that time, I was still physically incapable of standing up. So, I did the one logical thing, I started crying. (Yes, that is the logical solution. How? Just listen and you'll see.)
"T-t-t-trainer Mike!" I choked through my sobs. "My life is such a mess right now!"
Trainer Mike seemed too stunned to do anything. He glanced around as if hoping someone would tell him how to cope with crying woman. I received a few curious glances from the gym regulars, but no one stopped to help.
Slowly, awkwardly, Trainer Mike sat down on the mat next to me, and said, "How can I help you? I am your trainer, and sometimes, I must be tough on you in order to motivate you into becoming a healthy, young woman. But I am also your confidant. I am here to be your crutch. When life knocks you down, you only need to call 'Trainer Mike!' and I will be at your side, ready to help you stand up again. Tell me your problems, and we will work them out together—as a team."
(I told you—crying always works. And, yes, this guy is for real.)
"Trainer Mike…" I moved to sitting position, though my muscles groaned in protest, and sniffled, "My life is so messed up. I can't find a guy who's interested in me, and even if I do find one, he breaks up with me in couple weeks because I'm 'too distant' and 'incapable of keeping promises'. It's not my fault I can't keep track of time! But no one wants to listen to my explanation."
"Did you recently go through a break-up?" asked Trainer Mike. "Is that why you're trying to change yourself and get in shape?"
"Break-up?" I almost laughed aloud, but I managed to keep my teary-eyed expression in place. I had to use all my acting abilities to get out of doing sprints that day. "There was this guy…my neighbor…his name is Jack. I thought we had a real connection, but as soon as he saw the real me, he started avoiding me like the plague." I wiped a fake tear from my cheek.
"The real you?" asked Trainer Mike hesitantly.
I stared up at him through my eyelashes and said, "I'm the Skipper."
"I've spent the last sixteen years jumping between this world and another world." I stopped for a second, wondering why the hell I was telling this to Trainer Mike. But he was looking at me with such earnest eyes that I felt like I could trust him. For a second, I forgot that I was acting and that I just wanted to avoid working out anymore, and I stared to wonder. Maybe he would believe me. Maybe he would understand. Maybe he would become someone I could talk to… Actually, not that I looked a little closer, Trainer Mike wasn't that bad looking. Not my type, but not bad at all. So, I said, "In the other world, scary creatures like trolls, fell beasts, giant spiders, and goblins exist. And there's a war going on where orcs and wizards are trying to kill me and my friends. I'm here, at this gym, because I want to become stronger. It'd be nice to able to protect the people important to me, but mostly, I just don't want to be a burden to them."
Trainer Mike stared at me. "Ana?"
"Are you serious?"
"You're not pulling my leg?"
Trainer Mike took a deep breath. "We will get through this together, Ana. First things first, there are places for people like you. Your problem is temporary. With the proper treatment and proper care, your problem can be cured. Now, I'm not trying to send you away or force you into anything, I simply want you to take the best course of action."
So much for my hopes of him becoming a confidant. Ah, well, he wasn't that good-looking. In fact, he had become rather pale and his hands were shaking ever so slightly. I fought the urge to sigh and said, "Trainer Mike."
"Do not get upset. I only have your best interests at heart."
"I'm glad you could come to me with this important matter. The bond we share is just as important to me as it is to you."
"I was kidding."
Trainer Mike blinked. "What?"
"I was kidding. I'm not the Skipper. There is no other world." I grinned at him. "The only problem is that my love life sucks. The bit about my neighbor Jack is true. He found out about my tendency to get lost on the road of life and he decided a relationship would never work out between us. That's it."
Trainer Mike looked like he'd been hit over the head with a hammer. "Really?"
Trainer Mike breathed a sigh of relief and wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead. "That's great news, great news. Not the part about your love life, the part about you being sane. I really thought I would have to commit you to the asylum. Scary thought there. But we're okay. It's just your love life…I mean, not 'just'—your love life is obviously very important. I'm here for you. You have to understand that. Whether you're single or insane, I'm here. But you're not insane. Thankfully."
Yep. Even if he was mildly attractive, nothing could ever happen between Trainer Mike and me. I could never date a man crazier than I was.
"I'm bad with practical jokes," I said, grinning.
Trainer Mike took deep breaths.
"I'm not going insane," I said. "You're not going to go insane. We're all sane."
He nodded. "Of course. We're all normal."
Sorry, Trainer Mike. I really only want the best things in life for that man.