PART TWO: ANAMNESIS
Chapter VII: The Truth Will Out
The truth will out, as some people say. Including my parents, after I lied about finishing off Dad's chocolate birthday cake when I was eight years old.
After my arrival at the dwarven encampment, I quickly learned that these words were complete and utter horse manure.
No matter how many times I repeated to the Longbeard dwarrows that Thorin and I were strictly platonic friends, no one would believe me. Especially not after stories spread that Thorin and I had returned from the Blacklocks tents together. Within a day, those stories had gotten wildly out of hand, and rather just depicting Thorin and me as going for an innocent stroll, soon we had been holding hands and looking at each other with loving eyes.
The truth will not out. It is, in fact, the juiciest rumor that will out. Especially when you're in a dwarven encampment with a bunch of dwarrows who have had nothing but war on their minds for the past two years.
On the bright side, the rumor about me being a wanton seductress seemed to have died out of favor. Probably because many dwarrows had seen me during my excursion to the Blacklock tents and realized that I wasn't capable of seducing the stone-faced Thorin. Instead, I became the clumsy part-human Seer that Thorin had foolishly fallen in love with in the last throes of youth. I'm still not sure which rumor was worse, to be honest.
Thorin, of course, showed no indication that the stories bothered him. He did, however, instruct that I stay in the Longbeard area of the encampment. Well, I wasn't the sort to follow orders, but considering Thráin would not be happy about Thorin's rumored passionate love for me, I agreed that staying under the watch of Thorin's trusted guards reduced my chances of being thrown to wolves.
Two uneventful weeks passed as the dwarven army waited for the worst of the winter snows to fade. I wish I could say I'd won over many new friends with my sparkling personality, but unfortunately, that wasn't true. The dwarven army remained wary of a part-human outsider. I spent most of my days practicing archery with one of my guards and most of my evenings practicing my Khuzdul with Thorin. Knute came to visit me once or twice when Thorin was busy with his father, but for the most part, I spent my days bored and alone.
After those seemingly endless two weeks, we finally received word to pack up camp. The army would depart the Coldfells in four days' time. With shadowed eyes, the Longbeard dwarrows began preparing for the long road ahead.
I didn't have much packing to do myself, so I scurried about the camp, bodyguard in tow, lending a hand wherever I could. I'd hoped to earn some gratitude from the dwarrows and maybe make a friend or two, but after I knocked over a pot of boiling water and almost broke one dwarf's bow, they begged me to stop helping.
And then, the next morning, three days before we hit the road, I got my period.
It was by no means my first period in Middle Earth. During my two month long stay in Rivendell, the elves had introduced me to a type of moss that was remarkably absorbent and, when wrapped in fabric, made an excellent substitute for pads and tampons. Soon after I Skipped to Bree, Lucy Nailhead had helped me find some of the bog moss, and I had been able to handle my periods in Middle Earth pretty well.
However, Middle Earth didn't have a handy convenience store where I could just go buy another box of pads. Nope. Throwing away my bog moss and fabric after use was not an option. Instead, I'd have to handwash the rags. Which, let me tell you, was by no means a pleasant experience. Made even worse by the fact that I was the only woman in a camp full of dwarrows, and I needed a guard to accompany me to the river to wash the used rags.
"Thorin," I said one overcast morning when I showed up outside his tent with a small, woven basket. "I need to do some washing."
Well, Thorin and I hadn't lived together for three years without him learning a thing or two. He took one look at the basket in my hands and said, "Unfortunately, I cannot accompany you as I agreed to meet with Balin." He glanced over his shoulder, spotted a small dwarf with a blond beard, and said, "Nám, are you able to accompany Anren to the river? She has washing to do."
Nám jumped at suddenly being addressed by Thorin. "Kun, uzbad-dashat."
I understood enough of Khuzdul to know he'd agreed. I surveyed the young dwarf, who couldn't stop fidgeting, before I turned back to Thorin and asked, "Do you have something against the kid?"
I called Nám a "kid", but he was technically forty-three years old.
"I have nothing against him."
"Then, why make me traumatize him like this?"
"There are certain life lessons that must be learned through experience," said Thorin grimly.
I snorted. "You just don't want to do it."
We watched as the young dwarf scurried away to get his sword and dagger. Then, Thorin turned to me and said, "Dwalin informed me last night that the departure time has changed to early tomorrow morning."
"You saw Dwalin?" I asked. Then, the rest of Thorin's words dawned on me. "What? Tomorrow?"
"But my period's still going to be bad. Thráin wants me to travel on my period?"
"Would you like me to ask him to delay the army because of your monthly bleeding?" asked Thorin, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
"That would be the story of how I died. Let's not do that."
"We are going to war. War does not wait for your monthly bleeding to pass."
I couldn't help but feel that he was telling me to go back to Bree, to avoid this war altogether. I lifted my chin and said, "You're talking to a woman who spent her life Skipping regardless of periods. I'll be fine."
Thorin stared at me for a moment. Then, the corner of his mouth quirked up into a half-smile. "The Ettenmoors are also known as troll country, Ana."
"Trolls?" My voice shot up in pitch, and my gaze drifted up to the dark, overcast sky. "You expect me to fight trolls on my period?"
"You are much more fearsome on your period," said Thorin who had experienced more than his fair share of my hormonal mood swings.
"You are a truly evil dwarf, Thorin Oakenshield."
"That is not my name yet," he reminded me. Then, perhaps because he felt a bit bad for passing me off to Nám, Thorin added, "I will ask the healers if they have any motherwort they can spare."
I started to blow him a kiss, but since I was still waiting for the truth to out, I quickly transformed it into a cough. Instead, I waved goodbye to Thorin and took the wooden washing pail from behind his tent. Once Nám was ready, we started making our way through the camp.
The river used for washing actually ran through twin hills and the dwarven encampment. However, because the river was used for drinking water, the less sanitary activities took place downstream. So, Nám and I had to walk past the Firebeard and Broadbeam areas before the tents thinned out. The river, which was really closer to a stream, had steep slopes on either side of it, and we strolled along the ridge.
We passed by other dwarrows who had been stuck with the laundry chore. Their curious stares followed me. I kept my head high and pretended I was above noticing such things. However, I made sure we walked far enough from the encampment to avoid the watchful eyes of any dwarrows.
"We should not wander too far," said Nám. "There are trolls about."
I sent the young dwarf a pitying glance. Nám had been my guard once before, while I waited for Thorin to finish inspecting the armory with his father. I had practiced my dwarf-walk, and he'd even me some pointers so I'd look less like a waddling penguin and more like a sane person. So, I had a good impression of Nám, and I certainly didn't want to traumatize him. But, well, some life lessons had to be learned the hard way.
"A little bit further," I said. "There's some, er, stuff I'd rather the other dwarrows not see." I gave Nám a meaningful glance.
Nám frowned as he tried to puzzle out my words.
I let out a long sigh. Might as well get it over with. "I'm on my period."
Nám stared at me blankly.
"My monthlies, monthly bleeding, menstrual flow, that time of the month—nothing?"
There was no change in Nám's expression.
What was wrong with dwarven Sex. Ed.? Thorin had at least known about a woman's monthly bleeding when it'd first happened to me in Bree. He'd been flustered, sure, but he'd even known to make me some hot ginger tea.
"It's the time of the month where a woman bleeds between her legs," I explained as gently as I could to poor Nám. "It happens to all women. It's a painful and inconvenient time of the month. It also leaves behind a mess that needs to stopped with rags. Unfortunately, after they're used, the rags have to be washed—do you understand what's happening now?"
With every word I said, Nám turned whiter and whiter until, by the end of my speech, he looked ready to faint. At last, in a weak voice, he asked, "Does, um, Thorin know about this?"
I snorted. "Of course, he does. That coward. I bet he didn't even have a meeting with Balin scheduled today."
Nám watched me with open curiosity.
"We're not lovers," I said in a flat voice. "For the last frigging time, we're just friends who just have an interest in travelling together."
"Of course, Lady Seer," said Nám quickly.
The truth will out. The truth will out. The truth will out.
I managed to smile at Nám, though I'm pretty sure it ended up looking like I was baring my teeth at him.
Thankfully, I didn't need to continue the conversation any longer. We had reached a good spot along the river for me to start washing. Several berry bushes bordered the sides of the river and hid us from any prying eyes. However, we weren't so far away that I couldn't see the flags of the encampment over the tops of bushes.
Nám wasn't a fan of the location, of course. The thick brambles and thin trees on either side of the river made it difficult for him to keep an eye out of enemies. But, well, I was the Lady Seer and he was the bodyguard, so I got last say in the matter.
I sat down beside the clear river water and preoccupied myself with cleaning the dirty rags. It was, of course, a disgusting task, but one that had to be done. I at least got the entertainment of seeing Nám's horrified expression. Looking at him panicked, one wouldn't know that he'd already seen three years of war in the Misty Mountains.
"Did you join Thráin's army before the Sacking of Mount Gundabad?" I asked as I neared the end of my washing.
Keeping his eyes fixed somewhere on the other side of the river, Nám said, "Kun. My father and I joined my brother here as soon as we heard King Thráin's call."
"Nár was the dwarf who travelled to the East Gate with Thrór," I said, recalling the story Balin had told us in Bree. "He saw Azog." I could feel my expression hardening at the thought of the pale orc. Even though I tried to keep it at bay, the image of two figures battling on the ice of Raven Hill passed before my eyes.
"Yes," said Nám, who couldn't see my expression. "The Longbeard dwarrows say that King Thráin will not stop this war until he has slain the pale orc."
"Thráin won't slay the pale orc." My voice was flat, and I hadn't even realized I'd spoken aloud until Nám let out a little squeak of surprise. I silently cursed myself and my big fat mouth.
But before I could backtrack, Nám said, "You truly are a Seer, then."
I blinked. Right, the lie. Trying to sound slightly offended, I asked, "Did you think Thorin would be fooled by a fake?"
"No," said Nám quickly. "I did not believe the dwarrows who said you were a songstress, who told only tales."
I tossed the last rag, now thoroughly cleaned, back into the basket. "Is that what they're saying now?"
Nám paled. "Y—" His shoulders stiffened. Slowly, his right hand moved to the short sword strapped to his side. "Lady Seer, please move behind me."
Like an idiot, I didn't immediately obey him. Instead, I twisted around, following his gaze, to see what had caught his attention.
There it stood. Huge and hulking with beady black eyes and leathery skin. It towered over us, casting a shadow across the river. Its mouth was open, as if it couldn't believe what it was seeing, and a thread of drool dripped down from its thin lips in to the flowing river water.
Of frigging course.
I couldn't walk two steps out of the dwarven encampment without running into some sort of disaster. Thorin would have field day with this.
And then, the troll spoke, "Hey—'arry! Look what I've found!"
There was the sound of heavy footsteps, and then a second, even bigger troll appeared through the gap in the thicket.
"I told you not to get too close to the camp. Them dwarves have pointy weapons—" The troll broke off when his small eyes landed on Nám and me. Then, his thin lips spread into a hideous grin. "Somethin' other than mutton, William."
The first troll licked his lips. "I do love me some meat."
"William?" I peered up at the first troll. Now that I thought about it… Bald head, sunken eyes, unwashed loin cloth. I had met this troll in his future. Well, that was something I hadn't expected.
"That me name," said the troll. He placed his fat hands on his knees as he leaned forward to hear me better. "What you talkin' to me for?"
I set down my basket on the riverbank and then carefully got to my feet. "I know you, William." Nám tried to step in front of me to protect me from the trolls, but I held out a hand to stop him. I drew my shoulders back and tried to take advantage of every inch of my four-foot-ten height to look proud, knowledgeable, and intimating. "I know you, William the Troll. I have seen you in my Sight."
William and Harry exchanged blank stares.
"Your what now?" asked William.
"Dinner is talkin'," said Harry.
"My name is not 'Dinner'," I said, trying to keep my voice loud and confident. "My name is An—Anren. My name is Anren the Seer. William the Troll, I have seen your future. I know all about you, William."
"You do?" William's eyes went wide at the idea. I don't think he really knew what I was talking about, but the fact that I said it in an impressive voice seemed to set him on edge.
"Oh yes," I said. "You will meet two other trolls called Tom and Bert. And you will travel east of here. And you will come across some dwarrows—dwarves. Dwarves. Do not eat those dwarves, William. Those dwarves will be the death of you. Also, do not eat the pretty blond girl drinking coffee that will be with them, because she really doesn't like to be eaten."
I glanced over at Nám. The dwarf wasn't even looking at the two trolls. His brown eyes were fixed on me as if he'd never seen someone predict the future before. Which, well, he probably hadn't.
When he saw me glance at him, Nám quickly shook himself out of his stupor.
"Lady Seer," he said in a soft, almost inaudible voice, "we must run."
My gaze drifted down to the basket of freshly cleaned rags. There was no way in hell I was leaving those behind.
"Dinner speaks of odd things," said William, frowning.
"For the last time," I said with a sigh, "my name is not 'Dinner'."
"We should eat it," said Harry. "Or it might start speaking filo-so-fee to us like last dinner did."
I took a subtle step away from the trolls. "I don't speak philosophy, so you're good there. However, you really shouldn't disrespect your dinner like this!"
Harry and William looked so shocked by their dinner's outburst that they stopped chatting amongst themselves and turned to stare at me in open mouthed horror.
"We don't mind being eaten," I said. "But we do mind how we're eaten."
Nám gave me an outraged glare.
"Dinner has a mind?" asked Harry.
I nodded solemnly as I took another step back. "You cannot eat us raw and wriggling. We refuse to be eaten that way. We want to be seasoned. Preferably with ketchup."
The two trolls stared at me. Then, Harry's beady eyes narrowed. "Do not trust dinner, William. Dinner lies."
"Dinner never lies." My voice lost some of its commanding tone. "You should always trust dinner."
But, apparently, Harry did not trust dinner. He lunged forward, large hands outstretched, ready to crush my bones.
I shrieked, leapt backward, and then tripped over my own feet. Heroic, I know.
There was the flash of a blade, and the dark blood splattered across riverbank. Nám stood in front of me with his sword drawn, while Harry hobbled backwards across the river, holding his injured wrist to his chest.
I yanked the Sword Breaker out of my right boot. Though, a fat lot of good it would do against trolls.
William pushed Harry to the side and jumped across the river. His fist aimed for Nám—
I shoved Nám out of the way with all my strength, using my body to knock us both out of William's reach.
The hard ground of the riverbank caught my fall. Pain spasmed through my shoulder, but there wasn't time think about that. I rolled to my feet and glanced up to see William's massive hand reaching for me.
Time to get out of here.
William let out a yelp of pain as I thrust the tiny blade of the Sword Breaker into the palm of his hand. To a troll, it probably felt no worse than pinprick, but it seemed William was a bit of a drama king.
Then, while William howled over a drop of blood, I bolted.
"Not that way, Lady Seer!"
"Run, Nám!" I screamed over my shoulder before I ran straight into a thicket.
The thin branches scratched against my arms and face. I stumbled a few times, but the tightly woven bushes kept me upright. Thunderous steps sounded behind me. The image of Bilbo in the clutches of three trolls flashed through my mind. In an instant, Bilbo was replaced by me. I could already see it, William dropping me into his wretched, foul-smelling mouth and munching on my bones. He probably wouldn't even season me properly first.
My hands clawed at the branches. The Senturiel burned hot around my neck. The thicket dug into my clothes, dragging me backwards, slowing my progress. Even if I tried to cut at the branches with the Sword Breaker, it wasn't enough. The ground trembled with the troll's approaching steps.
"Run, run, Dinner," came the slow, stumbling voice of William behind me. "You cannot escape."
Slowly, I lowered my hand from the locket around my throat.
The branches had vanished. My arms, legs, clothes, hair were free. The trolls had disappeared. Nám was nowhere to be seen. Instead, I stood in a small kitchen with wooden cupboard and clean black counters. I would've thought that no one lived in the apartment if it weren't for the steaming mug of tea on the counter.
I stood there, frozen to the spot, as the horror of what I'd done settled around me. After the nightmares and the fear and the complaining, I'd done it. I'd used the frigging Senturiel.
Thorin was going to kill me.
I was going to kill me. I didn't want this. I didn't want to be back here. In this world. I had to get back to Nám and—
My shoulders stiffened as I took in the black counter tops and the archway that led to the living room. I knew this apartment. I hadn't recognized it at first because the kitchen was so clean. But this was my apartment. Or, at least, it had been until I decided to live in Middle Earth for good.
I hadn't stood in my apartment for three years.
As I moved to the living room, I saw that my worn-down couch had been replaced by something bigger and made of soft, white leather. The coffee table now had short metal legs and was topped by a sheet of glass. It looked far too fancy for this cheap apartment. The television had a label that dubbed it an 8K HDR. Everything was so different…and yet it was the same. The three floor-to-ceiling windows that led out to a small balcony were still there. The door to the bedroom was in the same place with that stupid little dent in the wood that had been there when I first moved in.
I saw photos on the wall behind the fancy 8K HDR television. An elderly couple stood in the center photograph, their arms wrapped around one another and their three red-headed grandchildren sitting in front of them. In the photograph next to it was a couple that looked to be in their early thirties. The man with dark brown hair and hazel eyes. He wore a disarmingly handsome smile as he stood with one arm draped over a ginger-haired woman with a face filled with freckles.
I froze. My heart pounded in my chest. In the next photo over, three college students were laughing as they drank coffee around a small, metal table. On the far right was a tall, string bean with a mop of messy hair on top of his head. Nick. In the middle, a red-haired girl with a wicked grin on her face sat with one leg propped up on the chair. Bonnie. And on the end… And on the end, there was a tiny girl with an upturned nose, bright blue eyes, and chin-length, wavy blonde hair. Me.
The bedroom door opened.
A woman screamed.
I spun around. "Sorry, I didn't mean to. I'm just passing th—"
My voice failed me. A red-haired woman in a dark green bathroom froze in the doorway. Her eyes widened, and she scrambled for something to hold on to. I thought she would fall over, but once she found the door frame, she stood upright and gawked at me.
It took me a couple tries before I managed to croak out her name. "Bonnie?"
"You came back." Slowly, a smile started to form on her face.
"Why are you here? In my apartment?" My head was spinning.
"We bought the place. In case you came back" Her eyes scanned my long hair, wool tunic, and scratched up face. "What happened to you?"
"Trolls. When? How?" I bit the insides of my cheeks before asking, "How long has it been since I left?"
Bonnie frowned as if trying to count. "Ten years."
"It's only been three years for me," I said. "I'm twenty-four now…I think. Honestly, we weren't sure what to do about my birthday with all the Skipping, so we just celebrate it on September 28th in Middle Earth."
"Thorin and me."
Bonnie blinked. Then, her smile widened, showing off the crows' feet beneath her eyes. "Damn. I—"
"Not you too," I groaned. "For the last time, we are just friends."
"I was just going to say that I owe Nick a hundred bucks."
"Nick?" I glanced about the apartment as if he might appear at any moment.
"He's still in Wisconsin with Deborah. He'll come flying back if he knows you're here though."
"His wife. You'll like her a lot."
"What happened to Karen?"
"They broke up before he went to med school," said Bonnie, completely unaware of how much her words threw me. "I keep in touch with her though. She's having a blast with her girlfriend in California. They both work in advertising."
I opened and closed my mouth, unable to find words anymore. I wasn't even sure if I remembered how to speak.
"Raoul moved to New Orleans with Kaleb, his boyfriend. I think he met Kaleb after you left. Who knows, they've been together for ages now. Raoul posts pictures of Mardi Gras every year. I keep telling Jack we need to go down and visit them some time."
"You remember Jack, right?" Bonnie laughed. "Your neighbor who saw you jump off the building. He and I met shortly after you left and well…" She held up her left hand so I could se the flash of a diamond ring. "We got engaged a couple months ago."
Everything was spinning. The world slid left and right, and I had no clue where the ground was anymore. Bonnie looked so happy to see me. She smiled and laughed as she told me about all the people I'd left behind.
"If only you had come sooner," said Bonnie. "Jack just left to make a run to the pharmacy. He'll be back soon though. He'll be thrilled to see you."
This wasn't my world. I didn't want to listen to this. I didn't want to hear what had happened after I left. I didn't want to know. I didn't want to see Bonnie in this apartment—my apartment—wearing a ring Jack had given her. Living this normal, happy life.
I shouldn't have done it. I shouldn't have grabbed the Senturiel. I shouldn't have Skipped. I didn't belong here anymore. I had sworn to myself and to Thorin. Never again.
And Nám was back in the Ettenmoors, facing two trolls on the riverbank.
"Stop," I whispered. "Stop."
"Ana?" Bonnie took a tentative step forward. "What's wrong?"
"I have to go."
"But you've only just got here!" cried Bonnie. "You have to see Jack and Nick. And what about your parents?"
I raised a trembling hand to the locket around my neck.
The Senturiel was kind enough not to dump me back in the thicket. Instead, I stood on the slope of the riverbank a couple feet away from the dense bush. The river flowed past me, winding through the hill lands, its waters streaked with dark red. My eyes followed the path of the river until I saw the large, gray mound that lay on the steep banks. The severed hand lay on the grass, its fingers resting in the water as blood dripped from the wrist. A few yards away, I spotted the rest of Harry's body. A half-dozen or so dwarrows stood around the troll's corpse. They wore identical expressions of confusion and worry as they wandered about the river banks, searching for something.
"Where has she disappeared to?" asked one dwarf.
"She could not have run far through the thicket," cried Nám.
"Are you certain the troll did not catch her?" asked another dwarf.
It seemed none of the dwarrows had noticed my arrival yet.
Well, no. I was wrong. One dwarf had noticed me.
I felt his icy gaze before I even saw him. My head turned, and sure enough, there stood Thorin. His arms folded over his chest and his blue eyes fixed on me.
Conversation ceased as the eyes of dwarrows snapped to me. Some of them blinked in confusion, likely wondering how they hadn't noticed me before.
"Lady Seer!" cried Nám. "I was so worried. I thought the troll—"
"Nope," I said in a falsely cheerful voice. "I slipped away in the thicket. I'm glad to see you're all right a least. I was worried about you. Did you manage to kill both trolls?"
I could hear the tremor of fear in my voice at that last question. Not because I worried about William trying to eat me again, but rather, I didn't know how it would reflect the future of the Company if William wasn't present with Tom and Bert.
"Thorin and the others appeared shortly after you took shelter in the bush," explained Nám. "The other troll fled before we could reach him. I heard him speak—" Nám gulped. "I thought he had caught you, Lady Seer. We searched everywhere."
"I searched the thicket most thoroughly," added one of the dwarrows.
"Oh, you know, thickets can be so, uh, thick." I waved a hand carelessly in the direction of the bushes behind me. "I'm, uh, very good at hiding when I don't want to be found. Isn't that right, Thorin?"
He didn't respond.
At last, Thorin gave a noncommittal nod of his head.
He was mad. Definitely mad. I shouldn't have Skipped. From the sound of it, the dwarrows would have arrived in time to rescue me from William's clutches.
But the locket had been burning, and I'd been afraid. To undo a life of Skipping in just three years…
I could laugh. Who had I been kidding?
My gaze shifted to Thorin, but he was no longer looking at me.
"We should return to camp," said Thorin.
I winced at the anger in his voice. Mad. Really mad. Even the other dwarrows were looking at Thorin with nervous expressions. I should not have Skipped. I was going to get the scolding of a lifetime back at camp.
I made my way down to the river and picked up the basket of rags that had somehow managed to survive the encounter with trolls. The wooden washing bucket, however, had not been so lucky.
With one last glance at the corpse of Harry, I followed Thorin back to the safety of the encampment.
Once again, the curious stares of the dwarrows trailed after us as we made our way back to the Longbeard tents. Though this time, I walked several paces behind Thorin with my head bowed. I couldn't see Thorin's face, but judging by the shocked expressions on the dwarrows' faces, it wasn't good.
Well, at least the rumors might finally come to an end.