Priscilla has a long conversation with Galadriel and finds out that the Fellowship is about to be attacked at Amon Hen. She then departs with her new guide, Haldir, in an effort to tell Frodo the good news that his companions have survived.
Chapter Seventeen: Knock, Knock, Temptation
(In which our Intrepid Heroine gets into a battle and has a long moment of weakness.)
Okay, I'm just going to be honest here—there's no "good" time to get your period.
However, there are certainly horrible times to get your period, and topping my list would probably be getting my period while breaking my back rowing down a river, moving as quickly as possible in an attempt to save the world, with my lone companion whom I had just met and had barely exchanged a conversation. I was kneeling in the front of the boat, using my oar to jab away branches and avoid rocks, while Haldir was in the back, rowing with strong, smooth strokes; luckily he couldn't see my face, because I was absolutely miserable and was frankly just looking for an excuse to throw a temper tantrum.
Whenever I started to get into a rhythm, a lightning bolt of cramps would clench my abdomen, and I would double over, whimpering. Haldir never remarked on my spastic fits of pain, either assuming that I had an old injury or he knew exactly what was going on. It's hard to tell with him. I couldn't stop maneuvering long enough to get at my pack, where I had stashed some red raspberry leaves and valerian root, both of which would help ease the pain. Not to mention I kind of didn't want to make a big deal of it in front of Haldir, since we didn't know each other very well and I wanted to make a semi-good impression.
My time in Middle Earth had hardened me, not only mentally but physically; I was slimmer and more muscular than I had ever been, and after accumulating so much walking time, I thought that sitting in a boat would be no problem. Man, was I stupid. Rowing used muscles I didn't even knew I had, and by midmorning my arms felt sluggish and full of molten lead. Twice, my tired eyes had missed a large rock, and we had struck it head on, jarring the whole boat and denting the sleek wooden craft. Again, Haldir said nothing, but I felt his disapproving glare on my shoulder blades.
He was an unusually stoic companion, and I was unaccustomed to not speaking while working. During all of my travels, save my ill-fated journey with Strider, I had managed to hold onto a few conversations. Haldir, on the other hand, seemed completely uninterested in conversation. By eveningtime, I was too exhausted to even bother trying. My upper body burned, from my shoulders to my back and down to my core; a crippling headache was coming on, not to mention my pelvis and lower stomach felt as though it was being pressed through a meat grinder.
"I…" I swallowed, "I need a break."
Haldir nodded once and I passed him my paddle. His sharp Elven eyes seemed to pick out obstacles in the river, and with some manipulation managed to avoid them. I slumped down in the front of the boat and dug through my pack, looking for my herbal bag. My herbal bag had been given to me by Elrond, who had strongly approved of my basic knowledge of healing herbs and had done quite a bit to further my education; neatly packed inside, swaddled in a scrap of cloth, was amber liquid which I identified as tea of some kind. A quick sniff confirmed my suspicions—chamomile tea, which would help my monthlies. Bless Elrond's heart.
I swigged it and chewed on some bitter raspberry leaves, hoping this would help, and even though I never felt his gaze on me, I knew Haldir missed nothing. Embarrassing, yes, but right now I would have thoroughly chewed him out had he remarked upon anything. After the bitter leaves had numbed my tongue and I couldn't scrape any more taste or nourishment, I spat them out over the side.
Ugh. Getting my period at home was never fun, but at least there I had tampons, sanitary pads, and Midol. Here, I had some awful tasting leaves and chamomile tea.
No. I wouldn't think of home. Not now, not ever again, I couldn't risk my emotions getting in the way. Galadriel had been right—I was a child, and I needed to grow up. I wouldn't dream about getting home, nor would I salivate over modern necessities.
I set my teeth. "I can take the oar again," I said to Haldir.
He quirked a brow over such a short rest, but handed me my oar back.
The river abruptly widened and the current flattened once the sun set. Haldir had wanted to shore the boat and make camp, but I had tensely asked if it was possible to row in shifts through the night instead. I wanted to catch up to the Fellowship, to warn them, but judging from Haldir's expression he thought I was crazy. "The current will not carry you," he warned, "On this stretch of the river, we shall have to row if we wish to move."
"We'll take short shifts, then," I said flatly, and took the oars from him. "Get some sleep."
Haldir looked for a moment like he was going to protest, but I had already wiggled onto his seat and begun to adjust the oar length to suit my arms. After a second's consideration, he shut his mouth and crouched down in the boat, drawing his cloak over his shoulders and falling asleep almost immediately. Either he had been more tired than he let on, or he had that rare ability to fall asleep whenever he wished. For a while I was envious, but then the enormity of rowing occupied almost every thought.
It was a really lovely rhythm, especially in the night with the sliver of moon overhead. My burning muscles had either gone numb, or my brain simply blunting my pain receptors out of survival. Hard work has a way of calming me down, and if I had just been sitting in a boat I probably would have been sulking and crying and wishing I was home. Thankfully there were few bends in the river, so I didn't run into any banks, and after maybe an hour of solid rowing the current began to pick up.
I poked Haldir when I lost my rhythm. My eyes were drifting closed even while I rowed, and when I nearly lost an oar downstream I decided I'd had enough. Without even a yawn, he took the oars from me and shrugged his cloak off his shoulders. I took it and wrapped it around my back, then leaned back against the stern of the boat. I dozed off as soon as I closed my eyes, lulled by the rocking of the boat and the steady stroke of the oars.
What felt like ten seconds later, Haldir jabbed my leg with his foot. "Wake up, and stay silent," he hissed.
I stayed low in the boat but my eyes opened immediately; I reached for my mace and gripped it tightly. "What is it?" I whispered.
He said nothing, but he hadn't stopped rowing. "Glance at the banks, but do it silently," Haldir commanded.
Oh, God, more torches.
"A scouting party," Haldir murmured. "No more than ten. How well can you shoot, Cilla?"
It was the first time he had called me by name, and I took note of this even as I strained to see the opposite bank. Sure enough, there were several dark masses marching along the bank, but how he had counted them so accurately was beyond me. There were three torches, and in the space between two trees I saw the huge muzzle of a Warg poke out. The beast dipped its head into the water and lapped, grimy muzzle rippling as it growled at its own reflection.
"Not well, in this light," I responded, barely moving my lips. "We need to do something, won't they smell us?"
I heard Haldir's irritated snort. "Obviously. I need you to trade places with me, Cilla, very quietly. If they see us, both of us are dead."
Staying low in the boat, I scooted over to where he sat and slid up his leg. There was a second of awkwardness—nerves, really—and then I was behind him, my hands taking over the oars. He lowered himself to the bottom of the boat, taking great pains for his head not to be seen, and I continued to row us down the river. Hopefully, no Orcs had been paying attention us, otherwise they would have noticed the height difference. Come to think of it, if the Orcs had been paying attention to us, we would have been dead already.
I heard Haldir quietly stringing his bow. He notched two arrows to his bow and knelt in the boat, taking aim.
There was the howl of an Orc, and a splash.
Almost immediately, there was a flurry of activity on the bank, and the gruesome sounds of Orcish language drifted across the water. The Warg picked up its head and bayed at the moon, rearing up, and I saw that it had a rider on its back. A small throwing axe was hurled across the lake, and it missed us entirely. Haldir had already fired two more shots, and I was rowing as quickly as I could, my arms burning but I was somehow exhilarated—my mood had swung wildly. There was an answering shot, and an arrow quivered into the boat two feet from Haldir's head. He swore in Elvish and fired twice more, dropping another two Orcs.
"Row!" he commanded, and I pulled my whole weight against the oars, gritting my teeth and picking up speed. A thin, white-hot metal road felt like it had been slid into my shoulders, but I pushed a tight breath between my teeth and kept going. We were outstripping them now, and Haldir turned to face me in order to shoot. Haldir fitted another arrow to the string and dropped the Warg and another Orc; torches were dropped against the dirt, a sure sign that he had gotten them all.
If ten Orcs, a scouting party, were just cruising up and down the river, where was the Fellowship? And how many other Orcs were there? Breathing hard, I pulled the oars into the boat and rested my forearms on them, letting us drift downstream. "There's gonna be more," I mumbled. "Lots more."
He glanced at me, no doubt wondering about the thickness of my accent and how tired I was, but he nodded. "Arm yourself. We will head ashore and –"
A sound split the night.
Deep, pure, and lovely, the sound of a horn is very striking and almost instantly identifiable. This particular horn, however, was full and rich, seeming older than the earth itself and it filled the whole world with sound. It was a plea, a cry for help, and I nearly sprained my wrist trying to get my oars in water. Haldir narrowed his eyes.
The Horn of Gondor was calling.
The boat bumped against the bank, and Haldir splashed out of the boat in a half-crouch. His silver hair shone in the starlight, and he had an oddly blank expression on his face, almost serene. I followed him, my boots getting instantly soaked in the muddy shallows, and lashed the boat to the bank in case we needed to escape quickly. The woods seemed oddly restless—creaking and groaning although there wasn't any wind that I could tell, and more than once I heard far off shouts and snarls. There was a battle somewhere nearby.
I hefted my mace and looped the leather cord around my wrist so I wouldn't lose it if I dropped it. Haldir kept his bow strung but slipped it over his back, and instead unsheathed a long, curving blade which looked lethally keen. He slipped a dagger into his boot and passed me one as well so I could follow suit. "Stay with me," he snapped, but I glared at him.
"Stay with me," I ordered, and took off into the dark woods, following the reverberating sounds of the horn. Haldir muttered something uncouth in Elvish and the two of us snuck through the darkness, sliding around trees and avoiding dead twigs when we could. A painful cramp squeezed my lower belly but I ignored it as best I could and chose instead to follow the river; ahead, I saw two torches flickering in the darkness.
They knew we were coming, and I heard the baying of Wargs as we charged quietly up the bank. In the darkness I couldn't make up much—just fur and teeth and savage growls, but once they were within range I swung with all my might. The spiked ball of the mace struck a Warg with a crunch, bone splintering, and before I could draw back a set of jaws lunged for my throat. I fell back and brought my mace down again, twice, my heavy metal weapon now covered in pulp and sticky with blood. The Wargs screamed, the sound of dogs in pain, and I gritted my teeth. These were not innocent coon pups; these were gigantic rabid wolves who wanted to kill me.
Haldir was a blur of light and speed, his sword singing through the air and decapitating two Orcs before they could blink. An Orc roared brutishly and ran up behind him, axe swung wide over his head, and I sent my mace thudding into the small of its back. Haldir whipped around and stabbed the Orc in the belly, not even bothering to finish it off as it writhed on the ground, blood bubbling in its mouth. I snatched up the Orc's torch as we pressed forward, and now I could hear the sounds of metal scraping against metal; of cries of death and pain…there were battles up ahead, real ones.
The trees suddenly parted and we found ourselves in a clearing near to the river. There was Boromir, his broadsword flashing as he brought it down, and to my horror I saw that he was not fighting Orcs-he was fighting Uruk-hai.
Unlike other Orcs, who seemed positively puny in comparison, Uruks were as tall as men, some of them even taller, and they were thick. Thick calves, thick thighs, thick arms and shoulders, just pure brute force etched on every inch of their features. I could tell right away that if I wanted to take down a Uruk-hai, it would take a lot more than two or three blows from my mace. Their armor was thicker, and even though I was a tall girl they were at least half a foot taller than I was. I swallowed hard.
"Boromir!" I shouted, and he looked up, hopeful at first and then shocked. Haldir leapt over a fallen tree and plunged his sword into the back of a Uruk, and I dropped into a low crouch to duck the blade of a much taller Uruk-hai. I dragged back my mace and crippled the Uruk-hai, my spiked mace shattering the kneecaps and driving it downwards. Springing to my feet, I hit it twice, three times in the skull until it toppled over, either dead or unconscious. Something whammed into my back and I hit the dirt hard, my vision spinning, and I rolled around until I saw that Haldir had kicked me down so he could get at the Uruk-hai behind me.
Boromir looked at me, dumbfounded, and I spat a hank of hair out of my mouth, wishing my frizzy braid hadn't loosened so much. "Boromir, where are the Halflings?" I demanded, scrambling to my feet.
"They are escaping—downstream, less than half a mile," he answered, his brow knotting. "Why are you here?"
"Haldir, stay with Boromir!" I called instead of answering. "I need to find Frodo!"
"My orders were to protect you!" Haldir protested, but I took off into the bushes before he could try to stop me. More Uruk-hai were pouring into the clearing, and I screamed in fear when a blade buried itself into a tree next to my head. I spun around and delivered rather pathetic blow against the ribcage of a Uruk, then smartly sent my mace thwacking under its chin. The beast seemed to completely write off my attempts to kill it, and its blade smashed down on my forearms; thankfully, my wrists were protected by the vambraces, and I returned the blow by spreading my legs and swinging my mace like a baseball bat.
The sound of metal crushing bone is a sick, twisted sound. You know right away when you're killed or seriously hurt someone, and the shockwaves go all the way up your arms and across your back. It's a horrible sound, even worse when you need to turn around and run away. I would never get used to it, never become accustomed to the feeling of bashing something's brains out. A short-range weapon like a cudgel or a mace puts you right up front in the action, and you get to see the life leaving someone's eyes. Within the short half-hour I had been onshore, I was already covered in the blood of my opponents, spattered with fragmented bits of their bones and brains. That's something the fairytales never tell you about.
I raced through the dark, avoiding Uruk-hai when I could; the adrenaline in my system was at an unbelievable high, and even though I was certain I would be in incredible pain later, I felt strong and wild, like a freed stallion. If it had been a straight shot, I would have reached Frodo and Sam within a few minutes, but seeing as I had to avoid foes and trees, it took me nearly ten minutes to reach them.
Since the darkness was so heavy, Sting lit up their surroundings in an ethereal blue glow. Sam had his frying pan in one hand and his sword in the other, while Frodo was menacing the Uruks with Sting. I charged in blindly, swinging my mace and frankly letting loose the most wussified war whoops I had ever heard. Killing a Uruk was a lengthy process, and to my horror I discovered that Frodo and Sam were surrounded by at least ten of them—and I had gotten all of their attention.
Dull blows will kill anyone if you hit their head, but when things are charging straight at you, you really want something long and pointy. My mace had a small spike on the end for dealing with such matters, but that meant pointing the gooey, rusty, heavy end towards me, and I wasn't totally wild about that. I ducked a blow and began whacking at feet and knees, hoping to drop as many as I could so I could kill them at eye-level. Their feet and toes were covered in steel booties but their knees were thankfully bare; I dropped three Uruk-hai this way, and Sam was right on top of me, stabbing and hitting out with his frying pan as soon as they came within reach.
However, fighting on the ground has its drawbacks—namely, they can kick you. One Uruk-hai did so spectacularly; driving the wind straight out of my lungs and making me lose my grip on my weapon. I wheezed, the leather cord around my wrist biting into my skin, and I managed to control my weapon at the same time a swordpoint came straight down. It clanged off the end of my weapon, which I had managed to drag upwards, and sparks showered my face. I roared in pain and batted the sword aside, and actually managed to trap the hand of a Uruk beneath my mace; the spikes dug into the Uruk's wrist and as I wrenched it out, sticky black drops of blood splattered my neck.
I don't know how long we would have survived—probably another thirty seconds, tops—if Gimli and Glóin hadn't showed up when they did. Gimli looked horrible—his left arm was soaked with blood, and in the bad light I couldn't tell if it was his or an Orc's. I almost didn't recognize poor Glóin; his beard, which had been long, thick and flowing nearly to his waist, was charred short and he looked much older than when I had last seen him. However, both milled through the remaining Uruks while I grabbed Frodo by the collar and hauled him into their boat.
"You!" Glóin snarled, turning towards me. "Traitor!"
I panicked. What did he mean, traitor? I deflected a blow from a Uruk and skidded between his legs, sprinting for the boat.
"Get into the boat!" I yelled at Sam, twisting my mace upwards and burying it with a sickening splodge! in the throat of a Uruk-hai. The monster howled and I toppled backwards into the boat, landing on Frodo and carrying Sam with me. It was a mad scramble for the three of us, but I managed to get my hands on the oars first and I smacked the water ineffectually several times before I could really pull away. Sam shouted in terror and brought his frying pan down cracking on the hand of a Uruk who was attempting to keep us grounded. I pulled against the oars viciously, bringing us jerkily out to the middle of the river.
"You came back," Frodo said, looking at me with huge blue eyes, fear and desperation written on his face.
"Yes," I gritted out between my clenched teeth. "Frodo…came to tell you…agh…"
It was hard work, rowing and talking at the same time. I rested for a brief moment, squinting through the darkness to see if there were any Uruks attempting to swim after us. "Merry and Pippin are alive," I gasped.
The effect was immediate. Both Sam and Frodo stared at me, hope lighting up their faces. "They're in Rohan, being cared for by King Théoden. Gandalf is also…well, he is not alive, but he will return as Gandalf the White."
The boat scraped against the bank and I shoved the oars back into the boat. As I stood, Frodo threw himself at me and hugged me tightly around the middle. Startled, I fell back and patted the top of his head awkwardly, wanting to feel grateful but instead just feeling empty.
And in that emptiness, I thought I heard a voice.
An idea, fully formed, sprang into my head. If Saruman brought me here, Saruman could send me back, couldn't he? And if I brought him the Ring, surely he would send me back.
A thick lump rose into my throat. I could go home. I missed my family so much, I wanted to see my father and hug my brothers again, I wanted to take a hot shower and eat Cheetos and watch CSI. I didn't want to be here. Saruman had never lied to me, had he? He would send me back.
And Frodo was so depressed already, he would probably be grateful if I took the Ring from him. I could even say that this was the only way he would survive—that he could go home, or go to Rohan and see Merry and Pippin. And if he didn't want to give me the Ring voluntarily, I was so much bigger than he was, anyway. What did it matter, if Sauron got the Ring or not? I wouldn't be here. I would be home.
I was so much stronger, too…and I still had my mace.
"…Are you listening?"
I jumped, and pushed Frodo away as if his skin burned. He looked crestfallen, but when he got out of the boat he shot me a suffering, knowing look. He knew exactly what I had been thinking. Shame flooded me, so strongly I could taste the tears. Galadriel had been right. I had been left alone with the Ring for less than ten minutes, and what had happened?
Nothing, something told me. Nothing. You won't be tempted again. Just realizing you were tempted shows you're strong enough to carry the Ring.
"Yes, I'm sorry," I mumbled. Going home. Seeing Dad again. "You're welcome. I just came to…"
Just came to…
"…take some of your burden away."
Sam was eying me. He hefted the frying pan, subtly but I saw the strong cords of his muscular forearms. Anger ripped through me, hot and fierce, and I wanted to swing my mace and show him what his frying pan would do against me. Nothing, that's what. I could take both of them out with one swing.
"You should go," Frodo said. He sounded tired, so unbelievably tired. "They'll need your help."
"You need to hurry," I said numbly. "They'll…they'll catch you."
I'LL catch you, because I'm faster than you and stronger than you, and I'll catch you and rip that Ring off your neck…I WILL go home if it's the last thing I do…
Sam pushed the boat out into the water and the two Hobbits hurried off into the darkness. I stared at them, something dark and hungry twisting through my gut.
And then, Galadriel's eyes, powerful blue crystal orbs glaring at me, and I felt the weight of her age and her anger, crushing me against the boat, pinning me down. Do not move, small one. From someone else that may have been an endearment—coming from Galadriel, it was a threat. I scrubbed my eyes and blinked hard, removing her hard gaze from my vision. "Stop it," I said hoarsely. "I can do this."
It took me a minute to realize I was speaking English.
I seized my head with my hands and whimpered. "Shut up," I hissed to myself. "Shut up shut up shut up, I can do this!"
I hadn't been paying attention to the Uruk's crossing the river. From behind me, I heard Sam yell in pain.
Something hard and heavy hit the back of my head; there was a white flash, so bright it burned my eyes, and I fell. Something cool rushed up towards my face.
A black stripe in a circle of white.
"Daddy, no! Please!"
I was falling.
"This is for your own good, Priscilla."
The black stripe widened.
Daddy, nailing up the well.
"Let me come back home! I promise I'll be good!"
The white circle vanished.
"You fell down the well, Priscilla, now you have to get yourself out."
"But you closed it up!"
"You can't come home, Priscilla."
Rocking, rocking, rocking. Like a cradle.
I was sticky. Dried sweat had pooled on the back of my neck and the small of my back. My thighs were crusted with fresh blood, as well as my face. As I slowly returned to consciousness, I realized that I was cold; my head, agh, my head was full of dull, hot rocks, and I knew I had a lump on the back of my skull. How had I gotten it? What had happened? Haldir and I had left Lothlórien…what had happened?
The soothing rocking was making me nauseous.
I turned my head and vomited onto the back of the Uruk who was carrying me. The beast didn't even flinch.
Sam, hog-tied, gagged, and thrown over the shoulder of another Uruk-hai.
Frodo, hands bound around the neck of his captor, his eyes wild with fear, the Ring bouncing around his neck.
I let my head fall.
You can't come home, Priscilla.
-End of Book 1-
Whew! Action scenes, yeaaah! This chapter is almost 5k words, and boy was it a toughie to write. I think I got a realistic moment of weakness in there—not only is Priscilla easily the weakest member in the Quest, she's also much younger, and therefore easier to manipulate. Plus a genuine reason for wanting to get the Ring. Had to be done, and I'm sorry if it makes her seem unlikable. :/
[Thirteen reviews received]
Special thanks to: Jovie Black, FebruarySong, Lady Song, Nessa Lelaronde, Daeril Ullothwen, SilverMoonrise, DragonOwl, LexxHiddleston, pinfeather, ariella411, Indiana-Parker, and two guests: Gibbles and Guest.
Thank you guys SO much for reviewing! As for the romance, the general consensus was "Yes", but with one or two people voicing concern. I promise you that if I do choose to add romance, I will strive for it to be realistic. I don't even have a specific male in mind for her to be paired with, so I think we'll all just sit tight and see how the story progresses.