Question: So how many times can an author rewrite her story? Answer: as often as she wants! OK, so I should have let this be in 2013 when I first posted, but, hopefully, I'm getting a little (very little) better at this, so I'm doing a number of rewrites even in June 2015. So if you're new to reading please review! And if you're not and think the story has improved, let me know! I'll be rewriting this summer. Some chapters are done, and some aren't, and I'm posting as I learn what I've done wrong (so you shouldn't use adverbs, eh?), so please be patient!
This story is dedicated to my wonderful and passionate husband, Eric, who graciously allowed me to use conversations and scenarios from our own lives for this love story, which we are still living out.
Chapter 1 – Lost and Found
The dwarves tensed while they sheltered in a hidden cleft in a jumble of boulders. Orcs did not have keen hearing or sense of smell, but their wargs sniffed the ground and followed each other in circles before they lost the scent. Shouting to each other that the dwarves must have made it over the ridge, the orcs led the wargs away, and the pack left at a run. After hearing their sounds drift away, the dwarves sagged in relief against the walls of the small cave, but Thorin remained tense with his weapons ready. Too many battles had taught him that an unready warrior was a dead one. At last though, even Thorin knew that they were gone for the moment, and he allowed a minute easing of his broad shoulders.
It is well that the hobbit decided not to come after all. He would never have made it this far. What was Gandalf thinking?
Lost in thought, he remembered when he was a prince and his people lived in magisterial splendor. Looking back at the grim faces of his company, he reassured them with a terse nod. His eyes flickered over the faces of his sister-sons, and a spasm of fear tightened his stomach.
Mahal, what have I brought them into?
He was interrupted by a soft moan far back in the cave, and his fingers tightened around his sword.
The dwarves wheeled about as one, scanning the dark cave, but their eyes were not yet accustomed to the dark.
"Wha-t was that?" Ori quavered, his young face frozen in fear.
"Silence," Thorin whispered, his sharp eyes spying a small shape lying on the ground against the back wall. With hesitant steps and hands on their weapons, they crept toward the sound.
"An elf," Thorin said in disgust. "Just what we need, an injured elf."
"I think not," Gandalf said from behind. "It's too small, unless it's a child, but no child would be out here."
"Then what is it?" Fili asked with a poke of his scabbard.
Gandalf rolled the bundle over with care, and the cloth fell open. Against an iridescent robe lay long, curling hair, gleaming as if gold had been drawn out into the finest filaments. The profile was beyond the beauty of elves, of any creature of Middle-earth. The skin was a flawless, creamy gold; and thick, golden lashes fell on high, curved cheekbones. Gandalf turned the long neck to reveal a face of perfect proportions, a face not born but sculpted by a master-hand that was marred by an ugly, bleeding gash above the left eyebrow. A single flashing jewel was set into the forehead, and above was a circlet of woven gold and iridescent jewels that had a star at its highest point.
"Well, well," Gandalf said, "who are you and what brought you here?"
Thorin stared transfixed, and the other dwarves crowded around in surprise. None of them had ever seen a creature like this before, one who looked dusted in gold with a flashing and almost lifelike gem set in the skin.
"What are you?" Thorin asked, half in thought. Gandalf pulled the robe open.
"A young maiden it seems," he said,with a drop of his shoulders.
A perfect swell of bosom was met by slim waist and shapely legs; however, it was not the soft body of human privilege, Thorin thought, but the perfect economy of a warrior whose every muscle and sinew worked in unison. If not her body, then the armor she wore would have revealed her purpose.
Fili and Kili grinned at each other and wagged their brows. Although they were in mortal peril just moments ago, they felt that matters were improving.
"Gold! Golden armor!" Balin said. "So impractical!" Her armor skimmed her body contours, and each boot was of one piece and bent at the ankles like leather. The dwarves crowded closer. No one, not even the elves—that despised race—ever had such armor.
"No, not gold exactly," Thorin said, and he touched the metal that cast patterns of light on the stone crags.
At his touch, a sound thrummed the air, and the dwarves cried out and raised their weapons. The diamond-ike jewel in her forehead flashed as if lit from within, and the girl winced. Bleeding slowed as the cut began to heal. The dwarves gasped as the edges of the gash pulled together.
"No! It's not possible," Gandalf said with a shocked stare. Thorin jerked his hand away.
"What, Gandalf?" he demanded. "What do you know? Do we have anything to fear here?"
"Nothing I know of," he replied, "nothing for sure." He paused and furrowed his brow. "Most unexpected," he said with a tug on his grizzled beard.
Ori reached out a curious hand before Nori slapped it away, but nothing happened.
"What's going on?" Ori asked. "Why isn't this working now?" The others also ventured a light touch. Nothing.
"I don't know," Gandalf said. He mumbled a few words and placed his hand on her forehead. Still nothing. The dwarves shifted restlessly and looked up at him for answers, answers he did not have.
"We can't leave her here in this state," he said with a nod at the ground.
Unbidden by the others, Thorin drew closer, knelt in front of her, and touched the gash on her face. With the merest caress of his fingers, the jewel in her forehead flashed, golden rays illuminated the cave, and the gash closed before their eyes. After several blinks, she opened her eyes. They glittered like cut amethysts, and he was reminded of the lilacs that used to grow on the lower slopes of Erebor.
This is unnatural. She looks more like a golden statue with inset eyes than a woman.
His suspicion was awakened, and his inability to recognize her race bothered him. As her vision cleared, she peered up at him and scrambled against the rocks. She gathered her robes around her and pulled her head far back into her hood. The dwarves could hear her panicked breaths as she curled up within herself.
Where am I? Where am I? What are these things?
Nothing felt right; nothing seemed normal. She felt trapped, confined, and the dark, dank cave frightened her. She did not understand the dark, so alien and threatening. Sights, sounds, smells burst on her mind. Eyeing the dwarves, she tensed and cast about for an escape, but these creatures hemmed her in. Was she their prisoner? She tried to remember who she was and where she came from, but her memory failed, leaving scattered images behind. She shivered and wondered at the feeling.
Thorin motioned for the dwarves to back away, and then he moved toward her with his palm raised.
"We will not harm you," he said, pitching his voice low.
She heard his deep, soothing tone, and it eased her fears. Sincerity and truth, as well as command, resonated in his voice. Whomever he was, he was their leader. Peeking around the edge of her hood, she watched his every move. He offered her water from his flask and a bit of bread, but she shook her head, not understanding what they were. Seeing that they were at an impasse, he reached out and put his hand on her wrist. His grip was gentle, but she flung him off with surprising strength. He put his hands up and reached for her again. His broad hand was warm. After placing his hand on her wrist, he pulled back and waited. No one moved, but she heard their eager breaths.
After a moment, she tapped his hand with the tip of her finger. When he did not react, she held his wrist. He smiled, and she pulled her hood down and stared at him. No one moved. Deciding that he was safe, she reached out with a golden arm and fingered the ends of his long hair. Afterward, she touched her own. Her eyes flew open at the realization that she shared a similar form. Tossing off her cloak, she moved closer and tried to touch his thick, dark brows, but he jerked away, and she recoiled.
Thorin sat back and the two stared at each other. Several times she reached out to touch his face, but he leaned away, and she hugged her hands under her chin. Once he saw that she meant no harm, he moved closer and patted his eyebrow. She traced its line, and her lips curved upward. He nodded his head and patted his cheek.
"What is she doing?" Dori asked. "It's like she doesn't know who she is."
Gandalf looked thoughtful. "Or what she is."
Bolder now, the girl got on her knees and explored his face. Her hands were gentle, and each time she touched him he felt a frisson throughout his body. She touched his eyes and eyelids, explored the planes of his face, and ran her fingers down his cheeks. She felt for a mustache and beard on her face but was confused when she did not find them. Thorin shook his head and smiled. Her fingers trailed through his thick hair and down his braids to finger the silver tips. He examined her every move. Pushing back his hair, she found his ears and then found her own. Slim fingers stroked his neck, shoulders, and chest. Frowning, she patted her chest with one hand and his with the other, confused by the difference in contour. Kili's snigger was cut off by his brother's elbow. Thorin changed position, and the hilt of his sword shifted into view. It caught her eye, and she shrunk back after taking note of their weapons.
"Disarm," he commanded. They obeyed, and her eyes showed her gratitude.
Then she held his hands with her thumbs pressed against his palms. She needed to know what had happened. Unable to look away, Thorin gasped and screwed his eyes shut as images sped through his mind. A fierce battle, a blinding flash of light, the surprise of pain, and quiet relief. He heard her voice in his head. It did not sound like words, but he understood her all the same.
Why do I look like this? Why am I here? He had no answers.
I do not know. Who are you?
The girl stared at him, brought her hand up to his face, and cupped his cheek. She took a deep breath, and images raced in his mind. He saw a multitude of blinding lights that diminished while her form solidified. It was an incomplete image of her, and he wondered if that was how she saw herself. He did not understand most of what he saw, but one thing was clear. She was no threat; instead, she was on a quest of her own to fight an enemy of her people. In the tiniest flash, he glimpsed her mission: she was a protector of life itself. He stared at her in confusion. No one except wizards were guardians of Middle-earth—unless she was Valar, but that was unlikely in her condition. He tried to pull away, but she held on and delved deeper before she realized that he found her by accident. Disappointed but trying to get her bearings, she pulled images from his mind. Scenes of Erebor's fall appeared, and she stopped short.
The dark one hurts. He grieves.
She felt along his face with tears in her eyes.
You are hurt.
He squeezed his eyes shut against searing images from his memory, but she smiled and sent waves of compassion and peace into his mind and heart. Sweat dripped off his brow while he fought her efforts to relieve the burden that he carried for years, but he was no match for her. Breaking off with a ragged cry, he fell against the wall of the cave.
"She's killing him!" Dwalin yelled, and he snatched up his ax. The others grabbed their weapons. Beauty was no defense for threatening their prince and king.
"Hold!" Thorin shouted as he struggled to his feet. "She did not hurt me."
Balin grabbed his arm and steadied him.
"I've known you for many a year, Thorin," he said, "and I've never seen that look on your face before. What happened?"
Thorin shook his head and inspected her as if he did not trust his eyes. She almost overwhelmed the senses but in a disturbing way. Her features were too perfect and her body too symmetrical. There were no beads of sweat on her skin, no wrinkles, no imperfections anywhere. Even elves had hair on their arms, but her skin was as seamless as polished gold. She was not anyone or anything he had ever seen before, and he wondered if she was not some trick or mirage.
"Thor-een," she whispered, "Thor-een." She struggled to form his name as though unused to speech, but her voice was pitch-perfect like a harp in tune. "Thor-een Oak-eenshield." All eyes turned. In feeling his agony, she recognized a searing pain in her leg and aching weakness in her limbs. "P-please h-h-help."
She place her hand on her thigh where her armor was scorched through. Thorin watched both fascinated and revolted as the burn turned black and spread into her skin. She winced and bit her lip. He called for Oin who hurried forward with his pack.
"By Durin," the old healer said under his breath, "what manner of witchcraft is this?" He reached in and pulled out a jar of salve.
"I brought herbs and medicines for cuts and infection," he said as he hefted the small jar, "but nothing for burns. I can try this ointment and see what happens."
He stepped forward and kneeled, but she launched herself at Thorin and hugged him around the waist. Turning her face to his chest, she curled against him. He sat back on his heels, but she followed.
"I think the lassie is afraid," Balin said.
Thorin pulled her up against him and held her close while trying to explain what Oin was doing. She put her hand on his face and nodded her understanding. Closing her eyes, she stretched out her leg. He dabbed the salve on her, and she touched it in wonder. Her nose wrinkled at its smell, and the dwarves chuckled.
"What is your name?" Thorin asked, his rich baritone soft. She shook her head.
"P-please, Th-Thorin, please help." She winced again and tried to breathe through her pain.
He stood and turned to the others with his hands outstretched. No one knew quite what to do. Gandalf opened his mouth but said nothing useful.
"Well, what should we call her then?" was all he could come up with. "Thorin? She seems to like you best. Pick something."
Thorin grimaced. He was a warrior not a poet and he was certain that any attempt would lessen his dignity. He turned his back and thought on what she had shared with him. She had seen the fall of Erebor in his mind and tried to help. He stroked his cheek where she touched him. An enigma to be sure, but an innocent one. His rage and helplessness at their predicament was gone—at least for the moment, he thought wryly—and what remained was his determination to see his kinsmen survive this latest episode. He looked up to see the others waiting.
"Grace," he said finally. "I choose Lady Grace."
"So be it, the Lady Grace," Gandalf intoned, but his eyes glimmered with amusement.
Thorin's brows raised a fraction at his impertinence, but he said nothing.
"The Lady Grace!" The dwarves shouted. A howl answered them.
Thorin cursed their inattention.
"Guard the entrance and stand ready," he told Dwalin and Kili as they grabbed their weapons.
"Get behind me," he commanded the girl, holding out a protective hand, but before he could stop her, she slipped under his arm and ran outside. He lunged for her but missed.
Above ground, a pack of wargs and their riders circled around her.
"O-ho, what do we have here?" said the orc captain, a sharp-faced ruin of creation with uneven points of teeth and one frayed ear. "A dainty piece that's certain, not like the dwarf-scum we've been tracking. She'll be a nice mouthful but we'll still be hungry after, eh boys?" The others nodded and swiped their tongues against their lips.
"But that's not all they're good for, is it?" said another. "These kinds give a certain good sport before they're killed I've heard."
Thorin threw himself at the opening with a fierce growl but could not get through.
"Why can I not reach her?" he cried. "What foul magic is this?"
Gandalf stroked his beard and tried his staff.
"No use," he said, "but not foul. Quite the contrary I suspect."
The girl stood her ground though Thorin saw that she favored her good leg, but her look was steely as she faced them down. The jewel in her forehead glittered with a cold brilliance.
"You w-will not harm them," she said. "Leave n-now."
The orcs snarled and moved in. A spear whistled by her ear, but she did not flinch. Reaching behind her back, she drew two jeweled glass-like swords, The orcs jeered at her dainty weapons and shouted leering insults, but she kept calm. Watching their movements, she waited until they came into range and killed four wargs and riders in an intricate arcing slash. The dwarves and Gandalf goggled at her form, which resembled graceful dance steps.
"Never have I seen such speed and, well, grace," Gandalf said. Other warg riders pressed forward, and she dropped to her knees. Her head drooped, and Thorin saw the burn spread up her leg.
"What is she doing?" he asked. Two more wargs bore down on her, and she gripped her leg and cried out. Just before they sank their teeth into her shoulders, she crossed her swords and flicked each to the side, catching the beasts in the throat. They fell hard beside her.
Other riders approached with more caution. Those wargs were almost as large as horses and wolf-like with thick necks and ridges of hair running down their backs. Their oversized heads had blunt snouts as if they needed to be widened to make room for more teeth. She screamed, fell on her side, and pressed her hands on her leg. At that moment, Thorin and the others leaped out of the cave and ran forward with battle cries.
"Du bekar!" Thorin shouted as the company ran into the fray. "Kill them all!"
Dodging the yellow teeth of one warg, Kili shot its rider in the forehead while Fili fought off two orcs and stabbed a warg through the roof of its mouth. Gloin knocked an orc to the ground, and Thorin lopped off its head.
"Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!" Dwalin yelled just before his hand ax struck a warg in the belly. The wretched animal squealed and lurched toward Bifur who split its head open. Oin and the Bombur fended off two more. Meanwhile, two riders raced toward Lady Grace and Ori, whose throw from his slingshot fell short. Gandalf sent a blast of light that momentarily sent them off-course, but they regained momentum. Looking behind her to see the wargs riders closing in, she pushed Ori to the ground and tried to cover him with her body.
"My lady! My lady! Let me go!" Ori cried. "Help us!"
"No!" Thorin shouted and slashed his way toward them. In a panic, Nori and Dori ran toward their brother.
"Ori! Ori!" they cried. Balin threw a sword that stuck out of an orc's back like a pole and Dwalin flung himself into another warg, pitching its rider onto Thorin's waiting blade. Now without their masters, two wargs loped toward the huddled pair with teeth bared. Resigned to death, Ori waited, but nothing happened. He opened one eye and felt putrid saliva dripping on his cheek. Covering his head, he blanched and shook with hear, but one warg whined and brushed against Lady Grace's hand. The other growled a challenge, and the two fought for dominance.
"Do not move," she whispered to Ori. "Do not move!"
The larger warg sank its teeth into his smaller companion and stood over them. He howled with his snout tipped to the sky, and the other dropped its head in submission. Desperate to save Ori and Lady Grace, the dwarves ran up shouting, and the wargs ran off. Ori jumped to his feet and wiped his cheek with his sleeve.
"What do you think you were doing?" Nori yelled. "You could have been killed!"
The younger Ri point to Lady Grace on the ground. She was breathing in sobbing gasps, her hand shaking over her burn.
"She wouldn't let me go," he said in defense. "She wouldn't!" He glanced at his doubtful brothers and scratched his head. "I don't know what happened."
Rocking back and forth, she opened her mouth in a silent scream. Thorin ran up and knelt beside her, his hands hovering helpless.
"Mahal," he breathed, "what dark magic is this?" The burn now covered the front of her thigh.
"We need to get her to Lord Elrond," Gandalf said. "The elves can help her."
"I will never seek help from them," Thorin growled. "Never!"
"Then you condemn her to death, Thorin Oakenshield," Gandalf countered. "She's badly wounded, and we don't have the means to help her. Are you prepared to have her blood on your head?"
With that argument, Thorin pressed his lips together and nodded. To Rivendell, they would go.
"Du bekar!" means "To arms!"
Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu! means "Axes of the Dwarves! The Dwarves are upon you!"