Chapter IX - A Girl's Guide to Dealing with Moody Grown-Ass Men
The morning dawned bright and crisp without a hint of cloud in the sky. Under other circumstances such a gorgeous, windless day would have been happily met, but the company needed stealth and cover more than sunshine. Eileen and Pippin ate a chill breakfast beside one another, mirroring each other's disappointment with their drab cuisine. Gandalf urged the Fellowship forward, as they would need to reach Moria before sunset. Eileen followed his pointing finger towards the mountains. Over the distance she glimpsed the dusky stone wall where the doors of Moria were said to be found. She shielded her eyes from the intense sunlight in hopes of catching a better look at the doors. As far as she could tell there was nothing to be seen against the sheer cliff side.
In haste they cleared camp and shouldered their gear. As before in Hollin, the pace set by Gandalf was swift and tiresome. To make matters worse, Eileen's ankle still felt sore and protested every step. At the very least it hurt less than the moment it happened, but she wondered if she should have wrapped it. She didn't want to tell the others and ask to stop... She grimaced when she lifted her eyes to the sky. The unrelenting light of the morning sun irked her, which was strange considering how much she usually loved a golden morning sun. And yet, even with the unhindered sunlight pestering her, the weight of last night's battle and a night without sleep took its toll. Her eyelids scraped against her eyes like sandpaper. While they walk she considered engaging Boromir in conversation to stay lively, but she couldn't think of words to say. That, and she still needed to apologize for their quarrel...
The sun made its steady trek to its zenith marking the afternoon and need for a halt. The company was to eat a quick meal and move on, but Eileen decided a nap would do her better than a rushed snack. Everyone sat upon the ground and waited for their portion of food. Eileen, on the other hand, curled up at the edge of their circle and dozed. It took only a matter of seconds before she was fast asleep just behind Boromir. He glanced back at her while he waited for his share of their meager meal. Unlike the last time he observed her as she slept, her face was scrunched into a grimace. Her body shivered slightly. She never passed up a meal, and here she traded it for a wink of sleep. In one swift movement he unclipped his cloak and draped it over her. She may as well have a good sleep if she intended to trade it for her lunch.
Sam handed him a plate of food moments later. He watched her as he ate, gladdened to see her face soften. "We must eat quickly and be on our way," Gandalf mentioned pointedly to Boromir. Of course he understood the need for haste so he did not argue. It took only a short while for the company to finish eating and so Boromir turned to wake the girl.
All too soon Eileen felt Boromir's large hand against her back. He had only to say her name and her eyes opened. "Time to move on," he said. She pushed off the ground and Boromir's cloak began to slide off her back. She pulled it up over her shoulders absent-mindedly and lifted her arm to nuzzle her face into the crook of her elbow. Silently Boromir offered her a ration of food. She munched on a piece of stale bread topped with a bit of hard cheese using both hands. "Were you able to rest?" Boromir asked. The company buzzed around them to clear their bivouac. Not even Pippin complained that Eileen and Boromir were not doing their share of the work.
"Yea, actually," she answered hoarsely, "I feel a lot better." It was only then she seemed to realize it was Boromir's cloak draped about her shoulders. She was so short and the cloak so long that the fine cloth pooled on the ground at her heels when she stood. "Oh," she murmured with surprise, "Here."
"You may keep it if you are cold," he said.
"I'm alright," she replied handing it back to him, "Thanks." She looked around to find that camp had been all but cleared without their help. A few minutes after her waking they continued their march. She walked alongside Boromir and swallowed. She knew the longer she waited the more difficult it would be to apologize. At the same time she stubbornly thought that he should be the one to apologize to her – she was right about helping him in the long run, after all, and he hadn't exactly been nice either. She crossed her arms and watched the ground slowly pass beneath her feet. He's not going to say sorry first, she reasoned with herself, you have to.
"About last night," she began quietly, "I uh… I'm sorry for acting like a brat."
He could sense her reluctance, though it only made him appreciate the gesture further. He himself tended not to enjoy admitting to and apologizing for misconduct. No doubt she felt likewise. "I forgive you," he answered solemnly, though she could sense a bit of arrogance in his tone. Did it bring him joy to watch her succumb to him? She grinned faintly and felt relieved that he accepted her apology, at the very least.
"Thank you, Your Majesty," she said jokingly as she offered a quick curtsey. Part of her was trying to be funny, and another part let out a hint of spite. He watched her with an unreadable expression. She knew the look he gave when he was displeased, when he was amused, or when he was simply indifferent. However she could not determine the emotion behind his face in that moment. Had her joke been in poor taste? Could he hear the mockery threatening to surface in her otherwise lighthearted jest? Perhaps it was not customary to make a joke of anything pertaining to royalty? If only she knew the whole story…
When she didn't receive the slightest of chuckles, she wrung her hands and said, "Seriously, though, that's a relief." He nodded and shifted his gaze to the road ahead. Nervously she scratched her forearm. Now it's your turn, she thought impatiently. A few minutes passed, and soon an hour. It seemed he had no intention of offering his own apology or speaking for that matter. The company passed the curiously dry bed of Sirannon and made their way to the Stair Falls. When they reached the top of the Stairs they found the reason for the drying of the once swift River Sirannon. Before them was a vast body of still water. Across the dull surface of the lake Eileen followed Gandalf's outstretched arm towards the face of the cliff. Even at a closer glance Eileen could not discern any form of a door. With the sinking sun they began to make their way around the ominous pool...
In time they came to the edge of a little creek. The subtle current slithered southward and the surface had become so muddled the opaque, green water hardly reflected the light of the rising moon. The stench emitting from the reptilian stream reminded Eileen of spoiled meat. She looked along the length of the stream in both directions in search of some way to cross; a bridge was ideal but a few stepping stones or a log would suffice. The company had no such luck. Gandalf halted a moment, giving Eileen time to yank her boots off her feet.
"What are you doing?" asked Boromir.
As she shoved her socks into her empty footwear she answered, "Keeping my boots dry. I don't want swampfoot." She placed her boots on the ground while they waited to move forward.
"Are you sure about that, lassie?" Gimli asked teasingly, "There could be anything slithering around in there."
"You know who has two thumbs and doesn't give a shit about stream creatures?" Gimli and Boromir waited, unsure as to what she was referring to. She jutted her thumbs towards herself and finished, "This girl." Slowly the meaning of the jest dawned on them and Gimli let out his signature chuckle. She tensed her muscles in preparation for the slap on the back she was certain to receive. He did not dissapoint and gave her a firm smack. Boromir watched her face in hopes of catching a wince. Every time Eileen said something the dwarf found amusing he'd whack her on the back like they were old chums. Her right eye twitched ever so slightly and that was enough to satisfy the man.
The halflings approached the stream reluctantly, peering at the water with distrust. "Will you truly cross the river barefoot?" Boromir asked Eileen in a serious tone.
"Yea," she answered, "Why is it such a big deal?"
"I am surprised," he answered, "With you being a woman and all."
Eileen snorted. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"In my experience women tend to avoid such sordid things," Boromir replied. Even he was mildly repulsed by the fetid, green water.
"Yea, well, I'm like 10 times more awesome than other women," Eileen replied nonchalantly. Boromir wondered if a better word to describe her might be atypical or perhaps even strange. She snatched her boots from the ground and shoved them beneath her arm as the company began crossing the stream. Though the girl did not hesitate to enter the water, her toes curled just before they broke the surface. The stagnant creek felt as foul as it looked. Beneath the murky green shell floating atop the water her toes met the slimy rocks below. The hobbits shuddered visibly as they made their way to the other side.
Boromir waded behind her, attentive to her steps should she lose her footing. He wondered how enthusiastic she would be if she fell face first into the squalid water. Unlike their hike up Caradhras, she seemed fairly sure-footed in the stream. If the mossy stones beneath her feet felt unpleasant against her soles she gave no indication. Then again, he supposed it made sense that she went unbothered crossing the creek – she'd never minded dirt or grime or even warg blood for that matter. In fact, her strongest reaction to anything unpleasant seemed to be Pippin's flatulence – something even he found offensive at times.
His mind wandered to the image of her face beneath the veiled sunlight in Hollin. He thought of her eyes sparkling gold and green just before she closed them to sleep. He remembered the ache in his chest during the snowstorm as he watched her struggling against the cold; the horror of watching a warg tackle her to the ground, and then her blood-spattered face after her first kill.
She jerked suddenly before him but regained her balance in time to prevent an unpleasant fall. She glanced back at him over her shoulder mirthfully, as if she were enjoying the trek across the snaking stream. If naught else she had a pretty smile that always showed her teeth, as if she could not restrain her gladness. Next his mind wandered to those short moments when his hands met the soft skin of her midriff when he examined her wounds. Even then dirty images flashed before his mind's eye at the mere thought of it. For the first time his eyes wandered downwards until settling on her behind. Certainly he was losing his mind... He quickly returned his gaze to the edge of the stream close ahead. This is why you should never bring a woman on a quest, he reminded himself again.
At the other side Eileen continued to walk barefoot across the barren lands, taking care to avoid sharp rocks and twigs. Boromir contemplated the state of his own footwear now that they reached the other side of the stream. He could feel his feet squishing against the dampened soles of his boots. In time her feet became caked in dirt and dust, and then some time afterwards it gradually flaked off. She stepped to the side, allowing the rest of the Fellowship to move forward while she pulled on her socks and boots. Boromir waited with her as the rest of the company pressed ahead. "You can go, I'll catch up in a minute," she said as she started lacing her first boot.
"I am responsible for your safety," he reiterated, "I cannot leave you behind even if only for a moment."
"Thanks mom," she said teasingly. He frowned with indignation, unsure if he was more offended by her referring to him as her parent or categorizing him as a woman.
"Mayhaps I'll leave you for the wolves next time," he said resentfully.
"I was just kidding," she grumbled, "I thought you could take a joke." As of late he had not been too keen on jests... He seemed to enjoy watching Gimli abuse her back, but that aside, his sense of humor all but faded. She wondered if it resulted from their squabble before the warg attack or if something else had soured his mood. Since they left for Moria he had grown markedly grumpy. Her fingers moved quickly to lace her other boot and tie a floppy knot at the top. "Are you alright?' she asked as she stood and dusted off her behind. He glanced at her impassively before looking ahead at their companions some 30 yards in the distance. They began walking side by side at a quick pace. Walking next to the tall man made her feel like a tiny dog, her legs moving a mile a minute compared to his long, easy strides. "I understand that our circumstances are less than ideal, but you should really cheer up," she said flatly.
"I am in no mood," he replied shortly.
Her initial reaction urged her to offer a snarky retort, but she thought better of it. "I know... this place sucks," she said surveying the lands around them, "And I'm not looking forward to the mines, either. I wish we didn't have to come this way..."
"Now you would say such things?" Boromir huffed.
She sighed and scratched the bridge of her nose. Her gut told her this issue would not be dropped lightly. She'd tried apologizing but it didn't appear to have the effect she'd expected at all. He still brought it up, even after her apology. "Would you be less grumpy if I said you were right?" His eyes flickered faintly. So that's the kind of man you are, Eileen thought with interest. She herself had always been stubborn and somewhat prideful. She also found that she favored a stubborn man... while the idea of giving in hurt her pride, she would sooner take the hit than prolong their fight. "You ought to take me up on the offer while you can," Eileen warned, "Not everyone gets to hear me admit when I'm wrong."
For the first time all day Boromir grinned. "Go on then," he said keenly.
"You were right, I was wrong," she stated with folded arms, "I should have trusted you from the beginning."
"That does cheer me," he said. She leaned into him with her shoulder.
"Don't get used to it, buddy," she grumbled.
"Or what? Will you give me another love punch?" he teased.
Without pause she threw her right fist into his shoulder. "Oof," he said with a half smile, "I felt that one." Her face lit up.
"Perhaps a little," he lied.
"Yea well, that's not the hardest I can punch," she said proudly.
"As you say," he chuckled. They rejoined the procession behind Aragorn under the dim light of the moon and stars.
The Fellowship made their way around the wide pool for some time before the land between the water's edge and the cliff side grew narrow. They sidled along the edge of the small lake, hugging the cliff side to keep as far from the dark water as possible. The slimy creek had been unpleasant but something about the completely motionlessness, black water gave Eileen the creeps. "Why would someone dam the river?" Eileen wondered aloud.
"Why indeed," Boromir replied gruffly, "Why come to this dreaded place?"
"No, seriously. I mean, it's taking us twice as long to get there because of it... Is it meant as some kind of obstacle?" Eileen speculated.
"As a means to keep us out?" Aragorn asked.
"No, not to bar people from getting in," Eileen whispered, "From getting out." The company grew as silent as the pool was still.
"It's a mine, isn't it?" Merry supplied nervously, "I mean... why not dam the river for a mill, right?"
Everyone seemed to be waiting for an answer from Gandalf, but he offered no explanation. "Gandalf?" Eileen asked, "Tell me I'm being foolish." He turned his head so that they could see his side profile.
"No my dear," he answered grimly, "You may be right."
Even in the pale light of a night sky crowded with stars, Eileen could see Boromir's muscles tense. She wondered if he might break his teeth clenching his jaw so tight. It took a great effort to improve the man's mood earlier that day and already he was sinking back into his former state. In fact, he seemed even worse than before. She cursed herself for having made her observation to begin with.
Now more than ever she tried her damndest to avoid the shady pool. She gingerly stepped over the debris littering their already treacherous path. At the slightest misstep Boromir snatched her wrist in his firm grasp. He gripped her by the arm until they reached the sheer cliff side, whether she liked it or not. She might have refused, as being tethered to the man actually made it more difficult to balance, but she couldn't bring herself to pass on an opportunity for physical contact.
"Well, here we are at last," said Gandalf. He instructed the Fellowship to make ready for the mines while he searched for the doors. Evidently they could not bring Bill into the mines with them so each would have to take a share of the beast's burden. Distraught and angry, Sam wholeheartedly protested leaving the pony to fend for himself against the wolves. Naturally Gandalf won out, but Sam felt no less upset. The poor fellow burst into tears as he began unlading the pony.
The Fellowship gathered around to collect what they could carry of Bill's burden. Sam sifted through the pile sniffling and wiping his eyes from time to time. It broke Eileen's heart to watch. She knelt down beside him and placed a hand on his shoulder. The hobbit glanced at her uncertainly. He was not overly fond of Boromir and as such felt similarly about the man's ward. All the same, he could not deny the empathy in her eyes as she looked into his. "I understand how you feel," she said, "But don't worry. Bill's the smartest pony I've ever met. Gandalf wouldn't let him go if he didn't think he'd be okay." Sam wiped his nose with the cuff of his jacket and nodded.
"Thank you, m'lady," he said quietly. She squeezed his shoulder and they continued to divvy up what they could carry. By the time they were finished, they found that Gandalf had done seemingly nothing about the doors. She absently dusted her hands off on her breeches before crossing her arms. Where was the door and why hadn't Gandalf opened it? She strode to Boromir's side to find he was as perplexed as she. Merry wondered aloud about the location of the doors. Evidently they were marked by ithildin, which Gandalf explained would only reveal itself under starlight and moonlight. Special words were also required to open the door. Once Gandalf drew his fingers across the supposed location of the door, the pale glow of the ithildin grew until they could, indeed, see the doors.
Eileen's mind wandered as Gandalf went on to translate the words above the door. She glanced back at the black pool behind them with suspicion. No wave or ripple marred the stillness of the surface, nor any reflection of the twinkling stars. Even the clear, silvery light of the moon could not be reflected – it was as though the stagnant pool swallowed up any light that touched it.
"But do not you know the word, Gandalf?" Boromir asked in surprise. Only then did Eileen's attention return to the dilemma at hand. Her ears ever sought the sound of his voice, however agitated his tone.
"No!" answered the wizard.
"Then what was the use of bringing us to this accursed spot?" cried Boromir. His ward grimaced. At last he released his temper which had slowly accumulated since their decision to pass through the mines. Unthinking she placed her hand against his shoulder. His voice lowered as he said, "You told us that you had once passed through the Mines. How could that be, if you did not know how to enter?"
Naturally Gandalf had an explanation, but Eileen was less concerned with the wizard's account of his previous journey into the mines. She kept her hand firmly placed against Boromir's shoulder. She thought for certain Boromir would lash out again when Gandalf asked if he had lost his wits. The old wizard's gaze grew sharp and impatient, and yet Pippin still had the gall to ask what they were going to do now.
"Knock on the doors with your head, Peregrin Took! But if that does not shatter them, and I am allowed a little peace from foolish questions, I will seek for the opening words." The company stood silent. Typically Eileen might have laughed, hearing Gandalf give Pippin a verbal lashing, but Boromir had also been a target of Gandalf's wrath.
…a little peace from foolish questions.
Boromir's jaw set tight and his stern face turned away from the stony walls of Moria. For now they would have to wait and hope that Gandalf would remember how to get inside. The gathering before the door disbanded and Eileen plopped to the ground, keeping an eye on the dark pool before her.
In the distance she could discern the faint howling of the wolves, startling the pony and sending the hobbits into a panic. Boromir stooped to pick up a rock and swiftly chucked it into the ominous waters. Eileen scrambled to her feet as he launched the stone, releasing a wordless cry of protest. When Frodo asked him why he did it, he said nothing and stalked away.
Eileen waited a few minutes off before following after him. He sat on a large hunk of rock a few yards away from the Company, leaning forward with his forearms resting on his knees. He scowled at the ground unhappily. Slowly Eileen sat down next to him and took a deep, careful breath. She sat up straight and tried to emit an air of confidence.
"Let the wolves come – we'll finish them off this time," she said with as much conviction as she could muster. In truth she was terribly frightened of both the wolves and the dark pool spanning before them. Even more so now that Boromir had disturbed the water.
"If you believe that you are more foolish than I imagined," he grunted.
He shoulders drooped and her brows furrowed in agitation. "I'm trying, okay? Can you cut me some slack?"
"What exactly is it that you are trying to do?" he asked dryly.
"I'm trying to... I don't know, cheer you up? I'm really scared right now... If you give up, what does that mean for me?" she said quietly. A few moments of silence passed and she swallowed. "I'm sorry, that was a selfish thing to say..." she murmured.
Boromir sat up straight, and though his expression still conveyed his agitation he spoke gently. "No... perhaps it is selfish of me to lose hope when you are counting on me." Eileen bit back a smile and kept her eyes fixed on the ground. Sure, it wasn't a full on apology or anything, but she would take what she could get from him.
"I am counting on you," she said, "But, you can count on me, too. I won't lose hope, and I won't let you lose hope either. At the end of the day, that's all we really have." He cracked the slightest of smiles. Mixed within her naivety, if he looked hard enough, he could see the wisdom. "Have I ever told you about what a 'self-fulfilling prophecy' is?" she asked with restrained excitement.
"No you have not," he answered.
"Well, according to social psychological theory, our expectations can greatly influence our outcomes. For example, if you have to take a test and you believe you'll fail it, you'll behave in a way that will probably result in failure. You accept that you'll fail, so you don't bother to study and when you take the test, you put in substantially less effort. Then you fail and it confirms that you were right all along when really it was your own choices that made you fail, not your inherent destiny to fail. Most people don't even realize they sabotage themselves. It's a rather poisonous way of thinking," she explained.
"I am not sure I believe you," Boromir said doubtfully, "If this person fails because he did not study or put effort into the test, then it is not studying and not putting forth effort that leads to failure. I do not see how the belief one will fail causes the failure."
"But you see, the not studying and not trying comes as a result of the false belief that one will fail no matter what they do," Eileen reasoned, "If this person never decided they would fail, they probably would have put forth the effort needed to succeed. The point is, don't give into your doubts and set yourself up for failure."
"But one might fail even if they try," Boromir argued.
"That may be true, but then at least you could say you tried," Eileen answered, "Isn't that better than giving into defeat?"
Regardless of whether or not he believed her "social psychological theory," he could understand her meaning. "Yes, I can agree to that," he replied.
"Then ganbatte!" Eileen said enthusiastically. The foreign words left her mouth before she even realized she was saying them.
"Gone battay?" Boromir repeated.
She paused a moment, somewhat confused. "Yea, it's a word that means, 'do your best,'" she tried to explain, "Is that another of my weird words that nobody understands?"
"It is," he answered with some amusement. Eileen chewed her lip, thinking of where she had heard the word... But she and Boromir turned to the sound of the doors opening at last. "He did it!" Eileen chimed, and they began making their way towards the rest of the company gathered before the entrance to the mines...
I am very, very sorry this took so long. Everything with school piled on rather quickly, and then I broke up with my boyfriend. You might say I've been partying a little too hard and enjoying the single life... I started a casual romance with a guy from my class but I've been agonizing over every detail of any encounter I have with him. Plus I've been taking on more hours at work... my life is just crazy right now. And strangely enough, when my life is more interesting I tend to get massive writers block. You might say I enjoy writing because it's an escape from my otherwise dull life... now my life is far from dull and keeps me plenty entertained. Then I lost my USB (which had the only copy of this chapter on it) for a week. Meh... well I am still sorry that this chapter took forever. The next chapter is largely already written, so I doubt it'll be another two months for the next update. Thanks for sticking with me. I hope it was worth the wait.