The strange maiden glanced between the two bewildered faces. "Please, do not hurt me," she pleaded, trying to get out of Legolas' hold, "I have gold, if you want it. Just let me go."
"We have no use for gold," Legolas stated flatly, tightening his grip, shaking her slightly, "we want to know how you came to be here, on the verge of the Golden Wood."
She must have realized she would have to tell them something in order to get away. In a monotone voice, she began to recite:
"My uncles and I were travelling along the edge of Mirkwood sometime last week, when we were attacked by frightful creatures of great speed and strength. I was separated from my uncles, and my horse was killed as I fled. My hope was to reach the Elves of Lothlórien. Perhaps they have received news of my uncles. Now, I ask you," she continued with as much authority in her voice as she could muster, drawing herself to her full height, "to let me pass. My hope of finding them grows slimmer with every passing day." As she said this, the Elf maiden tried to move away from the pair studying her so intently.
*There is a ring of truth in her words,* said Legolas, still holding her, though not so tightly as before, *Perhaps she should accompany us to Lothlórien as our paths, for the moment, lie together.*
Aragorn thought for a moment, then said, *I do not like this idea, but we cannot leave her here alone, at the mercy of the elements and the Orcs. Yes, she would be safer with us.*
She stared at them in confusion. "I must have hit my head harder than I thought," she said slowly, "I cannot understand a word of your speech."
They both stared at her, amazement and bewilderment on their faces. Only then did the pair realize that they needed to speak in Common Speech for her comprehension. An Elf who didn't speak Sindarin? This was indeed a mystery.
Ignoring, for the moment, the language issue, Aragorn informed her of their decision, "We have decided that you should accompany us. You will be safer in our group, and..."
"What?" she interrupted, indignant, "I do not wish to go with you! I have managed very well on my own, so far, and have almost reached my destination. Why would I need your protection now?"
"We are likely being pursued by Orcs - hundreds, perhaps even thousands of them," Aragorn tried to explain patiently, "and if we leave you here, you will be in their path. They are not disposed to question travellers. They would rather kill you than look at you. Please come with us."
The maiden could not believe her ears. "You are implying," she said angrily, "that the 'Orcs' will not only see me, but also be able to catch me. I am not as helpless as you seem to think."
"If you could not outrun the two of us," Legolas said wryly, "how do you expect to elude hundreds of Orcs?"
Aragorn was beginning to find this conversation tiresome. They needed to return to the Fellowship and be on their way. The pursuing Orcs would catch up with them soon.
"You are coming with us," he said firmly, "You have a choice. You may come voluntarily, or by force. We will not leave you here."
The woman paused, then nodded slowly, and Legolas released her.
"I am glad we agree," Aragorn told her, "I am -"
Again, she took off into the forest, and again they tackled her to the ground.
Annoyed, Aragorn said, "I will not allow you to endanger our lives as well as your own with this childish behaviour." With that, he picked her up effortlessly and put her over his shoulder, much to her chagrin. With a nod to an amused Legolas, who retrieved her staff from the ground, they started running back to the Fellowship.
At the sound of approaching footsteps, Gimli and Boromir leapt to their feet, axe and sword in hand, ready to defend themselves and the Hobbits against an army of Orcs. The fierce looks on their faces faded to relief, then bewilderment as what Aragorn carried registered. He placed the girl on her feet, none to gently, and nodded to the group. She stood angrily, and faced the Fellowship defiantly. The group examined her closely.
Seen in the light of the clearing, Legolas realized she did not really look like any Elf he knew. She was short, though taller than the Dwarf. Her long hair was neither blonde, nor raven, neither was it straight like Elves' hair; it was wavy, and a little frizzed. Her eyes were blue, clear and direct. She had the ethereal grace but not slenderness of the Elves, and she was no great beauty. She was dressed in a knee-length dress with side slits, matching leggings, riding boots and, of course, her cloak, not flowing Elven robes. In short, if it were not for her eyes, pointed ears, graceful comportment and clear complexion, she would not appear Elven at all.
"Gentleman, meet..." Aragorn started, and paused, realizing he did not know her name.
"Calen Gaimil, at your service," she said sarcastically, filling in his blank, and adding a small curtsey.
"The Lady Calen Gaimi-..."At that point, Aragorn's voice trailed off, and he, Legolas and Gimli stared at her as though she had grown a third arm.
Noticing their increased scrutiny, she grew more uncomfortable. After a long, shocked silence, she asked, "Is something wrong?"
"Calen... is an Elven name," Legolas said, finally.
"And Gaimil is... Dwarvish," Gimli finished, stunned.
"Yes," Calen said, impatiently, "What of it?" No one answered her. She noticed that both Elf and Dwarf were eyeing her with skepticism. A tense silence ensued, interrupted only by Aragorn's cough.
He looked around the group, "This is all very interesting, but we should not delay any longer. Orcs run swiftly, and darkness is only hours away. We must be on our way."
Everyone nodded in agreement, suddenly anxious to be moving again, and began to hide all traces of their presence.
Some hours later, walking in the dark, just ahead of the Dwarf and a little boy, Calen tried to puzzle out what had just happened, who she was with, and why they had kidnapped her. She had no value for ransom; she certainly did not appear to come from a family of wealth. They were taking her where she wanted to go, but would not let her travel alone. That fact alone was strange.
She kicked a stone, watching it trip along a few feet ahead. Once she had joined the group, she had been completely ignored. They could, at least, have introduced themselves. Dark thoughts about the Man and Elf who had forced her into this situation swirled around in her head.
She knew all about the Elf-Dwarf excommunication, more so than some, yet here were one of each, joined on a... quest? Men and Elves had been estranged for quite some time, but these present seemed to be, if not friends, then at least, comfortable acquaintances.
What confused Calen the most was why a strange group of travellers, so intent on haste, would include four young boys? And why were none of them mounted? Would horses not increase their speed and reduce their chances of being overtaken? Ever since she entered the realm of the Golden Wood, nothing made sense.
Although unable to see the pair behind her, her keen ears caught pieces of a whispered conversation. She thought she heard the word 'Moria' and the little one thought they were being followed. Calen quickened her pace.
She did not like travelling in such a group. 'They are loud and careless,' she thought bitterly, 'I would make much better speed if I was not forced to walk in such a group of misfits.' She was cold, tired and her feet were aching inside her boots. If alone, she would have been sitting in a tree long ago. The walk might not have been so tedious, if only someone would speak with her. As it was, she had to walk quickly and quietly, or they would think her a burden. The last thing she wanted to be was a burden.
‘Amarion,’ she thought agonisingly, ‘where are you? I am afraid.’ Calen slowed her steps as a new thought settled in her mind. What would she do if there was no tidings to be had in Lothlórien? She had not considered that possibility. Had she made a wise decision? Should she have ventured into Mirkwood? She had thought Lórien would provide better opportunities for news - and it did not have giant spiders to deal with. She shook her head to clear it of these second thoughts. They would do her no good now; it was too late to turn back. The Man would likely not allow her to leave. ‘And just where,’ Calen thought bitterly, ‘does he get his misguided sense of nobility and obligation? I am not his responsibility.’
At length, the Elf announced that they had arrived at Lothlórien. Calen smiled for the first time in hours, if not days.
'<i>Soon</i>.' she hoped, ignoring the unhappy alternative, '<i>I will hear news.</i>' Wrapping her woolen cloak more closely around her chilled body, she hurried to catch a glimpse of the famous forest kingdom.
She gasped in amazement. Even in the dark, in the middle of winter, its beauty was overwhelming. The Elf wished for the beauty of summer, and Calen silently agreed with him.
There seemed to be a discussion going on between the two Men. One wanted to stop for the night before proceeding, the other did not want to enter the forest at all. Calen tuned out their voices as she absorbed the wonder of the world around her. After a few minutes of arguing, the men finally agreed to walk farther, hoping to walk in deep enough to avoid being overtaken by the Orcs. The group continued into the Wood.
Twenty minutes or so later, Calen could hear a waterfall, and water running over rocks. Remembering the stories from her childhood, she decided, 'This must be Nimrodel.' An instant later, the Elf gave voice to her conclusion. Walking through the water, she felt refreshed and ready to walk a while yet. Her sullen mood lifted slightly, realizing soon she would be rid of these companions.
On the far bank, they sat and ate a little while the Elf told them tales of Lothlórien. Although Calen had heard them all before, she listened as intently as the others, a content smile on her face. In the silence that followed, her mind wandered back to happier times: sitting at her mother's feet, listening to those same stories; asking mother to brush her hair before bed; running barefoot through the wood surrounding their home. Her smile of contentment faded, replaced by a more pensive look.
So caught up was she in her own thoughts, that she was jerked out of her reverie when the Elf began to sing softly. She was more startled when she realized he was singing the lullaby her mother used to sing. Tears formed unbidden in her eyes, but she did not allow them to fall. She would not appear weak in front of these folk.
Calen was still trying to regain her composure when the Elf volunteered to climb a tree to evaluate it for a night's shelter. He had barely started to climb when a voice from far above cried out, *Halt!*