Unfinished plots, still a happy reader
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End To Innocence, An: 2. Distant Lightning
When she woke again it was early, before dawn, and she saw Legolas standing at the edge of their camp, alert, but relaxed. As quietly as she could, she got to her feet, pulling Boromir's cloak around her against the chill air, and picked her way over to the Elf.
"Good morning, lady," he said in a soft voice.
"Good morning." She paused, looking around. "Listen," she said finally, "this is a little embarrassing, but, well. I mean." He gazed at her expectantly. "Well, where would a girl go to wash up, and... other stuff, around here?" She smiled a half smile.
"Ah." Legolas considered. "I do not think you should go far alone," he said, and glanced around. "But here--I will guard the passage for you to that boulder, if that's privacy enough."
She smiled. "Plenty," she said, and made her way to the almost-secluded space behind the boulder he'd pointed to. "No one ever talks about this stuff in the stories," she thought to herself as she went about her business. "It's like no one ever has to pee. Damn them." She finished up, a little annoyed by the primitiveness of her situation, and wished for something to wash her hands with, then spotted a wide trickle of water seeping down a crack in the stone. "Good enough," she said, and with the soap from the toiletries case she washed her hands. She decided against using the water to brush her teeth, not knowing what might be in it, but she splashed her face, and used a dollop of the toothpaste anyway and did the best she could without rinsing. Then, after thinking about it for a moment, she wet her chin-length dark hair as well as she could with her hands and shook out the excess water like a spaniel. "I'll be gloriously beautiful today," she thought regretfully, combing her hair with her fingers. She knew she cleaned up all right when she had the opportunity--she wasn't quite as unlovely as she pretended, though no one would mistake her for a beauty--but wetting her hair in a trickle of water from a rock in the middle of the forest didn't really count as cleaning up.
"Oh well," she muttered, and she headed back to camp, taking comfort in the fact that none of them were likely to do any better, and if they did, she could ask them how.
By then, others were stirring. Merry was in the process of building up the small fire, Boromir letting Gimli check his bandages, and Aragorn was a little ways away, standing on the same smooth outcropping of stone as he'd taken his watch on and looking away from the camp. She cleared her throat as she came up behind him so as not to startle him, and he glanced at her as she stepped up onto the stone beside him. "Good morning," he said.
"Good morning." She gazed off in the direction he was looking, where the first light of the sun was brightening the horizon. The trees thinned some ways off in the opposite direction, and she could see rolling hills in the distance beyond them. "It's so beautiful here," she said, her voice soft. He didn't answer, and--though she knew it was probably her imagination--he seemed somehow expectant.
"I should tell you," she began at last. "Well, I should have told you a lot earlier, but I was scared, and there was never a really good opportunity. I overheard you yesterday morning arguing with Boromir in the woods." He still didn't say anything, so she continued. "I heard the part about destroying the ring," she said quietly. "Since you didn't tell me that part when you were telling me what's going on, I thought I should mention that I knew."
"It matters little," he said, "but it is good you admitted it." Her stomach tightened at his choice of words, and he turned to look at her. "I allowed you to join us in order to keep you close at hand. If you were indeed a spy for the enemy, I believed it better to have you with us than to turn you away where you could follow and wreak mischief at your will."
She nodded, not sure what to say. The only thing that sprang to mind was, 'Well, you could have killed me,' but she didn't really feel like encouraging that line of thinking.
"When Boromir told me that you had overheard us, I wondered if you would come to me yourself," he said.
So he had told him. Not surprising. "So, does that mean you don't think I'm a spy?"
He chuckled and shook his head. "It means I am still uncertain of you, but that if you are a spy, you seem neither stupid nor careless."
She laughed. "Well, okay," she said after a moment, "but if I'm a spy, then why didn't those guys who tried to kill Boromir have weapons like mine? Wouldn't this dark lord guy want to arm his soldiers as well as his spies? And if he couldn't, why would he send a spy right to you who could give you one of them and let you figure out how to make them yourself?"
He cocked an eyebrow and she thought he almost smiled. "I have no answer," he said at last, "except perhaps an excess of cleverness--or a dearth of it--on the part of the enemy."
They reached the edge of the woods by mid-day and set out across the hills, heading towards Rohan. Maggie had taken the cord from her binoculars and used it to make a snug packet out of her folded sheepskin vest, tucking the arm warmers into it, and had attached the whole thing to her gun belt like a little pack. Aragorn had satisfied himself that Boromir's wound was healing clean of infection, and Maggie had a feeling that as cheerful as the Hobbits were, the rest of the company chafed to be moving more quickly. She jogged up to walk beside Aragorn, and after a while said, "We're not making as good time as you'd like, are we."
He hesitated before speaking. "It's a long road, and we have the Hobbits and our injured companion to consider."
She nodded. "Well, as long as you're not slowing on my account. I'm tougher than I look, you know."
"I am certain that you are," he replied, and she detected irritation in his usually calm voice, "but can you run half a day without stopping?"
"Run?" she said. "No, but I can jog for a hell of a long time. I don't know if I could do it for half a day, but there's one good way to find out."
After a quick conference with the others they stopped for a brief lunch, then started off again, dog-trotting. Aragorn was in front, then the Hobbits and Boromir, Maggie, Gimli, and Legolas in the rear. Maggie got into the rhythm of it quickly, felt her breathing fall into the familiar pattern, and let her mind drift and start counting her steps, clearing it of all thought. She liked this. It was a comforting, hypnotic activity, and the miles flowed past. They shared Lembas rather than stop, so that by nightfall they were beyond sight of the forest and in the rocky lands east of Rohan. When morning came, though, Maggie felt every muscle in her body. It hurt to move. Her feet hurt. Her back hurt. Her legs were sore, her butt was sore, and none of her joints seemed to want to bend. But after a short breakfast, off they went, and after an hour or so of pain, her muscles loosened up and she decided she probably wasn't going to die--or, worse, beg to stop--after all.
Another day and a night passed like that, and early in the morning of the third day they came to the top of a hill, and Aragorn stopped. Legolas trotted up to stand beside him, and together they looked down into a green valley, where Maggie could see what looked like a ragged line of dots, moving their way. She pulled the binoculars from her pocket and raised them to her eyes, found the dots and focused just as Legolas said, "Riders."
She saw them now, tall men with spears, helms glinting in the sunlight. "They look serious," she said, still watching them, not seeing the looks she was getting from the others.
"What manner of thing is that?" said Gimli.
"Hmm?" She lowered the binoculars and looked at him. "Oh--binoculars. Like--like a telescope. Only smaller, and double." He didn't look enlightened. "Here," she said, kneeling down next to him. "Just look through here," and handed him the device.
He put them to his eyes, and then smiled. "Aye, Riders indeed," he said. "Why, I can make out the very hairs of their beards."
"Who are they?" asked Maggie.
"Riders of the Mark," said Boromir. "Riders of Rohan."
Without explanation, Aragorn and Boromir started down the hill towards the column of men, and the others followed. As they trotted across the grassy plain, Maggie saw the column turn and come towards them, and when they were close, Aragorn stopped, stopping the company, as the column of riders circled 'round them in a wide ring until they were surrounded.
One rider urged his mount forward, until his spear was almost at Aragorn's breast. "Who are you, and how come you to travel in our lands without leave of King Théoden?"
Boromir stepped closer, and raised his eyes to the rider's. "Éomer," he said gently, "has it been so long? Do you not know me?"
The rider's eyes narrowed, and then he smiled and leapt from his mount, reaching out to clasp Boromir's hand. "Boromir, too long have you been away. Your horse returned riderless and we feared the worst."
"I yet live," Boromir said, "thanks to good companions."
"And who are your companions?" asked Éomer, "They do not seem," he said, looking from one to the next, "to be soldiers of Gondor."
"Aye, no," said Boromir with a chuckle, "that they're not, though worthy warriors all." He introduced them, one after the other, but Maggie was tired, and once she'd stopped moving, her muscles had the chance to start complaining again. While the Men continued to talk, she sat down wearily beside Merry and Pippin.
"Do you know what's going on?" she asked Pippin.
He shook his head. "They seem friendly enough now, though," he said. "And I know Strider wants to talk to King Théoden about preparing for war." He paused. "I think he wants to make weapons like the ones you carry," he said.
Maggie shook her head. "I don't understand. I mean," and she lowered her voice to a whisper, "if your friend's gone off to destroy that thing, isn't that--doesn't that mean there won't be a war? and if he doesn't manage it, doesn't that mean that pretty much everything is doomed? Why go to all that trouble?"
Pippin shrugged. "I suppose one can't give up trying, even if it looks hopeless."
"I don't know," she said. "They... They're not lovely things," she said finally. "They may cause more trouble than they're worth."
"They seem like just a different sort of arrow to me," said Merry. "Nothing to fear in the hands of your friends, terrible in the hands of your foes, and harmless enough if you just don't touch them."
Maggie didn't say anything, but her head was swimming. Visions of the squalor back home, of having to go armed every time she stepped out of her house, of the Orcs she'd killed and the blood and gore that had soaked the grass. Visions of what would have happened to Boromir if she hadn't been there. Maybe he'd have lived, but she doubted it. And were they worse than Legolas' bow? Either weapon was deadly. She'd called them her babies, said they were handy things to have around, and they were, and she did love them.
But if she'd never had them? She tried to remember what it was like when she was a child, before she'd learned to shoot, before she'd found it necessary. Had it ever been necessary, she wondered, or had it just seemed so? What would her life have been like if she'd never seen a gun? And what was it to be like now, after she'd killed? Not an animal, she knew. An enemy, yes, and she'd learned much about them in the few days she'd traveled with the company. Enough to know that although they were the enemy, although they were ruthless and cruel, they were sentient. What did it mean, to her, to kill them? What would it mean to give weapons like these to people who'd never had them, who showed no signs of developing them? Was it the right thing to do? would they be saved, or just moving towards a different destruction?
"My head hurts," she muttered finally, giving up trying to figure it out. After all, it wasn't like she could stop them from taking the weapons if they chose to. Sure, they were honorable men, so they probably wouldn't, but if they did, there was no way she'd kill them over it, and however good her hand-to-hand skills were, she wasn't a bit sure she could defeat even wounded Boromir, to say nothing of him and Aragorn together, if they really wanted to take the damned guns. And even if she did, well, what then? Two falls out of three? 'Yeah, right,' she thought. 'No, if it comes to that, they can pretty much do what they like.'
That night was spent in the house of King Théoden. Éomer brought them to his King, who welcomed them, but then Aragorn, Boromir and the rest went behind closed doors with the King while Maggie was shown to a bedchamber. She understood--Aragorn still didn't trust her--but it galled her, even while she was grateful not to have to go and listen to more things she figured she probably wouldn't understand. She sat on the bed and unstrapped her guns, took off her gunbelt, and laid it out in front of her on the bed, contemplating the weapons. "Such small things," she said quietly. "Such small things to cause so much damage." She remembered the look of shock on the face of the second Orc she'd shot, and the sound of his body hitting the leaves, the hard ground beneath. She remembered he'd fallen on his own arm, twisted at an awkward angle. She tried to recall whether she'd seen any of them slain by arrows or swords--she knew many had been. But she could only see the ones she'd killed.
She sighed, wishing she had her cleaning kit with her, but she really hadn't expected to be gone so long. She looked at the guns for a while, wondering if there were some way to clean them without the kit, then decided it'd be all right to leave it for now. She looked around for someplace safe to stow them, finally deciding on the top drawer of an ornately carved wardrobe. When she'd shut them away she returned to the bed and was about to decide to take a nap when there was a light tap at the door. "Come in," she said, startled.
A woman opened the door and said in a soft voice, "I've prepared a bath for you, lady."
Maggie let out a little bleat of delight. "Oh! Oh, you're wonderful. You're my hero."
She soaked in the tub until the water turned tepid and her fingers and toes pruned up, then passively let the woman, whose name she had discovered was Ríma, towel her off. Ríma had seemed so matter-of-fact about it that Maggie felt she'd be more embarrassed to ask her to stop. "Your clothes are being cleaned," Ríma said as she brought Maggie a grey gown of some fabric that felt almost like silk, but somehow not quite, and Maggie let Ríma help her into it.
"It's beautiful," she said, looking at herself in the long mirror. "Listen," she said, turning to Ríma, "I can't tell you how grateful I am, for the bath, and the dress, and--and for washing my clothes, and, god, just for being so nice."
Ríma smiled. "We try to be hospitable."
"Um. Do you know if my, um, companions are still talking with King Théoden?" she asked after a moment.
She nodded, and started towards the door of the bath chamber. Maggie followed. "I expect they'll be some time," she said. "It appears another has joined them--Gandalf, whom the King calls Stormcrow, and whom your friends had thought lost."
Startled, Maggie said "Wait--he's here?" Ríma nodded. "Huh. Go figure."
Ríma took Maggie back to her room, and promised to come back and get her for dinner, or when the King had finished with her companions. Maggie lay down on the bed and closed her eyes gratefully; within minutes she was asleep.
Greg, Mira, Paul, Jack, and Maggie were in the gym, training. She was rolling with Jack, his weight heavy, and they were laughing about something. Beside them Greg and Paul were practicing take-downs, and Mira was coaching all four of them. "Maggie, watch that arm! Come on, where are your hands supposed to be? Greg, you've got to come lower, then pop up hard--don't worry about hurting him, he's tough." Maggie got her foot inside Jack's leg, swept him up and over, laughing, rolled and took the mount, and around them the forest began to darken and she felt strong hands gripping her arms from behind, hauling her to her feet. Jack scrambled up and lashed out with a kick that caught her thigh and she gasped, and behind her Aragorn whispered in her ear, "do you think to destroy us so easily?" The Orc that had been Jack faced her and grimaced, then grinned, and held a knife before her eyes. The air smelled of wood smoke. "You bring great evil here," Aragorn whispered, and she pressed back against him, away from that knife, away from the Orc with the neat little hole drilled in his forehead, holding her breath, and woke with a start to the sound of someone tapping on her door.
"My lady?" Ríma's voice was muffled through the heavy wood.
"Yes," she said, catching her breath. "Come in."
The door opened. "I didn't want to wake you," she said.
"Oh, it's okay," said Maggie. "Really."
Ríma turned, listening to someone Maggie couldn't see, nodded, and then turned back. "My lady, lord Boromir wishes to speak with you."
Maggie blinked, then said, "Oh. Um, sure. I--" and then Ríma slipped quietly away and Boromir stepped into Maggie's room. She sat up. "Hi," she said, and ran her hands through her hair. "Sorry, I'm a little groggy. I was napping."
"We are all weary," he replied. "And I'm sorry to disturb you -"
"No no," she said, "that's fine." She smiled. "It's nice to see you. Survived the King. Come on in," she said, and motioned him to the chair by the window.
He stepped over to it, but stood looking out at the hills of Rohan. "'Tis beautiful land," he said. "Very like to Gondor."
"You miss your home," she said.
"Aye. Minas Tirith." There was a long silence, and she watched him looking out the window. No longer in the travel-stained leather, apparently he too was having his clothes cleaned, and he wore instead a grey tunic and pale breeches, soft boots, his hair shining in the warm light of early evening. "Well," he said, turning to her and sitting at last, "no more than you, I'd wager."
She shrugged. "My friends, I guess. But--well, this place has its charms too, even with all the badness."
"Ríma said she told you of the wizard Gandalf's reappearance. It seems he is of sturdier stuff than we imagined," he said with a smile.
"Yeah," she answered, "I was glad to hear it. I know y'all must be ecstatic."
"Indeed," he said. He glanced at his hands, which were lacing their fingers together as if of their own accord. "We told him of your ... difficulty. That you have been torn from your own world."
"Ah." She nodded. "What did he say?"
"Only that he may be able to send you home, one day, but not soon. Too much is required of him now." He looked at her, his gaze serious. "I am sorry."
"Oh," she said, smiling, "don't be. If I left now, I'd never know how it all turned out."
He laughed. "You are a strange creature," he said, shaking his head.
They sat quietly a moment. "Boromir," she said.
She glanced up, startled. "Oh," she said. "I didn't--mean." She blushed. "I like saying your name," she said. "That's all." Then brightly, "So how's the hurt shoulder?"
He rolled it forward and back once, and said, "Healing well, I think. I'm grateful the wound is in my left shoulder; I can still wield a sword. There will be much need for soldiers in the time ahead." Another pause. "The weapons you brought with you," he said. "The guns." His gaze was piercing. "They seem more fearsome than any weapon I know. Moreso than arrows, which often require many strikes to kill a foe, and moreso than swords, which are slow against a skilled warrior and which put the wielder in too close contact with his enemy. You slew as many Orcs with one small weapon as I or Aragorn or Legolas, and yet you never came near the enemy."
"It seemed near to me," she said in a low voice.
"Indeed," he said quickly, "I don't doubt it, nor do I question your bravery."
"Oh I know," she said, giving him what she hoped was a reassuring glance. "It's just...." She shook her head. "Go on," she said. "You were saying?"
"Aragorn and I have spoken long about this, and we ... we ask that you surrender one of them to us, to send to Dwarven metal smiths so they might see if they can re-create such a weapon, if not identical, then similar in function and effect."
She didn't speak for a long moment. "Boromir," she said at last, "I don't know--I'm no soldier, I don't know what you deal with every day, I don't know what's right for you, but I'm not sure you know what you're asking for."
"Perhaps not," he replied, "yet I do ask."
Shaking her head she stood, and paced across the room, her back to him. "You don't know," she said, "what kinds of really awful things are going on in my world, and a lot of it is because of these kinds of weapons. People dying every day--people who shouldn't."
She heard him stand and cross the room, felt him behind her. "Lady," he said, "people here are dying now. People who shouldn't." She was silent. "If these weapons could save them," he went on, then paused, put his hands on her shoulders and turned her to face him. She looked into his eyes and felt like she was looking into a distant lightning storm, and felt her skin shiver. "If these weapons could save them, must not we try?"
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