3. Chapter Three
“This is all just a dream, this isn’t real, I’m at home and I’ll wake up late for the bus again,” she muttered to herself, trying to banish the images from her mind. “But even if this is real, there are too many people here for him to rape me.” Unless no one would stop him. But the woman and man were yelling at him, so they probably would stop him if he tried anything. If he lived her. Who was she kidding? She hadn’t seen any sign of humans until this house. Of course he lived here. “If he so much as brushes me with a finger I’ll kill him,” she said to Dog, who was sitting by one of the cows at the far end of the house. “Guys are pigs.”
Energized by righteous anger, Luthien walked to the doorway and looked outside. The sun had long since set, leaving the sky inky black. Stars blanketed the sky in numbers Luthien had never seen before. It was like there were layers on layers on layers of stars. Awed, Luthien stared, jaw slightly slack. It was amazing and so incredibly gorgeous.
Somewhere behind the tree line, the moon was starting to rise, a thin sliver of its silvery-white light barely visible above the trees. To her right in the darkness, the people were talking rapidly. Occasionally, there was laughter, so she assumed her being assaulted had already been settled. It was nice they weren’t arguing or upset anymore. She liked it when everyone got along. Too bad she couldn’t understand them. It would have been interesting to know what they were talking about and to be able to talk with them and find out where she was and how to get home and to thank the woman for giving her something to eat.
She stayed in the doorway for a while, moving back inside when she began to shiver. Good thing she’d worn one of her heavier skirts today or she’d really be freezing. Too bad she didn’t have-she did. She’d stuffed her jacket in her backpack when she left school because the afternoon was warm enough she didn’t need it. Excellent! She hugged her fleece when she pulled it out of her backpack.
Smells of home filled her nose, making her tear up as homesickness flooded over her. “Mommy,” she murmured, wiping her eyes and nose on her shoulder and upper arm. “I want to go home.”
“So soon?” a female voice said behind her. “You just arrived!”
Luthien spun around, surprised. “Who are you?” she demanded. “And why are you glowing?”
The woman, dressed in the same kind of broomstick skirt and peasant top her mother liked to wear, laughed softly. “I am Nessa, one of the Valar.”
“A Valar. Right. Nice to meet you,” Luthien said, trying hard to keep from telling the woman to cut back on the amount of pot she smoked. “Do I know you from somewhere? And why are you speaking English?” It had just dawned on her that she understood this woman.
“Your John Tolkien wrote about us,” Nessa said.
“John Tolkien. Who is-oh.” THAT Tolkien. “You’re one of the deities of Middle Earth.” She bit her lip to keep from laughing. “I didn’t know they dressed like hippies and spoke English. Interesting story, though.” Valar. Wow. “I don’t know how I got here or how you got here, but I really want to go home now so if you can get me there, I’d like you to show me the way back.”
The woman’s calm expression didn’t waiver. “We appear to the Secondborn in a form familiar to them,” she said. “I prefer loose garments. Hello, Orome.”
That was said to the man who had just appeared next to her. Luthien did a double take, not believing her eyes. How had-what the-why was-“You look like a freak.” She clapped her hands over her mouth, not beliving she’d just said that. If they were really Valar, they could fry her where she stood. Or something.
“A ‘freak’?” the man asked. “And why do I look like a ‘freak’?” He pronounced the last word as if it were stinking filth to be tossed away.
“You’re dressed like some rich British guy going fox hunting.”
Orome looked himself up and down. “This is what your people wear when they go riding, isn’t it?”
Luthien shook her head. “Only rich people in England.”
He looked annoyed. “So what do you wear, then?”
She shrugged. “Last time I went, I wore jeans and an old shirt and boots with a heel and a riding helmet. And gloves to keep a grip on the reins.”
Orome looked taken aback. “Oh. Well, I’ll have to change, then. Is this better?”
“Yeah,” Luthien choked out. He’d just…‘poof’, gone from British Snob Rider to Casual American Rider like…‘poof’. Before she’d even had time to blink, he’d changed. This was too strange. “So you two are Valar?”
“Yes, we are,” Orome said. “You said you wished you were in Middle Earth, so we brought you here. Do you like it?”
“You heard me wish I was in Middle Earth?” she echoed weakly. “When?”
“You were in your hiding place after your brother tormented you,” Nessa said. “My brother” she shot a look at Orome “and I were out for a walk, talking about all the interest in Middle Earth now that Jackson Peters-”
“Peter Jackson,” Luthien corrected.
“Peter Jackson, thank you, has made the movies based on John’s writings and how many silly girls have no idea what Middle Earth is really like, when we heard your wish.”
“It was Nessa’s idea to bring you here,” Orome said.
“You two are who I heard talking!” she exclaimed. “You were talking about doing something after teatime!” Now it was all making sense. Kind of. If making sense could leave you more confused. “Where am I?”
“The Mark,” Orome said proudly. “Nessa got to pick where the last one went, so it was my turn this time.”
Luthien felt her jaw fall open slightly. “I’m in Rohan?” she said, wishing she’d heard him wrong. “Land of the Horse Lords?” Oh, sweet Eru, this was worse than she thought.
“Yes, you are.” Orome was looking Very Proud of himself.
“Oh. I’m going to sit down.” She backed up to the table and sat down hard on the bench.
“Do you like it?” he asked, sounding like Ro on Christmas when he asked their mom if she liked whatever he’d made out of old computer parts. They rarely worked as he planned and usually ended up bursting into flame and burning everything around it. Luthien felt like their mom when she said “I haven’t been here long enough to know if I do or not.” “I told him you’d prefer an Elven realm,” Nessa’s voice said inside her head. Luthien looked over at Nessa, who was looking slightly apologetic. “I’ll try to sway him.”
“She should have the chance to see all areas of Middle Earth, and she can decide which she likes best,” Nessa suggested.
“What’s not to like about The Mark?” Orome asked. “She just needs some time to get used to things here. We can come back in a few months and if she wants to go elsewhere, we’ll make sure she gets there.”
“I’d like to go home, if that’s okay. I didn’t really mean it when I wished I was in Middle Earth. I was just frustrated with my brothers. I’d really like to go home, if that’s okay.”
“You want to go home?” Nessa asked, sounding distressed. “But you wanted to be in Middle Earth! We heard you!”
“I wasn’t serious. I’m sorry. I appreciate you trying to help me out, but I want to go home. Please.”
“You’ll love it when you get used to things here,” Orome said confidently. “I promise. I never get tired of riding across these lands. Stay for a while and if you’re still not happy, we’ll see you home safely.”
“Yes, try it here for a while,” Nessa said eagerly. “Maybe you’ll find you love it more than your home.”
“But-” She burst into tears, frustrated and tired.
A gentle hand touched her shoulder. “Everything is going to work out, I promise,” Nessa said. “Give Rohan a chance.”
“Fine,” Luthien choked out. “I’ll try it for a while. Will I get to meet any elves?”
“You like Legolas?” Orome suddenly sounded weary.
“He’s okay. I was thinking Imladris elves. Like Elladan and Elrohir. Or Figwit.”
There was a long moment of silence. “It’s not likely,” said Orome. Luthien started crying harder. You’d think the least they could do if they were stranding her here was grant this one little wish.
“We’ll see what we can do,” Nessa soothed, rubbing her shoulder. Somewhere in the back of Luthien’s muddled mind it registered that the longer Nessa touched her, the more refreshed and calm she felt.
She stopped crying and looked up. “I appreciate you granting my wish. Really. I just miss my home and my family.” A picture of Ro grinning in the way that meant someone was in for a lot of computer trouble came to mind, making Luthien’s heart twist and a lump to come to her throat. Dan smirking as he leaned against her doorway yesterday replaced Ro’s face, making the lump grow. If she could just see her pain-in-the-butt brothers again, she’d never complain about them again. Well, unless they hacked her computer again.
Nessa was speaking. Luthien blinked and tried to focus on the Valar. “We must go now. If you need us, you need only call our names.”
“Okay.” Luthien forced a smile and waited until Orome and Nessa were gone to put her head down on her arms and start sobbing again. This truly sucked.
The family came back into the house fairly soon after and took bedrolls off a shelf along one wall. The woman fussed in the cooking area while the men laid their bedrolls out and layed down, falling asleep quickly, if the volume of snoring was any indication.
For the first time, Luthien realized she had no idea where she was going to sleep, or on what, and that she’d be sleeping in her clothes for the second night in a row, which reminded her she hadn’t changed clothes in…days. How many had it been now? Too long to go without changing clothes for sure, but she didn’t think it was likely she’d get anything fresh to wear here. They didn’t seem to grasp the basic concept of hygeine. Well, if she was going to be here for a while, she’d have to change that. Everyone knew that regular bathing and washing kept germs away.
She pushed the bench back and stood up, turning to face the woman. As best she could, she got the woman’s attention and mimed sleeping and being curious while gesturing around the room. The woman looked totally confused. Great. Luthien thought for a moment and tried pointing to one of the bedrolls, then at herself and raised her eyebrows as if asking a question. The woman looked confused for a moment, but understanding came over her face and pointed to a pile of clean hay at the far end of the building. Luthien pointed at the hay to make sure the woman had really meant she should sleep on the hay. The woman nodded and smiled.
‘Oh, sweet Eru, this just keeps getting worse,’ Luthien thought to herself while forcing a smile and acting like sleeping on hay was on her list of things she loved to do. Well, it would probably be better than sleeping on the floor. Softer, at least.
Luthien’s eyes slowly opened as her mind tried to come awake. There was noise and one of the younger guys was leading the cow through a door not far from her and Dog was following him. But the sky was dark so it couldn’t be the next day yet. What was going on?
She sat up and pushed hair out of her face, picking out pieces of hay that itched uncomfortably, watching everything with undisguised curiosity and wonder. Is this what life on a farm was like? How interesting. But why were they going out at-wait. This wasn’t night. This was dawn, or just before. That’s when farmers got up. She never thought she’d be forced to wake up at dawn, though. That was way too early. She’d go back to sleep when they were gone.
She’d just gotten comfortable in the hay again when the woman was speaking and tapping her shoulder. Luthien sat up and silently groaned when the woman gestured for Luthien to come with her to the cooking area. This was so not happening. This was evil. She was going to tell Orome and Nessa she wanted to go home now.
A bowl of…something was on the table and a very crude wooden spoon lay next to it. Luthien looked at the woman questioningly, to which the woman pointed to her, then at the bowl. Luthien nodded. Breakfast, it seemed. She hoped it would be better than last night’s meal. Luthien nearly gagged when she tasted what was in the bowl.
Gritty and bland and tasting slightly of last night’s soup, she wondered if the woman had boiled up sand and tried to pass it off as a meal. Visions of Poptarts and Cocoa Puffs and eggs and bacon danced through her mind, taunting her. She forced herself to swallow and take another spoonful. It was food. It was better than nothing.
When she was finished, she smiled at the woman and stood up. Now, where did the dirty dishes go? She looked around, but didn’t see anything. The woman took the bowl and spoon out of her hands and dropped them into a bucket next to the hearth. She picked up a dingy apron and held it out to Luthien. Luthien, sinking feeling in her stomach, took it. This was turning into a total nightmare. ‘Enjoy Rohan, my left butt cheek,’ she groused to herself silently as the woman mimed filling the large pot with water and putting it over the fire, then taking water out of the large pot (when it was hot, Luthien assumed) and dumping it into the bucket that held dirty dishes. Luthien nodded. She could handle that. The woman looked pleased and picked up two similar buckets and started toward the main door, nodding for Luthien to follow her.
They walked a short distance to a swift-flowing stream, where the woman set the buckets down and dipped one into a small pool, filling it to the brim. She nodded at the empty bucket, then at Luthien. Luthien nodded and picked up the bucket, filling it full and setting it back on the bank. This, she was used to from being dragged by her parents to some tree-hugger gathering that went on during July in Woodstock. There wasn’t any electricity or plumbing, which her parents and their weird friends seem to think was great. Getting back to nature. Is that why they had a dishwasher and microwave at home?
Luthien felt a tear run down her cheek and she realized she’d started to cry, thinking of home. Her parents were probably worried sick about her and her brothers were…probably besides themselves with glee at the idea of having access to her computer and her diary. She smiled wryly. She could almost hear them, exclaiming what an awesome chance this was to find out stuff they could embarrass and blackmail her with. Ro would be practically wetting himself with excitement that he had free access to the hiding space beind her closet (and her stash of chocolate). Gothmog would be on the end of her bed, sleeping like a log, not caring one way or the other what went on as long as no one disturbed him. Luthien giggled. That cat slept more than Garfield.
The woman was tugging on her sleeve. Luthien looked over at her quizically. The woman pointed at the house and, carrying the bucket like it weighed nothing, started towards it. Luthien picked up her bucket and grunted, stopping every few feet to put it down so her arms could rest. Good gravy! Where was a faucet when you wanted one?
Luthien eventually made it back into the house and, using the last of her strength, dumped the excrutiatingly heavy bucket into the large pot over the fire. Luthien glanced at the woman, who was kneading dough on the table, and thought she saw her lips twitching, like she was trying hard not to laugh. Luthien pursed her lips and crossed her arms over her chest. The woman may think it was funny that Luthien had trouble carrying a bucket, but she didn’t live in a place where you didn’t need to haul heavy buckets or heat water over a fire or anything primitive like that. People also took baths and didn’t live in the same area as animals and sleep on filthy mats on the floor and eat food that tasted like dirt off the ground, only greasier. If living in a world where you didn’t have to kill yourself to just have the basics was something to laugh at, the woman could laugh her silly butt off for all Luthien cared.
The woman looked up from her kneading and gestured for Luthien to come over to where she was standing. Hesitantly, Luthien did. Was the hag going to make her knead the dough and laugh when her arms fell off? Yes, that was apparently what the hag wanted her to do. Fine. Where was-Luthien blanched when she realized there was no sink, or anything she could use to wash her hands. Luthien looked down at her hands and felt her stomach roll at the sight of the dirt and Eru only knew what else on her palms and pads of her fingers. She gamely wiped her hands on the apron, but that only served to make her hands feel greasy and more dirty, if that was possible. Luthien closed her eyes and tried not to think about what was going into the bread. The heat of baking would kill any germs and stuff.
The ache in her shoulders and arms from carrying the bucket was nothing compared to the pain she felt when she was finished kneading dough--all five loaves worth. She would have complained, but the woman wouldn’t understand her, and Luthien had a feeling it wouldn’t do any good, anyway. The woman was mean, forcing a guest to do hard work. This was crap. She shouldn’t have to be doing this. She wasn’t going to do any more of this. Thus emboldened, she followed the woman outside, carrying one of the wooden slabs with loaves ready for baking. Luthien didn’t know why they were coming outside, but the crazy old bat must have her reasons, so she’d just follow and if they got into trouble, it wouldn’t be her fault. She’d probably be expected to get them out of it, though. She scowled at the woman’s back. She was going to demand the Valar let her go home. Now.
The woman stopped walking in front of a small mound and, using a forked stick, pulled a small wooden door open and, with a practiced speed, pushed the wooden slab she’d carried into the mound, turning to Luthien and gesturing for her to come over. Bemused, Luthien obeyed, handing her slab to the woman, who pushed the slab into what Luthien was assuming was the oven. Odd-looking oven. How did you manage to keep it hot enough to bake anything, and how did you know how hot it was and how long to leave whatever you were baking in the oven? Trial and error seemed the obvious answer. Lots of burned bread and charred cakes. Luthien giggled, remembering when her brothers and father had tried to make a cake one year for their mom’s birthday and forgot to set the timer, then forgot the cake was baking until the smoke alarms started going off. They’d asked for help from her or Luthien’s mom after that. Luthien stopped walking and squeezed her eyes shut to keep from crying. Her mom was an awesome baker. They never had to buy anything from the stores because it was never as good as what her mom would make. Her and her brothers’ friends were always wanting to come over to get some of what their mom had made. The spice cookies were amazingly good, and the cream puffs were pure bliss. She loved cream puffs and wasn’t above occasionally sneaking off with the whole container full of them, something her family never let her forget. Every year, her birthday ‘cake’ was a stack of cream puffs with a candle stuck in the top one. She could almost taste one now, the filling melting on her tongue and making her sigh with bliss, the pastry all but melting in her mouth. But there weren’t any cream puffs. The taste of a cream puff turned to the sour taste of uncried tears and bitter, sharp sorrow at being trapped here without any way to return home. “Let them know I’m okay,” she murmured under her breath. “Don’t let them worry.”
A light hand touched her shoulder, startling her. Her eyes flew open and her head turned quickly to see what was touching her. Heart pounding, she saw the woman, looking at her with a concerned expression. For a long moment, they stared at each other, Luthien at a loss for how to communicate to the woman how she was feeling. ‘How did you tell someone who didn’t speak your language that you’re miserable and homesick and aching and just want to go home? You don’t,’ she bitterly thought, frustrated by the whole situation.
She abruptly turned and hurried toward the house, taking off the apron was she went. She didn’t care what the woman thought. She couldn’t deal with this. She had to get out of here and…she didn’t know. She just had to get out of here and away from whatever crude, backwards, dirty way of life. ‘No wonder so many kids died,’ she grumbled to herself as she grabbed her stuff. ‘They live like friggin’ animals. No wonder everyone got sick and died young. They probably worked themselves to death.’ She was going home. She’d demand the Valar let her go home. She needed a shower and clean clothes (especially clean underwear. It was so scavy she was still wearing the same pair for a third day in a row) and decent food and a real place to sleep and her brothers, even if they were obnoxious gits. At least they were familiar obnoxious gits that, on occasion, were almost-normal human beings who were a lot of fun instead of the bains of her existence.
She wasn’t far from the house-‘hovel’ she corrected herself sourly when the woman caught up with her. Grabbing Luthien’s arm, the woman made her stop walking. Luthien sighed and, jaw clenched, turned around. The woman looked like she wasn’t sure if she should be confused by Luthien’s behavior or insulted by it, but she wanted an explanation anyway. Which, of course, Luthien couldn’t give her because of the language difference. ‘Would it have killed them to dump me with the Elves? I at least speak some Sindarin and Quenya. Is wanting to be able to understand what people are saying to you too much trouble? That I’d have fun not having a clue what anyone was saying or what was going on?’ If this was Orome’s idea of a good time, she didn’t want to know what he considered a lousy experience. And Nessa just went along with him. She just wanted to go home and back to her life. Why wouldn’t they let her go? Why were they trapping her here?
She didn’t realize she’d begun crying until she felt something warm running down her cheeks, leaving a cold trail behind it. Luthien tried to staunch the flow, but the harder she tried not to cry, the larger the lump in her throat grew and the stronger the ache of grief at being ripped from her home became, which only made her cry harder.
Dimly, Luthien was aware of the woman helping her to sit down and putting an arm around her, pulling her close and murmuring something she didn’t understand, but was probably meant to soothe her. Her mother would do that. “You’re going to be fine,” she’d say when Luthien was sick, or “It’s going to be okay,” when something had gone wrong and Luthien had no idea how to fix it. Maybe the woman was saying something like that. She was a mother. She had sons. Those were the things all mothers said. Luthien smiled weakly. Some things never changed. The tearing pain lessened a bit. For a moment, she felt like her mother had been there, her arm around Luthien, her voice saying “Everything is going to be okay. You’ll see. Everything is going to be fine.”
There came a point when Luthien didn’t have the energy to keep crying. Lifting her head, she wiped at her eyes and nose with the back of a hand and looked over at the woman. Her eyes were probably all swolen and red and she looked terrible. She felt terrible. Incredibly drained and tired. The right shoulder of the woman’s dress was soaked, making her feel a small pang of guilt. She hoped the woman wouldn’t be upset. But judging from the woman’s expression, she wasn’t. She looked concerned and a bit troubled. Luthien tried to look like she was okay, but was only able to force a weak smile. The woman smiled as well, though with pity and understanding, and reached out a hand to lightly touch Luthien’s cheek. She murmured something in a regretful tone, dropping her hand afterwards. She stood and held out a hand to Luthien. Luthien stared at it for a moment. If she took the woman’s hand, she’d have to go back to the house and live in squallor and work until she dropped and probably have to pick lice out of her hair and never have clean underwear. But if she didn’t, and kept going toward the forest, what assurance did she have that she’d get to go home? If the Valar didn’t let her, there was no way she could come back. She’d be too embarassed, and the family would probably be mad at her, and she didn’t have any idea where their neighbors (if you could call families that lived nowhere in sight ‘neighbors’) were and she didn’t want to wander for days trying to find another house. But that was if she didn’t go home. Maybe the Valar would be decent this time and allow her to return home.
The woman said something, pulling Luthien out of her thoughts. The woman’s hand was still extended. ‘There’s food and shelter and the hay’s not bad to sleep on,’ she reasoned to herself. ‘Remember eating grass on the way here?’ Luthien did, and if she ever had to repeat that experience, it would be too soon. Swallowing hard and pushing down her reservations and concerns, she took the woman’s hand and let her help her to her feet.
To Be Continued…
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.