Where History Has Been Fixed
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End To Innocence, An: 1. A Neat Trick
Shouts and breaking glass off to the east, and Maggie paused. Laughter, and a scream cut off. "Fuck." She scowled faintly, glancing at her watch, then loosened one of the Glocks in its holster and moved towards the sounds.
Through an alley, and a block away, she found the source of the trouble: Two Scimitars--easily identifiable by the curved blade painted in white and red on the backs of their dark jackets--clearly drunk, and girl, not yet out of her teens. Maggie couldn't make out what they were saying, but the thrust was clear enough. The girl was terrified, bloody cut on her cheek and a bruise already rising, her shirt torn, and Maggie drew the pistol and stepped into the light.
"That's enough," she said quietly, her voice carrying on the mist in the air, and the two men turned towards her, their laughter quieting when they saw the weapon. Maggie's heart was hammering.
The larger of the men cocked his head at her as through trying to make out a shadow among shadows, then laughed again. "She's a fuckin' whore, what do you care?"
The girl broke away from the one who'd been holding her, and when he reached for her again Maggie made a sharp sound and he stopped. The girl didn't wait to see what would happen next, grabbing her purse from where it had fallen and taking off down the street.
"Sonuva--fucking hell," snarled as he turned to face Maggie. "Bitch has my money--you gonna get it back for me?"
Maggie shrugged. "Suffer, baby," she murmured. "I'm sure a few dollars more or less isn't going to kill you, and you shouldn'ta been fucking around. Now go on. I've got someplace to be."
More muttered obscenities, but they backed off, and Maggie watched them go, then took a deep breath and leaned against the wall. In all the years she'd been doing this, she'd never gotten used to it, and as she headed back towards the Halfway Point, she wondered whether it was ever, ever going to get any better.
She got to the Halfway Point and found a seat at the bar. She'd worried they might ask her to disarm--sometimes they did. It depended on who was at the door. Tonight it was Grace, who seemed to actually prefer Maggie to come armed. One more person to help keep the rabble under control. In any event, Grace hadn't commented on the weaponry, just let her in.
The bartender was one she didn't recognize. "What can I get you tonight?" he asked with a smile.
"Could I just get a bottled water for now?"
"Sure thing," he said, and turned away just as Maggie felt someone sidle up beside her. She turned, expecting to find one of her teammates, and instead found a man some ten years her junior, gazing at her with a slightly predatory, slightly drunken expression. He looked alarmingly like Steven.
Steven, who had ditched her because she was too old, too tough, and too worried about the state of the world. He just wanted, he said as he left, to have some fucking fun while he still could, and that while fucking her was fun, it wasn't fun enough to make him want stick around if she was going to keep causing trouble. "The world is what it is," he'd said. "Live with it, or get the hell out, but stop trying to change it!"
She turned back to the bar.
"Oh, come on," he said. "Don't do that."
She wasn't entirely sure he was talking to her--she hadn't exactly dressed to impress, and, looked more like a dock worker or a thief trying to keep warm than a woman on the prowl. When she glanced over her shoulder, though, there he still was, looking directly at her. "Don't do what?" she asked.
"I'm harmless," he said, inching a little closer and putting his hand on the back of her chair.
She let the smile reach her lips, but not her eyes. "I'm not," she said, "but I still don't know what I'm not supposed to do."
"Oh," he said, raising an eyebrow. "Not harmless, huh? Wanna show me just how dangerous you can be?"
He scowled. "You're not very friendly," he said.
"True enough," she answered, and turned back to the bar. After a moment, she felt air where he'd been, and took a breath, relieved. Then he slipped into the seat beside her.
"You don't frighten me," he said.
"I don't want to frighten you," she answered. "I want to sit here, by myself, and wait for my friends."
"I could show you a magic trick while you wait."
"I don't like magic," she said.
The bartender stopped what he was doing and turned to the younger man. "No magic in the Halfway Point," he said. "Strictly against the rules."
"Oh, come on!" he said, outrage in his voice. "You let weapons in'ere, but not wizards?"
"Yes, wizards," said the bartender, "but no wizardry."
"All right, all right," he said, sullen. But when the bartender turned away, he leaned over and said quietly, "Really, I could show you a neat trick. Whaddaya wanna see?"
She sighed. "What do I want to see?" she asked, absentmindedly twisting the cap of the water bottle. "I want to see a world where good actually fights against evil instead of closing its eyes and hoping evil gets bored enough to leave." She felt his hand on her thigh and moved it off. "I want to see a world where honor isn't dead and neither is chivalry," she went on, glancing at his hand pointedly, which was already moving back up onto her thigh, "and where I can make a positive difference," she removed his hand again, "find true love, be a strong person, and still have someone around who wants to protect me instead of trying to get something out of me."
He reached out and cupped the back of her neck, drawing her towards him in what she supposed must pass, in his drunken mind, for a seductive kiss. With a little sigh, she cupped his hand in hers, pressing her fingers to the fleshy pad at the base of his thumb, and twisted, hard. He yelped, suddenly out of his chair and bent at an awkward angle. "I want to see," she said, looking at him, "a world where I don't have to be rude just to make some drunk twenty-six year old stop trying to chat me up in my favorite bar." She let go of his hand and picked up her water, twisting the cap on tight, and stood up to move to another part of the bar.
"'Some drunk twennysix year old,' huh?" he said before she could leave, shaking his arm out. "Huh. Well, I think I can show you all that, sweet cheeks. See how much better it is than a twennysix year old."
And there was a brief pause in everything, as though the universe's transmission had lost signal for just a moment. And then he was gone.
And so was the bar.
And so was the city.
Maggie gasped involuntarily, and staggered backwards into the trunk of a tree, hitting her head sharply. She stood still, scarcely noticing the slight pain, holding her breath, waiting for the world to come back. There was quiet, and the air smelled of wood smoke. It was either dawn or twilight, cold, a blueish sky, and watery light silvering the forest around her. She realized she still had the water with her, and dropped it into one of the big pockets on the side of the cargo pants.
She waited for a long, long moment. Then she said quietly, "Oh. Fuck."
And then voices, not too distant.
"I love Gondor as I love my own life." A man's voice, low, but strong, and fierce. "For generations she has held the freedom of the West in her hands, held it with the blood of her people--of our people! And where have you been, King of Gondor?" Maggie tried to see the speakers, but her view was blocked by thick underbrush. "You," the voice continued, "the one man who above all others should have been caring for Gondor and her people. You will not lead us, and you refuse the weapon that could save us!"
And a second voice, just as fierce. "You know it is impossible. The ring will destroy us all if we use it--our only hope is in its destruction. You know this to be true, yet you persist--"
"In wanting our people to flourish, yes, I don't deny it. In wanting the true king to accept the crown of Gondor or surrender it. But how is the destruction of our one real weapon also our only hope? This is madness!"
"We will not discuss this now, Boromir. You have accepted my leadership--respect it or depart the fellowship for Gondor, and no man will think less of you."
"Aragorn!" But Maggie heard departing footsteps in the dry leaves that covered the ground, then a muffled curse in a language she didn't recognize, and a second set of footsteps following the first.
It was only a moment before she started after them. "These may be the only people around," she muttered, "and I have no fucking clue where I am. I'll be damned if I'll huddle by a tree waiting for some animal to decide I'm a tasty snack."
But when she'd followed them as far as their camp, her courage failed her. How could she approach such a motley crew as this? Two who were clearly men, but the rest? A boy who couldn't have been more than seventeen, as pretty as a girl; a bearded midget--"little people" she'd first been told to call them, then "differently statured," which seemed too much of a mouthful, but mostly what she remembered was a perverted non-sport called "Dwarf bowling" that had been trendy a few years back. And he was carrying what looked like a battle axe, of all things. And four who looked like children but weren't acting like them.
The tension in the group was palpable. Maggie was pretty sure it had to do with the fight she'd overheard--the two men were on opposite sides of the fire, pointedly not looking at each other--but in any event, she knew couldn't walk into that camp, armed or unarmed, and expect a friendly welcome.
But neither could she leave. This was wilderness--there was no sign of anything that looked like it might even one day become a road, and the camp was clearly of people who didn't expect to see civilization for quite a while. So she stayed downwind, out of sight, and waited, watching. The group finished what she now knew was breakfast as the sun started to climb in the sky, and then one of the men called them together, and she recognized the voice as the one the other had called Aragorn.
She couldn't hear what was said, but after a short discussion, one of the children got up and walked into the woods, away from her. The rest started to go about the business of packing up the camp, and Maggie became even more nervous. She had to make herself known before they left. But surely they wouldn't leave before the child came back--child, or whatever it was, for who would let a child wander off into the woods alone? and when did children act so like adults? The three below were busying themselves with tasks no child would have even been permitted to do, and now she saw that even they carried long knives, which on them were like swords.
She was still fidgeting behind her little outcropping of stone, trying to make up her mind what to do, when one of the men returned to the camp, though she didn't recall seeing him leave. It was the one she supposed was Boromir, and he looked sullen. There were a few moments of conversation, and then suddenly the children leapt to their feet and rushed off into the trees, crying out--a word, or a name, she didn't know. Maggie blinked. Barely three breaths later the rest of them were gone as well, and Maggie, slightly panicked, stood up. Then, with no better idea of what to do, she started off in pursuit of Boromir, on the theory that if Aragorn would abandon a whole country, he probably wouldn't give rat's ass about a stranger.
She hadn't gone half a mile when she realized that in the distance were sounds of many people crashing through the forest. It gave her a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach, and she drew one of the pistols and kept running. Ahead, she heard what sounded like an elephant, or the horn of an 18-wheeler, then Boromir's voice yelling "Run! Run!"
She froze in place for what seemed like far too long, the urge to flee fighting the urge to hide. But what then, in either case? Flee where? Hide to emerge and face what? Menace all around, no friends, just herself, the pistols, and two knives. Weapon in hand, heart racing, she sprinted through the forest towards Boromir's voice. All around her she heard the crashing of heavy bodies through the underbrush, and she fought down panic. "No way out but through," she thought, and then she was in an open glade, and in front of her an impossible sight. Boromir, facing off against what seemed to be more than a dozen foes, huge and distinctly not human, behind him the children, knives drawn. As she watched, he was struck by an arrow, faltered, but didn't fall. And she, half a hundred yards away, was unnoticed.
Maggie had no idea what the creatures were he was fighting, nor who was in the right. But he was human, and he was one against far too many, and there was no time for conversation to work out whether this could be solved by diplomatic means--he'd be dead before she could get the first, "now wait a minute here" out of her mouth. She raised the weapon, sighted on a creature with its bow drawn on the man, and without hesitating, fired.
The reaction she got was astonishing. The noise of the Glock was loud even in the noise of battle, but when it fired and the creature she'd aimed at dropped, its arrow flying wild, there was a moment's utter stillness as everyone turned to find the source of the sound.
She took the opportunity to shoot two more--clean shots to the head--and then half a dozen charged her while the rest turned on the man and the children. The thought flickered through her mind that it would have been too much to ask that the sound just frighten these things away.
She kept firing, her aim as true as if she were at the practice range, and the man was not too stunned by her appearance to continue his own fight, slaughtering as many with the sword he wielded as she felled with bullets before she realized, breathless, that the field of battle was clear of enemies. All that remained were the the man, the two children, a dozen or more dead, and the smell of blood and gunfire.
Chest tight, not yet quite giving in to the panic she felt, the weapon hot in her hand, she turned to the wounded man just as he fell to one knee. Suddenly afraid that the arrow had struck something more vital than it looked, or that it was poisoned, she crossed the field to him in a few long strides and dropped to the ground, arriving a scant few seconds ahead of his other companions--dwarf, youth, and man, who approached at speed. He was looking at her, puzzled, when Aragorn knelt beside them.
"Ah, my friend," said Aragorn, slipping his arms around the other man as Boromir faltered. "When the horn of Gondor ceased to blow, I feared we would find you too late."
"Nay," Boromir replied, "nay, I live, and Merry and Pippin as well. But Frodo--where is Frodo?"
"Lie back," said Aragorn, "be still, let me get the poison out."
"Where is the ring bearer?"
"Boromir, lie still..."
"Shh, Boromir," pressing him to the ground, "I must get the poison out."
Maggie, who wasn't at all used to this level of bloodshed, got shakily to her feet and walked away a dozen paces, then sat down heavily, feeling queasy and lightheaded. She looked around her at the carnage. It wasn't a bit like at the target range, where the bodies were holographic and just disappeared when you were done. Here, there weren't just bodies, but blood, butchery, creatures with dead eyes open in surprise, wetness on the ground where flesh had been cut from their bones, and then those with neat little holes drilled into their foreheads and opening the backs of their skulls....
She felt her stomach heave, and scrambled for the edge of the trees where she was suddenly and violently ill.
When she was sure nothing more was coming up she rinsed her mouth with water from the bottle in her pocket, spread dirt and leaves over the mess, walked a ways away from it and sat down again, head in hands, listening to the sounds of strangers to be sure they didn't just go off and leave her there.
After a moment the youth came and sat beside her. "You do not appear to be an Orc," he said, and she sensed something joking in his tone.
"Well," she said, "I might be. I don't actually know what one is. Are those Orcs?" and she motioned to the heavy bodies that littered the forest floor.
"Indeed. Though for you to not know...."
She shrugged. "I'm not from around here," she said shakily. "So I really hope y'all are the good guys."
"'Yall'?" he said, perplexed.
"Oh, um. You. You and your friends. 'You all'."
"Ah." He looked thoughtful. "Yes," he said finally. "I think we are the good guys." There was a pause. "I am Legolas."
"Maggie Dunshay," she said. "Nice to meet you." She smiled at him, and was rewarded with a smile in return that she thought could probably have powered half a city block.
"Are you unwell?" he asked, after a moment.
"Uh," she said, "you, um...."
He nodded towards the treeline where she'd been sick. "I saw."
"Well," she said, "it's just that I've never actually killed a person before." She shook her head and smiled slightly. "At least I guess those were people. And I know, it's stupid, things being what they are--the police, the government, everyone fending for himself. But I'm not--not used to it."
Legolas said nothing at first. Then, "I would not have taken you for a warrior, but you have courage, standing in the face of such foes." A pause. "And you saved my friend. It seems if not for you, Boromir would have perished, and the Hobbits been carried to a worse fate."
"Um." She glanced at him sideways. "'Hobbits'?"
He smiled again. "I am not surprised that their name is unfamiliar to you. They have walked out of legend and into the light of day, as have so many, less appealing things." He pointed towards the cluster of people around the fallen soldier. "The small ones are Hobbits."
"So, they're not children? or are they?"
He shook his head. "No, though they have some childlike ways about them. Little people, from the Shire. Not Dwarves, not Elves, not Men, but free folk, and good-hearted. Merry and Pippin, whom you saved when you came to Boromir's aid."
She looked at him, her eyes wide. "'Elves?" she said. "Dwarves? Wait--what?"
He frowned. "You must indeed be from far away."
"You're--an Elf." She'd noticed the slightly pointy ears, but had thought it was just an attractive birth defect, and had put his strange otherworldliness down to her own shock at an unreal situation.
He shook his head, but clearly in amazement rather than to contradict her. "Is there a part of the world we abandoned so long ago that they do not even know us?" he said, more to himself than to her, but he didn't continue and Maggie didn't pursue it, trying to put the bits of the world into some order that made sense in her mind. Then at last Legolas said, "It seems Boromir was sore beset by enemies, and many of the dead show no sign of either sword wounds nor arrows. And you carry no weapon I know but two knives, still sheathed."
"Mmm." She lifted the gun that was still in her hand and gazed at it with a small smile. "My babies," she said. "They're handy things to have around. They should be--each one cost a mint, and then there are the 17-round magazines, not so cheap either."
He eyed it warily. "So small a thing," he said. "How could it do this?" He gestured to the carnage.
"Amazing, isn't it," she said. "I've often wondered about that myself. How can such a little thing do so much damage?"
He touched it gingerly, but didn't offer to take it. "You do not know your own weapon?" he asked. "I would be loathe to carry something so deadly, not understanding it. What do you call it?" he asked.
"I haven't named them," she said, "though some of my friends have named their weapons. Nothing feels right." She shrugged. "Anyway, it's a Glock 35 semi-automatic pistol."
"Ah," he said, and nodded, clearly not enlightened.
She looked at him. "A pistol. A gun," she said, frowning.
He gazed at her. "Gun?"
"You--you can't tell me you don't know what one is?"
He shook his head.
"Oh my god," she murmured. "Where the hell am I?"
"You are near Parth Galen, on the river Anduin, near Rauros Falls."
She nodded. "Uh-huh. And you don't know what a gun is?"
He shook his head again. "Is it magical?"
"Good lord, no. What it does," she went on, "is propel a bit of metal called a bullet at very high speed. The metal enters the body and does a great deal of damage. And I've got..." she did the math. "I've got thirty-six rounds--bullets--left: two in this magazine, seventeen in the other, and a spare magazine. Then, it's just me, and my kick-ass grappling skills, and my not-quite-so-kick-ass kickboxing skills, and the knives." They were quiet a while, watching Aragorn and Boromir, and at a small distance, the Dwarf and the Hobbits. Then, without planning to, Maggie said, "I am completely lost."
Legolas looked at her, waiting for her to continue.
"I was sitting in a bar, trying to get a wizard to stop chatting me up, and the next thing I knew I was in the woods, listening to those two argue about crown and a ring. I followed them to your camp, thinking maybe y'all could tell me where I am, but you all looked so grim that I didn't want to interrupt. And then there was a meeting and a flurry and then everyone ran off into the woods. I followed Boromir, I don't really know why, and found him about to be killed by about forty-seven of those things. So I shot a bunch of them and he hacked a bunch of them to death and then y'all came and killed a bunch, and--what, did we kill them all or did the rest run off?" She sighed. "I don't know what the hell is going on."
To her surprise, he laughed, but it was such a pleasant sound that she didn't take offense. "Of all of us, at least you confess it."
She chuckled. "Great. So no one knows what's going on?"
"Not as much as we would wish it." He stood and held out his hand to her. "Come, we are not so fearsome now that you have seen our foe, are we?"
She laughed. "Well, you are," she said, "but you're a hell of a lot better than the competition." She took his hand and stood.
Boromir was sitting up, cradled in Aragorn's arms as they approached. "Ah," he said, his voice tired and strained but strong enough, "my unnamed rescuer."
"The lady is Maggie Dunshay," said Legolas. "And these rough men are Aragorn and Boromir; Gimli, Gloin's son; and Merry and Pippin, Hobbits from the Shire."
She smiled. "Nice to meet y'all," she said, before kneeling beside Boromir and gently touching the bandages that covered his wound. "So, you're going to be okay?" she asked. "No more poison?"
"No more poison," said Aragorn. "Our comrade will be well, provided he does not throw himself into battle with half a company of Orcs again."
Boromir chuckled. "I know not what magic you used, lady," he said, "but you have my thanks."
"And mine, and the thanks of us all," said Aragorn, and then cautiously, "But how came you here? we thought these woods deserted of all save us and the enemy."
She heard the wariness in his voice, but didn't know what to do about it, so she told him what she'd told Legolas. "So," she finished, "not only do I not know how I got here, I don't know where 'here' is, or where 'there' was in relation to here, or how to get home, or what to do next, or...." She paused. "Do any of you know what a gun is?"
"Gun?" said Boromir, frowning.
"No, I can't say I do," said Merry.
"A weapon," Legolas explained. "Fierce, though small."
"Like a Hobbit," said Boromir with a smile. "That must be the weapon that made such a great sound, and seemed to do nothing, except when the enemy began to fall."
"And it's totally not magical," Maggie said, "and common as dirt where I'm from." She failed to notice their astonished gazes, and the thoughtful looks on the faces of Boromir, Aragorn, and Gimli. "I'm starting to think I'm really a lot further away from home than is actually possible." She paused. "And I'm really hoping I can come with y'all--with you all--because if I can't, I suspect I'm going to live somewhat longer than will be comfortable, and not nearly as long as I'd assumed I would when I got out of bed this morning."
Boromir's laugh turned quickly to a cough, and he said, "You may live neither longer nor more comfortably if you do go with us, lady," but he smiled at her.
There wasn't much discussion, and she was privy to none of it, but after a few moments Legolas came to her and said, "You will come with us. Though the path is into war and there is no great hope of victory, still, 'tis better to be in good company on such a path than alone."
They pressed on that day, heading for someplace called Rohan, so Aragorn told them, to talk with a king there about getting help for something Maggie wasn't quite clear on. She really didn't understand what was going on, but didn't like to trouble them for an explanation. She figured it'd all become clear in time. What interested her now was how these disparate people treated each other. The Hobbits, Merry and Pippin, were both childlike and clearly well beyond childish years. They stuck close to Boromir, and he seemed as protective towards them as one might be towards children, yet he never condescended to them, nor treated them with anything but respect.
And Boromir... she found herself keeping about seven paces behind him most of the time. She tried to do otherwise, but always drifted back there, not too close, but never far. There was something compelling about him. The passion in his voice when she'd first heard him arguing with Aragorn. And now, the argument behind them and Boromir wounded in battle, they were clearly... well, if not exactly friends, certainly comrades. They walked close, talking quietly from time to time, though Maggie couldn't hear the words. She didn't try very hard, figuring it was as rude to eavesdrop here as anywhere else. But she found herself strangely envious of the bond they clearly shared. They might disagree, they might argue, they might even hate each other in a way, but there was a love and loyalty there that was plain to see.
Once, Boromir dropped back to walk beside her. Neither of them spoke for a while, and she relished sharing a companionable silence with him. The scent of leather and cloves, and the musky odor of sweat made her want to reach over and touch him, but also made such a touch seem unnecessary. Finally, gathering up her nerve, and in part afraid that at any moment he might choose to walk with someone else, or to go talk to Aragorn again, or that something would happen to pull him away from her side, Maggie confessed. "I--when I first, um. Found myself here, it was in the woods near your camp. Just around dawn." She paused. "I, um. I overheard, you and Aragorn. The... the disagreement you were having." He nodded, but said nothing. "I thought I should tell you," she said. "Y'know. It being not right to know something about someone that they don't know you know."
He nodded again. "You are forthright," he said. "And honest. Admirable traits." They walked a ways further. "You do not wish to know more of the matter you overheard?"
She cocked her head to one side. "Well, sure, I'd like to know more. But it's not really my business, is it?"
He smiled. "And discreet." He was quiet for another dozen steps. "One day I shall tell you all, I suspect," he said, giving her a sideways glance, and a small smile. "I owe you some payment, after all, for my life."
She chuckled. "No, you really don't, you know. I mean," she sought the words, "it's--I mean that's just what you do, right? when you see someone in trouble and you can help?" She looked at him. "It's just what you do. You don't owe me." She smiled. "Though if you wanted to, I dunno, buy me a beer sometime and tell me the story of your life, that'd be okay, and you have incredibly beautiful eyes." She blushed and laughed. "Whoops. Did I say that out loud?"
To her great dismay he was looking at her, and she thought she could just perceive a blush of his own beneath the tanned skin. Then he laughed, a loud, delighted laugh. "Beautiful?" he said, and shook his head. "Beautiful. That word should come from my lips to your ears, lady, not the reverse."
'Shit shit shit,' she thought. 'God, I've fucked it up now, haven't I?' What she said was, "Too forward?" with a smile. "Well, y'know, honest and forthright, that's me all over."
"Nay lady," he said, smiling still. "Not too forward--too generous. 'Beautiful', my eyes? Would that it were so, these eyes that have seen too many evils, some by my own hand."
She hated seeing the smile fade from his lips and his thoughts turn inward, though she had no idea to what sorrow. She let a step bring her closer to his side. "Whatever you've seen," she said softly, "those evils aren't reflected in you. Whatever you've done, you seem a good man to me. And to these people you travel with. Don't take their opinion for nothing." She paused. "Everyone does things they wish they hadn't," she said at last. "It doesn't make us any less--any less human, or any less deserving of love, and hope," she smiled, "and chocolates, and compliments on our beautiful eyes, and good bourbon, and stuff like that."
He smiled at her, for a moment she thought he might speak again, but his eyes were still distant, and they walked on in silence.
They made camp in the twilight. Maggie felt worse than useless, having no provisions herself except for what was in her pockets, nor anything to make camp with, and she sat to one side, not sure what to do. She felt a bit like baggage.
Legolas came and sat beside her.
"I feel a bit like baggage," she said, starting to take things out of her pockets to see what she had. Water, her mobile phone, her binoculars, and she said, "I didn't come prepared for a night in the woods, just for a few drinks at a pub." Then she found the little toiletries case with a small soap, a mini-toothbrush, dental floss, and a travel tube of toothpaste, which she'd tossed into her pocket the last time she'd gone for a recreational fuck with her pal Alex, and a little packet of OB tampons. "Okay, maybe I did," she muttered to herself, quickly tucking the tampons out of sight.
"Do you always carry such powerful weapons when you go drinking?" Legolas asked.
She glanced up in a panic, then remembered the guns and relaxed. 'Like he'd know what tampons are anyway,' she thought to herself. "Um, yes actually, I usually do," she said. "Things aren't very nice where I'm from."
"As in a great many places," he replied. "Lembas," he said, offering her a bit of cake.
"Oo," she said with a smile. "I love cake!"
"Just a bit," he cautioned her. "It is Elvish waybread, and just a small bit makes a good meal." He chuckled to himself, glancing at the Hobbits. "Ask Merry and Pippin what happens when you eat too much."
They sat quietly together for some time, a companionable silence between them. Finally, she said, "Gimli seems nice."
He laughed. "'Nice'? I shall tell him you said so; it is a trait few have accused him of." Another silence, and he said, "But is it really our dour Dwarf of whom you think?"
She looked away, then down, then sideways at the youth, a slight blush creeping across her fair skin. "God, am I so obvious?"
"Seven paces," said Legolas, "except for one conversation that seemed to delight our friend. Even Gimli noticed."
"Oh lord," she muttered, "I really am doomed."
"There is no shame in it," he said. "Boromir is a fine man. It is no surprise you wonder about him, having had his life in your hands."
"'Wonder,'" she said. "Yes, well, that's one way of putting it."
And another long silence before Legolas said softly, "If it helps your thoughts, I have not heard him mention any lover."
Maggie was very glad the twilight had faded into darkness as the full bloom of a blush reddened her face. "Oh," she said, "I couldn't go there. He's... I'm... I mean." She laughed. "As my last boyfriend put it, I'm the tough bitch, not the pretty one."
Legolas leaned close. "Beauty is a small thing compared with valor, courage, and strength. And beauty dwells in those things as well."
She shook her head. "That's not how it works in the stories. In the stories, you also have to have a quick wit and a pure heart and a sharp but charming tongue, and you still have to be so gorgeous you can't walk into the room without everyone falling madly in love with you. And it helps to be rich, or if you're not rich, it's only because you've renounced your inheritance because your family's money came from some nefarious thing like--like secret government experiments on bunnies. And did I mention that you also have to be fucking gorgeous?" She sighed. "In the stories, the girl's biggest problem is choosing between the two different but equally wonderful men who are crazy about her."
"Then how happy it is that we live in the world," said Legolas, "not in the stories, for who could be all those things, and who could stand the company of one who was?"
Maggie laughed. "Oh," she said, "you are a honey. You can stay. Thank you."
"No thanks deserved for speaking the truth," he said, but smiled.
They sat in silence again for a while, before she saw the silhouette of Aragorn against the failing light as he rose and started towards them. She felt her stomach tighten.
"Maggie," he said, as he sat beside her, and she was grateful that Legolas showed no sign of departing. "It is an unusual name."
"It's short for Margaret," she answered. "Ashley Margaret Dunshay, currently residing at 46-B Kirkwood Lane, New Washington, Maryland."
"I know nothing of these places," he said. "They must be far from here indeed."
She chuckled. "I suspect so."
"And you know not how you came here?"
She shook her head. "Just what I told you."
"And this wizard," Aragorn continued. "He was a stranger to you? You have no knowledge of why he would choose to transport you here, now of all times?"
"Nope," she said. "He wanted to show me a magic trick, and magic isn't allowed in the bar we were at. I just wanted him to go away." She realized she was picking at the wool of her vest and forced her fingers to be still. "He asked me what I wanted to see, and I said something or other that I hoped would shut him up, and he tried to kiss me, and I stopped him--I think I may have hurt his arm--and he said 'well okay', or something like that, and 'poof', here I was."
"What did you tell him you wanted to see?" asked Legolas.
Maggie thought about it. "Something--something weird. I was... I was thinking of...." She'd been thinking of Steve, but she didn't want to tell them about Steve. "I was thinking of this guy who was mad at me because he thought I was too idealistic," she said at last, "and I was thinking about what a crappy place the world is with everyone just looking out for himself and ignoring the things that are happening." She paused, wondering if it was really important or if Legolas was just curious. They seemed to be waiting for her to continue, though, so she tried to remember. "I think I said something about wanting to see a place where good fought against evil instead of ignoring it, and where honor wasn't dead, or chivalry or something like that, where I could make a--a positive difference, be a strong person. That I wanted to see a world where I didn't have to be rude to drunk twenty-six year olds trying to chat me up in my favorite bar." She paused. "Something like that."
"Would that Gandalf were here," Aragorn said with a sigh.
"It is not unheard of," said Legolas, "for a powerful wizard to do such a thing. Send another to a world not their own. We might find a way to send you back," he said, "if the world does not fall into darkness first."
Maggie watched the glow where Merry was tending the small fire. Aragorn had been reluctant to allow it, fearing that Orcs were still about, but they'd seen no sign of them during their day's trek through the forest, so he had finally relented. The warm glow lit the faces around it--Merry, Pippin, Boromir, Gimli. They looked, she thought, like they were in a painting, the twilight's blue deepening to night, and the reddish flicker from the fire leaving only their faces visible, their bodies merely blue-black shadows. She heard the soft murmur of their voices, occasional laughter. It was comforting, and the jagged contrast between that comfort and the reality--such as it was--of her situation brought sharp tears to her eyes.
Finally Aragorn spoke again. "And this weapon," he said. "This--what did you call it? Gun?"
"Mm-hmm. A Glock 35, a forty caliber semi-automatic pistol." She hoped her voice didn't sound as thick as it felt, and she rubbed her eyes as though tired, pushing the tears away.
He shook his head. "It is like nothing I know in the world. How does it work?"
She explained it to him as she had to Legolas earlier.
"May I see it?" Aragorn asked.
She held it out to him, saying, "There, don't move that little lever," showing him the safety, "or it could go off and kill someone," and he weighed it in his hand, turning it in what light there was, frowning.
At length he handed it back to her, shaking his head. "If it is not magical," he said quietly, "then perhaps we could forge them ourselves. That could give us a great weapon against the enemy."
"So," she said, "what exactly is this thing y'all are doing, anyway? I mean, clearly there's evil afoot, but, well," she paused. "Well, what's going on? Who do you need guns against?"
She was almost sorry she'd asked, because by the time Aragorn had finished the tale, the night was much colder, the fire was almost out, and it looked like Boromir had already fallen asleep. Gimli stamped over to them just as Aragorn concluded, "so the Ringbearer is gone, and we go to Rohan to speak to King Théoden."
Maggie shook her head. "But I still don't understand. So, there's a dark lord, and a ring, and the ringbearer's gone off with it, but where, and to do what? And if the guy with the ring has left, isn't the party sort of over for the rest of us? What are we--I mean you--going to talk to King Théoden about?"
Aragorn didn't speak, and Maggie didn't press him. She knew he was keeping things from her--he'd said nothing about destroying the ring, and she didn't want to tell him now about overhearing his earlier argument. She wasn't a bit sure what he would do, but she knew she'd have to tell him sometime--maybe Boromir already had. She just didn't want to do it right then, in the dark, with the Legolas and Gimli right there.
Gimli patted her on the shoulder. "Do not trouble yourself about it, lady. It's time you got some sleep." He turned to Aragorn. "I shall take first watch, Merry and Pippin the second, and if you're agreeable, you and Legolas take third and fourth. Boromir should rest, I think, and I've told him it's sleep or I'll send him to sleep myself." Gimli frowned. "He does not complain, but the wound hurts him."
"I can take a watch," said Maggie, but to her complete lack of surprise, they dismissed the notion.
"You are not familiar with this world, and the sounds of it," said Legolas, and the others agreed.
"And you're still adjusting to being not in your own world, I'd wager," Gimli added.
"We have enough watchers to see us through the night with ease," said Aragorn. "What, not two hours apiece--any more and we shall be too rested when we arrive at Rohan; they would never believe our sad tale." He smiled at her. "You rest. We have a long road ahead."
She nodded, knowing that the other reason was 'and we've no bloody clue who you are or why you're here, and we don't trust you one little bit,' and started to get up when Gimli said, "Here, you'll freeze with no more than what you've got on. Boromir bade me bring you his cloak." He handed her a heavy, folded cloth and she felt her heart beat faster, and was irritated by how quickly the warmth spread from her heart downwards. 'Good lord,' she thought to herself, 'it's just a cloak, get a grip.' "But," she said aloud, "what about him? My sweaters and my vest are pretty cozy, and I'm not injured."
Gimli chuckled. "Among us we have cover enough to keep us all from the elements--don't you worry, lady, the wounded soldier will sleep well enough."
She smiled. "Thank you," she said. "All of you," looking around at them. "Really."
"Sleep well," said Aragorn with a small smile.
She picked her way down to where the others were, and spent a moment dithering over just how close she could get to Boromir without being any more obvious than she'd already been. Finally she decided 'not at all', and picked a spot across the fire from him. Unfolding the cloak she wrapped it around herself, and it smelled of leather, cloves, and warm skin. She lay down on the ground and gazed across the dying embers at Boromir's sleeping face, wishing she had the courage, or the lack of sense, to go over to him and just curl her body around him, but instead she closed her eyes and slept, wrapped in his cloak and his scent.
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