One more important thing: if it sounds just like Tolkien, it most likely is. I used the books frequently to work some of the scenes, and I also borrowed from the movies. However, I took liberties here and there with several of the chain of events and dialog, just to keep things running smoothly. This most definitely isn’t canon as both Rúmil and Orophin speak Westron.
She slogged ungracefully across the trail, adjusting the weight of her backpack so that it didn’t rub her shoulders quite as much, and paused, lifting the lock of dark hair out of her eyes. Squinting through the haze of rain, she could barely make out the trees that surrounded her.
“What possessed me to go camping by myself?” Erin muttered crossly, wiping the rain from her eyes. “I should have stayed home.” She sighed, shifting her pack once more. “Not that I would have had any better time.”
That was certainly true – her roommate Sally and her boyfriend were spending the weekend together at the apartment, and if Erin had to listen to one more night of their moans and groans as they went at it like fevered rabbits while she lay alone in her narrow bed, she’d scream.
It had been Professor Taggit’s suggestion that she spend some time away from them. As her student counselor and teacher, he had noticed the depression that had been steadily growing in Erin, depression caused by the recent breakup with her fiancé, a man she had dated for four years. Taggit had given her a map of Washington State Parks and recommended some excellent areas she could hike into.
“They’re secluded, yet easy enough for a novice like yourself to hike to, Erin. I think you’d enjoy the peace and quiet”
“No bears?” she asked, half in jest.
Her professor looked thoughtful. “Well, there might be. You just need to make sure you take precautions with your food, so you won’t attract them.”
Erin looked doubtful. “I don’t know, professor. It doesn’t sound very relaxing to me. I’m not exactly the outdoorsy type.” That was an understatement. Erin hadn’t been camping since she was a little girl, and her idea of recreation was swimming at the University Pool.
Taggit had chuckled, his gray eyebrows meeting briefly in amusement. “I think you’ll be surprised once you get there. It can be very relaxing to be away from all our modern conveniences and troubles, even just for a night. And I think you’ll surprise yourself at how much you enjoy it.”
So, Erin had accepted the map, looking over the regions that were nearest her.
The Olympic National Park was the largest, spreading well over a quarter of the northern tip of Washington State. She knew from previous trips to Port Angeles and Forks that the area there was rugged and beautiful; the Olympic Mountain chain making an excellent and breathtakingly beautiful backdrop to the rainforests and valleys.
Carefully, she looked over possible camping areas. Since she wasn’t ready for actual mountain climbing, that left out several choices. What she needed was a simple half-day hike to a secluded area where she could set up a tent and build a fire. That way, she’d still be close enough to civilization for comfort, just in case.
At last she settled on a site, located just a few miles from Port Angeles, in an area simply labeled “Wilderness Camping”. She didn’t plan to hike in very far – mainly because she didn’t want to risk getting lost. She took a roll of surveyor’s tape – bright obnoxious pink – to help mark her way.
After leaving her car in the designated parking area (permit showing plainly through the windshield) and sliding her $10 camping fee into the lock box at the end of the lot, Erin had shouldered her pack and taken the gently sloping dirt path that grew steadily steeper as she walked. She’d been walking for only about two hours and decided she’d come far enough. The rain had started about an hour into her hike, but she’d been determined to weather it out. After all, this area was listed as a rainforest, so she should not have been surprised.
She had not been prepared for how cold she would be once the rain soaked through her clothing. That, more than anything, was the final determining factor on where she would set up camp.
Erin looked carefully around her and selected a likely spot beneath a huge cedar tree, hoping that it’s overhanging branches would help to provide some shelter from the constant mist that rained down. From the looks of the dark gray sky above her, it didn’t appear that the rain would be letting up any time soon, and she was tired of being cold and wet.
Trudging irritably over to her tree, she slid the heavy pack from her shoulders, letting out a soft groan of relief as the weight left her. The damn thing carried all her camping gear and food, and it was heavy! It hadn’t seemed that way when she’d tried it out initially, packed with her things, before leaving for her trip. But after hiking up a steady grade for two hours, the thing felt like it weight a ton. Her thin shoulders, unused to bearing the strain, ached from their exertion, as did her lower back. Muttering and wishing she’d brought some Advil or Tylenol, Erin crouched down in front of her pack and opened it.
She’d set up the tent first, she decided. Once it was up, she could drag her pack inside and change into something dry. That would help her mood considerably, although she was seriously beginning to doubt that she should actually go through with staying the night up here. Initially, she had planned to spend two, but after getting up here, soaking wet, she changed her mind. One night alone in the wilderness was plenty!
Erin was glad she had taken the time to practice setting up her tent before she left, so she was familiar with where all the poles and ties went. Still, it took her quite a few moments of cursing and struggling with the poles before she finally got it set up the right way. She sat back with a heavy sigh, wiping the hair away from her eyes again, and in the process, smearing mud and bark across her face. Shaking her head in amusement, she looked at her hands, which were already filthy, dirt embedded beneath her fingernails.
She hadn’t brought any towels – they would have taken up far too much room in her pack, and she hadn’t thought she’d need one at the time. Wiping her hands as best she could on her wet sweater, she shoved her pack into the tent and crawled in after it. Turning in the cramped confines, Erin debated on whether or not she should close the flap, and decided not to bother – after all, it wasn’t as if anyone was going to walk in on her while she changed. Digging through her pack, she carefully laid out the packages of unappetizing freeze-dried food, followed closely by her water, sterno camp stove, and matches. Underneath lay her clothing, her toiletries and bedroll, sans pillow, of course. Erin wondered just how well she was going to sleep without it and decided she would have to come up with something to substitute for it - perhaps her sweater, once it was dry, would work well enough.
After laying out her sleeping bag, she sat on it, and shrugged out of her sweater, pulling the sodden mass of polyester and cotton and slinging it over her head in disgust. Her bra was soaked as well, and she decided that for one day, she could certainly go without it – no one was here to see that she wasn’t properly restrained! With a grin, she unhooked it and tossed it next to the sweater, reaching for her favorite WSU sweatshirt and pulling it over her head. Her jeans were soaked as well, and she had to stand up to peel them off her body. Of course, she’d forgotten to take off her shoes first – so she spent several moments struggling futilely, trying to get the wet material over her hiking boots. She lost her balance and fell, landing in an ungraceful heap on her sleeping bag. Muttering and laughing at her own stupidity, she unlaced the sodden laces of her boots and tossed them next to her other wet clothing. Her socks were damp, but tolerable, so she left them on as she finally managed to get her jeans off. Her rain-soaked underwear followed suit, and she quickly pulled on the only other pair of pants she’d brought – a pair of soft cotton khakis that were her current favorite.
Dressed in dry clothing at last, Erin laid back on her sleeping bag and stared up at the tent above her, sighing in relief. She hadn’t realized before now how wonderful it could feel to be dry.
“This is hopeless,” she muttered, crouching over the ring of stones that made for a makeshift fire pit at her campsite. The wood was wet – everything was wet, and her efforts at starting a fire so she could warm up a little were not successful, to say the least. She’d used the last of her newspaper in a vain attempt to get the wet wood to catch fire, and all she’d gotten for her efforts was a lot of smoke, a quick flash of heat as the paper quickly burned, and a few embers of burnt moss that quickly disappeared. The wood refused to catch.
“Obviously, I’m not cut out for this,” she groused, pushing at the damp hair that had fallen into her face. No one had told her to bring her own wood if she wanted a fire! No one had told her that the wood that lay within easy reach of her campsite would be far too wet or green to catch fire without a serious dousing of gasoline and a blowtorch, both of which, she mused irritably, she had apparently forgotten because they weren’t listed as necessities on her camping list.
Erin glared at her campfire, wishing she could ignite it with the heat of her frustration, and shivered. The sun was setting gradually and the woods had become steadily darker as a result. She was cold, tired, and pissed off.
“That’s it. I’m done,” she declared finally, brushing her hands off on her pants and standing up. “I’m going to bed.” She looked around her campsite – if her pitiful attempt could indeed be called that – with disgust. “You win, wilderness,” she called. “I’ll be gone tomorrow and you can torment the next idiot who decides to come and visit you.”
Stomping the mud from her boots, she crawled inside her tent, zipping the flap shut behind her. She stripped her boots off and placed them carefully next to the flap so that they would be within easy reach. She then took a moment to repack her backpack with the remains of her food and water, stuffing her wet clothing on top. All that would remain for her to pack in the morning when she left would be her sleeping bag and tent. Shivering slightly, she crawled into her sleeping bag, pulling the zipper closed and snuggled down into it until only her nose peeped out. With a sigh, she closed her eyes and tried to sleep.
Erin’s eyes opened a moment later, and she stared out in the darkness of her tent.
She couldn’t sleep. It was too quiet.
“Next time, I’m staying at the Port Angeles Hotel,” she muttered, curling onto her side and closing her eyes again determinedly. In just a few hours, she promised herself, she would be on her way back to civilization, where there was warmth and light and noise and food that didn’t taste like Styrofoam.
She could survive until then.
Something woke her in the middle of the night, bringing her out of the state of oblivious slumber she had finally managed to achieve. Her eyes snapped open in the darkness, her breath catching in sudden fright, as her ears strained to hear whatever it was that had awakened her.
Nothing. She could hear nothing. The woods around her were completely silent. Irritated, and calling herself all kinds of idiot, she turned over in her sleeping bag, closing her eyes once more, trying to regain the pleasant dream she’d been having before she’d been so abruptly awakened.
She was drifting off when a low sound jerked her abruptly awake once more. She sat up, and froze, when she heard the sound again. A low wuffing noise, like something large, sniffing around the edge of her tent.
Bear, she thought, her heart hammering wildly. It’s probably a bear, looking for food. She was grateful that all her food was packaged tightly and freeze-dried, and therefore lacking any tempting odor that would encourage the animal to investigate her tent. Still, it was frightening to hear how close the animal was, and she thought she could see a shadow of something large against the wall of her tent.
With trembling fingers she reached for her flashlight, closing around the black metal handle and drawing it into her lap. Go away, she thought silently. good here for you. Nothing to eat.
The wuffing noise sounded again and Erin nearly screamed despite herself when the animal brushed against the sides of the tent, causing it to bend inwards.
She took a deep breath and thumbed the switch of the flashlight, directing its light at the section of tent that was moving the most. “GO AWAY!” she yelled as loud as she could, her fear lending strength to her voice. “GO!”
The animal gave a squeal of pain and surprise, and Erin heard the scuffling sounds it made as it retreated. She held her breath, waiting for the animal to return, her ears straining to hear over her the pounding of her heart.
Several agonizingly long moments passed, but Erin heard nothing further. Trembling from the adrenaline that had rushed through her, she let out a shaky breath, uncertain as to what she should do now. Deep in her thoughts, she almost missed the sound of voices murmuring just outside her tent.
Aragorn studied the strange contraption in front of him, recognizing it as a type of tent, but not the construction of it or the shape, which was dome-like, instead of the usual inverted V-shape he usually associated with such things. He glanced at his companion, watching the elf remove his arrow from the dead body of the orc he had slain, wiping its black blood against the grass.
“Do you recognize this?” Aragorn asked softly, pitching his voice so that it carried to the keen ears of Legolas.
The elf stood up, shoving the arrow into the quiver strapped to his back, and shook his head. “No, I do not,” he answered with equal softness. “I have never seen its like, and its materials are more than strange.”
Aragorn’s mouth quirked briefly and his blue eyes glinted with humor. “Shall we see if the occupant of this strange tent is well? Or shall we leave him to his business, whatever that may be?”
Legolas nodded, curiosity written on his fair features. “I would like to know how he made the light so suddenly that shined right through the tent. Perhaps he is a wizard?”
“Aye, if it had not been for that light, I think that orc would have torn through the tent before your arrow reached him,” Aragorn replied, stepping forward to tap lightly on the strange material.
A startled gasp came from within the tent, and Legolas could hear the occupant moving within. A strange ripping sound was heard, and the tent flap parted in the middle, as easily as if it had been cut open by an extremely sharp blade.
Erin gripped her flashlight tightly, ready to use it to defend herself if she needed to. She had heard two voices speaking outside the tent, although she could not discern the words, for their voices were too low. She had been expecting the faint tap, and she swallowed, praying that whoever was on the other side of the tent flap had friendly intentions. Quick flashes of every bad horror movie she’d ever seen paraded through her already frightened brain, including one that hadn’t been a horror movie, exactly, but had been horrible none the less – something about mountain people and a rafting expedition gone awry. Bringing the flashlight close to her chest, she unzipped the flap slowly, praying she wasn’t about to be tortured, raped, or killed by the crazies of the wilderness.
Aragorn gave a start when the flap opened. A young woman stared out at them with frightened brown eyes, gripping a strange black cylinder in her right hand defensively.
Erin blinked, uncertain of what she was seeing. The man closest to her was regarding her patiently, and with some uncertainty - as if he too was unsure of what he was seeing. His face was dirty and unshaven, but there was no threat or malice in the blue eyes that regarded her.
“Who are you,” Aragorn asked, switching to the common tongue of Middle Earth. “And what are you doing here?”
“My name is Erin Smith,” she replied with a small frown, gripping her flashlight tighter. “I was camping here.”
“Here?” Legolas asked with surprise and no small amount of incredulity. “Alone?”
Erin’s head turned when the second man spoke, her eyes widening in surprise. The man was taller than his companion, and blonde where the other was dark. His clothing was as strange as his companion’s, but it was his face that arrested her attention. He was fair skinned and delicate looking, but there was a definite masculine quality about the set of his features. With the exception of a few male models she’d seen in magazines, Erin didn’t think she’d ever seen anyone male who could qualify as beautiful, but she could hardly describe him as anything else. A stray breeze caught his long blonde hair, fluttering it behind him, and then she saw his ears. It took a few moments to register in her fright-addled brain. His ears are pointed!
“Have I wandered into a D&D campout?” she asked with a flash of understanding, really looking at the two men before her for the first time. That would certainly explain their outlandish clothes, and the weapons she saw, although the latter certainly looked as if it had seen actual use. Perhaps they were participating in some elaborate fantasy role-play – she’d read that there were people who sometimes did that.
Aragorn frowned. “I do not know what this Dee and dee is that you speak of, but this is certainly no ‘campout’. Do you not know where you are?”
Erin snorted at his affected speech, reaching for her boots. “Well, okay, I’ll play along. I happen to be camping in the Olympic National Park, approximately 12 miles north of Port Angeles. Where are you guys supposed to be?” She bent her head and began to lace them.
Legolas and Aragorn exchanged glances over her bent head.
“You are camped on the plains of Rohan, Lady,” Legolas replied softly with a shake of his head. “About nine days journey from the city of Edoras.”
“Sure,” she said disbelief coloring her voice. “If you say so. Nice ears, by the way.” She crawled out of her tent to stand up.
Legolas was taken aback by her tone and retreated in silence as he watched the strange woman begin to roll up her sleeping bag.
“You do not take us seriously,” Aragorn stated in disbelief, watching her work. “This is not a safe place for you to be.” He continued to watch her, taking in her strange garb. She wore tan colored trousers that fit her loosely, and a strange gray colored tunic with no buttons or fastenings he could see. An unusual design decorated the front of it in bright red and white colors.
Erin snorted again. “Well, no kidding. I don’t know what I was thinking when I decided I would go camping, but I think the bear was the final straw. I’m leaving, and finding the nearest Motel-6 so I can get a decent night’s rest without the Dungeons and Dragons Support Group pestering me.” She glanced up at them as she tied her roll, irritation warring with humor. “Sorry I disrupted your fantasy.”
“Bear?” Aragorn repeated slowly, ignoring the rest of her prattle since he didn’t understand most of it anyway.
“Bear. You know, four-legged omnivore that occasionally pesters unprepared campers. Big, smelly, covered in fur?” she trailed off slowly as she saw the looks on their faces. “I chased it away with my flashlight.”
Understanding dawned on Aragorn’s face and he reached out, gripping her shoulder.
“Hey!” she exclaimed, trying to remove his grasping hand.
“That was no bear, Lady,” Aragorn said through clenched teeth, his patience with her running thin. “That was an orc. A scout for the party of Uruk-Hai that we are tracking.”
She ignored his hand for a moment, her jaw dropping open slightly in surprise. Then she smiled. “You’re very good,” she said, pulling away from him to finish stuffing her sleeping bag in her pack. “You had me going there for a minute. Almost believed you.” She dragged her pack out of the tent and began to dismantle it, pulling the long poles out of their sleeves and folding them neatly.
Legolas and Aragorn watched the strange process, fascinated by the neat way everything folded together to fit into the small sack she stuffed it into. Slinging everything onto her back, she stood up once more, amusement clearly written on her face.
“Well, lads, I’ll leave you to your orc hunting. Have fun.” She turned to go and stopped, her progress frozen completely by the object that lay in the grass right next to where her tent had been. “Oh!” she said shortly, feeling her knees give way.
Legolas caught her easily before she fell completely to the ground, his strong arms catching her under her armpits and hauling her back to her feet. He kept his hands on her arms, just in case she decided to collapse again.
Erin’s eyes were closed against the horrible and grotesque creature she had just seen. “No, no, no, no,” she muttered under her breath, trying to calm herself. “It’s just another guy dressed up as an orc. It’s all part of their game.” But when she opened her eyes again, she had to admit that for a costume, he looked pretty damned realistic.
Aragorn eyed her with concern. “It is no game, Lady,” he said. “Though I suspect that you may well wish otherwise before the day is through.”
“There you are!” a gruff voice said from behind them. “I was beginning to think you two were trying to loose me a’ purpose!” He came to a halt beside Legolas and looked suspiciously up at his friend, puffing from his exertions. “What do we have here?”
Erin saw him arrive, but her thoughts were elsewhere. As the sun began its steady climb over the horizon, she became aware of several important factors that did not, in any way, comfort her. One – the pine, maple, and cedar trees that had surrounded her campsite were completely gone, replaced by a gentle rolling grassland that sloped gradually away from them. Two – the ‘orc’ that was lying motionless across from her was bleeding, and as far as she could tell, it was not breathing at all. She’d stared at it for the longest time, trying to catch any movement, any sign of breathing, and had not seen it move once. Three – and most important of all – she could see no sign of the familiar Olympic peaks that dominated this part of Washington state. The snow-capped peaks in the distance were not familiar to her at all.
Aragorn saw her face turn alarmingly pale. “Catch her, Legolas!” he cried, moving forward as his friend laid the swooning woman gently on the ground.
The dwarf snorted, taking in her strange clothing with interest. “She is a stranger to this parts, I would wager,” he said with a low growl, squatting down beside Legolas and Aragorn.
“Strange indeed,” Legolas agreed, watching as Aragorn chafed the pale hands between his own.
“Lady, Erin,” Aragorn called, watching her eyelids flutter as she came to her senses. He was unnerved by the blankness of the look he saw in her brown eyes. He slapped her face lightly, once on each cheek, trying to rouse a response from her. “Erin!”
She mumbled something, turning her face away.
“What did she say?” Gimli asked, his bushy eyebrows raising in curiosity.
“Stop hitting me,” she replied, struggling to sit up. “Let go of me,” she said crossly, shrugging off Legolas’ hands and scuttling backwards as fast as she could from the three of them and the dead body, which by now, had begun to smell.
Erin regarded the strange tableau before her and tried to get her brain to work. Taking a deep breath, she directed her attention to the dark haired man, who seemed to be the unspoken leader of the group.
“Let me test my understanding of what is going on here, gentlemen, and I ask your patience in this matter,” she said finally, wrapping her arms around her legs.
Aragorn nodded, making no move towards her. He could tell she was frightened beyond reason, and he did not want to make the situation any worse than it was. Time was slipping quickly past them while they dallied here with this human woman, strange though she may be, and his concern for the hobbits grew stronger with each passing moment.
“I’m not where I was when I went to bed,” she said finally. “This is not the Olympic National Park, nor are those the Olympic Mountains I see in the distance.” She fixed them with a hard look. “You guys look like something out of a fantasy convention, yet your costumes, even the dead guy over there, look convincingly real.” Shaking her head in disbelief, she continued. “I don’t know how the hell I got here, but I want you to know that I want no part of it. I want to go home now, okay?”
Aragorn glanced at Legolas and Gimli, indecision and irritation warring on his features. Legolas shrugged eloquently, and the normally loquacious dwarf was silent as well. His blue eyes narrowed, but his friends would give him no advice in this matter. He turned back to Erin, who was watching the whole scene with a look of someone who is slowly realizing that their nightmares have come true.
“Very well,” Aragorn said, trying to inject some lightness in his tone. “We cannot leave you here to fend for yourself, inconvenient though it may be to take you along on our journey.” He sighed, standing slowly so as not to startle her. “We will try to send you back to your home once we find Merry and Pippin. Agreed?”
Erin felt the blood drain from her face at his words. “Oh my God!” she said softly, her hand covering her mouth as the realization hit her like a well-thrown brick. “I know who you people are!” It was impossible. She couldn’t believe it. Yet it was the only thing that made any kind of sense out of this whole mess. She pointed a shaking finger at the dark haired man.
“You’re Aragorn,” she said, finding it hard to swallow. “You’re Legolas, and you’re Gimli,” she pointed to each in turn, her breath increasing rapidly. “You’re chasing the Orcs that captured your friends and killed Boromir.”
Aragorn’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “How do you know this?” he demanded, crossing the distance between them and grabbing her arm roughly. “Are you a witch?”
She shook silently in his arms, her head bowed as she tried to come to grips with the madness of her situation.
“Lady,” Aragorn’s sudden temper was gone. “How is it you know these things?” he repeated softly.
Erin looked up at the man who was peering down at her with suspicion and concern. She swallowed the knot that had formed in her throat and tried to answer.
“I-I know the story,” she said finally. “Where I come from, it is one of the most well-loved tales. They are even making a movie out of it.” She raised her eyes hopefully. “I don’t suppose this is a movie set and this is all an elaborate prank?”
Aragorn shook his head, not understanding what a movie was. “It is not, Lady. How well do you know this tale you speak of?”
Feeling the last bit of hope she had vanish at his words, Erin bit her lip uncertainly. It was so hard to believe any of this. She kept thinking she was going to wake up anytime now and find it had all been a terrible dream.
Sighing, she shook herself free from his grasp. “I tried to read the books a long time ago, when I was much younger. When I heard the movie was coming out this winter, I tried to read the first one again, but I only got as far as the Fellowship leaving Rivendell.” She gave him an embarrassed look. “I never finished reading them. I only know bits and pieces of the general storyline from talking with friends who have read it.”
Aragorn was tormented between wanting to plague Erin with questions and the need to resume their journey. He could see the same indecision plaguing his friends as well.
“We will speak of this later,” Aragorn decided finally. “For now we must resume our quest if we are to reach Merry and Pippin alive.”
Erin looked at him with frightened eyes, shaking her head. “I’m not coming with you guys.”
Legolas frowned, his dark brows meeting together in concern. “You cannot stay here, Lady. It is much too dangerous.”
“Dangerous, sure. But you guys are running full tilt into a huge party of orcs. That sounds much more dangerous than leaving me here in an empty field.” Erin shook her head again, plopping herself down on her pack and folding her arms. “You guys go right ahead. I’ll just wander over that way, in the opposite direction, if you don’t mind.”
Silently cursing the stubborn ignorance of the woman in front of him, Aragorn forced himself to be as cordial as possible. “I regret, Lady, that we cannot do that. For to abandon you here would be to leave you to your certain death, unarmed as you are. The party of orcs we follow are not the only ones roaming these plains.”
Erin looked apprehensively around her. “You mean there are more?” she said finally, her voice very quiet.
“Most certainly, lassie.” Gimli spoke gruffly from her side, his brown eyes glittering beneath his bushy eyebrows. “They’d make a quick meal of you, as soon as they were through with their sport.”
“Sport?” replied Erin faintly. “You’re joking, right?” She looked around at their serious faces and realized that this was no joke to them. She stood up, lifting her pack to her shoulders once more and settling it firmly. “Fine. I’ll go with you.” She lifted her chin slightly, trying to look braver than she obviously felt. “I’m nobody’s ‘sport’.”
Gimli nodded, clapping her on the back and nearly knocking her over with the strength of it. “That’s it, lassie. At last you show some sense. You had best stick with me.” He gave the human and the elf a mock-glower. “You would never be able to run with these two,” he growled. “Legolas is half-deer, and Aragorn just as bad.”
Erin swallowed, glancing briefly at Aragorn and Legolas. “I’ll try to keep up.”
Legolas nodded, and with a quick look at Aragorn, took off, sprinting so lightly over the grass it barely moved with his passage.
Aragorn gripped her arm briefly, looking down at her. “Stay with Gimli. He will protect you.” And without another word, he took off in the direction Legolas had taken, moving almost as easily as the elf.
“Ready, lassie?” Gimli asked almost kindly.
Taking a deep breath, she nodded, and began to run, Gimli following close at her heels.