The sound of battle is deafening. It's so far from anything they're used to, any kind of noise they might have heard in the Shire. Merry has to watch as the Uruk close on them, as Boromir takes out his sword and fights for their lives because that's what he's supposed to do, without questions. He feels it happen before seeing it. The way the arrow flies. He's gasping half a second before the dart hits Boromir in the chest.
Half a second before the dart should have hit Boromir.
Because suddenly, there is gloved hand wrapped around the wood and a snarling figure not wasting a second before attacking the beasts surrounding them. It's moving too fast for them to see it, and Boromir is already turning around to face another enemy, taking his horn to his mouth and blowing as hard as he can.
The Orcs don't stand a chance against whoever started aiding them. The horn is blowing again and again, and Merry is tugging Pippin away. They will only get in the way. Once more does Boromir blow into the horn before they hear the familiar voice of Aragorn crying out. The man appears from behind the trees, sword drawn, Legolas and Gimli following just a step behind.
They make quick work of the remaining Orcs, their skill in battle undeniable, but Merry only has eyes for the darting figure finishing off an ugly Uruk. He has seen wizards and ghosts of old, fallen kings attacking in the dark, but never before something appear out of thin air like it did. Its grace is elven-like, quick and agile, but it's stronger than any of the men in the Fellowship.
Aragorn plunges his sword in the chest of the last Orc, and silence falls on the forest. Boromir is breathing heavily, a few cuts bleeding freely on the cloth of his tunic. Legolas looks like he just stepped out of the bath, just like he always does, but Gimli is muttering something where he's cleaning his large axe.
Pippin gasps and Merry finally takes a good look at their unexpected ally. It's tall, as tall as Legolas, and thin, with broad shoulders and strong arms. Then he notices the clothing and large expenses of skin left uncovered and he blushes crimson. That's a woman! A tall, brutal, deadly one, but a woman nonetheless.
He dares to look again, and really, he's never seen a woman quite like this one. She's not wearing anything besides... whatever this thing is, like a tunic but stopping a hand before the belly button, and flattening the chest almost completely. She has pants, like those Aragorn wears underneath his leather, and whitish cloth wrapped around her calves coming out of short leather boots. It's entirely improper, is what it is.
She looks definitely unbothered, though, as she stands under their gaze, hands on her hips and chin held high. If it were a Shire lady, she would already be red as a tomato and hiding behind a tree. She scratches her cheek before unwrapping the dark cloth hiding her hair and using it to wipe her face. Merry lets out a surprised cry. Her hair! It's like a rose in spring, a shade of pale red he's not sure he's ever seen before.
She ties the cloth around her arm when she's done cleaning herself and haranguing them in a language Merry doesn't understand. It would almost be funny, how neither of the men can quite meet her eyes because of how she's dressed, but obviously dying with curiosity at the same time.
“My Lady, I'm grateful for your help,” Boromir starts, uncomfortable, “but I'm afraid we can't understand you.”
“It's not any form of elvish I'm familiar with,” Legolas says softly.
“Nothing I can recognize either,” Gimli adds.
The woman is looking at them warily. She has stopped speaking, but her relaxed position has changed into a loose guard, hands reaching for a weapon pouch strapped to her thigh. Aragorn puts his sword on the ground and shows his hands, before coming closer to the woman.
“We mean no harm, my Lady.”
She eyes him with a frown, her hand not quite in the leather pouch, but not moving either way. The Ranger lays a palm on his chest, and says his name. Her back straightens again, and he repeats his name. She imitates his gesture and says something, too quick for them to catch it. The confusion must be obvious, because she says it again, and it sounds something like 'Sakla'. Aragorn repeats the strange name, and she offers a cautious but amused smile.
It seems to be too much for Boromir, who definitely stops looking her way as he offers her his cloak. She looks at it like it personally offended her and doesn't take it. She turns back to Aragorn, who mimes putting it on and she rolls her eyes. Merry can't help it; he giggles.
Immediately, her eyes are on him. She seems bewildered at what she's faced with. Merry is the one to roll his eyes and he can hear Pippin sighing at his side. They're getting used to the stares, now that they're miles away from the Shire. It's not like she has room to talk. She's clearly not from the race of Men, but she doesn't look like an Elf either, and she has nothing in common with Gimli.
Not really knowing what to do when she won't stop staring, Merry rummages inside his bag before offering her some lambas. Fighting always makes the men hungry, even if Aragorn hides it better than the others. He even takes a bite of it, because she seems like the kind who won't trust a meal when offered (how silly; here is nothing more insulting than disrespecting a meal).
It doesn't take much more prompting before she's biting into the elvish bread with fervour, devouring it in seconds. She bows her head in his direction, which seems like a clear enough thank you that he doesn't feel awkward in smiling back. She then drapes the cloak over her shoulders and stares with one eyebrow raised as the men relax and face her completely.
She points at herself and repeats her name, before waving at them in a questioning manner. One by one, they say their name, but she blinks owlishly at most of them, making them repeat until she gets a general understanding of how it's pronounced. It's very obviously not sounds she's used to make. She seems to like his name though, probably because it doesn't have many syllables, and Gimli's is the most troublesome for her.
“What will we do with her?” Legolas asks when they're done introducing themselves.
“We can't leave her alone!” Boromir says with a frown.
“She did prove she can fend for herself, did she not?” Aragorn says, even if he doesn't look very convinced either.
“She's clearly not from around here, she doesn't even understand the common tongue! We can't possibly abandon her to her fate.”
“Aragorn, the lass practically saved Boromir. We owe her some assistance,” Gimli finally says.
“What do you suggest, then? Shall we take her to Rivendell?”
“Uh, what about Sam and Frodo?” Pippin says in a small voice.
Aragorn looks down. “They're gone. They took a boat and left just before we came.
Merry fights the tears he can feel gathering in his eyes. He knows there's nothing he can do about it, but he still wishes they hadn't separated and that he could have gone with them. Two Hobbits against Mordor? Not a bet he'd take. Pippin kicks a stone, looking sour. Merry can get behind the feeling.
The woman says something and they all turn to look at her. She's frowning, her arms open like she's showing everything around her. It's clear enough what she's asking, but they have no means to answer her. Aragorn puts on a brave face and tells her that this is Middle Earth. Of course, she doesn't understand. She lets out a frustrated cry and punches a nearby tree. The trunk shatters on impact and the whole thing falls to the ground with a thundering sound.
The men are frozen, looking at her like she just punched them in the face, instead of the tree. Merry is taking a careful step back, tugging Pippin along. His cousin's face is ashen grey and he'd bet his isn't much better. Aragorn extends his arms, his hands placating. Sakla snarls something at him, her fists back on her hips.
“My Lady, we know this must be confusing. We're going to take you to people who might be able to help.”
Even if the meaning doesn't get to her, she seems to understands their good intentions. She nods briskly, and when Aragorn waves at her to follow him, she does. Boromir and Legolas falls in step with Aragorn, while Gimli flanks Merry and Pippin. The camp isn't far but no one feels like talking, so they stay silent.
When they're all sitting, Boromir offers a bowl of broth to the woman, who takes to it just as happily as she did the lambas. Aragorn lets her finish it, before speaking to them.
“I don't see any better way to teach her, so we'll simply point at things and name them. Hopefully she'll pick up soon and we'll be able to communicate a little.”
“That seems sensible,” Legolas agrees. “It's the way we teach our youth the common tongue. Of course we have books to help, but the basics are the same.”
Aragorn nods. “Sakla?” he calls.
She jerks up, looking at them warily. She finishes the broth quickly before putting down the bowl and watching them expectantly. The Ranger points at the bowl and says the word. She blinks a couple of times, before a soft sound escapes her and she appears to understand what they want to do. She repeats the word, then Aragorn points at a tree and do it all over again.
They all participate, miming actions and pointing at things. It goes on for quite some time, because the sun is setting when Sakla gestures for them to stop and massages her head. Boromir looks slightly guilty when they realize how tiring that must have been for her. She waves him off and lies on her back, sighing deeply. They all find something to do that doesn't involve crowding her and small groups form.
Merry and Pippin start a game of tag, running around and laughing, until Aragorn frowns at them and they put some more space between them and the resting woman. Gimli is trying to teach a dwarven game to Boromir, to no avail because half of the pieces have Khuzdul names that the man can't even pronounce and Gimli is getting more frustrated by the minute.
Aragorn is having a quiet conversation with Legolas near the campfire. They're speaking the common tongue, but keep circling back to elvish whenever their voice raise, as if it's their only way of keeping calm. From what the Fellowship knows of the language, it would make sense. They all try not to listen in too much though, but they're being successful in varying degrees.
Legolas says something and Aragorn pinches the bridge of his nose, his eyes closed in a painful expression. Merry stops running, watching them with curiosity, until Pippin barrels into him, having not noticed that he had stopped. He cries in surprise, stumbling clumsily and taking his cousin with him.
In a split second, there is a rush of leaves and Sakla is standing there, each hand fisted in the Hobbits' cape. They freeze, before coming to terms with the fact that she apparently teleported just to stop them from falling. She lets them down gently before frowning and articulating 'No!' with a disapproving expression. There is sharpness to the way her voice curls around the consonant but it's understandable and they look at the ground sheepishly.
She shakes her head with an exasperated sigh before walking back to the fire. They all stopped to watch the scene unfold and it seems to have halted any attempts they might have made at pretending like her presence isn't completely alien to them. She sits down, her knees up to her chest and arms wrapped around her shins. Aragorn can't help but think that she looks terribly lonely, eyes lost somewhere they have no hope to follow her. It reminds him of what he used to feel, before finding a purpose in this Fellowship.
“Oy, lass! Quit frowning like someone mined your lode.”
Sakla looks up at the voice. Gimli is smiling behind his beard. He throws her something, too fast for the others -expect, perhaps, Legolas- to see what it is. She catches it without flinching, before looking at it. Then, a startled laugh surprises them all as she takes a look at the dice Gimli just offered her.
She starts playing with it absent-mindedly, mumbling the first few numbers they taught her. Gimli sits back next to Boromir, a smug grin taunting the rest of the men. Boromir rolls his eyes and gets up, taking his cutlass with him.
“Aragorn! Shall we hunt dinner?”
“Why not, my friend,” he says as he rises as well. Legolas offers him a dagger, glinting in the warm sun.
The light catches Sakla's eyes and she abandons the dice to look at them. Her head is tilted to the side as she seems to ponder over something. Then she says something in her language and lets out an excited chuckle.
Boromir nods fondly. “Yes, we are hungry.”
She jumps on her feet and points to the ground, as if telling them to wait. Then she turns around and runs off in the direction of the river. Of course, they don't even think about waiting and follow after her. She's much faster than any of them and she looses them quickly. A few minutes later, when they finally get to the shore, she's nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, Merry shouts in surprise and they turn to the face the current, where he's pointing.
There she is, walking on water, sending what looks like long needles into the swirls of the river. She's pulling them back seemingly with nothing, though she must have some sort of string that they can't see from here. On each needle, a fish is impaled, still fretting desperately. She turns around to look at them, laughing at their bewildered faces, and runs toward them. On the water.
Aragorn is still shaking his head like he can't quite believe what he's seeing when she gets to the shore and hands them the fish.
“Food! Hungry!” Sakla says with a mocking smile, clearly making fun of their lack of response.
“Hungry, indeed,” Legolas smirks, clasping Boromir's shoulder where he's still blinking rapidly at the smiling woman.
“Thank you, Sakla,” Aragorn says.
“Saku-ra,” she articulates, the strange sounds somewhat clearer.
“Sakura,” he repeats. “Lady Sakura.”
She beams at him and he returns it. Lady Sakura of a Foreign Land. What a fitting addition to their Fellowship.