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Cat of the Fellowship

Chapter Text

"When in doubt, choose to live."

― Terry Pratchett, Thief of Time

 


1. Choices

She could hear the gunman’s heavy footsteps echoing between the school corridor walls as he ran towards her. 

“In here. Hurry!” Kat opened the gym equipment storage and shoved the children inside. Why were there so many of them? Darn politicians cramming thirty kids in a middle school class! She would never have time to hide them all. 

“Hurry!” she hissed again. The children were giggling and pushing each other, not understanding this was real , that this was not a fire drill or a game. Perhaps it was for the better, had they known who was coming for them they would panic. 

How could this happen here , in her safe little town? It was like the Utøya Massacre or the Trollhättan School Attack all over again, only this time the casualties would not be numbers on the news, this time she was inside the nightmare and might be counted among the victims. 

The last child was finally through the door, Ali of course, even now lagging behind. She had never met a kid who could dawdle like Ali.

She moved to follow the children inside but an angry voice made her freeze in terror. “Stop, or I’ll shoot!” 

No! She had been too late! But she must save the children at least. Kat quickly slammed the door on them and locked it behind her, gripping the key with fingers like claws.

The man slowly walked closer. What an ugly thing guns were. Especially when you found yourself in the wrong end of one. 

The man was dressed in green camouflage clothes, but his black Harley Davidsson cap looked a bit out of place. He had not bothered to mask himself, and with a pang of dismay she recognized him. She had been his teacher not that long ago. 

Kat remembered they had argued about that cap every other lesson. ‘No caps indoors’, she would say, and he would take it off, only to put it on again ten minutes later. 

“Johan… Please, put the gun down.” If only it were the cap she had wanted him to remove this time too instead of a heavy automatic army rifle.

“Open the door. Give me those filthy monkeys and I’ll let you live, despite your inferior race.”

“You don’t want to do this, Johan. This is not who you are.”

“You don’t know shit about who I am. This is necessary, I do this for our country! Not that you muslim-loving traitors would understand. Now open up.”

“They are not muslims, most of them! Not all brown people are, you know. Like me. I’m not a muslim, and Ana’s an Orthodox Christian and Gamon is Buddhist and I don’t even know all their religions but it’s beside the point!” She instinctively knew she had to keep talking, keep delaying things until the police came. 

“Open the bloody door or I’ll bloody shoot your arse off and I don’t care what’s your religion you bloody ni–”

“Not that language in my school, Johan. Behave!” She had used her sternest teacher voice, and some impact it must still have on him, because he actually shut his mouth. However, when he cocked the rifle and pointed it directly at her head she wished he would have talked instead.

If he shot her, he would get the key to the storage and kill the children as well. She must run for it, hoping for the best. 

Turning on the spot, Kat bolted, running like her life depended on it. It did depend on it. The thundering explosions of Johan’s weapon firing after her made that absolutely clear. 

But he was following her, so at least the children were safe for now. 

Another bang, she could even hear the bullet as it zinged past and embedded itself in the far wall. She tried to run in slalom moves, hoping to be harder to hit that way, surely he could not be that good a shot? But with unlimited ammunition and a powerful weapon a man did not need to be a good shot.

She had reached the end of the corridor and turned the corner. The cafeteria was deserted, thank God. She headed towards the stairs down to the main entrance. 

Bang! Bang! Bang! A plate of cinnamon buns exploded in a cloud of bread and nib sugar and the coffee machine sprayed its contents all over the place. Such a shame! Kat would not exactly call the liquid the machine served coffee , but it was black and hot and got her through the day.

She flew down the stairs, three steps at a time. The hurried gait of teachers everywhere was really coming in handy now, she was gaining on the gunman. The exit was right before her and she saw flashes of blue outside. The police! If she could just reach them she would be safe and Johan would be caught.

Another series of loud gunshots splintered a painting of a lopsided bunny, made by a class of fourth graders of the distant past. That was all right, it was frankly very ugly and had never deserved the prominent spot right inside the entrance.

Kat had reached the heavy doors and pushed them open, stumbling through. Behind her they scattered in a rain of glass fragments. 

Outside an armada of neon-and-blue police cars charged over the schoolyard’s asphalt and came to a stop with screeching brakes, discoloring the white hopscotch lines with black tire burns. 

She had made it! She was out! She…

Bang! Bang! Bang!

Darn. So close. 

/\_,,_/\
( * ᆽ * )

As Kat’s body sank to the ground she felt herself leave it, hovering a little above the… corpse? Was it a corpse now?

The police had caught Johan, she noticed. For some reason he had dropped the gun after shooting her. The young man actually looked remorseful as he was handcuffed and led into a waiting car. Perhaps he was not all rotten, then. 

Meanwhile, a police officer was working on Kat’s body, trying to keep her alive. It seemed futile – I mean, there was a big hole in her head, for crying out loud. Yet, people survived such things sometimes, she knew that. 

“Pst.”

She turned her incorporeal head towards the sound. A vaguely humanoid shape stood beside her. 

“Yes?”

“Follow me. There are some choices for you to make.” 

She shrugged her insubstantial shoulder. Why not? It was not like she had other appointments at the moment, and the officer giving her body first aid would probably manage just fine without her looking on. 

The shape led Kat upwards, but before they could crash into an airplane or enter outer space or something stupid like that, the surroundings changed. The brick building of her school, the police cars, the street, the city – all faded, and she found herself and the shape floating in a void.

It was a strangely warm void, and prettier than one might expect. It was made up of all the colors of the rainbow, like she imagined the inside of a disco ball would look. The not-air smelled of strawberries for some reason.

“Come. This way.” The shape went ahead and Kat tagged along.

She could not say how long her passing through the void lasted, it could have been thousands of years or one second, all she knew was that it was a pleasant journey. 

Then the void filled with shapes again, other shapes unlike anything Kat had seen back home. She was standing in a building, but also in a lush forest, all at the same time which of course did not make sense, but here it did. 

Around her flowers blossomed and clear water trickled from golden fontains. Other people mingled around, beautiful men and women mostly, but there were a few children too. They were singing, a complex, polyphonic piece that filled her heart with unusual joy, and everybody was dressed in white. It smelled amazingly good of fresh, home-baked bread.

Was this Heaven? 

She turned to ask the shape but it was gone. Instead a tall, male being in a fine silver robe strode towards her. 

“Welcome to the Halls of Mandos, Katharina.” His voice was dark and exceedingly pleasant. She could have listened to it all day.

“I love your voice. It’s even nicer than Henry Cavill’s!”

“I thank thee.” He smiled in a way that would have made Cat’s stomach feel funny and her knees weaken, had she still had a body. “I have received tidings of thy brave sacrifice. Thou hast saved the lives of thirty children today.”

“Oh, that was nothing. Anyone would have done the same, really.” She tried to look modest like a good Swede. Never to self-praise was a deep rooted unwritten law in her country.

“In acknowledgement of thy deed, I offer thee three choices.”

“I’m intrigued. Shoot!”

“Thy first choice is to stay in my Halls. ’Tis a restful dwelling where souls come and go, some to stay, others to be reborn. Time doth not pass here, and thus thou wilt never feel bored or lonely.”

“Hm. I don’t have much of a singing voice, though… Not sure the other souls will appreciate the addition of me to the choir.”

“Thy second choice is to return to thy old body, which is kept alive by the healers of thy world. Thou wouldst be aware, but not able to see, speak, move or even breathe on thy own. Many would visit thee, however, for thou art held in high regard amongst them. Thou art a hero.”

“Really? I always dreamt of being famous, actually. But I had sort of imagined being able to enjoy the lifestyle that comes with it...”

“Thy third choice is to be reborn into another body, in another world, where a Fellowship hath set out on an important quest. Thou wouldst join them with the mission to change the course of history, saving that world from impending evil. As a reward, shouldst thou succeed, thou wouldst be gifted with life – real, conscious life, in either thine old world or that other world. However, shouldst thou fail, thou wouldst die and travel beyond my Halls to a destination even I know not.”

Kat pondered her options. Staying here would mean she could listen more to this person's amazing voice, a fine perk for sure, but singing all day was not her favorite pastime. No matter what he claimed, she felt certain it would be boring after a while. 

Going home would work wonders for her ego, she had never been hero worshipped before. However, being in a vegetable state did not really appease her. That left her with going on that quest. It sounded intriguing, saving the world would beat saving a school class by far. Maybe she could get both hero worshipping and her life back that way. Win-win! 

Of course, she might fail and die – but then, that would be an adventure too! Always look on the bright side of life. Or death, in this case.

“I choose the quest.”

“Thou hast chosen well, Katharina. Now, here be thy task: Thou shalt join the Fellowship and follow them until the time hath come for thee to take thy own path, seeking to save the life of one who in the foreseen turn of events wilt die. If he indeed perisheth, an entire land wilt be cast into oblivion and the line of Elendil be no more, whereas if he liveth, this disaster shalt not come to be.”

“Sure, I’ll try. Who is it?”

“The one who climbeth into the king’s vessel by night.”

“Umm… could you be a bit more specific? Like, what’s his na–”

“Even the wise cannot see all ends. Fare thee well!” And with that, the beautiful garden/building disappeared, the enchanting song silenced and the aroma of home-baked bread ceased.

Kat was standing in a cold, unfamiliar forest, looking at a row of odd people of various heights coming her way. 

Gosh, were they tall! 

Of course, that was when she realized they were not big, it was she who was small. 

“Miaow!” she cried in dismay. This was not the kind of body she had expected to be reborn into.

Chapter Text

“You need to believe in things that aren't true.
How else can they become?”

― Terry Pratchett, Hogfather


2. Kitty Kat

The group was coming closer and Kat could see them more clearly. They wore strange, old fashioned clothes, reminding her of the cast of a Fantasy movie, and all of them carried weapons – swords, mostly. She must have either been sent back in time or to a world much less advanced than her own. 

The first pair passed by her, a bearded, elderly man in a blue hat and beside him a very tall swordsman – tall for a human, that was, for compared to a cat they were all giants. Next followed a short, stout fellow, who despite his lesser height looked dangerous with a huge axe strapped across his massive shoulders. Then came four even shorter guys, their faces were smooth and beardless so perhaps they were children. One of them led a sturdy pony. Behind the pony walked another swordsman, and last in line was a young-looking archer with unusually long hair, she was not certain whether it was a guy or a girl. 

She regarded their retreating backs, unsure what to do next. Were those the people she was supposed to join, and was it one of them she would save the life of? What had Mr Pretty Voice said… something about following the Fellowship until it was time to go her own way? She wished she had a better memory for these things, and that Pretty Voice had not spoken in riddles. 

Sighing mentally – because with her cat’s mouth she apparently could not produce that sound – she began to walk after the group. 

It felt odd at first to use four legs instead of two, and to walk barepaw for that matter, but her body instinctively knew how to proceed. Having a tail was another novelty. She could move it at will but a great deal of the time it seemed to live a life of its own. 

When Kat had caught up with the company she got another unpleasant surprise. They were speaking in subdued voices, but the language was foreign and she could not understand a word of it. How on earth was she supposed to save one of them if she could not talk with him? Provided that they even were the right Fellowship, that was.

Suddenly annoyed with Mr Pretty Voice she felt her tail begin to wave back and forth and a low growl started somewhere deep within her body. How could he do this to her? Was he mocking her? Was this just some sort of cruel joke?

Why are you angry, Little One?

Kat stopped dead, looking around her. She had heard a voice in her head. A bloody voice in her head! This was not good. Not good at all! Suddenly all that had happened to her recently made sense in a most disturbing way. 

She had lost her mind.

There was no mysterious heaven-like place, no heroic quest, no Fellowship and she was no cat. She was a dead teacher, or possibly a comatose one, and she was going crazy.

Are you alright?

The person in the rear of the group squatted in front of her, peering at her curiously. It was the one with the bow, and now she saw it was a young man, not a girl. Was it his voice she had heard? But it had come from her head for Christ’s sake!

He reached out to stroke her back and she calmed down a little. Man, did it feel good to be petted! Without thinking, she buffed his hand with her head. 

There’s a good kitty. Kitty… I think I shall call you that. 

She felt her tail begin to wave again. I hate that nickname! The words had formed in her head like a thought, but from his sudden grin she realized he had heard her. 

Sorry. What would you have me call you then?

My name is Kat. Short for Katharina.

Alright, Kat it is. And I am Legolas. He gave her another pat and rose, increasing his gait to catch up with the others.

No, wait! She scurried after him, anxious to remain close to the only person who could understand her. How are you doing that? I hear your voice in my head. It’s a bit scary actually.

I reach out with my mind. Us elves can communicate with most creatures that way.

Elves? She stared at him. Those were tiny guys with funny hats, were they not? And they also did not exist. This man wore no funny hat; his head was bare despite the winter chill and his long, blonde hair was partly braided back from his temples. His ears actually looked a bit elvish with their pointed tips but he was certainly not tiny. He was tall and looked very fit, but no wonder, just by drawing that large bow he probably worked off the calories of a medium sized pizza.

Oh pizza… suddenly she realized how hungry she was. Would these people feed her? She got a mental image of herself eating Whiskas from a bowl and her stomach sank. Would she have to feed on mice and cat food now?

One of the children said something and the elf replied. This time he spoke with his mouth, words in the same strange language she had heard from the others, but his voice sounded exactly like the one she had heard in her head; mellow and pleasant.

When do we eat?  she asked him.

Tomorrow evening. He chuckled. You are just like the hobbits. 

Hobbits? That sounded familiar. There was a story… and some movies, right? Had she been sent into a fairy-tale?

What are hobbits? she asked, pushing down a deep sense of dread.

They are. He indicated the children, and at a closer look Kat saw they were in fact adults. Did they suffer from some sort of medical condition? The word dwarf came unbidden to her thoughts, but that was outdated. Short persons was a better term. But why had the elf spoken of them as if they were a species? 

Elves, humans, hobbits… Was this some weird Fantasy world she had come to? She hated that genre, being much more of a Murder Mystery person if she read or watched movies at all. Why could she not have been assigned to help Miss Marple? Or Sherlock Holmes? 

But what was she gibbering about, Mr Pretty Voice had spoken of this world like of a real place, and to remain sane she had to act as if it were, smothering all thoughts of the alternatives. She was not dead and not in a coma or a drug-induced dream, this was an adventure and she was going to save someone and become a hero again, so there!

To keep her thoughts off dangerous ground, Kat began to pay attention to her surroundings. They had left the forest now and were walking through a fairly open landscape, covered in dry heather and naked brambles, with the odd lonely pine. Somewhere in the distance was a mountain range, high enough for its peaks to be covered in snow, and from there blew a chilly wind. Thanks to her thick fur Kat hardly noticed the cold, but the others were shivering despite their cloaks and hoods. 

It was late, the overcast sky was almost pitch dark but yet nobody seemed inclined to stop. Was this a secret mission? Perhaps they were burglars.

But wait, how stupid was she to walk this far without asking the elf if they were the Fellowship? 

Hey. Elf!

My name is Legolas. I told you. He looked mildly annoyed. 

Sorry. Back at you for calling me Kitty. Anyway, are you guys the Fellowship?

He raised his eyebrows in surprise first, but then he lowered them suspiciously. Who are you? And where did you hear about the Fellowship? 

Ah, so he knew about it, at least. Then she was not too far off. I was sent to join you by Mister… She broke off. She had been about to say ‘Pretty Voice’, but obviously that was not his name. He had never introduced himself, she realized. 

You were sent by whom? The elf was frowning deeper now; with such blonde hair he had surprisingly dark eyebrows. Then he said something to the others which made them all stop and gather around her. 

Uh-oh. This was not good. 

I don’t know who he is, she said earnestly. He did not give me his name but… um. He was tall and had a nice voice.

The sturdy fellow had released his axe from his back and loomed over her, growling a series of foreign words. Kat felt the fur rise all over her body. 

You scare me! she tried to say, but it came out as a hiss.

The elf said something sharply, making a motion with his hand, and the axe guy reluctantly backed a step.

He asked if you are Saruman’s spy .

I’m not a spy! I’m one of the good guys. I’m a human, actually, and I nearly died and then I was sent here to help, but you’re threatening me and now I’m starting to regret my choice. I just want to go home, you know, to my flat and my phone and pizza and…

Calm down, Little One. Calm down. She felt a hand stroking her back and realized she had squeezed her eyes shut and was huddling close to the ground. I see no evil in your heart.

You can see my heart? Her inner voice sounded whiny.

Nay but I feel your good intentions… It is hard to explain. Do not worry, I shall set the Company at ease. 

The elf talked to them at length and a short, heated discussion broke out between him and a few of the others before they appeared placated enough to continue their interrupted walk. 

Going by the dark looks he sent her, the burly one seemed particularly displeased about Kat’s presence and his hand never left the axe handle.

Axe Guy hates me, she thought conversationally.

The elf laughed. He had a pleasant laugh, but then everything about his voice was pleasant actually. Not like Mr Pretty Voice of course, nobody could beat him, but the elf came a good second.

That is a good name for him. Axe Guy. I shall remember it. 

You don’t like him either?

Not at all. He is a dwarf. He shrugged like that explained everything.

Is he alright with you calling him dwarf? Did Legolas not know that was a belittling term? Pun not intended.

Why would he not be? It is his kind.

Oh, you mean he’s like Snowwhite’s seven dwarves?

Like whose dwarves? He scratched his head.

Never mind.

After a while the cloudy sky got a little brighter in the east. The night was almost over but the journey continued after only a short toilet break. As males in company tend to do, they lined up in a row to pee, not in the least embarrassed by her presence. But why would they be? She was a cat in their eyes. 

Kat prefered to go a little to the side where her new body seemed to know exactly how to proceed. Her paws swiftly dug a small hole over which she crouched, and afterwards she scratched the dirt back, covering it up well. 

I am not a cat , she said to Legolas when they continued walking.

Aye, you said before. You think you are a human. He gave her a compassionate smile.

I am a human. I was shot and given a choice to be reborn and save someone.

So you say. 

You don’t believe me. She wanted to scowl at him, but her whipping tail was actually fairly expressional as well. 

I believe you believe it, Little One. 

You think I am crazy. 

His silence was answer enough, and she growled in frustration. Then she tried to form a picture of herself – her real self – and send it to him, but from his blank expression she knew it had not worked. She could only share words, not images.

If you had said you were a Maia, then maybe I might believe it possible. Or even a very old and wise elf. But for a human to shapeshift? Nay… 

Maya? You mean a Native American?

A what?

They looked at each other in confusion. Then the elf patiently explained that the Maiar were ancient and powerful magical beings, older than the world itself. Some of them were able to shapeshift, including the most infamous of them; Mairon, or Sauron as he was called these days. In olden times, Sauron had been known to change into a werewolf and at one occasion a vampire, but the worst was when he posed as an elf, alluring other elves to trust him. The Fellowship’s quest was to undo the evil result of that trickery, namely the forging of the One Ring – a seemingly plain gold ring but with a dark power strong enough to utterly ruin the world if Sauron got it back. Presently one of the hobbits carried it – the taller of the four – and his ultimate mission was to throw it back into the fires of Mount Doom where it was created.

Kat pondered over what her own role was in all this. Mr Pretty Voice had said she must save the one who climbs into the king’s vessel at night – something like that at least, but more archaically put. Would that be before or after the Ring was destroyed? She was also supposed to walk her own path at one point, but how would she know when it was time to leave? And how would she manage it alone, a small, helpless cat as she was?

Her stomach felt heavy. Talking about heroic deeds and quests and missions with Mr Pretty Voice in that beautiful place with the scent of fresh baked bread in your nostrils was one thing, but walking through a bleak landscape with strange people knowing it was real and she might actually get hurt and die was quite another. 

She was no hero, only a fairly dull and average middle school teacher who liked Murder Mysteries and languages. Saving the children of her class had been an instinctive action, she had been too shocked to really understand what she was doing. 

Demurely she kept going, full of second thoughts and not a little homesick.

Chapter Text

“If cats looked like frogs we'd realize what nasty, cruel little bastards they are.

Style. That's what people remember.”

― Terry Pratchett, Lords and Ladies

 


3. Language Studies

It was hard to measure time with the overcast sky effectively hiding both the moon and the sun, but when it eventually became slightly lighter Kat supposed it was day, and now they were finally taking a longer break to catch some sleep.

While the others made their blankets ready, Kat explored the area to see if she could find some water. She sniffed her way to a dark puddle in the center of a patch of swampy ground, it smelled fresh but tasted rather muddy. But it was better than nothing. 

Her heightened senses were one of the benefits of this body, she figured. Besides an amazing hearing ability and night vision, she now had an excellent sense of smell. Her cat’s nose did not divide the scents into pleasant or nasty like a human’s would, instead it treated them analytically like a scientist, labelling them and storing them in a huge mental library.

If any of the Fellowship would get lost for some reason, she knew she would easily be able to track him – and just by thinking of them she could even after this short time recall every person’s individual scent. 

A rustle in the heather made her snap to attention. By its own volition her body tensed, making ready to pounce, and before she knew it she had jumped on an unexpecting field mouse and caught it under her paw.

Good grace, what was she doing? She quickly retracted, seeing the poor thing desperately trying to escape, but then her paw lashed out and hit it again. 

No! She was not going to toy with mice! And she would not eat it, cat or no. There must be another way. Disgusted with herself, Kat returned to the others. 

The hobbits were just crawling in underneath some dry scrubs and the taller people had covered themselves as best they could with their cloaks and hoods. The elf stayed awake to watch over them in case of danger and Kat joined him, rolling into a ball in his lap. Another of those things her cat’s body would just do , like it were the most natural thing in the world to cuddle up with a stranger.

When he began to stroke her back she heard herself purr and got an irresistible urge to tramp his thigh with her paws. She could not help herself, and soon she was happily kneading the hard muscle, leaving tiny holes in the wool of his hose. 

If you are going to do that, at least pull in your claws, he complained. A bit abashed she obeyed, but it felt too good to stop.

Scratch under my ear too, will you?

Soon sleep caught her, exhausted as she was by all the strange experiences this day had brought.

/\_,,_/\
( – ᆽ – )

Kat woke up to a growling stomach, almost regretting not eating that mouse before. The others were munching on cold, dried meat that did not look very appealing, but one of the hobbits – he with the pony – cut up a slice in small pieces for her, and since she was so hungry she ate. It was hard work chewing but with such a small body she did not need much to feel satisfied.

The elf came to sit next to her. “Suilad,” he said, and translated mentally: Greetings. 

Kat tried to repeat it, but her jaws were just not shaped for speaking. “Ssooy-waaa,” she meowed.

Good try. He chuckled. You are such an amusing cat. I am glad you decided to follow us.

You sound like I’m your personal Funny Cat video or something. Her tail whipped his leg angrily. I’m actually on a very serious mission! And I’m not a cat.

Oh but you are. He scratched her chin and her treacherous body reacted by rubbing itself against him before she got a grip on herself. She lashed at his fingers with her claws instead. Not hard enough to draw blood, more like a warning.

This is ridiculous. How many cats as clever as me have you talked with? You must realize I’m much more intelligent than an animal.

Animals are not as dumb as many believe. And besides, I have never known a cat before.

You’re kidding me, right? How can you not have met a cat?

I have seen cats of course, but your kind are usually lone hunters who keep to themselves.

But what about house cats, don’t you have them? For vermin control and all that.

Maybe the humans do, I know they keep all sorts of animals around their farms, but us elves treat animals as our friends, not as servants. He smiled sweetly at her. A darn attractive smile he had, too. 

Just a good friend you are, refusing to believe who I say I am. She demonstratively turned her backside in his direction and strutted off to the hobbit who had fed her before. He seemed the most friendly of the lot, and when she rubbed against his short legs his face lit up with genuine delight.

He stroked her back, while continually speaking in the kind of cooing voice people tend to adopt when talking to animals or small children. One word was repeated often, and Kat wondered if it meant cat, or maybe kitty? She could have asked the elf if she was on speaking terms with him (or thinking terms, rather), but as for now, she tried to memorize it. She was good at languages, surely she could easily pick up a few phrases and words? It would be so much nicer to at least be able to understand the others, even if she could not speak directly to them in this form.

While she was being cuddled with, Kat took a good look at the hobbit and his likes. They were more elegantly and colorfully dressed than the others, in waistcoats with gleaming buttons and pants instead of the more medieval looking tunic-and-hose outfit the others favored. Their height varied from the shortest of them who was only a little taller than an average toddler, to the one with the Ring who was around the same height as the first-graders of Kat’s school. They had no beards, or any hint of facial hair at all – this they had in common with the elf, it struck her – but the angular shape of their chins, the size of their noses and their thick eyebrows made it clear they were adult men. They seemed to compensate for their lack of beards by having thick mops of curly hair on their heads and feet, the latter noticeable since they walked barefoot despite the cold. Another trait they shared with the elf was their pointed ears, although the hobbits’ were less prominent.

When everybody had eaten their fill and their blankets were secured on the pack pony, they resumed their walk, and like yesterday it was very dark when they set off. Kat was glad for her cat’s night vision.

Why are we travelling at night? I mean, what are you afraid of? She had soon tired of giving the elf the silent treatment, it only served to make herself feel more lonely and cut-off.

The enemy has many spies and servants who would try to hinder us – or kill us – in order to lay his hands on the One Ring. He knows we have it, and he also knows where we set out from because his Dark Riders chased Frodo and his followers there. He pointed at the tallest hobbit, he who carried the Ring. 

The talk of enemies, killings and Dark Riders made Kat very nervous and for a long time afterwards she walked in silence, looking over her shoulder repeatedly – an easy thing to do with her newfound feline agility. Thankfully she saw nothing, and all in all the second day of the journey was turning out to be equally as dull as the first. 

To pass the time, Kat asked the elf to teach her some words, which led to a long and very interesting lesson about the languages of this world and their origins. Legolas’ native speech was called Sindarin, but he was also fluent in the related ‘woodland tongue’, Silvan. He spoke Quenya fairly well too, that was another elvish language, and had a basic understanding of Khuzdul, the language of the dwarves – but she was not to tell Axe Guy that. As if she could, in her cat body. 

In addition Legolas was fluent in Westron, the language spoken by most humans and hobbits and therefore the one they used among themselves in the Fellowship – but he modestly claimed to have a little too strong elvish accent. It was this language he would teach her.

The first word she wanted to learn was ‘cat’, closely followed by ‘stupid’, ‘talk’ and ‘elf’. 

Cat can’t talk , you stupid elf , she thought smugly, using the new words in a sentence. 

It is called cats in plural , he retorted, smirking.

Kat had always prided herself in her language skills; besides Swedish she was nearly fluent in English, fairly proficient in French, she could speak tourist Spanish and understand a little Italian. And of course communicate with her neighbours the Norwegians and the Danish, albeit just barely with the latter. They spoke too fast and too slurred, like they had their mouths full of hot pebbles. Westron, however, turned out to be much harder to learn than any of those because it was so unlike them. She imagined it was a bit like learning Chinese or Russian – completely different from Swedish in every way. 

Still, it was good fun, and made the tiresome journey easier to bear.

Since Legolas spoke out loud the words he taught her – or murmured, rather, to avoid drawing attention to them in case of enemies lurking nearby – it did not take long until the hobbits wondered what he was doing. Kat had no idea what they said, but guessed they probably were curious about why the elf was teaching Westron to a cat?

She would very much have liked to know what the elf replied, but to her annoyance he would not say. Whatever it was, made the hobbits eager to help out, and before long they took turns pointing at various items and pronouncing the words. 

When it was time to take a break, Kat had learned all of their names and the words hobbit, human, dwarf, pony, backpack, foot, heather, gorse, stone, mountain, hungry, tired, homesick and cold. The meaning of the more abstract words Legolas had conveyed to her mentally.

Like yesterday they would sleep through the day, this time with the very tall swordsman taking the first watch as the rest of them huddled close together on the ground. Here was not even a bush to hide under, but the heather covered them scantily.

The hobbit with the pony – Sam, Kat now knew his name was – claimed it was his turn to have her and she graciously accepted his invitation. The elf looked a little disappointed when he stretched out on his back on Sam’s other side, his body reaching almost twice as far as the hobbit’s. Perhaps he too wanted a furball warming his stomach.

Dibs for having you tomorrow, he thought.

We’ll see. Maybe if you’re nice.

Not long afterwards she dozed off, purring and kneading Sam’s chest, being as content as a woman in a cat’s body can be in a strange world, with strange companions and with an unknown task before her.

Chapter Text

The idea that Winter could actually be enjoyable would never have occurred to Ramtop people, who had eighteen different words for snow.*

(*All of them, unfortunately, unprintable.)

―  Terry Pratchett, Wyrd Sisters

 


4. Winter Is Coming

It was a mirthless quest so far, and the days soon blended together, always following the same pattern; wake up in the evening, eat cold food and then walk, walk, walk all night and all morning. The bone-chilling wind was constant, and though it did not bother Kat directly she felt sorry for her companions who never seemed to thaw entirely. Even the elf complained of cold feet, but in his case she thought he ought to have known better than wearing shoes rather than stout boots like the humans did.

The only bright spots of the journey were the language lessons and the cuddling. The hobbits continued to take an interest in Kat’s learning, and she finally managed to wrangle the reason behind that from Legolas; he had told them she was mentally disordered! Now everybody thought she was a poor, crazy cat who believed she was a human. It naturally annoyed her to no end, but no matter what she tried, the stubborn elf would not see reason. And as for the hobbits, she could not speak with them directly so there was no way to convince them otherwise either. 

Unfortunately it was hard to stay angry with the elf. He really was very sweet most of the time and she enjoyed talking with him. In addition he was a great cuddler, nobody could manage to find just the right spot to scratch like him and he never pushed her away, even when she accidentally nibbled on the feathers of his arrows.

As time passed, the whole Fellowship began to accept Kat as a permanent addition to their numbers, although they obviously put her in the same category as Bill the pony – cute, amusing and possibly a tiny bit useful. In the pony’s case his use lay in carrying things, for Kat it was the warmth her body provided under their blankets. 

Not all of them were cat persons, that was obvious – and after a while Kat knew exactly who to avoid. Axe Guy was number one on her list, he clearly was a dog person if there ever was one, and in addition he looked so dangerous and cross all the time. 

Number two was Gandalf the wizard, who maybe liked cats in general but since Kat could never resist toying with his impressive beard she had been banned from his lap. 

Third on her list was Aragorn, the tallest of the lot. He was the kind of man she would never have approached as a woman and therefore saw no reason to do so as a cat either. He reminded her of that popular boy in school who was both good at sports, liked by teachers, smart enough to make good grades, kind to his many friends and handsome. The type all the popular girls had crushes on and who would later get a well-paid and important job, marry a beautiful (and nice) woman, have two well-behaved and pretty children and a large, friendly dog that he would play-wrestle with and call a ‘good boy’. Aragorn treated Kat with indifference in her cat form, hardly noticing her most of the time, and she knew that would have been the case even if she were her true self.

Instead Kat turned to the six who enjoyed her company all the more; the elf, the hobbits – Sam, in particular – and the younger man, Boromir. 

Boromir was a person she thought she might have become friends with, had she been herself. He was not altogether unlike Aragorn in looks, they shared that wavy, dark hair and eyes of an indeterminable gray color, but where the former’s face was almost too perfect, Boromir’s had flaws – a little too big nose, slightly crowded teeth in his upper jaw – that in Kat’s eyes was all the more endearing.

He did not speak much, which could make him seem proud, but Kat had a feeling that was not the reason. He just was not very talkative, if from shyness or some other reason she did not know. 

It was Boromir’s watch tonight and she went to rub herself against the soft fur trim of his cloak. 

He scratched her neck. “Hello my girl,” he said, smiling, but it was not a happy smile. Something was troubling him, and had done so for a long time. In her cat form, Kat was sensitive to others’ moods, and this man emitted a sort of resigned hopelessness. She wished she could have asked what ailed him, but as usual she had to resort to the elf.

Legolas was preparing his bedroll nearby and she trotted off to him, pouncing at the irresistibly moving blanket and accidentally ruffling it. He sighed and smoothed it out, evading her paw’s attack on his fingers as he did so.

What kind of person is Boromir? She began to lick her paw as if that had been her plan all along. He looks rich in those clothes, nobody else has fur on their cloak. 

He is the son of the Gondor ruler.  

At Kat’s blank look, Legolas helpfully described the surrounding geography. She listened with interest, only wishing she had a map. 

Boromir's homeland was located south of Rohan and west of Mordor. Rohan was a country southeast of the mountain ridge they were following; a vast plains where the horse lords lived, and Mordor was the realm of Sauron – the ultimate destination for the Fellowship in their mission to toss the Ring into Mount Doom.

Why does Boromir always look so worried? she asked. 

He is one of the captains of the Gondor army. They have long held the enemy at bay, but Sauron's strength has grown and now he is pushing them back. Defending Gondor has become futile; mere humans against a multitude of orcs and trolls – and more, Boromir told us of some nameless, dark horror that scared the horses and intimidated the men. They have lost much ground and many men, and now there is only one outpost left between Sauron and Minas Tirith, their capital city.

So that explained the man’s dejected air. Kat did not know what orcs were and was pretty sure she would not enjoy meeting trolls or nameless horrors. She shuddered and tried to steer the topic away from monsters. 

Isn’t he a bit young to be a captain? It was always hard to assess the age of a bearded man, but Boromir looked to be around her own age, a little over thirty.

Legolas turned to the man and asked him something. Kat recognized the words ‘how’ and ‘you’, and when the man answered she understood the number too. 

He is–

Forty, yes I heard. Unbelievable! He sure has aged gracefully.

The elf snorted.

What?

Guess how old I am. He lay down on his bed, resting himself on one elbow.

Kat regarded his outstretched form calculatingly. Since he said it like that, he probably was older than he looked as well, but how much? He had no wrinkles, no white hairs in his golden braids and with such a smooth, stubble-less chin he did not look a day over twenty-two. She enjoyed watching him, actually, he had a lovely smile. Well, not only the smile, at that.

Thirty-five? she guessed. That must surely be way older than he was.

More. 

More? She met his eyes and her breath hitched. They were bottomless and ancient like a clear summer sky. She read age in them, unfathomable age, and it chilled her small body to the bone. 

She turned away, suddenly frightened. 

I can’t guess.

Warm hands picked her up and stroked her soothingly. I did not mean to scare you. Like her, Legolas was sensitive to others’ emotions.

She crawled onto his shoulder and buried her nose in the crook of his neck. How old are you really? Her inner voice sounded small.

I turned 245 decades a few years ago.

Kat did the math in her head, which took embarrassingly long. That’s over two thousand years! Impossible. You would be older than Jesus. 

Who is Jesus? 

It’s a long story, I’ll tell you some other time. But how is it possible to grow old as a Roman statue… I mean, aren’t you bored silly by now? And your mind would be crammed with memories. Or do you forget everything after a while?

For elves, time passes differently, we do not experience it as I believe mortals do. Only the most recent decades of my life have been truly eventful. A while back there was an incident in my father’s realm involving dwarves, but earlier… To me, the millennia preceding that event feels no longer than the six decades since.

Two thousand years feels like sixty? That makes no sense.

Before coming on this quest, I spent all my life in Greenwood. The seasons passed without much happening. I would often sit under a tree and reach out to it with my soul – like I do to you now – and just listen to its thoughts, and before I knew it, summer had turned into winter and then it was summer again. Like a blink of the eye.

Did you not need to pee in all that time?

He laughed and ruffled her fur. When I had this conversation with Sam, he wanted to know what I ate. Sometimes I wonder how your mind works.  

It’s dirty, is all. I can give you more examples if you like? Such as, how–

No need, he thought hurriedly.

Kat absentmindedly began to knead Legolas’ neck with her paws, feeling a little calmer. This world really was strange. Were all elves that old? How could he be so like a human and not eat or pee for a year? Or had he exaggerated? She wanted to ask many more questions but his eyes were closed now and she did not want to disturb him if he was tired.

Your claws. Please.

Oops. Sorry… 

/\_,,_/\
( – ᆽ – )

During the next night the sky finally cleared and they saw stars for the first time in a fortnight. Kat marvelled at the sight, being a city girl she had never seen so many before – for here, without light pollution, there were myriads. 

Just before sunrise, Legolas pointed at one star above the horizon that Kat would have thought was Venus if she were still on Earth.

That is Ëarendil’s boat with the last Silmaril. Have you heard the story of the Silmarils?

Kat had not, of course, and soon Legolas entertained her with an amazing tale. Like good stories often are, it was full of gods, kings and beautiful princesses, wars and monsters.*

But why didn’t Princess Lúthien and Beren just run away and marry in secret? That quest the king sent him on was clearly a suicide mission.

Because she was a dutiful daughter and he was a hero.

Hero? Pah. Stupid, I’d say. 

An intermarriage between a human and an elf is a bit complicated. I think King Thingol had hoped Beren would fail so he could avoid it.

Can humans and elves have kids? I mean, are they physically compatible? How–

Tell me you are not asking that. Legolas’ face had turned pink.

For someone so old, you’re amazingly prude, you know. Have you never–

But he had fled to the front of the company where he immediately engaged in conversation with Aragorn. 

Kat regarded his back thoughtfully, trying to imagine what he looked like naked. Her curiosity was purely academic, of course.

/\_,,_/\
( O _ o )

When morning came, a lovely, golden-red sun rose over the mountains in the east and the bleak mood the fellowship had felt the past weeks eased a little. They had come to a hill full of small trees, or bushes rather, on which grew bright red berries. Despite the late season they still had all their leaves left. 

Legolas stroked the trunk of one of them and it seemed very much like he spoke to it.

Tell it I said hi, suggested Kat.

A little way off, Gandalf and Frodo were talking about something that sounded interesting. Kat asked the elf to translate since they spoke too quickly for her to pick out more than a few words.

Gandalf said elves lived here a long time ago. The place is called Hollin now, but back then it was known as Eregion. He sighed. Those elves are long gone now.

You look sad.

It is a sad story. Gandal did not tell Frodo all of it. He sat down, leaning his back against the tree and Kat rolled herself up in his lap and purred. That sound often tended to make her companions feel better. 

Legolas stroked her back and her purr grew louder. I mentioned before that the Dark Lord could shapeshift and that he once tricked elves that way. It was them – the Eregion elves. He lured them to forge the Rings of Power, three to the elf lords, seven to the dwarves and nine to the men, but Sauron secretly forged the One Ring to control them all. His hand stopped mid-stroke. Sometimes I feel this was all our fault – the elves’ fault. We are a proud and ambitious race and because of it Sauron gained the power he now has.

You don’t seem proud to me, she assured him. Quite the opposite. You are nice to everyone and even polite to Axe Guy.

I do my best. He smiled and resumed his stroking.

What happens if we destroy the Ring?

Hopefully the Dark Lord will be destroyed too.

I was sent here to help with that, I think. Somehow. And I know you don’t believe me but that’s the truth anyway. When he did not reply she looked up and found his eyes resting on her. He seemed unusually thoughtful and she felt a tendril of hope. Was he reconsidering?

I do not know what to believe anymore, he admitted. She rewarded him with a friendly head buff. He would come around. She was patient, she could wait.

Since the weather was so fine, Aragorn and Gandalf, who seemed to be informal leaders of the group, decided they could risk a fire, cook warm food and take a longer rest than usual. Soon the lovely smell of stew teased their nostrils as Sam cooked the finest meal since they left Rivendell – the elvish abode where the Fellowship had been formed.

Kat was served some as well, but could not enjoy it quite as much as she had expected. She had an eerie feeling, a foreboding of sorts – as if someone was watching her. Like when Legolas had told her of the Dark Riders she repeatedly glanced over her shoulder.

Legolas felt it too, she noticed, and – to her surprise – Aragorn. The man and the elf ate quickly and then paced the area, scouring it for hidden dangers. 

Aragorn said something to Gandalf in a tense, subdued voice.

What’s he saying? Kat asked Legolas. She was getting tired of always having to rely on him, but learning Westron was slow work.

He worries. There is a sense of watchfulness around here, and of fear… Have you noticed the birds are all silent?

Now that you mention it, yes. And I too feel watched.

I do not like this. The elf frowned nervously, but when he perceived Kat’s reaction to his words he picked her up, holding her close. Do not worry, Little One. Four of us are trained warriors and Gandalf is good with his sword as well. Even the hobbits have daggers and have learned how to use them. Whatever this is we can handle it. 

If you say so. But she was not convinced.

When the others made themself ready to sleep, Aragorn decided to stay awake together with Sam who had the first watch. 

Kat chose Boromir for her bed partner.

Why did you go to him? asked Legolas.

Have you seen the size of his arms? I figured if there is an attack while we sleep, I ought to be close to the strongest guy.

I have strong arms too. He looked so affronted Kat would have laughed, but in her present body she was unable to.

Don’t be jealous. It doesn’t become you.

I am not jealous. He turned his back on her.

Kat had a hard time falling asleep despite the hard planes of Boromir’s chest against her back and his soft snores in her ears, and when she finally drifted off it felt like hardly no time had passed until they were roused again by Gandalf in the late afternoon. 

He spoke at length, and Kat picked out two words often repeated, both of which sounded ominous; ’Saruman' and 'crebain'.

What did Gandalf say? she asked Legolas.

Ask your strong fighter, he suggested.

Oh come on, you know I can’t speak with him.  

When Legolas still would not reply, she tried flattery, which she knew from experience usually worked with males. I really enjoy talking to you, you tell me such interesting things. And if I ever need the most attractive guy of the Fellowship I’ll certainly turn to you first.

You are a cat, you should not be attracted to elves. He was smiling, and she knew she had succeeded.

I’m not a cat.

Either way, I do not mind your admiration.  

Darn arrogant elf, too pretty for his own good and clearly aware of it too. She should have kept her thoughts to herself.

No longer sulking, Legolas explained what had happened. There was not any immediate danger, but they had to leave this place come nightfall. The crebain Gandalf had spoken of were some sort of sentient birds that had passed over them when they slept, spying for Saruman, a corrupted wizard in liege with Sauron. Aragorn and Sam had kept themselves hidden and the fire had thankfully burned down, so they were fairly sure they had not been seen, but from now on the company had to be even more careful and certainly not light any more fires.

Pippin, the youngest hobbit, grumbled loudly at that, for their initial plan had been to stay here a while longer and have another hot meal. Instead they had to find hiding places for the rest of the day and then walk on.

Legolas went to sit under a dense holly bush. If you want to hide together with the most attractive Fellowship member, there is plenty of room here. 

Wipe that smug face off. I only said it so you would talk to me again.

Sure you did. 

Waving her tail angrily, Kat went over to another bush where Boromir, Merry and Pippin cowered with their hoods pulled up. 

The crebain might come back, I need some muscle around, she thought to Legolas as she rolled herself up in Boromir’s lap. She was pleased to see the elf’s eyebrows draw together. Served him right. 

Shortly afterwards, Kat forgot all about pretty elves, for the sky was suddenly covered in black birds. They looked a bit like crows, but they flew in a purposeful way, like they were scanning every inch of the ground. 

When they came over Hollin, she was not the only one to hold her breath. In some strange way they emitted an almost palpable evil. Kat felt all hairs on her body rise until she had grown into nearly twice her normal size, and she could not hold back a faint hiss. 

They disappeared at last, but it took a long while and much petting from Boromir and the hobbits until Kat had calmed down. 

The birds returned twice more. Kat found it easier to endure them each time, and after sunset they finally retreated southward. The company could set out again, and for two more nights they continued like before, sleeping through the days, walking through the nights.

During their meal on the third afternoon, Gandalf spoke to them, something about a mountain called Caradhras. Boromir looked dismayed and talked of the chill up there and firewood, and then everyone began to gather branches from the ground. Kat did not need a translation to understand; they would climb the mountains soon and up there it would be freezing, with no wood to find in case they needed a fire. 

After that, the path became steeper and much harder to walk, narrow and covered in gravel, snaking itself uphill in sharp twists. The air grew colder and it did not take long until Kat felt the first flake of snow melt on her nose. 

They had reached the base of Caradhras. Winter was coming.

Chapter Text

“It was a different world up there, and one even a witch would rarely venture into; it was a landscape left over from the frosty birth of the world, all green ice and knife-edge ridges and deep, secret valleys.

It was a landscape never intended for human beings – not hostile, any more than a brick or cloud is hostile, but terribly, terribly uncaring.”

― Terry Pratchett, Wyrd Sisters

 


5. Dashing Through the Snow

Kat had nothing against snow as such – quite the opposite actually, she enjoyed building lanterns with it and making snow angels and of course throwing snowballs on unsuspecting friends. The past winters in Sweden had been lousy – more like prolonged autumn, really – and therefore when she felt the first snowflakes she was quite excited.

The excitement lasted exactly twenty-one minutes. That was how long it took for her to realize this snow was different. It was not fluffy and friendly, it could not be formed into neither snowballs nor a cute snowman with a carrot nose. The Caradhras snow was harsh, grumpy and cruel, whipping the company’s faces and stinging their eyes. It fell on the ground in powdery heaps their feet sank down into and was cumbersome and tiring to wade through.

After another twelve minutes Kat had had enough of it and swiftly climbed on top of the elf.

I am not a pony. Ride Bill instead.  

You smell nicer. She made herself comfortable, draping her body over his shoulders like a living scarf.

At least you are warm , Legolas grudgingly admitted.

In the front, they were discussing the weather in worried voices. 

Legolas recounted: Aragorn says it is not usual with so much snow this far south, and Boromir suggests it is the Enemy’s doing. Axe Guy says Sauron’s arm must have grown long to trouble us this far away, and Gandalf agrees. 

Kat shuddered. An enemy with long arms… that made her think of Slenderman, but hopefully they had not meant it literally.

They trudged on, but it was evident the shorter hobbits had it difficult. The blinding blizzard chilled them and they had to walk nearly bent double. Even the humans and the dwarf were beginning to tire.

After a while Kat heard a strange sound in the air. It reminded her of when one was searching for channels on an old radio; a murmur of almost-voices and laughter just barely perceivable through the white noise. It would have scared her pants off, had she worn any, and under her body she felt the elf’s shoulders tense.

Do you hear it too? she asked.

I do.

She could smell his fear, which increased her own fright fourfold. 

Then stones began to fall around them, rumbling down the mountainside and crashing onto the narrow path. They pressed themself flat against the towering cliffside, trying to hide under the slight overhang.

Boromir cried something over the wind. Kat understood the essence of what he said, something about not going further and voices on the air, and his final words: “These stones are aimed at us.” 

Aimed by who? Slender-Sauron?

A discussion followed about what to do next, because further up the mountain they would be even more exposed to the snow and any additional falling stones. They had not many choices; going forward, staying here or going back. Since the overhang above seemed to be the most sheltered spot on this side of the mountain, Aragorn decided they should stay and wait out the storm.

They huddled close together, pressing their backs against the cold cliff with Bill the pony taking the brunt of the torrents for them. The hobbits seemed the most affected by the weather and Kat climbed down from Legolas to join them, offering what little warmth she could. 

Around them the snow kept falling fast, and soon Kat and the hobbits were almost buried. The walls of snow around them isolated fairly well from the wind and they were getting sleepy. 

This was almost cozy. Kat felt herself purr and knead Pippin’s chest while her eyes grew heavy and her breaths slowed.

The hissing of the wind changed and became rhythmic. Wheeze-pschh-wheeze-pschh. It sounded like forced breathing. Was that a tube down her throat? A mechanical ventilator? She was in her old body but it felt heavy and dead. What was happening? Why could she not move? She was panicking now and a beeping noise matched her frantic heartbeat.

Then she felt a hand grasp the scruff of her neck and she was pulled up from the snow that had buried her entirely.

Careful, Little One. Never fall asleep when it is this cold.

As Kat panted heavily to regain oxygen she noticed Boromir pull up the hobbits from the same hole. Their faces were almost blue.

“This will be the death of the hobbits, Gandalf.” Boromir spoke clearly and slowly to be heard over the wind and even Kat understood. Gandalf answered something and picked up a small bottle from his gear, instructing Boromir to share it with them. 

That is Miruvor , explained the elf. A strengthening cordial. Only a small amount is enough to invigorate you.

Is it safe for cats? Kat badly needed to be invigorated after her frightening dream. For it had been a dream. She was not dreaming this.  

Legolas received the bottle from Boromir and spilled a drop on his finger. Kat licked it up and instantly relaxed as a comforting warmth spread through her. 

She found she could think more rationally about her dream now. It could have been real, it had certainly felt so – and that meant somewhere her old body was still alive, perhaps comatose. But she was also certain this was real; no way she could have dreamt all this up – she had not that kind of imagination for sure. 

Mr Pretty Voice had said that if she succeeded with her quest she could get her old life back. Maybe the dream now was to reassure her that option was still valid? 

But even if she could… Did she really want that life anymore? Sure, she would be able to return to her colleagues, her class, her friends and her mother – but for Mamma it did not really matter whether Kat returned or not, suffering from late-stage Alzheimer’s she could not recognize her anymore. And Pappa had been dead for several years. That was the drawback of being adopted; old parents. One of the drawbacks, rather, for having another skin color than most kids was not a walk in the park either.

Thinking back, Kat figured she had not been unhappy but not exactly happy either. Life in her woman’s body had been predictable. Working on the weekdays, playing mobile games and scrolling through social media in the evenings and perhaps going out with a friend to take a few beers in a too-loud pub on the weekend, waking up with a hangover the next morning.

It was almost like the elf’s description of time, actually… The days had passed in a blur and suddenly it was summer again.

In contrast, the past weeks had been different – strange and frightening, yes, but also fun. Had Mr Pretty Voice not said she could choose this world as a reward too? But she did not want to be a cat for the rest of her life – the dull and predictable was endlessly better then. 

That was... if she could return to that. What if she was trapped in this body forever – either here or on Earth? The thought was so horrible Kat pushed it down instantly. Surely Mr Pretty Voice could not be that cruel. 

Suddenly she realized how much she missed being a human. To be able to speak, use her fingers, to take a shower instead of licking herself clean and get hairballs in her mouth – little things like that.

It was enough to make a woman cry – but not even that outlet was open to her anymore. 

/\_,,_/\
( – _ – )

The hours passed slowly and the chill was beginning to affect them all badly. Even Kat felt it now despite her thick coat and she snuggled closer to Boromir’s neck, in whose fur clad hood she currently lay.

“What do you say to fire?” Boromir asked Gandalf. He continued with something about death, using words Kat did not understand, while indicating the shivering hobbits. 

Were they dying? They certainly looked in danger of losing a limb, and in this medieval-type world the doctors could probably not cure frostbite. 

“You may make a fire if you can,” said Gandalf, and added that if anyone was watching them in this storm they could probably see them here anyway, fire or no. With all that snow their dark clothes stood out.

Boromir gathered the wood they had brought with them and tried to light it, but every flame he managed to strike with his flint was instantly extinguished by the wind. 

“Let me do it”, said Aragorn impatiently and took the steel and flint from the other. 

Kat smiled smugly when he too failed. 

“Allow me. At my age, I have more experience with lighting fires,” said Legolas. Kat understood the word ‘experience’ from the context. 

But Legolas did not fare any better, and now the dwarf could not stay silent. “You’re doing it wrong,” he rumbled. “Elves are [unfamiliar word] who can’t be trusted with fire. Us dwarves do this all the time in our [another unfamiliar word].”

The elf scowled at him and replied something that sounded rude. But he did hand over the items. 

Axe Guy naturally failed just like the others had, and soon the equipment went back and forth when every guy wanted to try just that angle or this stick. 

Around them the snow fell rapidly and Kat sighed inwardly. This would take forever. How typical of them to turn this into a masculinity competition!

At last Gandalf came to their rescue. He picked up a log and murmured something in another language. When he held his staff against it, it instantly burst into flame. Soon he had a merry fire going. 

Thank God for wizards! Kat thought, impressed by the display.

It was necessary, I suppose, but unfortunately he has now announced his exact location to every other magic user in the vicinity. We cannot linger here for long.

In this horrible weather, hopefully they stay indoors. At least I would.

The Fellowship gratefully huddled around the fire, its warm light dancing on their faces and the night sky becoming a dark wall behind them. Kat climbed up on Legolas' shoulder again to make the most of the warmth.

So, I had this strange dream before , she thought conversationally. I was back in my old self but could not move my limbs. Maybe I got so badly hurt I am paralyzed? It actually felt good to return to my cat body after that.

Legolas only smiled in that annoying way he had, like one might do to a small child or mentally ill person.

I ought to have appreciated my human body more when I still had it. But back then I'd always worry that my eyes were too big or if I was getting chubby. Stupid, really... Now I'd much rather be a fat goggle-eyed woman than a cat. 

I am sure you would. 

I was rather proud of my breasts, actually. They were big and I only had two instead of... like six? Or how many I got now. Are you a breast person or a butt person?

Can we talk about something else?

Maybe you’re into guys? Sorry for assuming your orientation.

I am not attracted to males.

I love it when you blush. I think it’s cute and I wish I could do it too, but even in my old body I had too dark skin for it to show. Now, answer the question. Breasts or butts?

Legolas could not flee this time and reluctantly replied: I would not know, I have never considered it. It is not polite to look at ladies that way.

Liar. She playfully boxed his bright red ear with her paw.

I guess I like both, he finally admitted. Now please drop this topic.

Kat took pity on him and they spent the rest of the night practicing Westron.

/\_,,_/\
( O _ O )

It snowed all night long, the flakes melting around the fire into sludgy puddles. When they were down to the last log, there was finally a hint of dawn and the wind had grown slightly weaker. 

Boromir left the burnt down embers to study the sky, saying it was snowing less as well, which was a relief because by now the surrounding snow wall reached above the men’s shoulders, even the absurdly tall Aragorn’s.

Dawn came at last and the company dismally surveyed their surroundings. The world had disappeared under a blanket of snow, so dazzlingly white it hurt their eyes. Where there had been craggy stones and crooked pines were only soft mounds now and the path was completely hidden. It looked like a Christmas Card but without the cheerful robins.

The dwarf talked about the mountain as if it were a living creature, claiming it did not want them there and they should retreat. The others agreed, Caradhras really had seemed like a sentient being throwing all that snow upon them, but how could they return through it? It went way over the hobbits' heads.

“Gandalf can melt a path for us,” Legolas suggested.

“Or the elf could fly up to fetch the sun. The wood is gone, I cannot burn snow.”

Boromir said the strongest of them should dig a way and Aragorn agreed, obviously adding himself to that number. Soon the two of them were busy, with Boromir who was heavier built going first and Aragorn close behind him. They worked with zeal, digging up armloads of snow and tossing it on the sides.

It’s great we have such strong men in the Fellowship. Kat winked at Legolas.

The elf, who had been watching them as well, smirked. I bet they cannot do this , though! He jumped on top of the snow, balancing easily on the frozen crust that had formed during the night. “I shall go fetch the sun,” he called to Gandalf, and then he was off; running lightly ahead, passing the digging men and waving to them before disappearing around the corner of a cliff.

Show-off. But he was already out of thinking range.

Meanwhile, Boromir and Aragorn struggled onward until they too had turned the corner. 

There was a light snowfall again and Kat tried to catch the flakes on her tongue. Beside her, the hobbits, the dwarf and the wizard huddled morosely, shivering and huffing, stamping their feet and blowing into their hands to keep them warm.

After about an hour or so Legolas returned, and close behind him came Aragorn and Boromir pushing back through their newly made trench.

“The sun was busy warming the south,” said Legolas cheerfully. He then described how he had scouted ahead and seen that the snow was at its deepest right here; further downhill it was barely enough to cover the ground. The men had dug a channel through the worst of it now.

“I told you it was the mountain’s doing,” said the dwarf, and some more words spoken too fast and booming for Kat’s limited proficiency.

Legolas kindly translated the ensuing discussion. Gimli said that Caradhras does not like dwarves and elves and has punished us with the snow. Boromir replied that the mountain did not take into account the strength of humans, and that they have now dug a path for you non-elves who cannot run upon the snow. 

Put me up there with you, Kat ordered. 

Legolas obeyed and she proudly strutted away beside the trench, her tail straight as an exclamation mark. See? Elves are not the only ones who can walk on snow.

Soon they were all on their way back. The channel was still too difficult to walk for the hobbits’ short legs, but despite having toiled all morning, Boromir and Aragorn amazingly enough had strength left to carry them through. Close behind came the wizard and the dwarf, while Legolas ran over the snow on the side and Kat easily followed him.

When they had passed through the deepest part – which was as deep as twice the height of Boromir in the middle! – there was another rumble as more snow and stones cascaded down from the mountaintop, like a last warning for them never to try that route again. 

Axe Guy yelled angrily at Caradhras to stop. They were leaving, could it not see that? 

Maybe it heard him, for shortly afterwards the snowfall subsided entirely and the sky brightened. Like Legolas had said, there was barely any snow on the ground down here and soon they were back at the spot where they had seen the first snowflakes yesterday. 

Was it only one day ago? It felt like they had been on the horrible mountain for weeks.

“The birds again!” Aragorn pointed at a cluster of black dots flying around further downhill. Since the company was still at a high altitude they could see them from above.

Gandalf said there was no helping it, they had to retreat now even if they risked being spotted by Saruman's spies.

And so they kept walking, tired, hungry and chilled to the bone. Caradhras had defeated them.

Chapter Text

“It would seem that you have no useful skill or talent whatsoever," he said. "Have you thought of going into teaching?”

― Terry Pratchett, Mort

 


6. Big Bad Warg

It was late evening when the Fellowship finally stopped to rest. They were too tired to walk anymore that night, but where should they go tomorrow? A heated discussion followed, while they ate another cold meal and had a few more drops of Miruvor. 

Legolas kindly translated for Kat. The question was; since the mountain was closed to them, should they take another way or give up and return to Rivendell with the Ring? The drooping hobbits looked up hopefully when Rivendell was mentioned, but Gandalf explained that this alternative would only lead to Sauron besieging and destroying that realm and taking back what he once forged, and with the One Ring on his finger he would be invincible. 

“Then we must go on, if there is a way,” said Frodo with a sigh. He and his friends seemed so cast down that Kat wished she had had arms to hug them with, but as usual she had to resort to rubbing her body against their legs.

Gandalf said there was a way, actually, one that Aragorn had been against until they at least tried the Caradhras route. “The road I speak of leads to Moria.” 

Hearing that name made everyone except Gimli and Kat look horrified.

What? What is Moria?

A dwarf mine. Tunnels through the mountains. Legolas shuddered. 

The discussion continued. Aragorn confirmed that he absolutely did not want to go into Moria for there might be no way out of it, and Boromir agreed, suggesting they instead follow the mountain range south until the Gap of Rohan where they could pass through. He had come that way from Gondor to Rivendell last autumn and the horse lords had been friendly. Or they could go even further south and follow the coast to Mordor.

Gandalf firmly disagreed. The Rohan route would take them too close to the evil wizard Saruman’s tower, and walking down to the sea could take a year or more. They were being watched now and had to use less known roads. They ought to go where nobody expected them – not over or around the mountains, but under them.

Boromir protested that they could not know what the Enemy expected – what if Moria proved to be a trap? They might as well knock on the gates to the Dark Tower itself then.

Gandalf was becoming annoyed now. The Dark Tower of Mordor was nothing like Moria! He had been to Sauron’s old fortress in Mirkwood; he had seen the Enemy’s dungeons there and knew what he was capable of. Entering the Dark Tower was certain death, but in the Mines of Moria they still had a chance. He would not lead them there if he did not believe it safe. Yes, there could be orcs inside, but not very likely because most of them had been killed in the Battle of Five Armies years ago. It was more probable the dwarves still lived there. 

At the mention of dwarves Gimli’s eyes sparkled with excitement. He would gladly go with Gandalf and meet his kin – if they could find and open the hidden doors. 

Gandalf looked pleased. He had been in Moria once before and came out safe to tell the tale, he was sure he could still remember the way. 

Kat listened to Legolas’ translations, feeling a tremor in her slight body when she perceived the elf’s and the men’s reactions; they were all strong, apdept warriors, yet they feared this mine. She vividly hoped Gandalf would abandon the idea, but now with Axe Guy to support him it seemed less likely.

The argument continued back and forth, with everyone reluctant to take the Moria road except for the wizard and the dwarf. Aragorn was unusually quiet and demure – apparently he had been into Moria once too, and had bad memories from it, but since his idea to climb the mountains had nearly killed the hobbits he was willing to follow Gandalf this time. 

Boromir seemed disgruntled by Gandalf’s harsh answer to his first suggestion, and said that he would only go if everyone of the Fellowship voted for it. He wanted to know what the elf and the hobbits thought – surely the Ring Bearer should have a say?

“I do not wish to go to Moria,” said Legolas. Kat could not quite interpret his expression but he did not look happy.

The hobbits looked at Frodo, who finally said he trusted Gandalf – but they ought to sleep on it before they voted. In a bleak night like this with the wind howling around them everything felt more frightening. Perhaps the Mines would seem like a better idea in the morning?

Aragorn jumped to his feet and cried something.

He says the wind howls with wolf voices! Wargs are coming for us.

Wolves? But I read they are shy, peaceful animals. All that dominance alpha omega stuff and eating granny is just fiction. Fairy-tales you know? They won’t bother us. Right?

Peaceful? Wargs? He shook his head and grimly began to string his bow. 

Kat's stomach plummeted. Why did she have to be sent into a world where fairy-tales were true, where such things as big bad wolves actually existed? What if they ate her in place of a granny? All dogs hated cats. She would become wolf bait – bite-sized bait.

The possibility of a warg attack changed everything. Gandalf made clear they could no longer take the path around the mountains or even return to Rivendell; with wolves on their track they had to seek the protection of the Mines. Even Boromir grudgingly relented and agreed to the plan. 

The company would set out on the Moria road in the morning, but to survive the night they needed to move to higher ground. They had been hiding on the side of a hill, now they climbed on top of it where some boulders and old rocks were scattered in a circle, and gathered in the center of them. Here they could better defend themselves if the wargs came closer.

Gandalf decided they could light a fire for warmth, and maybe it might keep the wolves at bay too. Soon they were huddling around the blaze, still fatigued after the ordeal on the mountain earlier that day. They took turns trying to get some rest, with those awake watching the surroundings closely for danger. 

Kat was exhausted but could not get a blink of sleep with such bone-chilling howls sounding closer and closer. Wide awake, she crouched low against the ground with her fur bristling.

After a while she could see the monsters; large, gray shapes between the boulders in the outskirts of the circle of light, their eyes shining eerily as they walked back and forth. They were almost the same size as Bill the pony, who was trembling and sweating miserably at the sight of them – and the smell too, perhaps. To Kat’s sensitive nose they had a pungent, almost sulphuric stench that did not at all fit with live creatures. There had been a similar smell when she was shot – a bit like fireworks. 

The largest of the wargs stopped, staring straight at them and giving up a challenging howl. Gandalf strode against it boldly, shaking his staff and shouting something angrily. It sounded like a threat, but if he had intended to scare it his words had the opposite effect, for the ragged beast charged at him in a great leap. 

With inhuman speed Legolas’ bow twanged as he released an arrow, hitting the warg straight through its throat. It yelped and shrieked as it fell to the ground, twitching violently, pink foam bubbling out of its jaws. Soon it stopped moving, and beneath the hill the wolf shadows disappeared as the rest of the pack fled.

Still with her hair standing on end, Kat took a few steps closer to examine the large form. It looked like a very big dog, one of those compact, muscular breeds that historically were used for animal fighting, but unlike them this was covered in a thick, wolflike pelt. The strange, sulphuric reek was strong around it.

She looked up at Legolas who came to retrieve his arrow, suddenly awed at his achievement. He had hit the warg mid-leap and killed it with a single arrow.

That was… I don’t know what to say. You’re an amazing archer!

He gave her a bleak smile. Practice makes perfect. I have had a long time to hone my skills.

Gandalf grasped the elf's shoulder and said something in a soft voice, probably thanking the other for saving his life. Then they returned to the fire to catch some more sleep, now that the wolves had been chased away.

/\_,,_/\
( – _ – )

Loud howls woke Kat after what felt like hardly no time. The warg pack had returned. 

Around her the others quickly rose, and it was right on time because suddenly dark shapes were jumping over the boulders, attacking them on all sides. Aragorn and Boromir slashed away at the beasts with their swords, piercing the throat of one and cutting the head off another, while Legolas’ arrows turned a third into a yelping pin cushion. Gimli held his axe in both hands, chopping off wolf-parts like a berserk lumberjack, and the hobbits made the rearguard, their daggers small but deadly.

Kat backed away until she bumped into one of Bill’s hooves. The poor pony trembled almost as badly as she when she climbed to sit on his back, hoping to stay away from under the others’ feet. She had never in her life felt more useless.

Gandalf picked up a burning log from the fire and held it aloft while he slowly and menacingly approached the wolves. He seemed to grow where he stood and spoke a spell in a deep, roaring voice. The sound sent shivers down Kat’s spine. 

The burning branch in the wizard’s hand became dazzlingly bright and with a loud crack it set a nearby tree ablaze. 

Under the dancing flames Gandalf looked fearsome. Gone was the cranky old man whose beard she had toyed with, this was every inch a wizard, yielding a power both wild and fierce, hard as the rock under his feet and ancient as the stars.

Within minutes the whole hill was burning, and in the firelight the warriors’ swords and Gimli’s axe gleamed crimson. 

One of Legolas' arrows burst into flame and hit the largest warg in its heart. That was the last straw; yelping and squealing the rest of the monsters ran away.

The fire flickered and waned until only black, twisted tree corpses and smoke remained. And behind the eastern mountains came sunrise at last.

/\_,,_/\
( O _ O )

The wargs had not been ordinary, which explained their strange scent. When Legolas went to retrieve his arrows they were all intact, except the one that had burned, and there were neither carcasses nor blood on the ground or on their weapons.

Gandalf seemed worried and said they must hurry to leave this place. Sauron was on their track and apparently had the power to conjure up apparitions like these from half a continent away.

Kat silently followed in the others' wake when they set out, walking last in line with heavy paws. Why had she been sent on this quest? She was completely unnecessary to them. No – worse – she was a burden. She ate their food and drank their water, just another creature to protect and worry about, but unlike Bill she could not help them carry things.

During the fight she had seen her companions in a new light, with Gandalf as a mighty wizard and Aragorn and Boromir in their true element as soldiers. Gimli too – she had mockingly called him Axe Guy in her mind, but his strength and skill with that axe was masterly. Even the hobbits had bravely wielded their daggers despite their short stature and lesser experience. 

And Legolas... He who she had teased and cuddled with had turned into a fierce warrior elf, taut and focused, his eyes sharp and his bow singing while he hit targets as tiny as a warg's eye fifty meters away. It made her ashamed for being so shallow. He was on a life-and-death mission and all she had done was forcing the poor elf to answer personal questions.

She had been a fool. A fool for choosing this quest, for thinking she was a hero just because she had locked some kids into a gym equipment storage and run for it. She was worthless. 

Are you well? Legolas with his uncanny ability to sense others’ emotions had slowed his gait to walk beside her. She glanced up at him, but seeing his handsome, worried face made everything worse and she quickly turned her eyes back to the ground.

Yes.

You do not seem well. Did the wargs hurt you?

Please, don’t worry about me. You have important things to do. I don't belong among you.

I like to have you around.

His kind words only worsened her mortification. 

I'm supposed to save someone but in this form I'm useless, she finally blurted out. Heck, even as a woman I was useless. I'm a teacher, for Heaven’s sake, that's all I know how to do. Whatever did that guy in the Mandos place think I could achieve here, that you people couldn’t manage better on your own?

Mandos? Legolas had stopped.

Yes? I think the place was called Mandos-something – it was where I met the person with the pretty voice. Didn’t I mention that?

You never said you were in the Halls of Mandos! He stared at her incredulously. I know for a fact animals cannot go there. Are you really… Are you… He shook his head as if to clear his thoughts. You really are a woman. He was silent for several minutes before continuing in an entirely different inner voice, subdued and polite. My most sincere apologies for mistrusting you, Ka– Miss Katharina. How stupid I have been! I should have told Gandalf about you from the beginning.  

He hurried his pace to catch up with the rest of the group, leaving Kat staring after him in dismay as he called out: “Gandalf! There is something important I need to tell you.” 

This was not a conversation she was ready for. 

Chapter Text

“Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong.
No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.”

― Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man

 


7. On the Moria Road

“She has said all these things to you and only now you realize she is not a normal cat? You must be the dullest elf in Middle-earth,” grumbled Gandalf, shaking his head in annoyance. He was walking quickly, hurrying to reach the gates of Moria before sunset, and Kat had to run to keep up.

Now the wizard turned to her. “Tell me exactly what Námo said.” 

Who is Námo? she asked Legolas. He was still acting all strange around her or she would have climbed onto his shoulder. Cats were not built for jogging.

I think he must be the one you thought had a pretty voice. He’s the Vala responsible for judging those who passed away. Everyone comes to his Halls when they die.

Vala?

I told you about the Valar before, in the Tale of the Silmarils, remember? They made the Trees which gave the Silmarils their light and power. And they made the world.

Oh, yes I remember now. I thought that was a fairy-tale. Didn’t God create your world?

If by ‘God’ you mean Eru Illúvatar – the One – then aye, he did that indirectly. He created the Valar and other similar beings and together they sang the world into existence after his plan.

Wow. That’s beautiful.

“Hello? Is she replying?” asked Gandalf impatiently.

“Sorry, I had to explain who Námo is.”

“Get on with it.”

I can’t remember word for word – he talked kind of weird, you know – but first he said I was to join the Fellowship for a while. Apparently then I must ‘take my own path’ and save someone important. Bad things happen if he dies – a land ‘cast into oblivion’ or something ominous like that. When I asked who I must save, Mr Pre– Námo – said it was the one who climbs into the king’s vessel at night. And that was it.”

When Legolas had recounted that, the wizard thoughtfully began to chew on a strand of his beard. “King’s vessel…” he muttered, glancing at Aragorn. 

“I do not own any vessels,” said Aragorn.

“But which other king could it be? Legolas’ father?”

Wait, what? Aragorn’s a king… and you’re a… prince? 

Legolas shrugged. Aye.

Oh my God… I have been so disrespectful. I’m sorry, Your Highness! I didn’t know!

He looked uncomfortable. Please… just Legolas. I never cared much for titles. 

Kat breathed out in relief. Sure. Me neither. Titles are such an un-Swedish thing! But then you must call me Kat again. 

Or Kitty? He grinned, nimbly evading her attack on his feet.

Aragorn and Gandalf continued to ponder over Námo’s riddle and Gimli walked in the front with them, very eager to get to the Mines. Meanwhile, since now everyone knew Kat’s real identity, the rest of them bombarded her with questions.

Legolas patiently translated and helped Kat answer.

“So, what kind of food did you eat in your world?” asked Pippin.

“She says she liked pizza and coffee, whatever those are.”

“How old are you?” asked Boromir.

“She says thirty-two.”

“Did you have a garden, and if so, what did you grow in it?” Sam wanted to know.

“She did not have a garden because she lived in a city.”

“What did you do for a living?” Boromir again.

“She taught children how to read and write, and foreign languages.”

“Did you have music there? Which was your favorite song?” Frodo asked.

“Her favorite song is called Despacito which she seems to find a bit embarrassing. And they have lots of music but she could not sing even as a human, so she says not to ask.”

“About the food, can you describe those dishes you mentioned?” Pippin did not give up so easily.

Legolas was in the middle of an account of roasted and ground, very bitter beans when they came to a place where a dirty creek crossed their path. It came from a black and foul smelling lake which they had been circling to get to where Gandalf thought the gates were.

Gimli bravely led the way into the water. It proved to be fairly shallow but with slippery, slimy green stones, and the others followed in a single file, careful not to stumble. Kat jumped onto the pony’s back which crossed with Sam, last of all.

When they had reached the other side there was a noise from the lake, a plop and some bubbling, and they saw ripples on the surface, great rings expanding from a point somewhere in the center. Could anything really live in that disgusting pool? 

The sun had set and a pale moon began to rise. The air was growing chilly and the others’ shivered in their damp clothes as they continued along the narrow path, with the sheer cliff on one side and the foul lake on the other.

At last they arrived where the gates were supposed to be. Beneath their feet the ground was barren and covered in reddish stones, and the only life consisted of two unusually large and old looking holly bushes. Gandalf explained they marked the end of a road that had once gone between the elvish settlement in Hollin and the dwarfish realm of Moria. Back then, those races had been at good terms.

“It wasn't the dwarves' fault the friendship ended,” said Gimli.

“I have not heard it was the elves’ fault,” said Legolas.

“I have heard both.” Gandalf scowled at them and sternly told them to be friends and help him find the doors. And to Sam he explained Bill must go home, for he could not walk into a mine.

Sam got angry and upset at that, saying something about hungry wolves and a lot more Kat did not understand, especially since his voice was so distorted. But Gandalf persuaded him at last, and while Sam cried and hugged the pony the others unloaded its pack and divided the items into what to carry with them and what must be left behind.

Then for a long time the wizard stood motionless, staring sternly at the cliff as if he tried to break a hole through it with his gaze, while the dwarf walked along it, tapping here and there with his axe.

“We are ready now but where are the doors?” Merry asked.

Gimli rumbled something long and complicated and Legolas translated to Kat. Apparently dwarf doors were made to be invisible when shut.

“Not these,” said Gandalf and went closer, he had discovered a smoother spot right between the trees and rubbed it free of algae and lichen. When the moonlight fell on the cleaned area faint lines emerged, glowing like fine spider silk. 

Soon a set of tall doors was outlined. Their surface had an intricate design; some stars, two trees, a hammer, an anvil, and above it all an arch with a row of foreign, flourish letters.

It is elvish, Legolas explained. It reads: ‘The Doors of Durin, Lord of Moria. Speak, friend, and enter.’ And that Narvi built them and Celebrimbor wrote the message.

He looked at the inscription with a wooden expression and Kat felt unease radiating from him; if because of the doors or what lay behind them she could not say. She wanted to comfort him but did not know how.

Gandalf had translated the text for the others and Merry asked what it meant. Gimli said it was easy, if you were a friend you spoke the password and the doors would open. Gandalf agreed this must be the case. Now all they had to do was figure out which word that was.

“Do you not know?” Boromir looked surprised and rather dismayed.

“No.”

“Then why did you bring us to this evil place? You said you had been to Moria before,” he muttered accusingly, glancing at the ugly pool with a shudder. 

Gandalf’s eyebrows drew together and he retorted something angry-sounding.

He asks if Boromir doubts his word, Legolas translated . And says he should use his brains – for then he would remember Gandalf came from another direction the last time, and realize the gates are easy to push open from the inside .

Ouch! Savage, as the kids say.

Now Pippin asks what Gandalf means to do, and he answers he shall knock on the gates with Pippin’s head. The elf’s lips quirked up slightly. And if that does not work, he wants to be left alone and hear no more silly questions while he is busy.

He’s kind of a grouch, isn’t he?

That is just his way. He is not really angry.

I know, I can feel his mood. Pippin seems to get that as well, or either he doesn’t care, but Boromir is upset. I don’t think he liked being rebuked so harshly. I’ll go to him.

Kat went to rub herself against Boromir’s legs. He squatted and reached out to pet her, but stopped mid-motion. “Can I still touch you?” He spoke slowly and distinctly so she would understand.

“Meow,” she said and tried to nod. 

He looked relieved and stroked her back the way she liked. “Now that I know you are a woman this feels a bit strange, but… if you say so.”

At the doors, Gandalf was trying his large vocabulary of spells and powerful words. From Boromir’s lap Kat looked on, impressed and again rather daunted, the feelings from earlier returning. She knew now there was both a king and a prince in the Fellowship as well as a wizard, and had not Legolas said Boromir was the son of his country’s leader? They were all famous and important people and she was nobody.

More time passed and the doors still would not budge. Boromir grew restless despite Kat’s presence and began to walk to and fro. Then he froze on the spot as they heard a horrifying sound; howling! The wargs were back! Bill shook his head and stamped his hooves in terror and Sam struggled to calm him.

Muttering angrily, Boromir picked up a stone. “How I hate this water!” He threw it into the lake. 

Instantly there was another bubbling sound and new rings formed – further away, so obviously not caused by the stone.

“Why did you do that?” said Frodo, and some more reprimanding words by the sound of it. 

Boromir did not reply. Kat felt his fear and frustration and understood him; they were trapped between a sheer cliff and a lake, and beyond came more of those bloodthirsty wargs that had attacked them before. 

He scowled at the rippling surface. "I am such a fool. Making things worse," he muttered, but so silently only Kat perceived it. 

Everybody except Gandalf was edgy now, casting nervous glances out into the darkness and at the lake, where the expanding circles kept coming closer to the shore. 

The howls were nearer too, echoing mournfully over the water and between the cliffs, and it was all Sam could do to stop Bill from bolting. Boromir had told him to keep the pony a while longer – if they could not get into Moria they still had use for him.

Then suddenly Gandalf jumped up from the stone he had sat on with an enthusiastic cry. “I have it!” He was laughing merrily. “Of course! Of course!” After some victory dancing, which looked a bit strange with the doors still closed and unmoving, he stood before them again and said a single word: “Mellon!”

One of the stars in the pattern glowed briefly and the doors began to swing open on silent hinges.

The password was a fruit?

It means ‘friend’ in my language. The inscription seems to have been a simple riddle; ‘speak friend – mellon – and enter.’

Kat groaned. What a terrible dad joke.

The elf did not reply. He was staring warily at a set of stairs revealed behind the doors, which led up into absolute darkness. He looked a bit like that mouse Kat had caught the other day – trapped.

Don’t worry, she thought, trying to sound reassuring . At least it will be dry in there, and no snow. It could be worse.

Could it?

Before she could answer, someone yelped behind them. Kat’s mouth fell open. Long, sinewy tentacles emerged from the lake and one of them had caught Frodo by the foot, pulling the poor hobbit back towards the foul water.

With a terrified whinny Bill broke loose and galloped off into the night. Sam took a few steps to follow him, but when he discovered his friend’s plight he hurried to Frodo’s aid. Drawing his dagger he desperately slashed at the tentacles. The one holding Frodo let go at the onslaught, but a score of new ones instantly emerged from the deep.

Sobbing in fear, Sam pulled Frodo away, and now at last the others’ were roused of their shocked daze and surged forward to help him. 

“Up the stairs! Quick!” Gandalf led the way. The company scampered after him, closely followed by the tentacles. They were groping and searching all over the floor and walls like hungry snakes. 

A couple of the monstrous limbs caught the doors and slammed them shut. The force was so great the cliff began to crumble. In a series of loud booms and a rattle of gravel the entrance was buried from the outside.

The rumbling of falling stones ceased and the Fellowship halted, still trembling with adrenaline, their hearts pounding. They stood in absolute darkness.

Kat opened her eyes and closed them. Despite her night vision there was no difference at all.

“The passage is blocked,” said Gandalf. 

That meant there was no turning back – no matter what they might find in here. From now on they could only go forward. Into the dark.

I take back what I said, thought Legolas miserably. It could be worse.

Chapter Text

“The night was as black as the inside of a cat.”

― Terry Pratchett, Wyrd Sisters

 


8. Where the Light Does Not Shine

Gandalf made his staff shine faintly or it would have been impossible to continue. The steps were made for dwarves and therefore low, for which the hobbits and Kat were grateful, but they were slippery and the walls on either side of them slightly moist, emitting a moldy cellar smell. They had to walk slowly and look carefully where they put their feet – or paws.

Kat walked with the hobbits, who were miserable. Pippin clung to Merry and both of them looked exhausted, struggling to lift one foot after another. Sam cried quietly, worrying sick about the fate of poor Bill among the wargs and lake monsters, and Frodo was trembling from delayed shock after his near-monsterfood experience. 

Kat could not do much except be there, for what it was worth, stroking herself against their short legs whenever she could. She wondered what the monster had been. A colony of snakes? A giant octopus? Perhaps a hydra from the Greek mythology? Anything seemed possible in this world.

At the top of the stairway they took a short break to eat a little and take some Miruvor – the last that was left in the bottle, unfortunately. And then they continued, not wanting to waste time resting.

The air further inside was warm but still damp. The darkness was beginning to grate on Kat's nerves now, she had become used to her night vision but here it was too little light even for her. Sure, her cat’s eyes came with drawbacks, she had noticed the colors tended to be a bit less bright and she was terribly nearsighted – but that was not very different from her human self. Without her contacts on she could hardly see who was in the back row of her classroom.

She wondered how dwarves managed to live all their lives like this. No fresh air, no plants, no vitamin D. It could not be healthy. Maybe that was why Axe Guy was grumpy? Though, she had to admit, since they came here he had been so cheerful she could have changed her internal name for him to Happy.

The mines were a maze. With every few meters they passed openings on the sides, sometimes with long corridors, sometimes with stairways leading up or down. Thankfully Gandalf always seemed to know where to go or they would have been lost in no time. The road was worn with many cracks and holes in the ground, some so wide Kat had to jump over them – and the hobbits too. Most were shallow, but at one point there was one over two meters wide and they could not see how deep it went – there was just darkness below, and the distant sound of running water.

“What do you think lies down there?” Pippin mumbled to the other hobbits.

“More monsters, perhaps…” Frodo swallowed.

Kat edged herself closer and peeked down. She felt a surge of nausea and an irrational worry that she might accidentally drop something important into the chasm – even though she obviously was not carrying anything.

“I can’t jump this,” whispered Pippin.

“You can. I’ll catch you,” said Merry, who was already on the other side.

Boromir squatted beside Kat. “Shall I carry you? This is no safe place for cats.” 

She gratefully climbed onto his broad shoulder, rubbing her nose against his neck as thanks.

“It is no safe place for humans or hobbits either,” he added.

“Meow,” she agreed, careful not to look down when he stepped over the fissure. 

“Or elves,” mumbled Legolas, gracefully joining them.

Pippin remained a long time, shuffling his feet, obviously gathering courage to jump but too proud to ask for help. At that moment he looked very young with his large, worried eyes in that small face, surrounded by a mat of curly hair, and Kat’s heart went out to him. Through Legolas the hobbits had once told Kat their ages, and she recalled that Pippin was not even in his majority yet, which would be when he turned thirty-three. Compared to humans, that meant Pippin was still only a teenager. 

Why had they brought him on the quest? He should have stayed at home, hanging out with friends, playing football or Monopoly, dating a girl – or whatever hobbit teens did in their spare time. Instead here he was, risking his life in a dark mine, shortly after almost freezing to death, fighting bloodthirsty wargs and witnessing his friend getting caught by a lake monster. Even if he came out of this alive he would probably suffer for it mentally later. 

Being a teacher in a school where the major part of the students had parents born outside Sweden, many of them having come as refugees from war, Kat had met her fair share of traumatized children. They might look normal and act normal most of the time, but there would be moments when their past experiences shone through, when they became distant and disconnected – or sometimes aggressive for no apparent reason. Kat remembered a girl of ten or eleven who would obstinately refuse to sit at the outer row of desks in the classroom. It turned out her former school had been bombed and several children died – those who had sat near the windows.

As for herself… Kat had already been shot by a gunman and the recent events had shaken her terribly as well – and they had not seen the end of this quest yet, there could be more dangers ahead. Would this mission affect her afterwards too? Most likely it would, and if so, in this world there were no therapists who could help her.

At last Pippin made the great leap and the other hobbits cheered enthusiastically.

“See? That wasn’t so hard, was it?” Merry gave him a half-hug.

“Easy for you to say who’s tall. But I’m short and could do it anyway.” Pippin grinned proudly.

Kat smiled inwardly. Merry – tall?

When the company continued their interrupted journey, Kat slowly became aware of a new sound behind them; a faint patter of feet. They did not sound humanoid – they were too light for that. Could it be a large rat?

The thought made Kat hungry, to her embarrassment. So far she had managed to avoid catching and eating rodents, but with the meagre meals she was given, the temptation was getting stronger by the day. 

The next time she heard the sound was when they halted temporarily to cross another hole – a narrow one this time, thankfully. The feet stopped shortly after the Fellowship did, as if their owner did not want to come too close and be seen. That was too sentient behavior for an animal. Were they being followed by someone?

Do you hear footsteps? she asked Legolas, but to her surprise he did not reply. Had he not picked up her thought? She turned her head to check if he had lagged behind. No, there he was, walking with Aragorn in the rear. He looked a bit grim but otherwise normal.

Legolas? she tried again. Hello? Can you hear me? LEGOLAS! TALK TO ME!

He did not react at all. What was happening? Was Legolas’ ability to communicate with animals not working underground? But he had spoken to her shortly after they had been trapped in here, so that could not be the case. Had their connection somehow become seared? If so, would it ever return?

Feeling cold despite the stuffy warmth of the cave, Kat realized how completely dependent she had been on the elf to be her voice and how helpless she was without him. Some mysterious creature was following them but now there was no way to tell anyone. What should she do? 

Before she could figure that out, they had stopped again. They were at a crossroads and in the front Gandalf scratched his head under his blue wizard’s hat. For the first time the old man seemed unsure which way to take. 

There was some talking, and Gandalf decided they might as well rest a while here. He estimated it was midnight outside. 

Beside the road they found an old door and behind it a chamber, which Gimli figured could have been a guardroom. The hobbits were so eager to go inside that Gandalf had to push them back and scold them for their careless hurry; the chamber could be dangerous, he must go first.

It was lucky he did, for in the middle of the room was a round hole, an old well by the look of it, one easily missed in the darkness. Just imagining a hobbit falling down there made Kat shiver as she slowly crept forward to peek. 

Like with the wide chasm before, the depth of the hole seemed endless, and again Kat’s stomach lurched uncomfortably. Why did she do this to herself? She had always hated heights and yet here she was, standing at the edge of a bottomless well for no reason. Quite the masochist.

Pippin stood on all fours beside her, looking down as well. He picked up a pebble.

No! she wanted to scream, but of course she could not. Wincing in frustration Kat could only watch as Pippin reached out and dropped it. 

The small stone fell for a long time until there finally was a distant plop as it struck water far, far below. The sound bounced and echoed up between the narrow walls.

“Fool of a Took!” Gandalf growled. “Throw yourself in next time!” 

Everyone listened anxiously in the silence that followed. Had they been discovered? 

Then they all heard it: a knocking. Tap. Tap tap tap. Tap. It reminded Kat of Morse code, and she had a horrible suspicion this was exactly what it was. A signal.

The knockings went on for a short while before the silence resumed. 

“That was the sound of a hammer,” murmured Gimli.

“I do not like this.” Gandalf glared at Pippin, his bushy eyebrows drawn together. ”You may have disturbed something that should have been left alone.”

As punishment for his foolishness, the wizard assigned the first watch to Pippin. The young hobbit morosely went to sit by the door, resting his back against it to make sure nobody could enter unaware, while the rest of them prepared their bedrolls.

Gandalf's staff light winked out and he lay down to sleep. Once more, compact darkness surrounded them.

Kat curled up in Pippin’s lap to offer him some comfort in his penitence, but she could not relax. Her inability to talk with Legolas worried her to no end, and in addition she kept straining her ears to hear if something climbed up the well to attack them. As if all that was not enough, she could not stop thinking of the mysterious footsteps. Every little sound from her companions made her jump.

Pippin too seemed nervous, he was taut as an elf’s bowstring and she could hear the quick beat of his heart. She tried to calm him by purring and kneading his thigh, but when he stroked her back in response she felt his fingers tremble.

After a while, Gandalf stirred in his blankets and came to join them.

“Have some sleep my lad,” he said kindly. Apparently he had not been able to fall asleep, so he figured he might as well do the watching himself. 

Pippin gratefully scampered off to his friends but Kat remained with the wizard. He was smoking, and despite the heady smell she was reluctant to leave the faint red light his pipe emitted.

Gandalf reached out to stroke her for the first time she could recall. “My friend… I think there is one who needs you,” he murmured in a voice so low she had to strain her ears to hear. “The elf cannot sleep either.”

She buffed her head against his hand as an indication she had understood, and followed her nose to find Legolas in a corner in the far end of the chamber. 

She hesitated in front of his silent form. What could she do for him when they could not talk anymore? But perhaps her purring would help him relax – at least that always worked on Boromir and the hobbits.

When she jumped into his lap, Legolas started in surprise. Then suddenly she heard his voice in her head again, and she could have cried with relief. It still worked! Their link was not gone!

What… Oh, it is you. You should not… I mean, it is not proper for a lady to sit in my lap like that.

Thank God you are back! Kat reached up to rub her head against his chin, revelling in his familiar, comforting scent. You did not reply before. I was so scared.

I had not thought… Oh dear. My apologies. I shut the environment out. It was so silent in here; no living things, no plants, no animals. I could not stand it. He hesitantly enveloped her in his arms. Can I really hold you? It feels wrong.

Yes! By all means, yes!

Letting out a long, shaky breath, Legolas lay down, spooning Kat with his body while pulling his blanket over them both. She felt him bury his nose in her fur. I have missed this, he admitted.

Me too. Look, Legolas… I’m sorry for before. I kept teasing you and I shouldn’t have. No wonder you got upset when you realized I’m a woman for real.

Did you think I was angry with you? Not at all. He hesitated, and then continued: I am not used to such frankness, but to be honest I… well. I find it refreshing, actually. I would not want you to censor yourself for my sake.

Really?

Really. 

They were silent for a while, except for Kat’s steady purring. She contemplated telling her friend about the footsteps, but when she realized how badly he was affected by this place she was not sure she should worry him further. Perhaps it was not even necessary? The Fellowship could not do much about it, even if they knew they were followed. They already were cautious; always on edge and alert. Gandalf, Boromir and Aragorn had walked with drawn swords all the way here.

I cannot stand these walls, Legolas thought bleakly. It feels like the weight of the entire mountain is pressing down on me.

Do you suffer from claustrophobia?

What is cla… whatever you said?

The fear of narrow spaces.

I am not afraid, he thought quickly, stiffening behind her.

No?

He was silent a short while and then she felt him relax. Well perhaps a little. But it makes no sense. I know the mountain will not crumble down upon me, why should it? It has stood for millennia. And besides, I live in a cave, I should be used to this.

You live in a cave? I thought elves were like… nature people. I would have guessed you lived in a tree.

I wish. She felt him smile; his face still pressed against her fur. Then he began to describe his home, situated far north from here at the edge of a vast forest commonly known as Mirkwood. In Legolas’ childhood it was named Greenwood the Great, for back then it had been a wonderful place, wild but beautiful with its ancient trees, many creeks and moss covered glades full of shy flowers and tasty berries. But then Sauron’s evil minions had settled there and darkness had spread to the extent it was no longer possible to live safely above ground. In the end Legolas’ father had to delve an underground city for his people. 

Still, my home is very different from this place, he thought. It is spacious and bright, with many lanterns whose light is magnified by silver trees and a ceiling inlaid with quartz and rock crystals. And in addition there are channels to lead sunlight inside. I do prefer roaming the forest but I never feel this way in my father’s halls.

It sounds amazing. Silver trees and crystals! Maybe I can visit you there someday.

I would like that. When all this is over… He sighed longingly. No more Sauron. No more shadow. The forest safe again… I could show you my favorite trees. He sounded on the verge of sleep and Kat turned to rest her head against the crook of his neck. Soon his breathing was calm and regular. 

When all this was over. She looked forward to it.

Chapter Text

“Some girl who can’t tell the difference between a wolf and her grandmother must either have been as dense as teak or come from an extremely ugly family.”

― Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men

 


9. Stories in the Dark

When Gandalf woke them up a few hours later Kat took her usual morning bath – i.e. licking her fur thoroughly – while Legolas combed and braided his hair. 

I wish I too had some way to clean myself, he thought morosely. I miss baths!

She looked at him. To her, he appeared as clean and neat as usual. Don’t fret. You look good.

Well I know that. He smirked. Good – but filthy! He held out a golden strand of his hair and dropped it with distaste.

Want me to lick it for you?

Nah… I am good.

Licking oneself is not all fun and games, you know. The furballs make it almost not worth it… But with my present cat’s instincts I shudder at the thought of a real bath.

Interesting. So you have two different personas right now – cat and human?

More like meshed together. Sometimes I don’t know if I want something because my cat part needs it or if it’s genuinely my own wish. Kind of confusing actually, and a bit uncomfortable. She did not add that one of those needs was the urge to cuddle with him . She was beginning to suspect she would have wanted that if she were a woman too. Cuddle and… other things.

Part of why I did not believe you were a woman at first, was how animal-like you were. I could not imagine a human toying with the feathers of my arrows or Gandalf’s beard. He chuckled. But I guess it makes sense in a way; your soul is adapting itself to its host.  

After a short pause, he added thoughtfully: That makes me wonder how much of my own behavior comes from my elf body, and how much is really me? 

Hm. Never thought of that. This is getting quite philosophical. When I was a woman, which of my choices, preferences and interests would have been different in this body – or in yours? 

Aye, and how much is just basic survival instinct? I may think I like almond cookies, but what if that is only because I need the nutrients and would die unless I ate? 

You like almond cookies? Tell me about your favorite foods. I’m so hungry. Kat licked her nose, feeling her stomach growl emptily.

That will only make it feel worse.

I don’t care. 

Shrugging, Legolas humored her and began a long account of the elvish cuisine.

Meanwhile, the Fellowship had made themselves ready to leave. Gandalf, who had spent the time while the others slept thinking, had finally figured out which path to choose: the one which smelled less foul.

When they set out, Kat strained her ears to hear if they were still followed, but this time there were no footsteps. What a relief! Hopefully whoever it was had given up and decided to leave them alone.

The passage wound slightly upward but it did not feel like they were nearing an exit, quite the opposite, and the effect on the elf was notable. Kat rode on his shoulders this time, allowing him to continue his food descriptions until he ran out of them, but the moment he did so he began to look around him uncomfortably.

Don’t shut me out again. Please! thought Kat anxiously.

I will not. Though… could we continue talking then? I need something else to focus on.

Sure. About what?

Tell me about your world.

Kat happily complied, and began a lengthy tale of cars and aeroplanes, cell phones, computers and the internet, her world’s history and geography and various cultures. She talked about religions and Jesus – whom she had compared Legolas’ age with before – about music, movies and books. 

Legolas was silent the whole time, and Kat almost thought he had not been paying attention when he suddenly asked: They just make stories up?

The authors you mean? Yes.

Not basing them on past events at all?

Sometimes they do, but a lot of books and movies are just the author’s imagination.

We do not have that. Can you do it? Could you tell me a made-up story?

No way! I’m no author.

Oh. He sounded disappointed.

Maybe I can tell you one I’ve read?

Please do!

Kat picked a nice, classic murder mystery and tried her best to recall all the twists and turns. Legolas listened a lot more actively on this, clearly becoming absorbed.

That is brilliant. One knife cut each – nobody would know who dealt the killing stroke. Amazing. Humans are clever sometimes. And this lady made all that up?

She did.

Amazing, he repeated. Can you tell me another one?

This time Kat picked an old Jane Austen romance, and after that a movie, followed by another one, and a third. Being thus pleasantly occupied, the eight dark hours of walking went by faster than ever.

How sad. Had she been an elf she would not have gotten sick, and could have seen her boy grow up.

Yes, it’s a bittersweet ending.

I was glad things worked out for Lieutenant Dan though. Fancy having metal legs! I must say I liked this story better than the previous one. 

Oh, how so?

That made me angry. The way only the rich were allowed in the lifeboats… And it was based on a real event, you said. How unfair. In my realm everyone is equally important, from the smallest elfling to the king. He is our leader, but his life is not more valuable than anyone else’s.

We have changed since then, though. Sure, the world is still not entirely equal, and some countries have a longer way to go… but we’re working on it.

There was a moment of silence. Then Kat suddenly heard it again: a patter of feet in the darkness far behind them. Her stomach sank. So their follower had not given up then. 

Before she could say anything about it, they came to a new place; an open area that felt empty and large. A cool gust of air hit their faces.

Gandalf said something, but his voice was too hollow and distorted by the echo for Kat to make out his words. He sounded very pleased though, so it was probably good news.

Suddenly he made his staff shine stronger than usual, enough to light up part of the surroundings. Kat looked around with wide eyes. They were in a huge chamber with many tall pillars, made of black, smooth stone, blank as glass. It reminded her a little of a cathedral or an old train station. 

Too soon the staff light winked back to its usual dim glow and darkness resumed.

Gandalf spoke again and Legolas translated: We are far up now, close to the mountaintop, and Gandalf thinks there are windows in the ceiling. We may see sunlight when the morning comes! He sounded excited. I like this hall much better than the narrow passages we have walked through before. It is colder, but so much more airy and spacious. A bit like my father’s throne room, only less fine.

They decided to spend the night in a corner of the large room, finding shelter from the wind behind a pillar. 

While they made their bedrolls ready, Gimli explained this had once been a great city called Dwarrowdelf, rich and glorious; a bustling metropole full of hard working dwarves. 

Looking nostalgic and sad, he began to chant a poem, his deep voice really coming to its right here in the echoing hall; vibrant and melodic, sending shivers through Kat’s body. 

Legolas translated. It was a story about the first inhabitants of this city, Durin and his people. When Gimli had finished reciting, Gandalf explained that they had been miners – not for gold and jewels but for a metal called mithril, now so rare it was nearly priceless. It looked like silver but was light and strong, and because it was abundant here, the dwarves had grown exceedingly wealthy. However, when they kept mining it they went deeper and deeper, burrowing their way in the direction of Caradhras, that angry mountain. This had led to their destruction, for they had disturbed some unknown enemy in the deep; Durin’s Bane.

According to Gandalf, Bilbo had used to have a mithril shirt, one of his spoils during the same quest that also gave him the One Ring, but the wizard did not know what had become of it. Apparently that single piece of armour was worth more than the whole Shire, the country the hobbits came from, and they looked deeply impressed at that.

A silence followed, as they one by one lay down to sleep, except for Frodo who had the first watch. Like previously, Kat curled up with Legolas, but this time it was not because he seemed anxious. On the contrary, he was rather cheerful from the prospect of seeing daylight soon. No, this time it was for more selfish reasons. She just liked to be near him.

Shall I tell you a bedtime story? she offered.

There are stories for different times of day?

Just for bedtime.

It is not a naughty one, is it? He sounded suspicious.

It’s for children! Relax.

Oh. Then, aye, I would like to hear a bedtime story.

Right! Here goes: Once upon a time, there was a little girl, who everyone called Little Red Riding Hood, because that was what she always wore.

It makes sense. We elves often take our names from clothes and other specific details. There was this famous king called Grey Cloak, who–

Am I telling this or you?

Sorry. Go ahead.

One day, Little Red Riding Hood was sent with cookies and stuff to her sick grandma, who lived deep inside the forest. Then suddenly the Big Bad Wolf stood before her on the path. I imagine he looked a bit like a warg. Wolf said: ‘Hello, little girl, where are you going?’ and she replied: ‘To Grandma with cookies and stuff.’

Her parents should not have sent her alone into a forest where there were wargs, thought Legolas reproachfully.

They probably didn’t know. Anyway, Wolf figured he would very much like to eat the girl, and her grandma too, so he cleverly thought up a way to catch them both. ‘Look over there’, he said. ‘See those lovely flowers? I bet Grandma would like a bunch.’ And Little Red Riding Hood agreed. Soon she was busy gathering flowers, and– 

What kind of flowers?

I don’t know what kind! It’s not important.

No?

Oh alright, let’s say they were wood anemones then.

So it was spring?

Yes it was spring. Now, let me continue. So… she was gathering flowers, and meanwhile Wolf went to Grandma’s house and swallowed her whole.

Whole? A whole lady fit into his mouth?

He was very big, obviously. Now shush. When Little Red Riding Hood finally got there, the Big Bad Wolf had put on Grandma’s clothes and lay in her bed. ‘Oh, Grandma, how large eyes you have!’ she said. ‘That’s so I can see you better,’ replied Wolf. 

Would not the sheer size of the warg make it impossible for him to wear Grandma’s clothes? Legolas interrupted.

You’re hopeless. Kat boxed his ear with her paw. This is a fairy tale, they are not supposed to make sense. 

Oh. I see. Do go on.

You’re only teasing me, aren’t you?

Maybe. In the darkness she could not see him, but it sounded like he was smiling. She boxed him again for good measure.

Stop that. Anyway. Next, the girl said: ‘Oh, Grandma, how large ears you have!’ and Wolf replied: ‘That’s so I can hear you better.’ Then she said: ‘Oh, Grandma, how big a mouth you have!’ whereupon Wolf roared ‘That’s so I can EAT YOU BETTER!’ and devoured Little Red Riding Hood. Afterwards he fell soundly asleep after his hearty meal. Now, in the vicinity there was a hunter, who had heard the girl scream and came to see what was going on. He found the wolf and understood what he had done, so he very cleverly cut his belly open and rescued Grandma and Little Red Riding Hood.

And the wolf slept through that?

He was a heavy sleeper. 

Ah.

Next, the hunter took some large stones and put them into the Big Bad Wolf’s belly and sewed him all up again. When Wolf woke up he felt very thirsty, and went down to the well to drink. But the stones made him so heavy he toppled over and sank to the bottom, where he drowned. The End!

Hm. And this is supposed to make the children sleepy?

Now that you mention it, it’s kind of a rubbish bedtime story. 

Well, I liked hearing you tell it. He reached out to stroke her head softly. Thank you for today. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to your tales.

Don’t mention it. I enjoyed telling them. Without thinking, she turned her head and gave his jaw a quick lick. 

His hand stilled. Was that your cat persona’s doing or your human one?

Cat persona, obviously, she lied.

Oh. She could not determine if he sounded relieved or disappointed. Perhaps both.

Chapter Text

“The entire universe has been neatly divided into things to (a) mate with, (b) eat, (c) run away from, and (d) rocks.”

― Terry Pratchett, Equal Rites

 


10. Drums, Shadows and Flame

Gandalf had been right; when Kat opened her eyes, the cave was lit by a faint morning light, streaming down from a shaft in the ceiling. Just being able to see her surroundings made her feel good, optimistic even. They would manage this, and soon be out on the other side of the mine. She knew it. 

Legolas’ breathing told her he was awake too, and when she turned to look at him she saw he was calmly gazing at the strip of sunshine. He seemed unusually relaxed, obviously positively affected by the light as well. 

“Suilad, miaulig nín,” he murmured, turning his gaze to her. 

I’m afraid I will mix it up with Westron, or I’d ask you to teach me that language. It’s beautiful. What did you say? Apart from ‘suilad’, I remember that’s a greeting.

‘Miaulig nín’ means ‘my little cat’ – from ‘miaulin’, a female cat, and the diminutive ‘ig’ to indicate your small size. He smirked.

I prefer vertically challenged, she scoffed. And besides, I’m a woman.

He ruffled her fur. “Adanig nín.” My little human.

Kat broke eye contact, suddenly aware of a familiar, fuzzy feeling in her chest. Legolas’ voice was always pleasant, but it was mesmerizing when he spoke his own language. In combination with that soft smile he was irresistible. And he had called her ‘his’. 

She mentally scolded herself; this was the worst time and place to acquire a crush on someone! Especially in this form. A cat fancying an elf was just… weird. Maybe, after all this was over she would be herself, and then … But it was no use thinking of that now. 

Glancing at him again, she noticed his eyes were still on her, with a far too knowing look for her liking. 

Oh, for Heaven’s sake! Get a grip, woman. 


/\_,,_/\
( – o – )

After breakfast, the company hurried off again, anxious to leave Moria behind them as soon as possible. Even Gimli admitted to being disappointed with the place, and of his relatives there had been no trace so far.

On the other end of the pillared cave was a wide corridor, and a shard of light spilled out from a half-open door to the right. Inside they found a dusty chamber, full of cobwebs, broken weapons and old bones, and in its center stood what looked like a square stone coffin. A bright beam shone upon it from another shaft in the ceiling, where a patch of clear sky was visible far above. The company blinked owlishly in the sunlight, dazzled after being so long in the dark. 

As they carefully moved further in, the dust gushed into Kat’s face, making her sneeze.

“That must be the cutest sound I’ve ever heard,” said Merry, grinning. 

Kat could not reply, only sneeze again. When she finally stopped, she saw that the others were examining the coffin and jumped up on top of it to see better. There were runes engraved into it, curiously familiar ones. This was how the Vikings wrote, wasn’t it? How could they use the same system here , in another world? Or was the likeness a coincidence? 

When they got out of Moria, she must remember to ask Gandalf about that. A wise wizard like him could probably explain it.

"Balin son of Fundin, Lord of Moria,” read Gandalf solemnly.

“He is dead then,” said Frodo.

Gimli silently covered his face with his hood, his broad shoulders slumping.

Who was Balin?

Gimli’s cousin, I think. Legolas sounded distracted. He was looking longingly at the skylight, not really paying attention to what was happening in the room.

Kat hopped down from the coffin and tentatively rubbed her body against the dwarf’s boots. Though he had not said anything and his eyes were dry, she could sense the sadness radiating from him. He was obviously mourning the loss of his relative, and her natural reaction was to try to comfort him even though they were not friends as such.

To her surprise, Gimli squatted beside her and patted her awkwardly on the head. He mumbled something, and she understood most of it. “It’s alright. I’d already feared the worst. This place … too empty.”

Gandalf was examining some broken chests along the walls and returned with a dusty, dishevelled book. Gimli and Frodo peeked over his shoulder as he opened it and began to read. It was a journal over the first years of Balin’s colony, but many pages were missing. 

Legolas finally tore his eyes from the sky and translated to Kat: Balin and his friends came here some thirty years ago, planning to clear the mines and rebuild the old dwarf city. They fought their way from hall to hall, driving out orcs as they went. In the fifth year, they reached the Hollin gate. But then came some sort of disaster… more orcs arrived from outside, shooting Balin in the back, and they reconquered the halls, one by one.

Gandalf read the last part slowly enough for Kat to understand: “The Watcher in the Water took Óin. We cannot get out. The end comes… Drums in the deep. They are coming.” He stopped; there was nothing more written.

The ominous words chilled Kat to the bone. The Watcher in the Water? She shuddered, remembering the snaky lake monster which would have taken Frodo if Sam had been less quick to react. Looking at the hobbits, she knew they were thinking the same thing.

Kat regarded all the bones and broken weapons around her under their layers of dust. One of those skulls had probably belonged to the dwarf writing the book. He and his friends had died in this chamber, after recording the colony’s tragic fate for the afterworld, protecting the book and Balin’s tomb with their lives. We cannot get out. They are coming.

There was a short discussion about where to go next; the chamber had two doors, one smaller leading to a stairway, and the larger entrance they had come through. Gandalf had just settled on returning to the hall with the pillars, when a loud boom made the floor vibrate and more dust clouds rise. 

Dismayed, the warriors jumped to attention. Two more booms followed, like from a giant's bass drum. The sound penetrated Kat’s body, making her teeth rattle and her heart beat irregularly. 

Drums in the deep. 

They heard blasts of horns in the distance, accompanied by vaguely humanoid shrieks and the tramping of many feet.

Legolas’ eyes were wide. “They are coming!” 

“We cannot get out!” growled Gimli. 

It was as if the events recorded in the book were repeating themselves; the same drums, the same lines spoken. Would they meet the same fate too? 

“Trapped!” groaned Gandalf. “Why did I delay?” The rest of his words were drenched in more drum beats. 

The sounds from the enemy were close now; their horns and drums echoing between the walls of the corridor, their running feet, their shrill battle-cries. But the Fellowship contributed with their own, defiant sounds: rings of metal as they drew their swords, and the twang of string as Legolas nimbly strung his bow. Gandalf’s and Frodo’s swords shone with an eerie, bluish light.

Kat searched for a spot where she could be out of their way, and decided on a broken chest by the other exit. When she jumped into it, there was a sickening crunch as an old skull broke in shards. She swallowed hard, more than a little nauseous, mingled with disgust and fear. Then she anxiously peeked out to see what would happen at the main entrance.

Gandalf stood in front of the half-open door, tall and fierce like that time in Hollin with the wargs, his glowing sword in one hand and his staff in the other. He yelled something at the approaching foe, perhaps a challenge or a curse, but they only responded with a cackle of laughter. And the terrifying drum continued: boom, boom, boom; a perpetual roll of thunder in the deep.

The wizard poked his staff out and a bright flash blasted from its tip, causing the unseen host to cry out in fright and retreat some way. Gandalf risked a peek through the door, but quickly retracted his head. “There are orcs, very many,” he said dismally, and added something about Mordor and a troll, and that they had no hope to escape that way.

Boromir muttered that they had no hope to escape at all, for the enemy would soon come through the other door too. 

Kat had neither seen orcs or trolls, and had not the slightest wish to do so. Only this morning she had been so hopeful, but now it was all coming apart. They would die; trapped in this tomb like the dwarves before them, with monsters pouring at them from all sides. 

Aragorn went over to the doorway beside her, listening down the stairs. “There is no sound here as far as I can tell.” He turned to her. “Do you hear anything with your cat’s ears?”

She shook her head. He was right, the orcs had not yet come this way. Could there be a chance to escape? She felt a tiny flicker of hope.

“We shall delay the enemy first,” said Aragorn, feeling the sharp edge of his sword. “Make them fear us.”

Can you ask him why? Kat thought to Legolas. Why can’t we run for it now? 

Because the orcs are too close. They would follow right behind us, showering arrows on our backs. We have to make them realize this place is well guarded, forcing them to hesitate. 

The enemy seemed to have overcome its initial reaction to Gandalf’s flashing staff, and heavy footsteps were approaching again. Very heavy, more so than the previous ones. Was this the troll?

Boromir pressed his shoulder against the entrance door, forcing it shut, and bolted it as best he could with broken swords and pieces of rubble. The others meanwhile spread out in a semicircle behind him, tense and ready.

A ponderous blow struck the door, sending a tremor through the old wood, but it did not break. Instead it began to creak open, relentlessly pushing back Boromir’s makeshift wedges. A monstrous arm came through the gap, bulging with muscles and covered in green, reptile-like scale, and then a massive, flat foot. 

Boromir bore down on the arm with all his might, but with a loud clang his sword was deflected, flying from his hand. He might as well have tried to sever a piece of rock.

Frodo surprisingly came to his aid, crying: “The Shire!” as he stabbed the troll foot with his dagger. The blue blade sank deep into the dark flesh, and with a hooting bawl the creature retreated, nearly pulling Frodo with it before the hobbit could tug his weapon free. The black blood covering the blade was smoking, and it had an almost chemical, acidic stench, which Kat felt all the way back at her hiding place. 

Boromir slammed the door shut behind the monster, holding it close with his back, panting from the exertion.

“One for the Shire!” Aragorn grinned almost merrily, praising the hobbit’s bravery and the quality of his blade. The man’s face was flushed with excitement. Surprised, Kat realized he actually enjoyed this. 

Someone pounded on the door again, hammeringing powerful blows against it, and despite Boromir’s best effort it soon tore wide open. A rain of black arrows flew in, striking the wall above Kat and bouncing down all around her. 

Her ear burned briefly when one of them touched it, but in the commotion she instantly forgot the pain.

With another hornblast, a group of short, bow-legged creatures ran inside. Their skin appeared almost gray, covered in hideous scars, and their snarling mouths were full of yellowing fangs. They wore dirty leather armour, and the stench emanating from them was strong; a mix of rotting meat, badly healed wounds and blood.

Orcs! So this was what they looked like.

The orcs charged the Fellowship, wielding their curved swords and screaming obscenities in Westron, some of which Pippin had secretly taught Kat during their journey in what felt like ages ago. 

The defenders held out valiantly; Aragorn and Boromir slaughtered one orc after another with seeming ease, and Legolas shot two through their necks. Gimli cut the legs off one and Sam pierced another with his dagger. When a dozen or so were down, the rest of them scurried off in fear, having obviously not expected such harsh resistance.

Kat cheered mentally. They did it! They won!

The tangy smell of blood, entrails and emptied bowels was heavy in the air, and would probably have made her sick had she been a human. Now it smelled like prey. Like victory.

Gandalf soon brought her out of her illusion, as he yelled for them to flee before the troll returned. They had not won; in the deep, the drums still boomed and more enemies came running down the corridor. But there was not time to escape, for now a new orc filled up the doorway. This was twice the size of its fellows, and protected by both a full suit of black chainmail and a shield. Behind it, smaller orcs huddled as their leader jumped over the heap of corpses and into the chamber, armed with a long, crude spear.

Boromir fearlessly charged, but the orc easily deflected his sword with its shield. With inhuman speed, it evaded Aragorn’s strike as well, throwing its spear straight at Frodo. The hobbit flew through the room and crashed into the wall next to Kat with a dull thud, hanging limply from the spear, nailed through the side of his chest. She meowed in panic and tried to reach him, but Sam was already there, whimpering as he hacked the shaft off with his dagger.

Cradling his friend in his arms, Sam murmured soothing words. Kat noticed he was bleeding from his head, a slow trickle making his brown curls look black, but surprisingly Frodo appeared unhurt as far as her animal senses could tell.

Further away, Aragorn dealt a mighty strike to the tall orc, cleaving both its helmet and its head in halves. Again the smaller orcs fled, with the human warriors on their heels.

The drums continued relentlessly in the deep, announcing more foes, and Gandalf shouted desperately: “Run for it!”

Boromir tried to wedge the main entrance shut again while Aragorn scooped Frodo up in his arms, but the hobbit wriggled down, saying he was perfectly able to walk by himself. Aragorn was shocked; Frodo had been impaled by a spear, he should be dead. But there was no time to ponder over this mystery, they had to leave. 

The hobbits hurried down the stairs and Boromir came next, dragging a reluctant Gimli along; he had lingered by the coffin to say a last farewell to his cousin. Legolas picked up Kat and followed suit. Only Gandalf stayed to cover their retreat, despite Aragorn’s desperate plea for him to join them.

“Do as I say!” demanded the wizard sternly. “Go!”

The stairs were completely dark, with neither a light shaft nor the wizard's staff to guide them, and the descent went nerve-rackingly slow. 

Kat’s ear was beginning to throb dully and she smelled blood, but it was probably only a scratch. She had more important things to worry about. Were they followed? And when would Gandalf come? 

Surely the old wizard had not meant to let himself be killed for their sake? That would be stupid. The Fellowship needed him; he was their leader, and in addition he must help Kat figure out who she was supposed to save.

Finally they had reached the bottom and stopped to huddle close by one another, peering anxiously back up where a faint glimmer indicated Gandalf still standing guard by the door, holding his staff.

Under their feet, the ground trembled with each boom, boom, boom from the drums.

Suddenly there was a flash of white, followed by a rumble of shattering stone. The drums went crazy, pounding faster, and from the stairs Gandalf came tumbling down. 

He says he was nearly killed by a foe mightier than him. Not surprisingly, the elf sounded deeply shaken; the light had gone out again and above the stairs was apparently an enemy that even Gandalf could not beat.

Accompanied by the sound of the drums, the company stumbled onward with Gandalf in the lead, muttering to himself too silently for Kat to understand. He also sounded scared. The combination of the impenetrable darkness, the wizard’s fear, and the unknown horror behind them turned the walk into a veritable nightmare.

On and on they went, mostly straight, but every once in a while down more steps. At last Gandalf stopped and sank to the ground.

He says he must rest, thought Legolas nervously.

I can't hear anyone following, and the drums are silent. Maybe they stayed in the tomb?

I hope so. He drew in a shaky breath and sat down. I guess I had better rest my legs as well. Who knows when I may need to run.

Don’t worry, thought Kat unconvincingly. She was trembling worse than an aspen leaf. Legolas hugged her close and she poked her nose into the crook of his neck. He smelled like sweat and fear, but also of his own, comforting scent.

Now Gandalf is telling what happened up there. He was creating a spell to seal the door when he heard the orcs on the other side talk of fire, and then something powerful came into the chamber, scaring them into silence. It touched the door from the other side, perceiving Gandalf and his spell through it, and sent a counterspell so strong it almost broke him. Gandalf tried to parry with a Word of Power, but that made the door shatter and the roof of the chamber crumble. Before he fell down the stairs by the sheer force of that, he saw something dark and smoky inside. That is why he is so exhausted he cannot even light his staff. But on a positive note, he seems to think the stonefall caught our pursuers, hindering them from following us.

“Now, what about you, Frodo?” said Gandalf, trying to sound more cheerful. 

“What about me?” the hobbit replied, adding that he was bruised and in pain but not too badly. 

“Hobbits must be made of tough stuff,” said Aragorn. 

“There is more about you than meets the eye,” Gandalf agreed.

With that, the break was over and they continued. 

After a while it was becoming warmer, and they noticed a red glow ahead.

“Fire,” muttered Gandalf. The orcs had spoken of fire. Had they set the mines on fire to stop the Fellowship? It certainly seemed so, for the nearer they came, the warmer it got, and the light flickered on the distant walls. But they had no choice; there was no way but forward.

Gandalf went ahead to scout and quickly returned with the news that they were near the exit, and that he had discovered the source of the fire. “Come and look!”

The company followed him into another vast hall, similar to the one where they had slept before, and saw that on one end a great chasm had opened in the black stone floor. Flame and smoke came from the crack, creating long, dancing shadows on the surrounding pillars.

Gandalf explained that the fire went right across the main road, so had they come the way he initially had intended, they would have been trapped. But now, with luck, the fissure would be between them and the pursuing enemy! 

They hurried across the smooth floor, but to their dismay that horrible sound instantly began again: boom, boom, boom. Never had Kat felt more tiny and exposed. 

“If the sun shines outside we may still escape! After me,” cried Gandalf, running before them faster than it should be possible for such an old man.

They heard horns blowing and the patter of many feet. Shrill orc shrieks and yells echoed between the walls, and an arrow soared by over their heads. 

The feet stopped but the shrieks grew louder. Boromir looked over his shoulder and laughed in glee. “The fire has cut them off!”

“Look ahead,” warned Gandalf. “The bridge is near!”

From her vantage point on Legolas’ shoulder, Kat saw what he was talking of, and her stomach plummeted. A narrow strip of stone spanned a deep, black abyss, and there, far away on the other side was a huge doorway; the exit.

Are we going over that? 

Aye.

But there are no rails or anything! I can’t. I can’t do it. It’s not safe!

“Hush now, adanig nín.” Legolas’ low voice was soothing. He seemed not afraid anymore, not here in the expansive, airy hall with the door out of Moria within sight.

They had reached the bridge, and despite her better knowledge, Kat looked down. She regretted it instantly when the familiar nausea caught her. I’m going to throw up.

Do not worry. I shall carry you.  

Your clothes will be ruined.

A small price to pay.

Gandalf was just preparing to send them out one by one, when suddenly an arrow hit Frodo, but for some reason it bounced harmlessly off his back. Another arrow struck Gandalf’s hat. 

The old man’s bushy eyebrows drew together. “The nerve!” he growled under his breath.

Legolas turned around, nocking an arrow of his own to retaliate. Kat saw the many orcs milling about behind the fire, and among them two trolls were building a bridge across it with huge slabs of rock.

Suddenly Legolas drew in a sharp breath and cried out in shock, involuntarily dropping his arrow. Kat felt the surge of sheer panic that went through his body. Something was coming up behind the fire, something huge and dark, a great, shadowy giant. The orcs fled before it in all directions. 

The shadow easily leaped across the burning fissure and the fire enveloped it, clothing it in flame like a mantle. It held a blazing sword in one hand, and a multi-tailed whip in the other.

“Ai! Ai! A balrog! A balrog is come!” wailed Legolas.

”Durin’s Bane!” Gimli dropped his axe and covered his eyes. 

Gandalf leaned heavily on his staff, muttering to himself. He looked exhausted.

The balrog was approaching with speed, flames billowing around its head like a burning mane, and behind it a horde of orcs surged over the slab bridges created by the trolls.

A horn blasted proudly right behind Kat. She started, almost peeing herself before she saw it was Boromir. The sound seemed to encourage his fellows, and across the hall the enemy hesitated. But only for a moment, soon they resumed their charge.

“Over the bridge!” shouted Gandalf. “Fly!”

Gimli obediently started out across the black gorge and after him went the hobbits in a single file. Kat looked at them, awed of their bravery. If her life depended upon it, she could not have walked over that by herself. Her claws dug deep into Legolas’ shoulder as he began to run, and she squeezed her eyes tightly shut, paralyzed with fear. 

Gandalf had stopped in the middle of the bridge, and the rest of the Fellowship halted, unwilling to leave their leader behind. 

The balrog stood before him now, towering impossibly high above the old man, its nostrils flaming and smoking. The wizard looked so small in his gray coat and blue hat, still with a black orc arrow embedded into it, and his sword was tiny compared to the balrog’s burning blade and long, dancing whip. Yet, he stood firm.

“You cannot pass!” His voice was strong, teeming with power and authority. The orcs stopped and the hall suddenly grew very silent. “Go back to the shadow. You cannot pass.”

The balrog said nothing. Its flames flickered and waned, but instead it grew darker, blacker. It took a step onto the bridge, and while doing so it grew to even greater height. From its back it spread two wings so enormous they spanned from one wall to the other, and its head nearly touched the cave ceiling far above. Kat felt pure evil emanating from it, and it was the most horrible feeling she had ever experienced. Under her paws, Legolas struggled to breathe and staggered backwards.

Gandalf remained unmoving, not budging a millimeter.

The burning sword surged down upon him, but he met it with impossible strength, his blade flaming blue against the other’s dull red. With a clash and a bolt of light the balrog’s weapon shattered, imploding in a shower of sparks and smoldering ash.

Gandalf swayed a little. “You cannot pass,” he said.

The balrog hissed and swung its whip, producing a sharp crack.

“He cannot stand alone!” Aragorn ran back to the bridge. “Elendil!”

“Gondor!” Boromir followed closely behind.

Before they could reach him, Gandalf raised his staff, and with a strained shout he made the bridge collapse under the burning monster's feet. The staff splintered and fell into the abyss, and with it tumbled the balrog in a rain of stones. Its roar was so terrible the entire cave trembled and shook. 

All went silent, until suddenly a shadowy hand shot up, the one holding the whip, and it lashed its cruel weapon one last time. The thongs curled tightly around Gandalf's leg. 

The wizard fell to his knees and was dragged towards the gap. "Fly you fools!" he cried. Then he slid over the edge and was gone.

Chapter Text

“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away.”

― Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man

 


11. With Half an Ear

Staring in utter shock at the spot where Gandalf had disappeared, nobody could move. Time had stopped, or so it felt. This could not happen. He was their leader, such a powerful wizard! How could he have fallen? It was impossible.

Not until the bridge began to crumble, did Aragorn react and begin to hustle the others along. “I will lead you now,” he cried, his voice distorted. “Follow me.”

A few orcs were guarding the exit, but Aragorn cut one down so fiercely that the rest of them shrieked in terror and scuttled off. The fury radiating from the man made Kat ill at ease too, and she cowered, pressing herself against Legolas’ neck, involuntarily digging her claws deeper into his shoulder.

He did not seem to mind; he had spotted the clear, blue sky and sunshine outside and increased his step, running lightly and speedily through the gate and out on the hillside. Still running, he drew several deep breaths of fresh air.  

They descended a set of tall stairs, roughly hewn out of the mountain, and continued until they were out of bowshot range and could risk a pause to catch their breaths. 

All of them were trembling with adrenalin and surplus energy, and it took a long while until Kat had calmed down enough to comprehend what had just happened, and realize they had actually made it. That they were safe. 

Behind them the drum beats faded and soon stopped entirely. It was daylight and bright sunshine; the orcs dared not come out.

When the most acute fear and shock had subsided, grief came in its wake. Gandalf was gone. Their leader was dead. Spreading out, sitting and lying on the ground, most of them wept; the hobbits openly, Aragorn with his arm covering his face. 

Legolas stretched out on his back and gazed up at the blue sky, where fluffy clouds unconcernedly sailed past. His eyes were dry and he looked more confused than sad. 

Kat sat beside his head and noticed with some embarrassment his tunic was torn and frayed. I hope I didn’t claw your shoulder too badly. 

Instead of replying, he murmured: “I never thought he would die.” 

Kat’s chest constricted. He sounded so forlorn, and for someone that ancient, right now he looked very young. 

I’m sorry for your loss. She placed her paw on his cheek, wishing it was a hand and that she could hug him. 

“Thank you.” He reached out to stroke her, but then his eyes narrowed. What happened to your ear?

At his mention, the burning pain from before returned. In all the excitement she had forgotten about it again. 

I was hit by an arrow. It’s probably just a scratch. 

A scratch? He sat up, gently turning her head so he could see better. Kat, your ear is gone.

Gone? She tried to feel it with her paw, and the pain intensified. Ah, well. Good thing I had two then. One to spare, as it were.

The wound needs seeing to. He sounded concerned.

Not now. Aragorn said we couldn’t stay here for long. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.

Legolas did not press the matter, but a small frown remained on his forehead when he laid back down.

Kat was not acting brave, she truly did not care. So what if she had lost an ear? This was not her real body anyway. 

She let the afternoon sun warm her face, trying to forget the dull throbbing of her wound. It was such a brilliant day out here, in sharp contrast with the many horrors they had left behind. It should have been raining, she figured – a much more fitting mourning weather. Though, she could not honestly say she mourned Gandalf; not after knowing him for such a short time. Instead, the wizard’s demise worried her. What if it was he she had been sent to save, and now she had failed them all? 

But he had never climbed any vessels, as far as she knew… And if he had, he would have remembered it and known he was the one, right? He would have told her.

It struck Kat that even if it was Gandalf, she could have done nothing to prevent his death in this form. Not for the first time, she wondered what the heck Mr Pretty Voice had been thinking when he decided a cat’s body was suitable for this quest. Why had he not made her a badass, immortal fighter-wizard? It was almost as if he wanted her to fail.

Sighing, she pushed down her annoyance and worry. She would simply have to keep tagging along and hope for the best, that was all she could do. Fretting over things beyond her control was a waste of energy. 

/\_,,_
( u _ u )

Before they left, Gimli wanted to visit a beautiful lake nearby, the famous Mirrormere. In Kat’s opinion this was the worst time to go sightseeing, but the dwarf was eager and nobody else seemed to mind. 

It was not far from the gate and indeed astonishingly beautiful, she had to give him that. Long and narrow it lay beneath them, reflecting the sky and the snow capped tips of the mountains they had just passed through. It was the kind of photogenic lake they put on postcards, travel guides and Windows backgrounds. 

The water was exceptionally clear and when Kat bent down to lap some, she could see her reflection like in a mirror. The name of the lake was well chosen.

She had not studied her cat body many times, and took a good look now. Her left ear really was gone – torn off halfway down, leaving a jagged stump – but apart from that she appeared to be in a fairly good condition, considering her recent ordeals. There was a healthy shine in her short, tabby fur, and though she was slimmer than most house cats, she did not look starving despite the meagre rations she ate. Her yellow eyes with their slit pupils were a bit disturbing, and she figured those were her least nice feature in this shape.

Aragorn was anxious to get as much distance between themselves and Moria before nightfall, and soon called for them to get going. He took the lead, walking downhill in his ground-covering gait, and Kat and the hobbits had some trouble to keep up. 

“With Strider leading us, we shall have to always run,” panted Sam, who was portly built. Strider was the hobbits’ nickname for the tall man.

“I wish Gandalf was back.” Pippin’s lip trembled. It seemed the wizard’s harsh treatment of the young hobbit had not made him like him less.

“We all do. But Strider is a good man. I trust him,” said Frodo hoarsely. His eyes were puffy and red from crying. He was probably the one most affected by Gandalf’s death, having known the wizard for many years before the quest. 

Then they silenced, focusing on half-running down the uneven ground and struggling not to fall behind. With the hurry and serious threat of pursuing orcs they had to save the mourning for later. 

After a while they came to the Silverlode, a small brook with icy cold water from the mountains, which they would follow down to the elvish realm of Lothlórien. 

Lothlórien is a very famous forest among my people, thought Legolas excitedly. I look forward to going there. The trees are unlike any other; they have silver bark and golden crowns, and keep their leaves all through the winter. 

He went on at length about those trees, and the flowers, and how beautiful everything was said to be, and how unfortunate they could not have come there in the spring. 

Kat smiled inwardly. It was rather endearing with how much the elf loved trees, and though she did not share his obsession with them, she enjoyed listening to him. It was good to have him back as his normal, cheerful self. His bleak mood in the darkness of Moria had been disheartening. 

/\_,,_
( *ᆽ* )

All afternoon they trudged on. The tempo was still high, and the exertion began to take its toll on Kat. She was hungry and tired, and her ear smarted more than she wanted to admit after her offhand dismissal of it before. Not that there was anybody to complain to; Legolas was walking up front with Aragorn now, and by the sound of it talking about trees with him as well. 

Gradually, Kat and the hobbits were lagging behind, until they could not see the others anymore. Kat did not worry; she knew she could smell her way to them, but the hobbits were a bit uneasy.

“I hope we shan’t get lost,” said Pippin in a small voice.

“No worries. I still hear them, and besides, we can just follow the brook,” said Merry, but he did not sound as calm as he probably intended to.

“My head hurts,” mumbled Sam weakly. His face was very pale, and Kat remembered she had seen blood in his hair back in Moria. It had dried now and was less visible, which could explain why nobody else had noticed. 

“What happened to you?” asked Frodo concernedly. He was holding his side while walking, so apparently the spear he miraculously survived had not left him entirely unscathed either.

“An orc sword.”

“It doesn’t look deep, but perhaps I should call Aragorn. Though, I hesitate to make noise in case there are enemies around…”

He did not have to decide, because now the others had noticed the lack of hobbit in their company and traced their steps back to them.

“I am sorry, Frodo,” said Aragorn remorsefully. “In all the need for hurry I forgot you were hurt.”

“I’m fine. It’s worse with Sam.”

“I know a place ahead where we can rest and tend to you. Come, Boromir, let us carry them.”

They continued with Frodo and Sam piggybacking the men, and some way further they stopped in a cosy glade. Dense fir trees surrounded it like a green wall and the ground was covered in fluffy moss and bilberry shrubs. 

Now the others finally noticed Kat’s lost ear, and crowded around her to offer their sympathy and condolences. Again she waved it off as unimportant, though she secretly did not mind being fussed over. It made her feel a bit like a war veteran with a scar. Just a shame she had acquired it while cowardly hiding in a chest.

Luckily neither her injury nor Sam’s seemed to be poisoned – apparently that was always a risk with orc weapons. Aragorn used Athelas for cleaning their wounds, a fragrant herb which he mixed with water and said would promote healing. Kat had prefered a painkiller and perhaps some antibiotics, but of course there were no modern treatments available here. At least the Athelas paste smelled nice, and Aragorn had a surprisingly soft touch for a warrior. 

“There, all set.” He secured a linen bandage with a neat knot. Then he stroked her cheek softly. “I have done what I could, but it will not give you your ear back. I am truly sorry.” His voice sounded earnest and kind.

Kat dropped her gaze in embarrassment. To have Aragorn give her his full attention made her stomach flip and her legs feel like boiled spaghetti. He had such a larger than life personality. 

Beside her, Legolas smirked knowingly. Really, Kat, are you going to fawn over all the males in the Fellowship?

I’m not fawning! And if you say that out loud I shall claw your face. 

But then you would ruin my good looks. Would that not be a shame? He chuckled.

“What is funny?” asked Aragorn.

“Well…”

I warn you!

“... just my elvish humor. You would probably not understand.”

“I was raised by elves, you know. You can tell me.”

“Maybe another time. Does not Frodo need tending to?”

“I’m fine,” said Frodo.

“Let me check, just in case,” insisted Aragorn. 

When the hobbit had undressed, a silvery chainmail shirt was revealed. So this was how he had survived the orc spear! It reminded Kat of that old western movie, where Clint Eastwood cleverly had made a makeshift bulletproof vest with a piece of iron and hid it under his poncho, tricking the bad guy and killing everybody. It was not cheating because he was the hero.

“A mithril coat. Mithril!” gasped Gimli. “Was this the one Gandalf spoke of? If so, he undervalued it.”

“Is it worth more than the Shire?” whispered Pippin to Merry, profoundly impressed. “That’s a fine gift Bilbo gave him!”

“Bless the old hobbit,” said Merry. 

Underneath the mithril shirt, Frodo’s chest was a bit bruised, and Aragorn washed his ribs with Athelas water. Kat watched with curiosity, having never seen a topless hobbit before. Apart from his diminutive size, he looked a lot like a human man. Slim, but with fairly impressive abs. 

Then she noticed Legolas' amused expression and quickly began to lick her fur instead. Darn perceptive elf! 

Don’t you dare imply I’m ogling hobbits! I was just curious about the wound and the mithril and that.

I did not say anything.

Wipe that smug smile off your face!

They shared a quick evening meal and then it was time to continue. The sun had already set; the orcs would be pouring out of Moria by now and following their trail. They could not risk a night in the open.

As usual the pace was fast, with Aragorn apparently unable to restrain his long legs, but the food had invigorated them and everybody seemed a lot more cheerful.

“I hope he knows where he’s going in this darkness,” remarked Merry.

“Maybe he doesn’t, and just plays by the ear.” Pippin gave Kat a mischievous grin. Then his eyes widened and he quickly curbed his smile. “That was too soon. Sorry!”

Legolas, tell him he can make as many jokes as he likes. I’m all ears.

“I shouldn’t.” Pippin’s small face looked serious. “We just lost Gandalf, it’s disrespectful to fool around like nothing happened.” 

Kat was ashamed. The others were still mourning, and bad puns from their cat companion was probably the least thing they needed.

“I disagree,” said Legolas then. “It is not wrong to keep your spirits up, even after such dire events as this. Gandalf always loved a good joke. He would not have wanted you to hold back for his sake.”

“Are you sure? He often seemed to find me a nuisance.” Pippin looked down.

“That’s because you are a nuisance, Pip,” said Merry, giving his shoulder a friendly shove.

“Yes, he’s wet behind the ears ,” added Frodo. 

“See? Even Frodo is joking. Chin up, cousin.”

“Alright then. I’ll try.” 

Tell him that’s music to my ear.

Kat was rewarded with a relieved laughter, and afterwards, somehow the darkness felt a bit brighter and their tired feet a little less heavy. 

/\_,,_
( *ᆽ* )

When they reached the outskirts of Lothlórien, Legolas was almost bouncing with eagerness and walked even faster than Aragorn the last way. If he had seemed cheerful while just talking about trees, it was nothing in comparison to him actually being among them. He went from trunk to trunk, stroking the silver bark and admiringly gazing up at the golden foliage.

Boromir hesitated just outside the edge of the forest. “Is there no other way?” He looked unusually ill at ease. 

Aragorn asked where he would rather go, and Boromir said he prefered a normal road if there was one. So far, they had taken strange routes – against his will and judgement – and when they decided to go through Moria, Gandalf had paid for it with his life. Back home in Gondor, the Golden Wood was known as a dangerous forest and those who went into it never returned. Should they really risk this path?

“There is no other way,” said Aragorn. ”Unless you would go back into Moria?”

Boromir had to relent then, but he did not look happy when he followed Aragorn inside.

Kat walked last in line, and looked around her with interest. She instinctively liked the place. Somehow it felt warm and safe, and the smell of fresh earth was comforting. Perhaps Boromir’s countrymen were mistaken? Back in the day, people were superstitious and feared all sorts of things for no reason, such as broken mirrors, black cats, vaccines… She could not take his doubts seriously this time.

Her sharp cat senses made her able to see the surroundings quite well, and she heard many curious sounds from the nocturnal inhabitants of the woods; mice, voles, rabbits, a shy fox. How she knew what animal caused which sound she could not say – she just knew. Her cat persona’s doing, probably. 

Suddenly she heard something else, which nearly froze her blood; a patter of feet. This sound she did not know what caused, but she had heard it before – in Moria. Turning around, she anxiously peered into the darkness and felt the fur rise all over her body when she saw a pair of eyes some way behind them, glittering faintly in the weak moonlight. She could not hold back a frightened hiss, and the eyes instantly disappeared. 

Kat hurried to catch up with Legolas. I think we are followed. She quickly described what she had heard and seen, and he conveyed her message to the others.

“I have heard footsteps too,” said Frodo. “Both in Moria and here, before we came into the forest.”

“Is Sting warning for orcs?” asked Aragorn.

Frodo drew his sword and checked, but it looked normal, without the blue shine indicating orcs were nearby.

“It may have been an orc you heard in the Mines, but here it is probably just a harmless animal,” said Aragorn. “Perhaps a lone wolf, hoping for leftovers from our meals, or something of that ilk.”

Kat pondered his words. Could she have imagined that the sound was the same as in Moria? She did not think she had, but even so, there was not much else they could do than continue onwards.

The brook they had been following gradually grew wider as they came to lower ground, and after a while it joined another stream, becoming slower and deeper. 

“This is Nimrodel,” said Legolas. “It is said to have healing water for the weary.” He pulled off his hose and waded out barefoot. The path continued on the other side and there was no bridge, so the others’ followed his example, except for Kat who climbed up on Boromir’s shoulder to get a free ride over. 

The water was apparently very cold, but Legolas stayed a while anyway, washing his hands and face thoroughly. I wish there was time to bathe properly.

Kat did not reply, because the mental images of him bathing made her mouth dry and she could not think of anything to say. Just seeing his bare legs now was enough to make her heart beat faster.

Enjoying the view?

Busted. 

I do, she admitted. He knew she liked him; trying to deny it was pointless. Then she added, rather nastily: But I could have watched you pee countless of times, so what difference does a pair of legs make?

His face took on a horrified expression; apparently that had not occurred to him. Though the company technically knew Kat was a woman, they did not at all act as if she were. It was probably easy to forget when she looked like this.

She took pity on him. Relax. Of course I didn’t watch.

Feeling rather subdued, she turned her back on him and sat down with the others. She hated this form. She knew she was making a fool of herself with her woman’s taste in a cat’s body, and it was humiliating that Legolas saw through it so easily. She doubted he could have done that, if she were herself.

Then, they would be on a more equal footing, and she could have flirted a little to find out if he liked her too. She did not delude herself that he would be instantly attracted to her, but she might have grown on him. If not – and if he teased her about it – she could have simply denied feeling anything for him and feigned interest in someone else, and saved her dignity.

They shared another cold meal, and Legolas left the water at last. Kat averted her gaze when he put his hose back on. Darn elf! 

He seemed for once unaware of her embarrassment, and began to tell the Fellowship all he knew of Lothlórien; old tales from his homeland about elves of the past who had lived here. Kat understood only half of it but did not bother to ask. She closed her eyes and just listened, almost lulled into sleep by the calmness of this place and the softness of his melodious voice.

Then suddenly he began to sing, and her eyes popped wide open. Words could not describe the beauty of his singing voice. It was stunning. If they had had Grammy awards in this world, he would have won every single one of them. 

Darn the elf again! Not only was he handsome, pleasant company and a great cuddler – now he did this to her as well. How would she ever manage to get over him?

The song was melancholy, and told the tale of Nimrodel, an elf maid whom the river was named after, and her lover Amroth. It ended unhappily of course.

The elf maid had lived in a tree house, which apparently was the habit of the Lórien folk. This caught Gimli’s interest. “That would be safer than sitting on the ground,” he mused.

Aragorn agreed. Perhaps they could spend the night in the branches too? Well hidden from orcs.

Kat’s stomach sank when she saw how tall the trees were. She knew she would be terrified up in one of those, and the hobbits were not too keen either. They were not birds who could sleep on a perch, as Pippin put it.

Legolas – of course – eagerly volunteered to climb one and check if it was suitable. He nimbly jumped up and caught a low branch. 

A stern voice came from the dense foliage: “Daro.” 

Legolas went rigid and drowsed back down, anxiously pressing himself against the trunk. What was that?

Chapter Text

“What is there in this world that truly makes living worthwhile?"
Death thought about it.
CATS, he said eventually. CATS ARE NICE.”

― Terry Pratchett, Sourcery

 


12. Lady in the Woods

“Stand still!” whispered Legolas. “Do not move or speak!”

A musical laughter came from the tree, and then someone spoke in an unknown language. Legolas visibly relaxed and answered in the same tongue. 

“Who are they?” murmured Merry.

“Elves, of course,” replied Sam. “Can’t you hear that?”

“Yes, they are elves,” said Legolas. “And they say you breathe so loud they could have shot you in the dark.”

Sam’s eyes grew wide and he clasped his hands over his mouth.

Legolas assured him the elves were no threat; they were border guards who had observed the Fellowship since before they crossed the Nimrodel, and because they recognized the elf among them they had allowed them to continue.

They had apparently heard of Frodo’s quest and wanted to speak with him. A rope ladder was let down and Legolas and Frodo disappeared up it, closely followed by Sam who refused to leave his friend’s side. He climbed rather awkwardly with his hand still covering his mouth.

Soon melodious elf voices came drifting down; speaking too softly for Kat to catch anything.

“I do not like this,” muttered Boromir. “What did they want with Frodo?”

“What do you mean?” asked Aragorn, keeping his voice low as well.

“If they know about the quest they probably know what he carries too. What if they try to take… it?”

“Of course not!” Aragorn scoffed. “They are elves.”

“And Morgoth was a Vala. That is not–” He did not finish the sentence, for then Legolas returned down.

“They want to see Kat too,” he said. Your mission intrigues them, he added mentally.

Kat gave the rope ladder an apprehensive glance. Can’t we talk down here?

I will carry you.  

But it’s super high.

Ignoring her protests, he picked her up and swiftly climbed back. 

You’re like a monkey, she remarked to keep her mind off the growing abyss.

A what?

Never mind.

To Kat’s surprise, there was a wooden platform constructed in the tree, which had been impossible to spot through the dense foliage from below. On it sat Frodo and Sam – who looked as terrified of the height as Kat felt – and three elves in cloaks the same color as the trunk. 

The elves resembled each other, especially two of them who looked like they could be twins. Just like Legolas, they had long, blonde hair, braided back from their temples and smooth, hairless chins. Despite that, they were clearly male with thick eyebrows and strong, masculine jawlines. So, it was not only Legolas who looked like a carefully photoshopped supermodel then; apparently this was the norm for elves. They could have made a fortune on ads for razors and skincare products.

One of them shone a lamp on Kat, making her blink and temporarily lose her night vision.

Greetings, Little Cat. His voice in her head was warm and mellow, slightly darker than Legolas’. It felt odd and strangely intimate to hear another elf’s thoughts after becoming so used to his. I am Haldir, and these here are my brothers Orophin and Rúmil. Can I call you Kitty?”

No, you can’t, Hal. I’m Kat.

Hal? He frowned. 

Greetings, My Lady, came a fairer voice, presumably one of the brothers’, but without their mouths moving she could not say who. Our northern kin tells us you are a human woman?

I’m glad he remembered that. Who am I speaking to? Can you wave or something?

One of them let out a light, melodic laughter. You are funny. I like you already! I am Rúmil.

Then all three spoke to her at once. Kat winced. My head hurts with so many voices. Please, one at a time…

There was a short exchange in their elvish tongue, and Haldir’s voice returned. Our apologies. We can only hear you and ourselves, so it is not possible to tell if someone already speaks, but we have agreed to take turns. We have much to ask you.

Fire away, thought Kat tiredly. She had already been through this so many times with first Legolas and then Gandalf.

The elves questioned her for a long time, very interested in her experiences in the Hall of Mandos and her quest, and like Gandalf, they were curious about who she was sent to save.

A vessel… hm. Haldir sounded thoughtful. We have many boats here. Could it be someone from our realm? The Lord of Lórien is like a king to us, though he does not call himself such. 

You tell me.

Again the elf brothers discussed among themselves, and then Haldir spoke. We will take you to the Lord and Lady tomorrow. They are wise and have much knowledge; if anyone can understand this riddle, it is they. He continued verbally, speaking Westron with a grave elvish accent: “Kitty and the four hobbits shall stay with us tonight. We do not fear them!” He added that Legolas could take the others to a neighbouring tree and make sure they behaved themselves. There were orcs and wargs approaching; even here it was not safe to sleep on the ground.

Kat gave Legolas a pleading look. She did not want to listen to any more of the brothers’ chattering, especially if Haldir would persist calling her Kitty.

Looking rather smug, Legolas said in Westron: “Kat goes with me, but I shall send the other hobbits up.”

“Oh. If you are sure…” Haldir sounded disappointed.

Goodnight Hal. And you too… was it Romeo and Oreo? Kat waved her paw.

Legolas chuckled all the way down the ladder.

In the nextdoor tree there was a similar platform, which Legolas said was called a talan. It had a woven screen to protect them from the wind, but no roof and no walls.

This seems not safe at all. And what do they do when it rains?

There are probably houses on the city talans. I think these are mostly used for guarding the borders.

I hate being up here. She shivered, both from the cold and from vertigo.

Just do not look down. He smiled reassuringly. Now, I am curious… What did you think of the Lórien elves?

Well… they were very pretty, of course, but I’m starting to suspect that goes for all of you guys. Don’t look like that. Conceit doesn’t become you. Anyway, I didn’t like them much .

No? How so?

The way they behaved towards the hobbits – it was kind of condescending, you know? As if they were some unusual and amusing animal species. It reminded me of your treatment of me when we first met, actually.

Sorry about that, but you have to admit your story was rather far-fetched. As for Haldir and his brothers, they have not met other races for many centuries, and I think they have never seen a hobbit before. One must excuse their curiosity.

Sounds racist to me.

Sounds what?

The way you divide people into races like that. Not cool.

You mean I should make no difference between myself and, say, Gimli?

Exactly! You’re basically the same. Only he’s shorter, obviously, and with a beard, and not quite as… Anyway, inside you’re the same.

I disagree. He likes caves. I like trees. 

Wow, you like trees? I’d never have guessed.

I like them a lot, actually. They–

I was sarcastic! Of course I knew that.

It was very windy in the tall tree, but thankfully the elf brothers had given Legolas two blankets and a couple of thick wolfskins. He put the furs in the center of the platform for them to lay upon. Aragorn and Boromir would share one blanket and Gimli, Legolas and Kat the other. 

When they snuggled down, drawing together for warmth, it struck Kat that despite what Legolas had just said about their differences, it seemed he cared less about Gimli’s race these days. She remembered when she first joined the Fellowship, how he had claimed to dislike the other without even knowing him. Simply being a dwarf had been reason enough.

Legolas’ thoughts had taken a similar direction. Perhaps Gimli and I are not so different. Though, I have spoken too little with him to know.

Never too late to begin, is it?

He smiled sleepily. True. Maybe I shall try sometime.

Gimli’s voluminous beard was surprisingly soft and Kat moved closer under the blanket, fighting down an urge to knead it with her paws. He would probably not appreciate that at all. To her surprise, the dwarf almost absentmindedly began to pet her, and she purred contentedly.

“This is cosy,” he remarked.

It is, she agreed, but Legolas did not translate. His breathing was even; he already slept. 

Soon Kat drifted off as well, lulled by Gimli’s snores and the sound of the wind ruffling the golden leaves above.

/\_,,_
(u ᆽ u)

The sound of Legolas stringing his bow woke Kat up not long after. He appeared to be listening intently, and soon she heard it too: the tramping of many feet.

Orcs! Make no sound, he warned.

Kat pressed herself closer to him. There must be hundreds of them, and it sounded like they were heading straight at their talan. She hardly dared breathe. Would the orcs be able to smell them up here, and if so, could they climb trees? Surely not such tall ones as this? She was now immensely grateful they had not spent the night on the ground.

The footsteps came gradually closer, and Kat began to hear more sounds; the jingle of armour, a few growled words, heavy breathing, and most frightening: sniffing like from a pack of hounds. Kat remembered the huge, strange wargs they had encountered at Hollin and felt her fur stand on end at the thought of having such on their trail.

On the talan her friends stirred, but thankfully they had their wits about them and kept quiet. Silently they drew their swords and axe respectively, and Legolas nocked an arrow on his bow.

Then there was a noise further away. Voices. Elf voices.

It is Haldir and his brothers! Bless them. They are leading the orcs off our tracks. He repeated the message in a barely audible whisper to Aragorn, Boromir and Gimli.

Judging by the sounds, the orcs instantly changed direction and broke into a run. Soon they were too far away to be heard.

I hope the elves will be okay… 

They will. This is their forest; they can take care of themselves.

Feeling slightly calmer again, the four people and the cat lay back on the skins, trying to relax, but of course neither of them could fall asleep. Kat could not help straining her ears in case the orcs would return, and next to her Gimli and Legolas lay tense and ready to jump up and fight if need be. 

After perhaps half an hour, Kat heard something new. A nearby tree was stirring – not the one where the hobbits slept, this was at the other side. 

She sat bolt upright. Did you hear that?

Hear what? Legolas sat too.

“What’s happening?” whispered Gimli.

“Kat heard something,” Legolas breathed back.

That tree is moving. She nodded in the direction of the sound.

I see it. Someone is there… on the outer branch. They are coming this way. He picked up his bow, and again the other three drew their weapons.

There was a swishing sound and their own tree trembled slightly.

They jumped here, but I cannot see where they are. Legolas’ inner voice was taut and grim. 

“Suilad.” The fair voice was so unsuspected Kat almost peed herself in surprise, and the others drew in sharp, shocked breaths. 

“Show yourself,” said Aragorn sternly. There was no reaction, so he tried another language – the elf tongue he sometimes spoke with Legolas and Frodo – and now the voice responded. Then an elf woman dropped down from one of the branches above the platform. She was clad in a similar, gray cloak as Haldir and his brothers. Its shifting color seemed to have the same effect as camouflage clothes.

Kat studied her curiously. No wonder elf males were so beautiful, if their females looked like this! Her face was oval and her features regular, with large, blue eyes and a pink, rosebud mouth. A golden blonde mane fell down to her waist when she pushed back her hood, and though rather unkempt and full of leaves, it looked thick and strong, unlike most blonde hairs Kat had seen before – that tended to be full of split ends.

Aragorn fired questions at her in elvish, but she did not reply. Instead she sat on her haunches, looking intently at Kat. 

Hello, cat.

Um. Hi?

I saw when you came across the river. I have never seen a travelling cat before.

I guess I’m unusual. Kat was too tired to explain that she was a woman and describe her mission a second time in the same night.

You are very beautiful. Can I touch you? The elf woman reached out a slim hand. Its elegant form was somewhat ruined by her torn and very dirty nails.

Go ahead.

What is she saying? asked Legolas. Kat had forgotten he could hear her inner conversation even when directed to another elf. So much for privacy.

She wants to pet me.

Ask who she is and why she is following us. She is not answering Aragorn’s questions.

My companions here want to know who you are?

You are really soft, she said. I like the feel of your fur against my palm.

That’s nice. Why did you follow us here? 

Can I carry you? I have never carried a cat.

Maybe if you answer my question, Kat tried.

I came because I wanted to touch you. Can I carry you now?

Oh, alright. Legolas, she says she came here because of me. 

He translated to Aragorn, who looked even more suspicious at that. As if it was so strange to be curious about a cat!

Is his name Green leaf? The elf woman picked Kat up, holding her tight against her bosom. I like that name. She smiled dreamily at Legolas, who hesitantly returned it, looking rather confused. 

Kat felt a twinge of annoyance and sternly pushed it down.

Still petting Kat, the elf woman regarded the others for the first time. Those two are humans, but the tall one looks like an elf, she thought and smiled at Aragorn as well. 

He frowned. 

He reminds me of a human man I knew . He often looked angry like that. But I liked him anyway.

I see.

He killed an elf and ran away. The elf’s exquisite features fell and her eyes became blank. She had very long lashes.

Sorry to hear that, thought Kat politely. This must be the strangest conversation she had ever had.

I told the king he was innocent and he forgave him. But it did not help. He never returned and then he killed himself. A tear trickled down her cheek.

Wait… if he killed an elf, how could he be innocent?

Who killed an elf? asked Legolas tensely.

The elf was mean to him and attacked him. He had to defend himself.

Legolas asks who the man was?

His name was Túrin.

When Kat told Legolas this, his eyes grew wide. If he is the one I think, he lived over six millennia ago, in my father’s homeland. 

When did it happen? asked Kat. Was it a long time ago?

I cannot remember. But I think of it often. She smiled through her tears.

“She does not seem dangerous,” said Aragorn in Westron, sheathing his sword. Boromir did the same, and Gimli let his axe drop.

The elf woman sat down with Kat still in her lap, stroking her fur and contentedly gazing at the surrounding canopy. Aragorn tried to talk to her several times but she seemed not to notice.

After a while they heard some strange, birdlike whistles from below.

“I think it is Haldir and his brothers returning,” said Legolas.

Soon Haldir poked his head up from below. When he caught sight of the elf woman he winced. “Oh no. Not Nellas!” he growled.

Hearing her name, the elf woman looked up and her forehead wrinkled. I do not like him, she thought to Kat.

That makes two of us.

“This is Nellas? I remember her from the old tales,” said Legolas excitedly. He asked her something in his own tongue, but again there was no reply.

“Do not bother,” said Haldir dismissively. “She is…” He made a motion with his hand over his head.

“Oh.”

“Now, let me tell you about the orc company.” He described how he and his brother had lured the enemy deep into the forest and left them there, while his other brother had hurried ahead to fetch their warriors. Those orcs would never leave Lothlórien. 

“Well done!” cheered Aragorn.

“However, when we returned here just now, we found a strange creature climbing the tree with the hobbits. It looked almost like a hobbit as well, but it was too dark to see clearly, and it fled when it smelled us.”

“Could that be the orc Kat heard?” asked Boromir. “The one who followed us in Moria.”

“It was no orc,” said Haldir firmly. 

“I do not like this,” said Aragorn, sounding concerned.

“Whatever it was, it cannot enter our guarded city,” said Haldir. “Dawn is upon us. We shall go there now.”

In the bleak, cold morning they set out again, with Haldir in the lead and his brother Rúmil in the rear. To the elves' dismay, Nellas went with them, insisting on carrying Kat and not at all minding their vain attempts to shoo her away.

I like that there are so many mellyrn here, she thought conversationally.

What’s that?

Mallorn trees. She indicated the golden foliage above. Which is your favorite tree?

I don’t know many tree species, sorry.

Apart from mellyrn, my favorites are beeches. I love the crisp sound of their leaves under my feet in the autumn. Don’t you?

I can’t recall what beech leaves look like.

Are you talking about trees? asked Legolas interestedly, and added something in elvish. This time Nellas replied, and soon they were deeply engaged in conversation.

Again Kat felt that annoying pang. 

Then Haldir made his bird whistle and she turned to see what was happening. He was standing at the riverbank, and another elf emerged from the underbrush on the other side. Haldir elegantly tossed one end of a gray rope over to him and secured the other end around a tree trunk. Soon they had created a tightrope bridge across the stream.

“I can walk this, but not the others,” said Legolas. “Must they swim?”

Swim? Are you mad? Kat looked at the swirling waters with deep distrust. As a human she had liked swimming, but now the mere thought of it made her shudder.

Haldir laughed and tossed another two ropes across, tying them over the first one; a lower rope for the hobbits and Gimli to hold onto, and a higher one for the humans. With various degrees of ease they then traversed it. Pippin seemed a natural tightrope walker, while Sam looked terrified the whole time, claiming it to be unnatural and something more suited for spiders.

When at last they all stood on the other side, Haldir took a strip of cloth from his pack. “As was agreed, I shall here blindfold the eyes of the dwarf.” 

“What? I never agreed to this!” Gimli looked outraged.

“It is our law.”

Gimli’s bushy eyebrows drew together, making his deeply set eyes nearly disappear. He would rather return back home than be treated like a prisoner! When he hefted his axe threateningly the elves drew their bows.

Legolas shook his head in annoyance. “Dwarves and their stiff necks!”

“Blindfold us all,” said Aragorn. “Legolas too. It is not fair to single out the dwarf.”

“Aye, I can agree to that,” said Gimli, chuckling at the mental images of all of them stumbling blindly through the forest.

“Me? I am an elf and their kin!” Now it was Legolas’ turn to look outraged.

“Elves and their stiff necks!” Aragorn smirked.

In the end, Legolas had to yield and all of them were blindfolded, even Kat, still lying in Nellas’ arms.

“That I must walk blind, while the sun shines under leaves of gold,” grumbled Legolas.

Maybe you can talk with your new friend, thought Kat tartly.

Are you jealous? came his amused reply.

Not at all, she lied. Of course you like her; she’s very beautiful.

Thank you, thought Nellas. Again, Kat had completely forgotten that all elves could hear her, although they could not hear each other.

So? All elf ladies are beautiful. But you need not worry. I am not the marrying kind.

Whoa, hold on… Aren’t you reading a lot into my words now? I never said anything about… that. She avoided the word marriage, not wanting Nellas and possibly Haldir and Rúmil to know the embarrassing turn their conversation had taken. And I wasn’t worrying, she added.

I forget you are human. To elves, love and marriage are the same, and if I wanted a wife, I would have found one long before my five-hundredth year. 

You mean you’re too old for… such things?

Of course not, he scoffed. I told you, elves do not age. I am still in my prime, and will remain so indefinitely. 

But if you met someone you really liked, then you could marry her despite your age? Kat again forgot their audience.

I still like Túrin though he is dead, thought Nellas. But he married his sister. And then she died too.

Who is marrying who? thought Haldir curiously, almost at the same time.

Goodness, this is confusing. Kat shook her head dizzily. Wait, what… He married his sister?

Oh, is Nellas going on about Túrin again, thought Haldir dismissively.

If you mean Túrin, aye, he did, thought Legolas. Unknowingly, of course. It is a long and very sad story; I will tell it another time. But to answer your question, I suppose elves cannot grow too old for such feelings – in fact, Aragorn is betrothed to an elf maid older than I. However, I am sure love is not for me, and even if it were, you can rest assured Nellas will never provoke it. I enjoyed talking with her about trees, and about Doriath where my father grew up, but she is… like a small elfling, though she is an adult, if you know what I mean? 

Was he trying to say that Nellas had an intellectual disability? For some reason Kat felt annoyed but could not quite explain why. Maybe it was his offhand dismissal of Nellas as a potential partner because she was different, or maybe it was his determination never to fall in love.

Your love life is none of my business, she thought. And then she fell silent, tired of voices in her head, just focusing on the various smells and sounds of the forest, and the soft conversation between Haldir and the hobbits as they trudged on blindly. 

Soon she would meet this famous Lady of Lórien, and maybe then she could finally find out more about her quest.

Chapter Text

“They always gives me bath salts," complained Nobby.
"And bath soap and bubble bath and herbal bath lumps
and tons of bath stuff and I can't think why,
'cos it's not as if I hardly ever has a bath.
You'd think they'd take the hint, wouldn't you?”

Terry Pratchett, Hogfather

 


13. Caras Galadhon

Being blindfolded for such a long time was uncomfortable, and the soft rocking motions from being carried made Kat slightly nauseous. With her exceptional sense of smell it was stupid anyway; she knew that if she wanted to, she could easily track their steps backwards and discover the way to the hidden city. 

In addition, it was confusing not to be able to measure time by the position of the sun. It brought back not-so-nice memories from the darkness of Moria. Legolas had hated it there. How did he feel now? He had been walking in silence almost the entire time, now.

When they stopped at last, it was cooler, and the cloth over Kat’s eyes let in enough light to make her know it was evening. Haldir said they would stay the night here, and to Kat’s relief they would sleep on the ground. They had come deep enough into the forest to be safe from orcs and wargs. 

Sadly their blindfolds must stay on even at night, but at least they were served a lovely supper, a lot better than the fare they had had so far. Haldir and his elven companion even gave them fresh meat! It was delicious.

When they made themselves ready to sleep, Kat followed her nose to find Legolas and snuggle up with him as usual, and heard Nellas come after her. When the elf woman also lay down there, Legolas started in surprise and said something in his own language. Nellas did not reply.

What’s wrong? asked Kat.

She put her bed next to mine. It is very inappropriate!

But earlier you said… something I’ll not repeat. I’m sure you remember. The fact that Nellas and Haldir could hear Kat’s thoughts was making mental conversation so much more difficult. 

I said she was like a child, I know, but she does not look that way, and she is of age. It is not proper for adult elves to sleep together unless they are husband and wife!

I’m an adult too, remember? Calm down. We won’t jump on you and seduce you in your sleep.

Is Legolas embarrassed over all the ladies who want to share his bed? asked Haldir. His inner voice was full of mirth.

You just gave me very disturbing mental images, thought Legolas at the same time.

Just shush and sleep. Both of you.

The blind journey continued in the morning, and not until after several hours did they get another break to rest their legs. Well, to rest the legs of those who unlike Kat did not have the luxury of being carried.

Suddenly the woods became full of melodious voices, and Haldir went to speak with the new arrivals.

Oh no , groaned Legolas. I had hoped to be able to take a bath before having to meet more of my kindred.

What a disaster! thought Kat mockingly.

What is a disaster? thought Haldir, who had just returned. 

Legolas’ had wanted to wash his hair.

That was private! thought Legolas indignantly.

I like to bathe naked in the rain, thought Nellas, and then said something verbally – obviously the same thing, judging by the strangled noises the nearby males’ made, at least those who spoke Sindarin.

“What did she say?” came Pippin’s voice.

“Nothing important,” said Frodo quickly, sounding a bit hoarse.

“We shall rest here awhile”, said Haldir. “There is a pond over there if you want to freshen up before you enter the city.” Apparently he agreed with Legolas that being dirty was a disaster. “In addition, I have good news from the Lord and Lady. No more need for a blindfold!”

He carefully removed the cloth over Kat’s eyes, and blinking in the sunlight she met his delighted gaze. Then his eyes widened. What happened to your ear?

Orc arrow. Kat remembered he had never seen her in daylight, or he probably would have noticed before.

Such a shame! He stroked her head softly, avoiding the scarred area. 

Perhaps this Haldir guy was not so bad after all, Kat figured, leaning into his touch.

When Haldir had helped the rest of them unbind their eyes, they discovered that the elves they had heard had already left, as silently as they arrived. Haldir said they were warriors on their way to strengthen the border guard in case of more attacks from Moria. They had also brought him the news that the orc host had been defeated, but there had been sightings of a very strange creature who walked on hands and feet. It had escaped before anyone could catch it, and not knowing whether it was good or bad, they had not shot it.

That could be the creature who followed us, thought Kat, at the same time as Frodo said: “It must be the one who climbed our talan!”

While Legolas made good on Haldir’s offer and wandered away to wash his hair in the icy pond, the others explored the extraordinary place they found themselves in. 

Cerin Amroth, as it was called, had once been the home of Nimrodel’s lover in Legolas’ song. Despite the season, soft grass grew on the slopes of a hill, and scattered between the green strands were a myriad of tiny yellow and white flowers of a kind Kat did not recognize – though, in all honesty, she did not know the names of many flowers. Two circles of trees surrounded the area; the outer trees were white with naked branches, and the inner were the golden mellyrn they had seen before. In the center was a large mallorn with a flet, and this Haldir, Frodo and Sam went to explore. 

Meanwhile, Aragorn ambled around dreamily, picking flowers and smiling to himself. By his distant gaze, Kat figured he probably thought about his fiancee. Legolas had mentioned there was an elf maid waiting for him back home.

Kat felt no inclination neither to freeze to death like Legolas, nor pick flowers or climb flets, so she went to sit with Boromir for a change. The man was glaring darkly at the flet where Frodo had just disappeared, and she remembered how suspicious he had been of the elves’ intentions. Did he still believe they wanted to steal the Ring? 

She badly regretted that she could not talk with him. Instead, all she could do was sit in his lap and purr, hoping to at least help him relax a bit. 

With a sigh he tore his gaze from the tree and began to scratch Kat behind her ear. 

Nellas had followed her as usual, and sat down by them, smiling almost as dreamily as Aragorn. In daylight she was even more beautiful, and Boromir straightened up. Harkling, he spoke to her in Sindarin; by the sound of it saying something polite, possibly about the weather.

She peered closely at him and said something in turn, which made him first pale and then flush brightly. With tense jaws and stiff shoulders he turned his gaze down.

What did you say to him? asked Kat anxiously.

That he looks troubled and afraid, and I feel sorry for him. Oblivious of the man’s reaction, she picked a few of the yellow flowers and began to twist them into a bow.

Uh-oh. I don’t think he appreciates being called afraid. He’s a proud warrior, and…  Well, he’s a man. That’s probably reason enough.

Nellas did not seem to care or understand. Calmly completing the flower garland, she hung it over Kat’s neck.

Kat had an idea. Nellas… Can’t you speak some more with Boromir? Maybe it would cheer him up.

Do you think he likes trees? thought Nellas hopefully.

Can’t you ask him about his city? I think he misses home.

I miss home too . Her eyes grew misty. Poor him. I do not like cities but I will be kind and ask him about it anyway. As she turned to Boromir and began to speak, his rigid shoulders relaxed and he replied with gusto. For the first time, Nellas seemed to pay attention, or at least try to.

Apparently there is a tree in his city, she thought excitedly. He is telling me its history now.

Pleased with herself, Kat listened to their engaged conversation though she did not understand a word of it, glad that Boromir finally had someone to talk to. 

It struck her that he probably felt very lonely in the company. But come to think of it, didn’t they all? Apart from the hobbits, the rest of them were a mismatched, motley bunch of fellows tossed together. Admittedly, there were two men, but being so different in disposition it was obvious they were not friends material. Then there was one dwarf, one elf (at least up until now), and one cat. Whoever had designed the Fellowship must have been drunk.

She heard a pleasant voice humming the tune of the Nimrodel song, and Legolas emerged from the direction of the pond. His cheeks were pink from the cold water and his slightly damp hair was remade with new braids to hold it back from his temples. He looked spotlessly clean and more handsome than ever.

Nice. He smirked and touched Kat’s flower decoration. She clawed his fingers in retaliation.

Stretching out his legs and resting his weight on one arm, Legolas gazed admiringly around him. I’m so relieved to be rid of that horrible blindfold. What an amazing place this is! The trees, the flowers… I love it. I could stay here all day.

It was heartwarming to see him so delighted. I’m happy for you. She rubbed her nose against his chin, drawing in the comforting scent of clean elf.

Thank you! The smile he gave her was dazzling. Kat’s legs turned weak like jelly and she did not know where to look. Darn elf!

/\_,,_
(O _ o)

They rested a while longer, and then went on again with the setting sun lighting their path. Haldir estimated they would reach the elf city at dusk. 

Without a blindfold, Kat preferred to walk on foot, and the last part of the journey was much more pleasant for all of them. The atmosphere among them was cheerful, and even Boromir joined in when they talked and joked with Haldir and each other.

And then, when it had almost grown completely dark, they finally saw it: the city of Caras Galadhon. It was a cluster of mallyrn surrounded by a wall, and the trees were huge, almost impossibly tall. The many lamps scattered in their crowns made them appear like a part of the starry night sky.

I do not like cities, thought Nellas. But I will come anyway. I like cats. And Boromir. He is a very nice man.

I’m glad you two get along so well, thought Kat.

Who get along? thought Legolas and Haldir in stereo.

None of your business.

They followed a white, paved road the last way and entered the city through a gate. Within, many paths went this way and that. There was no elf in sight, but they heard them; a soft humming of melodious voices drifting down from the treetops, putting Kat in mind of a summer evening in a city full of outdoor restaurants. 

Haldir led them through a maze of paths and silver stairs. The place had an ethereal beauty, and moving below the many lamps with the distant voices above, Kat almost felt like she were walking through a pleasant dream.

In the center of the city was a clearing with a shimmering fountain. Here grew the largest tree of all; its mighty trunk disappeared into the shadows far above, and its wide crown covered the sky entirely. A white ladder leaned against it, guarded by three elves in chainmail and white cloaks.

One of the guards blew his horn, and an answer came from high above; they were invited up. 

Kat was brusquely roused from her dreamlike state then, becoming wide awake at the realization of what they were about to do. This would be horrible. Absolutely horrible!

When Legolas picked her up, she cast a longing glance at Nellas who had seated herself beside the fountain, apparently having no inclination to follow. 

Must I come, she whined, already knowing the answer.

Aye. Lady Galadriel wants to see you, thought Haldir.

Just don’t look, Little One. You will be fine, came Legolas’ soothing voice.

Nearly crawling in under his green tunic, Kat did her best to hide her face when they began the ascent. The ladder creaked and swayed under the elf’s feet, and her stomach felt heavy. Don’t drop me. Please don’t drop me! She knew her claws were pricking his skin but she had gone rigid with fear and was unable to retract them.

I will never drop you. 

If I die, I shall leave my flower wreath to you. This is my last will and testament.

You will not die. He was climbing with one hand, and with the other he drew her closer. His calm heartbeat and familiar smell was comforting.

The climb felt like it would never end. How could a tree be this tall? To take her mind off it, Legolas kindly began to describe what he saw. We are reaching the first talan now, and there is another one on the branch to my right as well. We continue up, going through the floor of a new talan. And here is another one. This palace is much larger than I thought; like a hall with many rooms. 

Oh, it’s a palace?

Aye, I think it is. The home of the Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn. He moved to the side, and it sounded like he was walking on a wooden floor. We have reached the uppermost talan now. There is a house built upon it, and I stand in the middle of the platform. You can open your eyes. 

Kat cautiously did so, and was relieved to see that the edge of the platform was far enough that she could not see the abyss. The embarrassing fear left her. So sorry for clawing you again. I can’t help myself.

No need. I know the feeling. He smiled reassuringly.

The house looked impossibly large to be built in a tree, and when they entered, Kat saw the trunk of the mallorn went right through it. They had come into a spacious room with unusual, oval shaped walls, colored in green and silver, and with a golden ceiling. It was full of elves sitting in neat rows, and in front of the trunk stood two, slightly more fancy chairs. The elves seated there could only be the Lord and his Lady. 

The sight of so many supermodel faces was intimidating, and even more daunting was the extraordinary couple, rising politely to greet them. The two looked a bit alike; very tall, with fair skin, pale eyes and a mass of wavy hair cascading down their backs, Galadriel’s golden blonde and Celeborn’s silver. They were dressed in impossibly white gowns, which looked like the clothes in a laundry whitener commercial.

Kat was not the only one who fidgeted nervously in the couple’s overpowering presence. 

“Does that cat wear a flower collar? And what happened to her ear?” asked Celeborn. Really, she had to do something about that ear. Get a prosthetic one, or something. 

Then the Lord of Lórien seemed to mind his manners, and greeted each of them by name. When they were seated – to her delight, Kat got her own chair too – the lord continued gravely: “Here are eight persons and a cat. Nine were to set out; so said the message, but we had not heard one would be an animal.”

“She is no animal,” corrected his wife mildly. Kat could have kissed her. “And she was not part of the original company. Gandalf the Grey set out with them, but he did not come into this land. Tell me, where is he? For I much desired to speak with him again.” The lady’s voice was a dark and pleasant alto, and just nearly as beautiful as Mr Pretty Voice’s. They would have made a great duo, should they get into the entertainment business.

“Alas! He fell into shadow in Moria,” said Aragorn. Around them, the elves in the audience gasped and there were several exclamations of dismay. Aragorn’s eyes became blank and the others in the Fellowship looked sad as well when they were reminded of their former leader’s demise.

Celeborn seemed both shocked and angry. This was bad news indeed, and how come they had not told Haldir directly? 

“We almost forgot our grief for a time,” said Legolas. The calmness and beauty of Lothlórien had made them think happier thoughts.

Aragorn recounted the events of their journey so far, and when he came to the part with the balrog, Legolas and Gimli filled in details of its horror. Celeborn’s anger only increased at this, and he seemed to somehow blame Gimli that his ancestors had awakened that evil monster in their greed for mithril.

Again his wife corrected him, but now they were speaking elvish, so Kat did not understand much of it. It seemed she was defending the dwarf, however, which he appreciated very much. He gazed at her almost besottedly, and said something that resulted in a rather uncomfortable silence.

What did he say?

To her surprise, the answer came from Galadriel. That there are no jewels as fair as my forest or myself. She smiled – a little smugly.

Lord Celeborn pretended the dwarf had not just made an inappropriate compliment to his wife right before him and his court, and said he may have spoken harshly, and apologized for doing so.

Galadriel then spoke at length, using many complicated words Kat did not know, but as far as she could tell, the lady wanted to instill hope in them and let them know their quest could still succeed – but also caution them it could fail.  They must stay true, whatever she meant by that.

Before they left her, she looked each of them deep in the eye. One by one, their gazes dropped. Only Aragorn and Legolas seemed undaunted. 

She saved Kat to last. Greetings, mysterious cat and woman. You are far from home. Who sent you, and why?

With a sharp twinge Kat remembered just how far away she was. I was sent by Mr P… um. Námo, I think his name was, and I’m supposed to save someone. She explained her mission, all the while pierced by those ancient, pale blue eyes who saw too much and knew too much. Legolas’ eyes made him seem old, but compared to Galadriel, he seemed like a youth. 

You miss your own body, stated the lady. 

Yes. There was no point in denying it. 

It is in my power to turn you back. 

Kat stared at her. Really?

She nodded. Kat tried to see in her gaze if this was a test, or a bad joke, but all she got was that solemn, unblinking calmness. 

Do you want that? asked Galadriel. 

I… I mean, of course I do, it’s just…

Aye?

I can’t help but wonder if I’m somehow supposed to be like this. Mr Pretty Voice seemed kind of wise. Maybe he knew what he did?

Námo is considered a very wise Vala, aye. Galadriel smiled faintly. You do not have to decide yet. I want to meet you by my Mirror later tonight; in there, you may be able to see what your quest is. 

With that, she finally released Kat from her eyes.

/\_,,_
(O _ O)

The descent down the long ladder was no more pleasant than climbing up had been, but at least this time, Kat managed to keep her claws off Legolas’ skin. 

Did you hear what I talked about with Galadriel? she asked him. 

She spoke to you? Nay, I heard only what she said to me. 

What was that, then?

Not for your ears. Sorry, ear. 

Down below, a group of elves were busy erecting a pavilion for the guests; thankfully they would be allowed to sleep on the ground during their stay. 

Haldir led the company – and Nellas, who tagged along as usual – to a garden, where a silver basin sat on a carved dais in the center. A tiny brook ran past, rippling in the reflected light of the lantern Haldir carried. The place felt secluded and almost cosy, surrounded by a tall, thick hedge and with the open sky above, now covered in a myriad of stars. The everpresent murmur of elf voices from the trees was fainter here.

Galadriel shortly joined them, still impeccably white. How did she manage climbing the ladder and not get a single smudge? Or did she change clothes somewhere below? Kat resisted an urge to leave a pawprint on the lucent fabric.

”Another night you will meet me here, Ringbearer,” said Galadriel to Frodo. ”But this is not the time.” She continued silently in Kat’s head: The Mirror will show you things that were, and things that are, and things yet to come. She picked up a silver pitcher and dipped it in the brook, filling the bowl to the brim. Then she bent over the surface and breathed a few very low tones over it. 

“Come,” she said.

Legolas picked up Kat and put her on the dais next to the bowl. He drew in his breath sharply. “Valar!” Backing away quickly, he nearly lost his balance.

Kat looked at him in surprise. What was wrong? Then she noticed the shocked looks of the rest of the Fellowship. 

Full of apprehension, she slowly turned back to meet her reflection in Galadriel’s Mirror. In the water, a naked, brown woman looked back at her. 

It was her.

Chapter Text

“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods;
they have not forgotten this.”

― Terry Pratchett

 


14. Narcissus

It was her! It was actually her! But how? 

Kat glanced over her shoulder and saw her usual striped tail, a bit bushy now, but otherwise normal. She was still a cat, then. It was the magic of the Mirror, nothing else.

Pushing down a pang of disappointment, she returned to her reflection, which showed her human self from the waist up, with a wilting flower garland around her neck. She raised her paw, and the reflection raised its hand. She wiggled her toes and the image its fingers. She touched her face, and it felt like a cat face, but the woman in the reflection touched a smooth, round cheek. 

Then she noticed something. My ear is still gone. In the reflection her lips moved, but nothing came out.

The Mirror shows the truth, thought Galadriel. 

Kat touched the ragged stump. On her human face, it looked worse. Red and scarred. Did this mean her ear was gone forever, even if she returned? She had had a vision at Caradhras where she was in a hospital bed. Had the person at the hospital lost her ear too, and if so, were all the doctors and nurses totally freaked out by it? And what would she do with all her sets of earrings?

“For Eru’s sake, can someone cover her!” Legolas sounded exasperated. 

Kat looked at him, a bit surprised by his outburst. Was it that big a deal to see the reflection of a topless woman? He stood with his back turned, and at his words most of the other males turned their backs too. 

Pippin’s and Boromir’s gazes were still locked at the Mirror, however. The hobbit seemed curious and rather flushed, but Boromir was frowning suspiciously. She had seen that look before; the last time was in the eyes of the young man who shot her.

Oh well. What did she expect? This was a medieval Europe, of sorts. Of course they would be prejudiced against people with dark skin.

Galadriel removed her flimsy, white cloak and wrapped Kat in it. In the water image it looked like she had taken a shower and shrouded herself in a towel. 

“Now it is time to look closer into the Mirror,” said Galadriel.

As Kat bent forward, the water instantly became covered in a hazy mist. When the vapours cleared she saw a river under a blue sky, in a green, lush landscape. There was a cozy looking cottage by the river, complete with white smoke coming from its chimney. A person sat nearby with their back turned, holding a fishing rod with slender fingers and dipping its scrawny legs into the water. It wore a wide straw hat, and long curls of its white, wispy hair fluttered in the breeze. Kat could not determine whether it was a woman or a slim man.

Suddenly the peaceful scene changed and turned dark. A group of people wearing long, black cloaks came walking in a row, their faces covered with masks. They carried torches, and in the flickering light Kat saw a large, yellow eye painted on each mask. 

What was this – the Illuminati?

She spotted a movement in the outskirts of the group, and recognized the fisherman figure from the river. It was short compared to the others, around hobbit sized, and walked with a slight stoop. The straw hat was replaced with a dark hood now, but it did not look like the person was one of the sect members, more like it was spying on them.

The sect gathered around a flat, altar-like stone and began to move around it, slowly at first, but gradually faster. By the rhythm of their walk, Kat got the impression they were chanting something, though the Mirror gave her no sound. 

Suddenly all of them shrugged off their cloaks and unmasked their faces. 

Kat gasped. Orcs! They were orcs!

But no… She squinted, trying to see better. Their fangs looked super fake, and surely orcs were not that bright green? Was this a fancy-dress party? Or some sort of orc fanclub?

She had no time to figure it out, because the image changed again, and Kat saw a city from above. Strangely, she did not feel afraid despite the height. All the houses were white, and the city was built in concentric semicircles climbing up a cliffside. On its highest part, a narrow tower stretched towards the sky, which was black and full of stars. A row of flickering lights showed the Illuminati sect walking in a procession through the deserted streets, wearing cloaks and masks again. There were guards at the entrance to the highest part, but instead of stopping the procession, they turned their backs. Had the Illuminati infiltrated this city somehow?

The image of the city faded and it was daylight again, but bleak, under a gray sky. A vast, rocky landscape extended in all directions, and in the middle a tiny cat walked all alone, with its nose against the ground like it was tracking someone. It had an ear missing. 

Ripples made the landscape wobble, and it turned into a green one with a river, like the one she had seen at first. Nobody was fishing here, instead two people were wrestling. They rolled around on the muddy riverbank, and when Kat glimpsed a bare, hairy foot she knew they were hobbits.

The scenes came faster now. A dark cave, where a finely dressed hobbit picked up a golden ring from the ground. And then a brown-haired hobbit staring into a black globe like hypnotized. Was it Pippin? Or maybe Frodo? The vision faded too fast for her to see. 

She saw a hobbit fighting a spider, followed by a hobbit carrying another hobbit on his back. Then the earless cat returned, now in the arms of a rider. Kat did not recognize the rider, but he slightly resembled Aragorn and Boromir. The man set the cat down and left at a gallop. 

Another change of scenes. The cat was climbing a mountain – no, a volcano, smoke poured out of it. 

The volcano disappeared and was replaced with a familiar room. Its walls had a minty green hue, and there was a row of artificial plants on the windowsill. A woman sat on a floral sofa, with a forgotten cup of coffee on a table beside her, peacefully solving crosswords. It was Mamma! Mamma in her nursing home. 

Then Kat found herself in another room, full of sleeping children in various ages. They had dark curls and pink cheeks, and were the prettiest kids she had ever seen. A bit like she imagined young elves would look like, now that she had met more of that race. 

The door opened, revealing two masked persons holding something gleaming in their fake orc hands; swords. The Illuminati had come to murder the children! 

Kat stared at the horrid sight in disbelief, wanting to scream and yell for help, but of course no sound came out. 

A pale face appeared in an open window, its eyes gleaming in the moonlight. There was a courtyard outside, with a white tree covered in blossoms, and the circular city expanding below. 

When the person climbed into the nursery, Kat recognized the fisherman from the river. The figure jumped onto the intruders, but before she could see if it managed to stop them, the Mirror clouded over. When it cleared only her woman’s reflection remained. 

Remember that what you see in the Mirror may not come to pass. Galadriel’s warm, motherly voice calmed Kat from the unease she had felt during the cavalcade of confusing images.

They tried to kill the children. Who were they? And why did they dress up like orcs?

I cannot say. Some new evil perhaps – but this, only the future will tell. Galadriel indicated the woman in the water. I asked you before whether you want me to turn you back. What is your answer? 

Kat glanced longingly at her reflection, and then met the elf lady’s unwavering glance. I can’t. I have to go through with it. She felt her throat constrict.

A hint of a smile played on Galadriel’s lips. Then it shall be so. Turning to the others, she spoke verbally: “The hour is growing late, and you must be weary. We shall talk more of your quest another day.”

As the others started to file away, the elf lady reached out to empty the bowl.

Please, no! Leave it. Leave the water. I need… I need it. Kat gave her a desperate look. 

The spell is spent. You will see no more visions.

I don’t need visions. I just need… me. Please.

Galadriel nodded, and her eyes filled with sympathy. Keep the water as long as you wish. She turned and gracefully walked away, leaving both her Mirror and her cloak with Kat.

Kat returned her gaze to the bowl and the lump in her throat came back. What had she done? Had she given up this body forever now? Her cat eyes were dry, but in the water silent tears streaked down her woman’s face.

“You are crying.” Boromir’s voice caught her by surprise. He and Nellas had apparently stayed behind when the others left. 

I miss my body, not that you will be able to hear me. In the Mirror her mouth moved.

“Oh! It looks like you are talking.” He said something to Nellas in Sindarin, and she replied in the same language. 

“Nellas says you are,” he confirmed. “Apparently she can hear you too, which is a relief. I wanted Legolas to translate but he seemed in a hurry. I must ask you some things.”

What do you want to know? 

“Why are you dark skinned? You look like a Haradrim.”

I don’t know. Why are your eyes gray? Why are your hands big? We are just born different. I wish people wouldn’t make such a big deal of it.

“Sorry if I offended you.” He was meeting her gaze. Her gaze, in the water. Somehow that was a bit comforting.

I’m not offended. I was brought up in a country where – at that time – most were fair skinned. I’m used to being stared at.

“Am I staring? I did not mean to.”

No, it’s fine. I understand you’re curious.

“That is not the reason. I wanted to memorize your looks, to have a correct mental image of you later.”

Oh. Thank you. Honestly, that means a lot.

“I must say, holding you in my lap from now on will feel strange.” He chuckled, and Kat’s reflection smiled. Then he bent closer to the Mirror “Oh! Such white teeth you have. And all straight too.”

Thank you. Kat contemplated explaining about dentistry and toothpaste but it felt too complicated to convey via Nellas.

“Actually, as interesting as all this is, that’s not why I wanted to speak with you.” His face turned serious again. “What did Galadriel show you when she looked into your eyes before, up in the tree?”

She talked to me, offering to turn me back to a human. I’m starting to think it was some sort of test… Anyway, I declined. I think I’m supposed to be a cat for this quest.

“Thank you for telling me. It felt… It was strange what she did, and I wanted to know what the others’ saw. But Frodo wouldn’t tell!” He clenched his fist. “He annoys me so much right now!”

What did she say to you, then?

“Me? Uh… She did not actually say anything, it was more… images.” He looked uncomfortable. 

Did you share them with Frodo?

He was silent for a few moments, and then relaxed his hand. “Nay, not entirely. I get your point.” After another short silence, he added: “I agree with you, that the elf lady was testing us. She offered us things we desired. Sam and Merry said they felt like they could choose to return – that she would send them home if they wanted. But I don’t think she has that power. It was a trial whether our intentions are true, nothing else.”

So, what did she offer you?

He broke eye-contact in the Mirror. “Does it matter?”

I don’t know. Maybe. You seem bothered by it, and it’s always good to talk with someone about stuff that bothers you.

“What did you see in the Mirror?” Boromir smoothly changed the subject. Kat did not press him; perhaps he needed more time to think things through. Instead she began to recount her visions as best she could, but had only gotten to the part where she tried (in vain) to explain what the Illuminati was, when Aragorn returned.

“There you are! I did not notice you stayed behind. Anything the matter?” 

I didn’t want to leave my real self.

“I stayed to ask what Kat saw in the Mirror. Nellas is helping me translate, but right now it has become rather confusing. It seems she saw a secret group controlling the world.”

“What? Tell me everything from the beginning, please.” Aragorn had joined them by the Mirror, and he too looked at Kat’s reflection when speaking. How good it felt to be finally treated like a real person!

I never said it actually was the Illuminati. They just reminded me of them. Kat again explained what she had seen. 

“The eye… Very interesting,” said Aragorn. “Why would they dress up as orcs, but wearing masks with an eye? Whose eye could it be?

It looked almost like a cat’s eye, Kat supplied.

“The city she saw must have been Minas Tirith,” said Boromir. “It fits with the circle shape and the tower, and of course the tree. But it was in flower, which means that either this happened a long time ago – and clearly it did not – or has not happened yet.”

Aragorn nodded. 

“But whose children was it?” Boromir continued. “Since the tree was outside, they lived in the seventh circle, and that would make them the family of the steward – my family.”

“Or of the future king’s?” Aragorn suggested.

Boromir stiffened. “Or his, aye.”

Do you think the person by the river was the one I’m supposed to save? If they like fishing, they could be climbing vessels at night too, I suppose.

“That sounds likely, aye.” Aragorn nodded. “From what you describe, I think it was one of the hobbits, but far in the future since their hair had turned white. That he climbs the king’s vessel must mean he’s a friend of the king, and maybe you really did see the king’s children then, which is why the hobbit tried to save them. It makes sense.”

“I am getting a headache from all this,” muttered Boromir. “I need to sleep.” The king talk seemed to bother him for some reason.

“Aye, we should get some rest. Maybe it will all make more sense in the morning.” Aragorn turned to Kat. “Coming?” 

I will sleep here. She could not leave the Mirror yet. 

When she was alone, Kat resumed gazing at her reflection. Now that she could not have it, she thought her body was beautiful – as much as she could see of it over Galadriel’s cloak. Such delicate fingers, with those smooth nails! And how cute collar bones were, come to think of it. The black mole on her shoulder was pretty as well – heck, even the tiny scar from when she fell down the kindergarten swing looked good.

Why had she treated her body so nonchalantly before? She had taken it for granted, and even disliked parts of it. If she could ever have it back, she must remember to love it. To appreciate what she had been given.

ʕ( ͡* _ ͡*)

“Morning, Kat! Did you sleep up there? It seems very uncomfortable!” Pippin’s cheerful voice woke Kat from a pleasant dream where she had been a human. She had been discussing artificial plants with Mamma, who apparently was cured of her dementia.

“We brought you breakfast. The elves cook lovely food!” said Sam happily.

Merry spread a blanket on the ground and Sam took out food from a hamper. It did smell great, and Kat’s stomach growled expectantly. But where were the others? She wished she had Nellas there to help her ask.

After their meal, the hobbits remained in the Mirror garden, just talking and relaxing, and generally having a good time. The weather was very pleasant, like a spring morning, and the sun shone down upon them from a clear sky. It was as if the seasons outside did not affect Lothlórien. 

The food and the peaceful atmosphere brightened Kat’s mood a little, but she was still reluctant to leave her only connection with her real self.

After a couple of hours the hobbits claimed it was time for a second breakfast and left in search of more food. They returned with another hamper, plus most of the Fellowship and Nellas. 

Where are Legolas and Gimli? Kat asked Nellas, grateful for the presence of at least one elf who could help her speak.

Nellas did not know who Gimli was, and not where Legolas had gone. When she passed the question on to the others, neither of them knew either. 

“I think they were going on a walk,” said Aragorn. “They left early this morning.”

“Legolas has acted rather strange since yesterday,” said Frodo.

“Perhaps it was something Galadriel showed him in the tree?” Boromir frowned.

But Kat suspected it was something else. She remembered his shock when he saw her in the Mirror, and his refusal to look at her even after Galadriel covered her body. Was he so horrified by her looks? The thought hurt more than she cared to admit.

She had known Legolas did not think of her that way, of course, but somehow she had nurtured a tiny hope that he would like her better as a woman. That with time, he might… But it was stupid to daydream, stupid to think of the what-ifs. Kat was a cat, and she would remain such for an undetermined time, perhaps forever. Legolas was a handsome elf, who had stated very clearly he was not interested in a relationship – with anyone. 

Sighing mentally, Kat turned her attention back to her reflection.

After the meal, the others wanted to explore Caras Galadhon, and again, Kat chose to stay. She was alone all day. A few times elves came with food; first a female with black hair, then a male. Neither of them tried to speak with her, for which she was grateful. She was not in the mood for talking. 

In the evening Kat heard music nearby, a choir of several harmonious parts with both male and female voices. It sounded sad, and exquisitely beautiful. In the chorus a word was often repeated: “Mithrandir, Mithrandir.”

When a third elf brought Kat a small basket with a pillow – presumably to sleep in – she asked him what it was.

A lament for Mithrandir – or Gandalf, as men called him. The elf sounded deeply sad. 

The song continued well into the night, and despite her worries it soon lulled Kat into sleep.

ʕ(ಠ _ ಠ)

A few days continued like the first one. Most of the time Kat was alone; the Fellowship seemed to have forgotten about her, and she could not really blame them. Who wanted to spend time with a cat obsessing over a bowl of water? They had each other and did not need her. 

In a way, Kat enjoyed the peaceful days spent this way. The food was great, and after the stressful and tiresome journey she had so far, not doing anything at all was relaxing, cathartic even. She had finally time to think, and to come to terms with things. 

After her visions in the Mirror, Kat knew a little more of her task. She would be alone in the future, she had seen that, and she would remain a cat. It did not frighten her so much anymore. She had passed Galadriel’s test and remained true to her mission – which meant she was stronger than she had thought. 

Mr Pretty Voice had sent her here, and she now knew he had known what he was doing. If he thought she was the right person – or cat – for this quest, then she was.

When Kat had finally accepted this, it gave her a new peace within, and also strength – a determination to follow through and succeed at all cost.

She would save this fisherman hobbit, whoever he was, and consequently those little kids might survive. Failure was not an option.

Chapter Text

“The female mind is certainly a devious one, my lord."
Vetinari looked at his secretary in surprise.
"Well, of course it is. It has to deal with the male one.”

― Terry Pratchett, Unseen Academicals

 


15. It Is a Gift

For some reason it was very hard to measure time in Lothlórien, and Kat could not say how long it took until Legolas returned to the Mirror. When finally he did, he peeked out from behind the hedge almost shyly.

Are you decent? he thought.

Kat checked her reflection. Galadriel’s cloak had become a sort of nest, which she would try to worm her way back into whenever she had been away to eat or use a flowerbed as a bathroom.

Probably not, by your standards. My shoulders and arms are bare.

He cautiously came closer, avoiding to look into the bowl, where the water had become littered with dead insects and cat hair. 

Boromir said you asked after me. He seemed to be talking to the air above Kat’s head.

Yes. Why would he not look at her reflection? It pained her more now that he stood only at a meter’s distance. At least, when he had been absent, she could tell herself it was because he wanted to spend time with his elven relatives.

My apologies for not coming sooner. I was taking walks with Gimli.

Am I that scary? The thought slipped out before she could stop it.

His gaze landed on her reflection for a millisecond before darting away again. Nay. 

Then why are you acting like I’ve got the plague?

He sighed and stiffly edged a step closer. It is not your fault. I just… I… He faltered, and appeared to be thinking for a moment. I do not feel comfortable to see… Well. But it is not only that. I also… Hm. It is hard to describe, but I guess it just feels strange. With you as a… person, I mean. Of course, mentally I knew you were a woman, but… there is knowing, and there is knowing, if you get me? I had imagined you differently, and it was shocking to… see the real you. And now it feels almost as if we were strangers. But none of this is your fault, like I said, and I should have come sooner. Sorry.

I see. At another time, Kat might have found it amusing to hear Legolas search for words awkwardly like a school kid during a presentation in class. Not now, however. He had made a mental image of her, and she did not fit it, that much was clear. 

And darn, it hurt.

Legolas sat down cross legged in the grass. Shall I tell you what Gimli and I saw during our wanderings in Lothlórien?

No thank you.

A silence followed. Not uncomfortable, as such, just a bit morose. 

This situation reminded Kat of an experience she had several years ago, when Pappa was terminally ill with the cancer that later took his life, and Mamma was beginning to show the first signs of dementia. They worried so much Kat would be lonely after they were gone, so for their sake she had decided to get a boyfriend. 

She had actively dated for over a year, both at the pub and using a dating app, meeting several men – but no matter how great they seemed in their profiles, she had not connected with them somehow. And those she met at the pub were mostly scumbags only interested in one thing, which they would not get that easily. It had been tiresome, and stressful, and disheartening – and meanwhile, her parents’ health gradually worsened.

Kat had been ready to abandon the plan and tell her parents the truth – that she actually did not mind staying single, only having herself to please – when one of her colleagues hooked her up with a relative, whom she claimed was ‘the perfect guy for you’. 

Joel, as his name was, actually did seem promising. He was around her own age, had similar interests and faith, lived in the same city as she, and even knew roughly the same people. It was almost strange they had never met.

They texted each other at first, but soon moved on to phone calls. He turned out to be just as great as he had seemed. She liked his voice, and he was fun and sweet to talk with. Neither of them knew what the other looked like, but since they got along so well it did not seem important to exchange pictures. In addition, Kat found it romantic in a way to disregard physical appearance, and first grow to love what was on the inside of a guy.

Then at last came D-day, when they would meet for the first time. D-day, as in Date Day – or Disappointment Day, as it were.

Kat had not had any expectations when it came to Joel’s looks, and really did not care. He turned out to be blonde, tall and gangly, fairly ordinary. It was not important; she was prepared to like him no matter what.

But for his part… Well, it was clear the outside did matter to him. He had acted like Legolas just now – startled at first, and then uncomfortable. 

Perhaps she should have told Joel she was adopted. Or was it something else? Was she too short, or too chubby? Not pretty enough? She had never asked.

Somehow Kat’s looks and her inner self must be mis-matched. Those she dated before Joel had all turned out to be the kind of guy who wanted a short-term, sexual relationship; guys she had nothing in common with. And when she finally found a man whose personality she liked, he was not attracted to her. It was so unfair.

She was still friends with Joel – or had been until she was shot. After the initial awkwardness on their first date, he firmly pushed her into the friend zone, and when that was established all was good again. He even accompanied her to visit Pappa at the hospital, and had been there for her in the stressful time after he passed away, helping her organize all the practical things with the funeral and selling the house. She appreciated Joel’s friendship, but it hurt too. It had taken a long time until she got over the loss of him as a potential partner. 

But actually, this whole situation with Legolas now was worse. He had already friend zoned her before, right? All that talk of not being the marrying kind.

Why could he not even bring himself to look at her? He had been staying away for several days, as if she was some sort of monster.

Kat was beginning to get annoyed now, which was a lot better than feeling pain.

You. Get over here.

Hm? Legolas sounded surprised at her tone, but obeyed.

Look at me, she ordered. When he still hesitated, she added angrily: I don’t bite!  

Finally he turned his gaze to the water and regarded her in silence. 

Why would he not say anything? She hated this. Well? Was that so hard? 

You should cover your shoulders.

For Christ’s sake, Legolas! What’s wrong with you?

He stiffened. Perhaps I was just brought up differently, he thought coolly. For me, it is disrespectful to… gawk at a half-clad lady. Maybe for you, it is completely natural to expose your nudity to the whole company. Perhaps the ladies in your world love to show their… breasts and butts. He made a wry face. But here we save that for our future spouses. 

Kat got the reference; she had pressed him to tell which body part he preferred earlier in their journey. How immature she had been! But that was before the wargs and Moria, when she was still in shock after being shot and sent to Middle-earth in a cat’s body. Not everyone reacted well to that sort of thing.

The annoyance slowly left her and was replaced with remorse. She should not have forced him to look when he clearly did not want to.

The nudity was an accident. How was I to know the Mirror would show the real me? Of course we wear clothes in my world. Sorry for making you watch against your will.

Part of the tension left him and he looked at her reflection again. Just let me… He arranged the cloak closer around her cat body, until only her head was visible. There. Better. Galadriel’s cloak suits woman-you.

You don’t despise my looks then? she asked in a small voice, knowing how shallow and superficial she must seem, but this time she just had to know. 

His eyes met hers in the Mirror and he seemed genuinely surprised. Of course not. Did you think so?

Well… What was I supposed to think? 

He got a thoughtful expression. Aye…  I realize how my behavior could be interpreted that way, but you can rest assured I am in no way appalled by your looks. Actually, I… 

He did not finish the sentence, and suddenly Kat needed to know what he had omitted.

You…? she prompted.

I am glad the misunderstanding is cleared up.

She frowned – or at least her reflection did. She was certain that was not what he had intended to say. Darn elf. But it was relieving to know he found nothing wrong with her appearance. Legolas was probably the most honest person she knew; he would not say something unless it was true. 

Are you sure you do not want me to describe Lórien? He smoothly changed the subject.

Alright then. It’s kind of cute with your fangirling over trees.

Fangirling?

Never mind. Go ahead. I know you’re itching to start.

He sat on the dias beside the bowl and began a long tale about Lothlórien, with its history and all the interesting sights he had explored with Gimli. Amazingly, it seemed those two were on a good way of becoming fast friends. Considering how prejudiced Legolas and the other elves seemed to be about dwarves, this must be a very unusual friendship.

You can make even trees sound interesting. I almost want to go there now. 

He smiled at her reflection. It is not far. We can take a walk together and I will show you.

She sighed. I don’t want to leave myself until I have to. Pathetic, I know. She leaned closer to the water, until her cat nose almost touched her human one. I miss me.

It is not pathetic, he thought, his eyes filling with sympathy. I cannot even imagine what it must be like for you… Removed from your own world, your family, and friends, becoming trapped inside an animal. Of course you miss your real body.

Kat’s throat constricted. Thank you for understanding.

Sorry for adding to your burdens with my… untimely notions of decorum. 

Sorry for forcing you to look at my scandalous shoulders. She tried to smile.

He looked away, his cheeks turning an interesting shade of red. Bare shoulders are not that scandalous, but they reminded me of… Well. Can we just forget what happened and talk no more of it?

Okay. 

Let me tell you about the glade I found yesterday. It was full of baby mellyrn.

Kat listened, and soon his calm voice made her drowsy. Ever since she came here, she had fallen asleep early each night, and slept long in the mornings. Like the best kind of summer vacation. (And she was a teacher, so she knew all about long, lazy summer vacations)

In the middle of Legolas’ recount of the height and girth of the mother mallorn, she drifted off to sleep.

ʕ( u _ u )

When Kat woke up late the next morning to another beautiful, sunny spring day, Legolas was gone. She bit down her disappointment. Of course he would be; watching a sleeping cat-woman was probably no fun at all. Maybe he had a talan to sleep in somewhere, or had gone to a supper party with his elf friends. Or maybe there was a certain tree waiting for him. 

At the thought, she got disturbing images of Legolas in a compromising situation with a tree. Okay, that was gross. 

Kat had just finished her morning wash when he returned, looking very pleased with himself for some reason. 

Did you find another sapling? Or perhaps an extra tall mallorn?

Nay. He grinned. I actually do have other interests than trees. 

Really? I’d never have guessed.

I am fond of animals too. Such as cats. His smile widened. I want to give you something.

Me? I hope it’s chocolate. I really miss that.

It is something I hope will make it easier for you to leave the Mirror, and explore Lothlórien with Gimli and I. He opened his hand and held out a flat oval of wood, hanging from a leather thong like a name tag on a dog collar. I made it of mallorn wood – a fallen branch, of course, no tree was hurt. 

It’s beautiful. But what’s it for?

I would like to carve your likeness in it, if I may. 

You want to make a portrait of… me? Mirror-me?

Aye. He looked very pleased at her reaction. That way, you can carry your reflection with you wherever you go.

That’s… Thank you. Yes. I would love that. She was too full of emotion to say more. Wearing her picture would be wonderful, even if it obviously was not the same as a magic mirror. She was certain it would comfort her and help her remember who she was. And knowing that Legolas would take the trouble to do something like that for her made Kat go all warm and squishy within.

Legolas sat down on the dias and began to sketch with a sharpened piece of charcoal. When Kat tried to get a glimpse, he covered the oval with his hand, smirking. Curiosity killed the cat.

Nobody had ever drawn Kat before, and she found it strangely intimate to be observed so closely. Legolas' eyes moved back and forth from her face to the small piece of wood as he worked. She struggled to hold the pose and not drop her gaze, and kept forgetting to breathe. 

Relax. I don’t bite. He grinned.

Darn elf. Stealing her lines like that.

After a while, he exchanged the charcoal for a knife to do the actual carving. By now Kat really felt like the curiosity would kill her. She was dying to see the result.

Close your eyes.

She obeyed, feeling an expectant flutter. His fingers touched her neck as he put the pendant on her. There, you can look now.

Opening her eyes, she bent her neck to peer down at the portrait. He had fastened it upside-down so it would be turned right for her, and again she forgot to breathe when a miniature woman-Kat looked back at her. 

It was amazing. Her face and hair were carved in exquisite detail, and colored in shades of charcoal. With only a few lines he had captured the essence of her, and the likeness was astonishing. 

Oh, Legolas! You’re an incredibly talented artist. It’s like a black and white photograph. 

I am glad you like it. 

Like it? I love it! Thank you so, so much! She wanted to say more but again her words got caught in her throat. It was such a thoughtful gift, and such a kind gesture. She wished she could have given him a long and hard hug. 

My pleasure. He met her gaze in the Mirror. Ai… Do not cry.

Sorry. It’s just… This is the nicest thing anyone has done for me in a very long time. 

It was no trouble at all; I enjoyed doing it. He broke eye-contact, but not before Kat noticed his eyes were a little blank too. Now, come, let us go explore the woods! 

Kat nodded happily and jumped down from the dias. Without a second glance at Galadriel’s Mirror, she followed Legolas out of the garden.

Chapter Text

"Racism was not a problem on the Discworld,
because—what with trolls and dwarfs and so
on—speciesism was more interesting."

— Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad

 


16. Leaving Lothlórien

“Would you look at that! How pretty.” Gimli filled his hands with smooth stones from the bottom of a small stream, and proudly presented them to Kat and Legolas. 

They listened politely while he told their names and characteristics. “This one is gneiss. Very common. It’s striped, as you see there on the other side, and that’s how you separate it from the spotted granite, which I have one here. The granite is often pink like that. Oh, and the white band on that larger gneiss stone is milky quartz. If we’re lucky I’ll find one of clear quartz, which can be shaped into very nice prisms. For jewellery and such.”

“How exciting.” Legolas did not quite manage to keep a straight face.

“Aye, isn’t it?” The dwarf good-naturedly ignored the other’s smirk. He seemed to feel about minerals the way Legolas did about trees, but Kat actually found his mineralogy lessons quite interesting – and Legolas plant lessons too, for that matter. Who would have thought trees greedily breathed back in the oxygen they had created, using most of it themselves? This and other tree-and-stone related things she had learned today.

It was such a relief to be away from the confinement of the garden, and Kat had enjoyed herself immensely so far. Looking back, this was probably the best day she had had on the entire journey – beginning with that surprise gift from Legolas this morning, and continuing with a lovely tour through Lothlórien. 

Legolas and Gimli were very enthusiastic guides, who showed her all the beautiful places they had previously discovered. It was strange to think that only a couple of weeks earlier, the two of them had almost been enemies – for no other reason than an ancient feud between their peoples. 

Kat could see why Legolas had warmed up to the dwarf, for underneath his rough surface, Gimli proved to be a warm, caring person, and a good listener. She had thought him grumpy before, but maybe he was just introverted. 

They followed the stream for a while, stopping now and then to let Gimli add to his growing rock collection, until they entered a sunny glade full of the pretty golden flowers which seemed so common in Lothlórien.

“Ah! They remind me of her hair.” Gimli picked one and placed it behind his ear. 

Kat smiled inwardly. She could never have guessed the hardened dwarf warrior was such a romantic at heart. He seemed to have quite a serious crush on Galadriel. 

Legolas, who had seated himself on a fallen log, frowned slightly. “Why did you pick it? Now it cannot make any seeds and spread.”

“Sorry, my lad. Didn’t consider that.” Gimli’s apologetic smile did not look very sincere, and Kat suspected he too found the elf’s obsession with everything living rather cute. Why he had begun calling Legolas ‘lad’ was beyond her comprehension, however; he was both taller and many times older. Perhaps it was the beardless chin that prompted it?

A rustle in the grass made her temporarily forget her companions, and Kat soundlessly sneaked closer. She was just about to pounce on an unsuspecting wood mouse, when she caught sight of her face in the pendant around her neck, and came to her senses. 

What was she doing? She was a woman. Women don’t hunt mice.

Fervently hoping the others had not noticed, she jumped up to sit in Legolas’ lap. He started like she had burnt him, and his cheeks turned red. What– Oh. You should not sit there. He gently moved her to the log beside him. That is better.

Kat must have looked very unhappy, for Gimli sat on her other side, and stroked her head soothingly. “What’s wrong with you, then?”

She glared at Legolas. Yes, what’s wrong with me? Explain that, elf. But seeing him blush even more, she regretted her harsh words. He had been so nice to her this morning when he drew her portrait. Sorry. I understand you’re uncomfortable around me after what you saw and all. Never mind.

Nay, I… overreacted. Again. He picked her up and returned her to his lap. 

Kat gratefully began to purr and knead his thighs. She had been afraid there would be no more cuddles, but maybe Legolas would come around like he had before, and get used to having her close. She knew she would have to continue alone eventually; Mr Pretty Voice had said so, and the Mirror had shown it as well, but until then she did not want to be devoid of body contact.

“What just happened?” asked Gimli. “Why do you look so embarrassed, and why’s she so pleased all of a sudden?”

“That is… hard to explain.” Legolas looked away.

“It’s unfair only you can speak with her. Probably saying things behind my back,” he huffed.

I’d never say things behind Axe Guy’s back, Kat thought smugly. Such as how funny he looks with that little flower in his messy hair – I wouldn’t dream of saying such things about him.

“She says she is very impressed with your hair. And that the flower suits you. Ouch!” He gingerly removed Kat’s claws from his thigh.

“Aye, the lasses often like my hair. And my beard.” Gimli puffed up his chest and proudly twirled his braided moustaches. 

Actually the beard is impressive. It’s so long, and wide, and with those lovely braids too! Tell him I said that.

No need to inflate his ego further. Legolas frowned. What’s so great about beards anyway? I am sure they get in the way when one’s eating. And too warm in the summer.

You’re just jealous you can’t grow one.

Me? Of course not. I would not want a beard even if I could.

I’m sure a beard would look great on you, though. A short, neat one. It would give your face character and maturity, and– Hey! Don’t push me down. I’ll stop teasing. Promise. Gosh. Didn’t know this was such a sensitive topic.

It is not.

/\_,,_
( ᵔ ᴥ ᵔ )

When the three explorers returned to Caras Galadhon in the evening, and entered the Fellowship’s pavilion, they met Frodo and Sam coming from another direction. Both looked thoughtful, troubled even – Sam in particular.

“Anything the matter?” asked Aragorn, looking up from the sword he had been polishing.

“We were offered to gaze into Galadriel’s Mirror,” said Sam. “My poor old gaffer! Bad things happened back in the Shire. After we finish this quest I must hurry home and put a stop to it.”

“What things?” asked Merry and Pippin in unison.

“They had built a tall brick chimney with ugly smoke pouring out, and the Old Mill was gone. And Ted Sandyman was cutting down trees! That sweet old avenue, shading the road to Bywater.”

“He did what?” asked Legolas incredulously.

“I saw frightening things too, and did not understand half of them,” said Frodo. “Worst of all was a huge eye – yellow, with a narrow pupil. Could it be the same you saw, Kat?”

You mean that eye the Illuminati people had on their masks? Yes, it could be.

Legolas translated, and Frodo replied: “Galadriel said it’s the Dark Lord’s eye, searching for us. For me; for my Ring.”

At the mention of the Ring, Boromir frowned. “He knows you have it?”

“I don’t think so.”

“What if he does, though. And we will be taking it right under his nose… Folly.” He clenched his fists. “If the people Kat saw in the Mirror had painted Sauron’s eye on their masks, then maybe they were his followers. That could mean he will win this war.”

“Or he loses, and those were surviving evil men who honored his memory in some twisted way,” Aragorn objected. “Besides, Galadriel said not everything one sees in the Mirror comes to pass.”

“Whatever you say.” Boromir muttered sourly.

They had no time to discuss the visions in the Mirror further, for now an elf entered to tell them they were again summoned to the house of Galadriel and Celeborn. 

Kat swallowed a lump in her throat at the thought of climbing up there a second time, but to her relief Legolas carried her like he had before, allowing her to hide against his neck.

It felt a bit strange to be so close to him after recent events, and he was stiffer than he had been the last time, but his smell was comforting and Kat almost enjoyed herself despite the sheer drop below. She knew it was stupid to nurture her crush on him when it could never be anything between them, yet could not stop herself. She wanted so badly to be near him – all the time. 

If it even was only a crush anymore. 

The main room of the treehouse looked the same as the last time, with its many elf courtiers and the Lord and Lady seated on their throne-like chairs. 

Kat felt Galadriel’s eyes on her, and heard her rich alto in her head. Tomorrow, the Fellowship leaves Lothlórien. There is still time to change your mind and stay here, if the quest feels too daunting, or too hard. What choose you?

I’m going with them.

Galadriel smiled. She turned the others, meeting their gaze one at a time, and then said to her husband: “They are all resolved to go forward.”

Celeborn said something, and Boromir and Aragorn replied. They were using complicated words that Kat did not understand, and Legolas seemed too engulfed in the conversation to translate. As far as she could tell, they were discussing the Fellowship's further journey, and which route to take.

After Galadriel had bid them a good night, the company gathered down in the pavilion again. The discussion continued, and now Legolas translated to Kat. Celeborn had offered them boats to travel some of the way by the river, which would be much faster than on foot. But the debate was whether they should go to Minas Tirith, and delay taking the Ring to be destroyed, or hurry to Mordor directly. Boromir wanted the first option, but Aragorn was ambivalent. Though he did want to aid Gondor with his sword, with Gandalf gone, he felt he had to help Frodo instead – and Frodo was undecided what to do.

Boromir mumbled thoughtfully that if Frodo only wished to destroy the Ring, then the armed strength of Gondor was of little use to him, but if he wanted to destroy the Dark Lord, then it was folly to go unarmed into his realm, and throw away… lives . He looked very odd when he said that last word, like he had meant something else. Throw away... what?

A soft snore interrupted the conference; Merry and Pippin had fallen asleep, and the others decided to follow their example. They could think more about this tomorrow.

Kat tentatively padded up to Legolas where he was preparing his bedroll. 

Is it very wrong for me to sleep here with you? I’ve spent so many nights alone lately…

It is highly inappropriate, aye. For some reason he was smiling, and Kat looked suspiciously at him. His smile grew wider, and he added: I shall pretend you are a cat. Come.

Breathing out in relief, Kat happily rolled up beside him, feeling him spoon his body around her. Can’t you always pretend I’m a cat? I do look like one.

I cannot – even if I wanted to.

Why don’t you want that?

Because you deserve to be treated like a person, not an animal. 

Kat felt a warmth inside at his kind words. This was what she had wanted all along; to be seen as a woman. Though, right now she was thankful he didn’t… 

Being treated as a cat has its benefits, she thought, purring contentedly.

Such as?

This. If I was in my human body and felt lonely, you’d never allow me to lie beside you.

He was silent a long while, and then chuckled faintly. That would make it much harder to pretend you were a cat, but… If you needed it, then aye, I would.

Kat’s chest constricted. Dammit, Legolas. Why are you so nice?

It is what friends do. He stroked her back. 

Friends. Of course. But if he continued acting sweet like this, Kat was not sure she could keep up the pretense of not feeling more than friendship much longer. And what would he do then?

She knew the answer. Without doubt, if he knew the depth of her feelings, Legolas would push her away. Kindly, of course, for he was a considerate person, but also firmly. A clean break. For her own good.

Chapter Text

"We need to borrow your boat," said Vimes.
"Bugger off!"
"I'm choosing to believe that was a salty nautical
expression meaning 'Why, certainly.'”

— Terry Pratchett, Jingo

 


17. Row, Row, Row Your Boat

When she woke up, Kat felt Legolas’ arms around her; in his sleep, he had pulled her tight against his chest. She turned her head so she could admire his relaxed features, with his dark lashes framing his closed eyes*. How could a person be this beautiful? Even compared to other elves, he was something special, and the kindness he had shown her lately only added to his attractiveness. She would never get tired of looking at him.

It was at least an hour before sunrise, and the others still slept soundly, but Legolas was making little moves showing he was about to wake up. Just like Kat, he always woke early – probably a cat-elf thing. Though, even as a human, Kat had been a morning person.

His lashes fluttered and he opened his eyes. Upon seeing her face, his cheeks colored and he looked away. 

Anything wrong? she asked.

Nay.

You look embarrassed.

I do? He yawned artificially, obviously trying hard to act non-embarrassed.

Yes. You can tell me why; your secrets are safe with me. That’s another benefit with cats. They can’t gossip.

He blushed brighter, and Kat’s curiosity increased manifold. Please, I’m dying here. You know how curious cats – and women – are. She tried to catch his gaze, but without success.

If you must know, I dreamed something, he finally admitted. And nay, I shall not tell you what it was, he added, and stoically remained mute as a clam. 

Kat kept prying until the others woke up, after which she reluctantly had to leave him alone. Darn elf!

When they had breakfasted, a group of Lórien elves came with gifts of food and clothes to the travellers. Gimli picked up a thin, biscuit-like cake and nibbled it curiously. His eyes popped open at the taste, and he quickly munched the rest of it.

Seeing what he had done, the elves laughed merrily and cried: “No more, no more!” They explained this was lembas , a special elvish waybread, and only a small bite was enough to last an entire day. Gimli did not seem to mind their laughter, and kindly complimented them, saying lembas was better than the best kind of honey-cake.

Kat tried a miniscule crumb too, and her mouth filled with a sweet taste, resembling buttered toast with apricot marmalade – her favorite weekend breakfast. 

Next, the elves unwrapped clothes – elvish cloaks made according to the size of each Fellowship member, which were fastened with green, leaf-shaped brooches.The fabric was thin and light but very warm, and almost magically assumed the color and texture of its surroundings. The elves said the cloaks had been woven by Galadriel and her maids, and that this was the first time such had been given to anyone other than their own people. It was a great honor. 

After breakfast, Haldir came to meet them. He had been sent to guide them to the river where the boats were moored.

Hal! Good to see you again. 

Kat smirked at the face he made. Smirking with a cat’s mouth was not easy, but during her time in this body, Kat had practiced it into perfection.

When they left Caras Galadhon, Nellas unexpectedly joined the company, falling into step with Boromir like it was the most natural thing in the world. Haldir said something sternly to her in their elvish language, which she ignored as usual. From his tone of voice, Kat was certain he had told her to bugger off and leave the Fellowship alone – but using finer words.

Let her be, Kat thought. She likes Boromir and I’m sure she’s good for him.

Aye, I like Boromir, Nellas agreed.

This is an important quest. It is not for ladies.

Excuse me? Kat tried to frown at him, but it was difficult without eyebrows.

What is he saying? asked Legolas curiously.

He’s being sexist about Nellas.

Sexist? thought Legolas, Haldir and Nellas simultaneously.

Being sexist is when someone believes females can’t – or shouldn’t – do certain things, just because they’re women. Like, dangerous things, or technical things. Or when they believe women are better at taking care of children, or cook, or whatever.

Sounds logical to be sexist then, thought Haldir. Only females can feed babies, and though our Lady was once a great warrior, she laid that aside when she became a mother.

I am not sexist, thought Nellas.

Legolas did not reply, but he looked thoughtful.

Kat contemplated debating more with Haldir, but realized that in this medieval world, perhaps he was not entirely wrong. Here much of the work was manual, relying on physical strength, where men would have an advantage over women. And there was no good substitute for breast milk, or daycare to make it possible for mothers to work. Maybe it would change eventually, like it had in Kat’s world, but that was probably far in the future still. 

The hobbits regretfully looked behind them a few times as the huge mallyrn of the city disappeared in the distance. 

“I shall miss cooked food,” said Sam, sighing.

“Me too,” Pippin agreed. “But these lembas crackers seem not bad.”

“I miss potatoes. Haven’t had a decent mash for ages.” Sam sighed again.

“I wonder why the elves don’t grow them,” Pippin said. 

“They live in forests, silly,” said Merry.

“Why can’t they plant them under the trees?”

“Because you need light to grow things, Sam explained. “And elves don’t like cutting down trees.”

“You are right about that,” Legolas agreed.

Frodo was unusually silent, and Kat went to walk beside him, glancing up at his face. He looked tired, with dark patches under his eyes. Was he worried about which route to take? If he decided to continue to Mordor, the Fellowship would break up. Who would go with Boromir, and who would go with Frodo? And what should Kat do? 

She still did not know who she must save. What if she went with the wrong people, and the person died? That would be a disaster. 

Boromir too looked troubled and tired, Kat noticed. He was talking with Nellas, but it seemed his heart was not in it, and his gaze often strayed in Frodo’s direction. Was Boromir also worried about Frodo’s mission? Kat wished – like she often did – that she could have spoken with him.

The company trekked through the Lothlórien forest until late afternoon. The pleasant spring weather remained, and on the way, Legolas pointed out many interesting trees, while Gimli added to his pretty-stone collection.

There have been rocks along the way all through this journey – particularly in Moria. Can you ask him why he’s begun collecting them here of all places?

Legolas repeated her question.

The dwarf thought for a while before replying. When he finally did, he sounded unusually serious, speaking in a subdued voice only meant for hers and Legolas’ ears. 

“Before, I was so busy thinking about the great days of old; back when dwarves established new, flourishing realms, becoming rich and famous. I was hoping for that kind of glory to return. But then in Moria, I saw where that had led us…” His eyes became glossy. “It made me think. Think about what’s important in life. And then I came here, and I saw these woods, and met the Lady… I was reminded of how much beauty there is in the world. And, I guess, I just wanted to keep such beautiful things around. These pebbles here are rubbish to some, I’m sure, but to me they are masterpieces, sung into existence by Eru Ilúvatar and the Valar. As well as the flowers, and the trees, and all of us, too. I’ve learned to value that, and to value friendship. And love.” The last word he added almost as an afterthought.

Kat’s chest burned and Legolas discreetly wiped his eyes. "I have learned to value friendship as well," he said.

To value friendship… and love. To accept it… Perhaps Kat ought to be brave like Gimli, and dare do the same, no matter how unrequited it was. 

It was just… The thought of admitting her feelings and being rejected terrified her. For she would be; at least in this form. And she did not think she was brave enough to put herself through that.

/\_,,_
( u _ u )

The trees ended and they came to a lawn scattered with the usual golden flowers. A smaller river joined a large one here, and the grassy patch in the middle was almost v-shaped with water on two sides. Haldir told them the lesser stream was the Silverlode, the one they had followed into Lothlórien, and the wider one was the Great Anduin. Anduin continued south, all the way to Minas Tirith – and onward, to the sea – but first came the huge Falls of Rauros, so they could not go all the way by boat. 

Many boats of various sizes and colors were moored here, and a group of elves had gathered around three small, gray canoes, making them ready for the Fellowship. The elves helped them pack their things into them, including several coils of rope – to Sam’s great delight. It appeared the hobbit was something of a rope expert. 

Boromir entered the first boat, grabbing a leaf-shaped paddle (everything was leaf-shaped in Lothlórien), and to his surprise Nellas climbed down with him.

Boromir said something kindly to her, but she seemed not to have heard; she was gazing dreamily at the water, leisurely dipping her slender hand into it. He shook his head in exasperation and helplessly looked at his companions. “What to do about her?”

Can’t she come? I like her, thought Kat.

“She has to stay,” said Aragorn. “She is not a part of the Fellowship, and I cannot see any way she could be useful for Frodo’s quest. On the contrary, she will likely hold us back.”

If we’re talking useless, I know a candidate, Kat grumbled.

You were sent to us by a wise Vala. Of course you are useful. Legolas smiled down at her.

Nellas belongs here, thought Haldir. Taking her hand, he pulled her back ashore, kindly but firmly. He did not release her until Merry and Pippin had taken the empty seats in front of Boromir. 

Aragorn, Frodo and Sam entered the second boat, and Legolas, Gimli and Kat the third. Then the elves pushed them out, and they were afloat. 

Kat sadly waved her paw. Farewell, Nellas. I’m sorry you couldn’t come.

Nellas did not return the gesture. She was smiling to herself, like over a secret only she knew about. Haldir and the others returned into the forest, taking her with them, and soon the underbrush swallowed them up. 

Aragorn, Boromir and Legolas manned the paddles, steering their vessels out into the center of the Silverlode. They would practice their paddling on the smaller stream.

This reminds me of home, Kat thought. I love boats. But ours had a… future thingy that made it go fast without a paddle.

I love them too. I paddle to Dale sometimes, to help my father with the purchases. We cannot farm back where I live, so we trade a lot with the humans.

The company had not come far up the Silverlode, when they heard beautiful singing nearby. An elegant, swan-shaped ship came gliding towards them, and onboard sat Celeborn and Galadriel. It was she who sang, and she accompanied herself with a harp. The couple had come to see them off, and to invite them to a parting meal.

They returned to the v-shaped lawn, where Galadriel's maids spread the food and drink on soft blankets. The dishes were similar to the ones Kat had been served by the Mirror, and she ate heartily, knowing she may never taste Lórien food again. Beside her, three of the hobbits did the same, while poor Frodo barely touched his plate.

When they had eaten their fill, Galadriel’s maid came with several parcels; parting gifts. To Aragorn she gave a sheath for his sword, which would protect the blade from breaking. She also gave him a brooch shaped like an eagle, inlaid with a green gem. It had belonged to her daughter, who gave it to her daughter – Arwen, Aragorn’s betrothed. 

Galadriel’s strong voice turned dramatic: “In this hour take the name that was foretold for you, Elessar, the Elfstone of the House of Elendil!”

Aragorn pinned the gem onto his chest, and at that moment he looked kingly in a way Kat had never seen kings in her own world do. But then, the Swedish king was barely more than an expensive mascot; you don’t need to look kingly to inaugurate bridges and hold the occasional speech.

A thought struck her. What did you say his House was?

Elendil. 

Elendil… Elendil… Kat had heard that name before. But where? And when? She could not recall, but maybe it would come back to her later.

Galadriel had more gifts. Boromir, Merry and Pippin received belts, the man’s made of gold, and the hobbits’ of silver, and Legolas a large bow with a quiver of arrows. Sam only got a small box of dirt – but apparently it was magic in some way, and would give him an amazing garden in the future. 

Kat was given a cat-size harness with bags on each side, with a packet of lembas in each. This is for when you walk alone later, so that you shall not starve in the wilderness.

Kat thanked politely for the thoughtful gift, but in truth, it scared her. She had known from the beginning she would have to leave the others eventually, but it had always been in the distant future, and kind of vague. Seeing the harness now, the moment drew closer, becoming more real. She would leave the safety of the Fellowship, walking alone in this dangerous world, and it terrified her.

When it was Gimli’s turn, Galadriel said she did not know what a dwarf would want. 

“None, Lady,” said he, and blushed. “It’s enough for me to have seen the Lady of the Galadhrim, and to have heard her gentle voice.”

She seemed very impressed by that, even addressing her maids and husband, telling them how humble he was. Among their people, dwarves were said to be greedy. 

Returning her attention to Gimli, she insisted he should name what he desired. He could not be the only guest who received no gift!

“There is nothing, Lady Galadriel.” He was almost crimson now, and shuffled his feet. Then he bowed deep. “Nothing, unless it might be… Unless I’m allowed to ask… Nay, to name it. Then it would be a single strand of your hair, for it outshines the gold in the earth like the stars in the sky outshine the jewels in the mountain. I don’t ask for it. But you commanded me to name my desire…”

There was a murmur of voices from the bystanders, and Celeborn stared at the dwarf with an indecipherable expression. Was he angry? Jealous? Shocked?

Galadriel smiled. “Dwarves are said to be more skilled with their hands than with their tongues, but this is clearly not true of Gimli. Never have someone made me such a bold, yet courteous request. And how can I refuse? I did command him to speak.” She undid one of her long braids and pulled out three hairs, placing them in the surprised dwarf’s hand. 

Pressing them to his heart, the look he gave her was one of pure adoration.

Frodo received the last gift, and also the most curious. It was a small glass bottle, shining and glittering with liquid light. Galadriel said it was starlight, which she had captured in her fountain, and that it would shine the brightest when the night was darkest. It sounded strange and impossible, but this was a magical world after all. Gandalf had had a glowing staff, and the Mirror had been magical as well – so perhaps it was the truth. 

It was time to part, and they said their last farewells. When the company returned to the boats, Galadriel and Celeborn stood on the beach, looking long after them as the current carried the three vessels away.

/\_,,_
( *ᆽ* )

Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.

Kat… As much as I enjoy music, you have been singing this continually since we left. I thought you did not like to sing?

I don’t. Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. If you see a crocodile, don’t forget to scream. Okay, I made that up.

Why do you sing if you hate singing?

It’s catchy. Can’t get it out of my head. 

And now it is fixed in mine also.

Listen… Frodo sings something else. Steer our canoe there.

When they came closer, Sam had joined his voice to Frodo’s as they sang: “... swift in anger, quick to laugh; an old man in a battered hat who leaned upon a thorny staff…” The melody was very sad.

Legolas' face fell. It is about Gandalf. He paddled away again. For me, it is too soon for songs about him… Tears maybe, but not songs. Please. Sing the one about the boat again.

Kat looked sympathetically at him. Better up. I can tell you a story, like I did in Moria. Would you like to hear Pretty Woman? It’s about a hooker and a rich guy.

Hooker?

You’re gonna love this story, I’m sure!

/\_,,_
( ^ ͜– ^ )

The journey south along the Anduin lasted for several days. The weather soon grew cold and wintry again, and the surrounding landscape was very bleak. To the west were the outskirts of Rohan, where the ground was greenish with a hint of spring, but to the east were the Brown Lands, an area almost devoid of life. The only living creatures the Fellowship saw were birds and fish.

They travelled slowly, allowing the river to determine their pace, saving their strength for when it might be needed. The passengers were mostly silent, each occupied with their own thoughts, except for Boromir. The warrior had begun muttering to himself in a way that worried Kat, and his eyes often lingered on Frodo. What was wrong?

Kat still rode with Gimli and Legolas, and while the dwarf’s thoughts seemed to be kilometers away (remaining in Lothlórien, probably), the elf and the woman entertained each other with tales. Legolas always recounted real events, such as adventures, heroic deeds and tragedies of the past, while Kat picked among the many books and movies she had read and seen in her old life. When they were tired of stories, they practiced Westron, and Kat improved her vocabulary daily.

Be as it may with an eventual romance between them; she was beginning to realize she had never before met someone she got along with so well. Legolas was her new best friend, and she did not want to lose that, ever. 

Only during the nights did she leave him. With Boromir so obviously not feeling well, Kat made a habit of sharing his bedroll.

The first night he reacted almost like Legolas had before: “Uh, this is not seemly. An unmarried man and woman should not sleep together.”

“Miaow,” she objected. 

“Hm. You are right. I can pretend you are a cat, then.”

“Miaow!” She nodded, and rolled herself up on his stomach. 

On the fifth night of their river journey, Boromir finally explained the reason for his distress.

“Oh, Kat… I wish you could speak,” he mumbled in little more than a whisper, his gray eyes filled with anguish. 

She nodded fervently; she badly wanted that too. Soothingly she placed her paw on top of his hand.

“I cannot talk with the others. What they plan… It is madness.” He lowered his voice even further. “He will take it. Frodo’s practically giving it to him! And even if he somehow… I wish they could see how stupid it is to destroy the only item that could win us this war. A precious artefact…” He shook his head. “Folly…”

Kat did what she always did, and purred, while softly kneading his chest. He began to pet her, stroking her back absent-mindedly. After a while his hand stilled its motion and she heard from his steady breathing he had fallen asleep.

Meanwhile, Kat’s brain worked fast. This was not good. Not at all. The Ring had to be destroyed, she was sure of that. It could not be wielded by anyone but its master. 

During her story telling sessions with Legolas he had told her about the previous time the Ring had been seen in Middle-earth, and how it had corrupted the minds of the humans who found it. Now Boromir sounded uncannily like them. A precious artefact. The Ring was corrupting him!  

Careful not to wake the sleeping man, she went over to Legolas' silent form. It was his watch, and when she entered his lap he smiled. Cannot you sleep, little one?

I worry about Boromir. I think the Ring is affecting him – badly.

If so, this is grave news indeed. Tell me.

Kat was just about to begin, when a movement by the river caught her attention. 

Wait… I saw something… She crept closer to where the boats were moored. It looked almost like a log with eyes. A crocodile? No. She was fairly sure there were no such animals this far north.

A slim hand gripped the side of one of the boats, and a lithe form climbed into it. Its big eyes glinted in the faint starlight, and now Kat recognized the creature who had been following them through both Moria and into Lothlórien. 

Wait. The boat… It was Aragorn’s boat! 

Suddenly Námo’s words came back to Kat, as clearly as if he had stood on the riverbank beside her. “It is the one who climbeth into the king’s vessel by night… If he perisheth, an entire land wilt be cast into oblivion and the line of Elendil be no more.”  

Aragorn was the king. Aragorn… of the House of Elendil! That was where she had heard it before. The line of Elendil… His children. His heirs! 

For some reason, this creature would save Aragorn’s heirs. She had seen it happen in the Mirror; how he climbed through their nursery window, right when the Illuminati orcs were about to murder them.

It’s him, she thought to Legolas.

Who?

The creature in the boat, who’s been following us. He’s the one I must save!

Chapter Text

“There have been times, lately,
when I dearly wished that I could change the past.
Well, I can’t, but I can change the present,
so that when it becomes the past
it will turn out to be a past worth having.”

Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight

 


18. Horn of Gondor

In the morning, Legolas helped Kat tell the others about her discovery.

“We saw him too,” said Frodo. “Sam and I. We think it’s Gollum. He’s been riding a log, following us on the river.”

“Gollum?” For some reason Legolas blushed.

“He has padded after us ever since Moria,” said Aragorn unexpectedly. “I have tried catching him once or twice at night, but he is more sly than a fox, and as slippery as a fish. And you are sure it is him you must save, Kat?”

Positive. But if you knew who followed us into Lothlórien, why didn’t you say so when we talked about it earlier?

“I was not sure until we came here, and I saw him more clearly.”

Who is this Gollum anyway?

“He’s the one my uncle Bilbo got the Ring from before he gave it to me,” said Frodo. “His real name is Sméagol. Gandalf said he used to be a hobbit.”

“His friend found the One Ring here in the Anduin river, and Sméagol fought him for it, killing him in the process,” added Aragorn. “Before that, the Ring had been lost to the world for thousands of years.”

That could be what I saw in the Mirror! Two hobbits fighting by the river. Galadriel said it shows things both from the past, the present and the future.

“It’s beyond me why Námo would want you to save a murderer! And one who covets the Ring, at that!” Boromir exclaimed.

I think I know why. I never saw his face until now, or I would have known earlier; it was he who was that fisherman, and the one spying on the cult people. He climbed the window where the children were threatened, and I think he will save their lives. 

“The king’s children,” Aragorn mused. 

Aragorn’s children or grandchildren, perhaps, Kat thought. They were really pretty, just how I figure his kids would look. Like little cherubs. But don’t translate that, Legolas, or he will think I have a crush on him.

A crush?

That I fancy him. Like him.

Ah. He smirked knowingly. He knew very well who it was Kat liked. Darn elf!

Kat retaliated by asking why he had blushed before.

My people were supposed to guard Sméagol, but he tricked us and escaped. Saving him is going to be much harder now that he is loose. He sighed.

This conclusion was also made by Aragorn: “Like I said, that cunning little weasel won’t let me catch him. I wonder how Kat is supposed to save someone who’s not here?”

In the end they decided that since Gollum seemed intent on following them on his own volition, the best course was to continue, hoping that an opportunity to capture him would present itself eventually.

/\_,,_
( * ͜Y * )

A couple of nights later the Fellowship arrived at a rough and rapid part of the river, and with difficulty they turned the boats to get away from the strong current. Their vessels were pulled closer and closer to the eastern shore; a rocky and uninviting area called Emyn Muil.

“Paddle! Or we shall be driven on the shoals.” Boromir had to shout to carry over the sound of the restless water.

In reply to his voice, suddenly a score of arrows zinged out of the darkness. One pierced Aragorn’s hood, and another bounced off Frodo’s hidden mail shirt. A third embedded itself in Boromir’s boat.

There are orcs running on the shore, thought Kat, who had the best night vision. Then she quickly crouched to avoid losing her remaining ear as well.

“Yrch!” Legolas exclaimed in his own language.

“Orcs!” Gimli translated.

The oarsmen doubled their effort with the paddles, straining to get the canoes further away from the new threat. Kat’s heart throbbed fast, and as usual during a dangerous situation she felt utterly helpless. 

Gradually they left the eastern shore behind, and the orcs’ arrows fell harmlessly in the water. Their shrill shrieks echoed between the cliffs, but there was no pursuit; maybe they could not swim.

When they had almost reached the opposite shore, Legolas gracefully leaped up on the riverbank. Peering back at the enemy through the darkness, he stringed his new, great bow; Galadriel’s gift, and readied an arrow. It looked like he was too far away to shoot any of the orcs, but perhaps with such a bow it was possible?

A deep terror suddenly seeped into Kat. Something dark, and ominous, and absolutely horrifying was approaching. Her hair rose all over her body, and she could not hold back a drawn-out hiss.

Above her on the riverbank, Legolas shuddered and looked around; he had felt it too. Then he turned his face up, tensed, and raised his bow. “Elbereth Gilthoniel,” he mumbled, a silent plea to the Vala of the stars.

Kat pressed herself against the deck of the small boat when she saw what he had seen. A huge beast came flying from the south, its wings wide and batlike, its neck straight and long and its color so black it appeared to almost suck away all light from its surroundings. Everything became dark as it gradually blocked the starlit sky.

Behind her Gimli muttered something in Dwarvish, possibly a curse, and in the next boat Frodo clutched his shoulder as if he had been stabbed, whimpering in pain – but across the river, the orcs cheered and shouted, greeting the monster like a friend. 

Legolas stood straight and undaunted, an arrow nocked, waiting for the opportune moment. Kat peered up at him, taking comfort in the sight of his warrior persona; using her love for him to dispel the dread procured by the fiend. She trusted him; he could do this.

Then his great bow sang and the arrow sailed upwards, straight and swift, aimed true on its target. Kat held her breath.

The black monster swerved, emitting a croaking howl, and tumbled down somewhere over the far shore in a disorder of fluttering wings and trembling limbs. A choir of curses and disappointed wails rose from the orcs. 

It was gone.

 /\_,,_
(o _ o)

The Fellowship moored their boats in a small, shallow bay some way upstream, and remained aboard to wait out the remainder of the night. They lit no fire, but shared some lembas while huddling close together for warmth.

Gimli and Legolas leaned against each other’s backs, and Kat eased herself into the elf’s lap. He pulled his cloak around them both. 

That was amazing, she thought. A single arrow! And a monster that big, too. 

It is a very good bow, thought Legolas modestly.

And you're a more than good archer. Her heart swelled with admiration. 

“Praised be the bow of Galadriel, and the hand and eye of Legolas,” said Gimli, his mouth full of lembas. “That was a mighty shot in the dark!”

They discussed what the black shape could have been, and Gimli compared it to the balrog in Moria.

Frodo objected; he was sure it was no balrog. “It was colder. I think it was–” He broke off.

“Was what?” Boromir eagerly leaned towards him. 

“I think– No. I won’t say. But at least its fall intimidated our enemies.”

The night passed slowly. Sam and Frodo discussed the moon, trying to figure out what date it was. According to its phase – still in waning – they could only have been in Lothlórien a few days. It had felt longer, however, though not as long as an entire month. Did time move slower in there?

“Nay, time does never tarry,” said Legolas, but added that it could be perceived differently in different places. For elves, it felt both fast and slow. Fast, because they themselves hardly changed though everything around them did – which saddened them – and slow, because they did not count the years. The seasons were only ripples, repeating themselves endlessly, until the end of time. 

Frodo pondered that maybe they had felt the time swiftly like elves – and that it could be the doing of Galadriel’s Elvenring.

Aragorn chided him; not even to him should Frodo speak about that ring. But he was correct in his surmise, they had been over a month in Lothlórien. 

What ring does Galadriel have, and why can’t we speak about it? Kat asked Legolas. I thought Frodo carried the only one. 

Remember how I told you there were once many Rings of Power? The elves of Eregion forged them; nine to the humans, seven to the dwarves and three to the elves. And then Sauron forged the One Ring to find the others, bind them and make them return to him. The humans were weak, and their rings soon turned them into his servants – Nazgûl we call them, or ringwraiths. The dwarves’ rings were all destroyed or taken. But the three Elvenrings still remain untainted by Sauron’s darkness, for he never touched them – and hence we cannot speak about them, in case he would find out who wields them. Galadriel has Nenya, the Ring of Water, Elrond has Vilya, the Ring of Air, and Gandalf had the third one: Narya, the Ring of Fire.

Wow. This is complicated. And interesting! So that’s why Gandalf could create fire up at Caradhras and make his staff shine in Moria? And command the balrog?

Aye. He sighed, and sadness emanated from him.

Sorry for bringing that up. She soothingly rubbed her chin against his.

/\_,,_
( u _ u )

Despite the excitement with the orc ambush and the winged beast before, Kat found she soon became sleepy in the comfort of Legolas’ arms. When she opened her eyes next, it was already morning, and a dense, white fog covered everything. The air was damp and chilly, and she shivered. 

Bleak, she muttered.

In the adjoining boats, Aragorn and Boromir talked in subdued voices, as usual arguing which way to go next. Boromir wanted to continue to Minas Tirith on foot from here, while Aragorn wanted them to carry their boats past the rapids and then continue paddling as long as possible. Near the Falls of Rauros were an ancient stairway leading down to the wetlands, and there they could again take to the boats.

At last Boromir gave in. “It is not the way of the men of Minas Tirith to desert their friends at need,” he said. They would need his strength to get the boats to Rauros. But when they arrived there, he would turn to his home, and walk alone if nobody wanted to go with him.

The route they would walk with the boats needed scouting, and Aragorn assigned himself and Legolas for the task. Boromir sullenly warned them that there were probably orcs here too, and they should beware. He seemed still grumpy after being downvoted again. 

Aragorn said no road south was safe, and instructed them to wait for him and Legolas one day. If they had not returned by then, the others must choose a new leader and follow him.

That sounds ominous! Is it really that dangerous? Kat peered anxiously at Legolas.

We will be fine. No need to worry. He stroked her head softly. See you soon.

Be careful. Please don’t die.

I will try not to. He grinned.

Kat looked long after the couple when they left through the underbrush, full of apprehension. What if they did not return? It was stupid to divide the group, everyone knew that. In all the horror movies someone walks away alone, and the monster kills them, and then someone else goes to see where they went, and the monster kills them too, and so on. Not that Kat had seen many such; supernatural plots were not really her thing.

And she had not even said goodbye properly. She ought to have told Legolas how much she cared about him. Now, if he died he would never know… 

True, if he was dead, that information would not be very useful – but on the other hand, he would probably go to that lovely Mandos place, and while he wandered around there singing (for unlike Kat, Legolas could sing), he would fondly remember the crazy cat-lady who had loved him when he was alive. It would give him something to laugh with the other souls about. She did not mind if he used her as a joke. 

Well, perhaps a little.

When Legolas and Aragorn returned a couple of hours later, Kat had so convincingly persuaded herself they would die, it was almost anticlimactic to see them again. 

You’re alive! She jumped up onto Legolas shoulder, rubbing herself against his face like he had been gone for weeks.

“Calm down, Adanig nín,” he murmured, smiling.

As always, a bubbly warmth filled Kat when Legolas called her ‘my little human’, despite how possessive it sounded. After he saw her in the Mirror he had not spoken so familiarly to her, but he must have temporarily forgotten that now.

Aragorn informed them that the road looked safe, and they would now empty the boats of their luggage and carry everything with them.

Boromir muttered that it sounded difficult even if they all had been men.

“Yet we will try it,” said Aragorn. That man was the very definition of the word stubborn!

“Aye, we will, Master Boromir!” Gimli chuckled good-naturedly. “A rough road will make men’s legs tired, while a dwarf can easily continue, even if he carries a burden twice his own weight.”

Boromir gave him a dark look, but did not reply; he was clearly not in the mood for friendly banter. Was it just because he had been overruled, or did the Ring still affect him? She decided to keep a close eye on him from now on, just in case.

The company had to walk the distance twice before they had moved the three boats and all the packs from above the rough part of the river to where it calmed down again, and the heavy toil took them all afternoon. The mist thankfully remained, hiding them from watchful orc eyes, but it also chilled them and made the labour bleeker and harder than it might have been.

When the boats were moored and the packs put back into them, everyone except Kat was exhausted, and sat down listlessly at the shore to catch their breaths.

Boromir remarked that they could not go further; it was late, and they were too tired – except, perhaps, for the ’sturdy dwarf’. The latter he said rather nastily, indicating Gimli who had dozed off where he sat.

That night Aragorn assigned two guards per hour just in case, which meant they would only get to sleep three hours consecutive between watches. Thus, in the morning everyone looked rather bleary-eyed and sour when they took their places in the canoes again. 

Their moods did not improve when a heavy rain started to pour down on them. 

Kat hid under Legolas' cloak. This is horrible. 

It is not so bad. When it stops, everything will smell lovely.

Stop being so positive and let me mope in peace.

Stop spreading your negativity to me then, and mope in silence. A faint irritation radiated from Legolas, which was very unusual for him. Kat wisely decided not to push it and refrained from a tart reply.

Thankfully the rain was over fairly soon, and in addition their surroundings became interesting. Sheer cliff walls rose high on either side of them, blocking much of the sky, giving the Fellowship the impression they travelled through a tunnel. In the distance, huge pillars extended on either side of the river.

“Behold the Argonath, the Pillars of the Kings!” said Aragorn dramatically. 

When they came closer, Kat saw that two statues stood on them, taller than they should have been humanly possible to build – perhaps thirty meters or more. She imagined they beat even the Colossus of Rhodes, and felt sure these also were among the wonders of their world.

Time had worn the statues down, but she could still see they were shaped into two crowned men, gazing proudly north as if daring the enemy to come against them. In one huge stone hand they held an axe, and the other was raised palm out in the universal stop signal.

Gandalf’s last words came unbidden to her mind: You cannot pass.

Everyone except for Aragorn seemed intimidated by the impressive sight. He, on the other hand, sat straighter, again with that kingly air. “Long have I desired to look upon the likenesses of Isildur and Anárion, my sires of old. Under their shadow, Elessar, the Elfstone, son of Arathorn, heir of Elendil, has naught to dread!” Then the pride suddenly left his gaze, and he slumped where he sat. “I only wish Gandalf could have been here too.”

The water ran fast now; they were getting closer to the Falls, but first the river widened into a lake with an island in its center. Everything here was beautiful, but in a wild, untamed way, like the rivers in Norrland of Sweden. 

They decided to spend the night on the western side of the island, feeling relatively safe from enemies that far from the eastern shore. There was a grassy lawn where they could pull up their boats and moor them, and the soft ground was comfortable under their bedrolls.

The night passed uneventfully, but in the morning Frodo’s sword began to shine a pale blue, indicating orcs were approaching. It was only faint, and Aragorn seemed not too worried, saying they were probably still on the other side of the river – but nevertheless, the time had come; Frodo must make his decision. Going west to Minas Tirith and aid Gondor in the war, or east to Mordor with the Ring?

Frodo looked wretched. “The burden is heavy. Give me an hour more to think… Alone.”

Aragorn looked at him with compassion. “Very well, one hour then. But don’t go too far.” 

When Frodo walked away, the others resumed their conversation, but Boromir’s gaze was locked at the hobbit until he was gone. Then he restlessly thrummed his fingers against his knee, and seemed full of pent-up energy, reminding Kat of a kid with a hyperactivity disorder. She had seen a fair share of those in her classroom over the years.

The others seemed not to notice. They were discussing what choice they thought Frodo should make. Legolas and Gimli rooted for the Minas Tirith option – though, if Frodo wanted to go east they would not abandon him. Aragorn thought they should rather split up – it was too conspicuous to walk so many into Mordor. Perhaps Frodo, Sam and himself could go – that would be enough.

Boromir suddenly slunk away, along the same path where Frodo had left. What was the man up to now? Kat padded after him on silent feet, not wanting to make her presence known before she knew. She hoped he was just going to pee or something, but had a horrible suspicion that was not it.

Just as she had feared, Boromir went straight to Frodo, who sat on a stone some way off, seemingly deep in thought.

“There you are! I worried about you.” Boromir was smiling, but it looked plastered on and fake. He asked if he could join the other, and perhaps they could decide together.

The hobbit looked up in surprise. When he spoke, Kat tried her best to follow without Legolas’ helpful translations in her head, and understood most of their conversation. 

“You are kind, but you can’t help me,” Frodo said. “I know what I should do, but am afraid of doing it. Afraid, Boromir.”

“I could advise you.”

“I suspect I already know what you would suggest – and my heart is warning me against it.”

“Warning? Warning against what?” Boromir’s smile had disappeared and there was an edge to his voice. 

“Many things; delay, taking the easy path, refusing the burden I was chosen to carry – and, if you must know… against the strength and truth of men.”

“That strength has long protected you, far away in your little country – though you did not know it,” Boromir retorted angrily.

“I don’t doubt the valor of your people.” Frodo hurried to say. “Though… the walls of Minas Tirith are strong, but the enemy might be stronger, and what then? There is no hope for us as long as the Ring remains.”

“Ah, the Ring!” Boromir brightened. “The Ring. It’s strange that something so small should give us so much trouble and suffering. I only saw it briefly in Elrond’s house, but maybe I could see it again?”

Frodo’s eyes darted to his face. “It had better stay hidden,” he said, his voice full of suspicion. 

“As you wish. I don’t care,” said Boromir with feigned indifference. He added something about Gandalf and Elrond, and how they had taught Frodo to think that way – but wizards and half-elven were one thing, and men another. Men were not so easily corrupted. They did not desire power and magic – all they wanted was to defend themselves! The Ring was a gift; a gift to Mordor’s enemies, and they ought to use it. Aragorn could do great deeds with it! And if he refused, why not Boromir himself? All men would come under his banner, and together they would drive away the hosts of Mordor! 

He was pacing to and fro now, clenching and unclenching his hands. Could Frodo not see how stupid it was to destroy such a precious gift? And he was only a small hobbit, who would walk blindly into the enemy’s arms with it. Maybe that was why he felt afraid? His good sense was warning him against such a fool’s errand!

“No. But I’m glad you have told me how you think. My mind is clearer now.”

“It is?” Boromir brightened. “Then you come with me?”

“You misunderstand me.”

“Come a little while, at least. You are tired, and could use the rest.” He put his hand on Frodo’s shoulder, but the hobbit flinched and evaded his grip, nervously peering up at the man.

“Why are you so unfriendly?” Boromir looked hurt. “I am no thief. I only wanted to borrow the Ring, not keep it!”

“No, no!” Frodo backed a few steps, shaking his head. “The Council assigned me this burden.”

“Fool!” Boromir burst out. “The enemy will defeat us! Gah, it’s only an unhappy chance you have it! It might have been mine. It should be mine! Give it to me.”

Frodo turned and hurried away with Boromir looming over him. Kat followed, at loss what to do; she could not just leave them like this.

“Come my friend,” Boromir pleaded. “Why not get rid of it? You can lay the blame on me, if you want. I am larger and stronger – you could say I took it by force!”

When Frodo only walked faster in reply, Boromir's face suddenly changed, becoming distorted with an uncontrolled rage. "I am too strong for you!" He rushed at Frodo. 

The hobbit swiftly slunk behind a large stone, pulling up the chain around his neck. The Ring gleamed in the morning light when he put it on his trembling finger.

Boromir roared furiously, calling Frodo all sorts of names. The hobbit meanwhile scurried away, past the warrior and up the hill. For some reason it seemed Boromir could not see Frodo, even when he passed right beside him. Instead he threw his hands out, blindly grasping the air, running this way and that like blindfolded. 

Frodo disappeared around the old ruins of a stone building, but Boromir went in the opposite direction. Stumbling over a stone, he fell face first on the ground. 

He lay still a long while, and then his wide shoulders began to shake. 

Kat lingered hesitantly nearby. What should she do? Stay here, or go after Frodo? Or fetch the others?

“What have I said? What have I done?” Boromir moaned. And then louder: “Frodo! Frodo come back! Madness took me, but it has passed. Come back!”

Kat decided then she had waited long enough. She went close enough for Boromir to see her, and met his gaze calmly. She was not afraid; he really did seem to be himself again, and the feelings emanating from him were pure guilt.

“Kat… Oh. Are you here?” He quickly dried his face on his sleeve. “Did you… Did you just come?”

Still locking her gaze in his, Kat slowly shook her head.

Boromir’s cheeks flushed red. “You saw everything.”

Kat nodded.

He hung his head then, sinking back on the ground. “I lost my mind. I would never hurt Frodo. You know that, right?” His voice was pleading, but Kat had a feeling he tried to convince himself as much as her.

She beckoned her head in the direction of the boats, trying to make him come with her. He had to tell the others what happened. Someone else ought to go after Frodo, someone he trusted.

“You are right.” He sighed heavily. “I must tell Aragorn.”

They walked in silence back to the others, who had just noticed they were gone.

“Where have you been?” Aragorn looked suspiciously at Boromir. 

Boromir glanced at Kat, who tried to convey with her eyes that unless he did it himself, she would tell them via Legolas.

Sighing again, Boromir gave them an edited version, where he did not come out quite as bad. “I tried to persuade Frodo to come with me to Minas Tirith, and then I… I got this idea, so I suggested we could use the Ring against Sauron. Of course it must be destroyed, I know that – but instead I asked Frodo to give it to me. Begged him, even. I had lost my mind temporarily, that was why… And it frightened him, so he put on the Ring and ran away.” Boromir conveniently forgot to mention he had tried to take it by force. “The Ring turned him invisible so I could not find him. And now… Now I don’t know where he is.” 

So Frodo had been invisible, and yet, Kat had seen him. Strange!

“We have to go to him at once!” Sam jumped up and hurried away, while Merry and Pippin ran off in another direction.

“Wait a moment!” yelled Aragorn after them. “We must divide into pairs, and–” 

But they did not listen; they were already shouting ‘Frodo!’ on the top of their voices.

Before Aragorn could do anything, Legolas and Gimli had run off in a third direction, and he helplessly looked at Boromir. “You go after the younger hobbits and guard them, that’s the least you can do after causing this disaster. Meanwhile I shall try finding Frodo.”

Boromir humbly bowed his head. “Aye, My Lord. I am sorry.” And then he was gone too.

Aragorn looked at Kat. “Follow him. If he seems to lose his mind again, you must fetch me directly.”

Kat nodded, and hurried away after the tall warrior, not a little worried. Aragorn did not know the full extent of what Boromir had done, otherwise he might not have sent him after the hobbits. Could he really be trusted?

The forest was dense this close to the riverbank. The small hobbits passed through it easily, while Boromir had to break his way forward with some difficulty. They were still far ahead when Kat caught up with him. 

He smiled down at her. “Glad you came with me. You shall be my witness, and later you can tell Aragorn that I am back to myself.” He dodged a low-hanging branch. “The silly hobbits should not shout so loudly, though; they will attract the enemy. But do not worry,” he added, smiling at her again. “Orcs are bad swimmers. We are safe on this island.”

An arrow with black feathers embedded itself in a tree trunk to his left.

“Damn!” He backed behind another tree, and peered out. “Orcs! Orcs everywhere,” he muttered. “And it’s daylight! How did they get here?” He drew a sharp breath. “Oh no, they caught Pippin, and another hobbit. Merry or Frodo. I can only see his head. Maybe they have all of them. Damn. There are too many foes for one man, but if I fetch help it will be too late… And it will all be my fault!” He was shaking now. “I have to defend the hobbits, it’s the least I can do after… what happened.” He squatted before Kat. “If I don’t survive this – and it’s unlikely I do – can you tell Aragorn I have paid for what I did?” 

Kat nodded, suddenly terrified at the expression in his eyes. It was the look of one who knows he is going to die.

Boromir took his horn. “I must warn the others.” 

The horn blows echoed over the water, strong, clear tones. The orcs replied with their usual shrill shrieks, and Boromir drew his sword. 

“For Gondor!” He charged out of the trees and soon his sword began its bloody work.

Kat sneaked as close as she dared. The forest was more open here, and full of the dirty, stinking creatures she had seen in Moria, but they seemed bigger and fiercer somehow. When they saw Boromir they split up; some stayed to fight while the rest of them ran away with their prey. 

Kat caught sight of a curly head hanging over the shoulder of one. Blood dripped from it. Was he dead?

The orcs who stayed behind were maybe twenty or more, four of them particularly tall, armed with great swords and bows. Boromir cut down three of the smaller ones in his first charge, his sword slicing off heads and piercing chests like in a well-practiced movie stunt. Only it was no movie; this was real. And in real life a single warrior could not beat twenty foes alone and survive. 

Boromir clashed against one of the big ones with a metallic ring of sword against sword, and with his shield he held another off. But he did not see the two archers who were sidling behind him, making ready to fire. 

No! They must not do it! 

Kat jumped up on one, scratching his eyes and hissing and growling, her raised fur making her appear twice as large. 

“Arrgh! Get off me!”

His smell this close was horrible. She felt sick with fear and disgust, but when the shocked creature tried to brush her away from his face she held on tight, embedding her many claws deeply into his skin.

In the corner of her eye, Kat saw a golden mane of hair as someone joined her, fiercely banging on the other archer’s head with a long stick. 

Legolas? No. It did not look quite like him… 

Just then, the archer Kat was riding grabbed her by the scruff of her neck, tossing her far away. It would have hurt, had she been anything but a cat, but now she gracefully turned mid-air and landed on her feet. 

Hurrying back, she discovered the tall orc was already down, bleeding profusely from his head and nose. She could see the scratches she had caused, but the head injury was much deeper. The golden one must have beaten him too.

The mysterious helper was further ahead, their hair flowing wildly as they attacked a third enemy. They picked up an orc scimitar from one of the corpses and used it skilfully; a proficient warrior then. But who? Their back was turned, so Kat could still not see.

Nearby, Boromir grimly slashed his way through a mass of enemies, still oblivious to the newcomer. Not many orcs remained standing now, and it actually looked like the two of them might manage this. Kat could hardly breathe, and adrenaline surged through her body.

The bleeding archer suddenly rose behind Boromir and drew his ugly bow again. Kat tried to yell at him to look out, but her meow drowned in the battle sounds. With a twang the archer released his black-feathered arrow.

“Baw!” Golden-hair jumped between Boromir and the orc, taking the black arrow in his stead. Not even flinching from the impact the warrior continued, separating the archer’s head from his body in one swift stroke. 

Only one orc remained now, one of the tall ones. He had lost his sword, but instead he used his huge fist to punch the golden warrior hard in the head. The other groaned, swaying back and forth a few times, before dropping down on their knees.

Boromir roared in fury and embedded his sword deep into the orcs’ chest.

The tall monster only grinned, with blood trickling from his mouth. “Got… the… halflings…. Got… the….Ring,” he wheezed. Then he fell to the ground and was dead.