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Don't Panic!  by Boz4PM

Chapter 8 - “Reality Bites”

Penny couldn’t breathe. Again. This kept happening to her, it was true, but this time it was serious. Really serious. Really, really, really serious. Her brain just would not process this. Could not. Point blank refused.

She stared at the figure who had stepped into the clearing alongside Halbarad. There was no WAY this was someone roleplaying or acting. It was absolutely impossible that any human being could look like that.

He was beautiful. Stunning. Magnificent in a way she could never have even dreamt. No man could ever look like that. Ever! She could never dream something up like that. Ever! His long black hair flowed behind him, his eyes kind and bright in the firelight, his pointed ears just visible through his locks. His skin was pale to the point of translucency, near glowing almost in its whiteness.

“Oh. My. God.” she whispered.

She shook her head, slowly, backing away slightly from the two who had been moving towards her but were now standing still and staring at her with alarm and concern.

It is true not everyone who had never seen an elf before took it well the first time they finally did so, but this was an extreme reaction, surely? Her face was absolutely white. She was shaking and a sweat had broken out on her forehead. She was staring from one to the other and back again, her gaze desperate with incomprehension and panic.

“Pen-ii?” Halbarad said gently.

He had warned Elladan that she was foreign and very odd. That was all he had had time to tell him. He held out one hand to stop Elladan from moving any further forward. Not that he needed to. Elladan had taken one look at her face and could see she was in shock on seeing him. He was standing absolutely still, allowing it to sink in for her.

She was muttering, murmuring to herself, shaking her head and glancing at Elladan. She closed her eyes then looked at Halbarad, clearly unable to process what she was seeing. Halbarad moved gently towards her.

“Pen-ii? This is a friend of mine. This is..”

He got no further.

Elladan leapt forward to catch her before she hit the ground.

When she came to she was lying on the bedroll next to the fire under the blanket. On the other side of the fire the elf and man were in quiet conversation. Halbarad was talking earnestly, gesturing in her direction every now and then. She guessed he was talking about her. Given the alternation between grins and concern on Elladan’s face she also guessed Halbarad was giving an account of her behaviour with him thus far.

She sat up. They turned and, seeing she was conscious once more, they smiled. Halbarad got up and came over to her. He crouched beside her with a flask in his hand. It was silver, with intricate carvings and inlaid with mother-of-pearl.

He was about to pour something from it when Penny reached out for it, her face filled with astonishment. Halbarad, having only got as far as removing the cup that fitted on top and not the stopper, let her take it. There was a woodland scene engraved on both sides showing birds, deer, and rabbits all beside a stream and under the shade of trees. All around the flask were engraved leaves and tendrils so the entire surface was covered. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. She could see lettering on it. She felt tears in her eyes.

“Tengwar,” she murmured.

Halbarad and Elladan exchanged a glance and Elladan raised an eyebrow.

She looked up at Halbarad as a tear rolled down her cheek. She knew who he was now. He couldn't be anyone else. She couldn’t fight this any longer. She suspected she was still mad, but ... but ..

She looked over at Elladan once more.

There was no way on earth she could hallucinate something like him. He was beyond imagination.

Halbarad had gently taken back the flask from her and, removing the stopper, poured some clear liquid, which she took to be water, into the cup. He handed it to her. She drank, nodding in thanks.

It had no flavour, but she knew. As soon as she felt the warmth spread through her, her spirits lift, and her head clear more than it had done since she had first woken in the wet grass several days before, she knew what it was. She felt a sob catch in her throat.

Miruvor. What else could it be?

She remembered her hand, the feel of the bridge’s stonework under her fingers. She reached for her bandage and stuck her fingers into the cut underneath them. She winced. No. She could not be hallucinating: that was real pain alright. She... Oh, God. This was... It was just too... How? It was not possible.. It was..

She could not get a grip on this. Her mind was whirling as the logic part of her brain refused to accept what every other part of it was screaming at it.

“This is a friend of mine, Pen-ii. A good and dear friend.” Halbarad was talking gently and gesturing to Elladan. “This is Elladan. His name is Elladan.”

Penny, nodding and a tear now tracing a line down her face, stared at Elladan as he inclined his head towards her in greeting. She was barely maintaining a grip on her sanity.

“Of course it is. Elladan.”

She let out a short sound: half snort, half laugh as if in resignation. It was not directed at them, though. Halbarad could see that.

“Elladan. Son of Elrond and Celebrian. Brother to Arwen and Elrohir,” she said quietly. “Of course it is. Who else would it be?” She did not notice the gasps from the two males, or the look they exchanged between each other.

“WHAT did she just say?”

“It no longer surprises me. She knows much and yet seems to know nothing at all. It is all very strange. It is why I brought her with me.”

She was struggling to rise now. Halbarad helped her up and she held on to his arm since she was still shaky. She then, to the surprise of both the elf and man, bowed as best she could towards Elladan.

“Mae govannen, hir nin,” she said quietly. Then she sat down again.

Elladan grinned. “Mae govannen, hiril nin,” he replied.

“So, Pen-ii, you speak Sindarin? Halbarad said you did not understand anything he said to you before. Were you playing with my friend perhaps?”

It was clear, though, that she did not comprehend him. Elladan exchanged another glance with Halbarad who had come to return his flask to him. He could see why Halbarad had brought her, especially from what he had told him just now. Elladan watched as Penny settled herself on the bedroll, hugging her knees. She was muttering to herself once more, shaking her head and... yes... seemed almost on the point of laughing.

As far as Penny was concerned, this was... well, there was no word for what this was. Penny felt suddenly as if everything were unreal yet she could feel the heat from the fire, the pain from her hand, the warmth of the miruvor running through her.

She glanced up at the two males and gave a snort of laughter. Elladan and Halbarad! Perhaps she was mad. Even so, she knew for certain this was one of two things now: hallucination or... or...

She could not say it to herself, but she knew. She wouldn’t admit it, but she knew. Her heart was thumping. She could feel fear and excitement within her. However, as she watched them, talking quietly as Halbarad prepared his pipe, she realised there was something she needed to do.

She got up and came over to them slowly. They looked up as she drew near them, coming to kneel beside Elladan. She looked nervously at Halbarad, then Elladan, then Halbarad again.

“I think she may wish to check that you are real,” Halbarad smirked. “It’s clear she has never seen one of the Eldar before.”

Elladan nodded and smiled encouragingly at Penny. “It’s perfectly alright, Pen-ii. I am absolutely real I assure you and I will not bite.”

She tentatively reached out a hand to him. He sat still, smiling. She touched the hand which was nearest to her and which was resting on his knee. Encouraged, realising he wasn’t stopping her, she brought her other hand forward and held his hand with both hers, turning it over, stroking the soft skin - like a child’s in its softness - and looking at the near luminescence of the whiteness of it.

Not fake. Couldn’t be. The light within the skin, the feel of it.

She looked up at him and saw the grey eyes twinkling at her. She felt her throat tightening, her chest heaving, as her brain finally accepted this, however insane it seemed. She let go of his hand and sobbed.

Elladan looked at Halbarad as Penny completely broke down next to him. Halbarad shrugged and shook his head sadly.

“She has been like this the past few days. I do not know what to make of it.”

Elladan shifted himself so he was crouching beside her, one hand on her shoulder.

“What ails you, my lady? Is it really so distressing to meet one of my kind?”

Penny realised they would not understand her behaviour. She realised in that instant how badly she had behaved with Halbarad, how outlandish what she had done must have seemed to him. Whether this was real or the product of her fevered brain, there was no way how she had acted would have been appropriate. She raised her head and looked at Halbarad watching her, his face orange in the fire’s glow.

“Halbarad, I... I...”

He looked at her kindly, knotting his brows together as he waited for her to say whatever it was she wanted to tell him. ‘Not that I will understand her, of course,’ he thought.

She was searching for something in her head. Something she had read, she knew. She just prayed that whoever had written it had actually researched their elvish first. It was on the tip of her tongue. Then she had it. She looked at him.

“Halbarad, goheno,” she said slowly and hesitantly.

The astonishment in Halbarad’s face told her she had got it right. Or right enough that he had understood her. She just prayed she had said what she wanted to say not something obscene or bizarre.

He was smiling now, shaking his head gently. “Ai, Pen-ii.”

What had she meant, he wondered? Was she asking forgiveness for her behaviour with him? For fainting? He had no idea. That she had said ‘goheno’ not ‘goheno nin’ did tell him that, even if she knew Sindarin, she was far from fluent. Still, it was a start. Why had she not responded to his use of Sindarin with her before, though?

Penny could feel them watching her, concerned, no doubt. She really wanted to be alone, in all honesty. She needed time to process what her brain was now shouting at her. She suddenly felt very, very alone and very, very frightened. The more she considered this, the more scared she became. How had this happened? More importantly, how was this real? How was she here, somewhere that didn’t exist, had never existed? It was a book! A bloody book! Tolkien had made the entire thing up. Brilliant, detailed, but entirely invented. She could feel the panic rising once more.

Halbarad could see it in her face again. Could see her breathing begin to quicken and her brow furrow as if she was battling with something within herself.

“Pen-ii?” he said, gently.

She looked at him, shook her head, standing and shaking Elladan’s hand from her shoulder. She looked from one to the other.

“I’m.. I’m alright. I.. I just need some time to think... I ...” She shook her head and muttered to herself, “This can’t be happening. This is fucking insane.” She looked at them both. “You’re not real. You can’t be. You don’t exist! How can you be here? How can I be here? What IS this!”

She stopped, her mouth opening and closing as she struggled to even begin to put into words her shock. She held up her hands in their direction as if to say ‘I cannot deal with this right now’ and turned her back, walking over to the edge of the clearing and standing there, one hand against a tree trunk, breathing heavily and staring out into the darkness. Elladan had stood to go over to her but Halbarad stopped him.

“Leave her. So long as she is not running or shouting I think we are safe enough. There is something going on, though precisely what I cannot fathom, and I think she needs answers. She is frustrated she cannot get them from me. I am hoping your father may provide them for her.”

“But how, if she cannot speak the language?”

“We do not know she cannot. She has shown some knowledge of Sindarin just now. The first she has shown since I took her into my company.”

“True, though, like you, I suspect she knows little of the language. You were right to bring her, though, especially given recent events. You have heard, no doubt... Halbarad! If you are going to smoke that thing then move to the other side of the fire at least!” Elladan held his hand to his nose with a look of disgust. Halbarad laughed and moved around so he was opposite his friend.

The two then moved on to more serious matters. Elladan explained that he, with Glorfindel and others, had been sent to find the hobbits, given the news Elrond had received. Halbarad told him of the tracks he had found, and the news he had from Bree, showing they were in Aragorn’s care though the Riders were close behind them. He was concerned that there had been no word from Gandalf. That was not like him. Not like him at all.

Penny, meanwhile, was still in shock. This could not be happening. Yet it was. She had to be crazy. Yet she could not dream up real bridges, pain, or Elladan.

She glanced behind her at the fire. She could see Halbarad had moved to the opposite side of the fire from the elf. She watched Elladan as they talked. My God, he was beautiful. A sudden thought flicked through her head. ‘I’m a bloody Mary Sue!’ She giggled. Oh the irony! How bloody ridiculous was this? She giggled again. The two at the fire glanced up at her. She held up her hand at them.

“Sorry.” She coughed, trying to keep her laughter under control. “Don’t mind me. Carry on.” She turned away.

Halbarad turned back to his friend and was about to speak when he turned to look at her once more. Her shoulders were shaking. He sighed and shook his head.

“You see now why I suspect she is, in fact, mad?”

“Ah, but my friend she is a female,” Elladan grinned. “And, what is more, a mortal female. A deadly combination, frankly, and one I could never hope to understand. However if, as her fellow mortal, you consider her behaviour odd, then I suppose it must be.”

Halbarad shook his head and chuckled.

Eventually Penny came and joined them at the fire once more. She was still in partial disbelief – expecting herself to come to in a hospital bed at any moment to find her brother polishing off the last chocolate and her mother sitting in a pile of tear-stained tissues – but there was little she could do about it. She would carry on and her brain would have process it or not as it saw fit. She noticed they stopped speaking as she sat with them.

“Charming,” she muttered. She looked at them. “Please don’t stop on my account! It’s not like I can understand a bloody word, anyway!”

Elladan raised an eyebrow.

“Are we being scolded?” he asked Halbarad.

Halbarad hadn’t even looked at her, merely sucked at his pipe.

“Quite probably. It happens a lot,” he said indifferently.

“Why are we being scolded, may we ask?”

“Eru alone knows!” Halbarad sighed.

Eventually Penny settled down underneath the blanket once more. Since Halbarad had finished his pipe, he and Elladan had moved away from the fire and were talking in quiet whispers. It was clear much of what they said was serious, but then it obviously turned to lighter things since they were both chuckling occasionally.

Penny’s mind was still racing. Eventually she slept, but fitfully. She woke often and would find Elladan always sitting, eyes open, watching the fire. Once she woke to find Halbarad awake now and standing, leaning up against a tree while Elladan was lying down, turned away from her, on the opposite side of the fire.

A voice woke her. She opened her eyes to see Halbarad crouched beside her.

“Time to rise, Pen-ii.”

She nodded, sitting up and stretching. Her back seemed permanently stiff and sore: from riding all day and sleeping on hard earth at night.

The bread had finished the day before, and had been a little stale even then, so she presumed it would be just dried fruit this morning. Halbarad, however got out the oaty cake thing from his pack that he had given her the first morning. Her mouth dropped as she suddenly realised what it was.


Again a look between Elladan and Halbarad.

“How can she know of lembas and yet never have seen...?”

Halbarad cut him off with a hand.

“Don’t even try and work it out, Elladan. Nothing she says or does makes any sense at all. I can promise you that.” He turned to Penny, “Yes. It is lembas. Did you not realise that first morning when I gave you some?”

Obviously not judging from the near reverential way she now took the piece he was offering her and turned it over and over in her hands in clear wonder. Elladan was watching her, thoroughly bemused. Halbarad noticed with some amusement that, contrary to the last time when she had near stuffed the entire piece in her mouth in one go and had clearly been annoyed when he did not give her any more, this time she ate it as slowly as possible and taking only small bites at a time. It was as if she was trying to make the experience last as long as possible. He shook his head.

As she took a swig from the water-sac she noticed Elladan was combing his hair.

‘I wonder,’ she thought. ‘Would it be VERY rude to ask an elf if you could borrow their comb?’


She kept her eyes fixed on him in the hope he might look up. He didn’t.

Halbarad could see her staring at Elladan, though, and guessed what was going through her mind. ‘This could be interesting,’ he thought. He didn’t say anything. He readied his horse, rolling up the bedroll and blanket, keeping one eye on the pair and wondering how this would turn out.

At last Elladan, having finished, looked up and caught Penny’s eye.

“Yes?” he asked.

It was clear she wanted something. She smiled. Sweetly. Well, as sweet as a not overly-attractive mortal, dirty and sweat-stained from travel, could look, he supposed. She was trying, at least, he had to give her that much.

He raised a questioning eyebrow at her. She was saying something, keeping her tone light and gentle, hesitant almost. She was pointing at him. No. Not at him. At something on him? She stroked her hair and made a face that told him she was embarrassed that she looked such a mess. And she did look a mess, it was true. She pointed at him again and then touched her hair once more.

‘My comb! She wants to use MY comb!’ he thought.

He turned to Halbarad, “Didn’t you buy her a comb at the inn!”

Halbarad looked stunned. “You have to be jesting, Elladan! I bought her shoes and a dress. I paid for her board and lodging. A comb is a non-essential item.” He held his hand up as Elladan started to interrupt, “Yes it IS, Elladan. Though I know you and every other eldar would dispute that fact, but nonetheless ‘fact’ it is. No. I did NOT buy her a comb!” He turned back to his horse, muttering, “Buy her a comb. The very idea!”

Elladan shook his head in disbelief. Halbarad could be insufferable at times. Now HE was obliged, in honour and kindness, to let a mortal woman who clearly hadn’t bathed in several days, use his comb. He sighed in irritation. Reluctantly he stood, came over to Penny and handed the comb to her.

He tried to look as comfortable with this and as pleasant as possible. Penny noticed the tension in his jaw, though, and wondered if she had committed some terrible faux-pas. Whatever exchange had just gone on between Elladan and Halbarad just now it had clearly concerned both her and the comb and had irritated both of them.

She stared at the comb, wondering if she should use it. She looked up at Elladan to find he wasn’t looking at her but was striding off into the trees, his back stiff with annoyance. She looked at Halbarad who had turned once more and, seeing her hesitancy, nodded and gestured for her to go ahead. She did.

Elladan finally returned, took back his comb and then, much to her annoyance and embarrassment, washed it thoroughly from his water-sac before putting it in his tunic. Her eyes narrowed and she opened her mouth to say something when she caught Halbarad looking at her sternly. She shut her mouth again and stomped off to relieve herself before they started off. So bloody RUDE!

Elladan, bareback on a beautiful gray stallion, came with them to the road and then said his farewells. He still had a job to do. He was comforted to know that Aragorn had found the hobbits, but even so he would see if he could find their trail and follow them to Rivendell by routes other than the road.

As Elladan headed off into the trees he called out “Navaer” over his shoulder. Penny as well as Halbarad returned the farewell. Halbarad grinned to himself as he heard her and started the horse moving once more.

As they followed the road through the hills and woods in silence, Penny’s mind turned over the implications of what she really could not deny now. “This is Middle Earth,” she kept muttering, somehow hoping that if she said it often enough it would sound less insane.

It didn’t. But she kept trying.

It suddenly occurred to her that she was sitting on a horse with her arms round Halbarad. THE Halbarad. She felt herself go a little dizzy at the thought. She felt scared and overwhelmed by it. She decided it was best not to think about it. She stared fixedly at the greenery as it went by. She tried to see if she could name any plants or trees she saw: anything to keep her mind from snapping at the thought that she was sat on a horse with a fictional character, had seen and touched a real life elf, and was possibly following in the footsteps of...

“Oh God!”

Her heart skipped a beat and she could feel her palms suddenly cold and wet against Halbarad’s tunic.

If this was ‘real’. She shook her head. No. If this was REAL... then...

Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. Bill Ferny. Bill Ferny had a broken nose. Halbarad had seen tracks, clearly, on both sides of the road below Weathertop. Oh... oh shit. Suddenly she understood his fear and alarm at her mention of Nazgul. She groaned into his back.

“This can’t be happening. This is...”

She stopped herself. She was about to say it was insane. Again. She kept saying that. She kept thinking it and yet everything she experienced was telling her, insane or not, it was real. She was here. She was in Middle Earth, and even weirder, she was in the middle of the journey of the Ring.

They hardly spoke that night as they camped once more away from the road and under cover of trees. She ate a little at Halbarad’s insistence, though in truth he did not need to insist since her appetite was returning a little. She could, however, feel a knot in her stomach - of nervousness and fear – that would not go away.

Halbarad could see she was still troubled, if now less hysterical and on the edge. She had a near permanent look of worry on her face. That, and fear in her eyes. If she caught his gaze, she would soften into a smile, though.

As he smoked after they had eaten she suddenly spoke quietly. She pointed at him.

“You. Dúnedan?”

He smiled and nodded.

She spread her arms about her, “This. Eriador? Arnor?”

He nodded again, his smile turning into a grin.

She pointed at both of them and then through the trees in the direction of the mountains and the direction the road headed. “We. Imladris? Elrond?”

He nodded.

She nodded in her turn and fell silent once more, brooding over this.

Early the next morning they came to a cutting in the road. On either side the earth, red and bare, reached up to the sky steeply. Halbarad suddenly felt Penny’s grasp around him tighten as she tensed. He glanced over his shoulder to find she was looking about her, murmuring. He read panic in her eyes. He stopped the horse.

“Pen-ii? What is it?”

She looked at him, shaking her head. “Halbarad. This... This is where...”

She shook her head again. No, she was being crazy.

Halbarad could see she wasn’t going to tell him, or try and make him understand. He moved his animal forward once more but Penny’s grip round him did not lessen. She was making him wary and he let go of the reins, letting one hand rest on his thigh instead, near his sword hilt, his arm crossed over his body.

The road burst into the autumn sun once more and Penny, her heart in her mouth, saw they were on a steep incline above a river. On the opposite side was a bare-earthed bank with a track winding up it.

“Bruinen,” she breathed.

Halbarad heard her and could not help himself gasp slightly in surprise. She knew this place?

Then his attention was distracted by what he could see on the ground. He climbed down from his horse and inspected the marks.

Penny watched him, her despair and fear growing as she did so. She could see where a great flood had moved a large part of the earth and stones from the lower edges of the bank near the river. Part of the grass and plants on either side had been entirely scoured away. Halbarad was examining hoof marks in the ground that even she could make out in the soft earth.

He came back to the horse, his brow furrowed, and, pulling the reins over the horse’s head, led the animal down the slope still examining the ground as he did so. When he got to the river and saw the damage and evidence of the flood his face grew grim.

“Someone tried to cross without leave,” he murmured.

Then he spun round to Penny in astonishment as he heard her say something. He could see she had tears running down her face. He understood ‘Aragorn’, ‘periannath’, ‘Nazgul’, ‘Bruinen’, ‘Glorfindel’ and ‘Asfaloth’.

How had she been able to tell that without looking at a single track! And why did she mention Glorfindel and his horse?

“How did you know that?” he asked her, his eyes wide.

She understood from his tone that he was astonished. She guessed he had only understood the names, not the full sense of what she had told him. She also guessed that he had seen the same thing in the tracks, hence his astonishment. She shook her head sadly. There was no way she could make him understand. He would think her mad even if she could... but then she suspected she was mad already, so would his opinion make any difference?

Halbarad climbed back on his horse slowly and he eyed her with some suspicion as he did so. He shook his head. Odd. Very odd.

He urged his horse forward into the water and so entered the realm of Elrond Halfelven and the Last Homely House.

Mae govannen - well met

Hir nin - my lord

Hiril nin - my lady

Goheno nin - forgive me

Navaer - farewell

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