This is a story purely for personal enjoyment. I own nothing but Danielle Barr, the character I'm introducing. I am making no money from this adventure in writing.

Awakening

Danielle sighed heavily as she finished saving the template. Glancing at the time at the bottom right of her screen, irritation flashed through her. She'd been held up 45 minutes past her scheduled shift on her last customer service call. At least I'll get paid overtime for this, she thought glumly. Quickly saving her work and logging off the computer, she stood up and gathered her purse and coat. Her desk was locked and everything that needed to be filed had been.

May was just beginning and it was unusually cold outside. It didn't bode well for the planned camping trip with her parents. Leaving the building, she waved to Robert, the elderly security guard on shift. He gave her a toothy grin and waved back. He was a sweet man, always greeting her with a huge smile.

The drive home was uneventful, only a small accident delaying her. Danielle carefully walked up the steps to her apartment. She couldn't afford to slip on the ice again. She couldn't afford to be out of work for a week to heal. She was still getting muscle aches from her fall last year and she still hadn't lost the weight the doctor had demanded from then. Unlocking the door to her apartment, she grinned at the smell of chili cooking in the crock pot.

Danielle dumped her purse and coat on the couch before breezing over to the source of the smell. A quick assessment told her that the meal was more than ready. Turning the dial to the warm setting, she walked over to the bathroom and peeled off her clothes to take a shower. Stepping under the hot spray, she enjoyed the feeling of the tea tree shampoo and conditioner she so loved.

Her hair was a light brown, now nearly black from the water. It reached just below her shoulder blades. She was trying so hard to grow it out but having thick, curly hair was always a challenge to take care of. She squeezed a generous amount of her conditioner into her hand and worked it into her hair before using her hairbrush to work out any tangles that had developed over the day. The second round of conditioning always made her hair extremely soft. Her eyes were hazel or brown, depending on the light and her mood. She had a slightly upturned nose and pale, full lips that were only slightly rosier than her pale cheeks.

Once the last of the conditioner had been rinsed from her hair, she turned off the water and toweled off. She glared at the scale that mocked her from its place next to the counter as she picked up the dirty clothes and tossed them in the hamper. It was an evil glass thing that had told her that she was still 237 lbs. She could hardly believe that she hadn't made any progress. For the last three months, she'd been going to the gym and had been building up her stamina on the treadmill and had been doing weight training. She'd been going slowly to start. She'd lost 15 lbs in the first couple of months and then nothing. Her trainer said she'd just built muscle but she wasn't sure that was the case.

Dressing in her favorite sweats, she served up a bowl of the chili. It was made to be heart healthy and for her weight management. It was made with turkey instead of beef. There were lots of fresh bell peppers and onions. She carefully measured the number of crackers and the amount of cheese that she placed on her serving. Measuring cups and spoons were abundant in her kitchen. Everything was precisely measured out. She was dedicated to losing weight. She wanted to lose at least 60 lbs. Her doctor had recommended 100 lbs. It made sense for her 5'4" frame.

The meal was delicious and though she wanted seconds, she took a deep breath and dished out the rest of the pot into pre-portioned meals for the next week. She didn't put them into the fridge, opting to keep the meal as fresh as possible by placing it into the freezer. She'd defrost a couple of them when she got back from the camping trip.

Danielle felt the eagerness she always felt when going camping rise inside. This was a longer weekend than usual for her office. Because there was some kind of event for the company going on, they were getting Monday and Tuesday off, too. The plan was that she'd meet her parents at a favored camping ground, and they'd spend the weekend reconnecting with nature.

She had been ready to go since Tuesday. Thank god it was Friday. Danielle took inventory of her supplies one more time. She had her solar phone charger and phone in the waterproof plastic baggy, three changes of clothes that included three pairs of jeans, two tank tops, a pair of shorts and sleeping pants and two t-shirts. She had extra panties and bras. There were several granola bars and about a dozen packages of ramen. A flint and knife, a lighter, a tin cup and two water bottles were also in the bag. There was a small pot for boiling water and a small grill to suspend it over a fire.

There was a brand-new sleeping bag and extra blanket that she secured to the top of the pack where she hid her socks, all four pairs. Checking the rest of her supplies, she felt satisfied that she was prepared. Her parents would be meeting her on Saturday but she was going out tonight to get to the camp grounds and find a good spot. Grabbing her significantly thicker wilderness coat, she put on a pair of thick socks and boots. The tent was already in her trunk. It didn't take her long to load up the car and drive out to the location. The sun was setting by the time she reached the campgrounds and it was empty. Apparently, no one else wanted to be out in the cold. Danielle didn't mind. She liked the challenge.

Her hike to the location they would use took her about thirty minutes. She had just finished setting up the tent in the light of her small lantern when it began to rain. Cursing her bad luck, she shoved her pack into the tent and began to unfurl her sleeping bag. It would be a colder night than she had anticipated but since she was wearing her sweats, she had confidence that she'd be okay. Settling in for the night, she fell asleep faster than she expected to.

When she woke to the sounds of rain and the skies darker than she would have liked, Danielle groaned. The weather forecast had been wrong again. It was supposed to be sunny and warming up to a balmy 57 degrees, not raining and cold. Glad for having a weather resistant coat, she slipped it on and ran to the spot she'd designated the night before as her latrine.

She did her business quickly and then returned to the tent with a shiver. Her boots squished in the muddy ground. It was going to get too wet to stay at this location. I'll go to the spot that's a little further in. I'll leave them a note on the tree, she thought as she began to change into the jeans and t-shirt before packing up her stuff. She hadn't pulled too much out just yet, so there wasn't much to do aside from packing up the tent and her sleeping bag.

Water began to pour into the tent after a few moments. The rain was coming down in torrents and Danielle began to realize that this camping trip had been an unbelievably bad idea. Freak storm, she thought. That's what this must have been. She'd checked the weather multiple times before leaving home. There was no other explanation. Quickly snatching her blanket off the ground and shoving it in her pack, she bemoaned the soaking wet sleeping bag.

Camping trip's postponed, she thought glumly as she dismantled the tent and emptied it of water. She sloshed to her car with the soaking gear. The water was already to her knees. She had carried the sopping sleeping bag under one arm and the tent in the other. They went into the trunk of her car with a resounding wet slap of fabric on fabric.

Danielle had just turned to remove her pack when a strong torrent of water knocked her off her feet. She yelped as her arm hit the side of her blue 2005 Chevy Malibu and the current dragged her away from the car. She watched in a strange sort of horror as the car disappeared from her view.

Vaguely, she realized that the river a mile to the east must have flooded from the rain. She flopped against trees and rocks as she was carried away by the deepening waters. Danielle knew that she was likely being swept out to another river nearby, one that was much more unforgiving than the one that had flooded. The Ardent was known for the sharp rocks and swirling rapids. She wouldn't stand a chance.

Desperation filled the 26-year-old as she pulled at the clips and clasps that held her pack to her body. It was already dragging her down below the surface of the water. A cry of pain escaped her lips as she hit a tree branch and felt it snap under her weight, the jagged edges creating a gash on her shoulder that bled into the water. Ahead, as her grip slipped on the clasps and clips, she could hear the mighty roar of the Ardent getting closer.

Deciding that she would have to take her chances with the pack, she abandoned her attempts at dislodging it from her body and began to grasp at trees and rocks. She was so concentrated on grabbing one branch that was about to pass her by that she completely missed the one behind it and hit it with enough force to push all the air from her lungs. Tumbling in the water, she didn't have time to right herself before her head struck an even thicker branch and her world went dark.

0o0o0o0

She was shivering from the cold and her clothes were soaked. That was the first thing she noticed when she woke up. The next thing was when she moved to sit up, her head ached and she was hit with a wave of nausea. Without a thought, she leaned to her side and threw up. Water, brown and horrible tasting, bubbled out of her body like a geyser. It took a little while, her body rejecting tons of the disgusting fluid every few minutes like Old Faithful before she felt like she could move without feeling sick. Her head still ached terribly. Placing a hand on her temple, she winced when she pulled it back and saw warm, sticky blood on her palm. As she tried to sit up she felt the weight of her pack drag her back a little. Snapping off the clasps, she released her burden and groaned.

Standing up was a chore because there were dozens of bruises on her legs that she could feel having already formed or were still blooming beneath her jeans. Shrugging off her coat, she examined the skin on her shoulder where the tree branch had cut her. There was a hole in the left shoulder of her coat and the jagged wound on her arm looked superficial but was still painful. Danielle clenched her teeth as she pulled the coat off completely and looked around. She was on the bank of a river that was flowing much more calmly than the Ardent. The landscape was moist and the air smelled of the damp earth and flora.

Shaking her head, she realized she must have a concussion and then immediately regretted the motion as pain and nausea flooded her senses. She was getting distracted to easily. Okay, so the number one thing I have to do is treat my wounds. I need my first aid kit. Kneeling and opening the pouch on the side that she rarely ever touched, she found the meager kit she was looking for. There were two sterile pads for wounds and a little pit of gauze and tape.

Splashing water on her wounds to get any debris out was painful. Using the alcohol pads to clean the wounds was worse. The burning told her that she was doing it right, though. She used the first sterile pad to press against her head and used the medical tape to hold it in place. She realized that the pad was soaked through within a few minutes and had to use the second one, this time using the gauze to secure it. Half the roll was gone by the time she was done.

She used her knife to tear a section of her sleeping pants off to use as a sterile pad for her arm, grateful that she'd packed something so useful. She'd forgotten the knife last time and had to rely on her father's knife. At that thought, she reached for her cell phone. She'd not touched it since the night before, so it was completely charged. Pulling it out of the plastic bag, Danielle's hopes were dashed when she saw the 'No Service' message in the upper left corner. Stupid iPhone.

Must have been swept out pretty far if there's no service, Danielle thought grimly. She wasn't too worried. She'd been in the wilderness before. As long as she had some supplies and followed the river, Danielle was sure she would reach someone. She shivered as she realized that she was still cold. She pulled the coat back on, noting the large purple bruise on her arm where it had struck the car. She was very sore.

The more Danielle moved, the more she realized that she was hurt pretty badly. It was like the adrenaline was taking forever to leave her. From that, she surmised that she must not have been out for very long. It hurt to breathe, to stand, to walk, it really hurt when she stooped to pick up her pack and swing it onto her shoulders again. It took her a while to get her bearings. She found the North by finding the moss on a nearby tree and determined that she was going to head East. She'd taken inventory while she got into the clothes and first aid kit.

A hole had been torn in the pocket of her pack where she'd kept her food. Most of the ramen had been lost. She had two packets left and three granola bars. She had one packet of banana chips to nibble on. Her water bottles had been clipped to the pack, so they were still there. She was glad she'd opted for the metal containers rather than the plastic. There were a few dings in the side but they still worked.

Danielle moved at a slow pace. She stopped to drink water once and ate half a granola before continuing. The second time she stopped was closer to dark and she realized that she was in trouble. The other half of her granola was eaten as her dinner. The next morning, Danielle felt a little revitalized. She was determined to find her way back to her car or some civilization. The blanket was stowed back in her pack and another granola was halved for the day. The belt to her pants was cinched a little tighter. She was ready.

Her revitalized demeanor didn't last long. As she followed the river, she became more concerned. She was seeing mountains in the few places where it was clear enough to see beyond the treetops. There aren't too many mountains in Michigan, she thought, but there shouldn't be any mountains around here at all. A frown marred her face as she continued forward.

Another cold night, a packet of ramen and the other half of her granola the next morning brought her to a decision. She'd gone for miles and miles and seen no one. Dropping her pack at the foot of a sturdy tree, she began to climb it. It was a struggle for her to get to the top, pulling her heavier frame up through the branches.

Once she was at a spot where she could see above the treetops, she gasped at the sight before her. She didn't recognize anything. It looked like the forest thinned out in several miles and there were more open lands ahead from there. It would take her far more than a few days for her to reach that point. It totally blew her away. Turning to look the direction she'd come from was a massive forest. Danielle felt her chest constrict at the sight. At least I picked a good direction, she thought weakly.

She stayed in place for a while and just stared around. It was a long time before she slowly descended the tree. She didn't look much further down than finding the next sturdy branch for her feet. Danielle was massively uncomfortable with heights. When she got down to the ground, she quickly put the pack on and continued on.

On the sixth day, she had only her banana chips left and the wound on her arm was becoming infected. She rationed them and made them last until the ninth day. On the fourteenth day, she had cinched her belt for the fourth time and had stopped thinking about her painfully empty stomach. Her head swam with how dizzy she was and the fever she was being tormented with.

On the eighteenth day, Danielle was ready to give up. She was getting weaker. Her body was consuming the extra weight on her body. She found some raspberries a few days prior but she'd picked the bushes clean and there were none left in the baggy she'd reused from the banana chips. Her wound, even with washing it every night was becoming rancid. The one on her head was mostly gone but her arm was looking more and more disgusting.

The forest was thinning out and her pace had been sluggish for at least a week. Her mind wandered as she walked and it wasn't long before she realized that she was truly lost. She hadn't paid attention to where she was walking and had lost the river. Her ears were ringing from the lack of nourishment, from the consistent heat of her flesh and couldn't hear the water flowing.

It was the twentieth day when she just sat down on the ground and curled around her pack. She was done. She hadn't slept well during the last three weeks because she would sleep so lightly and with the fear of some animal coming after her while she rested. Danielle was exhausted. She pulled off the coat and laid it on her body as she lay down.

Even the sleeve of the coat smelled bad from the nasty fluid from her wound. It refused to heal. She closed her eyes and sighed. She was finally going to just sleep. She didn't even care if something found her anymore. Her overheated body ached from her efforts and from the infection that raged through her. She welcomed the darkness that enveloped her mind in the middle of the day.

0o0o0o0

There were nine of them on the path. The whole company was obviously male, led by an old man with a long, tangled beard in grey robes with a greyish pointed hat. His well-lined face was kind and had bright, twinkling blue eyes that shined from beneath his brim. In one hand, he had a staff with a gnarled top that looked like a mass of roots twisting about. At his hip was a long sword housed in a scabbard that was well worn and decorated in foreign flowing script.

Following behind him was a rather interesting group. One was a scruffy looking man with dark hair and grey eyes. His clothes showed he was on the road often. There were patches in the long coat he wore, though he obviously took care to keep his clothes in as good repair as he could. His boots were of a strong, soft leather. His hair was shoulder length and his beard was more like a heavy stubble on his strong jaw. He carried a bow and quiver on his back and a sword at his hip. He looked perhaps forty but his eyes said that he was a little older than that.

Behind him was another man, his cloak and clothes were of exceptionally fine make; he was of a high station. His clothes were luxurious in comparison to the man ahead of him. Even his boots were much newer but still broken in. He followed him with a scowl that would occasionally surface. His hair was blondish and shoulder length, close to brown, with blue eyes that were beginning to show his late thirties in crinkles and lines and a full, trimmed beard. He carried a shield, broadsword and a horn.

Standing much shorter than the first three, almost the size of children, were four adults with rather large and hairy feet and did not wear any shoes. They were Hobbits. They had curly hair in shades varying from blond to nearly black. The darkest haired one had blue eyes and slightly hunched shoulders, as though the weight of the world sat upon them. He wore a fine coat and pants, a white linen shirt and burgundy vest. A cloak rested on his shoulders as well.

The others were similarly dressed in varying shades of brown and were obviously some kind of kin to the dark haired one. The blond hobbit was stout and sure as he followed behind the dark haired one closely. He was hardly ever far from his side. He held the reigns of the supply laden pony that followed beside the long line. Behind the blond hobbit were a pair of hobbits that were of brown and dirty blond hair. They had mischievous airs about them and were in an animated conversation with the other blond about one of their favorite subjects: food.

The figure that walked behind the four child-like hobbits was a little stockier and carried heavy armor on his person. He was mere inches taller than the four walking ahead of him and his gait was strong and proud. A thick, red beard that had a single braid down the middle went well past his belly came from beneath a thick and strong helmet that was made with geometric designs. He had a heavy brow and bright, intelligent eyes that glittered from beneath. His nose was slightly bulbous but fit perfectly with his face. A pair of battle axes were strapped to his back and a much longer handled ax was used as a walking stick. This impressive, stout figure was none other than a Dwarf.

The most youthful appearing of the lot, aside from the hobbits, was the final member of this group. He stood taller than the other men, even if only by a few inches. He had pale, luminous skin with bright ice-blue eyes shining from under dark brows. He had silvery blond hair that went to just below his shoulder blades that was straight and fine. It was pulled back into three braids, one on either side of his head revealing delicate, leaf-shaped ears and one braid that pulled his hair from his face to the back. The braids showed his warrior and royal status among his people.

He was dressed in muted greens and browns for his tunic and leggings, supple leather boots on his feet and carried no cloak. He was armed with two white blades that crossed his back and a bow and quiver resided there as well. This last member of the odd Company was an Elf.

They had only set out on their journey a week and a half before. Their task was of the most important that had ever been assigned and none were taking it lightly, least of all the dark haired hobbit. His name was Frodo Baggins and it was his task they were attempting to complete in all secrecy. Samwise Gamgee, or Sam, walked beside him and silently offered the troubled hobbit an apple.

The Company had been walking since breakfast and it was nearing the time that they would rest for the evening. The intent was to reach the stream that branched off of the river so that they could refill their water skins and perhaps make a small stew of the vegetables they carried and the game that would be hunted before they settled in for another tense night. Tonight was likely the last night they would be able to build a fire; they were leaving the protection of Rivendell.

Frodo took the apple with a small smile and ate it slowly. He'd had hardly any appetite the last few days but it was returning. When the grey-clad leader, Gandalf held his staff up and declared that they were going to stop for the night, there were sighs of relief from the other two hobbits. They were Meridoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took, Merry and Pippin for short. It wasn't long before the camp was set up.

A fire was already roaring and Sam busied himself with cutting vegetables and deciding on what herbs from his small stash to use. The Elf, Legolas, and the scruffy man, Aragorn, set out from the small camp with the intent of finding meat. The Dwarf and the other man, Gimli and Boromir respectively, stayed behind and were keeping a watch while the others went about their tasks.

Aragorn and Legolas had been friends and hunting companions for many years prior. The Elf had met him when Aragorn was still in his youth and training among the DĂșnedain. They had become good friends over the years and had developed a series of whistles and calls for communication while hunting for either meals or Orcs. The keen ears of the Elf meant that he could hear to his comrade over greater distances than the mortal men he might work with. It was with an alarmed whistle that Aragorn signaled to his companion that he'd found something that he'd not been searching for. The light-footed blond was within shooting distance in moments, his bow drawn, and an arrow nocked.

Aragorn barely glanced up as he cautiously approached the curled figure on the ground. The figure was shaking slightly on the ground and didn't seem to notice his presence. There was a coat of some kind laying across the top half of the figure. The coat was a dark blue in color and had odd colored trim on the sleeves. A head of messy dark hair peeked out from under the cloth and the figure's legs were clad in some dark blue trousers and they were clad in dark boots with an odd tread on the soles. The closer he got, the more he realized he didn't recognize the material they were made from. There was a pack that poked out from under the coat as well.

He used the tip of his drawn sword to pull the coat back and felt surprise and shock on his features when he saw that it was a woman. Putting the back of his hand against the woman's cheek, he recoiled at the heat of her flesh. She was extremely ill. A sickening smell came from her and he pulled the coat back further to investigate. The sight of a gash on her left arm by her shoulder made him recoil. It was a sickly color and a thick yellow fluid oozed from a corner that had ruptured from the sheer pressure that had built up beneath the flesh. The odor was due to the infection that raged in the wound. The healer in him immediately wondered if the infection had seeped into her blood.

Legolas approached slowly and looked over his friend's shoulder, wincing at the sight of the wound. The woman's face, though pale, covered in sweat and twisted in a grimace, was beautiful for a mortal. Her body seemed to be a little plumper, indicating that she was well fed until recently, if the tightening of the belt on her waist and the bunching of fabric there was any indication. Her body shivered and shook.

Aragorn sheathed his sword and looked at the woman carefully. His fingers barely grazed the wound and the red line that had been the barely sealed edge completely ruptured. He didn't even have to glance at the elf to know that he had pulled out the water skin at his side. He handed it to the Ranger and it was carefully emptied over the seeping cut as he pressed against the skin gently. The stinking pus and fluid gushed forward, and the woman gave a pained groan.

"Where is she from?" Legolas asked in confusion as he examined the shirt. The short sleeves were odd and there was writing on the front that he did not recognize as any language he'd ever seen. It was a vibrant green in color and the lettering was in white.

"I know not, mellon-nin," Aragorn replied as he continued to manipulate the flesh around the wound, pushing more and more of the infection out. "Return to the camp and inform Gandalf that we have found a sick and wounded woman. She may simply be injured and lost but she may be a servant of the enemy. He will know the words on her clothes."

Blood had begun to mingle with the infected fluid and that let the ranger know that he'd drained most of it out. Legolas had not been gone long before he returned with the wizard and Frodo. The solemn hobbit looked at the woman with concern while Gandalf gazed upon the woman with narrowed eyes. The lettering on the woman's shirt was confusing and in no tongue he'd ever seen before, which he related to the gathered group.

Aragorn frowned but continued to concentrate on his work. Once he was satisfied that no more pus would emerge, he poured a little more water over the inflamed flesh and realized that small pieces of wood were stuck in the cut. Using his nails and a dagger, he managed to remove them. Legolas approached silently with a sprig of a plant, Aethelas, and he stuck some in his mouth. He chewed it carefully and then spread the chewed-up plant over the wound. This would reduce her fever and help to eliminate the infection on the surface but she would need a tea made from the herb to battle the illness it had created within her.

The woman hadn't stirred from her fevered sleep even once while he tended to the wound. Aragorn noticed that there was a shredded piece of cloth that had laid discarded to the side and it was soaked with the infection he'd just relieved. She'd tried to tend the wound herself at some point and had failed. The small group had watched him work silently, Gandalf frowning and considering what he was seeing.

"Should we take her back to the camp?" Frodo asked quietly.

"She may be a servant of the enemy," Legolas warned. He was sympathetic to her situation, but his first priority was the safety of their group.

"We do not know what she might be," Aragorn replied as he bound her arm, "but we cannot leave her here to die without answers to this question."

0o0o0o0

She was aware of voices around here and warmth radiating from a source in front of her. Orange light danced up from the darkness she'd been ensconced in for so long and played across her eyelids. Danielle's skin felt clammy and her breath was slightly labored. Nausea rolled through her at the smell of something cooking nearby.

Cooking? Did I leave something on the stove? Oh, crap. I hope I didn't start a fire. The landlord would kill me if I did something that stupid, she thought as she began to move. A groan of pain fell from her as she realized that her left arm was bound tightly, and pain radiated from there. The nausea became more intense and as she tried to move, she realized that she was too weak to get far. Somehow, she had liquid in her stomach, and she remembered suddenly that she'd been lost in the forest for quite some time without water. Someone had obviously tended to this problem and now her body was rejecting it.

With her eyes barely open, she crawled away from the blanket she was laid out on and moaned when the desire to empty her stomach became more intense. She registered that it was night, that there was a fire and the ground beneath her was covered in rich soil and leaves. She'd gotten about a foot away from the blanket when she couldn't contain herself any longer.

Bile and water with some green crushed herbs spewed from her mouth and nose. Chills raced through her as she heaved again, someone gently holding her hair away from her face. With one final roll of the stomach, she felt the relief her body sought and rolled to the side. Someone took a cool cloth and wiped her forehead and then her face. Strong arms picked her up and laid her back in the spot she'd awakened in. A masculine voice spoke to her but she didn't understand the words.

Her eyes tried to focus on the speaker. He was ruggedly handsome with dark hair and grey eyes. Stubble dominated his jaw and there were slight smudges of dirt on his skin. He spoke again, repeating his words more slowly with a slight frown.

"What...?" she asked. The frown deepened and he turned to the side, speaking to someone. Her head lolled to that direction, feeling dizzy from the movement. There was a group of men around a fire that she'd been set near. The man in the grey robes and tall pointed hat responded to the query. He turned blue eyes to her and spoke in that same language.

"I don't... understand," she mumbled as she looked at the gathered faces. Am I hallucinating? Does that guy have pointed ears? she wondered hazily as she stared at the tall blond. "Hey... he has pointy ears... did you know that?"

Danielle promptly closed her eyes and fell back to the comforting darkness she'd risen from.