Okay, so this chapter is going to be a little bit longer, both in the actual word count but also in the fact that I'm going to be adding a list in the main body of the story with little hints about Danielle's thought processes that she won't even admit to herself. I promise, it has a purpose.
Just so everyone knows, I am sick right now. I don't have COVID-19 but I do have a serious cough and I am suffering from laryngitis, which sucks because I work from home and have to use the phone for a living and it means that all last week, I had nothing to do but watch movies and write. Okay, the writing bit didn't suck. But not being able to talk did. Thankfully, I am getting better but I do have to be careful about avoiding COVID-19 since the tumor on my L5 could make me a higher-risk patient.
Danielle was gently shaken awake by Gimli. The rocking of the boat and gentle sounds of the river combined with a soft melody that Legolas had started humming when they set out that morning had lulled her to sleep quickly. By the position of the sun in the sky, she estimated she'd been asleep for at least 5 hours. It was definitely afternoon right now. Stretching her tired muscles, the young woman absently rubbed her hip where the jagged checkmark scar sat and sat up straight. She'd finally gotten some real rest in that dreamless sleep.
"Are you all right, Danielle?" Legolas asked quietly as his gaze remained upon the shores.
"I'm fine. A little sore from the odd sleeping position but I'm fine," she quietly lied. Her right side had been throbbing since she'd awakened by Boromir before and though the pain was faded, it was still there. Odd. Shaking the last of the sleep from her mind, she reached into her pack and pulled out her phone and earbuds.
She'd charged it up yesterday and decided to queue up a little bit of music. It'd been a few days since she'd sung anything and that morning, Sam had asked again for her to sing one of the songs from her long list. She had promised she'd find one that was appropriate and teach it to him so that he could write it down for his own use later. She scrolled through and mused over the merits of each song that she'd not yet introduced to them.
Counting Blue Cars was out because she didn't want to have to explain what a car was. Tootsie Roll, too. Besides, rap was still a strange idea to them. When she'd let them listen to it and then tried to explain why it was so popular, the looks she'd gotten of disbelief had told her that they'd never find it attractive. They'd listen out of politeness and courtesy but they wouldn't be excited about it.
Danielle mused over Heart Like Yours from Willamette Stone, a fictional band from the book-turned-movie If I Stay. It was a very romantic and lovely song. She felt Sam would love it and took a mental note to remind herself to sing that one for him. While perusing through the list, she decided to play When I'm Gone by 3 Doors Down and hummed the song softly as she split her attention between her iTunes library and the scenery.
She ended up opening up the notes app on her phone and made a list as music soothed her, some of the songs inspired by shuffle. She carefully noted the list she wanted to sing for Sam over the rest of the journey and beyond, if possible:
1. Heart Like Yours by Willamette Stone
2. When I'm Gone by 3 Doors Down
3. Superstition by Stevie Wonder
4. Uptown Girl by Billy Joel (may have to explain…)
5. Whisper by Evanescence (may have to remove… might be too dark)
6. Six Words Long by Weird Al (Merry and Pippen may want this as a drinking song… might have to sing waaaaay too many times…)
7. Candle in the Wind (Princess Diana Edition) by Elton John (Kind of depressing but…)
8. You and Me by Lifehouse
9. Skyfall by Adele
10. Wake Me Up When September Ends by Green Day
11. Quit Playing Games by Backstreet Boys
12. Circle of Life by Elton John (note to self, find a way to meld the movie version with Elton's version because that would be freaking amazing…)
13. A Thousand Years Part 2 by Christina Perri
14. Home by Machine Gun Kelly
15. All Along the Watchtower by Bear McCreary
16. You Gotta Be by Des'ree
17. Forget You by CeeLo Green
18. Whenever, Wherever by Shakira (Note to self, double check with Legolas if this is too inappropriate or sexy)
19. The World is Not Enough by Garbage
20. Hello by Evanescence (Again, might be too dark… is this my subconscious saying something?)
21. Hazard by Richard Marx (Okay, subconscious is definitely playing a part here…)
22. House of the Rising Sun by The Animals
23. Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) by Green Day
24. I Write Sins Not Tragedies by Panic! At the Disco
25. Word Crimes by Weird Al (might get a laugh out of everyone… or might confuse them more… need to consult Legolas)
26. Rolling in the Deep by Adele (wonder if Legolas will like this one?)
27. My Skin by Natalie Merchant
28. La Isla Bonita by Madonna
29. Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day
30. Behind Blue Eyes by Limp Bizkit
31. When Doves Cry by Prince
32. In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins
33. Careless Whisper by Seether
34. What It's Like by Everclear
35. My Happy Ending by Avril Lavigne
36. Halo by Ane Brun and Linnea Olsson
37. Thank You by Dido
38. The Longest Time by Billy Joel (Note to self, get Merry and Pippen to help with this one…)
39. Criminal by Fiona Apple
40. Hurt by Johnny Cash
41. Unpretty by TLC
42. Because of You by Kelly Clarkson
43. Ashes by Celine Dion
44. 100 Years by Five for Fighting
45. It Will Rain by Bruno Mars
46. Bring Me to Life by Evanescence (maybe if I teach this to Legolas, he'll sing the male parts with me…?)
47. Only Time by Enya
48. Someday by Nickelback (Okay, no one is here to judge me, so I can jam out to them as much as I like)
49. Lucky Star by Madonna
50. Die Another Day by Madonna
51. Another One Bites the Dust by Queen (subconscious again?)
52. Kiss From a Rose by Seal
53. Beautiful Stranger by Madonna
54. Hazy Shade of Winter by the Bangles
55. Here With Me by Dido
56. White Flag by Dido
57. Just a Girl by No Doubt
58. Don't Speak by No Doubt
59. I'll Never Break Your Heart by Backstreet Boys
60. If Everyone Cared by Nickelback
61. If I Were a Boy by Beyonce (They'll need lots of explanations on this one… or I'll have to ask Legolas about suitable substitutes for certain words that would be appropriate for the situation I'm singing about…)
62. Mummer's Dance by Loreena McKennet (Legolas will like this one a lot.)
63. Landslide by Fleetwood Mac
64. What I've Done by Linkin Park
65. Uninvited by Alanis Morisette
66. Pocketful of Sunshine by Natasha Bedingfield
67. Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield
68. Shout by Tears for Fears
69. We Didn't Start the Fire by Billy Joel (Note to self – May have to explain a LOT)
70. Room of Angel by Akira Yamaoka
71. Nothing Compares 2 U by Sinead O'Connor
72. California Dreamin' by Sia
73. Broken by Seether
74. Into the Night by Santana
75. Gotta Be Somebody by Nickelback (Won't have to explain too much here but at least there won't be any jerky judgement)
76. Secrets by OneRepublic
77. Savin Me by Nickelback
78. Far Away by Nickelback
79. Song of the Lonely Mountain by Neil Finn (Hell if I know where Jenna came up with this but I'll be damned if it isn't one of my favorite songs…)
80. Hero by Mariah Carey (I think this describes Frodo and Sam and Merry and Pippin and Legolas… hell the whole damn fellowship.)
81. Hero by Nickelback (I can feel you judging me.)
82. Take a Bow by Madonna
83. Secret by Madonna
84. Open Your Heart by Madonna (why is my playlist stuck on her?)
85. Easier to Run by Linkin Park
86. Numb by Linkin Park
87. Somewhere I Belong by Linkin Park (is my phone trying to tell me something?)
88. Black Horse and The Cherry Tree by KT Tunstall
Danielle blinked rapidly when a gentle nudge by either Gimli or Legolas grabbed her attention away from the screen. She'd drained at least half the phone's battery as she'd listened and noted but her list was pretty long now. It made her think that maybe she could make lists for the others of songs she could translate from English to Westron and sing for them. Right now, it looked like they were stopping for a brief meal and perhaps scouting around. There was nothing nearby that Danielle could see. She squinted at something on the other shore and felt herself gasp as suddenly the branches of the tree and the leaves across the way suddenly seemed to come into incredible focus.
Blinking and shaking her head, Danielle convinced herself that she was just tired and had imagined it. Taking her earbuds out and tucking them back into her pack, she hooked up the solar charger to the phone and set it out in the sun. She helped to drag the boat onto the shore and was stopped when she went to grab sticks and branches for a fire.
"Not now, Danielle. A fire at this time of day will alert the enemy of our presence. Remember, they may roam the western shores," Aragorn gently reminded her. Immediately, she felt like an idiot and nodded in response.
"Sorry. I wasn't thinking about that," she blushed as she responded. A tight smile was the response she received.
"That's all right. For now, we will eat cold sausages and the leftover tomatoes. I believe that Sam also has some soft cheese and bread for us to eat as well. We've more than enough provisions for you to have more than what you had last night and this morning," he said softly but pointedly. Danielle blushed again. She still felt like an interloper and had made an effort to go back to her previous eating habits with the Fellowship where she ate the bare minimum so that she didn't take up their rations. It was like she was operating on autopilot.
"Thank you, Aragorn. I'll keep that in mind."
Once everyone had their full portion of their lunch, time was taken for everyone to relieve themselves and then everyone headed back to the boats. Legolas resumed his position of rowing and steering the boat and smiled when she offered to take a turn.
"I appreciate the offer, but I think you need more rest. You look like you received no sleep while we were in the Golden Wood," the blond Elf responded as they pushed away from the shore behind the others.
"I don't know why that is. When I dream, it's like I'm still awake and then when I wake up, I feel like I haven't slept at all. I don't understand it," she finally admitted. Gimli harrumphed behind her.
"There's nothing for it. We need to tire ye out before you try to sleep tonight, lass! We'll give you some more proper training with your short sword and bow tonight. I'll let ye even try one of my throwing axes, if ye like. I find that a good spar or training session will leave ye too exhausted to dream," he responded with a sage, knowing nod.
"You think that if I'm too physically tired, I won't dream at all?" she asked hopefully. The Dwarf nodded.
"Aye. It's always worked for me and mine. We'll get ye tired out, lass. By Durin's Beard, you'll sleep like a babe tonight."
Swing. Duck. Parry. Roll. Defensive pose. Dodge. Dodge. Roll. Roll.
"Ouch!" the woman cried as she scraped a downed tree by mistake on that last roll. Boromir raised a brow from where he was perched for his turn to spar with her. Gimli's promise was definitely kept. Aragorn, Boromir and Gimli all took their time training and sparring with her while the meal was being prepared. Merry and Pippin were watching them with interest and had been coaxed to train with Gimli and Boromir for a sort time while Danielle was taking her punishment from Aragorn. She'd learned a lot of the basics from the ranger at the training grounds in their previous refuge and he had deemed that since she was progressing at a fairly good rate, she would be okay to continue traveling with them.
She hadn't told them that Galadriel had essentially foretold that her gradual improvements in her body, which she hadn't even told them about, would eventually come to a tipping point where she would begin to decline. She'd started getting headaches and her vision had been improving beyond her already 20/20. She could see farther away. Her hearing had started improving and that was where some of the worst headaches had come from: hearing too much all at once and not being able to shut it out. It had started gradually in the days before they left the safety of the Golden Wood but it steadily got worse.
Her body had started getting stronger, too. The short sword had been very heavy before. There's no way her muscles naturally strengthened to the point of it being extremely light and natural in her hands in the time she'd had it. And the weirdest part? Her ears. The skin had become more and more sensitive to the touch in the last few days. Danielle had taken to tying her hair into a bun or a braid that would cover her ears. The slightest breeze over the flesh had caused a dizzying sensation to creep down her spine. She'd accidentally brushed the curve at the top and a shock of… well, there's no other way she could describe it, sexual desire had hit her in her lady bits. It was embarrassing to the extreme and she'd intentionally jumped into the freezing water of the river seconds later, right as they were getting ready to go to the shore again.
"Pay attention!" Aragorn hissed lowly with a disappointed look as he smacked the sword out of her hand with the flat of his blade. She yelped and cradled her hand, but it wasn't really injured. It was stinging but she'd get over that. She reached down and picked up the sword. It was then that Aragorn called for a switch. He was training with Merry, Gimli with Pippin and now Boromir was training her.
"He is right, Danielle. Your mind was wandering. If this were a real battle, you would have been killed," the Gondorian admonished as he got into place and then gestured for her to attack. Danielle began to press forward and was quickly on the defensive. Apparently training in Gondor means you don't coddle the trainees. It wasn't long before she was divested of her weapon and he was instructing her on how to defend against his attacks.
This went on for a good two hours before it became time to eat. Muscles were aching and Danielle was sure she was going to fall over soon. But that wasn't to be. Legolas bade her to grab her bow and then found a downed tree not too far from them where he asked her to draw back on the bow and imagine holding the arrow and asked her to tell him what adjustments she'd make to hit the knot he indicated in the tree with the changes he made to her posture to make it so it was clearly wrong. Then he had her do it for real.
When she loosed the arrow, it landed more than a foot away from the knot that she had targeted. The Elf was silent as he gestured for her to go again. Her next arrow hit closer to the knot, though higher up. Legolas' teaching style was probably her favorite. When he was teaching seriously, he would let her fire off the arrows and then correct her where it was needed. He taught by having her do it and then explained how to improve after letting her try on her own.
An hour of this and Danielle's entire body, but mostly her arms, shoulders and core, were extremely sore. She squished into her pallet with absolutely no grace to the chuckles of her companions. Gimli chortled and shook his head as he settled down for his watch. With a groan that was perhaps a little overly dramatic, she lifted her head to glare at those who dared to laugh.
"That's right, yuck it up you bastards," she growled, purposely switching to French at the last bit so that not even Legolas would know what she was saying, though she was sure they had an idea. It didn't occur to Danielle as she laid her head back down to sleep that she shouldn't have been able to speak French, much less the dead dialect that she'd uttered. It didn't take long for her to fall asleep in her exhausted state and true to Gimli's claim, she did have a dreamless sleep for the first half of the night. Then the dreams started again.
Opening her eyes as a passenger in her own body, Danielle found herself doing labor in a field, dark skinned hands reaching to pick cotton tufts and tuck them into a satchel. Her name was Mary. No last name. Slaves don't get surnames unless the master said so. Even if she was the master's child, not that the scars from the lashes that crisscrossed her back would have ever let anyone but her and her momma know that. She dreamed through this life in a haze, moments of calm interspersed with horrific atrocities, the worst of which came when suddenly a hand dug into her hair and started to drag her, screaming in terror, through the field until she was tossed into the guard shack.
Turning, she saw it was the master's son and one of his friends. And as they loosened their trousers, Danielle felt terror building further in her, but she was powerless. She was a passenger. Mary clutched her satchel close and trembled as they started forward. Then, she thought of the only thing she could say that could possibly make this supposedly Christian man stop what he was looking to do.
It had the desired effect. He stopped, stunned at what she said. And then he set his trousers back into proper order before pulling a knife from his belt with a grim look on his face. His friend, Robert, at least that's what Mary thought his name was, looked stunned but hadn't adjusted his drooping clothing. James, Mary's half-brother, plunged the knife into Robert's gut once and then again. He dropped with barely a sound. The squelching of flesh as it tore made Mary sick. Danielle wished she had control of her body to try and get away.
James then turned to her and the anger had increased to rage.
"You stupid whore. Look what you've done. You know, all you had to do was take it, like every time before. Now, the truth has gotten poor Richard killed. That blood is on your hands and I can't risk this getting back to father."
Danielle wished someone would have woken her from this particular nightmare of living through Mary's short life of pain and sorrow. She didn't want to live through literally hundreds of rapes conducted by her half-brother and his friends, through multiple miscarriages that undoubtedly belonged to the hated brother. Mary's life came to a brutal end when her brother murdered his best friend and then stabbed her to death right after, all because he didn't want his friends to know that he liked to assault his sister, the only sister that he could assault since his older sister was already married to another plantation owner by the time his perverse desires had come to bloom.
Danielle was tired. And she was hurting. When she'd woken up this morning, there was more tension in the air than when she'd gone to sleep. She found out from Legolas that Boromir had confronted Aragorn about their choice of path and the choice to go to Mordor instead of to Gondor. They hadn't noticed her distress or if there had been any distress in her sleep, she hadn't shown it to be enough that they needed to wake her.
More disturbing was that when she went to sponge some of the grime of travel and sleep from her skin, she'd pulled down a part of her shirt and found multiple bruises in the shape and pattern of the knife wounds James had inflicted on Mary. There were six bruises, three on her chest in the vicinity of her heart and three just below her ribs. She was getting more and more disturbed by what was happening to her. She was getting physically stronger and becoming… well, more. At the same time, she was starting to manifest some kind of evidence that her dreams were able to cause her physical harm. Danielle didn't show any signs of her discomfort and instead, diligently came to practice the bow and sword shortly before they hopped into the boats again. She wasn't going to hold them up over an issue of her slowly spiraling sanity.