Chapter One: My Dear, Wenny
"I suppose this story starts in the most expected of places, my dear Wenny. That is, as one would assume, the beginning. Not all beginnings are the same, just as not all endings are the same. This one in particular is more uncommon than most, but that is not to say, however, that it is altogether uncommon. Our little story, or big depending on which way you look at it, is not something that you would expect to hear about. For it is not a story of great deeds, or about a great hero, although there are some involved. It is not about those who are powerful and strong, but about those that are quite the opposite. This story is, while unexpected as some would say, entirely expected and extraordinary. It does not deal with anything that is above all great and powerful, but something much more subtle and grand in its own way."
"I do not understand."
Gimli son of Gloin let out an exasperated sigh. Elves. He looked over at the small elleth, trying his best not to look annoyed at her almost instant interruption. "Lassie, you don't know anything yet. Of course you don't understand."
He had not intended to be the little elf's personal storyteller when he had decided to come visit Legolas in Mirkwood. He had intended to drink large amounts of ale, amounts that some would consider excessive, and teach the elf prince a thing or two about proper hunting with an axe. Gimli had intended to relax during his visit, perhaps by a warm hearth in a warm chair and with a belly full of warm food.
He had been traveling for nigh on an age and he was starting to feel the exhaustion deep in his bones.
His dreams of relaxation, however fleeting, now seemed impossible.
Liluwen, or Wenny as she preferred to be called much to her parent's chagrin, had taken to him like an axe to stone, wearing him down until he was unable to deny her anything. It had been admirable at first, and at times flattering to Gimli's already outrageous ego, but he had later found he was running out of tales that would fascinate a child as young as Wenny.
Gimli had just about dried himself out of ideas when Legolas suggested one more final tale before he would relieve the dwarf of his storytelling duties.
She squirmed in her spot, shuffling her pillows and reshuffling them again, before she finally stilled and looked up at him.
"Comfortable? Now this story starts in a place that is, as yer Great Uncle Gloin tells it, entirely unfamiliar and uncharted to most folk of this world…"
Emelia Kinsington Montgomery was not, as most would assume, entirely enthused about the prospect of going fishing with her small family so early in the morning. It had been a weekly activity that she was more than certain she could do without ever again. Spending so much time hunched over the ice, yanking out nets they placed the week before, all while trying desperately to not freeze to death made her feel like she was much older than her eighteen years. It made her bones hurt and her skin feel like she had just been peeled like a potato.
Her father insisted it was family bonding time, as well as a means to not starve. Her mother insisted it was romantic and scenic and inspiring. Her brother insisted it was delightfully fun and adventurous.
Emelia insisted it was nothing short of hellish torture.
The end of winter brought promise to their part of Alaska. The glimpses of warmer temperatures and fresh food were enough to breathe life back into Kessog, and into Emelia, usually.
The morning had been like any other. Her family, still brushing the sleep from their eyes, piled into the jeep and dutifully ignored her piercing glares. Her brother, Edward, seemed impervious to her foul mood and even attempted to cheer her up, although all he earned for his efforts was a wet finger in his ear.
His enthusiasm made Emelia's mood even worse.
She hated the ice almost as much as she hated the fish.
It seemed so cruel to her that they had to be combined into one day long thoroughfare.
The family continued in the almost stifling silence until they came to the edge of the half frozen river at the edge of town. Another family could be seen further down, drawing in their own net. It would annoy her father that they weren't the first ones out. She could practically hear him complaining just from the tightening of his jaw and the clenching of his fists.
When they stopped, Edward immediately jumped out of the car, slipping slightly on the ground as he bounded over to the side of their father's door. He was always the first one out and the last to want to leave.
Emelia was quite the opposite. She took her sweet time, tying and retying her boots at a glacial pace, before she finally unfolded herself from the backseat and came to stand by her mother, who had the decency to shoot her a sympathetic look from behind her threadbare scarf before she went to help pull out the supplies.
"Bet I could pull out more fish than you," Edward said, sidling up next to her with a shit-eating grin on his face.
"You think?" Emelia bent down until her eyes were level with his. "Seems unlikely, pipsqueak." She reached out a hand and ruffled his hair, pushing his hat back to have better access to his shock of red curls.
"Come grab this, Em."
Emelia knew better than to complain any more than she already had, especially when she was currently in the process of trying to prove to her parents that she was, in fact, mature enough and deserving enough of them sending her to college.
She didn't imagine they were very convinced.
Even if they were, they couldn't afford it anyway.
She grabbed the bag her father was holding out to her and turned back to the river, waiting for her parents to join her.
"Do you think Mom and Dad will let me help this time?"
Emelia considered his question. A small part of her wished, more than she probably should, that he was old enough to help so that she wouldn't have to. A even greater part, however, never wanted him to set foot near that river. Too many people had fallen in and not come, too many people lost forever, too many families broken, that she did not think she could bear it if it were to happen to him.
"Not yet. But you can help me by putting them into buckets."
"That's for little kids."
"You are a little kid, Eddy." She bent down again and kissed his forehead. "But I tell you what. If you help me and don't complain, I'll help you paint your warrior later."
The irony of what she said was not lost on her, nor her father, who snorted as he passed her on his way down the bank, pike hook thrown over his shoulder. Edward immediately bolted after him, slipping again as he struggled to catch up to him. Behind her, Emelia's mother let out a small tinkling laugh as she came to stand next to her with a knowing look on her face.
"We know this is hard for you." Her mother pulled off her hat and scratched her head, compulsively smoothing down the hair as a stricken look made its way onto her face. "We wish, more than anything that we had the money."
"I know, Mom." And she did, logically. But emotionally she felt all of her eighteen-year old dramatics flaring up at once. "Maybe next year." She tried to keep her voice steady, to be the adult that she so desperately wanted to be, but she wavered on the last word and her mother instantly put her arms around her.
"Maybe next year." To her credit, her mother did have some optimism in her voice, even if the feeling didn't meet her eyes.
"Mom! Emmy!" They both turned at the sound of Edward's voice, both happy to not continue the conversation. "You have to come see! There's so many fish!"
"Keep your bra on, Eddy. I'm coming."
"Emelia," Her mother warned, rolling her eyes. She shoved her hat back onto her auburn hair and reached out to fix Emelia's, pulling it down so that it covered her ears properly, before she moved over to the pile of fishing supplies. Her family, while not considered the poorest in the small town, didn't have a large amount of extra money to spare in order to buy new fishing equipment as much as they would have liked. The result was tools that were altogether shabby and worn. The hooks weren't as sharp as they used to be and the nets frayed at the ends. Emelia knew better than to mention it to her already stressed out parents.
Following her mother, Emelia dug through them until she found the cold metal of the fishing spear that she always used on her family's outings. The spear had always seemed rather brutal and garish to her, but it got the job done so she ignored her feelings about it.
She threw it over her shoulder, keeping her gaze on her mother so she wouldn't accidentally hit her with the tip of the spear. She followed after her overly excited brother with a scowl on her face.
She could see her brother crouched down by the bank, nudging their father every single time a fish would pass by close enough for him to see. His shock of red hair was shining out against the blank slate of white snow, as was their father's, making it very easy to spot the two of them. Even from her spot across the way from them, she could see that they had already caught a fair amount of fish and placed them in the ice-filled buckets sitting next to them on the ground.
"Emmy, you'll never believe how big a fish I caught." Emelia had to fight the snort of laughter at seeing him slipping across the ice in excitement as he brought her over to the net.
Her father peered up at her as she approached him, daring to her shoot her one of his characteristic smirks. "Be careful of the ice over there, Emelia. It is very thin." He gestured over his shoulder with his thickly gloved hand. "I am not coming in after you."
"That's very sweet." Emelia said, plopping herself down on the frigid ground next to a bouncing Edward. "I wouldn't come in after you either."
"You're moodier than normal." Her father said, turning back to face the task in front of him. "Am I to assume it's one of those girly problems that only your mother would want to hear about?"
Emelia rolled her eyes, turning her attention away from her smirking father and onto her little brother. Edward was leaning over the edge of the bank, sticking his little hands into the water, ignoring the fact that the water was soaking through and causing his hands to freeze up. He swirled them around, lifting them up occasionally, before sticking them back in. Emelia placed her hand on his back, pulling him back away from the edge ever so slightly.
The hours that passed seemed to stretch on into an eternity.
"Are you almost ready to go?" Hannah asked, peering into the bucket of caught fish, her eyes watering blearily the entire time. "It is almost supper time."
"I think I'm done." Fred said, standing up, shaking the soreness out of his long limbs. "I am sure Eddy is freezing by this point."
Hannah let out a small laugh against the wind, turning away to look for their youngest child. Emelia stood up from her spot on the bank, feeling all of the joints in her body creaking and squeaking with the movement.
"Where is he?" Hannah asked, causing the other two to look around.
"He was…" Fred trailed off, looking around.
"He's over there." Emelia said, pointing over to the small figure playing around not fifty yards away from them.
Hannah suddenly let out a large cry of surprise, gripping her husband's shoulder so tightly Emelia could see the tension through the gloves on her hands. "That's the thin ice, Fred." She immediately started running, not even bothering to look back at the other two."That's the thin ice!" Hannah screamed, flapping her arms around in a desperate attempt to get Edward to look over at her.
Emelia and Fred immediately sped off after her, slipping and sliding all over the frozen ground. They left their fishing implements where they had been sitting, leaving them completely forgotten as they ran as fast as they could.
Emelia felt her entire chest constrict when she saw Edward fall through the ice.
Her mother let out a loud scream. Never in her life had she run so fast. She ran faster than her father, which was odd considering the considerable height difference. She had passed by him before she even realized it, before passing up her mother.
She didn't even think before she threw herself in after her brother.
The water was so cold it literally turned her entire body to stone when she came in contact with it. It surrounded her entire form so completely it hurt. She felt herself convulse for a moment before she finally managed to get her bearings. She could see her brother, despite the pain in her entire body, grasping at the impossibly cold water. He looked so small flailing about like he was. His hair, which was plastered to his face, stood out famously against the dark water.
She pushed herself towards him, hating how weighed down she was by her thick winter clothes in the water, fighting tooth and nail to get to him before it was too late. She could see him panicking, which made her panic, as he struggled to get back up to the surface.
He looked so small against the never ending blackness of the water.
By the time she had reached him, he didn't acknowledge her arms wrapping around his small body. He bobbed in her arms, weighing her down even more. She pushed her already frozen legs towards what she perceived was the surface.
She had barely broken the top by the time her parents were pulling Edward out of her frozen arms, dragging him onto the ice. She bobbed for a moment, trying to keep herself above the surface before she felt herself sink back under the water, like something was grabbing her around the ankle to yank her back.
Everything was happening much quicker than she would have liked. She had grown up surrounded by the cold. She had fallen through the ice before. Everybody fell through the ice at some point. But those times it was different. Those times she was able to get out, she was able to save herself. Emelia, who had always been a fast swimmer, felt like she couldn't even move her body. The second she had made sure Edward was to the surface, her whole body seized, making it impossible for her to fight the pull beneath her.
It sucked at her, wrapping around her so completely it was painful. Her face hurt, her legs felt like they were broken, her stomach felt like it was filled with tepid, diseased water.
She didn't feel like herself, even though she knew who she was.
The world spun above her head, making her feel like she was having a mental breakdown.
Looking back on it, she should have known something wasn't right. She should have seen the black water lightening around her in her last moments of consciousness. She had enough sense about her, or at least she thought she had had enough sense to know that it wasn't normal for her feet to be pulled like someone was underneath her, yanking her further and further down.
She should have, but she didn't.
She didn't even realize when she had blacked out completely, floating further and further down in the murky wat…
"That makes no sense, Gimli." Wenny said suddenly, causing the dwarf to pause mid-sentence.
"Has anyone ever told you that you ask too many questions?" Gimli said, grumbling slightly at the interruption.
Wenny crossed her arms over her chest at the insult, shooting Gimli a very dark look. It was meant to be intimidating but in all actuality it came off as being rather comical. "You said this story was exciting."
"It is." Gimli said, leaning back into his chair, wondering why he ever attempted to start telling this story to her in the first place. "If you would be quiet long enough for me to tell it you would know that."
Wenny rolled her eyes before scooting herself closer to the fire. Gimli knew her patience was minimal, a trait that he had always admired. It was almost as small as a dwarf's, and almost as biting when it wore out. She was only eight years old, but she already had the attitude of her full grown mother.
"Now, where was I?" Gimli said, stroking his beard. Turing his gaze on the roaring fire that he had been sitting next to for almost the entirety of his visit to the halls of Mirkwood, trying his best to remember the way his father had told him the story so many years ago for the first time.