Whoa; we're halfway there.
Livin' on a prayer.
- Bon Jovi
There are some experiences you know, before you begin, are going to change your life.
I had no such premonition about New Zealand.
I blithely left Australia with two suitcases, a box of music and books, and a potplant. My father, who perhaps knows me better than I know myself, was puzzled by that plant. He poked at it, got his finger dirty in the damp loam inside the terracotta pot. Told me the change in climate, Brisbane to Auckland, would make the plant wilt.
"He's a survivor," I argued, batting his hand away. "Like me."
"He?" Dad raised an eyebrow.
"I like to call him Eric." My botanical recognition factor approaches zero; I could pick a jacaranda, as long as it was in flower, and I remembered bouganvillia from painful childhood memories of their thorns. Apart from that, I was no good with green things, so I didn't know what sort of plant I owned. Eric the potplant had big, glossy, deep green leaves. I stroked one.
Dad laughed. "The other man in your life?"
I dropped a kiss on his bald spot. "You're the other man in my life."
We didn't talk about the primary man in my life. Not because it was painful; the first sharp stab had spread and dulled to a vague ache. It was just that it was all over, done with. There was nothing more to say about it that hadn't been said a dozen times already. Neither my father nor I waste words.
"Well," he said, putting me in a taxi for the airport with a hug, "take care of yourself. Bring me back one of those scarves all the students wear."
Eric survived the trip with fewer effects than me. I set him on the windowsill of my new kitchen with a smug smile. I knew he'd be fine. Like I told Dad, he was a survivor. He'd lived through the almost aggressive inattention we'd both been victim to in our previous situation. He blocked half the kitchen window, but I didn't need to see out, just needed to see him. He was strong and hardy. It was a little loopy to have a potplant as a role model, but there are weirder ideas in daily rotation in the US. Maybe I'd been there for too long.
I watered Eric. I watered myself, enjoying the long, hot shower after the plane trip. I didn't bother unpacking beyond the minimum, and went straight to bed.
The assistant who came to get me next morning was very reasonable. She held off until ten, and I was up, dressed and halfway through a cup of coffee when she knocked. I only squinted a little in the sunlight when I opened the door.
"Kelly," she introduced herself, not unacceptably bubbly, but cheerful.
"Miranda," I replied, though presumably she knew that. "Come in," I said through a yawn, and led the way back down the hall. "You here to lead the lamb to slaughter?" I called back over my shoulder.
She laughed, closing the door behind her. "Nothing like that. Just some meetings. No hurry; whenever you're ready."
Very civilised. I'd enjoy it while it lasted. All too soon the sanity-breaking schedules would begin.
I finished my coffee, tied my hair back and found my sunglasses. Kelly drove a bright red Kia with a nodding dog on the dashboard. She had the windows down and the radio tuned to some sort of classic hits station. Even though she was probably ten years younger than me, we both sang along to "Livin' on a Prayer" at the top of our lungs. There's nothing like bonding over Bon Jovi.
We cruised into the converted warehouse that served as a studio in a barrage of cheerful greetings and introductions to people I promised to remember, and then promptly forgot five minutes later. I was close to drowning in the newness when someone shouted my name.
I'd recognise that voice anywhere. Half the world wouldn't, because he's hidden it behind so many accents in his time. "Hugo!" I replied, turning around. He was striding down the corridor towards me, and I met him halfway in a hug. "I'd almost forgotten you were working on this monster too."
"Father of the other gorgeous young woman, this time," he noted with his usual explosive grin.
"Does that mean we can actually do it this time?" I asked, wide-eyed.
He laughed. "I don't think an Elrond/Eowyn romance is on the cards."
"It's shameful." He agreed blithely. "How have you been, anyway? I've barely heard from you since True Love and Chaos."
I shrugged. "Busy. You know how it is. You've been even busier than me. Going places. Dad's dead jealous, you know. Mutters about time and place, and young upstarts."
Hugo laughed again. "I'll send him an autographed photo."
"He'll burn it in effigy."
Kelly interrupted our laughter this time. "Sorry, Hugo, but I've got to get her going."
"Of course. We'll catch up later. Too bad you missed Cate, but you've met Dave Wenham before, right?"
It's a small industry. "Once or twice."
"You'll like him. Complete wanker. All right, stop glaring at me, Kel."
He sent me on my way with a peck on the cheek, and Kelly led me further on into the building. The place was basic, rudimentary, bare brick and concrete, except for anything to do with the filming, which was incongruously hi-tech. Kelly showed me into a room that could have been a police interrogation cell, but for the complex viewing equipment.
"Pete wanted you to see some of what we've got already," she said, sitting me down. "Just so you can get an idea of characters before you meet people."
I nodded, shifting on my less-than-comfortable chair as she started the film.
And then I forgot all about my surroundings.
That was when I knew I was involved in something spectacular. I'd had inklings before, but you learns to dismiss those little stomach tremours that say this is the big one. Usually, it all comes to nothing, or it flops altogether, and you have to just put your head down and soldier on. But as soon as those images filled the screen, I was entranced, and I knew that this was the big one.
Kelly was talking. "So this is Frodo and Sam... and that's Merry and Pippin; our hobbits. You've read the book, right?"
"Of course," I answered absently, my attention all on the screen.
"You'll be working a bit with Merry." We watched for a moment, then there were a few harsh edges of film changing, and a different sequence. "This is the elves." And they were perfect. I'd only read the books through the once, and then with a critical eye for characterisation and mood, but these snippets of film, unpolished and unedited, were transporting me. A world I had analysed my way through was aesthetically and emotively coming to life. I was surprised. I was energised. I was going to be working on this.
The tour wasn't finished yet. "This is... ah, some of the early stuff from the Helm's Deep sequences." These were very rough, untrimmed and with patchy sound. But the magic was still there. "That's Eomer," Kelly pointed out, and my brother, my brain supplied. I could already feel a hint of Eowyn's fierce pride and love for him. "And that's Gandalf. The White, at this point. Legolas and Gimli, of course. And that's Aragorn."
That was the first glimpse. Enough to pique my interest, because I knew who he was, what he was to the character I was to play.
The film changed again. "The Council of Elrond," Kelly announced. "The whole Fellowship."
And they might have all been there, but only one drew and held my attention. Restrained, determined, full of an intriguing muddle of confidence and doubt.
"Well," I murmured, as the screen lost its light, "this is going to be fun."
Kelly was grinning when I turned to look at her. "Fucking gorgeous, isn't he?"
I laughed and stood, stretching. "I didn't really understand Eowyn's crush, in the book," I admitted. "But some things are starting to make sense."
Kelly laughed as well, checking her watch. "Well, Pete should be here soon, providing he could break when he wanted to. He'll just want to welcome you, talk about your schedule."
Here it comes. "When do I start?"
The voice that answered was new, and male, New-Zealand accented and coming from the door behind me. "Sword and horse training start as soon as you're ready."
I turned and smiled at the man creating this piece of movie magic. "How about now?"
He laughed, barefoot, bearded and casual, and stepped forward to shake my hand. "How about tomorrow."
A temporary reprieve? A hint of continued civility?
"This afternoon," he continued, "you're going to wardrobe. And then I think everyone's going for drinks at the local tonight, so you can meet them all there. Kelly'll take you."
Looks like I'd really arrived.
Eric the Potplant by dee
For this story, major thanks go to Jenny (starbuckle), who commented lovingly on every single part.