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Elf Academy 4 - The Unfinished Tales  by Fiondil

The Holy Land: Acre: 8 May to the evening of 25 May, 1291:

“Fratres.”

Gwyn ap Hywel and his brother, Gareth, turned to see Sieur Pierre de Severy, Marshal of the Order of Knights Templar, approach them as they were strolling through the cloister of the Temple Castle which was situated on the west side of the city of Acre, overlooking the Gulf of Acre and the Mediterranean beyond. The two brothers had been conversing in softly spoken Welsh, taking a rare moment to relax before attending to their duties.

“Marshal,” Gwyn answered, the two brothers saluting him. “What is your desire?”

The bearded Man gave them both a stern look. “Not my desire, but the Master’s. He requires your presence, both of you. He is waiting for you in the chapel.”

“Indeed?” Gwyn said, raising an eyebrow. “I was unaware that the Master knew of our existence. We are but sergeants and not even highly ranked.”

“It is his business to know everything concerning the Order, Frater. I have given you the message.” With that he turned and walked away, his posture military stiff, but the two brothers knew that it was anger more than anything that drove the man.

“He does not appreciate being an errand boy,” Gareth whispered.

Gwyn merely snorted in agreement. “Come. Let us see what the Grand Master wishes from us.”

“And why do we have to keep pretending that we and Guillaume de Beaujeu are unacquainted with one another or that he does not know who we truly are?”

“Because that is how he wants it,” Gwyn replied. “That is how they all wanted it, from Robert de Sablé on down.”

They continued to walk in silence along the cloister until they reached a doorway that led into the castle, the thick walls of the building blocking out the merciless heat and late afternoon sun. They continued down the cool corridor, nodding to the knights and sergeants and the occasional priest that they encountered, stopping before a large oaken door that led to the chapel. Without bothering to knock, Gwyn opened the door and the two brothers stepped inside, the dark interior not an impediment to their sight.

Inside they saw three Men. One was the Grand Master of the Order, Guillaume de Beaujeu. Like most of those of the Order, he was bearded, both hair and beard gone prematurely gray, for he was still a man in his prime. Beside him stood Thibaud Gaudin, the Treasurer of the Order and erstwhile Commander of the Land of Jerusalem, now nearing his sixty-second year. He was a spare man, almost gaunt in his features. He was known for his great piety and was often referred to (though never to his face) as the ‘Gaudin Monk’.

The third man was not a member of the Order. Gwyn and Gareth stopped in their tracks and then bowed deeply to Henri the Second, King of Cyprus and titular King of Jerusalem, who had arrived only days before with his knights and soldiers to help defend the city against the Mamluk army, which had been encamped outside the city walls since the fifth of April.

“Approach,” the Grand Master ordered brusquely and the two brothers obeyed.

“These are the ones you would send?” Henri asked quietly, giving them a hard glare, clearly unimpressed by either of them. “They are but boys.”

Neither Gwyn nor Gareth flinched under the king’s regard, returning his glare with cool stares of their own. Of their own free will they had accepted their lowly status as sergeants in the Order, but they never forgot that they were of the Firstborn. Henri was not the first king they had ever known. Gareth was tempted to compare Henri with Richard Coeur de Lion. Now there was a king for you, though the Man was also an idiot, but you couldn’t have everything. He almost sniggered aloud at that but controlled himself, knowing that Gwyn would not approve even if he agreed with his assessment of the Plantagenet. This Lusignan king was nowhere near Richard’s equal as far as Gareth was concerned.

“They are the only ones I would send,” Guillaume answered mildly.

Henri shrugged his royal shoulders. “It is your call, Grand Master.”

Guillaume, to his credit, merely nodded before addressing the brothers. “We wish to send you as emissaries to Khalil.”

“You would treat with him then,” Gwyn said, making it more a statement than a question. What he thought about it, however, none of the others could tell, for his tone was neutral and his expression was unreadable.

“Yes. The city is sure to fall. Already the towers are being destroyed one by one. We do not have enough troops to defend the city successfully, even with the help of His Majesty’s army.” He gave the king a gracious bow of acknowledgment, then continued as he straightened. “It is only a matter of time, weeks, perhaps, days, most likely, before the city is in the Sultan’s hands. We deem it necessary to ask for clemency for the civilians and safe passage out of the city.”

“We will, of course, do what we can to secure that safe passage for all, Master,” Gwyn said, giving the Man a salute. Gareth copied him.

“Good. You will go first thing in the morning. You are dismissed from your usual duties until then. Report to me after lauds to receive your final instructions.” He waved at them and the two bowed to him and then to Henri. Gaudin they ignored for all that he was the fourth highest ranking Templar in Acre after the Grand Master, the Seneschal and the Marshal. Then they turned and walked away, remaining silent until they reached the cell which they shared.

They doffed their black mantles, since they were no longer on duty but they continued to wear the black surcoats with the red cross patty on it that was the recognized emblem of the Templars. Gwyn lounged on his hard cot, but Gareth paced the small room.

“Why us?” he asked, speaking Welsh. “And what was the Gaudin Monk doing there? I would think the Seneschal would have been a better choice to be at that meeting. He is Guillaume’s second, after all.”

Gwyn shrugged. “Who knows? Guillaume is no fool. He knows who and what we are. He knows that if anything happens we’re more likely to win free than any of our Mortal fratres.”

“Still, the king was not impressed.”

Gwyn grinned. “Gareth, my brother, kings are not supposed to be impressed, certainly not by lowly sergeants of the Order of the Knights Templar. We are, to put it bluntly, beneath his notice. Only the fact that the Grand Master has chosen us for this mission stayed him from imposing his own will in this.”

Gareth stopped his pacing to stare at his older brother. “Do you think we were wise to remain with the Templars? I still think we should have disappeared after Salah el-Din captured Jerusalem. We should have just gone home. People would just have assumed we either died or were captured and sold into slavery.”

“Too late for that though, isn’t it? Tomorrow we will see what we can do to secure the safe passage of the women and children and other noncombatants.”

To that Gareth could only nod and then at Gwyn’s suggestion, the two settled down to tread the Paths of Dreams for a time, for Gwyn did not know how long it would be before they would have the chance for proper sleep again.

“Certainly not before the end of this siege, however it goes,” Gareth commented as he settled onto his cot.

****

After lauds, the two brothers met with the Grand Marshal again in his small office. The only other person present was the Seneschal, Jean de Grailly, a quiet Man of middling years, but a warrior as were they all. He stood silently in the corner, watching and listening.

The Grand Master was speaking. “Al-Ashraf Khalil is not an unreasonable man, but he is hot-tempered. Guard your tongues around him. My advice to you is to salute him on your knees.”

“Humility does not become a Templar,” Gwyn said.

Wiseman, Alaska:

The day of the summer solstice, which the Elves called the Gates of Summer, also happened to be Father’s Day that year. Families were out picnicking, the barbecues on high, the music loud and the laughter of friends and family gathering to celebrate the summer warm.

At Edhellond, the Elves were also celebrating. Amroth and Nimrodel were in the back garden entertaining their triplets, now nearly three years old, with a game involving the elflings hiding and the parents looking for them, while the others looked on indulgently, laughing at the antics. Glorfindel was busy at the fire pit preparing steak and lobster for the grownups and hot dogs for the elflings. None of their Mortal friends had been invited. This was strictly an elven affair.

Gareth, Nielluin, Gwyn and Mithrellas were there, having come up from Fairbanks the day before. Elladan, Elrohir and Serindë, however, were still back East with the Twins finishing up their surgical studies.

When the attack began, their only warning was a sudden appearance by Fionwë in full battle regalia, his sword of light unsheathed. Everyone gaped in shock at the sight, but the Maia gave them no time to demand questions.

“You must go, immediately,” he said. “Wiseman is about to be attacked.”

“Attacked by whom?” Glorfindel demanded, glancing up at the clear blue sky as if in search of enemy planes.

“You must go,” Fionwë urged them. “Your lives are forfeit if you remain here. Split up, go in separate vehicles and in different directions.”

“And then what?” Finrod asked. “And what of the Mortals? Are they not in danger as well?”

“They are not the object of the attack,” the Maia assured them. “I have given you my warning. Go or stay. The choice is yours.” With that he faded away.

The Elves stared at one another for a moment and then Glorfindel began dousing the fire even as he was issuing orders. “We knew this day was coming,” he said, not looking at anyone in particular. “We’ve prepared for it. Go! Gather your things. You all know what to do.”

“Yet, where do we meet up?” Barahir asked.

“Where the Enemy least expects us to go,” Gwyn answered before Glorfindel could.

Everyone stared at him, even Glorfindel, who gave the younger ellon a searching look. “You have a suggestion?”

“Yes, but it would be unwise to speak of it aloud,” came the surprising answer. “This is something Gareth and I have thought about for some time, trying to come up with contingency plans just in case. Look, go get ready to leave. I’ll send you the information. It will not be easy to get there from here, and in fact it can take a couple of weeks, longer if you’re going out of your way to avoid being tracked.”

“I do not like the idea of running away and leaving our Mortal friends behind,” Finrod said. “Whatever Fionwë says, they are in as much danger as we.”

“But we hold the key,” Gareth said, “so the Enemy will be concentrating its efforts on us.”

“Key? What key?” Amroth demanded as he held one of the triplets in his arms, while Nimrodel carried the other two.

“I will explain, but only when we meet up again,” Gwyn answered. “For now, I don’t think we should waste any more time gabbing. Gareth, Nell, Misty, get your things. We’re leaving. We need to get to Fairbanks. I’ll send you the information, Loren, and you can pass it on.” And before Glorfindel or anyone else could protest, the four were gone.

Glorfindel stood for a moment and then nodded. “Go,” he ordered and he followed words with action by heading for the house and others followed or went around to the front to where their cars were and drove off to their own homes to pack.

It took half an hour for them to get organized, deciding who was going in which vehicle. There was only the one road out of Wiseman but they agreed to reach it from different directions.

“Wish we knew where we were going,” Cennanion groused.

It was Alphwen who replied, giving her husband a brittle smile. “Well, once we are on the James Dalton Highway, there aren’t that many directions we can choose from, either north to Deadhorse, which would be something of a dead end or south to Fairbanks and beyond. That seems to be our best bet.”

“Let’s plan to meet up at the Arctic Circle,” Glorfindel told them. “Once we hear from Gwyn we can decide the best way for us to get to wherever we’re headed. I think we should plan to take separate routes to keep the Enemy guessing. We’ll keep in touch via texting, but keep it to a minimum. We don’t want the Enemy to be able to track us too easily. Good luck.”

One by one, the various vehicles left Edhellond, some turning left and others right. Glorfindel’s group, which consisted of himself, Daeron and his wife, Melyanna, Finrod, Amarië, Valandur, Vardamir, Elrond and Celebrían, was the last to leave. Daeron locked the front door as the others piled into the van along with their luggage, and then he was taking the front passenger seat as Glorfindel started the engine and headed out of the drive, turning right and driving down Sycamore, though he bypassed Kodiak to pick up Morningside, meaning to reach the access road in a roundabout manner.

They were three or four blocks away when there was an explosion somewhere behind them and the earth shifted underneath them. Glorfindel struggled to keep the van on the road even as everyone exclaimed in shock.

“What was that?” Celebrían asked fearfully as she clung to Elrond.

Glorfindel looked up into the rearview mirror and grimaced. “Edhellond,” he replied as he continued driving out of Wiseman, remembering another Summer Solstice day when he fled Gondolin and met his death.

****

They had passed Coldfoot when Glorfindel’s phone rang. It was sitting on the dash in its own holder. He reached over to turn it on and put it on speakerphone. “DelaFiore,” he said, never taking his eyes off the road.

“Loren!” they all heard Alex Grant’s voice sounding frantic. “Where the hell are you? Where is everyone? Edhellond is nothing but a shell! Are you guys alright?”

“We’re fine and heading south toward Fairbanks,” Glorfindel answered. “We’re all safe. What about you guys?”

“We’re fine, but Olórin showed up and warned us that we should leave Wiseman as soon as possible. Felicity’s packing and I spoke to Derek. I’m picking him up at the resort. Where are you headed?”

“We’re not sure yet,” Glorfindel replied. “Gwyn said he would send us the information. He and Gareth apparently have been planning for this eventuality. He says we’re the key.”

“No, Loren,” Daeron corrected him, “Gwyn said we hold the key, but he did not say what the key was.”

“Whatever,” Glorfindel said dismissively. “Anyway, he and Gareth and the ellith left first, so they’ll get home before we get to Fairbanks, I imagine.”

“So, all the Elves have left Wiseman and are heading down to Fairbanks?” Alex asked. “Isn’t that a bit obvious?”

“Maybe, but we’ve little choice,” Glorfindel started to say and then they heard Alex seemingly interrupt him, though his voice was faint as he apparently moved the phone away from his mouth to speak to someone else, “No. Leave those, my love. We don’t have room. Better fish out the camping gear.” Then he sounded louder. “Sorry, you were saying?”

“Gwyn will send me the information about where we should meet up. He warned us that it could take us a couple of weeks of hard traveling to get to where he wants us to go, so take a cooler with you and plan to be camping out a lot.”

“Do you want us to meet up with you somewhere and we can drive together?” Alex asked.

“We’re all planning to stop at the Arctic Circle and wait for Gwyn to contact me. So if you want to meet us there?”

“Okay. Thanks. See you in a few hours.” And the call was abruptly ended. Glorfindel turned off the phone and they all remained silent for a time as they continued to barrel down the road.

****

The Arctic Circle was devoid of tourists, which was odd, because there were usually busloads of them all snapping photos of each other before the sign marking the Circle and getting their certificates of proof. The Summer Solstice was a popular time for tourists out of Fairbanks, but as the Elves drove up, they noticed no other vehicles, not even the ubiquitous trucks on their way to and from Deadhorse.

Amroth and his family were already there, along with Vorondur, Ercassë and their two sons, having left before everyone else. Others were pulling in or were on their way. Glorfindel parked the van and everyone got out. It was now nearly midnight and the sun was just setting, but it would be rising again in only a few hours. Amroth stood outside his SUV while Nimrodel remained inside, watching over the triplets, all three fast asleep. Vorondur was standing with him as Glorfindel sauntered over, his phone in his hand, with Finrod, Daeron, Valandur and Vardamir.

“It may be a while before we hear from Gwyn,” Glorfindel said without preamble. “They’re only, what, about an hour ahead of us? It’ll be another few hours before they get home.”

Amroth shrugged. “We can set up camp if we need to,” he said philosophically.

“I got a call from Alex while we were driving,” Glorfindel said. “Olórin showed up and warned him and Felicity to get out of Dodge pronto. They’re picking up Derek at Bettles and meeting us here.”

“Have you heard from anyone else?” Vorondur asked.

“No, and that disturbs me,” Glorfindel admitted. “Fionwë shows up out of the blue, literally, tells us to leave immediately, assures us that our Mortal friends are not in danger, and then goes. In the meantime, well after all of us have left Wiseman, Olórin appears to Alex, tells him to leave and then, what?”

“It is… disturbing,” Finrod allowed, looking pensive. “And we hold the key, Gwyn said. How does he know this? He has never mentioned this key ever to anyone, yet, he immediately comes up with it as we are debating whether to obey Fionwë or not.”

Daeron looked as if he wished to comment, when Glorfindel’s phone beeped, informing him of an incoming text. “That can’t be Gwyn already,” he said even as he opened the phone and checked the text. He stared at it for the longest time.

“Well, who is it from and what does he say?” Amroth demanded.

“You have your phone?” Glorfindel asked, ignoring Amroth’s question.

For an answer, Amroth pulled his phone out of a pocket. Glorfindel nodded. “Check these coordinates: forty-four point thirty-three degrees north by seventy-three point thirteen degrees west.”

It took Amroth a couple of minutes to plug in the numbers. He stared at the screen for a moment before showing it to Glorfindel.

“You have got to be kidding me!” the balrog-slayer exclaimed. “There? Why?”

Vorondur grabbed Amroth’s hand and brought it close so he could see the screen. He looked nonplused. “It does seem odd. Are you sure it’s from Gwyn?”

“Yeah, it is,” Glorfindel assured them.

“He couldn’t have reached Fairbanks already though,” Daeron commented. “It could be a trick of the Enemy.”

They all looked grave at that. “I’ll text Gwyn back for confirmation,” he said, but even as he was about to text, the phone beeped again and he got another message, which he read aloud, “Texted the Twins. They’ll meet us there. Gwyn.”

“Looks as if it’s legit,” Vorondur said somewhat doubtfully.

Before anyone else could answer, Alex and Derek showed up with a visibly pregnant Felicity. “Hey! What’s the deal?” Alex demanded as the three Mortals joined them.

For an answer, Glorfindel showed him his phone with the GPS coordinates. “This is where we’re going. Copy this and set your GPS to it. Get there anyway you can.”

“So where is this place?” Felicity asked.

Glorfindel told them and there were shocked looks on all their faces. Then Alex nodded even as he was pulling out his phone and entering the coordinates. “Any particular place we should meet up?”

“Yes,” Amroth answered. “Four-seven-five-four Owl Fly Way. It’s in Wilmington, about twenty miles north.”

“And what’s there?” Derek asked.

Amroth smiled tightly. “You’ll see when you get there.”

“Okay, listen up, everybody,” Glorfindel called out and soon all the Elves were congregated around him. “Here are the GPS coordinates of our final destination.” He rattled off the numbers which people entered into their phones. “Make your way out of Alaska any way you can. When you get there, check into a hotel. There are loads of them as it’s a resort area. Wait for my call. Dan and Roy are headed there now and can get there in a single day. I’ll send them a text to let us know where they end up. Everyone clear on this?”

“Would it not seem odd for all of us to go there though?” Prince Legolas asked. “Should we not scatter to different places and wait?”

“He has a point, Loren,” Daeron said. “Look, why don’t we do this? Once you get out of Alaska, head for one of the larger cities in the lower forty-eight or Canada. You all have your passports, so you should be okay there. Once you reach a place, let us know and then after we’ve met up with Gwyn again and found out what this is all about, we’ll contact you and we can go from there.”

Glorfindel nodded in agreement. “That should work. Okay, everyone set?”

“We’re following you,” Alex said to Glorfindel.

“That could be dangerous,” Vorondur suggested.

Alex shook his head, looking grave. “No. I have the feeling that we need to be with you.” Then he paused and gave them a lopsided grin. “Besides, being next to Glorfindel is probably the safest place to be.”

“We’ll see about that,” Glorfindel retorted with a snort. “Right. Let’s get going. We’re wasting daylight.”

“Which is odd because the sun has set and it’s night,” Derek said laconically as he, Alex and Felicity headed back to their car.

“But only for another couple of hours and then it’ll be light again,” Alex pointed out.

“So which direction are we going?” Daeron asked Glorfindel as they, too, headed for their vehicle.

“East,” came the answer, “but we’ll need to get well past Fairbanks before we can pick up the road that will take us into Canada.”

“How long do you think it will take us to reach our destination?” Finrod asked as they climbed into the van.

“As long as it takes,” Glorfindel replied and then he was pulling out with everyone else following him down the James Dalton Highway toward Fairbanks… and beyond.

1: Into the Mountains


“So this is Saranac Lake,” Daeron said, looking out the window.

“According to the GPS,” Glorfindel said with a smile.

“It is warm here,” Finrod complained. “I thought mountains were supposed to be cool.”

“You’re just used to the climate in Alaska, Finrod,” Glorfindel said as he drove along Route 3, coming into the downtown district of Saranac Lake, New York, situated in the High Peaks district of the Adirondacks. “It can get very hot here in the summer, but it’s not that hot, only about eighty-six right now. There’s River Street up ahead.”

“Turn left… turn left…” the GPS voice warned them.

“I really hate that voice,” Glorfindel muttered as he followed the directions, turning onto Main Street, passing the Town Hall, an imposing brick building on their left, wending his way up the hill through the village, forced to slow to a crawl because of the traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian.

“Why is it so crowded?” Celebrían asked in surprise. “This is not a very large place.”

“It’s a resort town, my dear,” Daeron answered. “And it caters to all seasons. This place is probably crowded even in winter. We’re not far from Lake Placid which was the site of the winter Olympics twice. This is a popular area for skiing during the winter.”

“Continue straight… continue straight,” the GPS voice sang as they came to where Main Street branched off to the right and they headed down the hill onto Broadway Street, crossing a little bridge that spanned the Saranac River, which flowed through the village. The street curved to the right before rising again.

“There’s the Left Bank Café,” Daeron pointed to his right, indicating a restaurant. “So the Grant Building should be… there!” He pointed to his left. “Right next to the post office, just like Dan said.”

“Is Alex still behind us?” Glorfindel asked as he turned into the parking lot of the Grant apartment building and found an empty spot to park.

Vardamir, who was in the back, looked behind him. “Yes, he’s a couple of cars behind, but I see him.”

“Well, let’s go,” Glorfindel said as he turned off the van and opened the door. The others piled out of the van as well. Even as Valandur was straightening and closing the side door, Alex pulled in and found his own spot to park and then he was leaping out and running to the other side in time to help Felicity out of the car as Derek climbed out of the back. Almost at once Elrond and Celebrían made a bee-line toward the Mortals with Elrond placing a hand on Felicity’s bump to monitor her.

“How are you doing, my dear?” he asked solicitously. “The journey has not been too strenuous for you and the baby?”

“We’re fine, Elrond,” Alex said somewhat testily before his wife could answer. “The baby’s fine, Felicity’s fine. We’re all fine. Now back off, please.”

“We are just concerned for our grandson,” Elrond said with a huff.

“And we appreciate your concern,” Felicity said with a conciliatory smile, “but I promise that all is well. You don’t have to hover. Alex does that enough for all of us.”

“I do not,” Alex protested half-heartedly, knowing the truth of her words. “C’mon, let’s get you inside.” He looked about, automatically gauging all the potential danger points, eyeing passing cars and pedestrians with suspicion. Felicity just smiled knowingly at her husband and gave him a peck on the cheek. He smiled and gave her a hug and a kiss while Derek, Elrond and Celebrían looked on indulgently.

“We can go in this way,” Glorfindel said and they all followed him to a covered entrance and found themselves in a pleasant hallway with stairs immediately before them. “They’re on the third floor.” Glorfindel looked at Felicity. “Do you think you can make it?”

“I’m pregnant, Loren, not dead,” Felicity said with amusement. “It’ll just take me longer, is all.”

“You guys go on ahead and we’ll take our time,” Alex said, putting a protective arm around his wife.

Glorfindel nodded and quickly headed up the stairs with the others following, all but Vardamir, who lagged behind.

“You don’t need to stick around, Mir,” Alex said. “If Felicity gets into trouble we’ll holler.”

“I am not concerned about that,” Vardamir said as the four climbed the stairs, sticking to a pace that Felicity could handle. “I simply have no desire to rush up three flights of stairs.”

“Yeah, right,” Derek said with a sneer. “Getting old, are we?”

Both Alex and Felicity sniggered while Vardamir, who was a couple of steps ahead of them looked back and gave them an imperious glare. “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that,” he said loftily and then continued to climb the stairs while the three Mortals laughed, exchanging amused looks. When they reached the second floor landing, they paused for a moment to let Felicity catch her breath before tackling the next flight. Alex kept a solicitous hand on Felicity’s back, helping her along. Finally, they reached the top floor where they found one of the apartment doors open and Elladan was there to greet them with a smile.

“Welcome and thrice welcome! We were wondering when we would see any of you. Come in, come in. Felicity, how are you doing?”

They entered the apartment, finding themselves in the living room which took up a good portion of the apartment with two doors to the right apparently leading to bedrooms and a door at the other end where the bathroom was. Windows to the left looked out onto the street. The kitchen was behind them to the left of the entrance. It was small but adequate and a small dining set stood before it with a sitting area beyond. The furniture was obviously secondhand but in good condition. The place was crowded with everyone greeting everyone else and asking after each other.

“We thought you would be here before this,” Elrohir said to Glorfindel.

“We would have been, but with a pregnant woman along, we couldn’t quite rush across the country,” Glorfindel explained. “Also, we were being stalked.”

“Stalked?” the Twins said almost as one.

“Well, I think we were,” Glorfindel amended, casting a grim look at Daeron and Finrod. “Others have a different opinion.”

“We are not saying you are not correct, mellon nîn,” Daeron said. “We just have no real proof.”

“So, what happened in Calgary was just my imagination,” Glorfindel retorted with an air of skepticism.

“What happened in Calgary?” Elladan asked, but Glorfindel just waved his hand, his focus on Daeron.

“Long story,” he said. “And then what happened to you—”

“Could have happened to anyone of us walking down Kodiak,” Daeron pointed out. “Look, in spite of what happened in Wiseman, I just can’t believe that the Enemy has been stalking us in that fashion. How can he know the route we were taking? Since Calgary you’ve been so random in your route, driving back and forth between Canada and the States, that even we couldn’t predict which way you were going, except vaguely east.”

“And then there was Derek and Alex getting sick,” Glorfindel said as if he’d not heard anything Daeron had said. “We had to hole up for about a week outside St. Louis.”

“Yeah, sure, blame us,” Alex said with a scowl.

“I’m not blaming you, Alex,” Glorfindel said with some exasperation. “It was just unfortunate that you and Derek got sick at the same time.”

“I thought you and Derek looked paler than you should have,” Elladan said. “How are you doing now?”

“We’re fine,” Alex answered for them both. “Still feeling tired and washed out but it’s not as bad as it was.”

“And I am glad that Felicity did not suffer,” Elrond put in. “It would not have been good for the baby.”

“Yeah, that’s for sure,” Derek said in agreement as Alex led Felicity to the couch and the two of them sat while the others took to chairs or plopped onto the floor. Elrohir went into the kitchen to put together some lemonade for them all with Serindë helping.

“So, are you saying that Alex and Derek getting sick was the latest attack on you by the Enemy?” Elladan asked.

“I am not so paranoid as to think that the Enemy was behind it, but there have been incidents all along the way that point to someone following us, trying to keep us from coming here. Surely, it can’t all be explained away as just my imagination running wild and you know I don’t believe in coincidence.”

“Yeah, maybe, probably,” Alex admitted. “It’s just that my… um… spidey-sense hasn’t been working overtime lately. In fact, I haven’t felt anything since St. Louis. I think it’s because I’m still recovering.”

“Well, all that matters is that we made it, isn’t it?” Daeron said, apparently wishing to drop the subject of whether the Enemy was following them or not. They all nodded in agreement, though Glorfindel did so reluctantly.

“So what’s the next step?” Derek asked. “Aren’t we supposed to hook up with Amroth and Gwyn?

“First though, have you heard from Ron and Holly?” Elrohir asked from the kitchen. “We’ve heard nothing from either of them in some time, more than two weeks ago.”

“The last time I talked with them was when we were outside St. Louis waiting for Alex and Derek to recover from whatever the hell they had,” Glorfindel replied.

“I still say it was food poisoning,” Felicity interjected.

But Elrond shook his head. “No, dear, that was the first thing I ruled out. No, it was some type of stomach virus.”

“So anyway they were camping in Yosemite, but Ron thought they might be moving on shortly and head somewhere in the Midwest, but he didn’t say where.”

“How long ago was that?” Serindë asked with concern as she brought some plastic cups out and set them on the dining table along with a plate of homemade oatmeal raisin cookies.

Glorfindel shrugged. “About a week and a half ago. Look, I’m sure they’re fine. It’s been difficult to communicate with anybody, but I’ve heard from everyone else in the last week.”

“So where are they all?” Serindë asked.

“Well, Finrod’s son and his gwedyr are with Laurendil and Manwen,” Glorfindel said. “Last we heard from them was a couple days ago. They’re working their way through the South. They were in New Orleans when they contacted me. Laurendil said they would probably reach us here in another week or so.”

“Cennanion, Barahir, Alphwen and Eirien are in Chicago,” Daeron picked up the narrative. “We actually met up with them. They’re fine and they’ve decided to remain where they are. Alphwen still has contacts in the city. It’s only been a few years since she moved to Wiseman. We know that Prince Legolas and all those who were Rangers have not left Alaska. Instead, they fled into the wilderness. Some went back toward Wiseman and are haunting the Brooks Mountains and the Gates of the Arctic National Park but we know a few continued south to Denali and some even went further north to where Finlay and Sakari are.”

“How do you know this, though?” Elrohir asked as he came out of the kitchen with a pitcher of lemonade and began pouring it into the cups. “There’s no way anyone could have sent you a text or an email from any of those places.”

“Well, we’re somehow getting updates, or at least I am,” Glorfindel said as he accepted one of the cups which Serindë was handing out, along with a cookie. “I suspect that the Maiar are involved. All I know is that I’m getting periodic updates from everyone regardless of where they are. Most of those who came with Finrod seem to be doing okay in spite of the fact that none of them have any real experience with life among the Mortals.”

“It’s a good thing they all obtained their driver’s licenses, though,” Alex said. “That makes it easier for them to keep off the beaten track and hide in remote places or simply to travel where they need to be.”

“That’s for sure,” Derek said.

“Well, at any rate, everyone is fine, as far as I know,” Glorfindel said. “People are either staying put somewhere or making their way here.”

“Where are Amroth and Gwyn?” Daeron asked. “Have either of them contacted you?”

“Amroth arrived last week,” Elladan said. “Haven’t heard from Gwyn personally, but Amroth let us know that he has and expects Gwyn and the others to arrive soon.”

“So, you’ve obviously been doing well for yourselves,” Finrod said, speaking for the first time, as he looked about the apartment, “and you’ve only been here for about a month or so.”

“We lucked out finding this place,” Elladan said. “The previous residents had just moved out so the place was vacant and as the rent’s reasonable for a resort village, we took it. It’s very convenient to everywhere we need to go.”

“On top of that,” Elrohir added, “when we looked around, it turned out that the medical center here was in desperate need of surgeons because one guy died and two others found jobs elsewhere, so they were very shorthanded.”

“Rather serendipitous, wouldn’t you say?” Glorfindel commented.

Elladan shrugged. “I refuse to look a gift horse in the mouth. Anyway, it’s not bad here. The air is clean, the scenery is spectacular, the people are warm and welcoming and the work we do is important. It’s really almost like being back in Wiseman.”

Glorfindel nodded, then turned to Serindë. “And how do you occupy your time, my dear, while these two are out saving lives?”

Serindë smiled. “Well, I’m not sitting around twiddling my thumbs, if that’s what you’re wondering. Saranac Lake is the arts capital of the Adirondacks. I belong to the Arts Guild and I work at the NorthWind Fine Arts Gallery over on Woodruff, just on the other side of the river.”

“And that was a stroke of luck right there,” Elrohir said.

“Oh? How so?” Glorfindel asked.

“The gallery is one of the newer ones, opened up just a few years ago,” Serindë explained. “When we first got here, we wandered around the village, checking things out and just on an impulse we went down Woodruff, where we found the gallery. It happened to be the first Friday of the month and they were hosting an opening reception that’s free to the public. It is an opportunity for people to meet the artists in a relaxed setting.” She paused and gave them a sardonic smile. “We stopped to take a look and when I happened to introduce myself as Sarah Brightman, two people actually knew who I was and were very happy to hear that I had recently moved to the village. Before I knew it, I was being introduced to some of the other artist residents and a week later they asked me to join them at the gallery.” She shrugged. “And it would never have occurred to us to go down that particular street.”

“Maybe you were inspired,” Felicity said quietly.

“Maybe we were,” Serindë nodded in agreement.

“Well, I’m glad you are settled in and all,” Glorfindel said, “but I wouldn’t get too cozy. We’re here on a mission, or we will be just as soon as I track down Gwyn and find out just what the hell this is all about.”

As if that were a cue, Glorfindel’s phone rang. He fished it out of his pocket and answered it. “DelaFiore… Gwyn! Where in blue blazes are you? Are you guys okay?... Wait! I’m putting this on speaker.” He fiddled with the phone, holding it out so the others would be able to hear. “Okay. Say that again.”

“We’re fine,” they heard Gwyn say. “Where are you?”

“With Dan and Roy,” Glorfindel answered. “We just got here maybe a half hour ago.”

“Well, we’re with Amroth. It’s too late in the day for you to come up to Wilmington so let’s plan to meet tomorrow.”

“Is it late?” Glorfindel asked, frowning slightly. “I hadn’t noticed.”

“It’s nearly ten in the evening,” Elladan said. “Sunset was about a half hour ago.”

Glorfindel frowned some more. “Funny. I didn’t think it was that late.” He shook his head as if to clear it and said. “Okay. We’ll meet you tomorrow, say around ten?”

“Ten it is,” Gwyn said. “See you then.” And then the call was disconnected.

“Well, we should look for a hotel,” Daeron said, “assuming we can get rooms this late at night.”

“You can stay here,” Elrohir said. “Alex, Felicity, why don’t you take our bed and Derek, you can take Dan’s.”

All three Mortals started to protest but Elrohir insisted, saying, “No. Don’t worry about it. We’re Elves, after all. I can tell that Alex and Derek are still recovering from their illness and, Felicity, you definitely need to be horizontal. When’s the baby due?”

“In about six weeks,” Felicity said.

“Then you definitely need rest,” Serindë said with a smile. “Our bedroom is the second door on the right and Derek, that’s your room.” She pointed to the door closest to the entrance.

“We’ll go down and grab your luggage,” Daeron suggested and Alex handed him his car keys. Daeron and Valandur left but returned shortly with some bags. Soon the Mortals were asleep while the Elves continued visiting through the night.

****

Glorfindel was describing to the Twins and Serindë the trip across Canada, while everyone listened when Elladan suddenly said, “It’s dawn.”

Glorfindel looked up at the windows, surprised at the light streaming through the curtains, for it had been dark just moments before, or so it seemed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I was doing all the talking,” he apologized.

“That’s okay,” Elrohir said with a grin, “we’ve been enjoying listening to your adventures. You’ll be leaving soon to see Amroth and Gwyn. Dan has surgery this morning and I’ve got consultations so we’ll be leaving now.”

“We’ll see you later, then?” Glorfindel asked as the Twins headed for the front door.

“Yes, we’ll plan to come out to Amroth’s later.”

“Why don’t I fix us some breakfast,” Serindë suggested. “Alex, Felicity and Derek should be waking soon enough.” Her prediction proved true with Derek waking first and then Felicity, with Alex being last. By the time breakfast was done, it was time to leave, though only Glorfindel, Alex, Derek, Valandur and Daeron were going. Felicity decided she did not want to travel far and Elrond and Vardamir both agreed that she should rest. The two healers and the ellith decided to spend the day wandering through the village.

“We can join you later,” Elrond told Glorfindel.

“Here, love, take the keys,” Alex said to Felicity. “Derek and I will ride with Loren.”

And so they left with Glorfindel retracing his route to pick up Route 86 going east toward Lake Placid, approximately twenty minutes away. The road wound its way through the mountains and then they were coming into Lake Placid, even more congested with tourists than Saranac Lake, so it was probably another fifteen minutes as they crawled past Mirror Lake on their left before they left the village and were heading northeast. It took them another twenty minutes, passing High Falls Gorge and the Whiteface Mountain Ski Resort with its gondola that went up to Little Whiteface, before they were coming into Wilmington. They passed the North Pole Campgrounds with its miniature golf course and the A&W on the left, coming to the juncture with Route 431, which led to the road leading up to the top of Whiteface Mountain and saw the sign for Santa’s Workshop.

“Didn’t Amroth say he worked there for a while?” Glorfindel asked as he turned right to continue on Route 86 and Daeron nodded but did not speak.

They continued along, leaving Wilmington behind with Jay about nine miles ahead, but they had gone only about another mile or so when Daeron pointed to the right. “There’s Owls Fly Way,” he said and Loren turned there. “And there’s the house straight ahead.”

Glorfindel stopped before what turned out to be a double-wide log-cabin trailer nestled within a stand of tall firs that provided a windbreak from the north and west. There was a wide porch that fronted the cabin and they saw Amroth and Gwyn standing there, apparently waiting for them. Glorfindel waved at them through the windshield as he turned off the engine and they waved back even as Derek was opening the side door and everyone was climbing out.

“Unca’ Lowen! Unca’ Finwod!’

Glorfindel looked to see Amroth and Nimrodel’s elflings running toward them and with a wide smile and swooped two of them up, while the third went straight to Finrod who gave the toddler a hug and a kiss. “Well, well, my orclings,” Glorfindel said with a laugh as he climbed the steps to the porch. “How you’ve grown! Have you been good little orclings?”

“Yeth,” one of them said while the other protested with, “Not owcklin’ Unca’ Lowen. Elflin’.”

“Are you now?” Glorfindel asked in surprise. “I wouldn’t have guessed.”

The children giggled and squirmed and he put them down after giving each a sloppy kiss. Amroth, watching with amusement, chivvied his children inside. “Go to Nana,” he said. “She has juice and cookies for you.” The triplets went indoors, leaving the grownups to themselves.

“Nice place,” Glorfindel said. “How did you manage to keep it when you were living in Alaska?”

“I was renting it to people,” Amroth explained. “I probably would’ve sold it to them but they moved out earlier this spring to go to New Hampshire so it was standing empty when we got here. Rather fortuitous under the circumstances.”

“Where’s Gareth?” Glorfindel asked Gwyn, ignoring the implications of Amroth’s words.

“He and Nell are taking a walk. They’ll be back in a bit. Misty’s giving Della a hand with the triplets.”

“Why don’t we sit over here and take our ease?” Amroth suggested, pointing to where a padded two-person rocker and some Adirondack chairs had been placed along one side of the porch. On a small wicker table were a pitcher of lemonade and some glasses. Amroth poured the lemonade out as Glorfindel spoke to Gwyn.

“Okay, you want to explain what you meant about us holding the key. Key to what? And why did we have to spend the past month traveling across country to come all the way here? What’s so special about this place?”

Gwyn did not speak immediately, sipping the lemonade Amroth had handed to him. “It would be closer to the truth to say that Gareth and I hold the key and the key is an… artefact, I suppose you can call it, or possibly a talisman, that may help us against the Enemy.”

“Whom we have not seen since leaving Wiseman,” Finrod interjected. “Indeed we have seen nothing of any attack elsewhere. Edhellond was destroyed. That much we know, but other than that, there has been no other activity of which we are aware.”

“Yeah, that struck me as odd, too,” Glorfindel said, “but I figured we were somehow able to elude whoever might be gunning for us.”

“Possibly,” Gwyn allowed. “All I know is that Gareth and I have been the custodians of an object that might, and I stress that, might aid us in our fight against the Enemy whenever it decides to strike again.”

“So what’s this artefact or talisman or whatever you’re calling it?” Alex asked impatiently.

“And why don’t you have it with you?” Derek added.

“For that matter, why didn’t you have it with you in Alaska?” Daeron asked.

“We didn’t have it with us,” Gwyn explained, “because it’s been hidden for nearly two hundred years and it’s still hidden as far as we know.”

“So why don’t you go retrieve it?” Valandur asked.

“You still haven’t told us what it is,” Alex insisted.

“What it is, is difficult to describe and in truth neither Gareth nor I really know what it is. We found it, or perhaps it found us. At any rate, there’s a problem with retrieving it.”

“And what problem is that?” Glorfindel asked.

Gwyn gave them a sour smile. “Well, you have to understand that when Gareth and I were last here was over two hundred years ago and this was completely wilderness with no mortal habitations to speak of, not even native tribes, though they used this area as a hunting ground. You passed High Falls Gorge and the Whiteface ski area.”

Everyone nodded. “They looked like interesting places,” Finrod commented.

“They are,” Gwyn said. “The gondola ride to the top of Little Whiteface is quite a trip and the views are panoramic. The Gorge is also interesting to see. However, two hundred years ago, neither the ski resort nor the Gorge attraction, which is privately owned, by the way, existed.”

“And so?” Glorfindel asked, frowning slightly. “What’s your point?”

“The point, Loren, is that Gareth and I hid the artefact somewhere in High Falls Gorge, which is now a popular tourist attraction, and we will need to retrieve it without being in full view of Mortals.”

For a long moment, no one spoke as they digested Gwyn’s words. Finally, Glorfindel sighed. “Well, I guess that does make things rather interesting for us all, doesn’t it?”

The responses from the others were short and to the point and very much scatological.

2: Reconnaissance

Glorfindel and the others were poring over a map of the region around Wilmington that Amroth had resurrected when Gareth and Nielluin returned from their walk.

“So, what are you planning to do?” Gareth asked them as he and Nielluin joined them on the porch.

“We need to scope out the area where you claim the treasure, whatever it is, has been hidden,” Glorfindel answered.

Gareth gave his brother a surprised look. “You haven’t told them?”

Gwyn shook his head. “It would not do any good,” he explained. “They have to see it for themselves.”

“So how exactly did you two come by this treasure?” Finrod asked.

“Actually, we stole it, or rather, Gareth did,” came the ready answer from Gwyn.

They all looked at the two brothers in surprise.

“Stole it from whom and should we be worried about the former owners coming to look for it?” Finrod asked.

“I doubt it,” Gwyn answered with a sardonic twist of his lips. “Anyone who even knew of its existence has been dead and gone to dust for a thousand years now. As to your other question, we stole it from the Templars.”

“The Templars!” more than one person exclaimed.

“Are you saying, you are responsible for their treasure disappearing off the face of the map?” Alex asked, his eyes narrowing in disbelief.

Both Gwyn and Gareth chuckled. “No. We’re not that good,” Gareth answered. “And before you ask, no, we have no more idea what happened to it than you or anyone else. At the time it was all going badly for the Templars we were back in Wales, farming.”

“But you stole something from them, nonetheless,” Daeron said, giving them a shrewd look.

“Yes, and we’re not about to apologize for it,” Gwyn said with a huff of annoyance. “I was not happy when I discovered what Gareth had done but there was little I could do about it. To return what we took would have ended badly for us. For all that they were supposedly monks, the Templars were not a forgiving lot, least of all, Thibaud Gaudin.” He scowled at the mention of the name and Gareth also looked distressed.

“Well, it’s done and past done,” Glorfindel said philosophically. “And we have no right to pass judgment on either of you. Perhaps what you did was wrong, but apparently, it was meant to be, else we would not be here discussing how to retrieve it. I am curious though as to why you felt the need to hide it here and not just take it with you as you crossed the country.”

“Are you daft, Loren?” Gwyn said with a wry grin. “Do you remember how it was back then when this country was being newly colonized by the Europeans? We wouldn’t have survived with the talisman on us. We always meant to return to retrieve it, though, but it just never panned out that way. It might have helped us back in Alaska if we had.”

Glorfindel shrugged. “Playing ‘might-have-been’ gets us nowhere. Okay, so, according to you, you buried this talisman somewhere around here.” He leaned over the map that was spread out on the small wicker table and placed a finger on a spot. Everyone took a look and both ap Hywel brothers nodded in agreement.

“Yes, somewhere near the vicinity of High Falls Gorge,” Gwyn answered. “Everything is built up from when we were here before so I can’t exactly say where.”

“Well, why don’t we go see for ourselves?” Glorfindel suggested.

“Too late for that,” Gareth commented. “Sun’s about to set. We’ll have to go tomorrow.”

Glorfindel looked around, feeling confused. “Can’t be setting already. I don’t think it’s even noon.” And yet, looking west, he could see the sun low in the sky, fast sinking behind the mountains.

“And look, we have company,” Gareth pointed to where a couple of cars were making their way down the road and stopping before Amroth’s house.

“It must be Dan and Roy and the others,” Daeron said. “They said they’d be by later.”

“I guess I’ll pull out the grill and we can have a barbecue,” Amroth said even as people were getting out of the cars. Alex saw Felicity and went to meet her.

And before he realized what was happening, Glorfindel found himself standing before the grill flipping burgers while drinking Saranac Black Forest from the microbrewery of the same name. Amroth was racing around the yard with the children while everyone else looked on with indulgent smiles. The ellith were bringing out salads and drinks and plates and such, with Nimrodel, Amarië and Celebrían comparing notes on their respective pregnancies with Felicity while Nielluin and Melyanna listened. The ellyn, along with Alex and Derek, were standing around Gwyn and Gareth as they told them about their lives among the Templars.

Glorfindel was suddenly reminded of their last cookout not even two months before that had gone terribly wrong and for a moment the world darkened around him, but then Finrod, who had brought out his harp from somewhere (and Glorfindel wasn’t sure from where), began playing and singing and Glorfindel’s mood lightened as he listened to his gwador.

And thus they passed the night. The children were put to bed at some point and the Mortals were offered beds as well while the Elves sat around a fire pit under the stars and sang ancient songs.

Dawn came and breakfast was served.

“We’ll leave for High Falls Gorge as soon as we’re done eating,” Gwyn said. “It’ll be open by then.”

“So we’re going to pay to see where you hid this treasure of yours?” Glorfindel asked with a wry look.

Gwyn shrugged. “At least this first time. It will be wise to see what we are up against in broad daylight.”

While they were finishing eating, they decided who would accompany Gwyn and Gareth. “No sense all of us going,” Glorfindel pointed out. So, in the end, it was Glorfindel, Daeron, Finrod, Amroth, Valandur, the ap Hywel brothers, Alex and Derek. They piled into Glorfindel’s van and with a wave to the others, they headed off.

They backtracked on Route 86, through Wilmington, heading south toward Lake Placid, passing the Hungry Trout Restaurant with R. F. McDougall’s Pub down below street level, overlooking the north flowing Ausable River, famous for its trout fishing. Then they were passing the entrance to the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center, the wide road leading to the lodge lined with the flags of the countries that had participated in the Winter Olympics of 1980.

About a mile or so further on, they came to High Falls Gorge and, after parking, made their way into the yellow-painted visitor center and gift shop/restaurant where they purchased tickets, allowing the cashier to place red paper bracelets around their wrist — “Almost like being in a hospital,” Derek quipped, giving the girl an easy smile that made her blush for some reason — and picked up a trail map. They went through the door leading to the bridge that would take them across the Ausable and on to the other side where the trails began. They all noticed the steel gate just before the bridge that could be closed and padlocked, effectively closing off the gorge.

“But if we had to, we could ford the river here,” Glorfindel said pointing down as they all stopped in the middle of the bridge to look at the river. “It looks fairly shallow here.”

“Maybe,” Alex said doubtfully, “but I sure wouldn’t want to risk it at night.” The others nodded in agreement and they continued on across.

There were two distinct trails, Gwyn told them. “There is this easy access path that has no stairs and runs along the top of the gorge and crosses over again just past the main falls. Then there is the lower trail, the waterfall walk, that is accessible by stairs. That trail will take us down closer to the river, but where we need to go it isn’t necessary to go that route. The easy access path will work for us.”

“You’re leading this expedition,” Glorfindel said. “We’ll follow you.”

With that, Gwyn headed to the right and the others followed. It was a pleasant walk and they were not the only visitors even this early in the morning, for it was only just past nine. They passed a giant bluish-gray boulder which Gwyn told them was anorthosite. “It’s one of the oldest rocks found, something like a billion and a half years old. It’s the same kind of base rock the astronauts found on the moon. The entire High Peaks area is built on it.”

Even the Elves were impressed by this and no one could pass the massive rock without touching it, trying to imagine such a distance of time that not even the Elves could truly fathom. They moved along the trail that climbed a bit, passing through what Gwyn said was a mature climax forest. The Elves sighed almost as one at the sight of American hemlock, red spruce, yellow birch and white pine, the spaces between the trees wide with little undergrowth, the forest filtering the sunlight into a cool, green light.

“When we first came here, we were stunned,” Gareth commented. “Never had we known such forests, not even in Europe. This forest was ancient and absolutely untouched even by the few natives who lived either north along the St. Lawrence River or further south in the Mohawk River valley. They hunted and fished here, but there were no settlements and few ever came this deeply into the mountains.”

“How did you happen to come here?” Finrod asked as they passed through the forest, taking their time.

“We were led here,” Gwyn answered.

“Oh? How and by whom?” Glorfindel asked.

“We were residing in Remsen, just north of Utica. You went through there on your way into the Park,” Gwyn answered and the others nodded. “There were a few fellow Welshman living in the area and we had joined up with them, coming into America by way of Canada. We traveled on the outskirts of the Adirondacks coming south. Like many of the people in the area, we took up farming, buying a small bit of land, only five or six acres, and attending the Welsh Congregationalist Church, like the dutiful Christians that we were.” He cast them a wry look.

“Nothing wrong with being a Christian,” Derek sniffed, “as long as you don’t let it go to your head.”

The others chuckled.

Gwyn continued his narrative. “Yes, well, anyway, we were living there at the very edge of the Adirondacks, minding our own business, when Gareth and I both began having the same dream over a period of several nights whenever we bothered to sleep.”

“Hmm… sounds like a certain Vala, who will remain nameless, was perhaps working overtime,” Valandur said wryly and the others snorted in amusement and agreement.

“Definitely,” Gwyn said.

“So what was the dream?” Derek asked as they all stopped by mutual consent to let a small family consisting of the parents, two pre-teen youngsters and a baby fast asleep in a stroller pass them. The Elves ignored the furtive, surprised glances of the Mortals, their reactions too common for them to take note.

Gwyn waited until the family had gone further along the trail before speaking. “We were hunting in virgin forests,” he said softly, though loud enough for Alex and Derek to hear. “We were dressed in skins, much like the natives, and we were carrying bows rather than the muskets we normally carried about us on the farm to hunt or ward off predators come down from the mountains.”

“And we were chasing a white stag,” Gareth added, giving them a significant look.

Several eyebrows rose among the Elves, but Alex and Derek both looked confused. “Is that supposed to be significant? I mean, beyond the fact that an albino stag would be so rare as to be impossible, I would imagine. No albino animal would survive long. They would never blend into their surroundings and be easy prey to predators.”

The Elves all nodded. “True,” Gwyn allowed, “but in Welsh mythology, the White Stag is often the guise of Cernunnos, god of the hunt.”

“In other words, Oromë,” Glorfindel added for the Mortals’ benefit. “Interesting. So, let me guess. This White Stag led you directly here.” He gestured to the gorge.

“Not exactly,” Gareth said. “In the dream, we followed a river, this one in fact, but the dreams almost always ended when we came in sight of Whiteface. That was apparently our landmark.”

“And in the dreams it was late summer from what we could tell, though how we knew this or even agreed to it between us, I cannot say,” Gwyn added. “All I know is that we both felt it to be true. Also, there was a sense of urgency in the dream, as if time were running out, but why, we didn’t know.”

Gareth took up the narrative again. “It took us a while to admit to one another that we were even having the same particular dream and it was something of a shock to learn that we were both dreaming the same dream, but neither one of us understood why, until one night when we agreed to sleep, wondering if we would have the same dream again, the dream was exactly the same as before, except this time, just as we came in sight of the mountain, I happened to look down for some reason and found myself holding the talisman in my hand. That had never been in the dream before.”

Gwyn nodded. “When we woke up and compared our dreams, that was the one element that differed between us. I never saw the talisman. My last memory of the dream was to realize that the full moon was just setting even as the sun was rising. After talking it over for some time, we finally decided to go see if we could find the mountain in our dream, taking the talisman with us. We rented out our farm to one of our neighbors since we had no idea how long it would take us. We left just after the spring planting.”

“How did you even know where to go, though?” Alex asked. “I mean, other than the fact that it was somewhere in the Adirondacks, you had no map or anything, did you?”

“No, but we had the next best thing,” Gwyn said. “We had natives who could tell us where the mountain lay. You’ve seen Whiteface. You know how distinctive its features are. We traveled to one of the nearer native settlements and we asked about it, figuring that if they didn’t know, they might know those who did.”

“Was it even safe to go to a native village?” Derek asked.

Both ap Hywel brothers shrugged. “We went as ourselves,” Gareth answered.

“Huh?” was Derek's response and Alex looked equally confused.

Gwyn and Gareth had identical smiles as Gwyn explained. “We went as ourselves, not as Welsh farmers transplanted in the New World. We went as the Firstborn that we are. We went in Power. Granted, we have little native power, certainly not on the scale that someone like Loren or even Finrod has, and what we have has been more or less self-taught or handed down to us by our parents, but it was enough to show the natives that we were not White Eyes, as they called the Europeans.”

“That must’ve been… interesting to see,” Derek said carefully.

Both brothers laughed. “It was fun too,” Gareth said. “We had little chance over the centuries to actually act the Firstborn that we are, hiding our true natures from the Mortals as we have. Being ourselves was… liberating.”

“At any rate,” Gwyn continued, “the villagers could not help us, but they knew of another settlement further east where they thought the hunters went further into the mountains than they themselves were wont to go, so they led us there and introduced us to the shaman, who took one look at us and ordered two of the tribe’s best hunters to take us where we wished to go.”

“The journey took several weeks, of course,” Gareth added. “There were no roads, not even trails. We followed the river courses, moving from one lake to another and then we got to what is now called Lake Placid and there we parted company with the hunters, for we were now within the area of our dreams and the land was familiar to us.”

“So why didn’t you hide this talisman of yours somewhere in the mountain?” Glorfindel asked.

By now they had resumed walking, passing through the trees with the Ausable flowing through the chasm in stages, its iron-rich waters brownish in color. They passed the place where the easy path and the waterfall walk split and they saw the steep metal stairs that led down. They could see a few people making their way along the steel walkway below, but they did not pause in their walk and followed the trail through the woods.

At one point it looped around to head toward the bridge and they saw a sign announcing that here was one of the entrances to the nature trail that wound through the climax forest. Looking at the trail map they saw that there were a couple of trails looping around.

“Wish we had more time,” Glorfindel said. “I wouldn’t mind trying the nature trail.”

“Perhaps we can come back later and try it out,” Finrod suggested. “The trees appear to be welcoming. Can you feel it?”

The other Elves nodded. Alex and Derek just looked at each other and shrugged and they continued on, passing a wide space on their left that was set off from the trail just before the bridge where there were a couple of green benches set up. The family that had passed them earlier were there with the mother now breast feeding the baby while the two older children were sipping on juice boxes. All of them watched with wide eyes as the Elves passed them, still deep in discussion, as they crossed the bridge that would take them back to the other side.

“That was our original intent,” Gwyn admitted, “and when we finally saw the mountain before us we thought we had reached our goal, but we got only as far as this area when the White Stag in our dreams actually appeared for real. Before we realized what we were doing, we were chasing after it, not so much to hunt it, which would’ve been not only daft but dangerous, but to see where it would lead us and it led us here to this gorge.”

By mutual consent they stopped when they were in the middle of the bridge and looked upriver where they could see a large waterfall, one of three that they could see. Just below the falls was a wide basin, which their map labeled the Grand Flume, a cauldron of rushing water that continued past them. It was spectacular and loud. They lingered only for a moment before continuing to cross over.

“It’s not far now,” Gwyn assured them. He and Gareth led them along the path that now sloped downward. A little further on they saw a set of steep steps leading down to a viewing platform.

“Come see this,” Gwyn said and he headed down the stairs with the others following. The platform was large enough for them all to stand on but only Gwyn, Glorfindel and Finrod could actually stand at the rail and look down into the gorge where they saw a small whirlpool directly below them forever swirling as most of the river flowed down to a lower level. Looking further downstream, they could see the river narrowing a bit before widening again as the water moved out of the gorge. Glorfindel looked back down at the whirlpool, then turned to Gwyn, standing beside him, also looking down, his eyes unfocused as if he were lost in a memory.

“Please don’t tell me you threw the talisman into that.” He pointed at the whirlpool.

Gwyn looked up in surprise, then grinned, looking to Glorfindel’s eyes more like an elfling than the battle-savvy warrior that he was. “Don’t worry, Loren, we won’t make you swim the gorge.” Gareth sniggered. “Let the others have a look,” Gwyn continued and he headed back up the stairs with Glorfindel and Finrod while everyone else took turns looking at the whirlpool. When they were all back on the trail, Gwyn nodded.

“This is where our tale gets… weird,” he warned.

“You mean weirder than it already is?” Glorfindel couldn’t help saying.

Both ap Hywels shrugged. “You’ll have to judge for yourself,” was all Gwyn said and he and Gareth headed down the trail. They had to stop before a set of stairs to let a couple of people come up, everyone nodding politely to one another. A short distance further on they came to what was the lowest part of the trail before yet another set of steep steps to the bridge that would take them back across the gorge. Were they to continue on this route they could just return to the gorge entrance by way of the waterfall walk.

As they gathered at the head of the stairs, Alex pointed to his right. “Look. No way to enter from the road or even across country.” They all looked to see a steel-linked fence with barb wire that began near the trail and disappeared into the woods, and though they could not see the road, they had to assume the fence blocked off the area from the road as well.

“Could we cut through though if we had to?” Derek asked.

“Not if it’s electrified,” Alex answered. “See how parts of it are covered with tarp? I suspect it’s to prevent animals wandering by from getting electrocuted. At any rate, I don’t think I want to be trying to make my way overland in the dark and there isn’t any place along the road where we could just park and walk through the woods anyway.”

“Well, we won’t concern ourselves with that for now,” Glorfindel said before turning to Gwyn. “Okay, we’ve done the tour. Now will you please show us where you hid the damn talisman?”

For an answer, Gwyn pointed down. “You see the tree on the other side that is growing out of the cliff?”

Glorfindel looked and saw a strange sight. Just on the other side of the bridge was an evergreen tree literally growing vertically out of the side of the smooth granite cliff, but its thick trunk bent U-shaped near the wall before straightening as it arched across the steel walkway. They saw a Man helping a Woman to sit on the bottom part of the ‘U’ and then take a picture of her, the two laughing. Then they traded places as there was only enough room for one person to sit there.

Gwyn gave them a rueful look. “That was our landmark. It was approximately here that the White Stag led us. We got this far and… and the Stag leapt across the gorge toward the tree, only it never reached it. It… it just faded away.”

“Okay, so where did you hide the talisman?” Glorfindel looked around, trying to identify what might be a hiding place, but all he saw was the steps leading down to the bridge. Possibly, they could have dug a hole somewhere on the side of the hill they were on but he didn’t see anything that could qualify as a safe hiding place unless it was under one of the larger trees growing out of the hillside and there wouldn’t have been any stairs to help them down.

Gwyn sighed and Gareth grimaced. “This is where I said it gets weird,” Gwyn said. “Remember, all of this was wilderness. We had the devil’s own time even getting this far as we followed the Stag and a couple of times we were sure we lost it, but then it would reappear and off we would go. We got here and… and… these stairs were here and so was that bridge.”

“That’s not possible,” Glorfindel protested and the others looked at the brothers in disbelief.

“You would think,” Gwyn retorted, giving them a sardonic look, “but just remember who we were following.” He paused to let that sink in before continuing. “No one was more surprised than we were to see the steps and the bridge. It wasn’t a metal bridge, mind you, but a rope bridge, and no, to this day I have no idea how it was attached to the cliff on the other side. The Stag, as I said faded away as it reached the tree and Gareth and I just stood where we are now and gaped for a good long while.”

“And then when we got over our shock, we started arguing between us about the significance of it all, why we were led here,” Gareth added.

“Did you not come to hide the talisman?” Finrod asked.

“Well, that’s what we eventually did,” Gwyn answered, “but, no, that was not why we set out for this place. We came because we wanted to know what our dreams were about. We brought the talisman because it was in our dream, but we did not realize at first that we were meant to hide it here.”

“Yet where did you hide it?” Amroth asked.

For an answer, Gwyn set off down the stairs and the others followed. He then crossed the bridge, stopping on the other side. The couple who had been taking pictures of the tree were now crossing over to the other side, gaping at the Elves as they passed them. Gwyn and Gareth just stood staring at the blank granite wall, not saying anything. The others stared at the wall in puzzlement, wondering what was going on and then Finrod nodded. “There’s a door, isn’t there?”

The others all started. “Is that true?" Amroth demanded. “Yet, even I do not have the knowledge to create a hidden door. How do you know of this skill?”

“From our Da,” Gwyn answered. “He taught us the rudiments. Where he learned it from, he never said and we were wise enough not to ask. Yes, it’s a door, or it will be. We have to wait for the right conditions.”

“And what conditions are those?” Glorfindel asked as he ran his hand over the rock as if by feel alone he could find the door.

“We must wait for the next full moon,” Gwyn replied.

“So every full moon the door becomes visible?” Alex asked skeptically.

Both brothers shook their heads. “No, it will only open on a certain day and only if one of us is present,” Gareth explained. “It will only open in the month of August when Tilion happens to be setting even as Arien is rising or near about. They don't have to be exactly at their respective horizons, they simply have to be facing one another.”

“When’s the full moon, then?” Derek asked.

“The moon is completely full on the twenty-ninth,” Gwyn replied.

“But that’s three weeks away,” Alex protested.

“Which gives us time,” Gwyn said.

“Time for what?” Alex demanded.

“Time to figure out how to sneak in here before dawn,” Gwyn answered. “Somehow we need to get in with no one else the wiser. Remember, this is private property. If we’re caught, we’ll be guilty of trespassing."

“Cute,” was Glorfindel's only response.

Several of the others snorted in amusement at that remark and Alex actually grinned. “Loren, I don’t think ‘cute’ even begins to cover it,” the Mortal said.

“So you are saying that when you came here this cliff face did not exist?” Valandur asked.

Gwyn and Gareth nodded. “Oh, it did, but it wasn’t as smooth as you see it now. There is actually a small niche, probably carved out by the river when the level was higher. It’s just large enough to hide the talisman in.”

“So what happened?” Derek said. “I mean, once you hid the talisman. What did you do?”

“We crossed back over the bridge, climbed the stairs and then when we looked back, it was all gone,” Gwyn answered. “For a time we wondered if we still just dreaming but eventually we realized we were not.” He shrugged. “And thus ends our tale.”

The others chuckled.

“Well, we’ve seen what we came to see,” Amroth said. “Let’s head back and we’ll talk it over. I’m hungry. Anyone care to stop at the A&W and grab lunch? I’ll call Della and see if she and the others want to join us.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Glorfindel said and twenty minutes later, having retraced their steps, they exited the visitor center with Amroth talking to Nimrodel on his phone, making arrangements for lunch at the A&W.

“You’ll get there before we do,” he was heard to say as they exited the visitor center, “so save us a table. It’s nice enough that I think we can eat outside… Great! See you in a bit… Love you, too.” He closed down his phone and climbed into the van and then they were on their way back to Wilmington.

****

Note: Ausable is pronounced aw-SEY-bul; French: ‘from, of or to sand’. The river runs north into Lake Champlain and besides High Falls Gorge, there is also the Ausable Chasm. It has an east and west branch that meet up at Au Sable Forks. High Falls Gorge is on the west branch. The river is indeed known as one of the best eastern trout rivers in the USA.


They pulled into the A&W parking lot to see Nimrodel with the children sitting at a picnic table under a large awning. With them were Elrond and Celebrían, along with Amarië, Melyanna, Mithrellas, Nielluin and Felicity. The Twins and Serindë were not there, having gone back to Saranac Lake and their jobs. Everyone looked up as they got out of the van and headed for them.

“So, how did it go?” Nimrodel asked as she and Amroth exchanged kisses.

“Well, we’ve seen the place,” Amroth answered as he went to each of his children and gave them sloppy hugs.

“Getting the object out will be a problem though,” Glorfindel said, and then he went quiet as the waitress came over with menus. For a while they occupied themselves with looking over the menu, Amroth patiently reading the ‘kiddie korner’ to the triplets as they decided what they wanted to eat and drink. Eventually, everyone gave their order to the waitress and she left, but they still did not broach the subject on everyone’s mind. Instead, they spoke idly of their friends, wondering how they were faring, wondering when or if any of them would make it here, wondering what was happening to those they had left behind in Wiseman. A gloom settled over them as their conversation faltered and to Glorfindel it seemed that the day was darkening, even though the noonday sun was shining brightly in a cloudless sky. And then Felicity gave a startled gasp and they all looked at her in concern, but she was smiling.

“Baby just kicked,” she said shyly and Alex, sitting next to her, laid a hand on her belly and smiled, giving her a gentle kiss.

Suddenly the day was bright again and their conversation became animated with laughter as Amarië, Celebrían and Nimrodel began reminiscing about the first time their children had kicked while in the womb. By now, their lunches had arrived and they began eating and for a while all thoughts of mysterious talismans and the Enemy stalking them fled as they simply enjoyed one another’s company.

Eventually, though, the meal ended. The triplets were taken to the bathroom to wash off the stickiness from hands and mouths and then they were piling into cars and heading back to Amroth’s. Once there, Glorfindel called for a council of war, asking Elrond to join those who had gone to the Gorge as they sat on the porch to discuss the matter. Amarië, Melyanna, Nielluin and Felicity also joined them while Mithrellas and Celebrían helped Nimrodel put the toddlers down for their naps. Amroth got drinks for them all and they sat for a bit, sipping on pink lemonade and enjoying the afternoon.

Finally, Glorfindel said, “Okay, so we have three weeks before the next full moon. That should give us plenty of time to figure out the best way to get in and get out without anyone being the wiser.”

“As I see it, we only have one option,” Alex offered.

“And that is?” Glorfindel asked.

“We simply break in, follow the trail as we did today and go from there. I certainly have the necessary skills to get us in without tripping any alarms, including the silent one that they have rigged behind the ticket booth.”

“You saw that, did you?” Glorfindel gave him a skeptical look.

“Hey! I may be out of the Game, but I still know how to play,” Alex rejoined. Then he turned to Amroth. “Did you see it?”

“Yes, of course,” Amroth replied with a nod. “It’s not too difficult a system to disable, but it does present its own challenges.”

“And here’s another thing,” Derek said. “How do we know for sure that the weather will even cooperate? I mean, what happens if it’s raining and neither the moon nor the sun is visible? There are three days of the full moon. Can’t we treat them as… er… rain days just in case?”

Every Elf shook his or her head, but it was Finrod who explained. “These sorts of spells are very specific. They have to be. If conditions are such that neither moon nor sun is visible when they need to be then there is no hope of the door opening. We would have to wait until the next time the conditions are right for us to try again.”

“So it’s a crap shoot with no guarantees that we come out the winner,” Derek summarized with a scowl.

“It’s the way it works,” Finrod said with a philosophical shrug, “but I do not believe that we have come all this way only to be thwarted.”

“Nor do I,” Glorfindel said firmly.

“There is a possible alternative to what Alex said,” Elrond said and they all looked at him with varying degrees of surprise.

“Okay, Elrond, I’ll bite,” Glorfindel said with a grin. “What’s this alternative to breaking in?”

Instead of answering, Elrond asked his own question, looking at Amroth as he did. “How late does this place remain open to the public?”

“This time of year? It closes at six with the last tickets sold at five.”

Elrond nodded. “Then it’s simple. We go in at five or perhaps not to make it obvious, we go in at various times, say between four and five, pay our entrance fee, meet where we need to be and then… just not leave. There will be no breaking-and-entering.”

“I see one problem with that scenario though,” Amroth said. “There must be employees who go out onto the trail and check to make sure no one is lingering.”

“We won’t be on the trail, though,” Elrond answered. “We will be hiding.”

“So you’re saying, we go in, find a place to hide where we won’t be discovered, spend the entire night there, grab the talisman at dawn and then wait for the place to open and just walk out again,” Alex summarized.

Elrond nodded.

“I saw where we have to go,” Alex said. “There’s precious little to hide behind. We could probably get into the trees and do it without anyone else seeing us, but we would have to move pretty far into the woods to be sure no one spots us.”

“Hey!” Derek announced. “Maybe Finrod can, you know, Sing one of his Songs of Power and disguise us as rocks or maybe trees, like he disguised Beren and the others as Orcs during the Quest.”

“Gee, Finrod,” Glorfindel said with a grin, “can you make me look like a maple tree? I’m rather fond of maples, myself.”

“I did not see any maple trees by the trail,” Finrod said in all seriousness, “so you would be rather conspicuous. You might as well just stand there with a sign that reads ‘Please ignore me’ and get the same result.”

Now the other Elves were laughing, though none of the Mortals were.

“It was just an idea,” Derek muttered to Alex, who gave him a sympathetic grin while Felicity leaned over from where she was sitting on Alex’s other side and squeezed Derek’s arm.

Finrod gave Derek a bright smile. “It was an excellent idea, my friend, but I cannot change your nature, only provide a glamor that disguises your features, so you look like an Orc or an Elf. Still, the idea has some merit. Glorfindel and I could use Songs of Power to hide us in plain sight.”

“You mean, set up a screen around us so that any Mortal passing by would only see the trees but not us,” Glorfindel commented.

“Yes. You know it can be done.”

“Oh, sure. I know the mechanics of it, though it’s been ages, literally, since I’ve had to do anything like it. Still, we could certainly practice it and see how it goes. The only real problem I see is that we would be doing this with Mortals about. Even if there are not a lot of people in the Gorge at the time, they’ll hear us Singing. The sound of the river won’t mask it completely.”

“And then what? We hang about all night long waiting for dawn?” Alex asked. “You Elves might not mind, but we wouldn’t be able to build a fire for fear of discovery and the nights are already cool. It’s only going to get colder later in the month.”

“There’s no reason why you or Derek need to come, though,” Elrond pointed out.

“Technically speaking, there’s no reason for any of you to come,” Gwyn said, entering the conversation for the first time. “Only Gareth or I need to be there to open the door. The rest of you would just be getting in the way.”

“It would certainly be easier for just one of us to go in,” Gareth said. “It would be less noticeable. Neither Gwyn nor I know how to will others not to see us the way Finrod can, but we have three weeks. Certainly we can be taught the rudiments, enough to mask our presence long enough to avoid detection. I have no problems waiting until dawn by myself if necessary, and then I’ll just wait for a group of people to come through in the morning and attach myself to them as they leave. No one’s going to pay attention to an extra person, but they will if there are several people who are suddenly there.”

“Then we wasted our time crossing the continent to be here,” Alex said with a scowl. “We might as well have stayed in Wiseman for all the help we are to any of you.”

“Except, Olórin showed up and practically threw us into the car and told us to get out of Dodge pronto,” Derek pointed out. “And you notice, we’re the only Mortals who were so told. No one else, as far as we know, was told to flee. That must mean something.”

Alex shrugged. “Maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t. I can see where my talents of getting in and out of secure places would come in handy here, but if these guys can waltz in and out without anyone being the wiser, then we Mortals are just so much excess baggage. You and Felicity and I could just leave, go see my mom.”

“That, of course, is your choice, Alex,” Finrod said quietly, “but I agree that the fact that Olórin himself came to warn you and sent you to us is significant. You are here because you need to be here, and I include Derek and Felicity in that statement. To what degree you are needed remains yet to be seen.”

“Finrod’s right,” Valandur said, speaking for the first time. “Don’t count yourselves out yet, even if it looks as if we don’t require your special talents at the moment. We don’t know what can happen between now and the full moon and breaking in may be our only viable option. I suggest that we work under the assumption that whichever method we choose to retrieve the talisman, something will go wrong and so we need to fall back on other options. It will be wiser to have those options in place already than to be floundering about at the last minute because the method we initially chose is no longer viable.”

“Only makes sense to keep all our options open, remain flexible enough to go from one to another without having to stop and think about it,” Amroth said. “So, let’s do this: Alex and I will see how we can disable the alarms and gauge how the employees check the trail at closing time, and Loren, you and Finrod work on that Song of Power to mask our presence. You should teach Gwyn and Gareth how to do it in case we decide it’s safer to just send them in alone. Everyone else, see how easy it is to reach the Gorge from the road. There’s no place to park along that stretch of the road, so you may have to park at Whiteface and walk from there.”

“Why, though?” Derek asked. “We already know that the place is fenced off.”

“Yes, but it’s possible that the fence isn’t electrified,” Amroth said, “and that is something we need to check on. As Glorfindel said, we should keep all our options open and not dismiss something because it may not work initially. There are ways to get through even an electrified fence without tripping alarms. I agree that it’s probably not our best option, but it is an option and we need to explore it before we dismiss it from our calculations.”

“In the meantime, since we’re going to be here a while we should find accommodations for ourselves,” Finrod said.

“You’re all welcome to stay here,” Amroth suggested. “I have plenty of camping gear. We can set up tents for sleeping in, when you’re so inclined. We’ll give Alex, Felicity and Derek our beds, of course.”

“We’re not babies, Amroth,” Alex protested.

“I didn’t say you were,” Amroth rejoined, “but I doubt your lovely wife would appreciate having to sleep on the ground in a sleeping bag in her… er… delicate condition nor would she appreciate sleeping alone when her husband and the father of her child is present, or so I would imagine.” He raised a suggestive eyebrow at them and both blushed. Alex nodded, not looking at anyone as he and Felicity held hands.

“Then that’s settled,” Amroth said firmly while the others looked on in amusement. “Well, it’s getting on toward dark, so let’s call it a night and start fresh tomorrow, shall we?”

And before Glorfindel realized it, the Mortals were being shown to their respective rooms and Gwyn and Gareth were helping Amroth set up a couple of tents while others decided to visit the trees that surrounded them. Glorfindel stood there feeling a bit confused, wondering why time seemed to slip from him in such odd ways. He had no memory of having dinner, yet when he mentioned it to Finrod in passing, his gwador assured him that they had had a fine feast of chicken and biscuits followed by strawberry shortcake. And it was only as Finrod described the meal that Glorfindel remembered it.

And then, somehow, it was morning again and Glorfindel seemed to become aware of it as he found himself taking a shower, coming out of the bathroom afterwards to find Vardamir waiting to take his turn, the two exchanging greetings as Glorfindel went to get dressed and then join the others for breakfast of cold cereal, toast and juice. Finrod sat next to him and said, “You and I need to figure out how softly we can Sing and still get the effect we need. If we can sing in soft tones, the sound of the river rushing through the gorge should mask us.”

Glorfindel nodded. “You, Gwyn, Gareth and I should go find a quiet spot and practice on one another. I don’t like the idea of using any Song of Power around elflings who may pick up on it but not understand its significance.”

“Yes, that’s true,” Finrod said. “I remember that when my tutors were in the process of teaching me Songs of Power, my siblings, being so much younger than I, were never allowed in the schoolroom during those lessons. They were strictly private.” He chuckled at that, giving them a merry look. “Artanis was always put out when those particular lessons came up and she was forced to go play with her dolls.”

“I bet she was,” Glorfindel said with a grin.

Alex spoke up then. “We’re going to give it a couple of days before Amroth and I go back to check on the alarm system. If we go back now, it’s possible that some of the employees will remember us from yesterday. If we wait a few days, that memory may be blurred and we won’t be noticed as much. I wish we could get a schematic of the place. There is bound to be an alarm somewhere that we won’t see and that could spell doom for us.”

“Yet, you have to ask yourself,” Derek interjected, “what really is there to steal outside of what’s found in the gift shop? It’s not like you’re breaking into Fort Knox or something, so I would think the system is fairly basic.”

“It doesn’t mean that we should dismiss the possibility that what we see is not necessarily the actual system that’s been set up,” Amroth pointed out.

“You mean, the system that is visible is for the benefit of potential thieves, while the real system is not visible.”

“Not only that, the act of disabling the visible system automatically trips the alarm on the actual system,” Alex said.

Derek raised an eyebrow. “Well, I can see that happening in a spy movie, but here in the Adirondacks? Can people really be that sophisticated or devious?”

Alex shrugged. “Better to err on the side of caution than to find ourselves being thrown into jail for breaking-and-entering. Anyway, why don’t we just relax and enjoy ourselves for a bit, do touristy stuff and worry about it later? I’d like to take the gondola up Little Whiteface and see the view.”

And others agreed to that, though Finrod suggested that he and Glorfindel take the ap Hywel brothers and practice the Song of Power. “It is not something that can be taught in a day,” he reminded them. “We will need to teach you certain rudiments that are common with all Songs of Power first before we can actually work on the Song itself. It may well take us the entire three weeks to get it right.”

So, everyone else decided to go away and leave the four alone to practice and soon the place emptied out, leaving Glorfindel, Finrod and the ap Hywel brothers to themselves. Glorfindel suggested that they move outside where it would be safer if anything went wrong and they agreed, wandering a little way from the house and into the nearby woods where they wouldn’t be seen by anyone from the road. Once they were settled, Finrod spoke.

“Well, the first thing we need to do is show you the correct breathing techniques you will need to master before you can begin Singing.” He proceeded to show them and the first lesson began.

****

Somehow the days went by in a blur for Glorfindel and he lost track of time, never entirely sure what day it was or what the time was. He had memories of Elladan and Elrohir showing up with Serindë every once in a while, there were campfires and cookouts, long walks along country roads and practicing Songs of Power with Finrod and the ap Hywels, but there was no real sense of sequential time passing. The days and nights flowed into one another in odd, disjointed ways, and for some reason he accepted it, allowing himself to be pulled along, ignoring the sense of wrongness and doubt that cropped up from time to time.

Alex and Amroth revisited the Gorge several days after their first visit, but not together. Alex agreed to go when the last tickets were being sold, taking Felicity and Derek along—“As cover,” Derek said with Alex rolling his eyes and Felicity smirking. Their plan was to linger right up to six and Felicity in her condition was the perfect excuse for them going slow. To make it more plausible, they even took the stairs down to the river level, and there they had to go slowly anyway because the metal was slick with moisture from river spray.

Sure enough, around 5:45, as they were now walking along the other side of the Gorge stepping down to one of the viewing platforms, someone came along reminding them that the Gorge would be closing in about fifteen minutes. Alex assured the person that they would not linger and the employee spoke into a walkie-talkie, alerting someone that Alex’s group was on the way in. Even so, it was six before they actually reached the visitor center for Felicity simply could not walk as quickly as she would have liked.

They returned to Amroth’s and reported their findings. “The employees must set out around five-thirty to make sure no one’s left behind when they close,” Alex told the others as they sat around a fire pit enjoying grilled sausages and peppers for dinner. “The Gorge isn’t all that long and the trail is only about a half mile long. I think there must be at least two people doing the checking, one following the easy access trail and the other one taking the stairs route because I saw another employee with a walkie-talkie moving along the stairs as we crossed back over the Gorge from where the door is.”

Amroth also had news. “After I visited the Gorge and lingered long in the gift shop and all, checking all the obvious places for the alarm system, I went into Lake Placid and, after a bit of searching, found the security company that installed the alarm system. I pretended that I admired the system set up at the Gorge and wanted a similar system for my own business, which I made up on the spot: Aman Enterprise.” He gave them a sly grin and the others chuckled. “At any rate, I was able to get a look at the schematics for the Gorge showing all the security points.”

“How did you convince them to show you them?” Alex asked somewhat skeptically.

Amroth just gave him an arch look. “Child, need you ask?”

Alex blushed.

“Okay, so what do the schematics show?” Glorfindel asked.

“What Alex and I both suspected,” Amroth answered. “There is a second layer of alarms which are not as obvious and which are triggered silently if someone disables the first layer improperly, such as by cutting wires.”

“So, is there any way to examine that second layer?” Alex asked.

Amroth nodded. “Yes. I was able to… um… convince the people at the security firm that it was perfectly fine for me to take the schematics with me, though I promised to return them tomorrow.”

Alex was not the only one to stare at him in surprise, but he was the only one to comment. “Man, and I thought I was good.”

Amroth just smirked at that, taking a sip of his beer while the others chuckled.

“Well, we’ll let you and Alex deal with that,” Glorfindel said. “What about the overland route? What did you find out?” This last was addressed to Valandur.

“We went to Whiteface and took the gondola up, made it an outing with the triplets.” He gave them a sly look. “Everyone was so busy admiring the children, they paid absolutely no attention to those of us who were there for other reasons.”

Everyone listening chuckled. “Diversions are useful,” Finrod said somewhat pedantically.

“And the children just acted as themselves,” Nimrodel added with a proud look. “They kept everyone occupied.”

“The lookout provides an excellent vantage point to see how the land lies. From what we could tell, there is no easy way to reach the Gorge. Gwyn, when you and Gareth came here the first time, how did you reach the Gorge?”

“We were mainly following the lakes and rivers up,” Gwyn explained, “though obviously we went overland as well. We actually didn’t see the Gorge until the White Stag led us there. Our attention was solely on Whiteface Mountain. That was what was in our dreams. We never dreamt of the Gorge. And as I told you before, following the Stag was not easy. Once or twice we actually lost sight of it and then while we were trying to find its spoor, it would suddenly appear again and off we would go.”

“In fact, I think from the moment we first saw it to when it leapt across the Gorge and disappeared, it took us several hours to reach that spot,” Gareth added.

“Yet, once you hid the talisman and went back across the Gorge, how did you expect to retrieve it after the bridge disappeared?” Celebrían asked. She and the other ellith had been as amazed as everyone else when they heard the story from the brothers.

“To tell you the truth, we just figured the Valar just didn’t want anyone to have the talisman” Gwyn replied. “For all intents and purpose, it was lost to us. It was only in the late eighteen-hundreds that Europeans reached this area and a rope bridge was created to span the Gorge, but it was some time before they built the steel walkway allowing us access.”

“You did a good job in creating the door,” Finrod said.

Gwyn muttered a thank you and Gareth grinned. “Yeah, you look at that cliff face and you think it’s just a smooth wall of stone, but when we saw it, there was a deep niche gouged out by the river sometime in the distant past. It’s just large enough to hide what we placed there and then we simply created the wall as you see it. Mortals, even those who are knowledgeable about geology simply assume that the wall has always been as they see it now.”

“What would happen if someone tried to examine it, though?” Derek asked. “I mean, I’m assuming just from reading the brochure that geologists have come through there to examine the structure of the Gorge.”

“You may not have noticed it, but there is a… hmm… not sure how to put it. Let’s just say that anyone who wanted to examine that particular area of the cliff would feel disinclined to do so and not wonder why.”

“You put a warding spell on the door,” Finrod said knowingly, “to prevent Mortals from examining it too closely.”

“Yes, that’s it,” Gwyn said.

“Did you really expect to have lots of people trooping through the area, though?” Glorfindel asked with a grin. “Back then, no one really knew of this place except the odd native hunter and no one could’ve gotten to that spot.”

“Yet, we knew from speaking to our guides that French explorers and missionaries had been through the area the century before,” Gareth answered. “Knowing Mortals as we do, we figured eventually the Gorge would be discovered and someone might just find a way to reach that cliff face and, of course, that’s just what they did, didn’t they? We decided to err on the side of caution. In fact, we had even sent our guides back as soon as we saw the mountain, so we were alone when we chased the White Stag into the Gorge.”

“So, how long did you remain here once you hid the talisman?” Felicity asked.

“Hmm… rather hard to say,” Gwyn replied. “I know we spent at least one winter here, possibly two.”

“I recall several winters actually,” Gareth said. “But you know, now that I think about it, it was about then that I started to have the urge to head westward even though I would have been quite content to live out the rest of the ages of Arda in these forests.”

Gwyn nodded. “Yes, I just realized that, too. You’re right, Brother. Once we put the talisman in hiding, we began to head westward until we eventually ended up in Fairbanks.” He shook his head, as if clearing it of thought. “And now we are back full circle.”

For a moment, they were silent, each of them contemplating the significance of Gwyn’s words. After a while, Glorfindel stirred. “Well, we have a good two and a half weeks before we need to act. Gwyn and Gareth are coming along with learning the Song of Power and Finrod and I think we know how softly we can sing it and still get the effect we need. Here, let us show you.”

With that, he stood, as did Finrod and the two began Singing. And as softly as they Sang, the three Mortals in their midst gasped as one, Felicity actually moaning. Without prompting, Valandur, Elrond and Vardamir each went to one of the Mortals to shield them from the full force of the Song and even as they were doing so, Glorfindel and Finrod ceased to be there, though they could still be heard.

Then the Song ended. Everyone stared at the spots where the two had stood, the Mortals gazing in wide-eyed wonder. Slowly, over a period of several minutes, Glorfindel and Finrod appeared, looking transparent, as if they were ghost, and then solidifying.

“The spell lasts for only two or three minutes,” Finrod said, “and then it would need to be Sung again. We are trying to modify it so that it will last longer, but unless it is Sung continuously, it will not remain in effect.”

“But it only needs to remain long enough so that the Mortals will not notice,” Amroth pointed out.

“Still, it is something that will need to be worked on,” Glorfindel said. “Finrod and I have enough power to keep the spell running for as long as it did, but neither Gwyn nor Gareth have that capability yet. They can only hold it for a few handfuls of seconds before they become visible again, but we’re working on it and if necessary, either Finrod or I can be there to keep the spell working longer.”

“Well, in the meantime, Alex and I will take a closer look at the alarm system and see what we can come up with,” Amroth said and with that they decided to table the problem of how to retrieve the talisman and spent the rest of the evening singing and telling tales.

The moon waned as the month progressed until it became the new moon and began to wax again. Glorfindel seemed to lose more time, his memory playing him false, as the days went by seemingly in fits and starts. One moment he would swear it was midmorning on Monday and then he would turn around and it would be sunset on Thursday, and there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the gaps that he suffered. Some were longer than others. Most of the time it seemed as if he were working on the Song of Power with Finrod, Gwyn and Gareth with only middling success, and only occasionally did he experience anything else.

At one point he clearly remembered joining Amroth and Nimrodel as they took the triplets to Santa’s Workshop for the day, riding the little train around the park, visiting the reindeer and helping one of the elflings to feed Dancer, standing before the ‘North Pole’, a solid block of ice even in the height of summer, while Amroth took his picture. But, for the most part, it was as if he were standing still while everything around him whirled about, reminding him of the scenes from the old Time Machine movie where the machine itself never moved but time itself went past with the time traveler stopping the machine every once in a while to take in the view.

Elladan and Elrohir came by once in a while when their duties at the hospital permitted, each complaining that they weren’t able to help with the ‘heist’, as Derek was wont to call it, though Gareth countered him with, “We are merely retrieving what is ours, not robbing a bank!”. Derek just grinned and said nothing. Glorfindel assured the Twins that they were doing important work in their own way.

“We don’t need more people getting involved in this project,” he told them. “Besides, I’m sure you’ll be more involved with things once we retrieve the talisman and decide what to do with it.”

And in all that time, as they waited for the full moon, no news came from any of their friends and family who had scattered after the attack on Edhellond. This worried more than one person, but no one was willing to speak of their fears out loud as they concentrated on their individual tasks, until, at one point, Daeron broached the subject.

“Laurendil should have been here by now, along with your son, Finrod,” he said to Glorfindel and Finrod when the three happened to be together, walking down the road toward Wilmington, though Glorfindel could not remember having left Amroth’s house nor did he know why the three of them were walking or where they were planning to go. He happened to glance idly around and saw that they were passing St. Margaret’s, the tiny Catholic Church, and were almost at the Candy Man Home-Made Adirondack Chocolates and Gift Shop that stood on the corner where Routes 86, 19 and 431 came together. Whiteface Mountain loomed before them, wreathed in clouds though the day was otherwise bright with blue skies and sun.

“Perhaps they were delayed,” Finrod replied with a shrug.

“Even if that were true,” Daeron countered, “they would have at least called or texted to let us know.”

“I haven’t received any text messages from anyone since we got here,” Glorfindel stated and now that he thought about it, it did seem odd that he had not heard from anyone. It was troubling, but there was precious little they could do about it. For safety’s sake, they had agreed that Glorfindel would not attempt to contact anyone unless absolutely necessary and even the few phone calls and text messages he had received as they crossed the continent had been brief to the point of being almost cryptic, merely letting him know that people were still alive and well. “Do you think I should try contacting people?” he asked somewhat doubtfully.

Finrod shook his head. “You will not be able to get through,” he said categorically.

Glorfindel stopped, feeling perplexed. “How can you know that?” he demanded.

Finrod and Daeron halted, both of them giving him strange looks. “How can we know what?” Daeron asked.

“Finrod. How can Finrod know that if I try to contact the others I won’t get through? I haven’t even tried.”

Finrod and Daeron exchanged puzzled looks before Finrod responded to Glorfindel’s question. “Gwador, I have said no such thing.”

“But—”

“Look!” Daeron suddenly said, pointing to the sky. “It’s going to rain soon. We’d better get back to Amroth’s before we get soaked.”

Glorfindel looked to where the ellon was pointing, realizing that the bright sun had gone almost instantly, and now the sky was dark with thunderclouds. Without a word, Finrod and Daeron began retracing their steps. Glorfindel stood there for a moment gaping at the sky, wondering how the clouds had appeared so suddenly. “Almost as if on cue,” he said out loud, but he wasn’t sure what he meant by that, and turned to follow his friends back to Amroth’s.

He never remembered returning, though he thought he remembered being soaked long before they reached the turn-off to Owls Fly Way. His next memory was staring at his phone reading the words of a text sent to him by Gilvegil letting him know that Barahir and Cennanion had been killed in a freak car accident. Tears ran down his face unheeded as he read the words out loud to those gathered together. There was soft weeping from the ellith and muttered curses from the ellyn. The three Mortals in their midst had expressions bordering on bleak and Alex held Felicity close to him.

“Freak car accident?” Valandur hissed in anger. “Or the Enemy?”

“Does it matter?” Elrond asked, his expression one of pain. “The end result is the same.”

“What about Alfa and Daisy?” Nielluin asked from the comfort of Gareth’s arms.

“They are fine,” Glorfindel answered even as he sent his own text message to Gilvegil that consisted of a single word: Come.

“Eru! I can’t believe it!” Amroth exclaimed angrily. “They survive through all these ages only to die on some street in Chicago in a senseless accident? That is beyond ironic.”

“In the end, though, they may be the lucky ones,” Finrod said softly and Glorfindel could only nod in agreement.

A pall settled over them for some time and for a while, no one bothered with their preparations to retrieve the talisman; all were understandably subdued. The Mortals seemed to take it harder than the Elves and finally Alex decided they needed to get away for a few days, and so, he, Felicity and Derek rode off to Lake Placid, promising to be back by the weekend. Glorfindel watched them drive off, filled with foreboding, wondering if he would ever see them again. Even as he thought that, a police car was driving up and stopping before the house and a few minutes later Glorfindel stood in shock as the officer described the boating accident on Mirror Lake that had claimed the lives of their three Mortal friends.

“A Doctor Roy Ronaldson identified them,” the Man said, checking his notebook.

And such was Glorfindel’s shock and grief that he never questioned how it was that Elrohir had been called to identify the remains when no one knew who they were. He heard Daeron speak to Amroth about contacting Alex’s, Felicity’s and Derek’s respective parents but he ignored them. Instead, he started walking down the road needing to get away, needing to be alone, and then he was somehow standing before the doors of the Catholic Church, a tiny clapboard building that could perhaps fit about fifty people if none of them breathed too deeply. The door was open and he walked in and stood before the tiny altar, the stained glass windows on either side of it filtering the afternoon sun so he was standing in a rainbow of light.

“Why?” he whispered, the tears rolling unheeded down his cheeks. “Why now?”

Silence greeted him.

Then a great anger rose within him, hot and terrible and he itched for a sword, wanting nothing more than to lash out at something or someone. He fell to his knees and wept instead and it was some time before he came to himself. He wiped the tears from his face with the back of his hand and stood up, meaning to leave, but stopped when he noticed a Man sitting quietly in a pew to his right, close to the altar. He was elderly, dressed in the black cassock of a priest, quietly reading his breviary, never looking up.

Glorfindel stared at him in disbelief. “Charles?”

Father Charles Waverly looked up and gave him a gentle smile. “Hello, Loren.”

“But… no, this is impossible! You… you… Charles, what are you doing here? You’re dead! You died from a heart attack last year.”

Charles Waverly continued to smile, patting the spot next to him. “Come and sit, Loren,” he said gently. “It’s all right. Come. Sit.”

Glorfindel hesitated for a long moment, trying to understand what was happening, but finally he moved to sit beside the old priest. He appeared solid enough, though Glorfindel forbore to test that assumption by poking a finger at him. Charles’ smile widened, as if he knew what the Elf was thinking.

“I’m quite real, Loren, or as real as anything in this place,” the Man said.

“Why are you here?” Loren countered. “How are you here? Charles, I went to your funeral.”

“I hear it was well attended,” Charles said with a nod, apparently not at all upset by Glorfindel’s words.

After that, the two fell into silence with Glorfindel trying to understand what was happening and failing. This was beyond him. He stared up at the altar and tears started flowing again. “Why?” he cried. “It makes no sense.”

“No, it doesn’t,” Charles agreed. “Not yet, at any rate.” He flipped the pages of the breviary, finding what he was looking for and handing the book to Glorfindel.

“What’s this?” the ellon asked in confusion.

“Here. Read this,” Charles replied, pointing to a particular paragraph. “It’s from a sermon by Saint Anastasius of Antioch. This is the second reading for the Office of the Dead.”

Glorfindel stared at the page for a moment and then began reading out loud. “‘But God is not God of the dead, but of the living. That is why the dead, now under the dominion of one who has risen to life, are no longer dead but alive. Therefore life has dominion over them, just as Christ, having been raised from the dead will never die again, so too they will live and never fear death again.’”

He handed the breviary back to the priest. “And so?”

“They’re alive, Loren,” Charles said, and there was an undertone of something akin to Power in the old Man’s voice. “You have to believe that. They are only alive if you believe they are alive.”

“But they’re not,” Glorfindel retorted and he stood to leave.

Charles held out a hand, not quite touching him. “Loren, wait. Sit, please,” he pleaded and after a second or so Glorfindel complied. The Mortal rifled through the pages of his book and, finding what he was looking for, began to read aloud, “‘In you, Lord, is our hope. We will never hope in vain. We will dance and rejoice in your mercy. We will never hope in vain.’” He looked up at the Elf. “Don’t you see, Loren? You are losing hope, estel, as you call it, but there’s no reason to. Alex, Felicity and Derek are alive if you believe it to be true. Regain your hope, child. Without it, all is lost.”

And then, Charles and the church seemed to fade away and Glorfindel’s next conscious thought was standing on the porch of Amroth’s house, staring westward where the sun was setting as he sipped on a bottle of beer.

Daeron came out and stood beside him, not looking at him. “A lovely funeral,” he said. “Your eulogy was quite moving.”

Glorfindel just nodded as he took another pull of his beer, never looking away from the mountains and the sun setting.

“Anne and Andy have left and Felicity’s parents as well,” Daeron continued speaking and it seemed to Glorfindel that as his friend spoke, the reality of his words manifested themselves. Until Daeron mentioned the funeral, Glorfindel had no memory of it or his part in it. “They’re saying that the hurricane that came up the coast has caused major flooding and Route 87 has been closed, so our friends are not going to be able to reach us too soon.”

“They can always work their way up through the Park from Utica,” Glorfindel said, curious to know what Daeron would say. “You know they can take Route 28 up.”

“Except there’s that toxic spill when the train carrying the toxins crashed just outside of Utica that’s pretty much closed down the whole area. Don’t you remember seeing it on the news last night?”

Glorfindel nodded. “Yes.” And he did, but only at that moment, the memory of watching the news of the train wreck coming to his mind. He finally turned to stare at the ellon beside him. “Who are you?”

Daeron blinked and stared back, clearly puzzled. “What do you mean, Loren? You know who I am.”

“No. Not anymore.” And with that he turned away and went back inside the house, and as he did so, the sun was rising in the east and the triplets were sitting in highchairs eating cereal while Amroth and Nimrodel kept wary eyes on them as they bustled about the kitchen. There was no sign of any of the others.

“Morning,” Amroth greeted him with a smile. “Coffee’s on if you want any.”

“I’m fine, thanks. So, what are our plans for today?”

“What they always are.”

Glorfindel turned to see Finrod standing there. “If you don’t wish for coffee, let us go into the woods and practice the Song of Power with Gwyn and Gareth.”

Glorfindel nodded. “Yes, of course.” And he dutifully followed his gwador outside where he saw the ap Hywel brothers waiting for them. There was no sign of Daeron.

They walked behind the house, heading deep into the woods until they were far enough away that it was unlikely they would be disturbed by Mortals. There was a slight clearing where the trees opened up just enough to show blue skies, but it was barely wide enough to fit the four of them and the two brothers leaned against a couple of firs while Glorfindel and Finrod stood in the middle facing one another. Without preamble they began Singing and as they did, they faded from view.

“Can’t see you,” Gwyn called out and the Singing stopped after a few more notes. The two younger ellyn did not move or speak. Gwyn continued staring unblinkingly at the spot where Glorfindel and Finrod had been while Gareth kept an eye on a stopwatch. “Now,” Gwyn said and Gareth stopped the watch.

“That lasted a bit longer,” Gareth said as Glorfindel and Finrod became visible again. “Two minutes and forty seconds.”

“If we can just make it a full three minutes that should be plenty of time,” Gwyn said.

“Have we decided to go this route?” Glorfindel asked. “Hasn’t Amroth been able to figure out how to dismantle the alarms yet?”

“I really don’t fancy having to spend the night in the Gorge,” Gwyn added.

“There’s no help for it,” Finrod retorted. “Amroth has decided that he doesn’t trust the schematics to show him everything he needs to know to silence the alarms without tripping one of them. And with Alex gone, he just doesn’t have the heart to continue with that project. We’ll have to go in and remain through the night. It’s our only option now.”

“I still think it would be safer if only one of us goes in,” Gareth said.

Finrod shook his head. “You and Gwyn, either separately or together, just don’t have the ability to maintain a shield for any length of time and neither Glorfindel nor I can do so for a full three minutes alone. You’ll need us both there if we are to succeed.”

The two younger ellyn nodded. “Well, we’ll find out soon enough,” Gareth said. “Tomorrow is the twenty-eighth. I just hope the weather holds long enough. Come on. I’m feeling hungry. It must be almost time for dinner.” With that, he started to walk away with Gwyn beside him, leaving Glorfindel alone with Finrod.

“So, tomorrow is the day,” Glorfindel said, wondering how nearly a week had managed to slip past him without him being aware of it.

Finrod nodded. “Yes, tomorrow is the day.” He started back to the house, but stopped to look at Glorfindel, lifting an eyebrow. “Are you not coming? It will be dark soon.”

“You go on,” Glorfindel said. “I just want a couple of minutes alone.”

“Are you okay?” Finrod asked, looking concerned.

“Yes, I’m fine, gwador,” Glorfindel said, forcing a smile he didn’t feel.

Finrod hesitated for a moment and then shrugged before slipping through the trees without another word, disappearing into the gloaming. For a long moment, Glorfindel just stood there, staring at the spot where his gwador had been, going over in his mind all that had happened since they had come to the Adirondacks, trying to piece together the sequence of events. Something did not add up, but he was at a loss to decide what that might be. Everything had progressed logically from one event to the next but it was as if he were being handed a script and he only knew his lines at the very last minute.

“In you, Lord, is our hope. We will never hope in vain. We will dance and rejoice in your mercy. We will never hope in vain,” he whispered to himself, recalling the words Charles had quoted to him.

And then, he heard the sound of a flute, dark and haunting, coming from nowhere and everywhere, the melody filling him with longing and without volition he began to dance, letting the music take him where it wished to go. How long he danced, he never knew, but a time came when the music faded away into morning birdsong and he stood there, tears streaming down his cheeks, yet feeling oddly at peace. He looked around and saw Finrod standing there, smiling at him.

“Come, gwador,” he said. “It’s nearly time to put our plan into action.”

Glorfindel nodded, willing to follow his heart-brother back to Amroth’s, willing to play the game however it would unfold, wondering where it would all lead to in the end.

****

Note: Charles quotes the Responsory from the Office of the Dead: Evening Prayers for relatives, friends and benefactors.

The plan was simplicity itself.

“Which means we’re overlooking something,” Glorfindel said sourly as he and Finrod sat on the porch with Amroth and the ap Hywel brothers.

“I think we’ve covered it rather thoroughly,” Amroth said. “Each of you will go into the Gorge at separate times during the afternoon, but I don’t think anyone should go in at the last minute. The people running the place are bound to remember you and wonder why they didn’t see you leave. Let’s have the last person go in around three or so. With the number of people who are bound to come to the Gorge after that, the employees are not likely to remember any of you.”

“I still don’t think it’s necessary for both Gareth and me to go,” Gwyn said. “Either one of us can open the door.”

“That is what you say, but you were both there when you created the door; you may both need to be there when we attempt this,” Finrod said. “I am assuming you both Sang the door into existence?”

The two brothers nodded. “But we Sang it in such a way that either one of us could open it without the other being present,” Gwyn said. “We did it that way because we both knew that there were no guarantees that we would be together in the future.”

“Still, I think it would be wise to have you both present, just to be on the safe side,” Finrod said.

Both brothers shrugged. “If you say so,” Gwyn said.

“So, we go in at separate times, hang about and meet in front of the door, when?” Glorfindel asked.

“The employees start their rounds to shoo everyone out at about five-thirty,” Amroth said, “at least according to Alex.” He grimaced, his eyes full of sorrow, then he pulled himself together and continued. “So, you need to be together around the same time. It’ll take a few minutes for them to reach you.”

“We can Sing for as long as we need to,” Finrod said. “We only have to remain quiet when we see anyone coming. The sound of the water through the gorge will help mask our voices anyway.”

Glorfindel nodded. “Well, tomorrow we’ll know for sure how successful we are.” He turned his gaze upon Gwyn and Gareth. “I hope this talisman, whatever it is, is worth the lives of our friends.”

Both brothers paled at the implied admonishment.

“It’s not as if we planned the accidents to happen, Loren,” Gareth said softly.

“No, I suppose not,” Glorfindel allowed somewhat reluctantly. He had a nagging feeling that something was missing. Something or someone, but he couldn’t seem to focus, his mind slipping between realities so that one minute he was sitting on the porch with the others and the next he was in a car being driven by Amroth. Without knowing how he knew, he knew that he was the last person to go in. Finrod, Gwyn and Gareth had all been dropped off by Amroth earlier at different times and now it was his turn.

Amroth pulled into the High Falls Gorge parking lot and stopped, turning off the engine. They sat there in silence for a time. Glorfindel idly glanced at the dashboard clock, which read 2:48.

“You’d best be going,” Amroth said quietly.

Glorfindel nodded but did not move. Suddenly, he had an overwhelming wish to be on a ship heading for the Straight Road and Valinor, to leave the Mortal Lands behind. It was a foolish wish. There was no ship for him, never had been. He was doomed to remain on these shores for better or for worse and there was precious little he could do about it. He hid his face in his hands, trying to pull himself together.

“In you, Lord, is our hope. We will never hope in vain.”

He jerked upright, staring at Amroth who was actually looking out the window, apparently not paying him any mind. “Wh-what?”

Amroth gave him a puzzled look. “I said you’d best be going. I’ll wait for your call in the morning and come pick you all up in your van. I have your keys.”

For a moment longer, Glorfindel just sat there, staring at the former king of Laurinand.

“Loren?” Amroth asked, his expression becoming one of concern.

Glorfindel shook his head. “We’ll see you in the morning,” he said, then undid his seatbelt as he opened the door and climbed out of the car, grabbing a small daypack sitting on the floor. He shut the door and watched as Amroth drove away, the ellon waving as he went. Glorfindel raised his hand but did not wave back. When Amroth’s car was no longer in sight he slung the pack over a shoulder and headed inside the visitor’s center, purchasing his ticket and then making his way out the door that led across the bridge and onto the trail.

He had several hours to kill. He followed the trail as before, ignoring the scenery. There were a few people ahead of him on the trail and a young couple behind him. He did not rush but walked purposefully until he came to a bench that looked upon the river. It wasn’t occupied, so he settled in to wait, pulling out a paperback mystery and an apple from his daypack.

Motion out of the corner of his eye alerted him that someone was passing him and he glanced up idly to see who it was, but all he saw was the Man’s back. There was a sense of familiarity to the person walking away from him but he couldn’t quite place it and so he dismissed him from his mind and returned to his book. As he finished his apple and the chapter he was reading, he glanced at his watch and was unsurprised to see it read 5:25. He simply nodded to himself. It was time. Stowing the book in the pack, he threw the apple core into the gorge and set off to the bridge that would take him across to the other side where he found Finrod, Gwyn and Gareth waiting for him at the head of the steps leading down to the viewing platform that overlooked the whirlpool.

“Where should we stand?” Finrod asked.

“Why don’t we move up into the trees,” Gwyn suggested, pointing up the hill.

Glorfindel nodded and looked around. “Okay, the coast is clear. Climb. I’ll keep watch,” he ordered and the three ellyn climbed the hill until they were in the midst of the trees. Finrod turned to look down at him.

“There is no one coming,” he said. “Hurry.”

For a moment Glorfindel wanted to refuse, to simply walk away.

“Someone’s crossing the bridge,” Gareth said as he kept a lookout.

“Hurry, gwador,” Finrod said and Glorfindel joined them. The four ellyn stood shoulder to shoulder with the ap Hywel brothers in the middle. “Ready?” Finrod asked Glorfindel and at his nod, the former king of Nargothrond began to Sing. Glorfindel joined him after a few notes.

They Sang as quietly as they could, having gauged just how loud they needed to Sing and still be effective. “It shouldn’t really matter how softly we Sing,” Finrod had said once, “but apparently it does.” It had taken them a couple of days to determine the absolute limit of loudness that would allow them to work the spell effectively.

“Of course, the problem is, we will not be able to tell if we’ve succeeded until someone comes along and passes us by without taking any note of us,” Glorfindel had pointed out at some point during their practice runs.

“There’s nothing we can do about that,” Finrod had said philosophically. “We must simply trust that it will work.”

Movement below as someone stepped off the bridge alerted them and the two fell silent, none of them daring even to blink. The Man never looked up as he walked beneath them with a walkie-talkie in his hand. “All clear here,” they heard him say as he headed down the trail. “I’ll meet you at the river.”

Only when the Mortal was definitely out of earshot did anyone stir. “Well, it seemed to have worked,” Gareth whispered.

The others nodded, but did not otherwise comment. Gwyn stepped away from the others, positioning himself so he could see the trail, keeping an eye out for other Mortals coming along, for there was no way for them to know who else was in the Gorge and they might make their way up from the river rather than turning back the way they had come. Thus, he saw a small group of people heading their way several minutes after the employee had passed by and alerted the others, returning to stand with them. Finrod and Glorfindel began to Sing again and then stopped as they saw the Mortals. One of them actually looked their way as they passed, his expression one of puzzlement and the Elves held their breaths, but the group passed on and the Man went with them.

The Elves remained where they were, not daring to move until the Mortals were all on the other side of the gorge.

“Do you think he sensed us?” Gareth whispered.

Glorfindel shrugged. “Some Mortals are more sensitive than others, but he didn’t see us so it hardly matters.”

“There should be one more person who comes this way,” Finrod said and when they all looked at him, he nodded. “The other employee who went by way of the stairs. I’m sure he or she will come this way while the one who passed us will continue up the stairs. That way they will have covered all the ground.”

“Yes, you’re right,” Glorfindel said. “Well, if this was the last group of visitors the employee should be along shortly. We might as well start Singing now instead of waiting for the last moment.”

Everyone agreed to that and Glorfindel and Finrod began Singing. About five minutes later, a lone Mortal came up the trail from the river and made her way along, never looking in their direction as she passed them, obviously intent on getting back to the visitor center. As she crossed the bridge, the ellyn breathed sighs of relief as they waited until she disappeared from their sight. Only then did they move, stepping back onto the trail.

Glorfindel glanced at his watch. “Well, we have a good twelve hours to kill,” he said. “I don’t know how you plan to spend the time waiting but I’m going down to sit by the stairs and read while it’s still light out.”

The other three chuckled. “I am sure we will all find ways to amuse ourselves while we wait for dawn, but let us agree to meet at the stairs before it gets dark. I do not like the idea of any of us being alone once night falls.”

“I agree,” Glorfindel said and with a wave he set off down the trail until he reached the stairs that would lead down to the final bridge. Here the gorge widened and the waters did not rush in a torrent but it was still running swiftly. Next to the stairs was a viewing platform where there was a bench on which he settled down, pulling out his book and picking up where he’d left off, idly reaching into the pack and snagging a granola bar to munch on. He also had some sandwiches and chips and bottled water stashed away but he would save those for later.

Later came sooner than he was expecting.

He was a page or two into the chapter he was reading when he felt rather than saw someone approach and, looking up, saw Finrod standing before him.

“The sun has set,” the ellon said. “Come join us.”

Glorfindel looked around in confusion, but Finrod’s words proved correct. The sun had disappeared behind the mountains and it was already getting hard to see in the twilight, yet, it shouldn’t have been that late. He stared at the granola bar in his hand, only half eaten. He resisted a sigh, threw his book and the half-eaten granola bar into his pack and stood with a nod, following Finrod down the stairs and across the bridge where Gwyn and Gareth were waiting for them.

“Too bad we can’t make a fire,” Gwyn said by way of greeting. “A fire would be welcomed.”

“Too dangerous,” Finrod said categorically. “You have rehearsed what you must do to open the door, yes?”

Both brothers nodded. “At least it looks to be a fair night,” Gareth commented. “Let’s hope it stays that way. Last thing we need is cloud cover.”

And it was almost as if his words conjured up the clouds that suddenly seemed to be in the sky, obscuring the stars that were beginning to peek out now that true night was upon them. They all groaned at this. Gareth even suggested that they just leave.

“It’s pointless to stay here,” he groused.

“We don’t know that,” his brother admonished him. “The clouds could pass over. We have the entire night to wait and see.”

“Why don’t we just get comfortable?” Glorfindel suggested and he settled himself on the ground with his back to the wall. Finrod settled down beside him while the two brothers took turns climbing onto the hump of the tree trunk to try it out before they settled down on the other side of the tree from Glorfindel and Finrod with Gwyn wrapping an arm around Gareth’s shoulders as the two quietly conversed.

“I think Gareth should have kept his mouth shut,” Finrod said lightly as he glanced up at the clouded sky.

Glorfindel nodded but did not otherwise comment, content to wait for the dawn, which he suspected would come soon. He was, in fact, waiting for one of his companions to simply announce the dawn and it would be upon them no matter that they would have sat there for only a few minutes of subjective time. He was not sure what was really going on but things were not adding up and he had his suspicions, yet for the moment he could do little about them so he was content to play the game.

And game it was, of that he was convinced. Whose game, he still needed to determine, but he was definitely caught up in someone else’s game rather than his own and he had the feeling he had to see it through to the end. He glanced up at the sky and was unsurprised to see that the clouds had dissipated and the stars glittered like jewels above him. He idly watched the constellations move with stately slowness across the heavens, though deep in the Gorge as they were, only a portion of the night sky was visible to them. The moon had risen earlier in the evening and its light shown down upon them, illuminating the Gorge with its silver glow, casting shadows.

Glorfindel was thinking of pulling out his sandwich to eat when he heard Gwyn say, “Sun’s rising.” And looking about, Glorfindel saw that the stars had faded into the blue and the eastern sky was awash with pink and yellow, yet where they were was still deep in shadow. They all stood, stretching cramped muscles. Gareth eyed the sky, gauging the time as he and Gwyn moved to face the wall of stone. Glorfindel and Finrod stood back to give them room. Gareth checked his watch and then looked up at the sky again.

“Any moment,” he said.

Glorfindel looked eastward and saw that the sun was just making an appearance through the trees, while to the west the moon was fast slipping behind the Gorge but then a beam of sunlight seemed to slice through the shadows and the wall before them was illuminated even as it seemed that a beam of moonlight fell upon them at the same moment.

“Now!” Gareth called out and then he and Gwyn began to Sing.

Glorfindel lifted an eyebrow in surprise. “That’s not Sindarin,” he said to Finrod. “They’re Singing in Welsh.”

Finrod merely shrugged, apparently not impressed or simply too busy concentrating on what was happening before them, for as the Song continued the mingled light of sun and moon that shone upon the stone seemed to shift and slowly a shape as of a door began to show itself. Even as the moon slipped fully behind the mountains to be lost to view, the door shape solidified into a small opening and the Song stopped. For a moment, no one moved, each contemplating the hole that had been revealed to them.

It was not really a cave as he had half-expected, Glorfindel saw, but rather a deep niche that was Elf-high but perhaps no more than two feet deep and about a yard wide. There was something in the niche, a metal box, somewhat rusted looking, standing upright against the back of the niche. It was perhaps eighteen inches tall and narrow. Gwyn stepped forward and reached for it, bringing it out for their inspection. The other three gathered around in silence. Glorfindel watched with bated breath as Gwyn fumbled with the latches and then the box was opened.

There was a collective gasp as they looked at the box’s contents, the jewel embedded in the hilt glittering with iridescence in the early morning sunlight.

“Is that what I think it is?” Glorfindel whispered.

“Yes,” Finrod said shortly, but before he could make any other comment a voice sounded behind them.

“I’ll take that, if you please.”

They turned to see a Man standing there with a gun pointed at them.

“Farrell!” Glorfindel shouted in shock. “Where did you come from? You should be dead.”

Farrell merely smirked. “Hand it over,” he said, gesturing toward the box still in Gwyn’s hands.

“And what makes you think we would do anything that stupid,” Glorfindel snarled.

Without warning, Farrell aimed his gun at Finrod and calmly shot him through the heart. Finrod gave a gurgled gasp of surprise as he crumpled to the ground.

“Finrod!” Glorfindel shouted, rushing to catch his gwador, but Finrod’s eyes were already glazed over in death even as Glorfindel laid him on the ground. He stared at his dead friend, unable to comprehend what was happening. Gunshots rang and looking up, Glorfindel watched in horror as first, Gwyn, then Gareth fell to the ground. Gareth, it appeared, had grabbed the box from Gwyn as his brother fell and had attempted to flee across the bridge with the talisman. Farrell had simply shot him in the back.

Anger and something more than anger welled up inside Glorfindel at the sight of Farrell calmly bending over Gareth’s body to retrieve the talisman and with a wordless snarl he launched himself at the Man, who turned at the last minute and shot him. Glorfindel felt pain blossoming in his chest but he ignored it, intent on reaching Farrell, but the Man turned and continued across the bridge and up the steps, taking them two at a time.

“Farrell, you murdering swine!” Glorfindel screamed as he ran after the Mortal and seeing the Man from behind he was suddenly reminded of the person who had passed him earlier when he’d been sitting at the picnic table and realized it had to have been Farrell all along. Yet, how the Man had managed not to be seen by the employees was a mystery that would never be solved.

Farrell was already on the other side of the Gorge by the time Glorfindel reached the middle of the bridge, blood oozing out of his bullet wound, slowing him down. He stopped to catch his breath, panting heavily, forcing away the darkness that threatened to take him. He took a deep breath and started again but then stopped when he heard a strange roar. He glanced about, trying to see what had made the noise and then to his horror he saw long sinuous tentacles appear on the lip of the bridge, pale-green and luminous and wet. Before Glorfindel’s mind could register what he was seeing, one of the tentacles reached out and wrapped itself around his waist, pulling him forward. He struggled, futilely trying to escape, but blood loss had weakened him and he felt himself being inexorably drawn to the edge of the bridge and then he was over and plunging into the rushing waters where something that was kin to the Watcher in the pool awaited him.

It should have been impossible.

The river was not deep enough, and yet, as Glorfindel fell into the water, he felt himself being drawn downward, further and further from the surface, darkness and cold surrounding him. He continued to struggle, the water turning red with his blood, his lungs burning with the need for air, but it was no use. He could not escape. They had failed. He had failed and the talisman, the Silmaril, was in the hands of the Enemy. His only consolation as he felt more than heard the Call of Mandos was that the Enemy would not be able to use it against them, but that was little comfort as darkness of a different nature claimed him….

Glorfindel woke with a start, his body and bedsheets drenched with sweat, his voice raw with his screams as he struggled against the nightmare. There were shouts and pounding on the bedroom door and then it flew open and Finrod was there along with Daeron, the two rushing in, their faces full of alarm.

*Well, that’s not how it was supposed to go,* Irmo said with a disgusted huff to his brother, Námo, the two of them standing unseen in a corner of Glorfindel’s room, watching dispassionately as Finrod wrapped his arms around Glorfindel to comfort him while Daeron ran to the bathroom and came back a minute later with some water. By now, others in Edhellond were gathering at the doorway, but Daeron shooed them away, promising them that everything was under control. He shut the door on them and went back to the bed where Finrod had managed to calm Glorfindel down enough that the ellon was now quietly sipping on the water.

*It does seem as if you lost control there in the end,* Námo said mildly, casting a clinical eye over Glorfindel, gauging his mental and emotional states, not liking what he was seeing.

Irmo huffed again. *It shouldn’t have happened, but it did. I do not like the implications of that.*

*Nor do I,* Námo admitted. *I find it interesting who showed up in his dream, though.*

*You mean Farrell.*

*And the Watcher. Glorfindel never saw it in real life; he simply heard about it from Frodo and Olórin after the Ring War, yet here it appears in his dream.*

*They all wonder what lies within Winterdark Tarn,* Irmo pointed out as he watched Finrod and Daeron minister to the Balrog-slayer. “Most suspect that it might be something similar to the Watcher or another balrog. It stands to reason that Glorfindel would dream of one or the other.*

*He shouldn’t have been dreaming of it at all,* Námo said, his aura oscillating along the frequencies between the violet that was his normal signature to a pale green that indicated amusement. *What do you hope to accomplish with these dreams? Each one has become more and more nightmarish.*

*The idea was to point him toward the talisman that is in Gwyn and Gareth’s safekeeping,* Irmo replied.

*Wouldn’t it have been easier to inspire the ap Hywel brothers to reveal the existence of the talisman to the other Elves?*

*Don’t you think I tried that?* Irmo retorted with annoyance. *Those two are too… too mortal or something. I can’t seem to get through to them as easily as I can with the other Elves, especially those who once dwelt in Valinor before the Darkening. And of course, Glorfindel was tutored by us and our Maiar after his re-embodiment, so he’s still more open to suggestions than others.*

*I think, though, that recent events have made it hard for him to be as attentive to you as he should be. Either that, or you’re losing your touch.* Námo’s aura spiked with bright yellow and had he been in fana, he would have been grinning slyly.

*I am not losing my touch!* Irmo protested. *But I admit that my dreams are being hijacked in some manner. This is the third such dream I’ve sent him. The others never even got as far as this one did, but they all ended in disasters of one kind or another. This is the first time he’s actually seen the talisman within the dream.*

*Well, my suggestion, and it’s only that, is that you stop with the dreams for now. He’s seen the talisman and that’s what matters. I fear that if you keep pushing it, the nightmares will only get worse and he can’t take much more. Look at him, my brother! I do not like what I am seeing.*

Irmo’s aura shifted toward the red spectrum as he acknowledged Námo’s observation. *You’re right. He fading. That should not be happening. Not now. Why now?*

*Perhaps all that has happened to him since the blizzard back in October is finally taking its toll,* Námo suggested, *but I think the problem lies in his mugging.*

*He was mugged before.*

*But not by Mortals and they did not slit his wrists. No, I fear that our Reborn has yet to face and accept this most recent trauma and how close he came to dying a second time and not even in a battle but thrown away like so much worthless trash.*

*Let us hope when he has his first session with Vorondur in two days’ time, that the ellon will see that Glorfindel is on the brink of fading.*

*I may have to do a bit of inspiring myself, just in case,* Námo said and then the two thought themselves away to report to Manwë and the other Valar, leaving the three Elves to themselves, though they never knew it.

****

“Do you want to tell us about it?” Finrod asked solicitously as he continued to hug his gwador.

Glorfindel shook his head as he handed the empty water glass to Daeron. “Just a stupid dream, a nightmare really. I probably shouldn’t have had that last slice of pepperoni pizza.” He gave them a weak smile at his attempt at levity but the other two ellyn did not rise to the bait.

“You told me that you’ve been having disturbing dreams,” Finrod said with a frown. “This one appears to have been very disturbing.”

“How do you figure that?” Daeron asked.

“This is the first time he’s woken us with his screams,” Finrod replied.

Glorfindel felt himself blush. “Sorry.”

“You have nothing to be sorry about, gwador,” Finrod said sincerely enough, “but if these dreams are getting worse, then it must mean something. I’ve noticed since the High Kings left you’ve been acting irritable, not really attending to any of your usual activities, not eating and sleeping more than you probably need to and then your sleep is interrupted by these nightmares.” He paused, hesitating for a moment as if debating with himself as to whether to continue or not. When he did, he gave Glorfindel a sympathetic look.

“I know Helyanwë leaving has upset you.”

“I really don’t want to talk about it,” Glorfindel interjected.

“You don’t want to talk about anything,” Daeron said calmly, “and that is certainly your right, but I sincerely hope that you don’t waste Ron’s time by simply sitting there for an hour in his office refusing to speak.”

“I’m thinking of cancelling—”

“No!” Daeron said almost angrily and even Finrod looked surprised at the vehemence of the ellon’s tone. “You will go see Ron as planned if I have to drag you there myself, and don’t think I won’t, and when you get there you will tell Ron about the nightmares and everything else.”

Glorfindel gave his friend an almost supercilious look. “Is this where I say ‘Yes, Nana, anything you say, Nana’?”

“If you feel you must,” Daeron replied, not backing down, his expression set.

Finrod decided to intervene before Glorfindel could offer a retort. “Daeron is right, gwador. I know I pressured you into seeking Vorondur’s counsel, but I think you need this and there’s no shame in it. You know this. You remember how it was for us Reborn and the healers in Lórien.”

Glorfindel snorted. “All too well, unfortunately. Okay. I won’t cancel my appointment, but I don’t think Ron’s going to be able to help me with this.”

“Is it always the same dream?” Daeron asked.

“Sort of. It’s hard to say,” Glorfindel admitted. “This dream seemed to last for a very long time and there were very odd moments, like Charles Waverly showing up and me insisting he was dead and had been for over a year. Why would I even think that? The Man’s old, I grant you, but he’s not dead yet.”

“That is perhaps something you and Ron can discuss together,” Daeron suggested carefully. He glanced at the clock on the night table. “Well, I think I’ll go down and put some breakfast together for everyone. I’ll let the others know you’re fine.”

He went to the door and opened it to find Vardamir standing there with an arm out and the hand in a fist. He gave Daeron a startled look.

“Oh, I was just about to knock,” he said, lowering his arm.

Daeron chuckled. “Come in, Mir. I was just leaving to go start breakfast. Loren’s fine. A nightmare, but you may want to check him out anyway.” He stepped aside to let the ellon in and then left, closing the door behind him.

As Vardamir came to stand beside the bed, Finrod gave him a run-down on what had happened, speaking healer-to-healer. “He’s not been eating much lately, and he’s very restless, but when he attempts to sleep, he has these nightmares.”

“What do these nightmares entail?” Vardamir asked as he took Glorfindel’s left wrist and began checking his pulse.

“The usual mixed-up garbage,” Glorfindel replied with a shrug, not willing to describe the dream in detail. The last part felt all too real and he shied away from its memory.

Mir gave him a skeptical look but did not pursue the matter. “Well, if you ever want to talk about it, you know where to find us.” He nodded toward Finrod, including him in the statement. “I won’t pressure you at the moment, but clearly these nightmares are causing you great distress. If I didn’t know better, I would say you were fading, but we all know that can’t be happening, right?”

“Do you really think that is what is happening?” Finrod asked, his expression one of concern.

“I’m not fading!” Glorfindel insisted. “I’m just suffering a rough patch, is all. These last few months have been rather hectic for me, what with my mugging and then we had to go after the Twins and then the High Kings show up dragging Turgon with them and I have to deal with him, not to mention Roy and Sarah’s wedding. It’s just been one thing after another. It’s amazing any of us have had time to breathe.”

“Maybe so,” Vardamir allowed, “but it seems to me that you’ve suffered more than the others and it has to take its toll, both physically and spiritually. I can tell without even having to look too deeply that your energy is almost depleted, that you are on the verge of fading. Only thing is, I’m not at all sure what to do about it.”

“Well, for the moment you don’t have to do anything except go away,” Glorfindel said firmly, “the both of you. I don’t think I need an audience while I’m getting dressed. Tell Daeron I’ll be down shortly to help with breakfast.”

Vardamir and Finrod exchanged looks that Glorfindel chose not to interpret. Finrod nodded and sidled off the bed. “We’ll leave you to get dressed then,” he said and without looking back he and Vardamir left him to himself.

For a long moment Glorfindel just sat there with his arms wrapped around his calves and his forehead resting against his knees. “I am not fading. I’m not!” he muttered to himself. Then after a moment he sighed, straightened and threw back the covers and climbed out of bed, covering his nakedness with a robe as he headed for the bathroom for a quick shower before dressing.

****

Monday morning, five minutes before ten, Ercassë greeted Glorfindel at the front door of the house on Evergreen that was often as not referred to as Edhellond-two by the other Elves and even by some of their Mortal friends, ushering him inside with a smile.

“Ron is on the phone at the moment, but he’ll be with you shortly,” she said. “Would you like to wait in the kitchen?”

“Sure,” Glorfindel said with a nod and followed the elleth into the bright kitchen where a kettle was whistling merrily. She went to the stove to turn off the burner and check the soup that was also simmering.

“Cream of white asparagus,” Ercassë offered before Glorfindel thought to ask. “It’s a new recipe I found online. I thought I would give it a try. If you wish, please join us for lunch after your session with Ron.” She cast him a merry smile. “You can be the first to review.”

Glorfindel laughed. “Thank you, but perhaps I’ll pass on this one.”

Ercassë shrugged. “Your choice. Ah… here’s Ron.”

Glorfindel turned to see Vorondur walking in, smiling. “Sorry about that. One of my Mortal patients needed a little pep talk. He’s been having some self-esteem issues. Would you care to join me in my office?”

Glorfindel raised an eyebrow. “You mean I can choose not to join you in your office?”

Vorondur gave him a searching look. “If you would rather go somewhere that’s more comfortable for you…”

“No, your office is fine,” Glorfindel said hurriedly. “I was just surprised by the… um… formality of your invitation, I guess you can say. Though to tell you the truth, it’s such a lovely day, I’d hate to spend any more time indoors than I need to.”

“I quite agree,” Vorondur said, “but perhaps for our first session together, my office might be the most appropriate venue. Later we can certainly meet elsewhere.”

“You’re the doc, doc,” Glorfindel said with a grin. Vorondur raised an eyebrow at that but did not otherwise comment.

“Would you like some tea? The kettle’s just off the boil,” Ercassë stated.

“I wouldn’t mind some,” Vorondur acknowledged. “Loren?”

“Tea sounds grand, as Gareth likes to say,” Glorfindel said with a smile.

Vorondur grabbed a couple of mugs and the two spent a few minutes putting together some Earl Grey tea before heading for Vorondur’s office.

“So where is everyone else?” Glorfindel asked.

“Amroth and Della had an appointment at the hospital for a check-up and my sons are with the Three Amigos, no doubt getting into mischief.”

Glorfindel chuckled at that as the two entered Vorondur’s office. Vorondur gestured for Glorfindel to take a seat wherever he wished. Glorfindel ignored the easy chairs in one corner and chose a hardback chair that stood in front of Vorondur’s desk, taking a sip of his tea. If Vorondur wondered at his choice of seat, he gave no sign that he thought it unusual. Instead he settled himself behind his desk, placing his mug on the desk and picking up a legal pad and a pen.

“Relax, Loren,” he said with a warm smile. “We’re just two friends talking.”

“That’s just it, though, isn’t it?” Glorfindel countered. “I’m not here as a friend in need but as a screwed up ellon and you’re my psychiatric physician.”

Vorondur put down the pad and pen and picked up his mug of tea, taking a sip. “Would it make you feel more comfortable if you look upon me as just a friend with a willing ear? I know we’ve only known each other for a couple of years…”

“Longer than that,” Glorfindel interrupted. “Don’t forget that I knew you when you were living in Imladris.” He gave the ellon a sly look. “Though I grant you that I didn’t recognize you when you and Holly and Sarah showed up at Edhellond. Not at first.”

“Whereas, I recognized you right away,” Vorondur retorted with a sly smile of his own.

“I’m unforgettable,” Glorfindel quipped with a smirk.

Vorondur chuckled and then his expression sobered. “Seriously, though, I hope you know me well enough to know that you can trust me with any confidences you might have. I’m here for your benefit. I know you’ve been under a lot of stress of late and recent events haven’t helped. How are your eating and sleeping patterns? Are they normal?”

“Finrod says I’m not eating at all and sleeping too much, but even my sleep has been disturbed by these very troubling dreams and Friday night, well, actually it would’ve been early Saturday morning, I woke screaming.”

“Would you like to tell me?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Of course you do, Loren, and you know it,” Vorondur replied equably, apparently not at all upset at Glorfindel’s belligerence. “You are not here under a court order or duress. You are free to walk out of here at any time. I’m here to help, but only if you want me to. Do these dreams center around Helena?”

Glorfindel gave him a startled look. “No. She’s got nothing to do with them. In fact, I’ve been having these dreams or nightmares for a while now, even before Helyanwë decided to go back to Valinor.”

“The same dream?” Vorondur asked, frowning.

“Sort of.” Glorfindel paused, furrowing his brow as he tried to recall exactly what the dreams had been about. Even the last one was difficult for him to recall in any great detail. There was simply the overwhelming sense of dread that seemed to permeate all his dreams of late. “I don’t recall anything specific about them, only that I wake up with this sense of dread that seems to hang over me, like some doom that’s coming and I can’t avoid it.”

“Dreams or something else?” Vorondur ventured.

“Foretelling?”

Vorondur shrugged. “You’ve experienced it before, or so I have been led to believe.”

“And whenever it’s happened, I’ve been wide awake.”

“Does that mean it can never happen while you’re sleeping?”

Glorfindel blinked as if the thought had never occurred to him, and truly it hadn’t. “If only I could remember more clearly what the dreams were about,” he said after a moment, closing his eyes and rubbing the space between them.

“I could do a regression,” Vorondur suggested carefully.

Glorfindel gave him a sour look. “You mean hypnotize me?”

Vorondur shook his head. “I don’t care for that word as it has too many negative connotations. What I do is put you into a relaxed state so that your subconscious can come out and play, so to speak.” He flashed Glorfindel a bright smile and Glorfindel snorted in amusement. “You will be in complete control and will know everything that is happening to you. All I will be doing is guiding you to remember more clearly what your waking mind wants to forget because it’s too disturbing for you.”

“I’ll have to think about it,” Glorfindel said.

“Take your time,” Vorondur said and if he was disappointed that Glorfindel had not immediately accepted his suggestion, he did not show it. “We can do it at any time you feel comfortable enough about it. If you want someone like Finrod or Daeron with you when we do it, that’s perfectly fine.” He picked up his pad and pen. “Now, this last dream, is there anything about it that you do remember?”

“Just bits and pieces now,” Glorfindel admitted. “My overall impression is that it covered a lot of subjective time, weeks even.”

“What were you doing?”

“Looking for something… or no, not looking but attempting to retrieve something, but now I don’t remember what. All I do remember is that people showed up in it that I would normally not expect.”

“Such as?”

“Well, Charles Waverly, for one, but in the dream, he was dead and I was speaking to his ghost or whatever.”

“And can you recall what your conversation was about?”

“Something about having hope,” Glorfindel answered. “There was a passage from somewhere that he was reading to me, but now I don’t know what it was, yet, at the time, it was very significant.”

“Anything else you can remember about the dream?” Vorondur asked as he jotted down notes. When his question was met by silence he looked up and saw that Glorfindel had become pale, his eyes haunted. “Loren?”

“Oh Eru, Ron, I died,” Glorfindel whispered and then his body quivered as if from cold. He hugged himself, hunching over and he began weeping. “I d-d-died. Please, I d-don’t want to d-die again.”

Vorondur stood and went around the desk, pulling Glorfindel into his embrace. “Shh… Loren, it’s okay, it’s okay,” he said softly as he continued to hold the ellon. “It was just a dream, a bad dream. You’re alive. You’re not dead. Keep that in mind. It was just a dream.”

“You said it was prophetic,” Glorfindel countered as he pushed himself out of Vorondur’s hold, wiping the tears from his eyes with the backs of his hands. Vorondur reached over to the box of tissues on his desk and handed it to Glorfindel who took it.

“I said no such thing, Loren,” Vorondur objected mildly. “I offered it as a possibility. There are many reasons why you might be having the same dream or same type of dream over and over and foretelling is only one possible reason. Another is that your subconscious is trying to tell you something.”

“What?” Glorfindel demanded as he took some tissues and blew his nose.

“That is something you have to decide,” Vorondur replied. “It’s not my job to tell you this or that. My job is to help you to find the answers you need within yourself. Usually when a person, a Mortal, has the same dream over and over again, it’s a sign that the subconscious is trying to tell that person something about himself, and I can certainly help you to learn what that might be but it’s up to you to interpret what you learn. I won’t do it for you.”

“You’re a lot of help,” Glorfindel said somewhat sarcastically, though there was no animosity behind it.

“More help than you know, my friend,” Vorondur said with a smile. “I give you the help you need, not necessarily the help you want.”

“Man, that sounded so…so Valarish,” Glorfindel exclaimed.

Vorondur laughed. “I suppose it does, but it’s true nonetheless.” He gave Glorfindel a searching look. “Would you like to tell me about it?”

“You mean dying?” Glorfindel countered, then shrugged as he retook his seat while Vorondur returned to his own. “All I really remember was I was chasing someone across a bridge and then… uh… something like the Watcher in the Water that Mithrandir described to us after the Ring War came up out of the water below and grabbed me, taking me under with it and I was drowning. That’s when I woke up screaming.”

For a moment, Vorondur did not speak, mulling over the ellon’s words. “We’ve all wondered just what sleeps under Winterdark Tarn.”

“And I’d just as soon never find out,” Glorfindel said quickly.

Vorondur nodded. “I totally agree, but what I’m getting at is that we each, I think, have our own theory or fears about what it might actually be. All any of us know for sure is that it’s an ancient evil out of the First Age. These dreams may not be prophetic, showing you the manner in which you might die again, but they obviously are important, or you wouldn’t be having them.”

“This is the first time I’ve ever had the dream go all the way to the end, I mean, the other times I’ve had similar dreams I never got so far into the… the story, I guess you can call it, yet I somehow know that the dreams are the same. I dread sleeping again. I don’t want to dream, not if it’s going to end up with me dying all over again.”

“Then perhaps we need to bring the dream to the surface so we can deal with it,” Vorondur said. “You need to bring the dream into the light of day so that it no longer has any power over you.”

Glorfindel nodded, sighing as he closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. “I am so screwed up,” he said softly.

“No more than the next person, Loren,” Vorondur assured him, “but I admit that your screw ups are far more interesting than most.”

Glorfindel opened his eyes and saw the twinkle of amusement in Vorondur’s eyes. “I’m so glad you find me entertaining,” he drawled.

Vorondur laughed. “Oh, my friend, you have no idea. Now, putting aside your dreams for the moment, how are you feeling about Helyanwë leaving?”

Glorfindel gave Vorondur a rueful look. “Well, I wasn’t expecting it and it hurts, but I’ll get over it.”

“Do you resent Daeron?”

Glorfindel gave him a surprised look. “Resent? Why would I resent Daeron?”

“Because of Melyanna. Do you resent the fact that Daeron has found someone and you haven’t?”

“No. I don’t. I’m very happy for him. Ron, you don’t know what it was like for him before Dan and Roy and I found him. I seriously thought he would end up fading whatever we did to succor him, but he’s stronger than even he knows and he deserves every happiness.”

“And you don’t?”

Glorfindel shrugged. “Depends on your definition. My life is my life and I have few regrets about the direction in which it has gone over the ages. I’d hoped that Helena… well, I admit that at first it was because she reminded me so much of Alassiel, but that was just on the surface. I cherished her for herself, but apparently it wasn’t enough, at least, not for her.”

Vorondur took a moment to jot something down on the pad and, not looking up, he asked, “How do you feel about Dan and Roy leaving to go back East?”

Glorfindel sighed, glancing at the clock, which read 10:30. He had the feeling it was going to be a very long half hour before their session ended. “Well, it won’t be the first time we’ve not been together….”


From the sealed files of Dr. Ron Brightman:

Name: Loren DelaFiore (Glorfindel of the House of the Golden Flower)

Personality Profile: ESTJ: Commander

Charm: Average by elvish standards

Adaptability: Reborn

Planning ability: Jaw-dropping

Survival preparations: Jaw-dropping squared

Weapons skill: Average by elvish standards (unless fighting with a sword)

Intelligence: Logistic

Warm fuzzies: ‘I’m not paying you to feel good’

Leadership skills: Natural born

Motto: ‘I slew a balrog. This is nothing.’

Analysis: When the Dagor Dagorath commences, I want to be wherever Loren ends up, because that will most likely be the safest place on the planet. Forget Valinor. Forget bunkers. Forget Tom Cruise. Loren is a natural-born leader and organizer, which is why he has made Elf Academy so successful. He is able to plan ahead to a degree that I swear he must have the blood of the Ainur in him (assuming the Ainur have blood) to be able to see so far ahead and plan for contingencies. As a Judger, that is one of his strengths. Unfortunately, Loren isn’t too hot on improvisation, though as a warrior he has learned to improvise on the spot simply as a survival tactic, but he is unlikely to do so in an emergency. Loren will have a goal in mind (he always has a goal in mind) and Eru help the poor bastard who gets in the way of achieving that goal. He may end up having to go around or under or over instead of straight through, but he will get there and when he does, I plan to be right next to him. Anywhere else on the planet is just asking to be killed.

That being said, I found my first counselling session with him troubling and on more than one level. I am not sure I like what I’m seeing. I have ordered a full physical. Loren was reluctant, no, let’s be honest. He was downright abusive in his language and he only calmed down when I assured him that no Mortal doctor would be there and he could have his choice of healers conducting the exam. I was not at all surprised when he immediately gave me Elrond’s name. I was able to convince him to also have Vardamir present to corroborate Elrond’s findings. Something is definitely wrong with Loren, though he hides it well. I think the dreams or nightmares he’s been having are significant and I hope to convince him to let me do a regression so we can get to the bottom of this…

Vorondur pressed the ‘Save’ button on his laptop and leaned back in the booth of the café where he was sitting and picked up the carafe of coffee, refilling his mug as he re-read his notes. It was nearly eight in the evening and the café was only about half full. After dinner, Holly had decided to take their sons to the movies and Amroth and Della had gone with them. Vorondur was not interested as he needed to finish up his notes for the day, but he had promised to meet the others at the café afterwards so Dar and Cani could have some ice cream. After everyone had left for the movies, though, he decided he didn’t want to stay at home until it was time to meet them, so he grabbed his laptop and the legal pad on which he had recorded his sessions with Loren and the other patients he had seen that day and went to the café to work, sitting in a back corner booth, facing the front.

After ordering coffee, he had been left alone. The two Mortal patients he had seen that day did not take long for him to write up for he had been counselling them for some time and was pleased that both were making progress towards psychological wholeness. He saved Glorfindel’s file for last, opening up a special file he had been keeping in which he recorded notes on the various denizens of Edhellond as well as a few of the Mortals who interacted with the Elves on a regular basis. This file was hidden and only he knew of it. Anyone who got a hold of his laptop would not know it was there or so he hoped.

Taking another sip of his coffee, he made a mental note to speak with Elrond and Mir in the morning and apprise them of what he needed from them and have Mir set up an appointment at the hospital. Vorondur was all for them examining Glorfindel using elvish healing techniques, but he wanted physical test results as well from blood work, X-rays, EKGs, even an MRI if necessary, to help him pinpoint what was happening with Loren.

And he was not convinced that the ellon was okay about Helyanwë leaving him whatever Loren said to the contrary. One thing Vorondur knew for sure: Loren was definitely floating down that big River in Egypt.

He leaned forward and, rechecking his notes, began tapping on the keyboard again.

“May I join you?”

Vorondur looked up to see Lord Námo standing there dressed in a pair of black slacks and a black turtleneck under a lightweight black duster. The Elf blinked, suddenly aware that the café, which had been bustling with waitpersons going to and fro filling orders and diners engaged in lively conversations with one another only a minute ago, was now oddly empty. Vorondur wasn’t sure if he should feel frightened by this or not as he stared up at the Lord of Mandos. Námo, for his part, smiled faintly.

“You are still in the café, but I have manipulated the space around us slightly to give us more privacy.”

“Oh,” was the only thing Vorondur could think to say, feeling completely out of his depth, and that was not something he had felt in a very long time. He swallowed and gestured to the booth across from him. “Please,” he said and Námo sidled into the seat. A second mug suddenly appeared and he poured some coffee into it, which, Vorondur reflected, was a neat trick, since he’d just emptied the carafe himself.

Námo flashed him a bright smile as he picked up his mug and took a sip, then put the mug down, his mien becoming more serious. “I see you’re writing up your session with Glorfindel. What are your thoughts about him?”

“You know I cannot discuss my patients even with you, my lord,” Vorondur said, giving the Vala a slightly smug smile as he leaned back into the booth and picked up his mug.

Námo raised an eyebrow. “Child, do you seriously think I don’t know what occurs behind closed doors, even yours? I could give you a verbatim account of every ‘um’ and ‘er’ the two of you uttered during that hour. Now, enough of your coyness. What are your thoughts concerning one Glorfindel of the House of the Golden Flower, aka Loren DelaFiore?”

Vorondur placed his mug on the table, put the laptop into sleep mode and closed it. Then he leaned forward, glaring at the Vala. “I have never broken a confidence before and I’m not about to do so now. I do not discuss my patients with anyone and they are off-limits even for you and the other Alien Overlords who bounce in and out of here like yo-yos demanding this and that. If you have something to tell me about Glorfindel, then say it. Do not play games with me, Námo. I am not in the mood.”

For a moment, Námo just sat there, apparently not at all upset by Vorondur’s attitude. “How are you and Ercassë enjoying your sons?”

Vorondur startled at the unexpectedness of the question and he felt himself go cold with dread and anger. “Don’t you dare!” he hissed. “You leave Dar and Cani out of this. They are not pawns for you—”

“Ron!” Námo reached over and placed a hand on Vorondur’s arm. “Hush now… shh… be calm,” he said soothingly and Vorondur felt himself grow quiescent in spite of himself. “It’s all right. Your sons are quite safe from me. I was just asking, I promise. I am genuinely interested in knowing how things are going with you.”

“I’m sure your spies keep you informed,” Vorondur said, pulling his arm back.

Námo did not respond to the barb, merely gazing at him with an air of sadness that surprised Vorondur. “Why the hostility, Child?” the Vala asked. “Why the anger? What do you fear?”

Vorondur blinked and went still. “I am being hostile, aren’t I,” he said wonderingly, trying to analyze his own feelings. “I guess I feel very protective towards my patients no less than I do towards my children.”

“And you see your Mortal patients as something like your children in need of guidance,” Námo said, making it more a statement than a question.

Vorondur looked up at the Vala. “If by that, you mean, I treat them as if they were children, you are mistaken. I admit that I feel a sense of paternal pride when one of them makes a breakthrough, but my goal is to bring them to psychological wholeness, not to make them dependent on me for their lives. I’m not sure I can say the same about any of the Valar.”

Námo gave him an amused look. “You’ve been itching to get us all on your couch, haven’t you?”

Vorondur snorted. “That’s putting it mildly, but we’re not here to analyze you, are we? What do you want, Námo? I know Glorfindel is not well and I intend to get to the bottom of what ails him, but if you have any pertinent information you wish to share with me, then do so, otherwise, stay out of it.”

“I can’t stay out of it, as you say,” Námo retorted. “I’m deeply into it. And you need to convince Glorfindel to allow you to regress him. He needs to remember his dream.”

“I will try—”

“There is no try, Ron,” Námo said.

“And now you’re quoting Star Wars?”

“I rather like Yoda. He’s very wise.” Námo paused and his whole demeanor became more solemn, his visage darkening in a way that Vorondur could not easily analyze and wasn’t sure he wanted to. At that moment, Námo was one scary dude, as Derek would’ve said, and Vorondur was suddenly wishing he had more than a table separating him from the Vala sitting across from him.

“Ron, Glorfindel is fading,” Námo said softly.

Vorondur blinked. “Is that even possible, especially now? Why now?”

“There are a number of factors involved,” Námo answered. “Part of it is simply the fact that too much has happened over the past half year, especially the mugging, which he really hasn’t dealt with, and part of it is that he’s being subtly attacked by the Enemy, though neither he nor anyone else recognizes this.”

“The disturbing dreams he’s been having,” Vorondur said.

“Actually, no. The dreams themselves are not the problem. My brother Irmo is responsible for them, but—”

“Your brother sent the dreams? Then you know what they’re about. Are they prophetic? Why did Glorfindel dream of dying? What—”

“I can’t answer that, Vorondur,” Námo interrupted, holding up a hand to stem the flood of questions pouring from the ellon’s lips.

“Can’t or won’t?” Vorondur demanded, growing angry all over again. “Damn you! You know what’s going on but you refuse to say. You come waltzing in here demanding I spill everything but you won’t reciprocate. You supercilious bastard!” He grabbed his laptop and started to sidle out of the booth, desiring nothing more than to leave, but there was a flurry of multicolored lights that temporarily blinded him, forcing him back into his seat as he hissed in pain. When he could see again, he found himself staring up at Lord Manwë and another whose features were similar enough to Námo’s, though his coloring was lighter, that he had to assume the Vala was Lord Irmo, Lord of Lórien, Námo’s brother in the Thought of Ilúvatar.

He glanced at Námo sitting across from him, calmly drinking his coffee. “So now you’re ganging up on me?”

There was a sigh that was everywhere and nowhere. Manwë gave Námo an amused look. “I think Glorfindel is a bad influence on everyone.”

Námo snorted but did not comment. Irmo caused two chairs to appear and he and Manwë sat facing Námo and Vorondur. “Peace, Child,” Manwë said. “We are not ganging up on you, as you say. Consider this a consultation among health care professionals discussing a course of treatment for a patient, in this case, Glorfindel.”

“I’ve already told Lord Námo that I don’t discuss my patients with anyone.”

“But surely you’ve consulted with other psychiatrists about your patients when perhaps you were unsure of the course of treatment that you were considering?” Irmo asked. “Consider us as fellow psychiatrists and doctors who are as concerned with Glorfindel’s state as you are. Námo already told you that Glorfindel is fading. That does not seem to upset you as much as the idea that I sent him the dreams that have been plaguing him of late.”

Vorondur shook his head. “It’s not that I’m not concerned, but fading, if that’s what it is, is symptomatic of an underlying condition. Something is making him fade. I need to know what that is so I can help him to counter the effects. So if you know something I don’t then I think you had better tell me. And if you know something and refuse to tell me, then this discussion is pointless. Why are you sending Glorfindel these dreams and why is he dreaming of dying? That, more than anything, has him upset.”

“The reason for my sending the dreams is for you to discover on your own, Vorondur,” Irmo said gravely. “No, listen!” He held up a hand as Vorondur started to protest. “There are things I cannot tell you because to do so can endanger the future. Some things you need to learn on your own and you will only learn the truth behind the dreams by convincing Glorfindel to let you regress him. As to why he’s dreaming about dying, well, that’s something else entirely. The dreams are being… hijacked, as it were.”

“Hijacked?” Vorondur raised an eyebrow at that. “Hijacked by whom and why?”

“Well, the who is obvious,” Manwë said with a huff, “and so is the why. Glorfindel is being targeted by the Enemy in subtle ways to bring him to a state of despair. He’s losing estel, Vorondur, and he’s fading because of it.”

“And no one, not even Glorfindel, is really aware of it, though I know Vardamir commented on it the other day,” Námo said.

Vorondur leaned his elbows on the table, interlacing his fingers under his chin as he contemplated the Valar’s words. “I have never had to deal with anyone fading before, at least not clinically. Elrond has, of course. I will have to consult with him as well as with Mir once they’ve finished examining Loren.”

“The test results will not show you what you need to know,” Irmo said.

Vorondur cast him a frustrated look. “But I need a baseline with which to work. It’s standard procedure.”

“For Mortals, yes, I agree,” Irmo said, “but Glorfindel is not a Mortal and the dynamics of fading are not something that will show up in an MRI or a CAT scan. It’s a disease, if you want to call it that, of the spirit.”

“So, should I be calling on a priest instead?” Vorondur couldn’t help asking with a slight smile.

“That might be wise,” Námo said and there was no hint of levity in his tone or his expression.

Vorondur sat back in surprise. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Very,” Námo replied. “Glorfindel is in danger of fading and if he does fade in truth, I will not be able to call him to me. By then, it will be too late, for he will be so sunk into despair that he will not heed my call or even Eru’s. The Enemy doesn’t want Glorfindel dead, Vorondur. The Enemy wants him damned.”

Vorondur felt his blood go cold at the implications of the Vala’s words and the grave looks the three Valar gave him showed him the seriousness of the situation. “What can I do? I’m not equipped to handle this kind of situation. Mortals and their hang-ups I can deal with but this? I’m way out of my league.”

“Perhaps, but you’re it,” Námo said. “By all means, bring Vardamir and Elrond into the picture. Both have dealt with fading to some extent, but Elrond’s only solution was to send the person to us and Vardamir has only had to deal with those who suffered Sea-longing, which is a… um… sister disease, I suppose you could call it, to fading. The symptoms are similar, the treatment is different.”

“So what is the treatment?” Vorondur asked and was surprised to see all three Valar grimacing.

“That’s just it, son,” Manwë finally said. “We have no idea.”

“What? How can that be?” Vorondur demanded. “What of Lady Celebrían? How was she cured?”

“Celebrían was in danger of fading, but she was not actually fading at the time Elrond sent her to Aman,” Irmo stated. “Once with us, we were able to purge her hröa of the poisons that still lingered, especially within her blood and marrow. It’s a technique that Elrond didn’t know, but it’s a common technique taught to all my journeymen.”

“Something like a marrow transplant, then, or dialysis?” Vorondur asked.

Irmo nodded. “Very much so, though not as intrusive. Once Celebrían was purged of the poisons, she was able to deal with what happened to her and people like Vardamir and Eärnur and even Finrod were able to help bring her to wholeness once again. What Glorfindel is suffering from is actual fading, a condition that we Valar do not fully understand. We know that ultimately it can happen to you all, but certain factors seem to mitigate or slow the process. Residing in Valinor allows us to slow it down to the point where it is not yet a danger to even the oldest of you.”

“What about those of us residing here?” Vorondur asked. “Shouldn’t we have faded before this?”

“Yes, you should have, but you haven’t for one very good reason,” Manwë answered before Irmo could speak.

“And what’s that?”

For an answer, Manwë gestured and suddenly Vorondur found himself back in the café proper with people all around. Manwë smiled. “The Mortals,” he said and he and Irmo faded away, leaving Vorondur alone with Námo.

Vorondur gave the Lord of Mandos a puzzled look. “I’m not sure I understand.”

“The Mortals are the reason you and the others have not faded,” Námo said. “You engaged yourselves in their lives to one extent or another rather than divorcing yourselves from all contact with them. You and the others have drawn energy from that engagement and that has kept you grounded in present reality. Those who shied away from any contact with Mortals ended up fading if they didn’t Sail.”

Vorondur nodded. “So, getting back to Loren, what should I do?”

“Do what you plan to do. Have him undergo the physical. Consult with Elrond and Vardamir and the other healers. And try to convince Glorfindel to let you regress him and find out what the dream is all about. Your futures may depend on it.”

“There is no try,” Vorondur couldn’t help saying, giving Námo a knowing smile.

“Indeed,” was the Vala’s only reply and then he was simply no longer there.

Vorondur stared at the space the Vala had occupied, mulling over the conversation with the Valar.

“There you are, hiding in the corner.”

Vorondur looked up to see Amroth, Nimrodel, Ercassë and their two sons, smiling at him.

“How was the movie?” he asked as he sidled over to give his wife room to sit, shoving his laptop and notes into a messenger bag. Amroth and Nimrodel sat across from them while Dar and Cani claimed a nearby table.

“Very interesting,” Dar answered.

“And confusing,” Cani added.

The older Elves exchanged amused smiles. “Well, order some ice cream and you can tell me all about it. The menu’s on the table.”

One of the waitresses came over to take their orders. Amroth and Ercassë ordered coffee though Vorondur was fine and did not wish for anything more than water. Nimrodel ordered some herbal tea.

“What’s a banana split?” Cani suddenly asked as he and Dar pored over the menu.

Vorondur grinned at the waitress. “Make that two banana splits,” he said and the waitress grinned back.

Five minutes later when she returned with the ice cream, Vorondur smiled at his sons’ wondering expressions.

Glorfindel left the session with Vorondur feeling washed out and he wanted nothing more than to go back home, crawl into bed, and sleep for a year. Instead, he drove over to the college, meaning to get some work done at Elf Academy. It should be empty now that the conventioneers were gone, so he planned to get a lot of work done, work that he had neglected because of the wedding and dealing with the High Kings. He pulled into his reserved space in the parking lot attached to Elf Academy and sat there for a moment after turning off the engine and undoing his seatbelt, thinking about the past week.

Getting rid of the kings and their entourage had been a relief, particularly where Turgon was concerned. He was still unsure in his own mind how he really felt about their reunion. On one hand, he was glad to be able to renew his oath of fealty to the only king he would ever acknowledge, yet at the same time, he wished he had never given it in the first place. He had never questioned the rightness of the Blood Oath and what it meant, but when Turgon showed up, it came home to him just how dangerous the oath was. Turgon could easily have invoked it and demanded that Glorfindel return to Aman with him and he would’ve had no real choice but to obey and that realization frightened him as nothing else could.

And it was a fear he had no intention of ever sharing with anyone, not Vorondur, not even Finrod. He sighed and closed his eyes, leaning his head against the steering wheel. And then there was Helyanwë.

He pushed that thought away, not willing to deal with it at the moment. He had lied to Vorondur about his feelings concerning the elleth, but at the moment the feelings of hurt and rejection were too raw and he would need a little time before he could face them or talk about them with another. Thank the Valar he had Elf Academy with which to occupy himself. He had never been one for introspection; he’d always left that to Elrond.

He chuckled to himself at that thought and straightened, pulling the key out of the ignition and climbing out of the van. He entered the building and smelled the clean scent of lemon and knew that the cleaning service people were already at work preparing the dorms for the next group that would occupy them, which, if he recalled correctly would be a group of school children attending an “Elf summer camp” later in June after school was out for the summer.

The idea had been Daeron’s: to provide a one-week summer camp experience for area children between the ages of ten and fourteen where they learned some of the skills that the Elves had to offer, particularly woodlore, as well as more arts-and-crafts-type projects. Last summer had been their first foray into the program and it was hugely popular, so much so, that there were now two sessions, one in June and the other in July.

Glorfindel smiled at nothing in particular as he headed for his office, remembering the children running through the halls with several Elves chasing after them. He had not been too involved with the program himself since he had been busy with organizing the next term of Elf Academy. Perhaps this year he would help out.

He reached his office and was in the process of unlocking it when further down the hall, Daeron’s door opened and the former minstrel of Doriath and their resident loremaster stepped out of his office, giving him a smile. He was still pale-looking and did not move fast, but, as with Elves in general, he was healing more quickly than any Mortal. Glorfindel had wanted Daeron to rest more; the ellon had insisted that there was too much to do for him to be lying in bed all day long. He had promised not to overdo it so Glorfindel had let it go, especially when the healers had given their permission for Daeron to resume some of his duties, though not all.

“So how did it go? I see you’re still in one piece,” Daeron said.

Glorfindel chuckled as he opened the door and went in with Daeron following him. “Did you think I would show up missing a limb or something?”

“When Ron is done with me, I often double-check to see that all parts of me are present and accounted for,” Daeron said. “He has a way of taking you apart and putting you back together again and I’m always afraid he’ll leave a vital piece of me out. He never has, of course, as he’s just too good at what he does, but it’s not a pleasant experience, however necessary it might be.”

“Has he helped you?” Glorfindel asked as he took his seat, gesturing for Daeron to sit as well. The loremaster settled into one of the chairs facing the desk, crossing his legs and placing his elbows on the arms of the chair, clasping his hands under his chin in a relaxed pose.

“Very much so,” Daeron admitted. “I hope he can help you as well.”

“He wants to set me up for a full physical before we meet again. Mir and Elrond will conduct it.”

“At the hospital or at home?”

Glorfindel grimaced. “At the hospital. Ron wants blood work, CAT scans, X-rays, the whole nine yards as well as anything the two come up with while scanning me. A waste of time in my opinion. I’m not sick.”

“Mir thought you were fading,” Daeron offered.

“Well, Mir’s wrong,” Glorfindel insisted. “I’m not fading. I’ve seen it often enough to know.”

“Sometimes we fail to see in ourselves what we so readily perceive in others,” Daeron countered softly, giving Glorfindel a searching look. “I will admit, I have no idea what the symptoms are. I never really was around any Elves who eventually faded. Looking back, it’s a wonder I didn’t fade. The Valar know I certainly wanted to, or just to die.”

Glorfindel gave him a sympathetic look. “Yes, I know, better than most, but I meant what I said, Darren. You’re one of the strongest and bravest ellyn that it has ever been my privilege to know. What you went through… well, water under the bridge, isn’t it?” He quirked his lips into a lopsided smile, then, deciding to change the subject, he asked, “So, what’s on the agenda for the day?”

“We’ve made a final selection of students for next term,” Daeron said. “Would you like to see the list? There are a couple of interesting candidates.”

Glorfindel nodded as he turned on his computer. “Yes, let’s see what this new crop of students is like. Here, I’ll let you access your files.” He stood and moved away from the desk to stare out the window to the mountains in the background while Daeron settled into his chair and punched in a few commands, bringing up files.

“Here we are,” he said and Glorfindel turned around to look at the computer screen where Daeron had called up a particular document. He saw the photo of a young Man staring back at him and leaned over to read the file.

“Sounds like the typical candidate,” he said with a shrug. “What’s so special about him?”

“For one thing, he’s British,” Daeron said with a lift of an eyebrow. “This is our first international application.”

Glorfindel straightened and blinked. “But how and more important, why?”

“Well the how is easy enough to explain,” Daeron replied with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Our website is accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world. Anyone can read about us and the application form is downloadable. As to why…” He shrugged. “Perhaps he just wants to have a unique experience.”

“So, the selection committee has decided to invite him to become an Elf Guide?” Glorfindel asked somewhat skeptically.

“There was no reason to deny him,” Daeron said. “Nothing in our mandate says the candidate has to be American, only that the person needs to be over eighteen. We don’t even have an upper age limit, but for obvious reasons we choose only young-looking people and in truth, I think the oldest person to apply has been Alex and he changed his appearance to seem younger than he is.”

“Well, it should be interesting to see how the chap handles us colonists,” Glorfindel said with a proper English accent, giving Daeron a sly grin.

Daeron laughed. “Indeed.” He closed that file and opened another one and Glorfindel saw the photo of a Woman and blinked. “I know her!” he exclaimed, backing up in shock. “But that’s impossible.”

“Melody Moran,” Daeron read off the screen, “from Syracuse, New York.”

“Is that what she calls herself?” Glorfindel asked. “And Syracuse? Why in Eru’s name would anyone live there of all places?”

“Everyone has to come from somewhere,” Daeron said with a sly quirk of his lips. “Besides, she’s an Elf. Who can understand their motives?”

Glorfindel gave him a sour look and then his expression became more contemplative. “Morwen Lindiriel. She was one of Arwen’s handmaids, but she disappeared after Arwen died. No one knew where she went, though Eldarion ordered a search when she went missing. We just assumed she either died of grief somewhere in the wilderness or found her way to Mithlond and Sailed. Why is she applying to Elf Academy? Why doesn’t she just come and join us?”

“We’ll have to ask her when she comes,” Daeron said.

“Surely Dan and Roy and even Ron and Holly recognized her.”

“Oh, yes, and they were pretty shocked, but Ron cautioned us not to say anything. He wants to see how far Melody Moran is willing to take the game. I thought you needed to know even if no one else does.”

“Well I’m sure Elrond and Celebrían will recognize her.”

“But they are unlikely to have anything to do with her or Elf Academy,” Daeron pointed out. “The Twins will be gone and you know Ron is very good at poker.”

Glorfindel snorted. “Among other things.” He gave the screen a considering look. “Well, well, well. Morwen Lindiriel. Poor Lindir. I’m sure he wonders whatever became of his daughter. And now that I think on it, I wonder why he didn’t accompany Elrond here?”

Daeron shrugged. “We can ask Elrond. I’m sure there was a reason.”

“We’ll need to find a way to get word to Lindir about his daughter, but let’s wait until she actually arrives and we can learn her story. When she does come, we will pretend we don’t know who she is. Let her make the first move.”

“That’s what the selection committee agreed upon,” Daeron said. “Ron thought perhaps she’s playing it safe, not revealing herself to us, but checking us out to see if we’re for real and I agree.”

Glorfindel ran his hands through his hair. “Okay. Fine. So we have a Brit who wants to travel nearly seven thousand miles just to be an Elf for a season and we have an Elf who’s pretending to be a Mortal wanting to be an Elf, which is déja vu all over again.” He gave Daeron a searching look. “Valar plants?”

Daeron just shrugged. “Well, unless you can corner one of them and ask, I doubt we’ll ever know for sure. Certainly, the elleth has to be one of those Elves the Valar insist are out there waiting to be found.”

Glorfindel nodded, then cast Daeron a wry grin. “Well, we can’t complain of leading boring lives, can we?”

Daeron laughed and closed down the file. He stood. “I’ll let you get on with your own work. How about going into town later and see if we can convince Finrod to join us for lunch at the café?”

“Let’s see, it’s nearly noon but I really want to get a couple of hours’ work in first. I’ll give him a call now and see if he can meet us,” Glorfindel said, fishing out his phone and speed-dialing a number. “Ah, Finrod, Loren… It went okay… I’m with Daeron at Elf Academy. We’re going to do some work and then break around… two?” He gave Daeron an enquiring look and the minstrel nodded. “Around two. Care to join us at the café, assuming Nick can spare you for an hour?... Sure, I’ll hold… Great! We’ll see you then.” He ended the call and shoved the phone back in his pocket. “Okay, shoo. I’ll see you in a couple of hours.”

Daeron smiled as he headed for the door, then stopped before opening, turning to face Glorfindel who had resumed his seat and was typing away on the keyboard. “I’m glad you’re seeing Ron, Loren,” he said sincerely. “I think talking with him will do you good.”

Glorfindel looked up. “And you? How are you doing?”

“Oh, I’m surviving,” Daeron said with a slight smile. “I have my own session with Ron on Thursday. It will be my first since…” He swallowed, looking suddenly more pale than he already was and his right hand went reflexively to cover his left shoulder.

Glorfindel immediately got up and went to him, giving him a brief hug. “We’re a right couple of losers, aren’t we?” he said, giving Daeron a wicked grin.

“Hmph,” Daeron replied with a disdainful sniff. “Speak for yourself.”

They stared into each other’s eyes, each taking the measure of the other, each warmed by the love and acceptance they found there. “Le hannon,” Daeron said softly.

Glorfindel stepped back. “Pedo gúbeth,” he said, using an idiomatic phrase that essentially meant ‘don’t mention it’ that had been commonly used in Gondolin whenever acknowledging another person’s thanks for a favor done.

Daeron nodded and opened the door, exiting and closing it behind him. Glorfindel stood there for a moment staring at the door before sighing and returning to his desk and his work.

****

A knock on his door interrupted Glorfindel’s train of thought as he pondered some logistical matters concerning class size and classroom assignments, but he welcomed the break, and looking at the computer clock saw it was almost two o’clock and knew it was Daeron on the other side of the door.

“Minno!” he called out and when the door opened Daeron peeked around it.

“Are you ready?”

“Just about,” Glorfindel answered. “Give me five more minutes. You want to give Finrod a call and tell him we’re on our way?”

“I’ll wait for you in the foyer,” Daeron said in reply and closed the door, leaving Glorfindel to himself. He spent a couple of more minutes wrestling with the problem and then, satisfied with the results, though he knew he still had some other stuff that needed to be dealt with later, he shut down the computer and left the office. Daeron smiled at him as he reached the foyer. “I walked over from Edhellond, so we just need to take your van.”

Glorfindel gave him an exasperated look. “I thought you promised not to overtax yourself.”

“And I didn’t,” Daeron assured him. “I took it nice and slow. I even stopped and chatted with Mr. Fisher who was outside working on his garden. We had a lovely conversation about his roses that lasted a good twenty minutes. Don’t worry so much, Loren.”

“But I do,” Glorfindel protested. “I can’t help it. You wouldn’t have gotten shot in the first place if I’d been less cocky.”

“Any one of us could have been hit. I was just the unlucky one and I’d rather it be me than one of the kings. Now, stop fussing and let’s get going or Finrod will think we stood him up.”

Glorfindel nodded reluctantly as he fished out his keys and they headed for the parking lot. Ten minutes later, he pulled into the Safeway parking lot and the two crossed into the square and made their way to the café. Inside, they found Finrod sitting at a table rather than at a booth, poring over the menu. Even this late in the afternoon all the booths were occupied. He looked up at their approach and smiled.

“How are you both faring?” he asked in Sindarin as Glorfindel and Daeron took seats. “You have not overtaxed yourself, have you?” This last was addressed to Daeron.

“I wish everyone would stop hovering. I’m fine, I promise,” Daeron insisted, speaking in the same language.

“We’re just naturally concerned,” Finrod said, “and I suspect some of us are also feeling guilty.” He gave Glorfindel a quick glance which the ellon ignored.

Daeron looked at them in surprise. “Guilty? Guilty for what? For my getting shot and almost dying? There’s no need for anyone to feel guilty about that. Anyone could have gotten hit, even one of the Mortals. I don’t blame anyone except the fool who actually pulled the trigger. Now, let’s drop it and move on.”

There was an awkward silence for a moment as Daeron continued to glare at them both. The waitress came over just then with menus for Glorfindel and Daeron and they took a moment to give her their drink orders before she left them. As the three perused their menus, Finrod looked at Glorfindel. “How was your session with Vorondur?”

“Fine,” Glorfindel replied. “He’s going to make arrangements with Mir and Elrond to give me a full physical before we meet again after the Memorial Day weekend. He thinks my dreams are important and wants to do some kind of regression to help me remember them better. Right now, I can only remember bits and pieces and I still don’t know what the dreams are all about.”

“You do not sound too enthusiastic about it,” Finrod commented with a smile.

Glorfindel shrugged. “I don’t care for people messing around in my head.”

“Yet, do you not want to know what the dreams are about?” Daeron asked softly.

“Yes, of course, but still…”

“Would it help if one of us were with you when Vorondur regresses you?” Finrod asked.

“Assuming I let him, but yes, I don’t like the idea of being alone when he does it. Silly, I know, but—“

“It’s not silly if you honestly feel this way, gwador,” Finrod insisted.

“Well, let me get through the physical first and I’ll think about it. Now, let’s change the subject, shall we? Is Nick still okay with you taking a week off next month for the trip to Fairbanks with the Three Amigos and Nell?”

“Yes. He said he saw no problem with that. He just asked me to give him some notice as to when we will leave.”

“Well, why don’t we plan to leave on the First? That’s a Friday. What about the youngsters’ summer jobs? When do they start?”

“I asked Finda about that and he said they were not expected to begin work until the end of June and Nielluin will not be working this summer.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

But Finrod did not answer immediately as the waitress returned with their drinks and took their lunch orders. With it being as late as it was, the Elves kept to light fare, with Glorfindel and Daeron both ordering bowls of tomato basil soup with rolls while Finrod settled for a cobb salad. When the waitress had gone, Finrod answered Glorfindel’s question.

“I promised Celeborn that I would limit Nielluin’s interaction with the Mortals a bit more than I have. He is naturally concerned for her and I did not wish to burden him or my sister with the truth of our present reality. They really did not stay long enough to understand it. I did not tell you that both of them were against the idea of her coming with me in the first place, but I felt Nielluin needed to come, just as I felt that Finda needed to be here as well. Nielluin is naturally upset that she is not being allowed certain freedoms that her mortal friends take for granted, but I assured her that over time this would not be the case.”

“Well, once she’s married to Gareth, it’ll be a moot point,” Glorfindel pointed out. “Gareth is a liberated ellon, after all, and won’t insist that Nielluin stay at home and embroider bedsheets.” He gave the other two a wide grin and they both chuckled.

“So, I’ll make the reservations,” Glorfindel continued. “We’ll stay in Fairbanks for a few days and then we’ll go to Denali and camp for a few more. We can test them on their woodlore.”

“How long do you plan to be gone?” Daeron asked even as the waitress returned with their orders.

“Just for the week. We’ll come back sometime the next weekend. I’ve decided I’d like to help out with the Elf Camp, at least with the first session. I may be too busy with Elf Academy business to help with the second session. We’ll be starting earlier than usual because of where Thanksgiving falls this year.”

“Well, I would welcome your assistance,” Daeron said, “and I think the Valinóreans will enjoy helping out as well. They’re all rather enthusiastic about the idea of working with the children.”

“And I am happy that they are,” Finrod said, “though I know Erestor and Lindorillë will be busy with the store, which I understand will have its grand opening during the holiday weekend. Do you think they will get customers?”

“Oh, I have no doubt about that,” Glorfindel said as he sipped on his soup. “There aren’t many choices for buying clothing around here unless you either want to make the trip to Coldfoot or Chandalar or buy online.”

“And people will naturally be curious about it anyway,” Daeron chimed in. “When they see that the store offers what they need and can afford, most people are going to shop there, especially when it comes time to outfit their children for school. And those who are against us will just have to shop elsewhere if they choose not to patronize the store.”

Finrod gave them a wicked smile. “Before long, they will accuse us of trying to take over Wiseman completely.”

Glorfindel sniffed. “Trying to? We already have. They just don’t know it yet.”

The other two chuckled and their conversation drifted randomly to other topics of interest as they continued eating. Eventually, they finished and Glorfindel insisted on paying the bill. Upon leaving the café, they headed for the bookstore, stopping at the clothing store to chat with Erestor and Lindorillë and those helping out in preparing the store for its grand opening. Then Finrod left them to return to the bookstore and Glorfindel and Daeron headed for the van, meaning to return to Edhellond. Daeron admitted that he was now feeling fatigued and would like to rest and Glorfindel said he still had some Academy-related work to do but he could do it just as easily at home as at the college.

“So, you take a nap and I’ll get some work done and we’ll let someone else worry about dinner,” Glorfindel said as the two climbed into the van.

“I think it’s Cennanion’s turn to cook anyway, he and Alphwen.”

“Do you think they’ll declare their love for one another anytime soon?” Glorfindel asked as he pulled out of the parking lot.

“It would be nice,” Daeron said with a sly grin. “I’m anxious to use the rose petals I’ve been saving up for just such an occasion.”

Glorfindel just shook his head in amusement as he continued driving along Kodiak, but when they passed St. Mary of the Snows Catholic Church, he was suddenly reminded of his dream and the role Charles Waverly played in it and his good mood vanished.

****

Words are Sindarin:

Le hannon: ‘Thank you’.

Pedo gúbeth: ‘Speak no word’.

Minno!: ‘Enter!’

Note: Morwen Lindiriel is an OC.

It was Wednesday before Vardamir and Elrond approached Glorfindel about the physical. They cornered him (or so that was Glorfindel’s impression) after dinner that evening as he was helping to clean up. Most everyone else had scattered to their own amusements except for Glorfindel and Finrod, along with Amarië, Daeron (who was told to sit in the breakfast nook and relax) and Melyanna, who hovered over Daeron like a worried mother hen, as Daeron had put it, plying him with herbal tea and kisses, neither of which he seemed to mind.

Vardamir and Elrond entered the kitchen together. “Loren, if you have a moment,” Vardamir said, casting a glance at the others.

Glorfindel, who happened to be standing at the sink washing the pots and pans, turned, and seeing the two healers’ expressions, said, “It’s all right. Finrod and Darren know about the physical. When did you want to set it up?”

“Are you fine with it?” Elrond asked, giving his old friend a searching look.

Glorfindel shrugged. “I don’t like it, but I’ll do it and only because Ron assured me that no Mortal would be involved.”

“Unfortunately, that cannot be the case entirely,” Vardamir said. “We will have need of the technicians who do the CAT scan and X-rays and the like, but none of the mortal doctors or nurses will be involved. Is that acceptable to you? One of us will be with you at all times when you are undergoing the CAT scan and MRI and whatever else Ron wants done. You will not be alone with the Mortals.”

“I can live with that,” Glorfindel said with a slight sigh as he rinsed the pot he was washing and placed it on the drainboard.

“Then, I have set up the appropriate appointments through Kyle and Geoffrey for tomorrow beginning at seven in the morning,” Vardamir said. “Nothing to eat and only water to drink after midnight.” He chuckled and Glorfindel gave him an enquiring look.

“What’s so funny?”

“Oh, nothing really,” Vardamir replied. “When I was relaying to Kyle the tests Ron wished us to perform, he asked, in all seriousness, if he should also schedule a colonoscopy.”

“What’s that?” Finrod asked and Daeron started choking on the tea he had been drinking.

“Never mind,” Glorfindel said quickly. “I assume you assured Kyle that such an exam was unnecessary.”

Vardamir grinned as did Elrond. “Yes, Loren, I did, so don’t worry. None of the exams will be invasive. The most intrusive part will be taking blood samples. My advice to you is to get as much rest as you can. We’ll plan to leave around six, if that is fine with you.”

“Six is fine,” Glorfindel said, “though I can’t guarantee that I’ll rest. I certainly don’t intend to sleep. I don’t need more nightmares.”

“We can guard your sleep if you wish,” Elrond said.

“Yes, I think that would be wise, gwador,” Finrod said. “You have not slept in two days and I can tell you are weary, though you hide it well.”

“Okay, I guess,” Glorfindel said reluctantly.

“Then it’s settled,” Finrod said with a smile. “When you are ready to sleep, let us know and I will take the first watch.”

“Thanks,” Glorfindel said as he wiped his hands on a towel. “Why don’t we go into the library and relax for a while? I think I want to do some reading. It usually helps me to calm down enough to fall asleep.”

“Yes, let us do so,” Finrod said, “and I still want to know what a colonoscopy is.”

Both Vardamir and Elrond chuckled as they and the others filed out of the kitchen. “We’ll tell you later, Finrod. It’s a rather… um… delicate subject,” Vardamir said.

“Amen to that,” Glorfindel muttered with much feeling and Daeron, walking behind him couldn’t help laughing out loud at his friend’s discomfiture. Glorfindel glared at him but Daeron thought he detected a glimmer of amusement in the ellon’s eyes.

****

Glorfindel woke with a start when he felt someone nudge him, amazed that he had actually fallen asleep, and if he had dreamt, he did not recall. He focused his eyes to see Elrond standing over him smiling. “It’s five-thirty, Glorfindel.”

“Thanks,” Glorfindel said, stretching slightly as he climbed out of bed and grabbed his robe. “I didn’t think I would actually sleep.”

“Well, you may blame Vardamir for that,” Elrond responded with a quirk of his eyebrow, a familiar gesture from days gone by. “He… um… doctored your cup of tea.”

Glorfindel blinked. “He slipped me a mickey? Why that devious little orc.” He shook his head in bemusement as he left his room with Elrond behind him.

“I will let the others know that you are awake,” Elrond said and Glorfindel just nodded as he headed down the hall to the bathroom and a shower.

Fifteen minutes later, showered and dressed in comfortable, loose clothes, Glorfindel joined the others downstairs where they were waiting for him. Besides Elrond, Vardamir, Finrod and Daeron were there to greet him. He tossed Finrod the car keys. “Here, you can drive. I’m not feeling up to it.”

Finrod gave him a searching look. “How did you sleep?”

“Well, considering Mir put something in my tea when I wasn’t looking, I slept pretty well.” He glowered at the healer who responded with a slight smile.

“Tricks of the trade, Glorfindel. You should know how sneaky we healers are. I am sure you watched Elrond while he was being a healer.”

“Yeah, I know, and at the time, I even approved when it was one or both of the Twins who needed healing, but I guess I just don’t like it when it happens to me.”

“No one does,” Elrond said soothingly, “and Vardamir only did it after consulting with me and obtaining my permission—”

“And mine,” Finrod interjected.

Elrond nodded as he continued, “Had either of us said no, he would not have done it.”

“Well, I admit I do feel more rested,” Glorfindel allowed. “We all set?” At everyone’s nods, he opened the door.

“Good luck,” Daeron said at the door. “iMelain ah le, mellon nîn.”

Glorfindel waved as he and the others headed for the van. As Finrod maneuvered it out of the drive and onto the road, Glorfindel, sitting up front, said, “We need to start setting up driving lessons for everyone. I’ll have Daeron make the arrangements for the others to obtain their learner’s permits while we’re in Fairbanks with the youngsters so everything will be set when we get back. I’d like to see you get your license before the end of the summer and as many of the others as we can before winter hits us again.”

“That would be helpful,” Finrod said.

“Don’t you have to work today?” Glorfindel asked him.

Finrod shook his head. “I called Nick last night after you retired to let him know that I would not be in today.”

“Great. Now the whole town will know inside of a day,” Glorfindel groused.

Finrod gave him a merry look. “I doubt it, as the only thing I told Nicholas was that a family matter had arisen that required my full attention and I would be in tomorrow. Don’t sweat it, gwador.”

In spite of himself, Glorfindel barked out a laugh. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to you using American slang. I remember how you spoke when you first arrived.”

“And I still have not forgiven those sorry excuses for Valar for that,” Finrod responded as he made a turn into the hospital parking lot and found a space.

Glorfindel smiled warmly at him. “You’ve come a long way, gwador, and I’m very proud of you.” Then he glanced at the building before them and grimaced. “Well, let’s get this over with.” And with that, he climbed out of the van and the others joined him.

Inside the main lobby, Glorfindel was surprised to see Vorondur and the Twins there. “Looks like old home week,” Glorfindel commented. “Come to gloat over my further humiliation?”

If Vorondur was upset by his attitude, he didn’t show it. The Twins both had pained expressions on their faces. “I never gloat, Loren,” Vorondur said mildly. “I’m here to make sure all is done correctly. Mir and Elrond are too new to this to be able to say either way.”

“And we’re here to lend you moral support,” Elladan added. “Roy and I want to be here for you just as you’ve always been there for us.”

“And I do appreciate it,” Glorfindel said, “but really, I don’t need an audience.”

“Then think of us as your bodyguard,” Roy said with a twinkle in his eyes, “keeping the press and the public from importuning you.”

“I hope you’re not serious about the press,” Glorfindel exclaimed.

“Nah, just a figure of speech,” Roy replied with a wave of a hand. “There are some papers for you to sign giving us permission to perform these tests on you. Let’s go to the registration desk and get you admitted.”

It took about ten minutes to go through the process and then they were all heading for the elevator which took them to the fourth floor where the various imaging machines were. As they went down the corridor with the healers flanking Glorfindel he chuckled. “I feel almost like royalty with my entourage.”

The others chuckled. Elladan stopped before a curtained room and gestured for Glorfindel to enter. “You can store your clothes in that locker. You’ll need to remove any jewelry.”

“And that might be a problem,” Glorfindel said, holding up the hand on which was his Valar-given ring, “since I’ve been told never to take this off.”

“I will carry it for you, gwador,” Finrod offered, “and if at any time you feel uneasy or upset, let me know and we’ll stop the exams and I will give you back the ring until you’re feeling safer.”

Glorfindel scowled as he removed the ring from his finger and handed it to Finrod. “I so hate this.”

The others gave him sympathetic looks. “It’s going to be okay, Loren,” Vorondur said with gentle assurance. “Now why don’t you get undressed and we’ll be waiting for you. If you need to relieve yourself, the bathroom is the second door on your right going back up the corridor.” He pointed in the direction they had come.

Glorfindel nodded and stepped inside the room, closing the curtain. He was relieved to see that besides the dreaded gown, there was a pair of cotton pants so he would not be as exposed as he thought he would be. There were also some slipper-socks for his feet. In a matter of minutes he was dressed and rejoined the others who had wandered further down the corridor, speaking in low tones to a couple of Mortals whom Glorfindel assumed were the imaging technicians. They all looked up at his approach.

“We’re going to start with an MRI and work our way around,” Vorondur said.

“How long is this going to take?” Glorfindel said with a sigh.

“We’ll be out of here by noon,” Vorondur promised.

“Good. I was afraid I’d miss my soaps,” Glorfindel quipped, giving them a sniff and Vorondur and the Twins, and even the technicians, laughed, though Vardamir, Elrond and Finrod gave him puzzled looks, not understanding the reference.

“Shall we get started, then?” Vorondur asked and when Glorfindel nodded, Vorondur gestured for the technicians and they all trooped into the imaging chamber where Glorfindel was directed to climb onto the narrow bed and was hooked up to monitors before the bed was slid into the unit. Everyone else crowded into the small room attached to the chamber where the technicians manipulated the machine.

“It helps to close your eyes, Mr. DelaFiore and just relax,” one of the technicians said into a microphone. “Breathe normally, though there will be times when we will ask you to hold your breath while we’re taking certain images. If at any time you begin to feel panicky, just call out.”

“Okay,” they heard Glorfindel’s tinny voice echoing through the speaker.

“Here we go,” the Man said and for the next half hour or so the Elves stood looking over the shoulders of the technicians as they caught the images they needed. Finrod, Elrond and Vardamir watched in absolute fascination, softly asking Vorondur or the Twins questions about what they were seeing. Occasionally, one of the technicians would ask Glorfindel how he was doing and the ellon assured them that he was fine.

Once the exam was over, Elrohir was the first out of the room, so he did the honors of releasing Glorfindel from the machine, unhooking him. Finrod was right behind him. While Elrohir was helping Glorfindel off the bed, Finrod handed him his ring.

“I see no reason why you cannot wear it in between exams,” he said and Glorfindel gave him a grateful look, sighing almost with relief as he slipped the ring onto his finger.

“Thanks,” he said, then looked at Ron. “So where to next?”

“CAT scan,” came the answer. “We’ll need to inject some dye into you.”

Now Glorfindel sighed for a different reason but only nodded as they all trooped out of the chamber and made their way along another corridor. And so it went. After the CAT scan, they did X-rays, followed by a bone density scan. By then, it was nearly nine o’clock and Vorondur suggested that Glorfindel take a break.

“You haven’t had breakfast yet, so let’s go to the blood lab and get a draw and then you go ahead and have something to eat while I check a few things out. I’ll meet you at the cafeteria in about an hour.”

“What more needs to be done?” Finrod asked as they all filed into an elevator. Vorondur pressed the button for the sixth floor.

“Oh, we need an EKG and a stress test, among other things,” Vorondur replied. “I promise, you’ll be out of here before noon. Once we finish with all the mortal tests, I want Mir or Elrond to scan you and do anything else they think should be done so we have as complete a picture as we can get.”

“Do you think all this is necessary?” Glorfindel asked. “After all, what will an MRI or anything else tell you about why I’m having nightmares?”

“Perhaps nothing,” Vorondur answered as the car came to a stop and the door opened. They all filed out and made their way down a corridor to the blood lab. “In fact, I doubt all these tests will show anything except that you’re as healthy a specimen of elfhood as there can be.”

“Then what’s the point?” Glorfindel insisted.

“The point is, we need a baseline by which to proceed,” Vorondur replied. “If all these tests show is that you’re as healthy physically as the proverbial horse, then we’ve automatically ruled out one reason for why you are having these nightmares and why you’re not eating properly and feeling fatigued all the time. It’s a process of elimination of probable causes and it’s not something that can be done quickly. I’m sorry. I wish I had a magic wand to wave and everything will be better, but that’s not how it goes.”

“Well, after today, I can honestly say that I have nothing but respect for any Mortal who has to endure these kinds of exams on a regular basis.”

“And if all you get out of today is that, then it’s not been wasted,” Vorondur said in all seriousness.

Inside the lab, Glorfindel was directed to sit while Vorondur spoke to the lab technician explaining what tests he needed, filling out the prescriptions for them. There were other patients being administered to, all of them goggling at the contingent of Elves hovering over Glorfindel, who, in spite of wearing a hospital gown and slipper-socks, sat almost with an air of royalty about him as he waited for one of the nurses to draw his blood.

“I didn’t think you Elves ever got sick,” an older gentleman said from across the room where he was having blood drawn. “Whacha doin’ here?”

“We’re trying to get a baseline of elven physiology so that Mortal doctors will know how to treat us if we suffer injuries during the Dagor Dagorath and Loren’s agreed to act as a guinea pig,” Vorondur answered with a straight face.

The Man gave them a skeptical look. “And it takes six of you to see it done?”

Glorfindel leaned over so he could see the Mortal around Elladan. “They’re my security,” he answered.

“Security!” a Woman exclaimed. “You expect someone to come after you with a scalpel or somethin’?”

Glorfindel grinned. “Not that kind of security. They wouldn’t let me bring my teddy bear to hold while undergoing all these stupid tests so they take turns holding my hand.” He paused, flashing everyone a wicked look. “I hold them very hard.”

For a moment there was dead silence all around and then one of the nurses sniggered even as she was drawing blood from another patient and the Man who’d asked the original question started laughing and some of the other Mortals began making rather rude commentary while the Elves just rolled their eyes and shook their heads.

“We’ll wait for you out in the corridor,” Vorondur said, shooing the Twins before him. Vardamir and Elrond followed, but Finrod elected to remain to keep Glorfindel company, so Glorfindel was not completely alone among the Mortals. One of the nurses began going through the procedure of checking Glorfindel’s ID before performing the draw, automatically asking for his date of birth.

Glorfindel chuckled. “I have no idea, but for legal purposes, it’s five-thirteen-fifty-five.”

“You don’t look like you’re almost sixty,” the nurse said in surprise.

“And I’m not,” Glorfindel said. “I’m very much older than that.”

The nurse just raised an eyebrow and then shrugged. A minute later, she was done with the draw and was labeling the tubes of blood. Once done with that, she handed him a small plastic cup with his name scrawled on it. “Do you think you can give us a specimen, Mr. DelaFiore?” she asked without embarrassment.

Glorfindel sighed as he took the cup. “Where?” was all he said.

“Bathroom’s to your right,” the nurse replied, already moving on to her next task. “You’ll see a small door in the wall. You can just leave it on the shelf and then you’re done here.”

Glorfindel glowered as he stood and muttered something low that even Finrod could not hear, though he could guess. “I’ll be out in a minute,” Glorfindel said to him. “You can join the others in the corridor.” Finrod nodded, suddenly having an idea what the Woman was asking of his gwador and refrained from saying anything to compound Glorfindel’s embarrassment.

Out in the corridor, Finrod found the others congregated around the drinking fountain speaking arcanely (to his ears) in medical jargon. They looked up at his approach. “Glorfindel will be out shortly,” was all he said and the others nodded in understanding.

“As soon as he’s done, take him to get some breakfast,” Vorondur ordered. “I’m going to check on some things and I’ll catch up with you in a bit.” With that, he left them.

No one said anything as they waited for Glorfindel to show up, which he did a couple of minutes later. “I really hate this,” was his only comment.

“Let’s go get you some breakfast, Loren,” Elladan said sympathetically. “You’ll feel better.”

****

Vorondur met them at the cafeteria about a half hour later as Glorfindel was finishing eating. The others sat with him drinking coffee or tea and snacking on muffins since they had all had breakfast earlier.

“All set?” he asked Glorfindel, who nodded, taking a last swig of his coffee.

“Yes. Let’s get this over with before I start hurting people.”

Vorondur gave him a serious look. “Relax, Loren. We’re almost done. I know this hasn’t been easy on you, but we’re all on your side, I promise.”

“Whatever. Let’s go.”

They made their way to the third floor and there Glorfindel suffered an EKG and then he got on a treadmill and began walking as he was directed, eventually running at a fast clip all the while holding a conversation with Finrod.

“So, I’m thinking that when we get back from Fairbanks with the youngsters we should seriously start training ourselves. I think I’m sufficiently recovered from my surgery that I can wield a sword again.”

“We’ll have to train in separate rooms, though,” Finrod said in all seriousness as he leaned casually against a wall with his arms and ankles crossed.

“Why?” Glorfindel asked, giving him a puzzled look. “Are those babies still afraid of us? Please! I really am so sick of them treating us this way.”

“Those ‘babies’, as you call them, created this entire universe and the least of them can destroy galaxies with a single thought,” Finrod said mildly.

“Well, I really don’t care,” Glorfindel huffed. Then he looked in the opposite direction to where the technician was in front of the monitors goggling at him. “I can go faster if you want. This is pretty slow.”

“Slow?!” the poor Woman squeaked. “How can you be talking at all? You must be running faster than Jesse Owens.”

“Well, who do you think helped train him?” Glorfindel quipped.

“Seriously?” the Woman asked, her eyes widening even more.

The Twins started laughing. “He’s just kidding you, Maggie,” Elrohir said. “Stop showing off to the lady, Loren.”

Glorfindel smirked, then returned his attention to Finrod. “I’m serious, Finrod. I want to start training again and I want to start training with you. You’re probably the only person who can give me a real challenge. Dan and Roy are excellent sparring partners, but we’ve been together for so long that we can practically read each other’s minds. These days, I need at least a couple of other ellyn fighting me at the same time to keep me distracted enough to make sparring a challenge. Except under strict supervision by the Valar and their Maiar, you and I haven’t actually fought since that damn tournament.”

“Well, we can certainly discuss it during the trip,” Finrod said. “I too am itching to beat you to within an inch of your life.”

“Hah!” Glorfindel exclaimed with a smile. “So are we done yet?” He directed the question more at Vorondur than at Maggie, who just stood there blinking in disbelief at what her instruments were telling her about the Elf. Vorondur glanced at the Woman, giving her an understanding smile, then turned to Glorfindel.

“Yes, we’re done. You can stop now. Dan, you want to get the wires off him?”

Elladan nodded and Glorfindel slowed to a walk and then stopped altogether, barely breathing hard, though there was a sheen of sweat on his brow. Elrohir gave his brother a hand with the wires while Vorondur spoke softly with Maggie, thanking her for her time. Five minutes later, they were leaving the room and heading back to the fourth floor where Elrohir showed Glorfindel where he could take a shower before getting dressed.

“Dan and I have rounds to finish, so we’ll catch you later, okay?” he said and Glorfindel nodded.

“Thanks, both of you. I appreciate you standing by me through all this.”

“It was our honor, Captain,” Elladan said soberly, giving him a slight bow of respect which Elrohir echoed. Then they nodded to the others and went on their way.

“Take your time, Loren,” Vorondur said. “There’s no rush.”

“But I want to get back to Edhellond so I don’t miss Days of Our Lives,” Glorfindel countered with a straight face. “I swear, sometimes, I feel like I’m living in a soap opera, except I don’t have an evil twin.”

And with that parting shot, he headed for the shower room while Vorondur just shook his head in amusement, though the other three ellyn looked a bit puzzled.

“So, what exactly is a soap opera?” Finrod asked.

“Why would Glorfindel think he has a twin, evil or otherwise?” Elrond asked almost at the same time.

Vorondur chuckled at the expectant looks on the faces of the others waiting for his answer.

*****

iMelain ah le, mellon nîn: (Sindarin): ‘The Valar be with you, my friend.’

“I should have all the test results by next Wednesday,” Vorondur told them as they exited the hospital. “Mir, do you and Elrond want to scan Loren later tonight? I’ll come over after dinner.”

Both Vardamir and Elrond nodded. “We’ll set it up for around eight,” Vardamir said. “I might ask the other healers who won’t be on duty tonight to join us if you don’t mind, Glorfindel. It might help to have more than one of us scan you so we have a better idea of what we’re all seeing.”

“And what are you seeing?” Vorondur asked.

Vardamir shook his head and it was Elrond who spoke. “It would be better to discuss this tonight once we’ve had a chance to examine Glorfindel completely.”

“Fair enough,” Vorondur said. “In the meantime, Loren, why don’t we plan to get together next Thursday? I’d like one session with you before you go on your trip.”

Glorfindel nodded. “Fine with me. Call my secretary and set it up.”

Vorondur stopped on the sidewalk as they were heading for the parking lot, frowning slightly. The others stopped as well. Glorfindel gave him a cool stare, almost as if he were daring Vorondur toward some action. Vorondur nodded. “I’ll give Zach a call and make the arrangements,” he said softly, “unless, of course, you prefer him not to know what is happening with you.”

“He’s going to know eventually,” Glorfindel replied with a shrug. “Hell, the entire town will know by tomorrow.”

“And what will they know?” Vorondur asked.

Glorfindel blinked. “What do you mean, what will they know? They’ll know that I was here having tests.”

“And do you think what I told the Mortals in the blood lab was a lie?” Vorondur rejoined.

Glorfindel went still, replaying the scene in the lab. “You told them that you were looking to find a… an elven baseline so Mortal doctors would know what’s normal for us if they have to treat us. But that’s….” He paused to think it through, giving Vorondur a puzzled look. “That’s just too devious even for you, Ron.”

“Nevertheless, it’s true,” Vorondur assured him. “Yes, I do need these tests to see if there’s any physical reason for what you’re experiencing. Doubtful, but, as I said before, we need to eliminate all probable causes before we come to any real conclusions about treatment. At the same time, this afforded us an opportunity to get some further baseline parameters. You’re the first Reborn to undergo these types of tests. Everyone else who’s done so has been a Once-born, as I believe you refer to us. I plan to have my sons take similar tests for comparison purposes. And if I can convince Beleg, Brethorn and Edrahil to come out of the woods long enough, I want to get them tested as well.”

Glorfindel continued staring at him, then cast a sideways glance at Finrod. “So why hasn’t he corralled you into these tests?”

Finrod gave them a supercilious sniff. “Because I am a prince. No one corrals me unless I let them.”

Glorfindel snorted in disbelief. “Whatever,” was his only comment.

Vorondur smiled. “Don’t worry, Loren. Finrod’s not getting out of it that easily. In the end, I think all of us need to undergo the same tests as you have. We really do need to know what our baseline is, not for our sakes but for the Mortals. We cannot guarantee that there will always be elven healers on hand to minister to us when necessary. We may well end up being treated by Mortal doctors. It would be helpful if they know what they are doing.”

Glorfindel nodded. “Yes, I can see that. Well, give Zach a call and have him set up the appointment. He usually knows better than I where I need to be at any given time of the day.”

“We will see you at the picnic?” Finrod asked Vorondur.

“Yes, of course,” Vorondur replied. “We’ll be there. My sons are very excited to see the fireworks.”

Glorfindel actually chuckled. “Maybe we can convince Olórin to give us a show. He’s rather fond of them.”

Elrond chuckled in agreement as he, Glorfindel, Vardamir and Elrond bid Vorondur good-bye and headed for the van. Vorondur watched them go, his expression pensive, giving a wave as they drove by with Finrod at the wheel.

“The tests will not show you what you’re looking for.”

Vorondur turned to see Olórin in his Oliver Grey disguise right down to the lab coat and stethoscope, his hands tucked in his coat pockets in a casual pose, looking every inch the respected doctor that he wasn’t.

“I have to start somewhere,” Vorondur insisted. “You say he’s fading, but I don’t see it. I don’t even know what the symptoms are. I’ve tried to sound a few of the others out on the subject, but most of them admit that they never saw anyone actually fade. One day they were there and the next they were not, but no one can actually tell me what signs there are to look for. So, unless you’re willing to tell me, I have to do this the good old-fashioned way.”

“And that is perhaps for the best,” Olórin said. “Glorfindel is more likely to believe you if you can show him the proofs from your own observations rather than we handing you the solution by fiat. It always works better that way, we find. Now that you’re aware of the truth of his condition, you can concentrate on that instead of looking for more, shall we say, normal causes for what he is experiencing.”

“Well, perhaps when Mir and Elrond and the other healers do their exam, we’ll get something more conclusive.”

“One would hope,” Olórin said. “He held up better than we were expecting.”

“Oh?” Vorondur said. “What were you expecting?”

Olórin smiled thinly. “With Glorfindel, we expect mayhem at any moment.” He shrugged. “That’s just his nature. On the other hand, we were especially vigilant whenever he had to remove his ring so as not to interfere with the tests. Lord Manwë ordered an entire legion of his People to be on hand just in case.”

Vorondur blinked in disbelief. “Seriously? Six thousand Maiar? Where did you put them all?”

Olórin laughed. “Trust me, it wasn’t all that difficult.”

Vorondur gave him a skeptical look. “No one knows the actual number of Maiar who followed the Valar into Eä. Just how many of you are there?”

“Enough,” Olórin answered, “and that is all the answer you will get, my friend. There are enough of us to get the job done and that is all that you need to know. Concentrate on the moment and on Glorfindel. He’s going to need all the help he can get if he is to survive what is to come.”

“And what is to come?” Vorondur demanded, feeling suddenly afraid, though he refused to show it.

“Why war, of course,” Olórin replied with a lift of his eyebrows. “Why else would we be here?” And with that, he turned and headed back toward the hospital, fading away before he went a dozen steps. Mortals coming in and out of the entrance did not seem to notice.

Vorondur stared at the space where the Maia had been and shook his head before fishing out his keys and heading for his car, unlocking it as he approached. Two minutes later he was pulling out of the parking lot and heading home.

****

“So do you actually watch these… um… soap operas?” Finrod asked Glorfindel as they drove up Kodiak.

“What? Uh, no, well, I’ve caught a few from time to time.” Glorfindel gave them a merry look. “But no, I don’t actually watch them. I was just being facetious. Some people take their soap watching very seriously. They love to live vicariously through the characters.” He shrugged and fell silent.

When they reached Edhellond, Daeron was waiting for them. “So how did it go?” he asked anxiously.

“As you can see, I’m still standing,” Glorfindel replied, “but I’m bloody well glad it’s over with or almost.”

“Oh? What more needs to be done?” Daeron asked.

“Ron wants Mir and the other healers to scan me.”

“Yes, I know, you already said. I thought that would be done at the hospital as well.” Daeron gave them all a quizzical look.

Vardamir answered him. “Ron thought Glorfindel would be more comfortable if we did it here. We will do the exam after dinner. Ron will come over then to watch.”

“Library or perhaps your bedroom?” Daeron asked, looking at Glorfindel.

“Wherever you feel the most comfortable, Loren,” Vardamir said before Glorfindel could answer. “It’s entirely your choice.”

“If it were entirely my choice, I wouldn’t be suffering these exams in the first place,” Glorfindel muttered darkly.

Finrod took him by the shoulders and shook him. “No, gwador. Do not take that attitude. Come, I think you need some down time. Let us retire to the woods. We’ll throw everyone else out who’s there and it will just be the two of us.”

“I wish Sador were here,” Glorfindel said suddenly.

“As do I,” Finrod allowed. “Perhaps in time. Gil-galad really does depend on him greatly, else I know he would have been right beside me on Vingilot.”

“And to think I knew him when he was just a newly released Reborn potter mangling up Quenya,” Glorfindel said with a grin.

“He has become one of the most powerful and most respected leaders of our people,” Finrod admitted. “I am happy for him. He deserves every praise given to him. Now, unless you’re hungry and would like some lunch, let us head for the woods and renew our chi.”

“Good lord!” Glorfindel exclaimed in shock. “What are you reading in that bookstore?”

Finrod laughed, the sound merry and unforced, sweeping through them and brightening their spirits so that even Glorfindel looked and felt more relaxed.

“Are you hungry?” Daeron asked. “It’d be easy enough to fix something for you.”

“Not at the moment, thanks,” Glorfindel said. “Let’s take something to drink though.”

They all headed for the kitchen. Glorfindel stopped long enough to grab some bottled water from the refrigerator for himself and Finrod before the two went out again, leaving the others to their own devices. When they reached the woods, Finrod called out in Sindarin, ordering all who were in the woods to meet him in the clearing. When they got there they found half a dozen people milling about, giving the two quizzical looks.

“Is there something wrong, Finrod?” Edrahil asked.

“No, but Glorfindel and I wish to be alone for a time. By your courtesy, if you would leave the woods we would appreciate it.”

“Your wish is our command, lord,” Beleg answered with a short bow. He glanced up at the sky to judge the position of the sun. “Come, it is almost time for The Young and the Restless.”

The others all nodded and, giving Finrod and Glorfindel bows, they headed quickly out of the clearing with Edrahil asking, “So do you think Nikki is wise to accept Jack’s proposal of marriage after seeing Victor and Sharon together? It seems to me that that is a relationship that is doomed before it even begins.”

“I am sure we will find out eventually,” Brethorn answered, “but I was hoping Victor would ask her instead of Jack. Mortal courting rituals are so confusing.” There were murmurs of agreement as the group disappeared from view.

Glorfindel and Finrod stared at one another for a long moment and then burst out laughing. “To think that we have a household of soap addicts,” Glorfindel said with a shake of his head. “What would the folks back home think?”

“Probably that we have all gone insane if not native,” Finrod replied. “Would you like to sit here or in a tree?”

“Here is fine, though really we didn’t need to shoo the children away.”

“Perhaps, but I just thought you would enjoy the peace and quiet without them. They haunt these woods often enough. It’s good for them to be elsewhere for a change.”

“Once they start working as Rangers that will certainly be the case.” Glorfindel took a swig of his water and with a sigh sat on the ground, leaning against one of the logs that were used as benches. Finrod joined him, putting an arm around Glorfindel’s shoulders.

“It will be well, gwador,” he said softly, giving him a squeeze.

Glorfindel nodded and then quite unexpectedly burst into tears. Finrod simply held him closer, never saying a word.

****

Daeron came to the woods sometime later to check up on them and let them know that dinner was on. He found Glorfindel lying with his head in Finrod’s lap fast asleep while Finrod gently stroked his hair, singing softly. Without stopping his ministration or singing, he looked up at Daeron’s approach, shaking his head slightly before looking down at his gwador with a fond smile. Daeron nodded to himself and left silently, returning to the house to inform the others. Then he picked up the phone in the kitchen and called Vorondur, explaining the situation.

“You may want to come over now and the healers can conduct their exam in the woods,” he told Vorondur. “I don’t think Finrod wants to waken Loren unless absolutely necessary. Unless he wakens on his own, I suspect they’ll spend the night out in the woods.”

He paused to listen to what Vorondur had to say and nodded. “We’ll see you shortly then.” He hung up and turned to the others. “Ron is on his way. Decide among yourselves who will go out to the woods, but I don’t think it wise for all of you to go.”

“No, I agree,” Vardamir said. “Ron wished for me and Elrond to conduct the exam. I’d like at least one other to join us.” He turned to the others who were there. “Dan and Roy are still at the hospital, though they should be home soon. Ernest, you’re scheduled to be there later, right?”

Eärnur nodded. “As is Manwen. In fact, we should be leaving. Conan’s giving us a lift.”

“Well, I don’t want to wait for the Twins. Randall, I guess you’re with us.” Laurendil nodded.

“Then we’ll see you later,” Eärnur said and he and Manwen left with Cenannion while others gathered in the dining room to eat, their conversation subdued. No one bothered to sit at either end of the table where Finrod and Glorfindel always sat. Daeron stated that he would go back to the woods and let Finrod know what was going on.

“When Ron gets here, just come out,” he told them as he exited the house. He made his way swiftly to the woods and presently came to the clearing where he found that nothing had changed except that Finrod was no longer singing, but he continued to stroke Glorfindel’s hair. Daeron settled himself carefully on a nearby log and spoke in a whisper.

“I called Ron. He’s on his way now. As soon as he comes, Mir, Elrond and Randall will come out and conduct their exam. Do you think you can keep Loren asleep in the meantime? I think it will go better for all of us if he remains asleep.”

Finrod nodded. “Yes, I can do that.”

“I’ve already told the others that you will likely remain out here for the night unless Loren wakes on his own, so once the healers are done then we’ll leave you alone.”

But Finrod shook his head. “No. I don’t think we will do that. For one thing, I’d like to have dinner and for another, I think my legs have gone to sleep and I’m pretty sure my bottom is numb as well.”

Daeron flashed him a grin. “And we can’t have that, can we?” He paused, looking in the direction of the house and nodded. “Ron made good time. I think they’re here.”

Even as he was speaking, four figures flitted into the clearing with Vardamir in the lead. He took in the scene at once and said, “We’ll do this quickly. Finrod, keep him under. Here Daeron, hold this for me, would you? Thank you.” He slipped off the satchel he was carrying and handed it to Daeron who moved further out of the way, joined by Vorondur, who watched the healers with grave intent. The three healers ranged themselves around Finrod and the still sleeping Glorfindel with Elrond and Laurendil kneeling before Finrod and Vardamir standing behind him. Vardamir nodded to the two ellyn who held their arms out with their hands a few inches from Glorfindel’s body. Elrond muttered an invocation to Lady Estë and then fell silent as he concentrated on what he was sensing.

There was no sound, not even the soughing of the wind in the trees. All was still as the light dimmed toward twilight, though that was still a couple of hours away. After what seemed to Daeron to be forever but was perhaps no more than twenty minutes, both Laurendil and Elrond sat back on their heels, dropping their arms. They looked up at Vardamir who just nodded while he bent down and whispered something in Finrod’s ear. Daeron saw Finrod nod and leaned over to speak softly to Glorfindel, bidding him to wake.

Glorfindel sighed slightly and began blinking his eyes, focusing them, frowning slightly as if he wasn’t sure where he was. Then he seemed to notice Elrond and Laurendil still kneeling before him. “What time is it?” he asked as he struggled to sit up, yawning and shaking the sleep from him, while Elrond and Laurendil rose to their feet, giving Glorfindel some room.

“Time to eat, gwador,” Finrod said decisively.

Glorfindel looked up at Vardamir standing behind Finrod. “Why are you here?”

“We decided to do our exam while you were sleeping,” Vardamir answered without apology. “It’s always best if the patient is relaxed when we do such an exam. I doubt you would have been too relaxed had you been awake. This way, you got some sleep and we got our results.”

“And what are the results?” Vorondur asked before Glorfindel could.

“I would like to take some time to consult with my colleagues to see if we agree on the results before we tell you. Why don’t you all go back inside and have dinner and we’ll meet afterwards, perhaps in the sunroom? That way we won’t be tying up the library if others wish to use it.”

“Does that meet with your approval, gwador?” Finrod asked.

“Sure. I guess.” He ran his hands through his golden locks and sighed.

Vorondur smiled. “Come and have dinner, Loren, Finrod, and while you’re eating I’ll tell you what crazy thing my sons did this morning while we were at the hospital. You’ll have to tell me if this is a Reborn thing or if my sons are truly that insane.”

Everyone gave him considering looks and Glorfindel even smiled. “This I have to hear.” He stood up and gave a hand to Finrod who groaned slightly and spent a few seconds shaking out his legs, while Daeron returned Vardamir’s satchel to him. Vorondur headed back to the house with Glorfindel, Finrod and Daeron following, leaving the healers to themselves.

For a long moment the three just stared at one another, silently communicating their thoughts. Finally, Vardamir broke eye contact and sighed. “So we are in agreement,” he said softly, speaking in Quenya.

“It’s not good,” Elrond replied in the same language. “But then we knew that already.”

“Yes,” Vardamir allowed, nodding. “The only question that remains is, what do we tell them?”

“The truth, of course,” Laurendil said with a shrug. “Don’t forget, both Finrod and Vorondur have the ability to do what we’ve done. They can verify our findings on their own. I cannot lie to Finrod even if I wished to. My oaths will not allow it. And lying to Glorfindel is also out of the question, though for different reasons.”

“I am not countenancing lying to them,” Vardamir said sharply, “but I question the wisdom of telling them the full truth, especially Glorfindel. Vorondur, yes, because he needs to know in order to treat Glorfindel.”

“Yet, Glorfindel will demand an accounting and I have perhaps known him longer than either of you,” Elrond said. “He is stronger than you might think and he will not thank us for withholding such information.”

Vardamir gave the other two healers considering looks. “So, who wants to do the honors?”

Both Laurendil and Elrond snorted. “That is a rhetorical question, right?” Elrond asked, smiling knowingly at his friend.

Vardamir gave them a rueful look as the three headed away from the clearing. “Unfortunately.”

****

Note: The Elves’ discussion of The Young and the Restless plot is based on the actual storylines aired on 21 and 22 May, 2012.

Vardamir, Elrond and Laurendil returned to the house in time to hear laughter coming from the dining room. Stepping inside they saw even Glorfindel laughing uproariously at whatever Vorondur was telling them about his sons and the three healers exchanged pleased smiles.

When he calmed down a bit, Glorfindel said, “Oh no, Ron. Your sons are definitely insane. No self-respecting Reborn would do anything like that.”

All the Reborn started laughing. “Except that we have,” Brethorn admitted, “to one degree or another.”

“And what exactly did your sons do, Vorondur?” Vardamir asked, looking amused.

Vorondur chuckled and everyone else tittered. “Proved to me what Finrod and Loren and the others are always saying, that a bored Reborn is a dangerous Reborn.”

All the Reborn in the room nodded smugly.

“And?” Vardamir insisted.

Vorondur shook his head. “My sons decided that our garden wasn’t up to their exacting standards, never mind that we just moved into the house and we’re still working on beautifying the yard. It’ll take a couple more years before we get it to where we want it to be, especially with such a short growing season, but Dar and Cani decided they didn’t want to wait that long, so last night they raided Bronwen’s Nursery and… um… liberated quite a few plants.”

“They stole plants from the nursery?” Laurendil exclaimed in shock.

“And worked all night to plant them in our yard.”

“And none of you were awake to see them do this?” Elrond asked, giving Vorondur a skeptical look.

“They were very quiet,” Vorondur said almost apologetically and a couple of the listeners snickered.

“I assume you had them dig it all up again and sent the plants back,” Vardamir said.

Vorondur shook his head. “When I left for the hospital, Amroth was collecting all the price tags, not all of them removed yet, and was totaling up the damage while Della was calling Bronwen’s to see if they had even noticed the theft yet. The poor plants were traumatized by their abduction and Holly was going around speaking to them soothingly, assuring them that they were loved and all was well. We’ll keep the plants but my sons will be paying off the theft for a very long time.”

“But surely they must’ve known that what they were doing was wrong,” Alphwen exclaimed.

“Oh, I think they did, but at the same time, they saw all the beautiful gardens of our neighbors and were jealous or embarrassed and they just decided that as Elves, their garden should be more spectacular.” Vorondur paused to take a sip of wine before continuing. “I fear that our families in Aman inculcated into my sons their own prejudices against the Secondborn while they were still emotionally vulnerable, so they dismissed the notion that what they were doing was theft, insisting the plants were their due as Firstborn.”

“Ooh boy. That’s not good,” Gilvegil said with a shake of his head.

“No, it’s not, but don’t worry about it,” Vorondur said. “Holly and I will deal with it and with them. In fact, that’s where I was this afternoon before you called me. I took them down to Bronwen’s and had them apologize for what they did and we’ve arranged for restitution. They will both be working at the nursery without pay during the three seasons it’s open. Based on the actual cost of all the plants they took, they’ll be working off their misdeeds for the next five years.”

Several of the Elves shook their heads, including Glorfindel, who said, “Even I’ve never been that stupid.”

“No, you just stole a horse and ended up being a thrall,” Finrod said with a smile.

“No thanks to you,” Glorfindel snarled suddenly, his humor vanished in an instant. He began shouting, his anger rising, pointing a finger down the table at Finrod. “You’re the one who gave Ingwë the idea in the first place, you… you orc-lover. Do you know how humiliating it was to stand there before his entire court and have him do that to me?”

“Whoa! Glorfindel! Take it easy,” Vardamir said, placing a hand on the ellon’s shoulder while everyone else just stared at him in shock. Glorfindel shrugged him off and grabbed his knife. What he thought he would do with it was anyone’s guess. Those sitting closest to him scrambled out of his way. Elrond took the initiative and reached over, clamping a hand on Glorfindel’s wrist, forcing his arm down.

“Adlego i-higil,” he said softly but with such power behind it that Glorfindel immediately complied. His breathing was ragged as he glared down the table at Finrod who had gone completely still. Elrond did not release his hold on Glorfindel, but looked over his shoulder at Vardamir. “I think we should take this upstairs to the sunroom.” He continued speaking in Sindarin.

Vardamir nodded and motioned for Laurendil to follow him out. Elrond glanced at Vorondur and nodded. “I will handle him,” he said. “You go on ahead.”

Vorondur stood and walked out. Finrod started to rise, but Elrond shook his head and his tone was absolutely frigid. “No, my lord, I think you’ve done enough damage for one night. Please remain here.”

Finrod paled at the reprimand but sat back down. Amarië sitting next to him placed a comforting hand on his arm. Elrond ignored them and everyone else, concentrating on Glorfindel who was still glaring down the table. Elrond reached over with his other hand and forced Glorfindel to look at him. “We are going up to the sunroom and you are going to behave,” he said softly, though there was a hint of steel in his voice and those who had never known the erstwhile Master of Imladris saw why Gil-galad had made him his Herald. For a moment, Glorfindel did not respond, but then he nodded, taking a deep breath and all the tension in his body seemed to disappear.

“Let’s go,” he said in English, standing. Elrond stepped back to give him room. Without looking at anyone, Glorfindel exited with Elrond right behind him.

When they reached the sunroom, they found the healers huddled together, speaking softly. They looked up at Elrond’s and Glorfindel’s entrance. “Is Finrod joining us?” Vorondur asked.

Elrond shook his head. “I do not think it wise at the moment. I asked him to remain in the dining room.”

Glorfindel snorted. “More like ordered him. That orc-lover had no right to—”

“Havo ar le no dhínen!” Elrond commanded forcefully and such was his presence that Glorfindel immediately complied with the order. Elrond glared down at him. “You will not use such language in my presence, Lord Glorfindel. I will not tolerate that level of disrespect even from you.”

Glorfindel actually wilted, looking abject and apologetic. Vorondur decided to intervene, crouching to be at eye level with the balrog slayer. “Why do you insist on making outrageous statements that you know are untrue, Loren? It’s almost as if you want to provoke someone to contradict you just so you have an excuse to lash out at people.”

“That’s not like him, though,” Laurendil said, “at least not the Glorfindel I remember from Aman.”

“And it’s not like him here, either,” Vorondur allowed, never taking his eyes off Glorfindel. “What did your exam reveal?”

“Elrond,” Vardamir said, giving the Master of Imladris implicit permission to speak for them all.

“Olórin gave me the name ‘Elrod Ronaldson’,” he said with a slight smile. “Perhaps you should start calling me that if I am to live here.”

 “Very well, Elrod,” Vardamir said with a smile. “Perhaps you can tell Ron what we’ve learned.”

“So, there’s Ron, Roy and now Rod?” Glorfindel asked with an amused quirk of his lips.

Elrond put a finger to Glorfindel’s lips, not saying anything. Glorfindel subsided. For a moment, Elrond just stared down at him and the others saw that Glorfindel could not meet the Master’s gaze, which they all found significant. Finally, Elrond turned to Vorondur. “Physically, Glorfindel is in good health, though there is still a weakness around the area of the surgery, but that is just a matter of reconditioning his body. I suspect that the tests from the hospital will reveal the same result in that regard. What is troubling is that his aura is erratic.”

“How so?” Vorondur asked. “I will admit that while I’m familiar with the theory behind aurae, I have never pursued it as a field of study. Among Mortals it is still a contested issue and not everyone believes in their existence or their worth in determining a person’s health.”

Elrond nodded. “Understandable. In Glorfindel’s case we’re seeing a constant shift between the various auric bodies.”

“Sorry, you’ve lost me,” Vorondur admitted.

Vardamir took up the explanation. “There are seven auric bodies or layers, each with its own frequency and purpose and they are interrelated, affecting one another and therefore impacting a person’s emotional, mental, physical and even spiritual health. An imbalance in one auric body will cause imbalances in the others.”

“And you are seeing this imbalance in Loren.” Vorondur made it more a statement than a question.

“More to the point, we are seeing shifts and they’re not exactly what we would consider imbalances,” Elrond said. “When, say, there is an imbalance in the etheric auric body which relates to self-acceptance and self-love, there is a corresponding imbalance in the astral, which impacts our relationships with others, especially family and friends.”

“But you’re not seeing an imbalance,” Vorondur said, trying to understand what the healer was saying.

“No. What we are seeing are shifts all along the spectrum,” Elrond answered. “There are imbalances, yes. For instance, in the physical auric layer, as I said, there are weak spots where Glorfindel was either injured in the attack or subsequently during surgery to save his life. Naturally, these weak spots are manifested outwardly as fatigue, irritation and the like. Under normal circumstances, these things heal themselves. What we are seeing, though, is different. What we are seeing is an entire shifting of frequencies until the various auric bodies are becoming uniformly muddied to the point where they are slowly becoming invisible.”

“What does that mean?” Glorfindel couldn’t help asking, looking distraught.

“We don’t know,” Vardamir answered, “but we have the feeling that, if we don’t find a way to reverse the process, it will continue until…”

“Until what?” Glorfindel demanded hotly. Vorondur placed a warning hand on the ellon’s shoulder. Glorfindel looked at him.

“It means, Loren, that you are beginning to fade,” Vorondur said quietly.

Glorfindel shook his head. “No. That’s impossible. I would know… wouldn’t I?” he asked plaintively.

“Have you seen people fading?” Vardamir asked.

“Sure. You remember, Elrond, the number of times we had Elves coming into Lindon to take ship who were barely hanging on and then we saw it happening when we were living in Imladris.”

Elrond nodded. “Though I suspect that most of them were suffering from sea-longing. There appears to be similarities of symptoms between the two phenomena.”

“And when I was in Aman, there was Lirulin,” Glorfindel said, apparently not listening. “I was the only one who recognized what was happening to her. Not even Ingwë saw it until I pointed it out to him. But Lirulin was practically comatose. I’m not.”

“No, you’re not,” Vorondur assured him, “but if what the healers say is true, then we have our work cut out for us. We need to discover what’s causing the shifts and then how to reverse the process, if it can be reversed.”

Glorfindel’s face became suffused with anger. “I will not fade! I didn’t survive death to just go gentle into that good night, as the poet says. I’ll be damned if I do!”

“Precisely.”

Glorfindel blinked at Vorondur, his anger forgotten. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, that if you fade in truth, it is unlikely that you will bother to heed Lord Námo’s call because you will be too sunk in despair to hear it. You will remain one of the Houseless for all the remaining ages of Arda and only Eru will be able to save you. That is where you are heading, Loren, and we need to stop you from throwing yourself over the cliff, so to speak.”

“And the first step is to go downstairs and apologize to the others, especially Finrod, for your actions,” Elrond said firmly.

“He shouldn’t have said what he did,” Glorfindel growled. “He had no right to throw that in my face.”

“No, he didn’t, but at the same time, I wonder if you would have reacted as you did if you weren’t, shall we say, not yourself.” Elrond gave him a considering look and Glorfindel reluctantly nodded as he stood, and they could almost see him mentally girding his loins. Without another word or a backward glance, he left them.

For a long moment, none of the healers said anything, all of them watching Glorfindel’s retreating figure. Then Vardamir turned to Vorondur. “You don’t seem surprised at our findings,” he stated.

Vorondur shook his head. “I was… warned earlier.”

“Oh? By whom?”

Vorondur gave them a wry look. “Who do you think? I was at the café the other night and had a very interesting chat with a certain Vala.”

The other three ellyn gave him disbelieving looks that set Vorondur chuckling. “Trust me, I was not happy to see him either. So, short of sending Glorfindel back to Aman, which I assume is not an option, what do we do?”

“What we can,” Elrond said grimly. Vardamir and Laurendil nodded, both looking grave.

Vorondur sighed, running a hand through his hair. “That’s what I was afraid you’d say.”

****

Glorfindel got as far as the landing between the first and ground floors and stopped, now suddenly feeling… not afraid exactly. Embarrassed, perhaps? Certainly shocked at the news. Fading. He was fading. How was that even possible? He stumbled to the bottom of the stairs and sat heavily on the second step up, unable to go any further. Finrod and his apology would have to wait. For now…

He rubbed absently at his wrists, now innocent of any scars where the attackers had slashed him, staring at nothing in particular, trying to grasp the import of what he’d been told. He reviewed in his mind every instance he could recall of someone fading or beginning to fade and in every case, or so it seemed to him, the person had given up estel. Somewhere along the way they had stopped hoping. But he hadn’t done that, had he? He was still hopeful, still looking forward to the future.

Well, yes and no, he admitted to himself.

Yes, he was looking forward to such things as Amroth and Nimrodel’s children being born, and then Nielluin’s marriage to Gareth and possibly even Gwyn and Mithrellas getting together and maybe even Roy and Sarah announcing that they were expecting a child. And then there was Elf Academy. As much as it was a pain to deal with at times, especially the college administration, he looked forward to each new term and the students who would come.

But, to be honest, he knew that at the same time, he dreaded the future and what it held for them all. The Dagor Dagorath loomed before him and the possibility that the Mortals he knew today or will know tomorrow could very well die, that even he and all the other Elves could die, yes, that was frightening. But really, why should it be? For the Mortals, war or not, death was inevitable, sad for those left behind, but the nature of things. For the Elves, death was just a temporary interruption and he knew from experience that the elven dead had no memory of the living so they at least would feel no burden of sadness or guilt.

So, why was he feeling frightened?

He shook his head, as if to clear it of dark thoughts, then wrapped his arms around his knees and hid his face as he crouched on the step wishing everything would just go away.

“Gwador?”

Glorfindel looked up to see Finrod standing before him with a look of concern. “I’m fading,” he said. “I’m fading and I don’t know how to stop it and…” He choked back a sob. Finrod reached over and pulled him up into his embrace and held him tightly as he started to weep.

“We’ll find a way together, hanno,” Finrod whispered in Glorfindel’s ear. “I promise we will not let you fade.”

“How can you promise that?” Glorfindel demanded, pushing himself out of Finrod’s hold, wiping the tears from his face with his sleeves.

“Because I have no intention of letting you go, now or ever,” Finrod said firmly. “We’ll fight this together, you and I.”

“Yet, how?” Glorfindel asked, hoping that his gwador would actually have a solution to all this.

Finrod gave him a sigh. “Unfortunately, I have no idea.”

Glorfindel stared at him in disbelief and then the very absurdity of it all caught up with him and he started laughing. There was an edge of hysteria to it but he didn’t care; he just laughed and Finrod, after a moment, joined him. When the healers came downstairs they found the two of them clinging to one another as they continued laughing.

****

Words are Sindarin unless otherwise noted:

Adlego i-higil: ‘Let go the knife’.

Havo ar le no dhínen!: ‘Sit and be thou silent!’

Hanno: (Quenya) Colloquial form of háno: Brother.

Vorondur was the first to react, pushing his way past the other ellyn even as he was giving orders. “Mir, take Finrod in hand while I deal with Loren.” And as he reached the bottom of the steps he took Glorfindel by the shoulders and forced him out of Finrod’s hold. By now Glorfindel’s laughter had turned to tears again and he did not fight Vorondur, but allowed the ellon to hold him. Vardamir, meanwhile, had come down and was holding Finrod while the prince pulled himself together. Laurendil stood by, rubbing Finrod’s back. Elrond gravitated to Vorondur and Glorfindel, rubbing the latter’s back in an attempt to calm him.

The library door opened and Daeron stepped out and came up the hall. “Everything all right?” he asked, giving them a concerned look.

Vorondur shook his head and looked at Elrond. “Do you want to explain it to everyone? I’m going to try to get Loren to rest. Darren, will you send Amarië out? I think Finrod would appreciate her company.”

“No, that’s all right,” Finrod said, having ceased his laughter. “I will come with you, Ron. Daeron, please tell my wife that I will join her in a while. Come, gwador, let’s get you to your room. You should rest for a time. You’re emotionally exhausted.”

It was a testament to Glorfindel’s state that he did not argue but allowed himself to be led back up the stairs and to his room where he undressed and crawled into bed, sighing as he pulled the covers around him, closing his eyes. Finrod placed a hand on Glorfindel’s forehead, covering his eyes. The prince whispered something soft and Vorondur could feel the power flowing from him. A moment later, he stood back, giving Vorondur a sigh.

“I’ve put him into healing sleep. He’ll waken on his own in the morning.”

“How are you doing?”

Finrod gave him a sour look. “How am I supposed to be doing, Ron? You say Glorfindel is fading, yet, I do not see it.”

“No one does, including Loren,” Vorondur allowed, “but Mir and Elrond have confirmed what I was told was true.”

Finrod raised an eyebrow. “Who told you?”

“Nate, along with Lords Manwë and Irmo. They came to me when I was at the café the other night.”

“Ah… and they would know if anyone did.” Finrod frowned. “We will need to watch him very carefully.”

“You mean more carefully than usual.”

Finrod nodded somewhat distractedly as he gazed down at the sleeping Glorfindel. “Were you offered a cure?”

Vorondur snorted and at the sound, Finrod looked up in surprise. “According to Lord Manwë, the Valar have no idea how to counteract the effects of fading. They can mitigate them to some extent. Apparently residing in Valinor helps, but otherwise, I think we’re on our own. I can tell you this, though.”

“What?”

“According to the Valar, the Enemy is responsible for Loren’s fading. The Enemy doesn’t want Loren dead, only damned.”

Finrod’s lips thinned. “Yes, I can see that. Well, now that we know what we are dealing with, we will do our level best to ruin the Enemy’s plans.”

“Do you think you should still go to Fairbanks?” Vorondur asked. “I am not sure I want Loren out of sight.”

“The children have been promised this trip and I will not disappoint them, especially Nielluin. I think Glorfindel needs to go as well. I think he needs to get away from here for a time. But I understand your concerns. What if someone came with us?”

“Yet, who? All the healers will be gone to Anchorage. In fact, they’ll be leaving tomorrow. I can’t get away without disrupting my patients’ schedules and a couple are at a delicate stage of their treatment.”

“Perhaps Barahir, Gilvegil or Cennanion might be able to join us,” Finrod offered.

Vorondur shrugged. “We can certainly ask. Shall we go downstairs and see how people are taking the news?”

“Yes. I do not want to leave Glorfindel alone for any length of time, though.”

“I’m sure people will be willing to take turns watching over him.”

Finrod nodded and bent down to kiss Glorfindel on the forehead. Glorfindel never stirred. Vorondur opened the door and Finrod exited with Vorondur right behind, not bothering to turn off the bedroom light. They went back downstairs and made their way to the library where they found everyone who had been present for dinner gathered, looking grim and sorrowful.

“How is he, Ron?” Barahir asked.

“In healing sleep at the moment,” Vorondur answered. “Finrod would like to have people take turns watching over him.”

“I’ll go,” Barahir offered. “Anything I should know?”

Both Vorondur and Finrod shook their heads. “He will waken on his own in the morning,” Finrod said, “or that is what he should do, but you know Glorfindel. He has a way of surprising us. Even in Mandos, he refused to do the expected.”

Several people chuckled at that and Barahir started to leave. “I will spell you in an hour,” Gilvegil told him and the ellon nodded.

“So, what are we to do?” Lindorillë asked. “How do we help?”

“There is no known cure for this,” Vorondur answered, “at least, there’s no medicine or medical technique that will solve the problem. We need, or rather, I need to find the underlying cause of Loren’s malady. Fading is merely the outer symptom of an underlying cause. In the meantime, we need to devise as many different ways as we can to… to brighten his fëa, to help him regain estel. I will continue counseling him, but others can help as well.”

“Even if all you do is take up some of Glorfindel’s duties for yourself and relieve him of some of his burdens, that should help,” Finrod added.

“Are we letting our mortal friends know what is happening?” Cennanion asked. “They might want to help as well.”

Vardamir shook his head. “I think we should keep this to ourselves for now,” he said. “With the Mortals divided in thought about us, we don’t want to give any of the naysayers fuel for their fire. If they learn of Glorfindel’s condition…”

“And yet, our friends, when they find out, and they will, may feel betrayed by our lack of respect toward them by not letting them know upfront what is going on,” Daeron suggested.

“Still, what could they do to help?” Manwen asked.

“They may do nothing more than offer Loren tea and sympathy,” Vorondur answered, “but I agree with Daeron that it’s not fair to leave our friends out of this. Zach, at least, will need to be told because of his working relationship with Loren. And there are those who join us in council. They may not understand about fading but they see Loren on a regular basis and they will know that something isn’t right with him. I would not countenance lying to them.”

“Nor would I,” Finrod said. “Still, I do not fancy shouting the news on every street corner.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Vorondur said with a smile. “For now, let’s just concentrate on Loren. When an opportunity arises with our mortal friends to address the subject, then we will do so.”

Everyone nodded in agreement and people began discussing among themselves ideas on how to lift Glorfindel’s spirits and help him. Vardamir motioned for Vorondur, Daeron, Finrod and Elrond to join him as he left the library and headed for the kitchen. Only when they were alone did he speak.

“I am not sure if we healers should leave at this time.”

“You’ve been planning this trip and working too hard to not go,” Vorondur said. “Elrond will still be here and you saw how he was able to control Loren. Even I don’t have that kind of power.”

Elrond smiled grimly. “Power has nothing to do with it, my friend. I was Glorfindel’s lord and he knew better than to disobey any command I uttered. Old habits such as that are hard to drop.”

“Perhaps,” Vorondur allowed, “but what I am saying is that we don’t need every healer on hand at the moment. Getting yourselves board certified is important, more than you probably think. Elrond and I can deal with the situation during your absence. Finrod and I were discussing earlier whether or not the planned trip to Fairbanks should still be allowed given what we now know.”

“And I said that I would not disappoint the children and if others wish to join us, I am fine with that.”

“Who would you like to see accompany you?” Vardamir asked.

“It does not matter,” Finrod said somewhat dismissively, “so long as it is someone whom Glorfindel trusts implicitly.”

“That would be any of us, wouldn’t it?” Vardamir asked.

“Not necessarily,” Daeron countered.

Vardamir gave him a surprised look, but both Vorondur and Elrond nodded. “But, surely he trusts all of us,” Vardamir insisted. “We’re Elves, after all, not Mortals.”

“And we Elves have a history of betrayal no less than the Mortals,” Vorondur replied with a grim look. “No, I agree with Daeron. Loren respects us all, but he trusts only a few. Finrod is one. Daeron is another. The Twins certainly and I suspect Elrond as well. But the rest of us? No, he’s more careful than that.”

Vardamir continued looking disturbed. “Could this be symptomatic of his fading, this wariness and lack of trust towards his own people?”

“Oh no, my friend,” Elrond said with a grimly amused look. “Glorfindel has always been that way for as long as I have known him. Do not mistake me! The Lord of the House of the Golden Flower takes his oaths seriously and he would gladly die for any one of us without counting the cost. No, that is not his nature, but trust, true, implicit trust, the trust one gives to another only after you have both suffered together and have proven yourselves to one another, is something else entirely. It is a trust born from fire and has nothing to do with love or the giving of oaths.”

Silence hung about them as Vardamir contemplated Elrond’s words. Finally, he looked at Finrod. “So, who should we ask to accompany you to Fairbanks?”

“The one problem I see is that most everyone will be unavailable. The healers will be gone and so will those who plan to join the Rangers. They leave on Tuesday for a time, do they not?”

Vardamir nodded. “Yes. They plan to be gone for a couple of weeks on their… fieldtrip, I believe the word is.”

“So who does that leave us?” Vorondur asked. “Who does Loren trust implicitly enough to let them accompany you to Fairbanks knowing why that person is there?”

“The list is alarmingly short, I’m afraid,” Daeron replied. “I would go, but I think it wiser if I remain here.”

“I will come.”

They turned to see Prince Legolas standing at the doorway, his expression distant, almost regal.

“Do you not have your own duties at the police station?” Vorondur asked, giving him a fond smile, remembering the wide-eyed elfling visiting Imladris for the first time in the company of his adar and naneth. Legolas had been about thirty, if he recalled correctly, and the Twins had instantly adopted him.

“More to the point, how much does Glorfindel trust you?” Vardamir interjected.

Legolas raised an imperious eyebrow at both questions and Vorondur hid a smile at the sight, suddenly reminded of Thranduil at his worst, or best; it was always hard to tell with that one. Legolas decided to answer Vorondur’s question first. “I am sure that once we explain the situation to Dave Michaelson he will be more than willing to let me go.”

“And once David knows the truth it will not be long before the entire town does,” Daeron offered.

“But not from Michaelson,” Vorondur said. “Dave knows how to keep his mouth shut. He is, after all, in a position of trust. Well, we can only ask.”

“Yet, does Glorfindel trust you?” Vardamir insisted. “Would he allow you to accompany him, knowing what your purpose is?”

“Elladan and Elrohir trust me,” Legolas answered.

“And if they trust you, then Glorfindel trusts you,” Daeron said with a nod.

Vardamir still looked skeptical, but Elrond nodded. “Legolas has always had Glorfindel’s trust and love.”

“Then, it’s settled,” Vorondur said. “Liam, you leave for the station soon do you not?”

“Yes. I am scheduled for the graveyard shift. I will speak with Captain Michaelson when he comes in the morning after I end my shift.”

“It might be wise for me to be there to answer any questions of a medical nature that Dave might have,” Vorondur suggested. “I’ll plan to be there around seven. I can give you a lift home afterwards.”

“That would be acceptable,” Legolas said. “I must go now.” He gave them a nod of his head in farewell and left.

“Well, now that that is settled, I must go and pack,” Vardamir said. “We’ll be leaving before dawn.”

“The very best of luck with the exams for all of you,” Vorondur said sincerely. “I know you will all do fine. You’ve had excellent teachers.”

“Yes, I am beginning to see that,” Vardamir replied with a slight, sardonic smile. He gave them a short bow and made his way up the back stairs, leaving Vorondur alone with Finrod and Elrond.

“I should be getting home myself,” Vorondur said. “I still have two ellyn to deal with.”

Elrond and Finrod grinned. “Just when you thought you were safe from elfling raising,” Finrod commented and Vorondur gave them a rueful look.

“Which just goes to show that you should be careful what you wish for,” he quipped. “After Liam and I have spoken to Dave, we’ll let you know what he decides.”

“I would appreciate that, thank you,” Finrod said. “I won’t be going into work until the afternoon, so you will find me here.”

“Good enough,” Vorondur said. “Good night,” he bade them and headed for the front door. Finrod decided he would check up on Glorfindel and Elrond joined him, the two making their way up the back stairs.

****

Legolas returned to the police station after his shift, writing up all that had happened while on patrol with Officer Huggins. Once done with that, he went to the locker room and changed back into civvies, chatting amiably with his fellow officers. It had been a week or so after he first joined the police force before Michaelson thought to have him assigned a locker. Over the last several months since beginning his training, he’d become more relaxed as the Mortals began to warm to him. He knew he had ‘arrived’ as Glorfindel had put it when he told him, when one of the men shared an off-color joke with him. He recalled how even someone like King Bard of Dale with whom he was close friends would never have presumed to speak before the elven prince in such a manner even if he knew any off-color jokes, which Legolas seriously doubted. Even Aragorn never showed that level of familiarity.

Glorfindel had merely smiled when Legolas shared the incident with him. “Well, my boy, it looks like you’re in like Flynn with the boys and girls in blue.”

“The uniform is brown,” Legolas couldn’t help pointing out.

“Just an expression,” Glorfindel said dismissively. “Congratulations, Liam. I mean it. That the Mortals see you as one of them enough to trade naughty jokes with you is a good sign that you’re fitting right in. I doubt Thranduil would approve.” He smiled knowingly.

“Good,” Legolas said smugly and Glorfindel joined him in laughter.

Legolas shook his head in amusement at the memory as he left the locker room and made his way to Michaelson’s office. He had already told the desk sergeant that he needed to speak with the Captain on a private matter and that Dr. Ron Brightman (remembering to use the ellon’s professional name and title) would be at the meeting as well. The sergeant had given him a surprised look but had made no other comment except to assure the prince that he would inform Captain Michaelson when he came in.

Legolas checked the time and saw that it was now seven-fifteen. Michaelson should have arrived by seven. Reaching the main squad room where the detectives sat before computers checking files on their ongoing cases, Legolas saw Vorondur standing at the front desk and made his way to him.

“Good morning,” Vorondur said. “Have a good patrol?”

“It was very quiet,” Legolas answered.

Vorondur nodded, knowing what the ellon meant. Before he could comment further, Michaelson’s door opened and the captain stepped out. “I understand you wished to see me,” he said by way of greeting. “Well, come in then.” He stepped out of the doorway to allow the two Elves to enter. “Sergeant, see that we’re not disturbed,” Michaelson ordered before he closed the door and went to sit behind his desk, motioning for the ellyn to be seated. “So, what is this all about?”

“Let me give you a bit of background first,” Vorondur said and at Michaelson’s nod, he continued. “There is a condition among Elves that we call fading…”

The explanation did not take long and when Vorondur was finished, Michaelson sat in silence digesting the psychiatrist’s words. Finally he said, “So this fading is like, what, cancer or something?”

“In a way, though the analogy falls far short of the reality,” Vorondur allowed. “Consider it a malady of the soul or spirit rather than something physical, although the effects are clearly physical as well as spiritual.”

“And Loren’s caught this… this disease,” Michaelson responded, obviously trying to make sense of what he’d been told.

“It’s really not a disease, Dave,” Vorondur assured him. “It’s not catching and the condition is reversible when caught in time as is the case here. The person does not go into remission with the threat of it returning like it is with cancer.”

“Is he a danger to others in this state?”

“No. He isn’t going to start foaming at the mouth or anything like that. From what others have told me, the actual fading is a quiet affair. One day the person is there, the next he or she isn’t. Our task at the moment is to keep that from happening. Loren and Finrod have been planning a trip to Fairbanks for the youngsters for quite some time. There was concern about allowing Loren to leave, but Finrod can’t do this alone. Liam, here, has offered to go with them, ostensibly to keep an eye on Glorfindel and to help Finrod if necessary.”

“How long?” Michaelson asked.

“I believe they planned to leave on the Friday after Memorial Day and return sometime on the following weekend,” Vorondur answered.

Michaelson glanced at Legolas. “And you’re the only one who can go?”

“Anyone else whom Glorfindel will accept as a traveling companion will be away, either in Anchorage for the medical boards testing or in the national park with the rangers,” Legolas replied.

“And it’s not a matter of availability,” Vorondur added, “it’s also a matter of trust. Loren will know that whoever goes with them is going for his sake, so he needs to trust that person. Liam is one of the few whom he trusts implicitly.”

Michaelson raised an eyebrow. “What if Loren rejects your offer?”

“He will have no choice in the matter,” Vorondur said in a solemn tone. “Neither I nor Elrond will permit him to go without Liam accompanying them. That will be non-negotiable.”

The Mortal quirked his lips in a sardonic manner. “Good luck with that one,” he said, then nodded, leaning forward, his hands clasped before him. “Normally, I would reject your request on the grounds that you haven’t been here long enough to warrant you taking off for a week, but under the circumstances I think it might be a wise move on your part.”

“Oh? Why is that?” Vorondur asked.

Michaelson licked his lips. “This goes no further than this room.” He gave them an enquiring look and they both nodded in acquiescence to his demand. “The truth is, we have reason to believe that there may be retaliation from certain circles for the arrests that we made with respect to Loren’s mugging, not to mention what went down during the election. Our informants tell us that something big is going down and soon and Loren seems to be the main target. In a way, I’m glad so many of you are going to be away for a time. I would like to see all of you go away for a time so we can deal with this situation.”

“Do you know any real details or is this just… supposition and innuendos?” Legolas asked.

“We have no real details as to time, manner or place,” Michaelson admitted, “but all our sources lead us to believe that the threat is real. You actually saved me a trip to Edhellond, because I was planning to speak to Loren and Darren about this.”

“You will be at the picnic this weekend, will you not?” Vorondur asked.

“Oh yes. Wouldn’t miss one of the Elves’ shindigs for all the world. Janna and the kids are looking forward to it and unless some unforeseen emergency shows up at the last minute, I plan to be there as well.”

“Then, let’s discuss it with Loren. Your news may be what convinces him to let Liam come with them to Fairbanks. Having another warrior with them would only make sense.”

“Fine,” Michaelson said. “We’ll do that. In the meantime, Prince, I’ll put you down for time off. That means that when you get back, I will have you tested to make sure that you haven’t forgotten all that you’ve been taught.”

Legolas gave the Man a slight smile. “I doubt if a week away from here will ruin my memory that much, Captain.”

“Maybe not, but I was planning on giving you a midterm anyway.”

Legolas frowned. “Midterm? I am not sure I understand.”

Vorondur smiled as he stood. “Come. We’ve taken up enough of Dave’s time. I’ll explain the term on the way.” He turned to Michaelson and thrust out his hand. “Thank you. We’ll see you at the picnic, then.”

“Until then. Oh, and Prince, forget your self-defense class today. In fact, I’m cancelling the classes altogether.”

“Oh? Why? I was rather enjoying them,” Legolas said.

“You’ve been enjoying them too well, my friend,” Michaelson said with a shake of his head. “That’s the second instructor who’s ended up in the hospital after sparring with you. I’m running out of instructors and I’ve been assured that what you don’t know about the subject isn’t worth teaching. In fact, Mr. Ishimori, who is recovering nicely by the way, says that he would award you the highest belt level they have in his style of fighting if he didn’t think it would be inappropriate under the circumstances.”

“I am sorry Mr. Ishimori was injured. It was not my intent. I think he should have zigged when I zagged.” Legolas shrugged. “At least, that is what Lieutenant Conrad told me afterwards.”

“Yes, well, whatever. The truth is, Prince, you’re becoming dangerous, but in a good way, I assure you.”

Legolas gave the Man a grim smile. “I have always been dangerous, David Michaelson. I have merely been careful not to show it around you Secondborn. You are too fragile to endure the wrath of the Eldar.”

“Oh?” Michaelson said with a skeptical look.

Vorondur nodded soberly. “Yes, my friend. Liam speaks truly. The power of the Firstborn, especially those like Loren or Finrod who resided in Aman in the time of the Trees, is greater than you have seen or can easily comprehend and our wrath is a terrible thing to witness. Pray very hard that you and your children will never see it, for I tell you truly, Wiseman will not survive if it ever comes to it.”

Michaelson looked troubled and Vorondur took pity on him. “But in truth, we Elves are trying very hard to keep such a thing from happening. Now we should get out of your hair and let you get back to work.”

“I’ll see you out,” Michaelson said. As soon as the Elves were gone, Michaelson turned to the desk sergeant. “Sergeant, contact Kenneth Talbot. Tell him I need to see him as soon as possible.”

“Yes, Captain. Right away,” the sergeant said, picking up the phone and punching in numbers.

Michaelson looked around. “Conrad, with me.” And he strode back to his office with Conrad at his heels, the lieutenant firmly closing the door behind him, while the others in the squad room privately wondered what the Elves had said to have upset the captain so much.

****

From the sealed files of Dr. Ron Brightman:

Name: Liam Prince (Prince Legolas Thranduilion)

Personality Profile: ENFP: Fury

Charm: Cobra-like hypnotism

Adaptability: Cockroach, but more so

Planning ability: Needs serious development

Survival preparations: Better than average

Weapons skill: Yo-yos don’t count

Intelligence: Wise, but crazy

Warm fuzzies: Melting, but not immediately evident

Leadership skills: High

Analysis: Liam Prince is an optimist, curious about the world around him, willing to extend himself beyond expected societal parameters in order to experience life to the fullest. That is why, in an earlier age, he was able to befriend Dwarves and Hobbits and Men to a degree not normally found among his fellow Elves. It is why he was able to leave the security of his father’s realm to strike out on his own and create his own enclave in Ithilien. It is why he turned away from the idea of becoming a Ranger as many of the others were planning to do to pursue a different goal: becoming a police officer. The choice of career is not surprising, given his military background and his desire to protect his loved ones, be it from monstrous spiders or common garden-variety criminals. There is, however, a darker side to him: Liam can allow fury at his enemies to rule him, making him heedless of his own safety when passionate rage takes over, as when he went after the carjackers. Yet, he is savvy enough to recognize this weakness in him and guard against it.

For the most part…

My primary concern with him going with Quinn and Loren to Fairbanks is that Liam will find himself in a situation involving Loren that he may not be able to handle simply because it lies outside his experience. He is, after all, not a healer or a psychiatrist. I pray to the Valar that all goes well on their trip and everyone returns home in one piece…

****

Note: At thirty, Legolas would have been the equivalent of a 13-year-old human child.

Vorondur and Legolas returned to Edhellond and found Finrod, Elrond and Glorfindel at the breakfast nook having toast and coffee. Glorfindel was surprised to see Vorondur there so early in the morning.

“To what do we owe the pleasure?” Glorfindel asked. “And help yourself to coffee if you want.”

“Thanks, but I’ll pass,” Vorondur said, leaning against a counter while Legolas poured himself a mug. “I’ll get right to the point. I am not sanguine about letting you go off to Fairbanks next week, given what we’ve learned about your condition, but Finrod does not wish to disappoint Finda and his gwedyr and especially not Nell.”

“Lord no!” Glorfindel said fervently. “We do not want to disappoint Nell.”

The others chuckled and Vorondur continued. “Yes, well, given that, I think it only prudent that someone go with you just to… help out, let us say.”

Glorfindel’s eyes narrowed as he took in Vorondur’s meaning, glancing at Legolas and coming to certain conclusions. “You mean, babysit me.”

“If you want to see it that way,” Vorondur said, not denying the truth of Glorfindel’s words. “I would prefer thinking of it as safeguarding those with whom you will interact. You’re on a knife’s edge emotionally, Loren. We saw that last night. I think it’s symptomatic of your condition. That being said, I think it’s only wise to have someone along whom you trust to help you if you need it to keep an even keel, emotionally speaking. And let’s face it. With Finda and his gang and Nell on top of it, do you seriously think you and Finrod can handle them all by yourselves?”

Finrod actually snorted at that idea and Legolas grinned. Glorfindel’s demeanor eased somewhat and his expression lightened. “Point taken.” He looked at Legolas. “So you’ve been elected?”

“I volunteered,” Legolas corrected. “Anyone else who might be suitable has left or will be gone.”

“What did Michaelson say about it?”

“He wasn’t happy but he understands,” Vorondur replied. “In fact, he’s planning on giving Liam a midterm on everything he’s learned about police procedure when we get back.”

“Oho! Crack those books, boy!” Glorfindel said with a laugh.

“I do not need to crack anything, Loren,” Legolas said with a straight face. “It’s all up here.” And he pointed to his temple.

“Well, I’m not happy about all this but I get the feeling that I’m out-voted.”

“I know,” Vorondur said, “and we appreciate where you’re coming from, but look at it this way: when you’re camping at Denali, Liam can take over and let you and Finrod relax. Who better to teach the youngsters woodlore than a Wood Elf, hmm?”

“He’s right, gwador,” Finrod interjected. “You and I will have our hands full herding them around Fairbanks. I look forward to sitting beside a campfire and doing nothing more strenuous than lifting a mug of coffee to my lips. We will let Thranduilion have the fun of… ah… herding cats while you and I relax.”

Glorfindel actually burst out laughing, which was a heartening sound for them all. “Herding cats is just about what it’s going to be like. Okay, Liam, you’re with us. I’ll call the B&B and tell them we’re one more.”

“Well, now that that’s settled, I’d best be going,” Vorondur said with a sigh, “I have a couple of appointments, including Alex this afternoon.”

“You don’t sound too happy about that,” Finrod said shrewdly.

“This will be our last session until he returns from Fairbanks after the summer,” Vorondur replied. “I still think it’s a good idea for him to go, but at the same time, I worry about him. We still haven’t figured out what’s going on with him.”

“Perhaps some time away from here will help, though,” Finrod offered.

“That is my hope as well,” Vorondur admitted. “Okay, I’m out of here.” He wished them all a good day and Glorfindel offered to see him to the door and the two left.

Daeron turned to Elrond. “Well, now that that’s settled, if you’re not doing anything at the moment, Elrond, perhaps you can help me in the garden. It’s been neglected somewhat with all that’s been happening lately and I want to spruce it up for the picnic.”

“I would be happy to help,” Elrond said, “and I know Celebrían would as well.”

“We need to come up with a Mortal name for her,” Daeron said.

“Perhaps we can discuss it together while we work in the garden,” Elrond suggested.

Daeron nodded. “I’ll meet you outside, then.” And he made his way out the back door while Elrond went in search of his wife.

****

From the sealed files of Dr. Ron Brightman:

Name: Alex Grant (Artemus Gordon Meriwether)

Personality Profile: ISTP: Vigilante

Charm: ‘I don’t want to hurt you, but it’s still on my list of things to do’

Adaptability: Cockroach

Planning ability: ‘Plan? What plan? You want a plan? Here it is: stay alive!’

Survival preparations: Needs work

Weapons skill: Utterly lethal: ‘I have a salt shaker and I know how to use it’

Intelligence: Cunning

Warm fuzzies: Like ice, but colder

Leadership skills: “What part of ‘alone’ do you not understand?”

Motto: ‘I work alone’

Analysis: Alex Grant is a spy and an assassin. Not an intelligence officer. Not an agent. A spy and an assassin, pure and simple. There is no getting around that. That makes him dangerous because while he is definitely on the side of Light, he can very easily slip to the Dark Side, to borrow a popular phrase, without a qualm, and indeed has done so on more than one occasion. He has played so many roles down the years, though, and all of them psychopathic to one degree or another, that it is not always easy to discern who the real Alex Grant is. Even when he is Artemus Gordon Meriwether, that is not always apparent. That being said, Alex is a good man to have on your side when everything goes south in a hurry, assuming of course, you can actually keep him by your side….

Alex has made great strides in integrating and accepting his past, though I fear it will be an on-going process that will take years. His most recent NDE and subsequent confession has seemingly gone a long way in helping him come to terms with the seamier side of his life in the Agency, but the recent incident where Derek was injured, I fear, has caused a setback. And then there is his relationship with Felicity Coh…

Vorondur looked up at the knock on his office door to see Alex Grant smiling at him, and glanced at the clock to see it was just going on four. “Right on time. Come in, come in,” he said as he saved the file he was working on and closed it. “So, all set for your big adventure as a college student?”

Alex snorted good-naturedly as he sat in one of the overstuffed chairs in the corner of the office. Vorondur moved to join him. Over the months since he had first started seeing Alex, they had progressed from sitting across from one another at his desk in a definite doctor-patient relationship to sitting comfortably and casually in the overstuffed chairs as two friends conversing.

“Yeah, I’m all packed, or nearly so,” Alex allowed. “Derek is too. We’re subleasing the apartment and he’s going to stay down at the resort. It’ll be easier for him and less lonely.”

“How does he feel about you going to Fairbanks?”

“Oh, he’s happy enough, I suppose,” Alex answered with a diffident shrug. “And it’s just for the summer and I’ll be up when I can. There’s a short break between sessions around the Fourth, so I plan to come up for that.”

“Good. Good.” Vorondur nodded approvingly and then waited for Alex to speak about whatever subject he wished. With Alex, unlike many of his other patients, Vorondur found it was better to let the Mortal pick the topic of conversation in their sessions rather than him forcing a topic on the young Man. Alex was a very complex person with too many hidden selves and Vorondur had been painstakingly teasing them all out into the open. He doubted he would ever discover them all, but hoped to provide Alex with the means to achieve as much psychological wholeness as was possible.

For a couple of minutes, silence hung between them. Alex, to Vorondur’s eyes, seemed restless, his gaze never landing on anything for long. Finally, still not looking at him, he said, “Felicity left yesterday.”

Ah! Vorondur nodded sympathetically. “I understand she’s joining her parents at some archeological dig in Israel.”

Alex nodded, grimacing slightly. “Yeah, so she says.”

“You don’t believe her,” and he made it more a statement than a question.

The Mortal shrugged. “Oh, I believe her about that, but…” He paused as if gathering his thoughts. From long training, Vorondur sat patiently, letting Alex call all the shots. After a moment, the young Man looked up, his expression troubled. “Do you think I’m evil, Ron?”

“We’ve discussed this before, remember?” Vorondur said, giving nothing away in expression or in tone as to his own thoughts. “You have done things which others might label evil, but that isn’t the same thing as saying that you yourself are evil, not in the way that I think you mean the word. Is there a reason why you ask the question now?”

“It’s just that… I don’t know. Something’s cooled between Felicity and me and I don’t know if it’s my fault or what.”

Vorondur allowed a small smile. “Son, in my experience, it’s always your fault even when it’s not.”

Alex gave him a rueful nod in acknowledgement of that bit of folk truism that every male learned very early on in any relationship with the fairer sex. “Yeah, I figured, but… I don’t know… I think it’s something more. She looks at me and there’s something in her eyes… not fear but… wariness.” He sighed, running his hands through his hair, always a sign of frustration with him. “I thought we were, you know, an item, or getting there. I thought, after I didn’t end up rescuing her,” —Vorondur couldn’t help lifting an eyebrow at that particular turn of phrase— “she and I were, you know, a… a….”

“A couple?” Vorondur supplied. “It’s not a dirty word, Alex.”

“I know that,” Alex protested. “It’s just that this is the first time since college that I’ve even been serious about a woman. It feels strange, is all. For all my adult life, my relationships with women have been job-related, either as coworkers or targets. And with the targets I was usually seducing them into revealing certain information that would put away their compatriots. Those always ended badly for us both.”

He gave Vorondur a sour look and the Elf could just imagine just how badly some of those liaisons had ended.

“You think Felicity looks at you, knowing what she does about you, and sees what?”

“Someone she doesn’t want near her,” Alex replied and there was a little-boy-hurt tone to his words and his expression was one of defeat.

“So do you think her going to Israel is a kind of running away from you?”

“Maybe. I don’t know.”

“How long has she been planning this trip?”

“Uh… She said she does this every summer, meeting up with her parents wherever they happen to be digging. She visits with them for a bit and then moves on to Europe, Germany and England, where she visits with friends before returning to Wiseman for the Fall term.”

“So this isn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision on her part to get away from you,” Vorondur offered.

“No, not really. It just feels like it.”

“How would you feel about it if she were spending the summer here teaching and you were still going to Fairbanks?”

“At least I’d know where she really was,” Alex snapped with a little more heat than Vorondur was expecting.

The Elf narrowed his eyes as he watched the Mortal sitting across from him fuming. “Deep breaths, son,” he said quietly and Alex gave him a startled look and nodded once, taking a deep centering breath and letting it out slowly, doing it a couple more times before he seemed to deflate and his posture became less tense. For a moment, Vorondur sat pondering what Alex had told him, deciding on and discarding a number of ways to approach the problem. Finally, he gave the Man a rueful smile.

“It sounds to me as if you’ve got it bad, to put it in a rather crude vernacular.”

“Huh?”

“Alex, when was the last time you ever cared for a woman and felt possessive of her enough that you didn’t want her out of your sight or reach?”

“I’m not like that! What do you take me for, a Neanderthal?”

“Not at all. I take you for a typical male of your species where a potential mate is concerned.”

“Mate? Who’s talking about mates? I’m talking about Felicity.”

“And you don’t see her as your future bride?”

Alex just goggled at him. “Bride? Are you trying to marry me off now?”

Vorondur laughed at the Mortal’s expression and it was such a merry sound that it was infectious and Alex couldn’t help laughing himself.

“That’s better,” Vorondur said when he’d calmed down. “Alex, how many dates have you and Felicity been on since your NDE?”

“Um… well, I guess three or four,” he answered with a shrug.

Vorondur nodded. “Do you think she would have gone out with you if she thought you were evil?”

“Well, no, I guess not, though I know some women sort of like being around men with a bad-boy image. You know, the ones who think they’re the one who’s going to reform the poor bastard.”

“Yes, I’m perfectly aware of that phenomenon,” Vorondur admitted, “but do you see Felicity as that type?”

“No, not really. She’s too… practical, I guess, to get caught up in that particular female fantasy.”

“I hope you don’t say that in her hearing,” Vorondur said with a faint, knowing smile.

Alex gave him a disbelieving look. “I may be royally screwed up, Ron, but I’m not stupid.”

Vorondur allowed himself to chuckle. “On that, we can both agree. So, getting back to your original question—”

“Huh? Sorry, I sort of forgot what it was,” Alex admitted with a look of embarrassment.

“Whether you’re evil or not,” Vorondur supplied and Alex nodded. “While we always want others to think well of us, the important thing at the moment is to decide how you feel about yourself. When you look in the mirror, do you see an evil person?”

“I used to,” Alex replied softly, not looking at him. “After my… um… talk with… ah… Atar….” He trailed off, his expression transmuting into one of wonder as that particular memory surfaced. “He was… confusing.”

“In what way?” Vorondur kept his expression to one of mild interest, but inside he was nearly crowing. This was the first time Alex had actually volunteered something of his encounter with Eru. Vorondur had listened to Glorfindel’s own account of his encounter with the Numinous and Finrod had told him something of his cousin Ingwion’s experience so he knew that every encounter with their Creator was unique to that person. Alex had been understandably reluctant to describe his conversation with Ilúvatar and Vorondur had carefully backed off whenever Alex showed any discomfort about discussing what happened.

“Oh, in every way, I suppose. I couldn’t seem to keep up. He kept bouncing back and forth between topics. It was like watching someone play tennis with himself. It made me dizzy.”

“Did he frighten you?”

“No, that’s the thing, he didn’t. Oh, he said some frightening things but in such innocuous ways that it wasn’t until later that I realized just how frightening some of what he said was.”

“You said that prior to meeting with… um… Atar, you thought yourself evil. I am assuming that by that you mean that now you do not?”

Alex nodded slightly. “After I… um… woke up?” —Vorondur nodded his understanding and Alex continued— “woke up, I remember standing before the mirror shaving and I think for the first time in a long time I actually liked what I saw in the mirror.”

“And what did you see?”

“Just a guy shaving. Sorry, I know that doesn’t make any sense…”

“On the contrary, it makes perfect sense and it tells me that you’ve begun to move past making judgments about yourself, which is why I wonder about your original question. Did you enjoy playing the parts that you did?”

“Hell no!” Alex said vehemently. Vorondur gave him a skeptical look and he blushed slightly, casting his gaze to his lap. “Well, sometimes. Toward the end. Looking back, I realize I was becoming someone my Mom wouldn’t recognize as her son and on one level it scared the hell out of me but on another level I didn’t much care and that scared me even more. I think coming here saved my soul.”

“You’ve gotten the student evaluations by now, I imagine,” Vorondur said.

Alex looked up, his expression puzzled at the seeming non sequitur. “Yeah, so?”

“Have you read them?”

The Mortal shook his head. “Not yet. I’ve been too busy packing for Fairbanks. I probably won’t bother anyway.”

“Why?”

“Too embarrassing,” came the reply and Alex blushed slightly, looking younger than he was.

Vorondur gave him a warm smile. “I think you should read them. They might surprise you. Take them with you to Fairbanks and look them over. I think it’s important that you get a sense of how others see you. The students have no personal stake in their evaluations and they’re completely anonymous, so you won’t know who said what, but I would like you to read through them and try to get an overall picture of how your students saw you. Perhaps when you come up for the holiday, you and I can meet informally and you can tell me what your students think of you. This was your first time teaching, so I’m sure you would like to see where you may have fallen short and need to improve. We all do, so there’s no shame in that.”

Alex nodded. “Okay, I guess.”

“Will you be in touch with Felicity over the summer?” Vorondur asked.

Alex blinked at the sudden change of topic. “Yeah, actually we will. She’s got her laptop with her and she warned me that she might not always be somewhere where there’s wireless and internet might be dodgy, but she would email me whenever she could and she made me promise to email her back.”

“Doesn’t sound like someone who wants nothing to do with you,” Vorondur pointed out.

“People say things they don’t really mean so as not to hurt the other person’s feelings,” Alex offered.

“Who suggested keeping in contact via email?” Vorondur asked.

“Uh… actually it was Felicity.”

“I see.”

“What do you see?” Alex demanded.

“That our time is up,” Vorondur said briskly, standing and Alex did the same. “Now you have my number and my email address. If at any time you feel you need to talk to me, call, day or night. I mean that literally, Alex. You are not released from my care. You’re only temporarily not under direct medical supervision. I want you to enjoy yourself in Fairbanks. Relax. Have fun. Gwyn and Gareth will be there so you already have two friends to rely on. I highly recommend that you join them in their SCA events even if you just go as a spectator.”

Alex nodded. “Okay.” His demeanor became suddenly shy. “It’s going to be so weird.”

“I know,” Vorondur said sympathetically. “But I think you will find that you’ll be able to slip into the role of student without too much trouble, and unlike other times, this time you can just be yourself. You don’t have to pretend as you had to when you first came to Elf Academy.”

Alex grinned. “That was so embarrassing. I did everything wrong. You’d think I’d never been to spy school or something.”

Vorondur laughed. “Well, we now know why. Safe trip, Alex, and have a great summer. We’ll see you in July, then. I’ll see you out.” With that he escorted the Mortal to the front door, then, after seeing him out, returned to his office to finish up his notes on the session. He opened up the file on Alex and reread what he’d been working on.

“…Felicity Cohen. From the way Alex speaks of her, it is clear that he’s smitten. It will be interesting to see how this relationship progresses. I am concerned by his continual need for reassurance that he is not evil. I think the things he has done will always haunt him, but I hope, with time and patience, I will be able to help him put that past where it belongs and have him focus on the future instead, a future with Felicity. The boy deserves some happiness in his life.”

Vorondur sat back to ponder the things that had been said and not said this last hour with the young Man.

“Ron,” he heard Holly call from the kitchen. “Dinner’s almost on. You can play psychiatrist later. Come set the table.”

Vorondur grinned as he closed down the file, put his laptop in sleep mode and went to do his wife’s bidding.

The healers left the next day before the sun rose with Serindë accompanying her new husband. Elladan had rented a van to transport them all to Fairbanks and from there they would catch the train to Anchorage. The Twins, having learned about Glorfindel, were naturally reluctant to leave, but Glorfindel and Elrond both assured them that all was well for the time being.

“I’m not going to become houseless immediately,” Glorfindel said somewhat testily when Elrohir continued to voice his concerns. “Now, get out of here and get those healers certified. Don’t forget, you two will be leaving shortly for New York anyway and I won’t have you give up your plans for that, not even for me. I’ll be fine. Legolas is going with us and you know you can trust him to keep me in line.” He gave them a quirky grin and the Twins couldn’t help laughing, knowing full well that it was usually the other way around.

So, armed with good wishes for a safe trip and a successful outcome, the healers drove off, while the others stood at the gate and waved. Elrond looked wistful as he and Celebrían stood with Glorfindel, Finrod, Amarië, Daeron and Melyanna, all watching the van head down Sycamore for Kodiak. Everyone else had gone their own way.

“What’s the matter, Elrond?” Glorfindel asked. “Are you wishing you were going with them?”

“I have just been reunited with my sons and now they are leaving me behind, and in more ways than one,” Elrond replied with a rueful look. “I will be the only healer unable to ply his trade. I wish I’d been allowed to come sooner, then I would be traveling to this Anchorage with the others.”

Celebrían gave her husband’s arm a squeeze and kissed him on the cheek. “There will be plenty of time for you to learn what you need to do, my love,” she assured him.

“And you are not required to become a board-certified doctor, Elrond,” Glorfindel said as they all made their way back inside. “You may not even wish to practice medicine as it is done here in the States.”

“What would I do, instead? I gave up my sword a long time ago.”

“Yes, but do you seriously think you can stay out of the battle when it finally comes, Nephew?” Finrod asked knowingly.

“No. I do not necessarily see that happening,” Elrond allowed. “You will need every sword, I deem, and there will be healers aplenty, both here and in Valinor.”

“I have a suggestion if you’re interested,” Daeron said somewhat diffidently, as if he feared his inclusion in the conversation would be rejected, but everyone gave him encouraging looks.

“And what suggestion is that?” Glorfindel asked for them all. They had gravitated to the kitchen where Gilvegil, Alphwen and Cennanion were in the process of putting together breakfast for anyone interested. Glorfindel and those with him stopped long enough to grab cups of coffee, or in Celebrían’s case, some Earl Grey tea, and then settled in the dining room out of the way.

Once seated, Daeron spoke. “Have you considered that there are medical doctors aplenty as you say, both Mortal and Elves, but there is only one healer of the mind? I have the feeling that as time goes by, anxieties will rise, both among us and especially among the Mortals. I know for a fact that Ron has all the patients he can handle, and yes there are psychologists and even another psychiatrist in the area, but they are Mortals and there are no guarantees that when they eventually die, their practices will be taken over by others. Ron could be inundated with patients and I would hesitate to recruit additional help from outside. Another elven psychiatrist or even a psychologist would be of enormous help.”

“Would I still not have to undergo the same degree of training as any, though?” Elrond asked.

“It depends on which track you take,” Daeron said. “If you do psychiatry, it would take a number of years, simply because you have to incorporate both medicine and psychology into your study and I don’t think that is something that can be pushed or fudged. On the other hand, if you decide, for now at least, to become a psychologist, you wouldn’t have to deal with medicine per se. Your job would be to offer psychotherapy. If a patient requires medication to help with treatment, you would need to send them to Ron or to another psychiatrist who would be able to prescribe medication. So, it just depends on how you want to approach it. You might wish to consult with Ron about it, get his opinion, but I think whichever route you take will be of benefit to this community.”

“I will do that, thank you,” Elrond said gratefully. “I confess that I am somewhat intrigued by what he does and how he does it.”

“In the meantime, you could begin taking psychology classes here at the college, get a feel for the field,” Glorfindel said approvingly. “Ron’s agreed to start teaching at the college next term, so you could sit in on his classes.”

“Thank you. You have given me much to think about,” Elrond said.

“Well, Ron will be here for the picnic,” Glorfindel said. “Why don’t you ask him about it, or if you don’t want to speak of it with everyone else around, you can probably set up an appointment to speak with him privately.”

Elrond nodded and turned to Celebrían. “What do you think, mel nîn?”

She smiled the smile reserved only for him and kissed him on the cheek. “I think it is a very good idea, whichever route you ultimately choose, and there is nothing that says that even if you choose this psychology, that later on you could not study to become a psychiatrist, is there?”

“Not at all,” Daeron said. “Do not forget, we Elves have plenty of time to pursue any number of jobs and I doubt that any of us will be doing the same thing a hundred years from now, or even ten years from now.”

“Darren’s right,” Glorfindel said. “Even I don’t anticipate being the administrator of Elf Academy for however long it will be before the Dagor Dagorath. Eventually, either we will no longer be in operation or I will hand the reins of administration over to another and go do something else, assuming of course, I’m still around to do anything.”

“Don’t say that, mellon nîn,” Daeron said fervently. “Don’t even think it. We will not allow you to fade.”

“And as your lord, I forbid you to do so without asking my permission first,” Elrond interjected with a stern look that fooled no one.

“Yes, my lord. Anything you say, my lord,” Glorfindel quipped and the others chuckled at the byplay.

“Hey!” Gilvegil came to the doorway. “If you’re so inclined, perhaps you could set up the buffet and call anyone who’s interested in eating. We’re about ready for breakfast.”

“We’re on it,” Glorfindel said, rising, and the others followed suit. Sometime later, they were all enjoying a breakfast of Eggs Benedict and waffles and most of the conversation centered around what further preparations needed to be made for the Memorial Day picnic which the Elves were holding for their Mortal friends.

****

The picnic was scheduled for Sunday since the holiday Monday would be devoted to the community-wide celebration which would include a parade ending at the community cemetery where a brief ceremony would be held and a baseball game later in the afternoon, weather permitting. As he had promised, Vorondur was there early in the morning after breakfast with Ercassë and their two sons. Amroth and Nimrodel would come over later.

“So, the intrepid tree-thieves,” Glorfindel said by way of greeting when Ron and his sons met up with Glorfindel and Finrod who were in the back garden stacking wood for the grill while Ercassë was helping out in the kitchen. “I don’t think even the Twins ever did anything that stupid.”

Both Dar and Cani looked suitably chagrined. Vorondur chuckled at their expressions. “That’s because they aren’t Reborn. These two knew that what they were doing was wrong, but somehow they convinced themselves that, as Firstborn, they were above mortal law.”

“Ah, now that I can understand,” Glorfindel said as he straightened up, brushing wood chips and dirt off his hands. “The Twins had a similar attitude, oh, back about three thousand years ago or so. We were living in Babylonia at the time. Ninevah. Try as we might, Daeron and I just couldn’t seem to get across to them that, no, we don’t take advantage of the Mortals’ incredulity. That just leads to a whole world of grief on both sides.”

Vorondur, in spite of himself, was intrigued by this glimpse of an earlier time for Glorfindel, Daeron and the Twins, long before they ever met with Nimrodel and Mithrellas. “I am surprised that they would have that attitude so late in the day considering.”

Glorfindel shrugged. “I’m not sure that they woke up one morning and decided that they would start treating the Mortals around them as if they were slaves or children. I think they unwittingly began to see themselves as somehow superior to the Mortals.”

“But aren’t we?” Cani asked, looking more puzzled than belligerent.

“You did not feel that way before, Cani, neither you nor Dar,” Vorondur said. “Have you forgotten your playmates? And you Dar, have you forgotten your crewmen, who, unlike you, died in truth?”

Dar shook his head, looking a bit pale, but Cani scowled. “Dar didn’t die at the hands of Mortals, Ada, not as I did.”

Both Glorfindel and Finrod exchanged knowing looks. Vorondur’s expression became one of deep sadness mixed with guilt.

“And do you blame your ada, child?” Finrod asked softly.

Cani looked startled. “No, of course not.”

“And yet your actions tell me otherwise,” Finrod said, giving the younger ellon a shrewd look. “Whose idea was it to raid the nursery, anyway?”

The brothers gave each other guilty looks and then Cani grimaced. “It was my idea,” he admitted.

“And you did not talk him out of it,” Finrod said, addressing Dar, making it more a statement of fact than a question. The ellon shrugged but said nothing.

“Payback,” Glorfindel said.

Vorondur gave him a considering look. “Do you think that’s what it is? I haven’t been able to figure out the real motive for what they did.”

“That’s because you’re their adar, Ron, and you want to think the best of your sons,” Glorfindel retorted mildly, “but it’s plain to me that this is what the whole incident was all about. It had nothing to do with beautifying the garden. That was just a convenient fiction. It had everything to do with dissing the Mortals because somewhere in the past a Mortal got lucky and did you in.” He was looking directly at Cani as he spoke this last part, his eyes glittering with something dark. The younger ellon paled under the Balrog-slayer’s regard.

“How did you cure the Twins of that attitude?” Finrod asked suddenly.

“Hmm? Oh, well, it was actually Daeron’s idea,” Glorfindel said. “I sold them.”

“What?!!” came the disbelieving cry from more than one mouth as four pairs of eyes goggled at Glorfindel in disbelief.

Glorfindel chuckled. “Oh, not for real, but I gave them to a couple of Mortal friends for a shekel a piece and had them act as bond-servants to them for a year.”

“And they allowed it?” Dar asked.

“Oh, they had no choice,” Glorfindel said darkly. “I made sure they understood that. Once the year was up, they were suitably subdued and not as haughty as they had been. They were never mistreated or abused, but they were made to take on tasks that they normally would consider beneath them. And of course, having to follow a Mortal’s orders was something they had never experienced before.” He paused and gave them a slight smile. “It was the most peaceful year I’d ever had. Daeron and I considered it a well-deserved vacation for the two of us.”

“I cannot believe you sold the Twins, whom you see as your own sons, into slavery,” Finrod said.

Glorfindel shrugged. “You and Ingwë did the same thing to me, though I’m sure no coin changed hands on my account. And the shekels my two friends gave me were a legal fiction to satisfy the laws of the day.” He turned his attention to the two brothers. “They learned a valuable lesson in that year. I hope you learn one as well while you are paying off your debt to society. To paraphrase Lord Námo: ‘And this deed was unlawful, whether in Aman or not in Aman. So, take counsel with yourselves, and remember who and what you are, and remember who and what the Mortals are’.”

“And who are they?” Cani asked somewhat defensively.

“They are Eruhíni, no less than you, child,” Finrod answered for Glorfindel. “They are our younger siblings, to be treated with respect before Eru Ilúvatar, just as the Valar treat us with respect.”

“Well, I wouldn’t go that far,” Glorfindel drawled, rewarding them with a sly smile. Finrod and Vorondur chuckled. “So, end of lecture,” he said more briskly. “Ron, would you and your sons go out to the woods and help whoever’s out there to clean up some of the brush in the clearing? We’re also making the path a bit more visible for our friends. I think Nell and the Three Amigos are putting together some luminaries to line the path to the clearing. Maybe Dar and Cani can give them a hand.”

“We’d be happy to,” Vorondur said. “You two go on ahead. I’ll join you presently.”

Dar and Cani nodded and giving Finrod and Glorfindel slight bows of respect, headed off. Vorondur watched them go for a moment, then gave the two Elf-lords a grateful look. “Thank you. I think you’ve given them something to think about.”

“Hey, not a problem,” Glorfindel said with a wave of a hand in dismissal. “And, unlike you, we don’t charge.”

Vorondur laughed as he left them to join his sons.

“So, what you told them…” Finrod said softly as he and Glorfindel went back to stacking wood.

“A tissue of lies from start to finish,” Glorfindel admitted.

“Honestly, Brother, you’re getting as devious as the Valar.”

“Don’t talk dirty, Finrod,” Glorfindel countered and Finrod’s laughter rang through the garden, brightening the hearts of all who heard it.

****

People began arriving shortly after noon, everyone in good spirits. Nicole Lord and her children, along with her fiancé, Tim Saunders, were the first to arrive, followed by the Michaelsons and Nicholas Green. Others, notably Josiah Makepeace and his family, and Charles Waverly came somewhat later, once their Sunday duties were done with. Rabbi Cohen was also there along with his wife, Miriam, and their two sons, Jacob and Ethan, both teenagers. People associated with Elf Academy also came and soon Edhellond was overcrowded even with most of them out in the garden or wandering in the woods.

Glorfindel showed them the path that wended its way to the clearing, lined with luminaries that were lit even in daylight, for the woods were dark under their branches. “Stay on the path,” he warned the children solemnly. “It’s enchanted and to step off the path would be a bad thing to do.”

Most of the children gave him skeptical looks. “Enchanted?” Young Adam Lord exclaimed, rolling his eyes. “Give me a break.”

“Adam!” his mother admonished. “You don’t speak to an Elf-lord that way. You know better.”

Glorfindel smiled. “It’s all right, Nicole. Adam is right to be skeptical.” He gave the young Mortal a sober look. “Being skeptical is fine, being rude about it is not.” Adam had the grace to blush and mutter an apology. Glorfindel nodded and looked around. “Legolas, perhaps you can demonstrate.”

Legolas nodded and stooped down to pick up a large stone. He moved up the path a half dozen steps and then tossed the stone to the side. There was a ripple in the air and the stone disappeared.

“Whoa!”

The children and even the adults looked suitably impressed. Legolas returned to them as Glorfindel said, “So you see, leaving the path is not a good idea.”

“Why did you do it, though?” Jacob Cohen asked.

“Because the woods have grown… strange since we Elves have begun walking under them. The trees are almost half awake and they do not like two-footers. They have long memories.”

“But you’re a two-footer,” Kathy Michaelson pointed out.

“Yes, but we’re Elves, and we woke the trees up the first time and taught them language. They remember that.”

“How can these trees remember something like that?” Tim Saunders asked. “They’re not that old.”

“Think of it as a type of racial memory passed down from generation to generation,” Glorfindel replied with a shrug. “At any rate, the warning applies to all Mortals. Do. Not. Leave. The Path. Got it?”

There were vigorous nods all around, especially from the children. “Okay, off you go with Liam.” And the children scrambled away with Legolas in their midst while their parents watched with fond smiles.

“So, neat trick,” Dave Michaelson said.

Glorfindel gave him a cool look. “It was no trick, David. Don’t leave the path.” And with that, he walked back to the house, leaving the Mortals with wondering looks on their faces.

Elrond and Celebrían were introduced formally to everyone who hadn’t met them earlier, with Elrond explaining that he was now calling himself Elrod Ronaldson and his wife was now to be known as Kelly.

“Odd, you don’t look like a Kelly,” Shane Englebert commented.

“And are people supposed to look like their names?” Celebrían asked in amusement.

Shane shrugged. “Sometimes. Sometimes you learn a person’s name and you can’t imagine them having any other name. Other times, it’s like, why did the parents name them that? It certainly doesn’t fit.”

“Well, we chose Kelly because it’s similar in sound to the first part of her name,” Daeron explained. “The name is Irish Gaelic meaning ‘warrior, or bright minded’.”

“And my wife is both,” Elrond said, giving Celebrían a fond look. She returned his look with one of her own and the Mortals exchanged knowing smiles between them.

“Well, we’re glad to meet you, Elrod and Kelly,” Lily Zhang said. “Welcome to Wiseman. How do you like it so far?” And with that question, the others relaxed and soon they were all chatting away as if they’d known each other for years.

Elrond excused himself at one point to go find Vorondur, who had gone with his wife and sons to the clearing where a bonfire greeted them. They were helping the children toast marshmallows.

“Ah, Vorondur, just the person I was looking for,” Elrond said nonchalantly as he entered the clearing.

Vorondur straightened from helping young Caleb spear a marshmallow on a stick. “How may I help you, Elrond?”

Elrond looked about the clearing with young Mortals and Elves intermingling. Most of the children were occupied with their marshmallows, not paying attention to the grown-ups, while the Elves were very much aware of the interchange. He gave Vorondur a nod. “Walk with me,” he ordered.

Vorondur raised an eyebrow in surprise, but simply nodded as he followed Elrond toward one side of the clearing, obviously planning to head into the woods rather than back down the path.

“Hey!” Adam Lord exclaimed. “You’re not supposed to leave the path or the clearing. Loren said.”

The erstwhile Master of Imladris and Vorondur stopped and turned to look at the children, all staring back at them. “That rule applies only to Mortals,” Elrond said gravely. “The woods are safe for Elves.”

“Lucky Elves,” Adam muttered as he turned back to the bonfire and his marshmallow. Vorondur and Elrond exchanged amused grins as they moved under the trees and into the woods, wandering freely and without much thought of their direction.

“So what did you want to see me about?” Vorondur asked once they were far enough away from the clearing that they would not be overheard by either Elves or Mortals.

“I wish to make an appointment to speak with you on a private matter,” Elrond answered.

Vorondur frowned. “You wish to receive counseling?”

“Not in the way you are meaning,” Elrond said with a faint smile, “but there is a matter I wish to discuss with you in private. Daeron suggested I make an appointment rather than have me discuss it with you here.”

Vorondur nodded. “Well, my schedule is rather full this next week due to the fact that Monday’s a holiday, but Alex left yesterday for Fairbanks so his usual time with me will be open. Is this something that can wait until next Friday or do you need to see me sooner?”

“Next Friday is acceptable. This is not an emergency, I assure you.”

“Next Friday at four then,” Vorondur said. “I’ll put you on the calendar as soon as I get home.”

“Thank you. I appreciate it,” Elrond said. He stopped and looked about him, placing a hand on the trunk of one of the trees. He gave Vorondur a shrewd look. “Hmm… these trees are no more awake than that rock over there.” He nodded toward a small boulder sitting a few feet away.

“I think Loren is getting very good at lying,” Vorondur said with a smile.

“A symptom of his fading?” Elrond asked in all seriousness.

“Now that I don’t know,” Vorondur admitted. “I’m pretty sure a story he told my sons about the Twins was made up, but until I ask him directly, I am only guessing. Was he good at telling tall tales back in the day?”

Elrond gave him a sardonic look. “On the contrary. Glorfindel was very good at not telling any tales, tall or otherwise, especially any that dealt with his life in Valinor or even his life in Gondolin.”

“Hmm… well, something to think about. At any rate, I’ll see you at four next Friday.” He looked about him. “So, which way is out, do you suppose?”

Elrond chuckled. “Unless the trees have moved while we weren’t looking, I would say that way.” He pointed straight ahead and the two made their way until they found themselves looking out at the field that separated the woods from the mansion. They parted company with Elrond returning to the mansion while Vorondur went back to the clearing where all the children seemed to sigh with relief at the sight of him, young Kimberly Michaelson wanting to know if Lord Elrond was okay. He gave them assurances that Elrond was indeed well and made a mental note to himself to remind Glorfindel that it might be better not to be too inventive when coming up with ways to impress Mortals, especially mortal children.

Elrond, meanwhile, joined a number of people around the fire pit in the garden, accepting some wine from Celebrían.

“So, did you speak to Ron?” Daeron asked.

“I have an appointment to see him next Friday at four,” Elrond answered.

“Good. Very good,” Glorfindel said in satisfaction.

One of the Mortals asked for a song or a tale and Glorfindel obliged with a hymn to Elbereth which the other Elves joined in singing, much to the delight of the Mortals. And so the picnic went and it was late before the last guest departed. Then the Elves all gathered in the clearing and spent the remainder of the night in quiet conversation, with the occasional song or tale, but Vorondur noticed that as the night wore on, Glorfindel became less and less animated as he sat on a log, staring into the flames, his expression remote and untouched by the doings of the outside world. Only with the coming of dawn, did he rouse from his lethargy and seemed more present.

As he helped with cleaning up the clearing, Vorondur added one more item on his list of topics he wished to address at his next session with Glorfindel.

****

Words are Sindarin unless otherwise noted:

Mel nîn: My love.

Mellon nîn: My friend.

Eruhíni: (Quenya) Children of Eru, ie. Elves and Men.

Monday, the Elves stayed quiet and did not participate in any way in the Memorial Day celebrations that were scheduled for the day, though, like everyone else, they joined the other residents of Wiseman in watching the fireworks later that evening, enjoying them as much as the Mortals.

On Tuesday, those who were interested in joining the Rangers left for a two-week camping trip into the Brooks Mountain Range and the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. The purpose was to familiarize them with the taiga or boreal forest biome which would be their area of concern.

“We’re also planning to take them across to the tundra to give them an idea of what that is like,” Paul Pettingill had told Glorfindel and the others when he saw them at their picnic.

“Should be fun,” Glorfindel commented. “I’m glad I’m not going.” The others who were listening to the conversation laughed.

Thus, with the healers away and now those who wanted to become Rangers, Edhellond became very quiet.

“Almost too quiet,” Daeron said when Finrod mentioned it.

“It can never be too quiet,” Glorfindel quipped, “but it certainly is peaceful.” And to that they all agreed.

Wednesday, Glorfindel showed up at Vorondur’s office for their session, though he confessed to the ellon that he didn’t see the point. “I still don’t think I’m fading, no matter what everyone else says,” he complained. “What did all those test show, anyway?”

“Well, they showed me what I already suspected, that you’re a model of perfect elven health, physically,” Vorondur admitted. “And yet…”

“And yet, what?” Glorfindel asked. “Ron, what is it?”

“When did you start lying to people?” Vorondur asked and Glorfindel blinked in surprise at the seeming non sequitur.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that little story you told my sons about the Twins and then that whole thing about the Elf-path and why the children shouldn’t wander off it?”

“Well, the first wasn’t really a lie, just not the truth, and the second was just for fun and to make sure the little ones didn’t go wandering off getting lost. So what?”

“How can what you told Dar and Cani be both a lie and the truth?”

Glorfindel sighed, shaking his head. “Fine. I never sold them, not even for a shekel a piece. What I did do was to send them off to learn a trade, separate trades. They were apprenticed to master craftsmen because Daeron and I decided they needed to learn something other than how to kill people. They were being a bit obnoxious about it and they needed to learn some humility. And it wasn’t for one measly year, either. They were apprenticed for the usual fourteen years until they achieved their mastership and I wouldn’t let them come home until they had.”

“And you had that much power over them?” Vorondur asked in curiosity.

“Damn right, I did!” Glorfindel nearly shouted, sounding almost angry.

“Loren!” Vorondur said sharply. “Get a grip and take a deep breath. No one’s questioning your authority here. I just want to understand why you’re acting as you are.”

Glorfindel took a deep centering breath, the tension in his body easing slightly. “Sorry. I seem to snap at the littlest thing lately. I was and am their captain. They know this. The few times when they’ve disobeyed an order from me ended very badly for them. They were forced to do the most menial tasks alongside mortal children also learning the trade. They hated me for it, and I don’t blame them for doing so, but as time went on, they actually took pride in their accomplishments, established friendships among their fellow apprentices and journeymen and now they often speak fondly of their time as apprentices.”

“So why didn’t you tell my sons this instead of fabricating the tale about the Twins being sold into slavery?”

Glorfindel shrugged, giving Vorondur a sly look. “Because it was more fun? I don’t know, Ron. At the time, it just felt right and don’t worry, I warned Daeron later and I’ll tell the Twins when they get back so if your sons try to ask them about it, they’ll know what to say.”

“And yet, in the end, the lie is compounded and you have to complicit three other people, four if you include me, into the lie.”

“Five, actually,” Glorfindel said somewhat smugly. “Finrod knows the truth as well.”

“And what happens when Dar and Cani learn the true story? How do you think they’ll feel?”

“Let’s hope that by the time they do, they will realize that their attitude towards Mortals is wrong and they have a greater sense of respect for them. Look, Ron, I’m sorry, but really? Does it matter? And as far as the whole Elf-path thing goes, that was just for fun because those kids love to see what they call Elf-magic. And it was a good way to make sure they didn’t go wandering off into the woods without some adult on constant guard. Their parents could relax and no one got hurt.”

“Well, I won’t dispute that, but I would appreciate it if before you leave here you tell my sons the truth about the Twins. I think they deserve that much.”

Glorfindel nodded, looking suitably chagrined. “Okay. Will do. Sorry. Guess I messed up.”

“As do we all from time to time,” Vorondur said with a gracious smile. “If they came with instructions, our whole lives would be a lot easier, if not as interesting.”

Glorfindel barked a laugh. “Atar Arafinwë used to say the same thing about raising Reborn.”

“Where were you when we were sitting around the bonfire in the clearing?” Vorondur asked suddenly.

“Huh?”

“You were there physically, but I noticed that as the night wore on, you seemed to withdraw from the rest of us. I just wondered where you went.”

“Nowhere.” Glorfindel frowned, his eyes narrowing. “I… I guess I just zoned out, as they say. I remember sitting there feeling suddenly tired for some reason but I didn’t want to worry anyone so I just sat there when all I really wanted to do was to go back to the house and sleep.”

“Why didn’t you? A few others retired and nobody thought twice about it. You could have left.”

“Maybe, but with everyone watching me for signs of fading, I just didn’t want to bother. You don’t know how tiring it is to be watched all the time.”

“I was not aware of that, Loren. I’m sorry. Had I known, I would have put a stop to it.”

“Not your fault, and you can’t be there twenty-four-seven anyway.”

“Still, I will speak with Darren and Finrod and make sure they understand. I know that you are under a lot of pressure and they shouldn’t make it worse for you. Now, moving on, have you thought further about what we talked about earlier, regressing you to see if you can remember your dreams more? Have you even had more such dreams?”

“No to the second question, for which I am thankful,” Glorfindel said sincerely. “I’m still not sure about being regressed. I don’t like the idea of not being in control—”

“But that’s just the point. You will be in complete control. You will be completely aware of everything that is happening and you will have the power to end the session at any time it becomes too much for you. I promise, Loren, that I won’t be mucking around in your soul. The regression will have one purpose and one purpose only: to bring to your conscious memory what your unconscious knows about the dreams you’ve been having. I think it’s important for you to remember them. I have a feeling they are somehow tied in with your fading.”

“Can I think about it?” Glorfindel pleaded. “Right now, I’m too busy planning our trip to Fairbanks.”

“Take all the time you need, Loren, to be comfortable with the idea. Talk it over with Finrod and Legolas if you want. See what they say about it. And if you decide to go ahead with it, you’re welcome to have whomever you want present with you and we don’t need to do it here. We can do it in Edhellond or wherever you feel the most comfortable.”

Glorfindel nodded. “Okay. I’ll let you know when we get back. What if I decide not to go ahead with it?”

“Do you mean, will I stop being your friend or anything like that? Well, you can put your mind to rest on that score, Loren. While I may wish you had decided otherwise for your sake, not mine, I will not stand in judgment and will continue to help you as I can and as you allow. That is true with all my patients. I can’t force you to do something you’re not ready to do, but I will be there regardless whatever your decision.”

“Fair enough and thanks. Why don’t we go find your sons and I’ll tell them what really happened.”

Vorondur nodded and stood. “I believe they’re in the garden watering the plants they stole.”

“When do they start working at the nursery?” Glorfindel asked as he followed Vorondur out the door.

“Next week. They will work for three hours, three days a week.”

“And will it really take them five years to pay off their debt?”

“Probably not,” Vorondur admitted with a smile, “but they don’t need to know that just now.”

“Ah…” Glorfindel said by way of a comment.

Vorondur led him into the back yard and called for his sons while he and Glorfindel found seats at a table shaded by an umbrella. The two ellyn showed up a moment later and joined them.

“Come and sit,” Vorondur said to them. “There’s something that Glorfindel wishes to tell you.”

The two younger ellyn did as they were bid and gave the Elf-lord their undivided attention. Glorfindel cleared his throat. “That story I told you about the Twins?” Dar and Cani nodded. “Well, let me tell you what really happened….”

****

“They seemed to take it pretty well,” Glorfindel commented later, when he was back at Edhellond, telling Finrod and Daeron about his session with Vorondur. The three of them were sitting around the breakfast nook enjoying a midmorning snack. “At least they didn’t run off yelling how they hated me or anything like that.”

“I’m sure they don’t hate you,” Daeron said with a smile. “Did they ask you why you told them that story?”

“Yeah, and I asked them which version impressed them more.”

“Ah… yes. I can see that,” Daeron allowed. “Next time, though, I think you should just stick to the unvarnished truth. It’s less of a hassle on us all.”

“Yes, mom,” Glorfindel said and both Daeron and Finrod laughed.

“It’s a good thing Elrond never heard you tell that story,” Finrod said.

“Shh!” Glorfindel said, looking around furtively and the other two snickered in amusement.

“Well, I am glad that’s settled,” Finrod said. “I need to get going or I’ll be late.”

“I’ll give you a lift,” Glorfindel offered. “I need to do some shopping anyway.”

“Thank you,” Finrod said and in a few moments he and Glorfindel were gone, leaving Daeron to clean up after them before he went out into the back garden to see how Elrond and Celebrían were doing, the two working side-by-side in planting roses.

They both looked up at Daeron’s approach. “So, what happened?” Elrond asked the loremaster.

“He told them the truth,” Daeron answered.

Elrond nodded and Celebrían sighed, but otherwise they did not offer any comments as they went back to their planting. After a moment, Daeron left them to go wandering in the woods for a time before he needed to get back to his own work.

****

Friday, Daeron drove Elrond to Evergreen Drive and dropped him off in front of Vorondur’s house. “I’ll pick you up in an hour,” he told him before driving off with a wave. Elrond went to the front door and rang the bell. Nimrodel answered it, giving him a radiant smile.

“Come in, Elrond. Ron will be with you in a moment.”

Even as she was closing the door behind him, Vorondur came down the hall and greeted him. “Would you care for some tea or lemonade while we talk?” he asked.

“Thank you, no,” Elrond said, feeling suddenly nervous for some reason.

Vorondur nodded and gestured for Elrond to precede him. “Second door on your right,” he said and shortly after the two were in his office. “Sit where you wish,” he told the Elf-lord and Elrond chose one of the overstuff chairs. Vorondur sat in the other and waited.

For a long moment, Elrond did not speak, taking his time to look around the small office, comparing it with his own in Imladris-that-was. Finally, he gave Vorondur a sad smile. “You have come a long way from when you were just one more warrior in my retinue guarding Imladris,” he said in Sindarin.

“We both have,” Vorondur replied in the same language.

“I am glad you found a purpose and a meaning for your life,” Elrond said. “When you left us, you and Ercassë, I feared for you both. The East was still a dangerous place even without Sauron, and we never learned what happened to the Blue Wizards. If even Maiar could disappear….” He shook his head. “Sorry. I did not mean to bring that up after all this time.”

“We had many adventures and several close calls,” Vorondur said, “and I know Ercassë missed all of you in Imladris and Lothlórien, but we were and are happy and have no real regrets. Looking back, I think this was the Valar’s way of keeping us here in Ennorath until the time was ripe for us to join up with Glorfindel and the others.”

Elrond nodded. “Which brings us to the reason I asked for this meeting.”

Vorondur nodded and waited for Elrond to continue. The erstwhile Master of Imladris licked his lips. “Daeron was the one to suggest this. He and Glorfindel both stated that I do not necessarily have to follow the same route as the other healers in becoming certified to practice medicine as the Mortals do.”

“That’s true. What do you have in mind?”

“Daeron spoke of my becoming either a psychiatrist or a psychologist.” Here he resorted to English.

“Well, either option would be of benefit to this community,” Vorondur said, speaking in the same language. “Psychiatry would involve becoming a certified doctor in psychiatric medicine. That’s a bit more involved than what the healers are doing at the moment, but it’s certainly doable. Going into psychology would not be as time-intensive, but it will still take you a number of years.”

“Glorfindel suggested I take the psychology classes at the college,” Elrond said.

“That would certainly help and allow you to decide which path you wish to take. I am assuming there is no particular hurry to decide either way.”

“None that I see,” Elrond allowed. “I do not wish to be the only healer unable to ply his trade.”

“That is certainly understandable. Perhaps we can arrange something with Geoff Harris and have you work at the hospital a couple of days a week with me.”

“I was unaware that you worked at the hospital.”

“Not in the same way as your sons or the other healers do, but there is a wing of the hospital that is the psychiatric ward, where people suffering from some psychosis or another undergo treatment. There are three psychiatrists on staff and we rotate through the ward, caring for the few patients that are there. Unfortunately, even here in the middle of nowhere, there are people with psychological problems that necessitate hospitalization. One or two of the patients are there under court order to determine their mental capacity to stand trial for the crimes of which they’ve been accused.”

“What would I be doing?”

“Mostly following me around on my rounds. I can teach you the pharmacology that we use in our treatments, and you can observe how I go about doing things. I may have you follow the nurses as well, since they are there on a daily basis administering to the patients.”

“I think I would like that, thank you.”

“I’ll speak with Geoff about it, get his permission. If he says okay, we’ll make arrangements for you to be able to work there. Not anyone can wander into the psych ward, you have to understand. Unlike any other ward in the hospital, you need a special key to get in, but that’s a minor detail. Once I have Geoff’s permission, we’ll set up a schedule for you to follow. I’ll also take you over to the college and have you registered for a couple of the psych classes. Northern Lights is just a community college and the courses offered are not as extensive as those at, say, the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, but take the classes offered here and then we’ll see about getting you the classes you need to get your degree in psychology later. With distance learning and internet, it will be easy enough to have you take classes even from here.”

Elrond nodded. “Thank you and thank you also for getting Glorfindel to tell the truth about my sons.”

“Who told you about that?”

“Daeron, actually. Glorfindel told him what he had told Dar and Cani and Daeron told me and Celebrían, assuring us that it never happened. He did not want us to inadvertently hear the story and assume it to be true. I am glad that it was not, though I would not have blamed Glorfindel or Daeron if they had done just that. You remember how my sons were after their naneth Sailed?”

“Yes, I do,” Vorondur said with a slight smile. “Well, I’m glad that has been cleared up. I have to wonder though what other lies Glorfindel has been telling us lately that we do not know about.”

“Yes, that disturbs me as well,” Elrond admitted. “I am not sure what we can do about it.”

“There is one thing you can all do,” Vorondur said.

“What is that?”

“Glorfindel is aware that everyone else in Edhellond is watching him very closely and he is becoming resentful. You might warn the others to back off a bit. The other night he desperately wished to go to bed but was afraid to because of how others would react. We can’t have that.”

“No. In that you are correct. Very well. I will speak to Daeron and Finrod about it and we will see that the others are aware of the effect they are having on Glorfindel with their constant watching.”

Vorondur nodded. “Good. So, is someone picking you up or should I drive you over to Edhellond?”

“Daeron said he would pick me up at five.”

“Well, you still have about fifteen minutes. Unless there’s anything else you wish to speak to me about, perhaps you’d like to see the garden while we’re waiting for Daeron to return.”

“I would like that, thank you.”

Vorondur rose and Elrond followed him and together they left the office and made their way to the back yard where Vorondur gave him a tour of the garden. Ercassë and Nimrodel joined them, bringing tall glasses of lemonade for them to enjoy. When Daeron arrived, he was invited to join them and by then Amroth had returned from his own errands and they all sat in the garden enjoying each other’s company for a while until it was time for Daeron and Elrond to return to Edhellond for dinner.

“So, how did it go?” Daeron asked Elrond once they were alone in the car.

“Vorondur will help me register for classes at the college and he will arrange for me to follow him on his rounds at the hospital.”

“Good. I’m glad that’s working out for you. I’m sure Dan and Roy will be very happy to hear that you are making your way in this modern world. What about Celebrían? What do you think she would like to do?”

“If I know my wife, she would prefer to spend her days tending the plants in the garden.”

“Well, she can certainly do that, but I think she might benefit from finding actual work. You know, she could take classes at the college as well. They have an ethnobotany certificate program where she can learn about native plants and their uses in indigenous cultures and how that impacts on our lives here. She might consider a career in natural resource management services which help to protect the environment. Something to think about.”

“Yes, I agree. Perhaps if you could gather the relevant information…”

“Sure, and don’t worry, we won’t have any problems getting her admitted into the program, and I know Nell would be happy to show her big sister the ropes once she starts classes.” He gave Elrond a sly grin and the Elf-lord laughed at the idea of Celebrían having to allow Nielluin to teach her what she needed to know instead of the other way around.

****

From the sealed files of Dr. Ron Brightman:

Name: Elrod Ronaldson (Elrond Eärendilion)

Personality Profile: INTP: Wizard

Charm: ‘As kind as summer’

Adaptability: Superior

Planning ability: Strategic

Survival preparations: Better than average given his background

Weapons skill: Knows one end of a sword from the other, but his greatest weapon is his mind

Intelligence: Mensa would need to add a new category of genius just for him

Warm fuzzies: Reserved but full of compassion (a necessary trait for any healer)

Leadership skills: He refused the Crown of the Noldor-in-Exile after Gil-galad’s death, content to rule in Imladris as its Master

Motto: ‘I endure’

Analysis: Elrond is all about logic. His greatest weapon is his mind, but he does not use it to lord it over others. His strong Introverted Thinking (Ti) function, coupled with an Extraverted Intuiting (Ne) function, is evident in how he approaches the world, whether as a healer or as a leader. He is excellent at noting inconsistencies and able to posit multiple outcomes, not with the intention of making choices for others, but to ‘lay the cards on the table’ so to speak so every viable option is out there from which others may make informed choices, whether it’s a course of treatment for an illness or strategy for a battle. Elrond is pragmatic, practical and (outwardly) reserved. Within his core, though, he is empathetic and empathic to a degree not seen in even someone like Finrod. His ability for total recall and seeking detailed data as well as being able to analyze, categorize and evaluate according to principles, interpreting situations and relationships and picking up meaning and interconnections to other contexts — all this explains why he is considered one of the greatest loremasters this world has ever seen.

I think he will make an excellent psychologist and I am glad that Daeron has suggested this to him. Perhaps eventually he will want to study to become a psychiatric physician. Eru knows I could sure use the help!

Addendum: I find it interesting that Elrond and his two sons, healers and warriors all, actually share the same functions, but arranged differently. Thus Elrond is Ti-Ne-Si-Fe, while Elladan is Si-Fe-Ti-Ne and Elrohir is Fe-Si-Ne-Ti. The three actually complement one another quite well. Once Elrond starts working as a psychologist, I think he and his sons will have a basis for a new level of relationship between them. Only time will tell.

Fairbanks

The clothing store run by the Elves, which they had decided would be called ‘The Elf Emporium’, was not due to open until after Glorfindel and Finrod returned from Fairbanks. Erestor and Lindorillë had decided to postpone the opening until then because of shipment delays.

“Typical Mortal inefficiency,” Erestor groused to no one in particular when he made the announcement to postpone the opening. “I had the same problem with the damn Dúnedain. I swear, these Mortals do this on purpose just to annoy me.”

The response to this was laughter on the part of Glorfindel and several others, including Elrond and Celebrían, who were there at the time. Elrond’s eyes twinkled. “You and Lindir both,” he said. “The two of you would grumble and grouse throughout my halls and insist that the household would fall apart because shipments were a day late.”

“Yeah, you were always rather blasé about that, as I recall, Elrond,” Glorfindel said with a grin. “Except the time the Dorwinion didn’t arrive when due. Remember, Erestor? We had the devil’s own time, to borrow a Mortal phrase, trying to keep Elrond from haring off to find the caravan.”

“All I could think of was all that good Dorwinion going to waste on orcs or Dunlending bandits,” Elrond sniffed. “You would’ve been upset too, don’t deny it.”

“Oh, I don’t deny that I would’ve been very sorrowful had the wine gotten into the hands of ungrateful bandits,” Glorfindel admitted laconically, “but I would’ve been even more sorrowful had you gotten yourself killed over it because you ran off without suitable protection.”

“Suitable protection, meaning you,” Elrond said.

“And Elladan and Elrohir and Thandir and every other guard I could lay my hands on,” Glorfindel retorted. “Anyway, Erestor, welcome to Alaska. Wait until winter when half the time the main highway is shut down for most of its length.”

“How do supplies come in then?” Lindorillë asked.

“Usually by plane,” Glorfindel answered. “There’s an airstrip over by Nolan.”

“It will cost more,” Erestor said darkly.

Glorfindel shrugged and gave them a thin smile. “As I said, welcome to Alaska.”

So, the week passed. On Friday before dawn, they were packing Glorfindel’s van for the trip and by seven he, Finrod, Legolas, Findalaurë, Calandil, Elennen and Nielluin were on their way to Fairbanks. The youngsters and Legolas watched with interest as the miles went by, their faces practically glued to the windows, staring at the spectacular scenery while Glorfindel and Finrod took turns driving. They stopped at the Arctic Circle to eat lunch and stretch their legs and then they were on their way again. By the time they reached Livengood, even Legolas had tired of looking at the passing scenery and had slipped onto the Path of Dreams, while the youngsters occupied themselves with reading and listening to music on their MP3 players.

“Almost there,” Glorfindel called out as he drove through Livengood after stopping for gas.

Legolas woke up and the youngsters put away their books and music to stare out the window once again. They sped down Route 2 into the heart of the city with Glorfindel making his way to the Downtown Log Cabin Hideaway Bed and Breakfast where they would be staying.

“Holy—” Findalaurë muttered, his eyes wide with shock at the amount of traffic surrounding them as well as the tall buildings and the people. His gwedyr and Nielluin looked equally stunned as they stared out the windows.

Legolas knew just how they felt. He recalled Minas Tirith as he first saw it and realized that Fairbanks was probably larger than that city of Men, the jewel of the Númenóreans-in-Exile. It was a sobering thought, knowing that Fairbanks was considered a small city in comparison to most others. And he was supposed to help Glorfindel and Finrod keep the children in line? He stole a glance toward the front of the van where Glorfindel was competently steering his way through the traffic while Finrod sat in the passenger seat still reading the guidebook he had purchased at the bookstore, not even bothering to look up.

But of course he wasn’t there to keep the youngsters in line; he was there to keep Glorfindel in line. Legolas snorted to himself at that thought, recognizing how utterly futile such a task was. He keep Glorfindel in line? Who was he kidding? Glorfindel could run rings around him without raising a sweat and still have energy left over to quote the entire Athrabeth, which, as Legolas recalled, the Balrog-slayer had actually done once when Aragorn half-jokingly challenged him to. Legolas remembered the utter awe he had felt as he listened to the Captain of the Imladrin Guard quote the entire treatise without pause or hesitation.

“Here we go,” Glorfindel said as he pulled into the parking lot for the B & B, drawing Legolas out of his reverie. The Wood Elf suddenly realized he could not remember their course through the city during his ruminations and felt momentarily chagrined that he’d allowed himself to be that inattentive, but then mentally shrugged. It wasn’t as if they were traveling through Mirkwood, after all.

“Thank Eru!” Finrod exclaimed with some relief, closing the guidebook and undoing his seatbelt. “That has to be the most wretched road I’ve ever had to travel in all my days.”

Glorfindel gave him a sly smile. “Getting soft in our old age, are we?”

“I will pretend I did not hear that,” Finrod said stiffly. The youngsters all snickered and even Legolas smiled at the byplay between them.

They climbed out of the van and even Legolas sighed with relief as he stretched cramped muscles while helping to retrieve their baggage and following Glorfindel and Finrod into the building where they were warmly greeted by the owners. Soon they were being shown to their rooms with the youngsters sharing one with four bunks and the three older ellyn sharing another, a larger room with three separate beds.

“We’ll unpack and then take a walk,” Glorfindel suggested. “There are some nice restaurants in the area. We’ll let the youngsters choose tonight.” And that is what they did. Glorfindel and Finrod, Legolas noticed, both seemed at ease around the larger crowds of people, ignoring the inevitable stares by the Mortals as they walked slowly along, conversing in Quenya about some aspect of elvish philosophy that was of no interest to Legolas, who brought up the rear, making sure the youngsters didn’t go wandering off in their excitement. The youngsters, in fact, spent the time gazing into shop windows and commenting in Sindarin about the vast variety of goods that were available, even more so than what could be found in Wiseman.

“So, what is there to do here, Loren?” Elennen finally asked as they waited to cross a street.

“Well, I thought we would start with the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center,” Glorfindel replied. “It’s a good way to get an overview of the history of Interior Alaska. Then we can visit the Museum of the North and then there are the Botanical Gardens and right around the corner is an Ice Museum that I think you will enjoy.”

“What about visiting the university?” Nielluin asked. “Perhaps we’ll run into Alex there.”

Glorfindel smiled. “Only if we’re extremely lucky.”

“Have you called Gwyn yet?” Findalaurë asked as the light turned and they crossed the street. “Are we meeting him and Gareth while we’re here?”

“Of course we are,” Glorfindel said. “I gave Gwyn a call while we were unpacking. We’ll see him and Gareth tomorrow night at their place for dinner, so Nell, you’ll just have to wait until then to see your beau.”

“My what?”

“Beau, fiancé, sweetheart, take your pick,” Glorfindel replied with a grin.

“I’m surprised you’re not insisting we go see Gareth immediately,” Finrod said, giving Nielluin a significant look.

The elleth sniffed. “We’ve been texting.” She held up her smartphone and there were knowing chuckles all around.

“Well, why don’t we look about for someplace to eat and then we’ll discuss what there is to see here in Fairbanks and plan our itinerary a bit more,” Glorfindel suggested. The others agreed and soon they were sitting down in a small restaurant chosen by the youngsters after much debate and spent the meal with Glorfindel outlining the various sights. Legolas pretty much ignored the discussion, not really caring what they saw, being more interested in the sushi they were eating.

****

The next morning, after breakfast, they piled into the van and Glorfindel drove them first to the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center, a large, modern glass building where they marveled at the antler arch made up of over a hundred moose and caribou antlers situated just outside the building’s entrance and the flying bishop’s plane that graced the lobby. Inside, they spent some time examining the diorama exhibits celebrating Interior Alaska’s people, land and culture. Glorfindel had arranged for the youngsters to have their portrait taken wearing traditional Athabascan clothing made of moosehide with wolf, muskrat, wolverine and beaver fur and decorated with stunning beadwork. Each of them were given their own copy.

“You should have your portrait taken, too,” Nielluin told Glorfindel, Finrod and Legolas and the Three Amigos agreed. The older Elves demurred and the photographer grinned.

“Cowards,” she said laughingly, so in the end, they agreed and when they finally left the Center, everyone had a copy of a photograph of them in traditional native garb.

By now, it was getting close to lunchtime, so Glorfindel drove them to College Avenue and the Molly Malone where they spent a pleasant hour eating and discussing what they had seen at the Center. “After lunch, why don’t we drive over to the university and wander around,” Glorfindel suggested. “You three ellyn might one day attend classes here if you’re interested in pursuing a particular degree.”

“We’re still unsure what we want to do,” Findalaurë stated. “And wouldn’t it be safer if we took classes on the internet the way Alex does?”

“Safer, perhaps,” Finrod allowed, “but I think you could benefit from mingling more closely with the younger Mortals. Wiseman can offer you only so much and while we need to prepare for the war, that does not mean we put our lives on hold. You may well wish to travel and explore the world, take up professions that may have nothing to do with preparing for what is to come.”

“You only took a couple of classes this past semester to get a feel for college life,” Glorfindel added. “You may wish to actually matriculate and earn a degree. You can continue at Northern Lights and get your core courses out of the way and then transfer to Fairbanks for your bachelors and for graduate school if you’re so inclined.”

“What about me?” Nielluin asked. “Can I not pursue a higher degree as well?”

“Nothing says you can’t, Nell,” Glorfindel assured her. “You are more than welcome to pursue a higher degree if you so desire. You might eventually move into early childhood education, for instance, if you wish to continue working with young children. The point is, you all have an advantage the Mortals do not, and that is time.”

The youngsters all had thoughtful looks on their faces as they finished their lunch and then they were on their way to the university where they spent an hour wandering about the campus, admiring its layout. The campus was surprisingly uncrowded, but Glorfindel pointed out that since it was the weekend, no classes were being held. Even so, Legolas kept a wary eye out, as well as keeping an eye on Glorfindel who seemed quite relaxed and obviously enjoying himself.

They decided to save the Museum of the North for another day and headed back to the B & B where they rested for a time before making their way to the ap Hywel’s for dinner. There they were surprised to see Alex. After greeting everyone, Glorfindel asked Alex how he was settling in.

“Well, so far, so good,” the Mortal allowed. “I’m taking a class on historical linguistics this session. We meet every day for two hours a day and then there’s tons of reading afterwards. It’s a pretty grueling schedule, but hey, that’s how it is.” He gave them a shrug. “So, enjoying Fairbanks so far?”

And the conversation turned to what the youngsters had seen and experienced and what they still planned to see. “We’ll be here until Tuesday and then we’ll drive down to Denali and camp for a few days before heading back to Wiseman,” Glorfindel told them as they congregated out back where Gwyn was barbecuing steak for them. Gareth and Nielluin brought out salads and such, the two of them whispering to one another and holding hands. Legolas took it upon himself to follow the two back and forth between the back yard and the kitchen, ostensibly to help, but really to keep an eye on them, much to everyone else’s amusement, though Gareth and Nielluin both scowled at him. He just smiled and said not a word.

In the end, Gwyn and Gareth agreed to join them the next day on their exploration of the city. “You’ll love the Botanical Gardens,” Gwyn told them. Alex declined their invitation to join them. “I have to finish my assignment for my class,” he told them, “but why don’t I meet you for dinner or something later?”

To that they all agreed and they departed in good spirits with Glorfindel promising to contact Alex later in the day to determine where they would meet for dinner. While everyone else was ready to leave, Nielluin lingered with Gareth, the two saying a long goodbye while the others stood by and watched with Findalaurë rolling his eyes. Glorfindel and Finrod even made a bet between them as to how long the couple would continue kissing before they finally came up for air. Glorfindel won.

Back at the B & B, they congregated down in the common room where they were served glasses of sherry with Glorfindel assuring Al that the youngsters were all legal. “Trust me,” he said to the Man, “they may not look it, but they’ve been legal for years.”

At the moment, they were the only guests, so they had the room to themselves, sipping sherry and speaking softly in Sindarin.

“So, Legolas,” Glorfindel said at one point, “what do you think of Fairbanks?”

“It is larger than I was expecting,” Legolas admitted. “I think population-wise, it must be larger than Minas Tirith.”

“Oh, certainly,” Glorfindel averred with a nod. “And Fairbanks is small in comparison to other cities. Still, Wiseman has its charms and I much prefer it to even here.” He finished his sherry and put the glass down. “Well, I think I will retire. Stay up as long as you please. Al and Verna won’t mind.”

“I am surprised you wish to sleep, Brother,” Finrod said with a frown. “You slept well enough last night, did you not?”

“Yeah, but for some reason I’m feeling done in,” Glorfindel said as he stood. “I think it better if I go lie down than force myself to stay awake.”

“Then go, and if Legolas or I decide to join you, we promise to be quiet and not be singing rowdy songs outside the door.”

“Speak for yourself, Finrod,” Legolas said with a sniff and Glorfindel laughed and wished them all a good-night.

He made his way to the room and spent a few minutes getting ready for bed, but once the light was out and he was lying there, he felt perversely awake. After staring at the ceiling for a good ten or fifteen minutes, he sighed and got up, switching on the light over his bed and rummaging in his pack, drawing out a paperback mystery and began reading. Yet, even that did not seem to calm him and he found his attention wandering off the page, staring out the window to the darkness beyond. Why was he feeling so restless when a half-hour ago he could barely keep his eyes open?

He shrugged, uttering a profanity, and forced his attention back to the book, but after a few more pages without remembering a single word of what he’d read, he shut the book in disgust and placed it under the bed before turning off the light and settling back down. Now, for some reason, he began to feel sleepy again and as his breathing slowed he felt himself slip onto the Path of Dreams…

Sometime in the night he woke with a yell. Almost immediately, the lights came on and Finrod was there, looking concerned. Of Legolas there was no sign. Finrod came over and sat on the edge of the bed. Glorfindel realized that he himself was drenched in sweat as if he’d been in the throes of a fever. “Bad dream?” Finrod asked solicitously.

“Same dream,” Glorfindel admitted, wiping the sweat off his face as he tried to get his breathing under control.

“Do you remember any details?” Finrod asked as he got up and went to the adjoining bathroom, coming back a moment later with a warm, wet cloth and a glass of water, handing them both to Glorfindel who accepted them gratefully. He drank the water and then used the cloth to wipe the sweat from his face, torso and arms, though there was nothing he could do about the damp sheets. He threw back the covers and stood up, grabbing his bathrobe and padding into the bathroom and closing the door. A few minutes later, he came back out and leaned against the lintel. Finrod had not moved.

“I still cannot remember details, just this overwhelming sense of horror and… and defeat, but one thing I do remember is that Gwyn and Gareth were in it somehow.”

Finrod frowned. “Are you sure they did not show up in the dream because we saw them tonight?”

“No, there was a sense of familiarity to them being there. Perhaps seeing them again just helped trigger the memory more. Where’s Liam?”

“Went for a walk,” Finrod answered in a distracted manner, his attention on something else.

Glorfindel glanced at the clock on the wall. “It’s after two. He shouldn’t be walking about the city in the middle of the night by himself. That’s a good way of getting mugged or having the police stop him on suspicion.”

“I am sure he can handle himself, gwador,” Finrod said with a quirk of his lips, “and he is not alone. The youngsters are with him.”

“What? And you let them? Are you insane? This isn’t Wiseman, Finrod. You do not go walking through the city in the middle of the night unless you’re looking for trouble.” He started to pull off his robe, meaning to throw some clothes on. “How long have they been gone? Maybe I can catch up with them and—”

Finrod stood and grabbed him by the shoulders. “Stop, Loren,” he commanded firmly and hearing his mortal name on his gwador’s lips for the first time brought Glorfindel to a standstill as he gaped at the ellon. “You are not going anywhere. Liam can take care of himself as can Finda and his gwedyr. Nell is perfectly safe with them. I told them not to wander far and to be back within the hour. Now, your bed is cold and clammy but there’s no way to change the sheets so you can take my bed.”

“But—”

“No buts, gwador,” Finrod said as he pulled a non-resisting Glorfindel over to his bed and forced him down. “If you do not wish to sleep, we can just sit here together and talk,” he suggested and Glorfindel nodded, leaning against the wall and wrapping his arms around his knees. Finrod went to the cupboard where he had put his clothes and brought out his harp, unwrapping it from its cover. Settling himself on the bed next to Glorfindel he tuned it to an ancient mode which Glorfindel recognized as silmë nenna, starlight-on-water, and began playing softly. The music flowed over Glorfindel and he felt himself relaxing more and more.

When Legolas slipped into the room some twenty minutes later, he was surprised to find Finrod sitting on his bed, playing his harp while Glorfindel lay curled up beside him, his head on the pillow, fast asleep. Finrod shook his head at Legolas’ enquiring look and the Wood Elf just nodded and, using gestures, let Finrod know that he was going back downstairs. Finrod nodded without stopping his playing. Legolas closed the door quietly behind him, leaving Finrod and Glorfindel to themselves.

Glorfindel woke shortly after dawn to find himself stretched out on Finrod’s bed with a blanket covering him. He was alone. Looking blearily about, trying to remember how he’d ended up in Finrod’s bed, he saw that Legolas’ bed had not been slept in. He could hear water running in the bathroom and had to assume that either Finrod or Legolas was showering. Even as he was thinking that and climbing out of the bed, adjusting the robe he had apparently slept in, the corridor door opened and Legolas stepped in, still dressed as he had been the night before.

“Nice walk?” Glorfindel asked nonchalantly.

Legolas quirked his eyebrows in the same manner as Glorfindel remembered Thranduil doing on many an occasion, proof that the apple did not fall far from the tree indeed. “It was pleasant enough,” Legolas answered mildly. “I spent the rest of the night downstairs reading and as soon as Finrod finishes his shower, I will take one as well. How are you doing? I gather you had a rather rough night.”

Glorfindel scowled. “Stupid dream keeps plaguing me but I can never remember enough details. All I have when I wake up is a sense of dread.”

“Dreams are important,” Legolas commented with a frown. “Has Vorondur not been able to help you?”

“He wants to regress me to see if I can recall the dream,” Glorfindel replied as he hunted through his pack for his toiletry bag. “I’m not so sure.”

“It’s not as if you’ve not done it before,” Legolas pointed out as he sat on his bed to remove his shoes.

Glorfindel gave him a startled look. “What do you mean?”

Legolas looked up, his expression puzzled. “Surely you remember when Elrond did something similar that time when you and he were visiting Mirkwood. You joined me in a patrol and then you somehow got separated from us and when we finally found you, you couldn’t remember what had happened to you. Surely you could not have forgotten that? My adar practically emptied out the Stronghold when I sent him word of your disappearance.”

“Valar! I’d forgotten all about that!” Glorfindel exclaimed as he sat heavily on his bed, his eyes dark with a memory of an incident that even ages later left him feeling weak.

The bathroom door opened and Finrod came out drying his hair. “Forgot what?” he asked, looking between the other two and taking in Glorfindel’s shocked expression and Legolas’ sympathetic one.

“Uh… nothing,” Glorfindel said hastily. “Liam was just reminding me of something that happened a long time ago. So, just let me use the bathroom for a moment and then it’s all yours, Liam.” He got up and passed Finrod, refusing to look at the other two ellyn, closing the bathroom door behind him.

Finrod gave Legolas an enquiring look. “Do you want to explain?”

“It is not my story to tell,” Legolas said. “I was merely reminding Glorfindel that he once allowed Elrond to help him remember something that he could not recall. I imagine it was a similar technique to this regression Vorondur wants to do. I think Glorfindel has tried very hard to forget what happened until I mentioned it to him. Perhaps now he will be less hesitant to allow Vorondur to help him remember his dream.”

“One would hope,” Finrod said as he rummaged about for clean clothes. “I deem the dreams are of great importance and may be linked in some manner to his fading. If he can remember what the dreams are about, that might help us to help him.”

Glorfindel came out of the bathroom just then. “All yours,” he said to Legolas, who thanked him and set about preparing to take a shower. Glorfindel sat on his bed, watching Finrod dress. Neither spoke. Finrod stood before a mirror and ran a comb through his hair.

“So what did we decide to do today?” he finally asked, though he knew what their itinerary was.

“Um… the Museum of the North and the Botanical Gardens,” Glorfindel replied. “Gwyn and Gareth will meet us at the Gardens and then afterwards we’ll have lunch somewhere. Tomorrow we can visit the Ice Museum and let the youngsters loose to do shopping. We can take them to Bentley Mall and the Wal-Mart Superstore. They’ll enjoy that.”

Finrod nodded as he put the comb away. “Well, I will go see if the youngsters are awake yet and meet you downstairs for breakfast.”

“Sure.” Glorfindel watched Finrod cross the room to leave. “Ah, Finrod.” His gwador stopped with a hand on the doorknob and looked back at him. “Um… thanks… for… well… for helping me. I’m sorry I ruined your night.”

Finrod gave him a warm smile. “You did not and you are welcome. I will see you shortly.” Glorfindel nodded and Finrod left. When Legolas came out of the bathroom several minutes later, he found Glorfindel still sitting on his bed deep in thought.

“Your turn,” he said and Glorfindel just nodded as he stood and gathered his things and went to take his shower.

About twenty minutes later, he joined the others downstairs for breakfast and they spent the time discussing what they would do and see that day. As it was Sunday, they lingered over their meal, not in any hurry to rush out, but eventually they were on their way and soon they were back in the university area enjoying the museum.

As they were wandering through the exhibits, Finda suddenly asked, “Do you think the exhibits come to life at night?”

Finrod gave his son a startled look. “And what brought such a notion to your mind?”

“Oh, we saw this movie on campus, Night at the Museum, where the exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City come to life at night.”

“But only because of that ee-gip-shun artifact,” Calandil pointed out, carefully pronouncing the unfamiliar word. “I do not think this museum houses such an ancient artifact.”

“And how ancient is it?” Legolas asked, intrigued by the concept being described.

“I think it was about four or five thousand years old,” Calandil replied.

“Well, that’s not too old,” Nielluin said with a disdainful sniff. “I’m older than that and no one calls me ancient.”

“Yet,” Glorfindel couldn’t help but say, a twinkle in his eyes.

Finrod laughed, giving his niece a quick hug and a kiss. “Could such a thing happen though?” he asked, looking at Glorfindel for the answer.

“Nah, it’s just a fantasy,” Glorfindel replied dismissively. “It’s a fun movie and they made a sequel that takes place at the Smithsonian, the world’s largest museum and research complex in Washington, D.C. If you’re really interested, we can rent it when we get back to Wiseman.”

“Yes, I think I would like that,” Finrod said and then the subject was dropped as they made their way out of the museum and headed for the van. Soon afterwards they were pulling into the parking lot of the Botanical Gardens where they saw Gwyn and Gareth waiting for them. Nielluin rushed over to Gareth and they began kissing.

“Hey! Not again,” Glorfindel shouted as he climbed out of the van and locked it. “Will you two stop already? Honestly, you’d think you hadn’t seen each other in years the way you carry on. Give it a rest.”

“Easy, gwador,” Finrod said mildly as they joined Gwyn and Gareth. “I know you are upset about Helyanwë but you do not need to take it out on my niece and soon-to-be nephew.”

“I’m not upset about Helena,” Glorfindel protested. “It’s just that these two lovebirds are beginning to get on my nerves with all their mushy oohing and aahing over each other.”

“Well, whose fault is that?” Gwyn demanded somewhat angrily. “In the normal course of things, these two wouldn’t even be engaged. They’ve been practically forced into this relationship by Ilúvatar from what we’ve been told.”

“And you resent it because the same thing didn’t happen with you and Misty,” Glorfindel said shrewdly.

Gwyn blushed slightly and refused to look at anyone. Gareth’s expression became one of guilt. “It’s not like I planned this,” he said quietly. “I really wish Nell and I had been given a chance to not fall in love.”

“We have no easy answers for either of you,” Finrod said with a sigh. “For now, let us just accept what is and go from there. Gareth, Nell, try to control yourselves while you are in public. Hold hands if you wish, but leave the rest for when you are private.”

“Yessir,” Gareth said.

“And Gwyn,” Finrod continued, “it would have been lovely if what happened with your brother and my niece had happened to you and Mithrellas, but I think, given her history, this way is better for you both.” He gave the ellon a sympathetic smile. “I know for a fact that she misses you and if circumstances had not been such that she needed to remain in Wiseman at this time with Nimrodel being close to term she would have come with us.”

“Della’s not due until September though, isn’t she?” Gareth asked, looking puzzled.

“Elrond thinks not,” Finrod explained. “Multiple births usually do not go to term, as you must know from being around Mortals. Having twins is rare enough among us, but triplets are unheard of. None of the healers think she will deliver on their begetting day. We will have to wait and see. Now, we can stand out here in the parking lot all day or we can go in and enjoy the gardens.”

“Yes, let’s go in,” Glorfindel said, “and Gareth, I’m sorry I snapped at you. I think you and Nell make a lovely couple and I look forward to when you are husband and wife in truth.”

“Thank you,” Gareth said and nothing more was said about the subject.

They entered the visitor center, paid their admission fee, picked up maps and went into the gardens, which were divided into different sections, some, like the children’s garden, still under construction. With Finrod’s permission, the Three Amigos were allowed to wander on their own. Gwyn, Gareth and Nielluin also went their own way, leaving the three older Elves to themselves.

“Plan to return to the visitor center in two hours,” he told them. “That should give you plenty of time to admire the flowers.”

“I really don’t think we’ll be here that long, Finrod,” Glorfindel said as the younger Elves went their own way. “This is not that large an area and from what the map shows, a lot of it is still under construction, so there won’t be much to see.”

“Perhaps,” Finrod allowed, “but it gives us time to ourselves to stroll through what there is and just relax without having to keep an eye on the children.”

“All of whom are older than dirt, even Gwyn and Gareth, as the Mortals would say,” Glorfindel pointed out with a wry grin.

“But not as old as we,” Finrod countered with his own grin.

“Perhaps, then, I should also leave you elders to yourselves and join the elflings,” Legolas said with feigned solemnity.

“Anyone born before the Fourth Age is a card-carrying elder,” Glorfindel retorted, “so you’re free to join the elflings if you wish or remain with the grown-ups, your choice.”

“I will remain with you and Finrod,” Legolas rejoined. “You two are not likely to get into trouble without my help.”

“In your dreams,” Glorfindel said with a sniff and Finrod laughed.

They came to an area which their maps claimed to be the Frank Wooding Memorial Garden, which highlighted what they learned was Fairbanks official flower, the delphinium, a perennial with purple or blue flowers, though some were red, yellow or white, and in meadowlands, the plant could grow as high as six feet, though the alpine forms were usually not much larger than about four inches.

“Odd to think they would choose a plant that is toxic to both people and livestock as their official flower,” Glorfindel commented.

“Who can comprehend mortal logic?” Finrod asked rhetorically.

“Still, it is lovely,” Legolas said as they wandered through the garden. It was a mix of perennials, all neatly labeled, and annuals, which were not. Glorfindel identified most of the annuals with the names by which the Mortals called them, though they all knew some of them by their Elvish equivalents. In fact, the Wood Elf and Glorfindel reminisced about how some of the plants which had managed to survive through the ages had been called in the languages of Middle-earth. But not all the plants were familiar to them and Glorfindel suggested that these were new species which had risen long after the ice age.

“Which only makes sense,” he concluded. “The planet evolves and species of plants and animals die out and are replaced by others.”

“It is less so in Valinor,” Finrod averred, sighing slightly. “I much prefer here to there.”

“It’s certainly less boring, I’m sure,” Glorfindel responded with a smile.

“I think you made the right choice not to return,” Finrod said.

Glorfindel shook his head. “It was not my choice. I had promised Elrond I would watch over his sons. Until they were ready to Sail, I was bound to remain, but truthfully? I wished with all my heart to be back in Valinor with you and Sador giving the Valar grief.”

Legolas chuckled at that and even Finrod smiled, but his expression became more solemn as he spoke. “Even so, I am glad you stayed behind, if for no other reason than without you and the Twins, I do not think the others would have fared half as well as they have, especially the ellith.”

“You’re probably right about that,” Glorfindel admitted with a shrug. “Daeron—” He stopped, his expression darkening suddenly. “I could’ve killed Celeborn right then and there for upsetting Daeron the way he did. That ellon deserved better. What he suffered—”

“Hush, gwador,” Finrod took Glorfindel into his embrace, hugging him fiercely. “Shh… it’s all right.”

“No, it isn’t,” Glorfindel countered, standing stiffly, refusing any comfort. His voice was thick with emotion and it was obvious to Finrod and Legolas that he was fighting tears. “None of you have a clue what any of us endured through the ages.”

“I have been reading your letters to me,” Finrod said softly, “and while I suspect you left much out of them, what you have written is enough for me to get a glimmer of what you experienced. I am so sorry, hanno. I wished I could have been here to help.”

“I know,” Glorfindel said, sniffing. “I’m so tired. It’s getting too hard to hold things together anymore.”

“You should not have to bear the burden alone, Glorfindel,” Legolas spoke up. “That is why we are here. You do not think the Valar sent me here, for instance, to join the police force, do you?”

“Well, that’s what you did, didn’t you?” Glorfindel countered.

“As a necessary means of supporting myself and keeping me sane,” Legolas allowed, “but our main purpose in coming was always to help relieve you and the others of the terrible burden of having to prepare the Mortals for the coming war all by yourselves.”

“Legolas is right,” Finrod said, “and deep in your heart you know this, but you are so used to being the leader, of making all the important decisions, that you are not willing to let go of the responsibility and let others help. It is no wonder that you feel tired all the time. It has to be an awful strain for you.”

“I’m not cut out for it either,” Glorfindel said, rubbing his face. “You would think being the lord of my own House would have trained me for this, but in truth, I let my steward do most of the work. I just stood around looking gorgeous and important.”

Finrod and Legolas both laughed and the tension in Glorfindel’s body eased slightly. “No really,” he said with a thin smile. “That’s what my steward always said.”

“Most stewards will say the same, I think,” Finrod said as they continued walking through the gardens.

For a few minutes they walked in silence, coming upon a small pond and wetland area where dragonflies flew and they could hear a variety of birds singing. Several goldfish swam serenely in the pond. All three seemed to take deep breaths and the sights and sounds around them were as a balm to their souls.

“I think I could just sit here by the pond all day and watch the goldfish do absolutely nothing interesting,” Glorfindel said somewhat musingly as he and Finrod leaned against the railing of the small bridge that spanned the pond.

“And I would gladly join you,” Finrod rejoined, “but I do not think it would be possible.”

“No, it wouldn’t,” Glorfindel said, “but you know, I’ve been thinking we should convert part of our own garden into something like this. You’ve never seen a Japanese garden. I’ll have to show you some pictures when we get home. They’re like this in a way and water has such a calming effect.”

“I was not aware that your gardening skills have improved over the ages, gwador,” Finrod said with a knowing smile.

“Oh, I still can’t tell weeds from flowers,” Glorfindel admitted, “but I know what I like in gardens. I’ve owned plenty down the ages in one form or another. We’ve only been living at Edhellond for a couple of years and the grounds were in a terrible state when we first moved in. The flowering season is so short that we haven’t had time to really get the garden into shape. It’s still pretty much a work in progress.”

“Well, perhaps over the winter we can plan the watermead so when spring comes we will not waste too much time,” Finrod suggested.

“I’ll be pretty busy with Elf Academy, though,” Glorfindel pointed out.

“Well, I think you can let others handle things for you,” Finrod countered. “Zach, for instance, could and should probably take over most of your duties. I think you have been neglecting yourself and these last few months with everything that has happened has not helped. You need rest, gwador, whether you admit it to yourself or not.”

“Finrod is right, Glorfindel,” Legolas said as he knelt by the pond and slipped the fingers of his left hand into the water, wiggling them to entice the fish closer so he could tickle them. “It’s time for you to look after yourself and to let us help you.”

“And you can start by letting Vorondur help you with your dreams,” Finrod added. “Legolas told me that you once allowed Elrond to help you remember what you had forgotten, so I do not understand your reluctance to allow Vorondur to do the same.”

Glorfindel tensed suddenly and looked wary. Legolas stopped playing with the fish and gave him a thoughtful look. “There is no shame in what happened to you, my friend,” he said softly. “None who learned of it ever thought the less of you, least of all myself. Even my adar told me privately that he was impressed by how you handled the situation, and you know that Ada is rarely impressed by anyone or anything.”

“Would you like to tell me what happened?” Finrod said softly, not pressing.

For a long moment, Glorfindel leaned against the rail and stared silently into the pond where the goldfish lazily swam. Finally, when he began speaking, it was in Sindarin, as if what he needed to say was too fraught with significance to be told in any mortal language. “It was during the Watchful Peace, a period of almost four hundred years after Mithrandir went to Dol Guldur, forcing Sauron to retreat to the East. Maybe fifty-five years into the Peace, Elrond was visiting Thranduil in Taur-en-Daedhelos to discuss trade and such. I was there as a matter of course. We had left the Twins behind in Imladris to rule during Elrond’s absence while Celebrían and Arwen visited Lothlórien. Legolas invited me to join him on patrol since I was just kicking my heels waiting on Elrond.”

“Our patrol took us south past the Emyn-nu-Fuin even to the Men-i-Naugrim and beyond,” Legolas offered, also speaking Sindarin. “We were checking on some of the Silvan villages that still existed that far south, though most had moved north of the mountains. It wasn’t until after Dol Guldur was re-inhabited that those few villages were abandoned.”

Finrod nodded his understanding and Glorfindel took up the tale again. “It was a routine patrol from what I was told. We skirted the east flank of the mountains and made a wide loop toward the Narrows and then back up along the west side of the mountains. We weren’t expecting any real surprises. Mirkwood was still a dangerous place but those under Legolas’ command were competent and well trained. I was just along for the ride, as they say.”

He paused and straightened, taking a deep breath as if about to plunge into cold water. “We had two more villages to check on when… when things went terribly wrong.” He paled and began to tremble, gripping the railing so hard that his knuckles turned dead white. His eyes darkened with a memory that was almost too terrible to bear and his breathing became ragged and shallow. Legolas immediately rose and joined Finrod who was attempting to loosen the ellon’s grip, which was beginning to warp the wood.

“Easy, hanno,” Finrod whispered gently, also speaking Sindarin. “That’s right. All is well. You’re safe. No harm can come to you. Shh… you’re safe, you’re safe…” He kept repeating his assurances while Legolas rubbed Glorfindel’s back to give him a sense of calm. Finally, they were able to convince him to release his hold on the railing and the two led Glorfindel off the bridge and along the path until they came upon a bench where they sat with Glorfindel between them.

“What happened, Liam?” Finrod asked in English.

Legolas gave him a startled look at the sound of his mortal name on the prince’s lips but answered readily enough in the same language. “We had two more villages to check on before we would head back home. We reached the one village and all appeared fine, though the headman told us that there had been an incursion of giant spiders in the region recently, so we needed to be extra vigilant. We made our farewells and headed for the last village. It was our custom to take to the trees since the forest floor held its own dangers. We were perhaps a day’s walk from the village when we were suddenly attacked by spiders which we later learned had attacked the village toward which we were heading and were apparently making their way to the village we had just left….”

****

“Stay with me, Lord Glorfindel,” Legolas shouted even as he was racing toward one of the spiders, letting fly arrows at a speed too quickly to see. Glorfindel whipped out his sword and followed. He thought they would continue fighting in the trees, but Legolas and his people jumped to the forest floor after the first volley of arrows, forcing the spiders to follow and Glorfindel saw the sense of that. In the trees, the spiders could use their silk to swing from limb to limb, easily avoiding the arrows, but on the ground they were more vulnerable.

Glorfindel leapt to the ground next to Legolas who had abandoned his bow in favor of his knives, his eyes deadly and calm as he faced one of the larger spiders. It was hideous, its mandibles clacking as it attempted to attack, but Legolas and Glorfindel were able to hold it off.

“Keep it occupied!” Legolas shouted at him as he ran around to the left.

“And how do you propose I do that?” Glorfindel shouted back even as he thrust his sword at the monster.

“Well, I suppose you could always sing to it, but just keep it focused on you for a moment,” Legolas shot back.

“Fine. Hey, you! That’s right. I’m talking to you, you big, fat, ugly thing. Come and get me.” Glorfindel waved his hands at the spider who took the bait and went for him, scuttling toward him more quickly than he was expecting, forcing him backward out of its reach. The monster ignored Legolas altogether and Glorfindel suddenly found himself in peril for his life. He fought desperately to keep the spider at bay and was too busy trying to stay alive to see what Legolas was up to, but suddenly the spider gave an almighty death shriek that was painful to hear. Glorfindel fell to his knees, involuntarily dropping his sword and clapping his hands over his ears. That proved fatal, for he felt a sudden sharp sting in the back of his neck and knew nothing more…

****

Words are Sindarin, unless otherwise noted:

Hanno: (Quenya) Colloquial form of háno: Brother.

Taur-en-Daedhelos: Mirkwood, literally ‘Forest of Great Fear’.

Emyn-nu-Fuin: Mountains of Mirkwood, literally, ‘Hills-under-Darkness’. Amon (pl. emyn) also means ‘steep-sided mount’; fuin can also mean ‘night, dead of night, nightshade, gloom’ and all these meanings are probably meant in this case.

Men-i-Naugrim: Old Forest Road, literally, ‘Road of the Dwarves’.

Note: The Watchful Peace lasted from Third Age 2063 to 2460. The incident which Glorfindel relates took place in 2118.

Legolas glanced at Glorfindel who had sat through the narrative staring into space as if he had not heard a single word being spoken. The Wood Elf sighed. “After the fighting was over and I realized that Glorfindel was missing, I sent word immediately to my adar so he could send me help. Some of those with me were injured and needed the safety of the Stronghold and I could not in good conscience leave them to go look for Glorfindel, not immediately. We were close enough to the mountains that my fastest scout was able to reach the Stronghold and return with help two days later. In the meantime, I had anyone not injured scouring the area in the hope of finding a trace of where Glorfindel had gone. I also sent one of my people to Rhosgobel, which was only about fifty miles as the craban flies, alerting Radagast the Brown and the Woodsmen who dwelt in the area.”

“Where did you find him?” Finrod asked as he stroked Glorfindel’s hair. Glorfindel continued staring into space, lost in memory.

“We didn’t,” Legolas replied. “Radagast did. We searched for almost three days without any luck and then a message came from Rhosgobel urging me to come quickly. When I got there, it was to find Glorfindel raving. In fact, Radagast had had to tie him down and had thrust a piece of leather into his mouth to prevent him from swallowing his tongue. Radagast told me he had found Glorfindel wandering witless about three or four miles from Rhosgobel covered with spider silk and suffering from spider poison.”

Finrod closed his eyes and leaned his head against Glorfindel’s shoulders. “Valar!” he muttered in shock.

“It took all of the Wizard’s powers to neutralize the poisons, but even so, it was nearly a week before they were all out of his system and he was conscious and sane again….

****

Legolas helped Radagast with Glorfindel as the Wizard used several different concoctions on the ellon that he assured Legolas would help neutralize the poisons raging in Glorfindel’s body.

“He should be comatose or dead,” Legolas said at one point, “given the amount of poison in his system.”

“He’s not the same as you or other Elves of Middle-earth, young prince,” Radagast explained as he forced some water down Glorfindel’s throat. Luckily, Glorfindel’s thirst appeared paramount and the ellon accepted the cool liquid eagerly even in his half-conscious state. “Glorfindel was born and lived in the Blessed Realm and has many powers of mind and spirit that those born here lack. On top of that, he is also a Reborn and that may well be his saving grace here.”

Legolas gazed upon the ellon raving in delirium feeling full of guilt, knowing that he was somehow at fault for what had happened to one who was essentially a guest in his adar’s realm.

Radagast gave him a piercing look, as if he could see the guilt in him, and shook his head. “Would you feel as you do, princeling, if it had been one of your own people?”

Legolas looked up, his eyes burning with anger. “Had it been one of my own people, we would not be having this conversation.”

“Exactly,” the Wizard said with a slight smile. “Keep that in mind, elfling. Now, help me change these sheets.”

Elrond arrived at Rhosgobel with Thranduil five days after Legolas had sent them word. Thranduil took his son aside to get his report while Elrond quietly consulted with the Wizard and made his own examination of Glorfindel who was now sleeping, for most of the poison had been leached from his body.

“I decided to wait to put him into healing sleep until you arrived, Elrond,” Radagast said. “I figured it should be your decision and not mine.”

Elrond nodded. “Let us wait a bit on that,” he said, then turned to Legolas. “Tell me what happened.”

So Legolas told them and at the end of his narrative Elrond sighed. “You are not to blame, Legolas. What happened is unfortunate but you could not have foreseen it. No one could. That Glorfindel somehow managed to escape in spite of his injuries is nothing short of a miracle. We must hope that when he wakens he will be able to tell us what happened.”

But that hope proved vain. Glorfindel slept for another few days, rousing only enough to take some sustenance and see to personal needs but it was almost two weeks after he’d been found before he opened his eyes with no memory of anything that had happened, not even the fact that he had been on patrol with Legolas and the Wood Elves.

“My last memory is of the welcoming feast,” he told them when they asked.

Radagast nodded. “A common occurrence when suffering a traumatic experience,” he told them. “The mind blanks out the memory to protect itself, retreating to an earlier, happier time. The memory might come back on its own or not; there’s no way to say either way.”

“Perhaps when he is feeling stronger he will allow himself to remember,” Legolas offered, but even he seemed doubtful.

It took Glorfindel the better part of another week before he felt strong enough to make the journey back to the Stronghold. Radagast was not so sure but he did not try to convince the ellon to remain in Rhosgobel a while longer. Glorfindel was pale and withdrawn and his dreams had been unsettling, causing him to wake screaming on more than one occasion. He still insisted that he had no memory of what happened to him, but Elrond suspected that the dreams were his mind’s way of trying to bring those memories to the fore.

“Perhaps I can convince him to let me try something to help him remember,” Elrond said to Radagast, “but he has to want to remember. I cannot force it upon him, none of us can.”

With that, the Wizard agreed. “He might feel… um… safer within the Stronghold. He might feel too exposed here in Rhosgobel. He needs to feel safe before he will allow himself to remember.”

And so, nearly a month after the spider attack, Legolas helped Elrond with Glorfindel, an entire contingent of Wood Elves armed with bows and knives accompanying them. Elrond decided to travel north along the eaves of the forest to the Elf Gate and the Path that led to the Stronghold rather than risk the forest.

“It will take longer but I do not think Glorfindel is ready to traverse the woods just yet,” he told Legolas.

Legolas had no objections and the guards would do as they were told, so they journeyed north, taking it at Glorfindel’s pace which was somewhat slow, though as the days passed and the color returned to his face, it quickened so by the time they were making their way on the Path, he was almost walking at Elf-speed.

But all the while, he insisted he could not remember what had happened to him and his dreams, when he bothered to sleep at all, were disturbed….

****

“We finally returned to the Stronghold and only then did Elrond broach the subject of employing a technique to help Glorfindel to remember,” Legolas told Finrod.

“And did he accept the suggestion?” Finrod asked, still stroking Glorfindel’s hair.

“Not at first, but when the dreams started to become overwhelming and he felt himself slipping away, he agreed to it. I imagine Elrond used a technique similar to what Vorondur wishes to use, getting Glorfindel to relax enough to remember without feeling threatened.”

“I woke up in a cocoon,” Glorfindel suddenly said, startling Finrod and Legolas.

“How did you escape?” Finrod asked softly.

“I still had a long knife,” Glorfindel answered, never looking at either ellon. “It took a while and I was dizzy with the venom and in much pain, but I managed to free myself, only…”

“Only what? Shh… it’s an old memory and it can no longer hurt you,” Finrod said, wrapping an arm around Glorfindel’s shoulders and hugging him.

“They were waiting for me,” Glorfindel said, swallowing visibly, his body shaking. “I don’t know how often I was stung, but somehow I managed to kill them all. Only afterward, I was so full of poison that I know I was hallucinating but it was all so real. I was no longer in Mirkwood but elsewhere and elsewhen trudging along the strand under starlight after having witnessed my adar kill my nan….” He broke off and lurched away, falling to his knees a few feet away and retching. Both Finrod and Legolas went to him, holding him up through his spasms.

When the heaving ceased, Finrod helped him to stand while Legolas took a moment to cover the vomit with dirt.

“Let’s move away from here,” Finrod suggested and he led them away, following a path northward up a hill until they found themselves in what appeared to be an amphitheater. While it was apparent that it was not yet finished, it was complete enough for them to sit. Looking downhill, they had a lovely view of the gardens.

“Look! There are Gwyn, Gareth and Nielluin,” Legolas pointed out.

“And I can see the Three Amigos,” Finrod said, fishing out the map. “Let’s see, it looks as if my son and his gwedyr are examining perennials according to this map and my niece and the ap Hywel brothers are… ah… looking at an herb garden. Well enough.” He shoved the map back into a pocket. “We will just sit here and enjoy the view. How are you faring, hanno?” he asked Glorfindel. Legolas handed him some bottled water which he had on hand and Glorfindel gave him a grateful look as he rinsed out his mouth before drinking.

“I’ll live,” he said after taking a swallow. “Damn memories!”

“I can understand why you would want to forget what happened to you,” Finrod said carefully. “Yet, what was worse: knowing or not knowing?”

“They say ignorance is bliss, but it can also kill you,” Glorfindel said. “Legolas will tell you that I hesitated for a long time before I allowed Elrond to help me to remember, but the dreams just got worse and I refused to leave the Stronghold. I was a basket-case, as they like to say these days. Had I had a similar experience in this day and age, I would’ve been placed in a rubber room for my own protection.”

“Then you know that regression can only help,” Finrod pointed out.

Glorfindel nodded. “Intellectually, yes, but there is some part of me that screams at the idea, which is stupid in a way because I’ve already had it done to me. I know what the score is. I know that I have complete control and yet…”

“And yet, you still hesitate,” Finrod completed the thought for him and Glorfindel nodded.

“Stupid, I know.”

“No, just a normal response,” Legolas said. “I would feel the same under similar circumstances.”

“Ron said I could have whomever I wished to be present when he puts me under and I can choose where I want him to do it, wherever makes me the most comfortable.”

“I am glad,” Finrod said. “I hope you take him up on his offer for all our sakes, but mostly for yours, hanno. I think your dreams and your fading are linked.” He waved suddenly, for Finda had apparently looked up toward the amphitheater and seeing them, began waving. “Shall we join the youngsters? I think I’ve seen enough of this garden. I would not mind finding a nice tavern and enjoying some wine or ale.”

Glorfindel actually grinned at that. “Hedonist. C’mon, let’s round up the kiddies and go find us some lunch and we need to call Alex and decide where we will meet him for dinner.”

“Why don’t we let Gwyn and Gareth decide that?” Finrod suggested as the three stood and made their way down the hill. By now the ap Hywels and Nielluin had also noticed them. Finrod pointed to his right even as he was speaking and the two groups in the garden began making a beeline toward the entrance.

“What’s wrong with Glorfindel?” Finda asked when he and the other youngsters joined up with them.

“Is he all right? What happened?” more than one person asked, all of them looking worried.

“You look like hell, mate,” Gwyn said with a grin.

“Thanks,” Glorfindel said, “I feel like it as well.”

“Glorfindel had a sudden bad memory,” Finrod explained. “It took him by surprise, is all.”

“Are you going to be okay to drive?” Gareth asked solicitously. “You want me to drive for you?”

“I think I can drive my own van, thank you very much,” Glorfindel muttered as he fished out his keys.

“No,” Finrod said firmly. “I do not want you driving, Loren. Gareth, take his keys. Gwyn, is there someplace nearby where we can have some lunch and something to drink?”

“Not around here, but we can go to Molly Malone’s. It’ll be cool there and no one will disturb us.”

“Then let us go. No, hanno, we do this my way. I do not trust you behind the wheel in your present state. If necessary, I will drive.”

“Uh, in that case, here you go, Gareth,” Glorfindel said, handing the ellon his keys.

A few minutes later they were on their way with Finda, Calandil and Elennen going with Gwyn to keep him company. Soon, they were filing into the dark coolness of Molly Malone’s and Glorfindel excused himself to use the bathroom, coming out a few minutes later looking more steady. Lunch was a subdued affair. However, neither Finrod nor Legolas mentioned what happened in the garden, and the younger Elves knew enough not to ask, for which Glorfindel was grateful.

After lunch, Glorfindel announced that he was feeling too tired to do much of anything else but to go back to the B & B and relax until dinner. “But feel free to do whatever you want,” he told the others. Gwyn suggested that perhaps they could all go back to his and Gareth’s house instead. “You can take the guest room and lie down if you’d like,” he offered to Glorfindel who accepted, even going so far as to allow Gareth to drive the van back to the house, much to everyone else’s surprise.

Once at the house, Gwyn called Alex while everyone else went out to the back garden armed with glasses of lemonade. Glorfindel sat musing, staring at nothing in particular, ignoring the conversations around him.

“Penny for your thoughts.”

Glorfindel looked up to see Gwyn taking a seat next to him, giving him a smile and taking a sip of his lemonade. “I dreamt of you,” he said suddenly and the other conversations ceased as everyone turned their attention to him and Gwyn.

“Oh? I hope I wasn’t doing anything embarrassing,” Gwyn quipped.

“I don’t know,” Glorfindel replied in all seriousness. “I don’t really remember. All I can remember is that both you and Gareth were in the dream and there was something important that you were trying to tell me or show me or something only I don’t know what, only that whatever it was leaves me with a feeling of dread when I think about it.”

Gwyn gave him a troubled look, glancing at Gareth who also looked troubled. “And you don’t know what it is we were trying to tell you or show you?”

Glorfindel shook his head.

“Is that what last night was all about?” Legolas asked, giving him and Finrod a shrewd look. “Gwyn and Gareth are in those dreams you can’t remember?”

“Apparently,” Glorfindel admitted with a scowl and then, seeing the questioning expressions on the faces Gwyn and Gareth, he gave them an explanation. “I have been having a recurring dream, one that I cannot fully remember upon waking. All I have of the dreams is a feeling of dread. Last night I had the dream again, but this time I clearly remember you two in it and knew that you’ve been in my dreams all along. I don’t know why.”

“If Ron regresses you, though, perhaps you will learn the reason,” Finrod pointed out.

“Yeah, I’m beginning to agree with you there,” Glorfindel admitted.

“And you have no idea what we were doing or anything to give us a clue?” Gwyn asked.

Glorfindel shook his head. “Do you have any idea why I would think you two knew something or possessed something that I would consider important?”

Both ellyn shook their heads. “We’re just mortal-born Elves,” Gareth said with a helpless shrug. “What could we possibly have or know that can be of any importance to anyone, least of all you, Lord Glorfindel?”

“Well, if I have the regression, maybe we’ll find out,” Glorfindel shot back. “So, where did we decide to have dinner?”

Recognizing that the topic was closed, Gwyn shrugged. “I thought the Chowder House. As we’re a large party, I took the liberty of making reservations for six o’clock. Alex will meet us there.”

The others nodded and they spent the rest of the time before they had to leave in quiet conversation, but as the evening progressed Glorfindel couldn’t help noticing the troubled, and, to his mind, almost furtive looks that passed between the two brothers and wondered.

****

Monday morning was spent at the Ice Museum, though the youngsters all claimed that they preferred the ones at Chandalar where an ice sculpture contest was held every winter. Then they went to Bentley Mall and after that to the Wal-Mart Superstore, which impressed not only the younger Elves but Finrod and Legolas, both of whom were amazed by the variety of items that could be gotten there.

“If we had something like this back in Valinor, I doubt anyone would be bored,” Finrod commented as they wandered the aisles.

“If a Wal-Mart ever shows up in Valinor, Finrod, then I’ll know the End is nigh,” Glorfindel quipped, giving them a sardonic look.

Later that evening, they ended up at the Big I for drinks with Alex and the ap Hywels to say their good-byes as they were planning on getting on the road fairly early. Thus, they were having breakfast at seven the next morning and on the road an hour later.

“Denali here we come,” Glorfindel said as he pulled out of the parking lot and headed west through the city until he picked up the road for Denali, which lay about a hundred and fifty miles southwest of the city down the George Parks Highway. Once they passed out of the city, Glorfindel pulled over long enough so that he could switch places with Finrod, giving him time behind the wheel. The others spent the trip staring out the windows at the scenery with distant mountains on either side of them.

Eventually they could see the Park, passing some hotels that apparently catered to park visitors. Consulting a map, Glorfindel directed Finrod to the park entrance and the Backcountry Information Center where they were required to pick up their permit to backpack.

“I scoped out a number of possible treks,” Glorfindel told them as they climbed out of the van, “as there are quotas in some areas in terms of how many people are permitted to camp overnight. Since we’re a large group, some areas will be closed to us, but we may get lucky.”

Inside, Glorfindel filled out the necessary permit application while the others stood around. The Woman processing the application glanced over at them, eyeing them in a rather suspicious manner. “Six fellas and a single girl?”

“We’re brothers and this is our baby sister,” Glorfindel said with a straight face.

“Brothers, huh?” the Woman said, glancing at the space on the application where all members of the party were listed. “All with different last names, except for two of you.”

“Half-brothers,” Glorfindel said without missing a beat. “Mom was… bored a lot. Long winters and all.”

“Uh-huh,” the Woman said skeptically. She leaned across the counter and spoke directly to Nielluin. “Honey, are you sure about this, going into the wilderness with these… gentlemen?”

Nielluin gave the Woman a haughty look that would have done Galadriel proud. “Uncle Alex taught me how to kill a man quickly if he tries anything stupid.”

The Woman blinked at that rather unexpected remark, glancing at Glorfindel who just smiled at her. She shook her head and finished processing the permit. “You’ll be camping in unit one, that’s the Triple Lakes area. Before I can give you your permit, though, you’ll need to see our video and one of our Rangers will also give a short safety lecture. The auditorium is through there.” She pointed toward a door and Glorfindel nodded, thanking her.

As they shuffled into the small auditorium along with a few other people interested in backcountry camping, Glorfindel whispered to Nielluin, “Uncle Alex?” She gave him a smile and a shrug that was so reminiscent of Celeborn when that ellon was not willing to explain his motives that Glorfindel nearly laughed out loud.

“Why did you say we were all brothers?” Finda asked, speaking in Sindarin as they found seats.

“Half-brothers,” Glorfindel corrected pedantically, speaking in the same language. He shrugged. “She sees six seemingly young men with a single young female and she has to wonder. I suppose we should have invited one of the other ellith to come along for Nell to have some female companionship, then the Woman wouldn’t have been so suspicious. I told her we were siblings to allay her fears for Nell’s safety.”

“But she did not seem too surprised by the fact that you intimated more than one husband for our putative naneth,” Calandil said.

“Not husbands, lovers,” Glorfindel said. “Mortals don’t always bother to marry when they produce children.”

All four younger Elves looked suitably shocked by the notion. Legolas chuckled at their expressions and they all turned to him. He gave them a wide smile. “I once knew a Man who lived in Esgaroth. He had ten children. I think only three of them had the same mother and as far as I could figure it, he never bothered to marry any of the other Women who bore his children.”

Before anyone else could comment, one of the Backcountry Rangers came in and introduced himself, welcoming them to Denali and proceeding to show them the video. It lasted thirty minutes and covered such topics as campsite selection, sanitary procedures, the Leave No Trace principles of wilderness camping and warnings about wildlife dangers. Then they had to endure a ten-minute safety lecture from the Ranger describing proper food storage and, as the Elves had brought their own Bear Resistant Food Containers — the park issued them free-of-charge to those who did not have their own — they had to show them to the Ranger for approval before they were at last given their permit, which they all had to sign. The whole process took an hour or so and it was heading towards noon before they were free to leave, but not before purchasing the appropriate USGS quadrant map and drawing in the unit boundaries and wildlife closures.

“I can’t believe we were made to sit through that stupid video,” Calandil groused as they headed back to the van which Glorfindel needed to move to the overnight parking area before they could head out.

“Yeah, what a joke,” Elennen sneered. “Who do they think we are, anyway?”

Glorfindel gave them an amused look. “They think you are clueless humans who don’t know squat about wilderness living.”

“Still—” Elennen started to say, but Glorfindel shook his head.

“Their world, their rules,” he countered as he pulled into a parking space and turned off the engine. “C’mon. We’ve got at least a nine-mile hike to the campsites and we’re wasting daylight.”

“Considering that daylight will last until nearly midnight, I do not think we have to worry about it too much,” Finrod offered with a smile as he accepted his pack and swung it onto his back.

“Whatever,” Glorfindel replied as he locked up the van and they headed for the trailhead. Soon they were hiking into what was called the taiga, the boreal forest of white spruce, aspen, paper birch and balsam poplar. There were no others on the trail that they could see, though Glorfindel surmised that on the weekend it would be crawling with people.

“We have to sleep in unit one, but we are free to wander through the entire park if we wish,” Glorfindel explained to them as they made their way along the trail. “We may want to take one of the bus tours that allow you to go deep into the park. We’ll be able to see Mt. McKinley, the highest mountain in North America. It rises over twenty thousand feet with a vertical relief of eighteen thousand feet that’s steeper than Mount Everest. The park is named after it.”

“The park is called Denali, not McKinley,” Finrod pointed out.

“Denali is the Athabaskan name for it,” Glorfindel corrected. “It means ‘High One’ in their language. The Europeans who first came here gave names to mountains and rivers and such to suit themselves, but the old native names remained and in some cases were recovered as in this case.”

Silence fell between them as they continued along the trail. Almost as soon as they had passed out of sight of the visitor center and were deep in the taiga the Elves visibly relaxed. Even Glorfindel appeared to Finrod and Legolas to be calmer than he had been earlier, and they heard him humming a lilting tune that set them all smiling.

They crossed a newly constructed suspension bridge that spanned what their map called Riley Creek and continued the moderate climb up to the ridgeline, affording them spectacular views of the snow-capped Alaskan Range and the glacial valleys. Here they were in dry tundra and they walked with care through the scree. The trail eventually headed down again as it meandered toward the western-most of the three glacially carved lakes for which the unit was named. As they were not in any particular hurry, it took them nearly five hours to traverse the trail.

“The campsites are along this lake and the next one over,” Glorfindel said. “We could camp further up on the ridge but there’s no ready access to water. Let’s check the campsites here first and then move to the next lake if these are taken.”

But all of the campsites on the third lake were occupied, which surprised Glorfindel. “I didn’t think this early in summer and in the middle of the week there would be that many backpackers. Well, there’s still the next lake over. There obviously are available campsites otherwise we wouldn’t have been assigned to this unit.”

The others accepted the situation philosophically. Legolas even went so far as to say, “If worse comes to worst, we can always sleep in the trees.”

“Or just spend the night wandering through the forest,” Nielluin offered.

“We’ll see,” was Glorfindel’s only response. However, when they reached the next lake, the longest of the three, they discovered that none of the campsites were occupied. “This is much better,” Glorfindel said approvingly. “So, Finrod, why don’t you pick our site.”

Finrod looked about and finally chose a location nestled among the birch and aspen with a view of the lake facing east, though they were careful to be at least a hundred feet from the water’s edge. Soon they had their tents up. Since open fires were not permitted during the summer, Glorfindel set up a small propane stove on which they would cook their food. Legolas took the Three Amigos and did a quick sweep of the area, checking out possible wildlife threats while Glorfindel, Finrod and Nielluin poured over the map to plan their itinerary for the next day.

“I suggest we start by ascending the western hillsides and then head south along this alpine ridge system.” He traced a finger on the map. “We’re bound to see some great views of the Yanert Valley and we can move into unit two and make a sweep north back toward Riley Creek and return to the campsite along this drainage out of third lake.”

Finrod nodded. “It sounds like a pleasant day’s walk. What do you think, Nell?”

Nielluin nodded. “And I brought my camera. I’ll take lots of pictures and put them on my Facebook page when we get home so I can share them with everyone. Too bad they can’t get Facebook in Valinor. I would love to be able to show my parents.”

“Well, maybe someday if the Valar ever figure out how to connect to the internet,” Glorfindel said, giving her a fond smile. Then he looked up as Legolas and the Three Amigos returned. “What did you find?”

“The area is clear of any predators, though there are traces of a lynx,” Legolas answered.

“How do you know about a lynx?” Glorfindel asked.

“When I knew I would be coming here, I asked Paul Pettingill about the type of wildlife we might encounter and he gave me a booklet that showed the different tracks.”

“And naturally, you memorized them all.”

“Naturally,” Legolas said with a lift of an eyebrow.

“Whatever,” Glorfindel said. “Okay, well, let’s hope the lynx won’t give us any trouble. Now, while you were out scouting, we figured out our trek for tomorrow. Gather around and I’ll show you.” And for the next several minutes they discussed their route some more until they were satisfied with the plan.

The evening progressed. Nielluin volunteered to cook dinner. Legolas insisted that he, Glorfindel and Finrod at least draw watch duty through the night if the youngsters decided to sleep.

“This isn’t Mirkwood, my friend,” Glorfindel said.

“It is a wilderness,” Legolas shot back. “I only wish I had my weapons with me.”

Glorfindel sighed and looked at Finrod. “I thought this was supposed to be a vacation?”

Finrod gave him a brief smile. “It is, gwador. You let Liam and me worry about security. You just loll about and take your ease with the youngsters.”

“Maybe I will,” Glorfindel countered, but in the end, he agreed to the watch and even insisted that the younger Elves share watch duty as a way of training them. The others agreed, and thus their first night of camping passed without incident.

****

Craban: (Sindarin) a type of crow; the plural is crebain.

Glorfindel ended up taking the last watch during the long twilight period when it became just dark enough for the stars to peep out for an hour or so before fading back into the blue. Calandil had drawn the watch with him, but Glorfindel told the youngster to go back to bed after about an hour. Calandil insisted on helping with the watch even as he was yawning and blinking, trying to stay awake.

“Why am I so tired?” he grumbled. “I’m not an elfling any longer.”

“All this fresh mountain air,” Glorfindel replied with a grin. “Go back to sleep, Cal. I’ll let you stand the entire watch tomorrow night.” After another couple of minutes of half-hearted protests, the younger ellon finally agreed and soon Glorfindel was the only one in their camp who was awake.

He sat there enjoying the quiet of the wilderness with no sounds of traffic, just the usual night noises that were so familiar to him from long ago, breathing the clean, mountain scent without the usual underlying taint of humanity to mask it. As the sky to the east began to lighten toward dawn he idly began braiding his hair, half wishing he had the means to braid with the beads and gems of his House as he had done so long ago. Those days were long gone, and really, he didn’t miss them all that much, but there were times…

Finrod was the first to waken, joining Glorfindel beside the camp stove while he threw together a meal for them. The Elf prince took one look at his gwador and smiled. When Legolas woke a few minutes later and saw Finrod braiding his hair he snorted in good humor.

“Are we hunting for orcs?” he asked. Glorfindel and Finrod merely shrugged without answering. “That’s what I thought.” Legolas stepped away from the camp to relieve himself, returning a few minutes later to crouch beside Finrod and start braiding his own hair. When the youngsters began stirring, they saw their elders with their hair braided, the tips of their ears visible, but they forbore to comment, merely giving each other knowing looks and grins which the older Elves patently ignored.

They were on their way within an hour after sunrise. In the end, they had decided to continue along the trail to the first lake before heading out of the lake basin and the boreal forest and up into the tundra that would take them west into what was known as unit two, otherwise known as the Riley Creek unit, a much larger area than unit one. They climbed along, admiring the profusion of wildflowers that dotted the hillsides, mostly in shades of blue and purple or deep red. The day was clear though they knew that at the higher elevations they might find fog and the temperatures would be cooler. Here, though, it was pleasant and they walked gently upon the trail with the younger Elves softly singing a walking song that apparently was popular in Valinor, for Glorfindel was unfamiliar with it. Neither Finrod nor Legolas bothered to join in the singing, though Glorfindel heard Legolas humming along behind him. The Wood Elf had taken the rear position and Glorfindel knew that Thranduilion was ever alert to possible dangers.

Soon they were descending again as they came upon the first lake where the youngsters exclaimed with delight at the sight of a beaver house.

“Surely there are beavers in Valinor,” Glorfindel said, looking at Finrod. “Why are they so excited?”

Finrod shook his head. “I think they are just enjoying the wilderness. Do not forget that even Nielluin is a product of city living. My sister and Celeborn elected to live in Tirion rather than carve a realm of their own among the Galadhrim, most of whom settled in the south with Amroth’s adar as their lord.”

Glorfindel nodded as they stood admiring the beaver house. There was no sign of the beaver itself, for beavers were essentially nocturnal creatures and they would have to come back during the long twilight period if they hoped to catch a glimpse of the animal. After a few minutes, though, they all decided to continue, but now they went off the trail which, had they continued on it, would have led them to the George Parks Highway that linked Fairbanks to Anchorage. Instead they went west out of the basin and up into the tundra area, crossing the ridgeline and moving into unit two according to their map. Their plan was to pick up Riley Creek for which the unit was named and follow it northward until they came to the drainage that would lead them back into the Triple Lakes area and their campsite. They were in no particular hurry and Glorfindel estimated that it would be close to ten or eleven in the evening before they returned to camp, but they would have plenty of daylight for the trek.

“Perhaps tomorrow, if you want, we can go back to the visitor center and either take the bus tour or pick up the shuttle that goes to the various campgrounds and get off along the way and hike somewhere else,” Glorfindel suggested as they walked along. The others agreed to the idea.

“Could we take the Stampede Trail while we are here?” Finda asked.

“What is of particular interest on that trail?” Finrod asked.

“Something called the Magic Bus,” his son replied. “You see—”

“No,” Glorfindel interrupted, looking grave. “We will not be satisfying your morbid curiosity.”

“What do you mean?” Finrod asked, looking puzzled.

Glorfindel stopped and they all gathered around him. He ignored them for a moment, staring west where the mountains rose.

“Gwador?” Finrod demanded.

Glorfindel looked at him. “Your son wishes to see where a young Man died,” he answered.

“Mortals die all the time,” Legolas commented in a reasonable tone. “What is so special about this place?”

“Twenty years ago, Christopher McCandless walked into the wilderness with little more than the clothes on his back. He was going to live simply, living off the land without any real knowledge of how to go about it. He stumbled upon an abandoned bus sometimes used as a shelter by hunters and then became stranded when the Teklanika River ran too high with spring runoff to cross, never knowing that he was within walking distance of a hand-powered tram that would have taken him out of the area.” He paused and glared briefly at Finda and his gwedyr, all three of them blushing and refusing to look at anyone, before continuing his narrative. “He kept a journal. His last entry was on August the twelfth. His body was found on the sixth of September. He’d been dead for at least two weeks by then and weighed only about sixty-six pounds. He starved to death, Finrod. Twenty-four years old. He died alone and afraid and I will not allow anyone to go and see where it happened. His death is neither heroic nor romantic but tragic. McCandless was reckless and arrogant and that hubris ultimately killed him.”

Finrod contemplated his gwador’s words for a moment before addressing his son. “What reason, other than morbid curiosity, do you have to visit this site?”

“People come from all over to see it,” Finda replied, not quite looking at his father.

“And you would like to say that you have done so as well,” Finrod said with a nod of understanding.

“Mortals are fools sometimes, Finrod,” Glorfindel said harshly. “They romanticize stupidity, most of them secretly wishing they had done something like it, never realizing that such actions are often fatal. McCandless was….” But he shook his head and sighed, unable or unwilling to complete the thought. “Let’s go.” He stalked away, refusing to look back to see if anyone was following.

“I am somewhat disappointed in you, my son,” he heard Finrod say, “in all three of you.”

“Sorry, Atto,” Finda whispered and the other two ellyn echoed him.

“We will speak of it no further. Now come. Glorfindel is getting ahead of us and there is no telling what trouble he will get into if we’re not there to prevent it.”

Glorfindel heard Legolas snort in amusement at that outrageous statement and he couldn’t help smiling in spite of himself. He slowed his pace to allow the others to catch up. “I am sorry I snapped at you, Finda, but I’ve seen too many people, children even, starve to death in my long sojourn in Middle-earth and there was little that I could do to prevent it. It is a truly terrible and painful way to die.”

“Are not all deaths terrible?” Nielluin asked.

Glorfindel nodded. “But some are worse than others. Now, let us forget about it. The day is too beautiful and we are here to enjoy ourselves.”

The others agreed, and while the tension that had arisen between them lessened, Finrod thought he detected a pall of melancholy settle over his gwador and worried. Still, as the day continued and they moved down into the valley and headed north along the creek, Glorfindel seemed fine. They stopped at one point to rest and take some lunch and Glorfindel even settled down and half-closed his eyes while Finrod sat next to him and softly sang an ancient lullaby. Soon Glorfindel was asleep and the others remained quiet. Legolas even left them to commune with the trees for a time.

Glorfindel roused after about an hour or so, blinking as he sat up. Finrod was the only one there, the ellon occupying himself with a paperback. “Where are the others?” he asked around a yawn, accepting a canteen of water from Finrod.

“With Legolas. He’s giving them a lesson on woodlore. They’ll be back later. We’re not in any hurry are we?”

“No, we’re not. Valar! I think this is the first time I’ve actually relaxed in the two years I’ve been in Alaska.”

“Then I say it was long overdue,” Finrod said, marking his place in the book with a bookmark and stowing it into his pack before standing. “I told Legolas that when you woke we would start walking north. He was taking the youngsters that way anyway so we should catch up with them eventually.”

“Fine by me,” Glorfindel said. “I’m just going to see a man about a tree, as I think Derek puts it, and then I’ll be ready to go.”

Finrod nodded as Glorfindel sauntered off to relieve himself. A couple minutes later they were making their way north along the creek. They hadn’t gone more than half a mile though before they heard a hail and looking about they saw Legolas on the west side of the creek waving at them.

“There are cliffs on both sides of the creek, but the ones on this side are lower. It will be easier traveling,” Legolas shouted to them.

“Where did you cross?” Glorfindel shouted back.

“Go another quarter mile north. The youngsters are waiting there for you.” And with that, Legolas actually moved away from the creek, disappearing into the surrounding forest.

Glorfindel and Finrod gave each other bemused looks. “Wood Elves,” was Glorfindel’s only comment and Finrod chuckled as they resumed their journey. Soon enough they came to where the four younger Elves were waiting for them. Unlike many of the creeks and rivers that ran through Denali, this creek was not braided, which would have made it easier to cross, but it was shallower here where a sand bar had built up and crossing the icy cold water was not all that difficult. Glorfindel and Finrod were replacing their socks and boots which they had removed before crossing when Legolas came down from the ridge and joined them.

“Come quickly,” he said with quiet urgency. “The trees are troubled.”

“Troubled?” Finrod asked. “In what way?”

“I am not sure, but I think something is happening or will happen and the trees sense it. They are… concerned.”

Glorfindel noticed the younger Elves glancing around somewhat skeptically at the aspens, birches and firs that covered the hillsides as if they could ascertain what the trees were whispering to one another. He glanced at Legolas, saw the intense look in the ellon’s eyes, and nodded as he stood. “If a Wood Elf tells you that the trees are concerned, it is best to listen. Lead on, Liam.” And without another word, Legolas turned and headed up out of the taiga and toward the tundra with the others following.

It took them nearly an hour to pass through the taiga and reach the ridgeline where the view opened up to the Alaskan Range with Fang Mountain dominating the southwestern horizon. It was colder here and the wind was constant and abrasive. The day, which had started out fine was now turning grayish with clouds veiling the sun. The younger Elves even pulled out windbreakers from their packs and donned them. Glorfindel, Finrod and Legolas didn’t bother. Small clumps of lichen and wildflowers clung precariously to the rocky ground and they could see snowfields dotting the landscape about them. Legolas continued northwest away from the creek and further into the tundra, stepping lightly, almost negligently upon the scree, the others right behind, doing the same.

“Whoa, Liam, hold up,” Glorfindel called. “Do you even know where we’re going?” he pulled out the map and a compass to ascertain their location. Everyone gathered around him.

“The trees say we must go further into the tundra,” Legolas said somewhat impatiently, pointing northwest.

“Okay, according to the map we’re heading toward Jenny Creek. That would be unit three. From the looks of it, that’s a good five or six hours of trekking along this ridgeline. Do the trees know how far we must travel?”

Legolas shook his head. “They cannot give distance for they have no concept of it. They can only point me toward where we must go and there is an urgency that I have rarely encountered even among the trees of Mirkwood. Something is happening or will happen and the trees are concerned.”

Glorfindel sighed as he stowed away the map and compass. “Fine, then. Let’s go. Stay close, all of you,” he admonished the youngsters. “Finrod, you want to take the rearguard?”

Finrod nodded. “Nielluin, I want you directly behind Glorfindel. You three follow her as you will but keep a distance of at least three feet between you.”

“Why?” Elennen asked, looking puzzled. The other younger Elves looked equally puzzled.

Finrod pointed in the direction they needed to go. “The ground looks solid, but see the snowfields? We must traverse them and the brush between them can be treacherous and difficult to move through. Keep alert.” And even as he was speaking they could see in the distance several caribou crossing a distant ridge, their steps springy as they walked.

“How do you know this, Atto?” Finda asked. “You’ve never been here before.”

“No, I have not, but conditions in Beleriand were little different, especially in the northern regions of Mithrim and Hithlum, not to mention the far north of Valinor where we crossed the Helcaraxë. Glorfindel and I are quite familiar with traveling through tundra, are we not, gwador?”

“Go, Liam,” Glorfindel commanded instead of answering Finrod and the Wood Elf sprang away with everyone else following.

Soon they were moving through a waist-high tangle of willow and alder, which slowed them down somewhat and there were curses from more than one of the younger Elves, though the three older ones simply waded through without a word. By midafternoon they had come several miles along a ridgeline that now veered toward the northeast and were soon looking down into what Glorfindel called a cirque, an amphitheater-like hollow carved out by retreating glaciers wherein lay a small tarn, smaller than Winterdark Tarn. Relaxing beside it were five people, three men and two women.

“This is where we’re supposed to be?” Glorfindel asked Legolas, looking about him in confusion.

Legolas just nodded as he stared down into the cirque. The Mortals had not yet noticed their presence, seemingly more intent on skipping stones across the still waters of the tarn than in paying attention to their surroundings.

“We spent nearly four hours getting here,” Finrod commented, glancing negligently at the sun to gauge the time. “How could the trees know we needed to be here?”

“I have no answers,” Legolas admitted, never taking his eyes off the scene below them.

“What’s that trembling?” Calandil asked, looking down at the ground.

“Earthquake,” Glorfindel said in a distracted manner as he continued to watch the Mortals. “Alaska is prone to them and they’re pretty constant, though most are deep and not very strong in magnitude so they’re barely noticeable. Surely you’ve felt them in Wiseman?”

“Yes, but this feels different somehow,” Calandil retorted.

“Look!” Nielluin cried out, pointing not at the tarn but down valley.

“Oh, oh, trouble,” Glorfindel muttered. “C’mon!” And with that he sprang down the moraine with everyone joining him.

“We’ll never make it in time!” Finrod called out.

“Yes, we will. Hey! Halloo!” Glorfindel started waving his hands and the Mortals below them looked up in shock and surprise at the sight of them. A number of things happened almost simultaneously. As the three Men attempted to form a shield around the two Women, grabbing stones for weapons, one of the Women happened to glance in the opposite direction and started screaming as a grizzly came ambling into the cirque.

“Legolas, you’re with me,” Glorfindel shouted as he pointed toward the bear. “Everyone else, make sure the Mortals don’t panic.”

That was a lost cause almost at once as the Mortals did the one thing they never should have and started running, grabbing their gear as they went, attempting to climb the moraine to the top of the very ridge the Elves were descending.

“No!” Glorfindel shouted. “Don’t run, you fools!” But he had to forget about the Mortals as he and Legolas passed them to confront the grizzly who was giving chase.

“Are you crazy, man?” he heard one of the Men shout. “You’ll get yourself killed.”

“No, no, my children, stay still,” Glorfindel heard Finrod command the Mortals. “Do not panic. Stay calm. Finda, you and the others arm yourselves. Nielluin, stay close to me.”

“Who are you?” one of the Women asked, her tone one of awe.

If Finrod gave her an answer Glorfindel never heard for he was too intent on the bear that was still rushing toward them.

“Bado!” Legolas cried out at the bear, waving his hands. “Awartho sâd hen!”

The grizzly paused, apparently in surprise, but whether at the sound of Sindarin being spoken or at the sight of the Elves was difficult to say. It reared up, towering over them, growling, the sound of it echoing within the natural amphitheater.

“Daro, i-chaun nîn!” Glorfindel called out, putting all the power at his disposal behind his words. “Le bodon an aglennad. Bado na hidh.”

For a long, tense moment, the bear remained standing, growling, waving its front paws at them. Behind them, Glorfindel heard the harsh breathing of the Mortals, one of the Women whimpering slightly with fear.

“Bado!” Legolas hissed and then the grizzly came down on all fours, gave a grunting growl in protest and shuffled back the way it had come. Glorfindel and Legolas sighed with relief almost at the same time and grinned at one another. They watched for a few more minutes to make sure the bear did not return and, satisfied, they turned to see what was happening with the Mortals, walking back to where everyone was congregated. The Mortals were all staring wide-eyed at the Elves, watching in disbelief as the bear ambled away back down the valley.

“What… who are you?” one of the Women whispered as she stepped back. “Your eyes!” she exclaimed and all five of the Mortals flinched and looked away.

Glorfindel blinked a number of times, allowing his power to dissipate until the light of his eyes dimmed somewhat. Then he turned to Legolas with a puzzled look. “We traveled miles and hours to get here for this? How would the trees know about this? It makes no sense. There aren’t even any trees about here, just brush. How can trees so far away know this would happen and why would they care?”

“I do not know,” Legolas answered, looking equally puzzled. “I only know what I felt, the urgency, almost fear that the trees had. I think there is more to this than—”

“A! Tiro in gwililith vain!” Nielluin cried out in delight, pointing toward the tarn.

Everyone looked, even the Mortals who could not possibly have understood what she was saying. Glorfindel was not the only one to gasp in shock as hundreds of butterflies, most of them a deep purple with a fringe of yellow on their wings, rose from seemingly nowhere to hover over the tarn and then drift like a purple cloud toward them until they were totally surrounded. Glorfindel spied the Mortals looking about in absolute wonder and even the younger Elves looked equally astonished. Then he caught Finrod’s eyes and a memory flashed before him, a memory of another cloud of butterflies and what their sudden presence had presaged.

“Ilúvatar,” Glorfindel whispered, half in dread.

Before anyone else could comment, the ground shook violently enough to send most of them to their knees, the Women screaming in fright. The butterflies simply vanished, but no one was paying much attention to them.

“Away from the tarn, now!” Finrod yelled as he reached over to haul one of the Mortals to his feet. “Hurry! Move upward. We must get to the ridge.”

The youngsters sprang to their feet and fairly flew up to the ridge, but the Mortals were slower, apparently still stunned, and Finrod, Legolas and Glorfindel had to chivvy them on as another tremor struck, this one more violent than the first.

“Ohmigod! Look at the tarn!” One of the Women exclaimed in horror and they turned to see the water actually rising into a spume, leaving the tarn floor around its edge temporarily exposed. They all watched in awe as the water rose above them and then for a split second everything froze before the water crashed back, some of it overflowing its banks. The force of the water, had they been closer to the tarn, could well have crushed and drowned them. As it was, they were just far enough away that they were merely drenched with spray.

For a stunned moment, they all just stood there dripping and staring in disbelief at the tarn, the waters slowly stilling. After a while, when nothing else happened, Glorfindel whistled. “Hookay. That was… new.” Legolas snorted in good humor at that understatement even as he was wiping the water out of his eyes and wringing his braids.

“Let’s keep moving,” Finrod said, glancing up to where his son and niece and the two other ellyn were. “You are well, my son, Nielluin?” he called out.

“Yes, Atto. We’re fine,” Finda called down.

“How are you doing?” Glorfindel asked the Mortals. “I’m Loren, by the way, and this is Quinn and Liam.”

“Gary,” one of the Men introduced himself, then pointed to the others. “Danielle, Michelle, Chase and Joe.” By their looks, it was obvious that the two Women were sisters.

“So where are you guys camping?” Glorfindel asked in a nonchalant manner, as if what had happened was a normal, everyday occurrence for him. Michelle pulled out a towel from her pack and the Mortals attempted to dry off with little success; the three Elves ignored the fact that they were more or less soaked.

“We’re camping at the Riley Creek campgrounds,” Chase answered as he passed the towel to Joe. “Who… what are you people? You’re not human, are you?”

“Long story,” Glorfindel replied. “Liam, tell me we didn’t trek for hours just for this. What in blazes is going on?”

“I have no answers for you, Loren,” Legolas retorted mildly. “I only know what the trees told me.”

“Too bad there aren’t any around to consult,” Glorfindel commented in all seriousness.

“Those butterflies,” Danielle said, her tone one of awe. “What happened to them? Where did they come from?”

“Not a clue,” Glorfindel said in all honesty. “Last time something like that happened…” He glanced at Finrod who refused to look at him.

“What? What happened?,” Danielle insisted.

“And who are you, really?” Gary demanded. “Those ears. You’re not… er… Vulcans, are you?”

“Too emotional for Vulcans,” Chase said seemingly in all seriousness. “Hey, maybe they’re, you know, Romulans.”

“Nah, Romulans are nasty buggers, almost as bad as Klingons. They wouldn’t bother saving us lowlife humans,” Joe responded knowingly. “I’m going with renegade Vulcans who’ve ditched ol’ Sarek’s nonemotionalism for the good life here on earth.”

“Yeah, right,” Chase snorted in derision, “and it’s Surak, you idiot. Sarek was Spock’s dad.”

“Whatever,” Joe retorted dismissively.

“So, who are you guys, really?” Michelle asked.

Glorfindel shook his head, unwilling to answer, wondering if he should pull out his knife and cut himself to show that he bled red, not green, as a Vulcan would, but decided it wasn’t worth the effort or the pain. Finrod and Legolas just looked on in bemusement, not understanding any of the references. “Let’s get you back to your camp,” Glorfindel said and he pulled out his map and the compass to do a quick reading. “Okay, if we go this way along the ridge,” he traced their route on the map while everyone else looked on, “we can come down to Riley Creek just about here and then it looks like it’s just another couple of hours back to the campgrounds. We should be there in time for dinner.”

The ground began to shake again even as he spoke. “Damn!” Gary cried out. “Hang on!”

“Atto!” Finda yelled from above, his expression one of fear.

“Get down!” Finrod yelled back, motioning for the youngsters to fall to their knees. “It will be safer, and move away from the edge.” He followed words with action by going to his knees, pulling Danielle and Joe down beside him, wrapping his arms around them. The others followed suit with Glorfindel holding on to Michelle while Legolas wrapped his arms around Gary and Joe.

“Whathehell?!” Joe cried out in disbelief, pointing at the tarn.

Even as the tremors continued to grow, they saw the water of the tarn boiling and bubbling and steam rose from it, spreading outwards so it was difficult to see what was happening. There was a noxious smell of sulfur and ammonia that stung their eyes and made them cough.

“We need to get above this,” Finrod said to Glorfindel and Legolas.

Glorfindel nodded. “C’mon. We need to climb,” he told the Mortals. “Don’t try to stand, just crawl up. Liam, lead the way, I’ll take the rear.”

Legolas nodded and headed up the side of the cirque with the two Women right behind him, followed by their menfolk with Finrod in their midst. Glorfindel waited another minute, trying not to breathe the noxious fumes before he followed. The tremors had stopped for the moment. He saw Gary start to rise, no doubt planning on walking up to the ridge.

“No! Stay down!” Glorfindel shouted. “There may be more tremors.”

Gary glanced back at him and nodded. He started to go to his knees again, then froze, a look of horror on his face and he pointed back toward the tarn. The others turned their heads to see, but the mist hid much of the tarn. Glorfindel squinted, thinking he saw something moving but he couldn’t be sure. Then the mist cleared for just a brief second and even though there were no tremors, he saw the waters seething, sloshing over its banks as something with many tentacles burst to the surface.

****

Words are Sindarin:

Bado!: ‘Go!’.

Awartho sâd hen!: ‘Abandon/forsake this place!’.

Daro, i-chaun nîn!: ‘Stop, my brother!’, literally ‘the brother of mine’. Chaun is the lenited form of haun, an archaic form for ‘brother’ (the modern Sindarin form is hanar). Glorfindel is speaking very formally here.

Le bodon an aglennad. Bado na hidh: ‘I forbid thee to come near. Go in peace.’ Literally, ‘Thee I prohibit for approaching’. Hidh is the lenited form of sidh ‘peace’.

A! Tiro in gwililith vain!: ‘Oh! Look at the beautiful butterflies!’

Notes:

1. Christopher McCandless’ story is told in Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild (1996), as well as in the 2007 movie of the same name. The theories as to how McCandless died that are put forth in the book and the movie have since been disproven.

2. Butterflies can actually be found in Denali. On the tundra, butterflies rest with their wings open, rather than closed, as their southern cousins do, in order to soak up the sun’s warmth. They are usually blue or purple because darker colors absorb heat.

There were screams from the Mortals and pandemonium all around.

“Nae! Nae! Tirn! Tirn vin Nen! Men barad!”

That was Legolas who stood there rooted to the spot, caught in a memory of an earlier, darker time.

“Atto! Atto!” Finda yelled.

Finrod forced himself to look away from the horror crawling out of the tarn to see his son and the other youngsters coming down. “No!” he shouted, holding up a hand to stay them. “We’re coming up! Legolas! Legolas! Glorfindel!” Finrod turned to his gwador who also had not moved, shaking him, but Glorfindel was too deep in shock for some reason to respond. The Mortals, in the meantime, had recovered from their own fright and were actually throwing large rocks at the thing as it writhed its way toward them, rocks that bounced harmlessly off the monster’s tough hide. “Fools!” Finrod hissed as he yanked a rock out of Joe’s hands. “Climb! Climb! Finda, come help me!”

The Three Amigos and Nielluin rushed down. “Get these fools up to the ridge,” Finrod ordered them. “I will get Legolas and Glorfindel.” He went to Legolas first as the four younger Elves urged the Mortals to move. Shaking the younger ellon, he shouted in Sindarin, “Legolas! Snap out of it! Damn!” He glanced down to where the horror was still advancing. Glorfindel, closer to it than he, never moved, as if he were caught in some dark web. One of the monster’s tentacles snaked toward his gwador. “Pui-en-orch!” Finrod hissed, half in anger, half in fear, as he rushed toward Glorfindel, who seemed to wake from his fugue just then, recognizing his danger. He gave a yell and started to move away, but a tentacle reached out and wrapped itself around his left ankle.

“No!” Glorfindel fairly screamed, reaching out toward Finrod, terror in his eyes.

Finrod grabbed him, trying to pull him away, but it was a futile gesture, for the monster was dragging them both toward the tarn. He pulled out a knife and attacked the tentacle, the knife barely penetrating the tough hide.

“Look out!” he heard someone scream but he had no time to react as two more tentacles lashed up, with one wrapping itself around his waist and the other tightening itself around his neck. He was forced to drop the knife as he struggled to pull the tentacle off, desperately trying to breathe even as he was being dragged toward the tarn with Glorfindel.

“Atto! Atto!” he heard Finda scream, and even as he felt himself blacking out from lack of oxygen, he saw his son come racing toward him with his gwedyr and the mortal Men following, but he knew they would be too late, for he and Glorfindel were now at the tarn, the water lapping around them, sloshing across his face as he thrashed about so that he was choking on it and he wondered if he would drown first. His thoughts went to Amarië and he knew that she would never forgive him for having died a second time, and in that last moment of conscious thought he realized he was more afraid of his wife than he was of Lord Námo, whom he assumed would be equally upset to see him again.

As darkness and water took him there was a sudden flash of brilliant light and he vaguely heard shouting. There was a confused moment where he was not sure what was happening, but he felt someone pulling at him, the pressure around his throat and waist easing. Water filled his nostrils and mouth and he began choking even as he felt himself being lifted up and then placed on the ground, someone holding him while he vomited the tarn water and everything else inside him.

“Holy crap!” he heard one of the Mortals exclaim and, struggling to a sitting position and opening his eyes, he saw a most unbelievable sight: three Maiar battling the creature with their swords of light and the fact that it was taking three of them to defeat the monster told him something, though he was feeling too confused to marshal his thoughts enough for any coherence. He glanced back to see who was holding him and saw that it was Elennen with Nielluin kneeling beside him. Looking about, he saw Finda was with Glorfindel, holding him as the ellon was also vomiting tarn water. Calandil was with Legolas, who appeared to have come out of shock. The Mortals had eyes only for the Maiar as they continued battling the Watcher.

He recognized one of the Maiar as Olórin and was surprised to see him, for this particular Maia never struck him as the warrior type, not like Manveru and Erunáro who were fighting beside him. The three fought with a fluidity of motion that stunned him, vaguely wondering if the Maiar who had joined Lord Eönwë in the War of Wrath had fought this way, half wishing he had survived long enough to see it.

The monster — or was it úmaia? And the implications of that thought sent shards of ice through Finrod’s veins — appeared to be holding its own, even managing to wrap a tentacle around Olórin’s waist. The Maia attempted to slash at it but his sword arm was caught in the grip of another tentacle as he was being drawn forward. Manveru rushed to Olórin’s aid while Erunáro attacked the creature, somehow avoiding the writhing tentacles. The tarn boiled and the monster thrashed about, seeking to capture the Maia, but then Erunáro reached the creature’s body and plunged his sword deep within it.

There was a horrendous screech from the monster that nearly burst their eardrums and Finrod flinched along with the others, covering his ears. Then all became quiet and, opening his eyes, Finrod saw the three Maiar standing over the corpse of the creature, examining it and speaking quietly among themselves. Glorfindel groaned and uttered a profanity as he clutched his head. Finrod forced himself to stand with Elennen and Nielluin giving him a hand and stumbled over to his gwador and Finda. Satisfied that his son had taken no harm he knelt beside Glorfindel, who huddled there with his knees up, hiding his face.

Finrod felt rather than saw motion as the three Maiar walked toward them. He looked up. “You left it rather late, didn’t you?” he couldn’t help saying, glaring at them.

Olórin gave him a disdainful sniff. “A Maia is never late, nor is he early; he arrives precisely when he means to.”

Both Manveru and Erunáro snickered as they sheathed their swords. Erunáro knelt, brushing a comforting hand through Glorfindel’s hair. “Natyë mai, macil-háno?” he asked quietly.

Glorfindel looked up. “It… it was my dream,” he whispered, also speaking in Quenya.

“What do you mean, hanno?” Finrod asked in the same language. “You dreamt this? Is this what you couldn’t remember?”

Glorfindel shook his head. “Yes. No. I don’t know. I just know that that,” and he pointed at the carcass of the Watcher, “was in my dream and it was pulling me down into the water, just like here, only I don’t think you guys showed up to rescue me.” He climbed to his feet and Erunáro stood to give him room. Walking over to view the creature, Glorfindel suddenly became angry and he turned to face the others. “Damn it! I’m supposed to be on vacation! And this happens?” He pointed to the Watcher without taking his eyes off the Maiar. “What the hell is going on?”

“The trees were concerned,” Calandil said suddenly, glancing at Legolas, who stood mutely by, a look of shame on his face.

Everyone stared at the younger ellon in surprise. “Is that true?” Finrod asked, looking to the Maiar for an answer.

“Apparently,” Olórin said.

“You don’t know?” Finrod demanded.

All three Maiar shrugged. “We only know that you were in danger and that our lord ordered us to rescue you,” Manveru answered. “Believe me, we were as surprised to see that,” he jerked his head at the carcass, “as you. We assumed the úmaiar had all been destroyed ages ago, but apparently not.”

“The Mortals speak of demons and such,” Glorfindel commented, “and even today there are reports of encounters with them, so apparently your assumption is incorrect.”

“Speaking of Mortals,” Finrod said softly, reverting to English. The Elves and the Maiar looked around and realized they were alone.

“There,” Nielluin said, looking up and pointing just in time to see Gary disappearing over the ridge.

“C’mon, we need to stop them,” Glorfindel ordered, then turned to the Maiar. “Get rid of that thing now.” Without waiting to see if he was obeyed, he set off to climb the ridge, stopping beside Legolas just long enough to give the younger ellon a hug. “Dartho thalion,” he whispered in his ear.

“A dago velryg,” Legolas whispered back with a catch in his throat.

Glorfindel stepped back, giving him a smile. “You remembered. Good. We’ll talk about it later. Right now, we need to do some damage control, okay?”

Legolas nodded, then gave him a half smile, one that reminded Glorfindel of Thranduil at his worst, or possibly best, depending on one’s perspective. “The trees always know.”

Glorfindel decided not to comment on that. Instead, he just nodded and started up the side of the cirque with the other Elves following.

“You’re welcome!” they heard Olórin call out.

The Elves stopped to stare down at the Maiar who stared back up. “Yeah, whatever,” Glorfindel called back, not in the mood for politeness. “Get rid of that thing,” he ordered again and turned away. In minutes they were on the ridge and they could see the Mortals making good time in spite of the fact that they were having to make their careful way across a snowfield that was perhaps an eighth of a mile further on.

Without speaking, Glorfindel began running and everyone else followed. They saw Gary looking back and there was panic in his eyes. He shouted something they couldn’t hear and the Mortals began moving faster, but Joe stumbled over something and went sprawling, snow half covering him. Michelle and Danielle frantically tried to pull him up, shouting at him in their fright.

“C’mon, c’mon!” Chase urged them all. “We’ve got to get out of here.”

But the delay cost them and by the time they had gotten Joe to his feet the Elves had reached them, automatically surrounding them without needing any orders from Glorfindel. The Mortals all huddled together like frightened children.

“Don’t hurt us,” Michelle pleaded, nearly in tears. “Please don’t hurt us.”

“No one’s going to hurt anyone,” Glorfindel assured her, holding up his hands in a conciliatory manner. “Look, we just want to talk, okay?”

“Who are you people and those… those were angels?” Chase demanded.

“Sort of,” Glorfindel answered. “Look, let’s just take this slow and—”

“What was that thing that attacked you?” Gary insisted. “My God! That was straight out of a horror flick. This is unreal.”

“All too real, I’m afraid,” Glorfindel said with a sigh. “Look, we shouldn’t stay here. Liam, go and scout ahead, see if there’s someplace we can settle for a bit.” Legolas nodded and without a word set off, the Mortals gasping at the sight of the Wood Elf racing over the snow, his feet barely touching the ground. Glorfindel continued speaking, drawing the Mortals’ attention back to him. “I don’t know about anyone else, but I could use a stiff drink right about now.”

“Amen to that, Brother,” Finrod said softly, though even the Mortals heard him, giving him surprised looks at the colloquialism.

“That’s settled then,” Glorfindel said, flashing them a smile that set more than one Mortal heart racing. “If Quinn needs a pick-me-up, then I know we’ve been to hell an’ gone. Unfortunately, all we can offer is some hot tea.”

A couple of the Mortals nodded bemusedly. “Good,” Glorfindel said brightly. “Lawrence, you, Cal, Alan and Nell go on ahead. Quinn and I will stay with our friends and make sure they get across the field safely.”

The younger Elves hesitated for a second or two before complying with the order. Again the Mortals gasped at the sight of them stepping lightly. “How do they do that?” Danielle asked.

Glorfindel ignored the question as he called out to the youngsters. “Make a path,” They stopped to look back in puzzlement. Glorfindel mimed stepping heavily and they nodded in understanding and began plowing through the snow, creating a path of sorts.

“Let’s go,” Glorfindel urged the Mortals. “It’s getting too cold to be standing about. Look, I think we’re going to lose the sun.” He pointed to the sky where they could see clouds beginning to roll down from the mountains to the west. “Let’s hope we don’t get rain or snow before we reach the campgrounds. I’m already waterlogged and parts of my anatomy are feeling very unhappy right now.”

His light, self-deprecatory tone seemed to ease the tension around them and the Mortals meekly followed Glorfindel while Finrod brought up the rear. Soon they were past the snowfield and working their way through brush. There was a dip and they found themselves coming to a small dell where a couple of stunted firs, barely elf-high, clung precariously to life. Legolas was there with the youngsters, clearing the brush a bit to make a temporary camp.

“Well, this is more like it,” Glorfindel said as he joined the others with the Mortals coming right behind. “Too bad we can’t light a fire. I’d love to dry off.”

“You will just have to put up with being wet until we return to camp,” Legolas retorted mildly.

“Let’s have some tea and whatever else any of us have to share,” Glorfindel said as he pulled off his daypack and rummaged for the thermos of tea, pulling out a couple of energy bars at the same time. “I think we’re all a little shocky after what just happened.” The other Elves complied with his suggestion and after a moment of hesitation, the Mortals did the same. All the Mortals had sandwiches and offered to share with the Elves. Gary even produced a thermos of coffee.

“Sorry, no milk or sugar,” Gary said in apology. “I prefer it black myself.”

“Not a problem,” Glorfindel said. “We’ll just share what we have and be grateful for it.” For the next several minutes they were all busy eating, though Glorfindel noticed that Legolas declined a sandwich and something hot to drink, settling for an energy bar and water as he stood away from the rest, apparently on watch, his body tense with hypervigilance. Glorfindel cast a meaningful look at Finrod, who nodded, understanding what his gwador wished from him. The Elf-prince rose gracefully, filling a mug with tea and going to stand beside the Wood Elf, offering him the hot drink. When Legolas looked to refuse, Finrod thrust the mug into the ellon’s hand and gave him an order in softly spoken Sindarin. Legolas blinked and finally complied. Glorfindel could almost see the tension seep out of him as the hot drink did its work. The balrog-slayer turned his attention back to the Mortals and resisted a sigh.

“So where are you all from?” he asked.

“Anchorage, or there about,” Gary answered readily enough. “We’re all students at U of A there. So where are you guys from?”

“Wiseman,” Glorfindel said.

“Huh? Where’s that?” All the Mortals gave him stunned looks.

“North of the Circle on the way to Deadhorse.”

“What are you?” Chase demanded. “And those… those… you seemed to know them.” He cast an accusing look at Finrod who just shrugged, letting Glorfindel handle the situation.

“Yes, we know them,” Glorfindel said. “Sort of. They’re Maiar, what you would call angels. In fact, that was Michael, Uriel and… um… Raphael.”

“Michael? As in the Archangel Michael?” Michelle asked, her expression of disbelief mirrored on the faces of the other Mortals.

“Who’s Uriel?” Joe asked.

“Regent of the Sun,” Gary responded before Glorfindel could.

“Excuse me?” Joe turned to Gary, raising his eyebrows.

“Regent of the Sun. Milton? Don’t you guys read?” the Man said in disgust.

For a moment his friends just stared at him and then Chase made a disgusted sound. “Trust an English major to know something like that.”

“Hey! Stop dissing me. At least I sort of know these guys ain’t no Vulcans or Romulans or anything made up like that.” He turned to Glorfindel with a glare. “You’re elves, aren’t you? Uh… um… Tylwyth Teg… the Fair Folk.”

Glorfindel gave him an appraising look. “Something like that,” he hedged.

“And that… that thing?” Danielle asked. She pointed at Legolas, who apparently was still on watch, his back to them all. “He seemed to recognize the creature. He was afraid.”

“And with good reason,” Glorfindel countered. “That thing was… oh, I suppose you might call it a demon and—”

“A demon! Here?” All five Mortals began shouting at once, Joe and the Women even going so far as to start packing up their supplies as if they were about to run off.

Glorfindel held up his hands. “Whoa! Get a grip guys. It’s dead and it can’t hurt you. Now sit down. We’re not done yet.” Such was the power of his voice that they all complied.

“The earthquake,” Gary said, the light of comprehension dawning in his eyes. “It opened up something… a…. gate… a gate into hell… and that, that demon escaped. Right?” Without waiting for an answer, he stood. “We gotta go. We’ve gotta warn the authorities.”

“Wait, Gary,” Glorfindel said, holding out a hand to stay him. “Tell them what? That you saw a many-tentacled monster come crawling out of a tarn? That you met Elves and watched some angels battling the monster? Do you know how crazy that sounds?”

“But it’s not crazy!” Gary exclaimed. “You were there.”

“Yes, we were, but that doesn’t change the fact that by the time you reach anyone in authority and lead them back to the tarn, all evidence of what happened will be gone. All of it.”

Gary slowly sat down as he realized the truth of Glorfindel’s words. “But what if there are more demons who escaped?” he asked.

“The Maiar will make sure they don’t,” Glorfindel said. “I doubt, though, that there are any more. I think if there had been, we would’ve seen them.”

“But if there’s a hellgate or something…” Chase started to say, but Glorfindel shook his head.

“If there is such a gate, it’s been closed. Trust me, the Maiar know what to do. What we need to do, what you especially need to do is to forget this ever happened.”

“What?”

“Are you nuts?”

“How can we forget this?”

“You’re crazy, man!”

The Mortals all began speaking at once, fear in their voices and in their eyes. Glorfindel held up his hands but it took a few minutes for everyone to calm down again long enough to listen to what he had to say.

“Think about it,” he said quietly. “You walk into the visitor center babbling on about earthquakes, angels and demons and what-have-you, and the next thing you know, they’ll be carting you off to the funny farm and throwing away the key. If you value your lives, you’ll forget about this. You won’t talk about it to others. You certainly won’t put it up on Facebook or even in a diary for others to read. You will be in danger if you do, because there are people out there who are rooting for the monsters, believe it or not, and they will come after you and your lives won’t be worth a hill of beans.”

The Mortals sat there looking stunned. “You’re serious, aren’t you?” Joe finally asked.

“Deadly serious,” Glorfindel retorted coldly and there was absolutely no levity in his tone or expression.

“But… but we can’t just forget about it,” Danielle pleaded. “How can we forget something like that? We’re just supposed to go back to our little, humdrum existence and pretend none of this ever happened? How can we do that?”

“I don’t know,” Glorfindel said. “I wish I did, but I don’t. None of us do. I’d love to wave a magic wand and make you forget for your own safety and peace of mind but I don’t have that power, nor does anyone else.”

“Why Wiseman?” Chase asked suddenly.

“What?” Glorfindel blinked, trying to shift mental gears.

“Wiseman. You said you came from Wiseman. Why there?”

“Why not?” Glorfindel countered, giving them a diffident shrug. “Everyone has to come from somewhere. We just happened to live in Wiseman. We could as easily be living in Anchorage or anywhere else in the world.”

“Yeah, but why?” Chase insisted. “I mean, you’re not human. You’re aliens or whatever. Are you planning on taking over the world and enslaving us and—”

Finda, Calandil and Elennen actually burst out laughing almost at the same time, much to the consternation of the Mortals. “Take over the world? Enslave you?” Finda sneered. “Why would we waste our time doing anything like that? You Mortals are so full of yourselves.”

“Enough, my son,” Finrod said softly, speaking for the first time. Finda subsided, offering a quiet apology.

“What do you mean, mortals?” Chase demanded.

“Elves, dufus,” Gary said in disgust. “These guys are immortal.”

“Yeah? Prove it.” Chase gave them a belligerent look. “All I’ve heard is talk, but talk is cheap and anyone can make up a story. You tell us to keep quiet. Well, I agree with you there. No way am I going to tell anyone anything, but what I want to know is what your deal is. Where do you fit in in all of this? It wasn’t just an accident or good luck that you showed up when you did, was it?”

Glorfindel sighed, looking to Finrod. Legolas had turned around to face the group, apparently interested in how Glorfindel would respond to the young Man’s questions. Before anyone could speak though, there was a hail from above and everyone startled at the unexpected sound. Craning their necks, they saw someone dressed in a black duster and wearing a wide-brimmed hat that hid his features walk down from the ridge to their camp. All the Elves stood, as did the Mortals. Joe reached down for a rock to use as a weapon, but Glorfindel grabbed his arm and shook his head, forcing him to drop it.

To the surprise of the Mortals, all the Elves gave the stranger a bow. “My lord,” Finrod said, “to what do we owe the pleasure?”

Námo smiled, his amaranthine eyes shining with amusement. “I came to help,” he finally said.

“Help, how?” Glorfindel asked, his tone enquiring rather than demanding.

“Wait! Who are you?” Gary demanded. “Where did you come from?”

Námo gave the young Man a fond look. “Take it easy, Gary. We’re all friends here.”

“How did you know my name?” Gary asked, paling and stepping back. The other Mortals also looked as if they were ready to bolt.

“You may call me Nate,” Námo said, ignoring the Mortal’s question. “My real name would mean nothing to you. Now, I really hate to break up this little lovefest you have going here, but in case you’ve not been paying attention, there’s a storm coming and if you don’t hurry you’re going to be in a lot of trouble and this time there will be no Maiar around to get you out of it.”

“And you came all the way from Valinor to tell us this,” Glorfindel said somewhat skeptically.

“I happened to be in the neighborhood,” Námo countered with a smile. “Come. Gather your things. Liam, you’re point. Head north-northeast. That will get you to the creek in about an hour. Quinn, you take the rear, make sure no one lags behind. Loren, when you reach the campgrounds, remain there for the night. It will be too dangerous for you to try to reach your own camp. I’ll see to it that it’s undisturbed. Quickly now. Manwë’s keeping the storm from hitting here but he can’t stop it for long or there will be serious consequences.”

“We’ll be staying at the campground illegally, though,” Glorfindel pointed out, even as he and the other Elves were grabbing their gear while the Mortals stood there gaping.

“Don’t worry about that,” Námo assured him. “You’ll be fine, but you need to hurry or I will be very unhappy and you know you don’t want me to be unhappy, do you?”

“C’mon,” Glorfindel said to the Mortals, ignoring Námo’s rhetorical question. “Nate’s right. We need to get going or we’re going to be in real trouble. Look!” He pointed up and to the west and now they all realized that the sky was dark with storm clouds and somewhere in the distance the sky was lit with lightning. That seemed to motivate the Mortals into motion and soon they were all climbing back to the ridge with Námo in their midst.

“North-northeast, Liam,” he said, pointing in that direction. “Don’t stop to smell the roses.”

Legolas set off and the others followed. Finrod brought up the rear, stopping long enough to give the Vala a bow. “Thank you,” he said softly and Námo nodded but did not say anything. Finrod ran to catch up with the others.

“Hey, where’s Nate gone to?” Chase asked, looking back. Everyone stopped to see but the landscape was empty and there was no sign of him. “Where did he go?” Chase asked again, clearly puzzled. “He couldn’t have disappeared so quickly.”

“For that matter, where did he come from?” Gary added. “How did he know who we were?”

“Come on,” Glorfindel said. “We’re wasting time.”

With that he set off as did the other Elves. The Mortals hesitated for another second or two before following, their expressions ones of confusion and even fear. Finrod sighed as he watched them and then, taking a last look back to where Námo had been, he brought up the rear.

And somewhere behind them a storm approached.

****

Words are Sindarin unless otherwise noted:

Nae! Nae! Tirn! Tirn vin Nen! Men barad!”: ‘Alas! Alas! A Watcher! A Watcher in the Water! We are doomed!’. Note that barad is also a noun meaning “fortress, fort, tower”, as in Barad-dûr, but this is derived from a stem in b-, whereas the adjective barad meaning ‘doomed’ is derived from a stem in mb- and would have different mutations.

Úmaia: (Quenya) A Maia who became evil and followed Melkor.

Natyë mai, macil-háno?: (Quenya) ‘Thou art well, sword-brother?’. The pronominal suffix -tyë is the intimate/familiar form of ‘thou’; the formal/polite form being -lyë.

Dartho thalion a dago velryg: ‘Remain steadfast (or we might say stay calm) and slay balrogs’.

True to Námo’s words, they reached Riley Creek after about an hour or so, making their way down from the tundra and into the taiga forest. The trek had been done in virtual silence with the group strung out so that it was difficult to hold any real conversations. The wind was constant and cold and they just wanted to get down to where it was more sheltered. Once they reached the creek, it took them almost another hour to reach the campgrounds. By then, the sky was dark with clouds and the last mile was trekked in a downpour so they were all soaked by the time they reached their destination.

“Our RV is over here,” Gary told them as they wended their way past other campers.

“You all sleep in the RV?” Glorfindel asked in curiosity, giving the Mortal a wide smile. “Must be rather crowded.”

“The girls sleep inside,” Gary explained. “Us guys are in a tent. Don’t know where we’ll put all of you, though.”

“Don’t worry for us,” Glorfindel told him. “We’ll be fine. Elves don’t require sleep in the same way as Mortals and we are able to weave dreams even when awake. Just give us someplace to dry off and warm up and we’re good.”

“We can at least offer you guys a hot meal if nothing else,” Michelle said even as she fished out a bunch of keys and unlocked the door. They all climbed in, the Elves admiring the efficient use of space in the RV’s layout. Gary, Joe and Chase, however, did not come inside at first.

“We’re going to change our clothes,” Gary told them. “We’ll be back shortly.” The three Men headed for a large tent next to the RV and disappeared inside.

Michelle rummaged in a closet and pulled out a couple of towels for the Elves and then she and Danielle excused themselves to also change, going into the back of the RV and closing a sliding door, leaving the Elves to themselves.

“We should’ve packed extra clothes,” Finda opined, speaking Sindarin, wiping the rain from his face with one of the towels before handing it to Elennen.

“They would’ve just gotten soaked, or at least mine would’ve,” Glorfindel said philosophically in the same language as he wrung the water from his hair, leaving a small puddle on the floor as they all were. He started to undo the braids and Finrod and Legolas did the same now that they were surrounded by Mortals. “We’ll dry eventually and hopefully the rain will stop before morning or it’s going to be a very wet walk back to camp.”

“Should we stay here though?” Calandil asked. Once everyone had dried off as best as they could, he and Nielluin used the towels to soak up the water on the floor, wringing them over the sink.

“Lord Námo said to,” Finrod said, “and if there is one thing I know if I know nothing else is that when a Balan tells you to do or not to do something, it is very wise to obey.”

The RV door opened about then and the three Men stepped inside, now looking dryer. “Rain seems to be slowing,” Chase told them, “and the sky’s even brightening a bit. Maybe if the rain stops completely and the sky clears you can make it back to your own camp.”

Glorfindel shook his head. “Nate told us to stay here tonight and that’s what we will do even if the rain stops. The creeks will be running high and the drainage might not be safe to traverse immediately.”

“That’s what I don’t get,” Gary said.

“Get what?” Glorfindel asked.

“Your names. That… person who was out on the tundra called himself Nate, but that can’t be his real name and you all have ordinary names too. Loren can’t really be your name, can it?”

“You know enough lore to know that we would never reveal our true names to Mortals, Gary,” Glorfindel rejoined with a smile, ignoring the surprised looks on his fellow Elves.

Gary nodded, but the other Mortals looked confused. “Why not?” Danielle asked.

“Because names have power,” Gary answered before Glorfindel could respond. “To know someone’s true name is to have power over them, or that’s the theory. Never really thought it was real, though.”

Glorfindel shrugged. “Better to be safe than sorry.”

“Well, what about us?” Danielle demanded. “You know our names.”

“But not your full names,” Glorfindel pointed out. “Now, let’s forget about names for now. I don’t know about anyone else but I’m starving.”

“I can heat up some Dinty Moore beef stew,” Joe suggested. “We have several cans so there’s enough for all of us and we have some French bread to go with it. It’s not much, but…”

“It’s fine and I insist that we pay for it, since we’re using up your supplies,” Glorfindel said. The Mortals naturally began to protest. “No, no. Really, it’s no problem,” Glorfindel insisted as he reached inside his fleece-lined jacket and unzipped an inner pocket, fishing out his wallet and pulling out a couple of tens and handing them to Gary who reluctantly accepted them with soft-spoken thanks. “There, that should cover it.”

In minutes, several cans of stew were being opened and warmed up on the little camp stove. They realized though that there weren’t enough bowls and such for all of them. “We’ll take turns eating, then,” Finrod suggested. “The Mortals will eat first, for they need it more than we.”

Again there were protests. “But you’re our guests,” Joe pointed out, “and you’re still wet and probably cold, so you should eat first.”

But Glorfindel wouldn’t hear of it. “You eat first. I can tell just by looking at you that you’re all looking peaked and probably ready to fall over. See, Chase is yawning enough for all of us. You guys eat. Quinn, Liam and I are going out to see what there is to see around here. You four,” he looked to the younger Elves, “stay here and when these guys are done eating, it’ll be your turn. We’ll eat when we get back.”

With that, and in spite of continual protests on the part of the Mortals, Glorfindel stepped outside with Finrod and Legolas right behind. By now the rain had indeed stopped completely and the clouds were shifting, showing rents so that bits and pieces of blue were visible and once, the sun, still high in the sky, shone through for a few seconds before being swallowed up by fast-moving clouds.

The three walked away from the RV, skirting nearby camps, heading toward the park road that snaked its way for eighty-nine miles into the park, paralleling the Alaskan Range. “Okay, Liam, you want to talk about it?” Glorfindel asked as they reached the road and began walking along it, heading west into the park.

“Talk about what?”

“Legolas, I wasn’t born yesterday,” Glorfindel said. “You were having a flashback at the tarn, weren’t you? That’s why you froze.”

“I allowed myself to be drawn into a memory,” Legolas said, giving them a look of disgust. “I froze the first time, too.”

“First time?” Finrod asked.

“Before the gates of Moria,” Legolas replied, “when another Watcher seized the Ringbearer. Only Sam moved to rescue him. The rest of us….”

“And so you blame yourself for what happened,” Finrod commented. “No, don’t deny it, my friend.”

“I stood there frozen, unable to move, while those Mortals back there were throwing rocks at the thing,” the Wood Elf retorted heatedly.

“A useless gesture on their part,” Finrod rejoined somewhat dismissively.

“But more than I was doing,” Legolas exclaimed, growing angrier.

“Whoa! Legolas, chill,” Glorfindel said, stopping long enough to take the younger ellon into his embrace and giving him a hug and a pat on the back. “I’m not accusing you of cowardice or anything. I just want you to get past this guilt-trip you’re on. You froze. Hell, I froze, and I had less reason to do so than you.”

“You said that thing was in your dream,” Finrod interjected. “Does that mean you remember the dream itself?”

“No. Just the fact that the dream ends with something like the Watcher showing up, grabbing me and pulling me down with it into the water. That’s when I wake up. Everything else about the dream is bits and pieces of meaningless images. Gwyn and Gareth are in it somehow but that’s all I really know.”

“Then I think it’s time we found out for sure, do you not agree?” Finrod said decisively.

Glorfindel nodded reluctantly. “Yeah, I guess so.” He sighed, running his hand through his hair. “We’re supposed to be on vacation.”

Finrod smiled thinly. “I believe it’s what they call a working vacation.”

Glorfindel snorted and Legolas’ own demeanor eased. “The trees knew,” he said. “Somehow, they knew for all that they were miles from that place.”

“Yes, that is interesting,” Glorfindel opined, looking pensive. “Which begs the question: is this an isolated case or are there more of these creatures hidden in tarns across Alaska and elsewhere?”

“More to the point, is that what is sleeping in Winterdark Tarn?” Finrod added.

Glorfindel actually shivered and he would have liked to have blamed it on the wind blowing coldly, but he knew that was not the reason. “Come on, let’s go back to the RV. Maybe everyone else is finished with dinner and we can eat.”

The other two had no objections and soon they were back at the RV where they found that Nell and the Three Amigos were just finishing washing and drying their bowls while Michelle was adding another couple of cans of stew to the pot warming on the stove.

“Just in time,” she said as Glorfindel climbed inside, and being the last to enter, closed the door. “Stew should be ready in a couple of minutes.”

“Thanks. So, after we’ve eaten, what are your plans?” Glorfindel asked, leaning against the door.

“Well, we hadn’t planned on being back this soon,” Gary said, speaking for the other Mortals. “We figured we wouldn’t be back here until closer to seven or eight and it’s only, what, about five now? It’s going to be a long night.”

“Why don’t you tell us about yourselves?” Danielle suggested. “Are there really aliens walking among us?”

“For the last time, we’re not aliens,” Glorfindel protested. “We are the Firstborn. We arose on this planet ages before your first ancestors awoke. There was a time when we and they fought together against evil.”

“So what happened?” Gary asked. “Where did you all go? Why haven’t we known of your existence before this?”

“You did, in a way,” Glorfindel said. “Did you think all those stories and legends about the Elves were simply made up? Granted, most of them are totally bogus, but there are kernels of truth in a few such tales, such as the fact that we are immortal. Not that we can’t die. Quinn and I, for instance, have, but our lives are bound to the world. We can’t escape it the way Mortals can when they die. Eventually, we are re-embodied to walk this earth.”

“You’re… zombies?” Joe asked incredulously.

“No, we’re not zombies,” Legolas interjected before Glorfindel could respond. “We hunt them, though.”

“So zombies are real, too?” Joe asked.

“Only on TV,” Glorfindel answered, casting a meaningful look at Legolas. “Liam means that we play zombie tag. We’re setting up a zombie hunter boot camp, we’re calling it, for people to come and play, though it’s also a wilderness survival school as well. Strictly for adults, you understand. No one under sixteen and anyone under eighteen has to be accompanied by a parent or guardian.”

“Zombie hunter boot camp,” Chase said. “Okay. Sounds… interesting, but why?”

“Why what?” Glorfindel asked as he accepted a bowl of stew from Danielle and a small hunk of French bread with it.

“Why are you setting up this camp? I mean, it sounds like a… a job.”

“It is,” Glorfindel rejoined. “Chase, do you think Elves just sit around all day singing and dancing around a mushroom circle or something? We have to earn our bread same as the next person. Those tens I gave you. They’re real. I earned them. They won’t disappear on you come tomorrow’s dawn.”

“I thought that was fairy gold that disappeared,” Gary said.

“All I’m saying is that since we live in this world, we work like everyone else.”

“So you run this zombie hunter boot camp,” Michelle said.

“Among other things,” Glorfindel said. “Quinn, for instance, works in a local bookstore and Liam is a police officer.”

The Mortals gave Finrod and Legolas surprised looks. “And you guys?” Danielle asked, looking at Nielluin.

“Oh the youngsters are attending college,” Glorfindel said breezily.

“College? You go to college?” more than one Mortal exclaimed in disbelief.

“And why do you call them youngsters?” Gary asked. “They look no older than you and you look as if you’re in your twenties.”

“Looks can be deceiving,” Glorfindel said. “Quinn is the oldest of us and Nell is the youngest. She was born only a few hundred thousand years before the last ice age.”

“Are you serious?!” The Mortals all looked stunned at that revelation.

“So… um… how old are you?” Michelle finally asked Quinn.

Finrod shrugged. “I am not sure I can tell you precisely, but I have lived and died and lived again through seven ages of this world.”

“You died,” Michelle said in disbelief, then gave a nervous laugh. “Come on, you’re joking right?”

“No, child, I am not,” Finrod said softly. “I was killed by a werewolf and—”

“Okay, that’s enough!” Chase exclaimed angrily. “Elves, angels and now werewolves? This is too damn crazy!”

“Vampires, too,” Glorfindel said nonchalantly.

“Vampires?” Chase cried in disbelief. The other Mortals looked equally nonplused. “There’s no such thing. No such things as werewolves, either.”

“Or Elves or angels or demons?” Glorfindel retorted with a sneer, his voice becoming glacial. “We can have one but not the other? Sorry, kid, it doesn’t work that way. The truth is, children, you’ve stepped into a darker, more dangerous world than you ever imagined. There is a war going on, a spiritual war, you might say, and the prize is nothing less than your souls. If you value your lives, you might want to forget any of this ever happened. Go back to Anchorage. Resume your studies. Keep your heads down and your noses clean and pray to whatever gods you believe in that the Enemy does not have your scent and will not track you down and destroy you and everyone you love.”

Absolute silence followed that statement. Glorfindel resumed eating, ignoring everyone. He scraped the bowl and sopped up the last of the gravy with the bread. When he finished he looked around. Finrod and Legolas were studiously finishing their own meals while Nell and the Three Amigos stood out of the way, quietly conversing with one another. The Mortals just stared at them all and gave one another worried glances.

“How can we forget all this?” Danielle finally asked in a tight voice and then burst into tears. Michelle held her and the three Men stood there looking awkward, not sure what to do next.

Glorfindel sighed, giving Finrod and Legolas a rueful look which they returned with sympathetic looks of their own. He placed his bowl in the tiny sink and then took two steps toward the Women, gently taking Danielle from Michelle’s embrace and giving her his own hug, patting her on the back. “There, there. Shhh… it’s all right. Look, I’m sorry if I came down hard on you,” he looked to his left to where Gary was standing, “but you have to understand that your lives may be in danger. If I had the power to do so, I would make you forget this day ever happened, for your own sakes, not for ours. But I don’t, none of us do. The safest thing is for you to go home and forget. Don’t talk about it where others might overhear. Don’t go searching for answers that will never be forthcoming. What lore you think you know about any of this is wrong or misleading and it could spell your doom if you’re not careful.”

“And you?” Gary asked. “What will you do?”

Glorfindel shrugged. “Go back to Wiseman, of course. Quinn and Liam have to be back to work on Monday, as do I. The youngsters have their own plans.”

“And that’s it?” Gary insisted, giving them a disgusted look. “Thanks for the meal and sayonara?”

“What do you want from us, Gary?” Glorfindel asked as he released Danielle from his embrace to fully face the young Man.

“We want in,” Gary replied.

“In? In on what?”

“We want to help… with this war you spoke of.”

Glorfindel sighed, running a hand through his hair. He looked at Finrod who shrugged. “The Valar might wish to recruit them to the cause,” he said in Quenya.

“They have a funny way of doing it,” Glorfindel retorted in the same language.

“Almost like a field test,” Legolas added, also speaking Quenya. “They did not panic and they attempted to attack the creature with what weapons were on hand however futile such weapons were against it. That has to count for something, my lords.”

Glorfindel nodded. “What year are you at the university?” he asked, reverting to English.

“We all have one more year to go,” Gary answered for the others. “I’m a double English and history major. I plan to go on for my M.A. maybe even get my Ph.D. in Medieval Studies. Chase is studying Biology with the intent of becoming a marine biologist. Joe’s doing Environmental Studies and Dani wants to be a lawyer while Micki is studying anthropology and wants to work in a museum.”

“A rather eclectic group,” Glorfindel said with a grin. “Okay. This is what I suggest. Go back to Anchorage and… wait! Hear me out.” He raised his hands to still the protest from the Mortals. They subsided and with a nod from Gary, he continued. “Go back and finish your courses, get your degrees, do whatever you have to do to get the types of work that you are aiming for. Give us your email addresses so we can keep in touch.”

“Keep in touch,” Chase said with a sneer. “Yeah, that line’s right up there with ‘I’ll call you soon’ and ‘sure I’ll respect you in the morning’. Please! Give me a break. You guys go back to Wiseman and we never hear from you again.”

“Mortals are so impatient, aren’t they?” Legolas said in Sindarin.

“It’s their nature,” Finrod responded in the same language. “Their lives are so brief.”

“Hey! Whatcha saying, huh?” Joe demanded.

“We were just discussing the fact that Mortals are always jumping to wrong conclusions,” Finrod answered. “Child, when one of us says a thing, we mean it. If… Loren says he will keep in touch, he will do so. We honor our oaths even to Mortals.”

“Oaths? What oaths?” Michelle asked, looking puzzled.

“Mine,” Glorfindel said firmly. “Mine oath to you that I will contact you and if you had let me finish what I was going to say, you would have known that I was not lying or jerking you around.”

The Mortals, Chase especially, looked abashed. Glorfindel waited another minute before nodding. “What I was going to say is, next year, once you’ve graduated, if you wish, come to Wiseman and plan to attend Elf Academy. It’s a tourism school at the Northern Lights Community College. I’m its chief administrator. We offer a one-semester course in being Elf Guides for the Christmas season, but we also train people to eventually become warriors. If you sign up for the course, be prepared to spend the holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s acting as tour guides for one of the resorts in the area. After that, we’ll see. If you still want in, then there are options. It’s not necessary to move to Wiseman or to give up your dreams for your careers. Deal?”

The Mortals exchanged looks with one another and then almost as one, nodded at Glorfindel. “Good. Give me your email addresses and I’ll send you our newsletter and—”

“You have a newsletter?” Gary couldn’t help asking.

“And a website,” Glorfindel responded with a grin at the nonplused looks on the faces of the Mortals. “This is the twenty-first century, after all, at least of this era. I can’t begin to tell you how many twenty-first centuries I’ve actually lived through. At any rate, the newsletter will have the necessary information about Elf Academy. You’ll need to formally apply to the school, but I will see to it that you are admitted into next year’s class.”

“Thanks,” Gary said, speaking for them all. “We appreciate it. Sorry if we’ve been…” He shrugged, apparently unable to articulate what he wished to say, but Glorfindel gave him an understanding nod.

“Not a problem.”

“You do realize that nothing about this is coincidental, don’t you?” Finrod stated.

“What do you mean?” Chase asked.

“We were hours away from that tarn where you ended up,” Finrod explained, “and had the trees not warned us, we would not have gone there, but would have simply followed the creek back. Had we not been there, you would have most likely died, either because of the bear or when the Watcher arose. There would have been no Maiar to come rescue you.”

“So you’re saying those angels only showed up because of you, but we’re just so much cannon fodder and we don’t count?” Danielle demanded angrily.

“I am saying that the Maiar were following us,” Finrod replied. “I said nothing about you being cannon fodder. The trees warned us, and it’s possible that they did so because of the Maiar. They cannot always act as directly as they did today unless specifically told to do so, either by Lord Manwë or Eru Himself, the One Whom you call God.”

“And this Lord Manwë?” Gary asked. “Who’s he?”

“He is the Elder King,” Finrod explained. “He leads the Valar. In your mythology they are archangels. You met one of them today.”

“Nate?” Chase exclaimed. “He’s an archangel?”

“Sort of,” Glorfindel said. “Properly, he’s a Vala, and Lord Manwë, you might say, is his boss. There are fourteen Valar altogether and no one knows the number of Maiar who exist. They were sent here by Eru, God, to be guardians of this universe. They’ve been a bit more visible lately as we enter the first stages of the Dagor Dagorath, as we call it, what you might refer to as the Apocalypse or Armageddon.”

“So, ah, why were those… um… Maiar following you?” Michelle asked.

“Good question,” Glorfindel said, looking to Finrod and Legolas, both of whom shrugged. “Next time I see them, I’ll have to ask.”

The Mortals all looked nonplused at that and an awkward silence ensued. Finally, Gary sighed, rubbing the space between his eyes. “This is not how I thought this vacation would go.”

“Join the club, kid,” Glorfindel said with a wry grin.

“So what now?” Gary asked.

Glorfindel shrugged. “We’re not going anywhere until tomorrow, so if you want we can tell you something about ourselves, give you a bit of background.”

“Sure, but it’s pretty awkward doing it in here with all of us standing about trying not to put our elbows in each other’s eyes,” Gary said with a faint smile and several people chuckled at that. “Our tent’s pretty big and that’s where we usually congregate. Why don’t we go there? We have a cooler with beer and I have a pack of cards. Maybe we can play some poker or something while you tell us how Elves ended up in the wilds of Alaska.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Glorfindel said and with that they all trooped out of the RV and to the tent where they discovered that it was large enough to put up a dividing wall to create two rooms, the front room obviously for their get-togethers. In a short while, they were sitting around, drinking beer and playing poker while Glorfindel and the others regaled the Mortals with tales of the Firstborn. The telling was long and eventually the Mortals excused themselves to go to bed while the Elves continued to stay up, quietly talking among themselves, going over everything that had happened that day, analyzing every word spoken and deed done.

In the end, they had one burning question that none of them could adequately give an answer to: Why were the Maiar following them?

*****

Balan: (Sindarin) Vala.

Morning saw the Elves helping with a breakfast of eggs and pancakes. As they sat around taking turns eating, Glorfindel said, “You never told us how you all know each other.”

“Well, Joe and I went to the same high school in Homer,” Gary answered, “and Chase ended up being our roomie when we happened to draw a triplet our freshman year. We met the girls at the university’s D-and-D club.”

“You play Dungeons and Dragons?” Glorfindel asked in disbelief.

All the Mortals nodded, looking slightly embarrassed. Glorfindel noticed the grins on the faces of the Three Amigos, casting secretive looks at one another while Nielluin attempted not to laugh.

“So what are your characters?” Glorfindel enquired, ignoring the younger Elves. Finrod and Legolas looked on with interest, though Legolas looked a bit puzzled. Finrod, Glorfindel suspected, had run across the role-playing game at the bookstore.

“Well, Chase’s an Elf,” Gary replied.

“Half-Elf,” Chase interrupted, giving them a bright look. “Mom wasn’t too particular who she shacked up with. Name’s Ellorcan, by the way.”

Several elven eyebrows went up at that statement. “And you others?” Glorfindel asked, deciding not to comment on that particularly outrageous statement.

“Joe’s a human barbarian warrior.”

“Ug,” Joe said.

“Excuse me?” Glorfindel countered.

“Ug. That’s my name,” Joe explained. The other Mortals laughed.

“It’s really Golu-Taar-golug,” Gary explained, “but that’s too long to say in a battle, so we just shortened it to Ug.” Joe rewarded them all with a beatific smile.

“Okay,” Glorfindel said with a lift of an eyebrow, casting an amused look at Finrod and Legolas, both of whom were grinning. The others were also smiling, or in Nielluin’s case, giggling. “So who are you?” Glorfindel asked Gary.

“I’m a wizard named Hilarion,” Gary replied.

“A wizard, huh?” Glorfindel gave Legolas a significant look which he returned.

“Yeah, pretty powerful too, and Micki is a druid magic-user named Kalinda while Dani’s a human thief-slash-fighter named Zarabeth.”

“So none of you are dungeonmasters?” Glorfindel asked.

“We take turns,” Gary explained. “Right now Joe’s got a wicked cool dungeon we’re playing in.”

Glorfindel nodded, his expression now pensive. “You ever hear of the Society for Creative Anachronism?” The Mortals all shook their heads. “There’s a branch in Anchorage. Look them up. You’re in Medieval Studies, Gary, so they’ll be right up your alley. Join them. Learn to be fighters, if you want. There’s another branch in Fairbanks and we’re starting one in Wiseman.”

“Is that a suggestion or an order?” Gary asked shrewdly.

Glorfindel gave him a cool look. “What do you think?”

Now it was the Mortals’ turn to raise eyebrows at the Elf-lord’s tone.

Finally, though, it was time for the Elves to leave. Email addresses were exchanged along with goodbyes. “I’ll send you the information on Elf Academy as soon as we return to Wiseman,” Glorfindel told the Mortals. “In the meantime, good luck with your classes and whatever you do, don’t mention the earthquake. I noticed that none of the other campers are talking about it, and there should’ve been some comments from them, so my guess is that the seismic activity was somehow contained within that cirque.”

The Mortals had thoughtful looks on their faces as they contemplated Glorfindel’s words and they agreed not to mention it or what happened at the tarn. “Not that anyone would believe us anyway,” Joe said. “Hey! Maybe we can incorporate it into the next D-and-D tournament. We might even win the best monster encounter prize.”

Even some of the Mortals rolled their eyes at that. The Elves set off, making their way to the McKinley Station Trail that would hook up with the Triple Lakes Trail leading back to their camp.

“So what is this Dungeons and Dragons?” Legolas asked as they strolled along. “I take it it’s some sort of game?”

“It’s a role-playing game,” Glorfindel answered. “You create a character of some kind — Elf, Dwarf, Human, whatever — and you might be a wizard or a druid or a thief or a fighter or some combination of them and you join up with others looking for treasure or going on some sort of quest. The setting is quasi-medieval and the dungeonmaster is the one who controls the game, explaining what the players are seeing or doing. The players make decisions as to what they will do or where they will go based on the dungeonmaster’s description. Dice are rolled to determine the outcome of those decisions.”

“And they always play in dungeons?” Legolas asked.

“No, ‘dungeon’ is just a generic term, meaning the playing field. The adventure could take place in a town or a castle or out in the middle of the wilderness.”

“And those children play this game,” Legolas said.

Glorfindel nodded. “Yeah, it’s pretty popular among the college crowd. Isn’t that right?” And he looked directly at Finda when he asked the question.

“Oh, yes,” Finda replied with a nervous laugh. “We play, too.”

Finrod actually stopped and stared at his son in surprise. Finda blushed. “You play? All of you?”

All four younger Elves nodded. “Once a week,” Finda explained. “We get together with our friends. Brice says I can even be dungeonmaster for our next game after we finish the one we’re playing. He said he’ll help me create a scenario for the game.”

“And what character do you play?”

“Oh, I rolled a Halfling thief,” Finda replied proudly. “My skills are well sought after.”

Glorfindel actually burst out laughing. “Oh man, if the Ringbearer and his companions only knew.”

“They would probably insist on playing,” Legolas said with a knowing smile. “At least Merry and Pippin would.”

Glorfindel nodded. “Sam, too, but I doubt Frodo would.”

“No. He would be the dungeonmaster,” Legolas quipped and those who knew the Hobbits burst out laughing.

By noon they were approaching their camp, stopping in consternation at the sight of Lord Námo in his Nate disguise standing in the midst of their tents, his hands thrust into the duster’s pockets as he looked out onto the lake, striking a casual pose, his face half-hidden by his wide-brimmed hat. He turned his head at their approach.

“Okay, just what the hell is going on?” Glorfindel demanded angrily, then raised a hand to forestall whatever Námo was going to say. “First, though, I’m taking a swim.”

“Is it even allowed?” Nielluin asked.

“Is it safe?” Finrod asked almost at the same time.

“Frankly, I don’t care if it’s safe or legal,” Glorfindel rejoined as he threw down his daypack and began to untie his boots, practically throwing them off, uncaring as to where they landed. Then he was shucking off his jeans and his T-shirt and without a backward glance he waded into the cold water with barely a flinch and dove in, surfacing some feet out. He began swimming with powerful strokes toward the opposite shore. Finrod and Legolas looked at each other and shrugged almost as one and soon, they too, were divested of their clothes and heading for the water, swimming after Glorfindel. The younger Elves also stripped, neither the ellyn nor Nielluin in the least embarrassed by their nudity. They, however, were content to frolic nearer to the shore, dunking and splashing one another.

Námo moved closer to watch, amused by the Children’s playing. At one point Nielluin tried to splash her cousin, but Finda managed to duck at the last minute so she ended up splashing Námo instead. All four Elves stared at the dripping Vala in surprise. “Oops!” Nielluin said and then she started laughing and the ellyn joined her. They all began swimming away as if afraid of retribution. Námo just stood there smiling and dripping and as the Elves headed toward where Glorfindel, Finrod and Legolas were swimming, the lake water began churning and to their dismay Lord Ulmo rose out of the depths before them, grabbed Nielluin, who screamed, and threw her into deeper water where she sank, coming back up laughing and spluttering. The Three Amigos started clambering to be thrown as well and for several minutes the Lord of Waters obliged them and the lake resounded with shrieks, followed by splashes, followed by laughter.

In the meantime, the three older Elves had returned from the opposite shore and were climbing out, ignoring the free-for-all with Lord Ulmo. Námo, now dry, handed each of them a towel. They thanked him and made their way to their tent, grabbing their discarded clothing along the way. Several minutes went by before they emerged, now dressed in clean clothes, each combing the tangles from their long hair as they watched Ulmo tossing Elennen into the air, while Nielluin, Finda and Calandil were coming out of the water. Playtime apparently was over, for, as soon as Elennen surfaced and started swimming to shore, Ulmo began walking toward the center of the lake, slipping under the water and disappearing. Námo remained where he was, handing out towels to the youngsters who thanked him, gathered up their own discarded clothing and headed to the tents to dress.

“Feeling better?” Námo asked solicitously as Glorfindel, Finrod and Legolas joined him by the lakeshore, allowing the sun to dry their hair.

“Cleaner, at least,” Glorfindel answered as he stuck his comb into a back pocket. “I’m going to make some coffee. Want some?”

Námo raised a delicate eyebrow. “Thank you, but I’m good.”

“Suit yourself,” and Glorfindel went to the camp stove and began putting together coffee for himself and the others while Námo stood by and watched. No one said anything while the coffee was being made. The youngsters emerged from the tents now dressed and sat nearby helping each other comb out the tangles in their hair so that they could dry properly. Glorfindel, once the coffee was percolating, sat back on his heels and gave Námo a pensive look.

“What would have happened to those children if we had not gotten there in time?” he asked.

Everyone stopped what they were doing to hear what the Vala would say. Námo raised an eyebrow and for a moment they were not sure if he would even answer. Finally, though, he gave them a delicate shrug. “If by that, you mean, would they have died, the answer is… maybe.”

“Maybe?” Glorfindel echoed, standing to face the Lord of Mandos, his tone turning glacial. “And what is that supposed to mean?”

“It means that while there is much that we Valar can control, we cannot control everything,” Námo countered. “And in the end, it does not matter what might have happened, only what did. You did arrive in time to ward off the bear and you were there when the… prison was breached and the Watcher was released.”

“You knew about it,” Finrod said, giving him a shrewd look. “You’ve always known, just as I suspect you know what lies beneath Winterdark Tarn, though I doubt you will enlighten us about it.”

Námo actually sighed and the Elves had a brief impression, barely impinging upon their consciousness, of Námo’s weariness or perhaps it was impatience. “What I or any of the Valar know or don’t know is irrelevant,” he finally said.

“Irrelevant?” Glorfindel exclaimed angrily. “Yeah, I can see that. So irrelevant that it nearly gets us killed, not to mention those children. Why are the Maiar following us?”

Even Námo blinked at the sudden change of subject and they could almost see him shifting mental gears. The Vala smiled and it was not a pleasant one. The youngsters went deer-in-the-headlights still, no doubt hoping that they would not come under this particular Vala’s regard. Legolas crossed his arms and struck an indifferent pose, as if he was already bored with the topic of conversation. Finrod actually moved to stand beside Glorfindel, as if to offer a united front against Námo.

“The Maiar are not following you as a group, Glorfindel. They are following you alone.”

“Huh?” Glorfindel said, looking nonplused.

“They are under orders to keep you in sight at all times,” Námo explained. “Even now, they stand guard.”

All seven Elves looked about furtively, as if they could spy out where the Maiar were. Glorfindel frowned. “I have not sensed them all this time.”

“That is because they do not wish you to,” Námo said.

“So, why are they following me?” he asked, sounding more confused than suspicious.

Now Námo’s features softened and he looked upon them all with a degree of compassion that even they were hard-put to accept. “Glorfindel, you’re fading. You’re under spiritual attack, though I am sure you do not feel as if you are.”

“I know I’m feeling tired all the time and my dreams, when I bother to sleep at all, are troubling,” Glorfindel said slowly, “but I don’t feel as if I’m fading.” He shook his head. “Frankly, I’ve got too much to do to bother doing anything of the sort.”

“And yet, you are,” Námo said gently, “slowly, and so it isn’t immediately obvious even to yourself, never mind anyone else, but all the signs are there. Your coffee’s ready.”

For a second, no one moved, but then Glorfindel sighed and checked on the coffee which was indeed ready. He began pouring it into mugs for everyone. “So, I have three Maiar keeping tabs on me,” he said as he handed a mug to Legolas. “A bit of an overkill, don’t you think?”

“Actually, only Olórin has been assigned to watch over you,” Námo said. “Manveru and Erunáro came at his behest since he knew he could not take on the Watcher alone.”

“You referred to them by different names when the Mortals asked us about them,” Finrod said to Glorfindel. “I meant to ask you about that.”

“Hmm? Oh, yeah, well, Michael and Uriel are the Hebrew equivalents of Manveru and Erunáro, respectively,” Glorfindel answered.

“And the name you gave Olórin? Raphael, was it?” Finrod insisted.

“Well, the names aren’t equivalent but Raphael is the… guardian of travelers, you might say, and Olórin was known as Mithrandir in his day.” Glorfindel shrugged. “It seemed to fit and I was trying to explain the Maiar in terms the children would understand.”

“I bet they would be pissed if they knew you keep referring to them as ‘children’,” Nielluin suddenly said with a wicked grin.

“And you do not?” Glorfindel countered, giving her a knowing look. Nielluin just shrugged.

“At any rate, I am curious to know why this Watcher was released when it was,” Finrod said, steering the conversation back to the original topic.

“Are you accusing us of staging all of this?” Námo asked in a deceptively quiet voice.

“What is that expression that Mortals use… if the shoe fits?” Finrod retorted with a cold smile.

Even Glorfindel blinked at that. “Glory be, Finrod!” he said, sounding shocked. “You’re getting as cynical as I am and that’s not necessarily a good thing.”

“Well, as I once heard someone put it, a cynic is merely an optimist with all the facts,” Finrod countered.

Legolas hooted with laughter. “Sounds like something my adar would say,” he crowed and the four younger Elves sniggered into their coffees. Even Námo’s mien lightened a bit and the tension that had risen between them all lessened slightly.

“Yes, well, putting that aside for the moment, is Finrod correct and all of this was staged for our benefit and that of the Mortals, whom I assume you want us to recruit?” Glorfindel asked.

“Nothing was staged,” Námo assured them. “The Enemy is moving and you need to be aware of this. The Watcher was just the first; it will not be the last. Whatever lies beneath Winterdark Tarn will be just as dangerous, if not more so. Right now it sleeps but its dreams are dark and troubled and soon it will awaken.”

“How soon?” Legolas asked, going slightly pale.

“Soon enough,” Námo replied. “Oh, I do not mean tomorrow or even next year. Soon as we Valar and even as you Elves measure such things. Several generations of Mortals may well pass before it does waken, but waken it will. You need to be prepared. The Maiar will not always be so readily available. They will be fighting their own battles against the Foe.”

“And Gary and the others?” Glorfindel insisted. “Where do they fit in all of this?”

“You saw how they reacted,” Námo said. “In spite of the terror they were feeling, they attempted to rescue you.” He gave them a sly smile. “All those D-and-D games they play paid off. For a brief moment they ceased to be Gary, Joe, Chase, Dani and Micki, and were Hilarion, Golu-Taar-golug, Ellorcan, Zarabeth and Kalinda.”

“So now we’re supposed to recruit the D-and-D bunch?” Glorfindel gave the Vala a jaundiced look.

“No, but think about it,” Námo said. “You have at least two generations of Mortals who have played or are playing D-and-D and similar role-playing games and who are familiar with monsters and fighting against them, even if in their imaginations. You might consider using that to teach strategy to your recruits. D-and-D is just the latest incarnation of earlier forms of wargaming set in a fantasy milieu, but that fantasy is about to become reality in a very short while. You need to prepare them for that.”

For a long moment, silence settled over the camp as the Elves sipped their coffee and contemplated the Vala’s words.

“I should not have frozen as I did,” Legolas said suddenly. “Those children put me to shame.”

“Stop torturing yourself, Legolas,” Glorfindel said sharply. “The Mortals of this day refer to it as post-traumatic distress syndrome or PTDS. It’s a common phenomenon among warriors. You have it, I have it, hell, even Finrod has it. It’s similar to what we Reborn occasionally experience when a memory suddenly takes over and we get lost in it, unable to tell the difference between it and reality. The only difference is that when a Reborn experiences it, usually there is one element that doesn’t ring true and that is the clue that we look for to bring ourselves out of it. You have nothing to be ashamed of.”

“I froze the first time, too,” Legolas said as if he’d not heard anything Glorfindel had said. “It was Sam of all people who came to Frodo’s rescue. The rest of us, we just stood there gaping like idiots, too shocked to move.”

“Well, don’t forget, I froze, too,” Glorfindel countered, “and I have less excuse than you for doing so, but I was suddenly in my dream. That’s how it ends, you see, with something like that Watcher dragging me into the water and drowning me.”

“But you remember nothing else about the dream,” Finrod said and even though it was more a statement than a question, Glorfindel shook his head.

“No, nothing more,” he said quietly. “I think when we get home I will set up an appointment with Ron.”

“And we will be there for you when you do, hanno,” Finrod said gently. “You do not have to face this alone.”

“I have half a mind to pack up now and just leave,” Glorfindel said with a scowl. “Suddenly, I’m not having much fun anymore.”

“It’s a long drive back and the day grows late,” Finrod stated neutrally.

“You and I can take turns driving.”

“I have my learner’s permit as well,” Legolas said. “I can help.”

“So do you mean to leave now?” Námo asked, his expression giving nothing away as to what he was thinking.

Glorfindel gave him a challenging look. “Do you have a problem with that?”

Námo shook his head. “No, but you are leaving in anger and that is never a good thing. People get careless when they are angry. My advice, and it is only that, is to wait until tomorrow to leave. You were planning to leave tomorrow anyway, so what’s one more night?”

“He’s right, Glorfindel,” Finrod said. “I am not averse to leaving now, but I think we would do better to wait until the morrow. I would like to rest for a few hours at least. Yesterday was emotionally draining and I do not feel fully recovered.”

“I doubt any of us are,” Legolas stated. “Besides which, you promised we could have s’mores tonight, it being our last night here, and I’ve been waiting all week for them.”

Glorfindel gave the Wood Elf a disbelieving look and then burst out laughing at the innocent expression that Legolas gave him. “Fine. We’ll stay and have s’mores. Far be it from me to disappoint elflings and deny them their sweets.”

“Then I will leave you,” Námo said and more than one Elf jumped at his voice, having forgotten his presence. He gave them an enigmatic smile and without another word began walking toward the lake, shedding his fana as he went, fading into the fabric of the universe before he reached its shore. For a moment or two, they just stared at where the Vala had been, then Glorfindel shook his head, muttering something too low for the others to catch, before looking at Finrod, giving him a slight smile.

“I think it’s your turn to cook, tonight.”

Later, as the youngsters and Legolas huddled over the camp stove with their marshmallows and Finrod sat idly plucking his harp while Glorfindel finished washing the dishes, Finda suddenly said, “I’m so glad to be here and not back home.”

“Back in Wiseman?” Nielluin asked.

“No, I mean home, in Tirion. Everything is so much more exciting here.”

“You mean more dangerous,” Finrod said with a fond smile for his youngest.

“That too,” Finda rejoined with a laugh. “When I think back to how my life was in Tirion, I shudder at the thought of what I would’ve missed had I not come with you, Atto. I’m glad Ammë finally agreed to let me join you.”

“Do you think anyone misses us?” Elennen asked softly, giving them a wistful look.

“Of course they do,” Calandil insisted. “Why would you think they wouldn’t?”

Elennen shrugged. “Just wondered.”

“Do you miss them, child?” Finrod asked gently.

“Sometimes, but like Finda says, everything here is so exciting and it’s hard to remember how dull life was before.”

“But until you came, you knew nothing else, so that life is dull to you only in comparison,” Glorfindel interjected as he finished drying the last dish and wiped his hands. He took the pot of sudsy water and carefully disposed of it away from the campsite.

“Do you suppose those who came for the wedding wished they could’ve stayed like Cousins Elrond and Celebrían did?” Elennen asked.

Finrod shrugged. “I am sure that those who once lived here before might have wanted to stay but they are more needed back in Valinor to help revitalize the people there and prepare them for the war.”

“I don’t envy them that,” Legolas said as he expertly put together his s’mores and began eating, speaking between bites. “Like Finda, I am glad that I am here and not there, but at the same time, I do miss my family and I know they miss me.”

“We’ll be together again someday, though,” Finrod said. “Take comfort in that, at least.”

“Still, I wonder how the kings will deal with the situation back home now that they’ve seen what it’s like here, at least in part,” Elennen stated. “It will not be an easy task.”

“No, but I have no doubt that they will do what is necessary,” Glorfindel said as he returned to the camp. “Della gave all three kings a copy of the ultrasound showing the triplets, did you see?” He chuckled. “Now, I would love to be a fly on the wall when they show them to their respective subjects.”

The others chuckled in turn and then the conversation drifted to other topics of interest as they relaxed around the camp stove and ate s’mores.

Ingwë, High King over all the kings of the Eldar, stood at the prow of Vingilot, watching the starscape as the ship floated above the airs of the world. He was flanked by Arafinwë on his right and Olwë on his left. The ship had crossed the dimensional divide some time before but Valinor was still invisible to them. They would be making an almost complete circuit of the world before it came into view. Below them were landmasses still unexplored by the Eldar, though parts of the closest continent to Valinor had been mapped by those few of Olwë’s people who still ventured out seeking new horizons. Olwë’s own son, Falmaron, was one such.

As the three kings watched the stars, Lord Ulmo approached them. They turned almost as one to see him smiling fondly at them. “We will be home in a few hours,” he said to them.

Ingwë nodded but did not speak, returning his gaze upon the stars, his expression pensive. Olwë and Arafinwë exchanged concerned looks which did not go unnoticed by Ulmo, who motioned for the two to leave him alone with Ingwë. Arafinwë raised an eyebrow and then shrugged.

“I think I will go see what my daughter is up to,” he said to no one in particular. “If I know Artanis, she’s probably trying to take over the ship from Eärendil so she can go exploring.”

Olwë chuckled. “My granddaughter has a wild streak in her. I do not know where she gets it from, certainly not from my side of the family.”

“Nor mine,” Arafinwë retorted. “Maybe it’s from the Vanyarin side. You know how adventurous that clan is.”

“But you Noldor are the ones who left,” Olwë said rather pointedly.

“Not all of us,” Arafinwë rejoined, speaking softly, his tone wistful as he gazed eastward. Then he shook his head, as if to clear it of his thoughts, gave Ingwë, who had ignored the byplay between the other two, a concerned look and then sighed. Ulmo smiled at him and gave him a hug, then jerked his head to indicate that he would stay with Ingwë. The two kings nodded and drifted away.

“Are they gone?” Ingwë asked quietly as Ulmo stepped up beside him.

“Hovering, were they?” Ulmo said with a knowing smile. Ingwë shrugged, not looking at him. Ulmo put an arm around the ellon’s shoulders. “Tell me your thoughts, child.”

“My thoughts are dark, darker than that,” Ingwë replied, pointing into space.

“That is a vacuum,” Ulmo said conversationally. “It is neither dark nor light. Why are your thoughts dark, my son? What do you perceive?”

Ingwë finally turned to look at Ulmo, staring up at the Vala, for the Lord of Waters was a half a head taller than he. “We’ve made a mess of things, haven’t we?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, we’ve… we’ve screwed up royally, as I think Glorfindel would put it.” Ingwë had reverted to English at that and Ulmo had chuckled, understanding the words.

“I wouldn’t go that far, Ingwë, but yes, things are somewhat a mess, but it’s hardly your fault, or your fault alone. We Valar must shoulder some of the blame, though we did try to foster estel among the Eldar when we realized you were losing it, becoming lethargic and uncaring. But no one can make someone retain hope; that has to come from within.”

“It’s too late now, isn’t it?”

“No, child, it is not,” Ulmo said categorically. “It is only too late when you’re dead and your fëa is in Mandos. Until then, there is simply an opportunity to start over again, to pick yourselves up and get on with it. Part of the problem is that we of Valinor have been too long separated from Middle-earth and its people. Whether you acknowledge it or not, you Eldar actually need the Secondborn, even more so than they need you. The Elves living in Wiseman are a bridge between the two groups.”

“They seemed… happy,” Ingwë said almost reluctantly.

“And is that a crime?” Ulmo retorted with a smile.

“No, of course not, but…”

“But what, child?”

Ingwë sighed, returning his gaze to the stars and beyond. The ship had crossed the terminator moments before and they were now bathed in sunlight, though the stars were still visible. Ingwë stared into the heart of Anar and thought he saw Arien dancing at her core. Below them, just coming above the horizon was Valinor, the Pelóri rising above the landmass. In spite of appearances, Ingwë knew that they were still several hours from their ultimate destination: Valmar, city of the Powers.

“The Mortals are not how I thought they would be,” he finally said.

“They rarely are,” Ulmo replied gently. “Are they more or less than what you expected?”

Ingwë glared at the Vala but whatever retort he was about to make died on his lips as he saw actual concern in Ulmo’s sea-green eyes and his anger deflated. “I heard the stories, from Finrod and Arafinwë and others, including our Mariner, who has Mortal blood in him, but nothing prepared me for the reality of what we witnessed this past week.”

“You’re thinking of the confrontation that led to Daeron almost dying protecting Olwë,” Ulmo stated.

“Yes,” Ingwë replied tersely.

“And so a few, a mere handful, of Mortals who reacted out of fear, have spoiled it for the others who genuinely are happy to know that there are Elves in the world? Is that what you’re saying?”

“I was ready to wash my hands of them all and order all the Elves back to Valinor, including Glorfindel, who I know would have had to be brought back in chains, for he would never have left voluntarily,” Ingwë said hotly.

“But cooler counsel prevailed,” Ulmo said.

“Perhaps,” Ingwë allowed somewhat reluctantly. “I don’t know anymore.”

“Ingwë, what are you really afraid of here?” Ulmo asked softly. “Olwë lives and the Eldar in Endórë thrive, finding their place in the world.”

“Working as menials for Mortals as Findaráto does?” Ingwë retorted rather scornfully. “He was once a king in his own right!”

“Nothing done with love is ever menial, child,” Ulmo rejoined gravely. “Findaráto learned that lesson a long time ago. He is a living embodiment of the one thing you Eldar lack as a people.”

“What’s that?” Ingwë demanded, looking shocked.

“Humility,” Ulmo replied. “Arafinwë has it and you know why and under what circumstances he learned it. Olwë strives for it, though he has other issues that tend to get in the way, but you, child, have yet to embrace the concept.”

“Humility,” Ingwë said slowly, as if testing out the word.

“It’s not a dirty word.” Ulmo flashed him a knowing smile. “We had hoped that your own experiences as Ingoldo’s prisoner and what was done to you would break you of your arrogance, but apparently not enough.”

“That happened a long time ago, even by our standards,” Ingwë said, clenching his fists. “And how dare you accuse me of arrogance! That is the pot calling the kettle black as far as I’m concerned. You Valar invented the word, for Eru’s sake, so don’t accuse me of arrogance, my lord. You don’t have the right!”

Without giving the Vala time to respond, he stalked away, ignoring all who were on deck. Somehow, in spite of the fact that there were over thirty people aboard, the ship seemed to hold them all easily, but there still was not a whole lot of room for privacy. Ingwë ended up simply standing in the middle of the ship near where Eärendil stood beside Aerandir who was expertly handling the wheel, fuming silently to himself while everyone else studiously ignored him and tried to give him space. Arafinwë and Olwë approached him somewhat warily; Ingwë’s temper was well-known and feared even by them.

“How long before we arrive?” Ingwë demanded of Eärendil.

The Mariner gave the High King an amused look. “It will be another couple of hours, Ingwë, so I suggest you relax and enjoy the ride and the view.” He glanced up at the stars and made some mental calculations. “Two degrees to port, Aerandir, then hold her steady,” he ordered, no longer paying attention to his exalted passenger.

“Aye, captain. Two degrees to port,” Aerandir echoed as he turned the wheel slightly and the ship began shifting direction.

Ingwë glanced at Arafinwë and Olwë and sighed. Arafinwë smiled. “We managed to convince Erellont to make some tea,” he said, naming another of Eärendil’s crew. “It will be ready shortly.”

Ingwë nodded but said nothing while his fellow kings stood before him, none of them quite knowing what to do or say as Vingilot continued on its voyage.

****

*That went well.* Manwë’s voice bespoke to Ulmo in ósanwë as the Lord of Waters watched Ingwë stalk away in high dudgeon.

Ulmo snorted in humor. *Stubborn child.*

*Well, it takes one to know one, I suppose,* Manwë came back and Ulmo could sense the smile behind the words and he raised a mental eyebrow. Then Manwë’s tone became grave. *He’s frightened, Ulmo, though he won’t admit it to himself.*

*Of course he’s frightened,* Ulmo retorted. *They’re all frightened, Ingwë, Arafinwë and Olwë. They know what a monumental task lies before them and none of them feel adequate to it. I am beginning to think that we did indeed leave things too late, as Glorfindel accuses us of doing. Time is not on our side, not anymore. We should have done something about all this long before.*

*You know that would not have worked, Ulmo,* Manwë chided him gently. *Neither the Elves nor the Mortals were ready until now. I agree, though, that what needs to be done now will take much effort on all our parts. I think for the first time Ingwë truly understands what an impossible job we Valar have with regards to the Children, for he must do something that he has never had to do in all his existence: convince the Eldar to a course of action none of them wish to take.*

Ulmo nodded. *Yes, and not just Ingwë, but Arafinwë and Olwë and indeed all the kings of the Eldar. It will be interesting to see how they manage.*

Ulmo ‘heard’ Manwë’s snort of amusement. *Bring them to me as soon as you land,* the Elder King ordered and Ulmo felt his brother Vala’s mind fade from his. He remained where he was, watching as the three High Kings stood near the wheel sipping on mugs of tea. None of them looked happy. Ulmo sighed to himself, then decided to leave the Elves to themselves. He turned back to watch the view as they drew closer to Valinor and home.

****

The landing in Valmar was done with little fanfare, for they arrived in the late afternoon. Ulmo directed Eärendil to head for his own mansion where Vingilot could be safely moored to a dock to one side of the lake that surrounded the Vala’s residence. Either by design or happenstance, the Elves found the city oddly deserted for that time of day, but the contingent of warrior Maiar on hand to greet and escort them to the Elder King’s mansion might have had something to do with it. The Maiar bowed to Ulmo and the Elves before they headed the short distance to the entrance of the Elder King’s mansion where Lord Eönwë greeted them politely at the gates.

“Please follow me,” the Maia said and he turned and entered the mansion with Ulmo bringing up the rear of their party. Besides the three kings, Galadriel, Celeborn and Turgon were also with them, as was Eärendil. All the others had been directed by Ulmo to remain at his mansion and his chief Maia, Salmar, was there to escort them to where they might refresh themselves and take their ease.

Soon, they were being shown into a small audience hall where the Elder King sat on a throne. He was alone. Manwë smiled at the Elves as they gave him their obeisance while Ulmo and Eönwë looked on. The Maia took it upon himself to offer the Elves cool peach wine for refreshment which they accepted as they settled into seats provided for them. Ulmo remained standing.

“I trust your trip was… educational,” Manwë said without preamble.

“You might say that,” Ingwë said somewhat harshly. “At least no one died.”

“Yes, an unfortunate turn of events,” Manwë admitted, “but what I meant was, did you learn what you needed to know?”

“To do what, lord?” Olwë asked politely.

“To help your people to find estel again,” came the answer.

“You cannot force people to be hopeful or happy, though,” Arafinwë said.

“No, of course not,” Manwë replied somewhat testily, “else we wouldn’t be having this conversation. We Valar would simply have waved our hands and you would all be walking about with silly grins on your faces.”

Several eyebrows went up. Ulmo, standing to one side, gave his brother Vala a sardonic look. Manwë sighed. “Forgive me. I did not mean to sound churlish.”

“There is nothing to forgive, lord,” Ingwë said, his own anger forgotten. “It is we who should beg for your forgiveness for placing the Valar in this position in the first place. I know some of us have struggled to bring hope to our people, to convince them that giving up was not the answer, but all our efforts have proven vain. I doubt anything we do now will be any better.”

“I allowed you to go to Endórë so you could see for yourself how the Eldar there thrive and what their relationship is with the Mortals,” Manwë stated.

“Their relationship is fraught with much danger from what I could see,” Ingwë retorted.

“A hazard of living in Arda Marred, I’m afraid,” Manwë averred, “but still, if you were to ask, and I doubt any of you did, most of your friends would not have felt the danger to be that great. They would agree that caution was called for but you saw that they did not hide from the Mortals within their own enclaves, as they would have done in earlier ages. They live and work beside the Mortals in their own environment, sharing the joys and sorrows of life together. Yes, they have problems with a small group, but the task of diffusing the hatred and suspicion of a small group is not insurmountable. In the meantime, we need to address the situation here in Valinor.”

“They’ve each been given a copy of the ultrasound of the triplets,” Ulmo said out of the blue before any of the Elves could comment on what Manwë had said.

“Ah, good,” Manwë said with a smile. “That might shake things up a bit.”

“How, though?” Ingwë asked. “You know that the general consensus is that Amroth and Nimrodel had no right to bring children into the world at this time. Showing them a rather blurry picture of those children is not going to change people’s minds.”

“Perhaps and perhaps not,” Manwë said with a shrug, “but as every warrior knows, you never dismiss even the humblest of weapons on hand. The ultrasound pictures are a weapon you can use to galvanize people. You only have to convince one couple to allow Eru to add a child to their house.”

“And it needs to be a couple from the younger generations,” Ulmo put in. “Leading by example among the elders is fine, but having those from younger generations take the initiative will be more effective.”

“Well, I suppose we could call an All-Aman Council,” Ingwë said, though he seemed rather doubtful about it.

“It will be a start,” Arafinwë said, “and we were going to call one anyway to start coordinating training for the war. We can certainly discuss other matters.”

“Perhaps we can levy a burdensome tax on every couple who does not add a child to their house within the next two years, and tax everyone who is unmarried who does not find a spouse within that same time frame,” Olwë suggested with a glimmer of amusement.

Celeborn chuckled. “Now that I would like to see. I wonder how many people will be willing to pay the tax rather than submit themselves to bearing a child or finding a spouse?”

“Well, if nothing else, our treasuries would be fuller,” Arafinwë quipped and the others sniggered. Even Ingwë smiled at that, as did the three Ainur.

“I will have word sent to Vanyalondë. Lórindol can contact the other kings for us,” Ingwë said, naming Finrod’s oldest son, who presently ruled the oldest and largest of the Southern Kingdoms. “We will meet at Midsummer. That gives us more than a month to plan.”

“Then it is settled,” Manwë said with a benevolent smile. “If you will permit, I will send Eönwë to Lórindol and give him the message. It will be faster and he can speak with the other kings as well. That will give them more time to reach Valmar.”

Ingwë bowed. “Thank you, my lord. I am grateful for your assistance.”

“Good. Good. Go now and take your rest. I believe Ulmo is acting as host. Tomorrow is plenty of time for you to leave for your respective homes.”

It was a dismissal and the Elves gave the Elder King proper obeisance before leaving. Ulmo remained behind, stating that Salmar was waiting outside to escort them back to the Vala’s mansion where a meal was waiting for them. Once the Elves were gone, the other Valar appeared. Manwë gave Ulmo a reflective look.

“Ingwë is angry, though Olwë and Arafinwë do not appear to be,” he stated without preamble.

“Either that, or they are just better at hiding their feelings even from us,” Varda interjected before Ulmo could comment, sitting in the throne next to her husband. Several chairs appeared around the thrones and the Valar settled themselves in them.

“Oh, all three are angry and worried,” Ulmo said as he took a seat, accepting some peach wine from Eönwë who was serving the others as well. “They saw how their fellow Elves fared in Middle-earth, even those newly come to its shores, and I don’t doubt that there is some jealousy involved.”

“Jealousy!” Yavanna exclaimed. “Of what would they be jealous?”

“Oh my dear, where do I start?” Ulmo retorted with a laugh. “If nothing else, they are jealous of the easy manner in which the Wiseman Elves move among the Mortals. We all watched the wedding. Can you imagine anyone in Ingwë’s or Arafinwë’s court treating Glorfindel with such familiarity? Or Findaráto?”

“You do not mention Olwë’s court,” Manwë said with a sly look.

Ulmo waved a hand in dismissal. “The Teleri are less uptight about protocol than the Noldor or the Vanyar. You know that. I think of the three Olwë was the most relaxed. Even Celeborn and Artanis were on their dignity and they used to live in Middle-earth and interacted with the younger races to a greater extent than any of the others, even Arafinwë during the War of Wrath.”

“Olwë is going to be a problem,” Námo said, surprising them all with his announcement.

“Why do you say that?” Manwë asked, looking troubled.

Námo gave them a slight smile that could have meant anything or nothing. “Because even now he is importuning Salmar, asking him if it would be possible to set up a satellite relay system between here and Wiseman so he can watch National Geographic.”

The others all started laughing. “And does he expect us to transport an HDTV flatscreen and set it up in his throne room so he can watch in comfort?” Aulë muttered.

“No, I’m sure he expects you to just whip one up for him with a single word,” Námo rejoined, giving his fellow Vala a wicked smile. “And while you’re at it, you can also produce a Barcalounger complete with a drinks holder and vibrator.”

That set the others off even more and it was some time before any of them were calm enough to continue the conversation.

“Well, I’m afraid Olwë will be disappointed,” Manwë said, wiping the tears from his eyes. “I am not about to authorize satellite TV for him or anyone else.”

“Still, if there were a way to show the Amaneldi what is going on in Middle-earth, they might find interest in life again,” Vána offered.

“Yes, but at the moment not even the Mortals have that level of technology and I’m not about to introduce it here,” Manwë stated categorically and the others just nodded, understanding what the Elder King meant.

“What of this All-Aman Council Ingwë is calling for?” Oromë asked, willing to change the subject to something of more importance. “Will we be sending a representative as usual?”

“I am tempted to just let the Children do what they think best without any input from us,” Manwë answered. “We will host it, of course, but I would like to see how the kings handle the situation before we intervene.”

“Still, I think it would be wise to have someone visibly representing us,” Námo said. “We have always done so; to not do it now might lead to wrong conclusions among the Children. That’s the last thing we need right now.”

“True,” Manwë said. “So are you volunteering?”

Námo shook his head. “I am going to be busy dealing with Glorfindel. He will not take the news that he is fading well and I will need to be there to convince him of it.” He turned to Irmo. “Are you still sending him those dreams of the talisman?”

“Yes, though the last couple of times the dreams were interrupted and did not get very far,” his brother in the Thought of Ilúvatar said. “I think that now that the kings have left he’ll be feeling more relaxed and I can get through to him. He is due to have a session with Vorondur on Isilya.”

Námo nodded.

“So, who will we send to the Council?” Nessa asked.

“I will think on it,” Manwë said. “Previously, we’ve been content to send Eönwë or one of our other Maiar to attend a Council meeting, but I may decide to send one of us instead, to show the Children that we take this very seriously. I may even go myself.”

“That might present its own problems, though,” Aulë said. “The Children are likely to view it negatively if the Elder King himself takes a hand in things. You usually don’t intervene unless circumstances are dire.”

“And are they not?” Manwë retorted mildly.

“Not yet,” Ulmo answered before Aulë could. “At least, not as far as the Children are concerned. I agree with Aulë that your presence might do more harm than good at this point.”

“Well, we have a good month to think about it and decide,” Manwë said with a nod. “In the meantime, Eönwë, off you go. Stop at Tol Eressëa and let Gil-galad know first and you can also let Eärwen and Lirillë know that their husbands are back as well. Then head for Vanyalondë and start spreading the news.”

Eönwë bowed to his lord. “It will be as you say, Lord.” And then he was gone, leaving the Valar to fend for themselves.

“Well, it will be interesting to see what the response is, considering that this will be the first All-Aman Council held in, what, four hundred years?” Yavanna said.

“Something like that,” her husband said.

“The High Kings have their work cut out for them,” Oromë said.

“Let us hope that they find a way to motivate their people and bring them estel,” Varda said soberly. “Without estel, we have no hope of winning this war.”

“True, but we do have our ace in the hole,” Námo said. “The Eldar in Middle-earth, along with their Mortal allies may well be our salvation, but only if we are successful in making sure that Glorfindel does not fade in truth. If he is lost, all is lost.”

There were nods all around and the room fell silent as the Valar contemplated the future.

****

Words are Quenya:

Endórë: Middle-earth.

Ósanwë: Mind-speaking, telepathy.

Ainur: Plural of Ainu: ‘Holy One, angelic spirit’, one of the ‘order’ of Valar or Maiar.

Amaneldi: Plural of Amanelda (sic): An Elf of Aman.

Isilya: ‘Moon-day’, i.e. Monday.

The three High Kings of Aman set out with their respective entourages the next day with Ingwë heading north and Arafinwë, along with Celeborn, Galadriel and Turgon, heading east. Eärendil offered to drop Olwë off at Alqualondë on his way back to Aewellond and Helyanwë went with him. Only Eönwë, returned from his mission, and Salmar were on hand to see them depart, offering them the Valar’s good wishes for safe journeys.

“We will see you in a month’s time,” Eönwë said as he escorted Ingwë through Eldamas while Salmar was escorting Arafinwë along the Rómenya Tëa to the eastern gate that was made of mithril and pearls.

Ingwë, being the closest to home, arrived before noon, joyfully greeted by the populace and his family. For the first time since the debacle with the Mortals and Daeron getting shot, Ingwë actually relaxed and smiled, glad to be back among his family and friends. Elindis, giving her husband a kiss in greeting, whispered in his ear a single word that sent frissons of delightful anticipation through him. She stepped back, giving him a coy smile that set his pulse racing and it was only stern discipline that kept him from throwing her over his shoulder and running to their bedroom right then and there. She laughed, having picked up the image through their bond, and he felt himself blushing for some reason.

“So, did you bring me anything?” Ingwion asked his atar, giving him a playful smile.

“No, I didn’t bring you anything,” Ingwë said with a laugh, which was echoed by the others who were on hand to greet the king. “I did bring some things for us all, though, and when I’ve had time to unpack I will share them with you.”

“Then, why don’t we get out of your way and let you at it, Atar,” Ingwion said. “I am sure you and Ammë have a lot of catching up to do.” He gave them a bright, knowing smile as he and his wife Olwen herded their children and grandchildren and the courtiers away, leaving Ingwë and Elindis alone with the ubiquitous servants and guards as they made their way to their private suite.

“So, what was it like?” Elindis asked as they went up the stairs.

“It was… frightening,” Ingwë admitted, speaking softly.

His wife gave him a startled look. “In what way?”

“In every way,” Ingwë answered. “Oh, my love, I do not know how they stand it, living among the Mortals as they do, yet most of them seemed genuinely happy.”

“Including Glorfindel?”

“Especially Glorfindel,” Ingwë corrected with much feeling as they entered their apartments. Elindis took a moment to direct the servants as to where to place the king’s luggage while the guards took their positions outside. A few moments later, the servants giving the royals their obeisance before leaving, Ingwë and Elindis were finally and completely alone.

“You seem upset at the notion that Glorfindel is happy,” Elindis said, picking up the conversation where it had been left off.

“No, of course not,” Ingwë protested as he poured some Aramalina, a yellow wine produced by the Teleri, into a couple of goblets for himself and Elindis before settling beside her on the settee that was their favorite spot. “At the same time, I must admit that I’d hope that he and the others would wish to return with us.”

“And none of them did.” Elindis made it more a statement than a question.

“Helyanwë did,” Ingwë said.

Elindis raised a delicate eyebrow. “Indeed? Well, I for one am glad.”

“Why?” Ingwë gave her a puzzled look.

“She just wasn’t the right person to go,” she replied. “Oh, I know Sador wanted someone from his family to be there if he could not at this time, but really, I think it would’ve been better if he’d sent someone else. Helyanwë’s younger brother, for instance. I can never remember his name.”

“Beren,” Ingwë supplied, giving his wife a smile, “who could not go because he was off exploring the eastern landmass with Falmaron, Vondo and the others of that expedition. Which reminds me. Have they returned, do you know?”

Elindis nodded. “Yes, actually. Word arrived just yesterday that their ship sailed into Avallónë, though I imagine they’ve since continued to Alqualondë.”

“Good. I will send a courier and have them come to me. I wish to hear what they have to say. As for Helyanwë, well, I am afraid she had some… issues.”

“Issues? What kind of issues?”

“It hardly matters now, my love,” Ingwë said with a shake of his head. “She is back home where she belongs. I just wish the others were too. You should know that Amarië, Elrond and Celebrían remained behind along with two ellyn who turned out to be the sons of a couple who once resided in Imladris with Elrond. I admit that I was not sanguine about allowing any of them to remain, but I have no authority to deny them and apparently the Valar granted them their permission to remain.”

“I think they are where they need to be, Ingwë,” Elindis said softly. “The Dagor Dagorath is not something that will be fought solely on Valinórean soil. The Mortals have a stake in its outcome as well. Those of our people who remain in Endórë are not there to enjoy themselves but to help organize the Mortals and ready them for the battle that is to come.”

Ingwë sighed. “Yes, I know, but—”

“No buts, my love,” Elindis said firmly as she drained her goblet and stood up. “Now, let us forget about all that for the nonce.” She leaned down and said seductively, “I feel a need to bathe in perfumed water with my husband. Would you happen to know where he might be?”

Ingwë gulped as his body responded to her words and the light scent of her jasmine perfume that filled his nostrils. “I think I know where he can be found,” he whispered hoarsely.

“Good. I’m so glad. Do tell him when you see him that I’ll be waiting, but best not to tarry or the… water will cool.” And with that she floated out of the room toward their bathing chamber. Ingwë sat for a couple of minutes, slowly and deliberately finishing off the wine in his goblet, giving Elindis the time she needed, before standing and unlacing his tunic, undressing as he went.

****

Arafinwë gave a sigh of relief as the towers of Tirion came into view. His daughter and son-in-law, riding on either side of him, gave him knowing smiles.

“Glad to be home, Atto?” Galadriel asked.

Arafinwë nodded. “Though, mind you, I did enjoy the holiday. I only wish your amillë could have come with us.”

“It was probably better that she hadn’t,” Celeborn said. “Endórë is still a dangerous place, as we saw.”

“Yes, though there was much beauty as well,” Arafinwë rejoined. “I could see that our friends were genuinely happy to be where they are and Findaráto appears to have integrated himself well in the short time that he’s been there.”

“I hope Amarië will be happy there,” Galadriel said as they rode through the western gate with the gate guards saluting them.

“She is with Finrod,” her husband said. “That’s all that matters with her.”

And then there were no more words, for they were now reaching the plaza fronting the palace and Eärwen and their other two sons were waiting for them along with Nolofinwë, his wife Anairë and their sons . There was small fanfare, for only the family had been informed of their imminent arrival and Arafinwë found that he preferred it that way. He kissed his wife chastely, for they were still in public, and gave his sons and nephews hugs. He clasped his brother’s arms in a warrior’s grip which was returned.

“I see you survived your time in the wilds, Brother,” Nolofinwë said with a laugh as they all entered the palace and headed for the royal wing.

“And wilds it was,” Arafinwë retorted. “If I hadn’t known better, I would’ve sworn that I was in the middle of Beleriand. Parts of the land reminded me of the area around Mithrim where we camped for a time as we pushed north towards Thangorodrim during the War.”

Nolofinwë, who had once ruled from Mithrim as Fingolfin, nodded in understanding. “Well, we’re glad you’re back and in one piece. So, did you bring me anything?” He flashed his younger brother and liege a knowing smile. Arafinwë laughed along with the others and threw an arm around his brother’s shoulders as they walked along.

“As a matter of fact, I did,” he said. “Wait until we’re alone, though.”

Nolofinwë gave him a searching look but finally nodded and changed the subject. “And did my son behave himself?”

“Atto!” Turgon exclaimed in embarrassment. “Please stop treating me as if I were still an elfling or newly released from Lórien.”

“Yes, my brother,” Arafinwë interjected before Nolofinwë could respond, “Turucáno behaved himself and we’re all very proud of him.” He gave his nephew a bright smile and a wink which seemed to mollify the ellon, who gave him a shy smile in return.

“And Glorfindel?” Nolofinwë asked, well aware of the byplay between his brother and son.

“Glorfindel has renewed his oath to me and continues to watch over my family,” Turgon answered before Arafinwë could. “I am glad that he is there for them. I fear that the future will prove difficult for them all.” He sounded much like the king he once was at that moment and Nolofinwë raised an eyebrow, giving Arafinwë a questioning look. Arafinwë just smiled.

“Well, when you’re rested and all, you’ll have to tell us all about your adventures,” Nolofinwë said, speaking to Turgon, though his eyes were on Arafinwë.

“Oh we can do better than that,” Arafinwë said as they entered the main sitting room where the royal family was wont to gather. “But first, if you will excuse me, I wish to spend some time with my wife. I will meet with you all in an hour—”

“Make that two hours, my love,” Eärwen interjected with a secretive smile. “We have much to… um… discuss.”

Arafinwë raised an eyebrow, taking in his wife’s suggestive look, while the others grinned widely.

“We can always meet in three hours,” Nolofinwë suggested slyly.

“No, no,” Arafinwë said, never taking his eyes off his wife. “Two hours should be plenty of time.”

“Come, Fingolfin,” Celeborn said in Sindarin. “Let us leave our lieges to their… um… discussion, while Galadriel and I tell you how it is in Ennorath. Do you think we can scare up some Carnimiru? I could wash the dust of travel from my mouth right about now.”

Nolofinwë nodded. “We will retire to my suite. You know where to find us when you’re ready, Brother.” With that, he and Anairë left along with the others, leaving Arafinwë and Eärwen alone at last.

Two hours later, freshly bathed and dressed, Arafinwë sent a page to inform his brother and Celeborn that he would see them in his office. They arrived quickly, settling in chairs before Arafinwë’s desk.

“So why do you wish to speak to me privately?” Nolofinwë asked. “What are you two up to?”

For an answer, Arafinwë pulled out some sheaves of thin paper of a kind Nolofinwë had never seen before and handed them to him. He took them somewhat gingerly. “What are these?”

“Open them up and see,” Arafinwë said.

Nolofinwë hesitated for a second or two before giving them a shrug and complying with the command. At first, he had no idea what he was seeing. There were drawings of things he did not recognize along with text he could not read, though he saw that the drawings were neatly labeled in tengwar.

“What am I looking at?” he finally asked.

“Schematics for making something called a ‘computer’,” Arafinwë replied. “An ellon named Gilvegil was kind enough to acquire the information for me along with other schematics for designing a power source and creating the necessary ‘software’ as it is called.”

“And what is this supposed to accomplish?” Nolofinwë asked, glancing through the pages, trying to make sense of them.

“We need to be connected with our friends and family in Endórë,” Arafinwë replied. “The Mortals have something called the ‘internet’ which can be accessed through ‘computers’ and other devices. They are able to communicate instantly across the globe. They can search out information from sources that are not always readily available otherwise. With the ‘internet’ we wouldn’t need to rely on the Valar’s benevolence in allowing their Maiar to relay messages between kingdoms.”

Nolofinwë looked up and caught his brother’s eyes, seeing something in them that made him blink. He glanced at Celeborn, sitting beside him. “And what do you think?”

“I think we should not tell Olwë,” Celeborn replied cryptically.

Arafinwë barked a laugh, which surprised Nolofinwë. “No, indeed not,” the High King of the Noldor said. “At least not until we know for sure it will work.”

“Yet how?” Nolofinwë asked.

“We need to speak with our smiths and other craftspeople,” Arafinwë answered. “We need to have them look at these schematics and see if they can create the necessary tools. Our technology is different from that utilized by the Mortals but I think it can be adapted. We need the connection, Brother. I do not wish to have to constantly rely on the Valar for everything. For now, though, I prefer to keep this between us. I have not even discussed this with Ingwë.” He gave his brother a piercing look and Nolofinwë recognized it and knew without a doubt that Arafinwë had ceased to be his younger brother and now spoke as his liege lord. “It’s time for the Noldor to fire up their secret forges once again.”

Nolofinwë could only stare at his brother in disbelief. “The Valar save us,” he whispered.

Celeborn chuckled, obviously enjoying seeing the usually cool and collected Fingolfin looking so flustered. “Not likely.”

Arafinwë merely smiled a cold smile.

****

Olwë tried to convince Eärendil to stay in Alqualondë for a day or two and visit, but the Mariner shook his head even as he was bringing Vingilot to the quay that had been specially built for it in the Haven. “Elwing awaits me,” he said, “and I do not wish to tarry. I’ll bring her down the week before the Council meeting and you can tell us all about your adventures.”

Olwë reluctantly agreed. “Then fair journey to you, child.”

Eärendil nodded his thanks, then glanced to where Helyanwë stood, looking somewhat forlorn. “I can detour to Tol Eressëa and drop you off there, my dear, if you wish.”

Helyanwë shook her head, not looking up. “Thank you, Lord Eärendil, but I wish to delay my meeting with my family for a few more days.”

Eärendil raised an eyebrow and gave Olwë an enquiring look. The Lindaran merely smiled, though it was somewhat brittle. “I will send word to Kortirion and have Sador come here. I think explanations will be easier to hear away from Gil-galad’s court.”

The Mariner just nodded and glanced around the harbor, admiring the swan ships. “Ah, I see that Falmaron has returned,” he said, pointing to a ship that was moored near the royal quay. “Now that’s a tale I would love to hear. Please tell Falmaron I want a copy of his report along with maps. If my own duties to the Valar did not take precedence I would gladly be on the next expedition.”

“As would I,” Olwë said with a laugh, “but you’ll get there before I do at any rate once the Valar authorize the aerial reconnaissance.”

“And as soon as they do, I’ll swing by and sneak you aboard,” Eärendil whispered conspiratorially, glancing about in a furtive manner as if fearing to be overheard. Helyanwë, as sunk into misery as she was, found herself giggling at the two Elf-lords acting like elflings planning a forbidden adventure and both Eärendil and Olwë grinned at the sound of it.

“Well, we’d best be on our way,” Olwë said briskly, nodding to his chief guard, Eäralato, who bowed to his liege and began bellowing orders to the servants and other guards and the unloading commenced while Olwë waited with Helyanwë. It did not take long, especially with dockworkers lending a hand and soon Vingilot was aloft again and sailing away.

“Why is no one here to greet you, Uncle?” Helyanwë asked confusedly, addressing Olwë with a term reserved for older male members of the various royal lines by anyone of a younger generation who was not directly related to them.

Olwë smiled benevolently at the child as they walked through the harbor with their entourage. “Because I told them not to bother. They’re most likely waiting impatiently for us in front of the palace since I have no doubt that they were alerted to our arrival even before Eärendil brought the ship into the harbor.”

All along the way, people stopped to greet the king with a degree of familiarity that frankly shocked Helyanwë, more used to the stricter protocol of Gil-galad’s court. She was further shocked when Olwë not only returned greetings but addressed some of the people by their names, yet it was obvious that these were commoners and not nobles of his court. Her musings were interrupted by their arrival at the palace where, true to Olwë’s prediction, his family awaited them, though Falmaron was not among them.

Lirillë, Olwë’s wife and queen, was the first to welcome them, giving Olwë a passionate kiss, patently ignoring everyone around them. Helyanwë noticed that rather than being shocked and offended by such a public display of emotion, those standing about the courtyard just grinned and not in any malicious or salacious way. Lindarion, Olwë’s oldest child and heir, and his wife, a sweet elleth named Teleperiën, who was the daughter of one of Olwë’s nobles, greeted her warmly, for she was well known to them.

“Your brother is here,” Teleperiën told her, giving her a hug. “They arrived last night and he’s fast asleep, but he’ll wake in time for dinner as always.”

Helyanwë chuckled, well aware of her younger brother Beren’s propensity for never missing a meal if he could possibly help it.

“You did not find Endórë to your liking, little one?” Lindarion asked gently, giving her a teasing smile.

Helyanwë sighed and then tears began to fall, much to everyone’s dismay. Olwë and Lirillë had since ceased kissing and Olwë was busy greeting his youngest son, Salmar, and his wife Faniel. Olwë had been hugging Faniel but now turned with a sigh. “Here we go again,” he muttered. Lirillë raised an eyebrow at his tone, then began ushering everyone back inside, taking the distraught Helyanwë with her.

“Come along, child, and you can tell me all about it.”

“And what about me?” Olwë demanded, sounding somewhat petulant, though those who knew him well could tell it was merely an act for Lirillë’s benefit. His wife stopped and turned, her face lit with a wicked look. “Oh, don’t worry, dear. I’ll get to you later.”

There was a sudden onslaught of coughs and fake sneezes as several people around them attempted to mask their sniggers. Olwë just sniffed. “You’d better,” he warned and was rewarded with whoops of laughter from his children and grandchildren as they made their way inside the palace.

Much later, when everyone gathered together for the nightmeal, Olwë regaled them with tales of his adventures in Endórë, telling them all about the wedding and the election and its aftermath and meeting the Elves who had remained behind in Arda Marred. Afterwards they gathered in the royal sitting room where Olwë showed them some items he had brought with him from his trip, including what turned out to be a photo album.

“The Mortals have discovered a means of capturing images with something they call a ‘camera’,” he told his appreciative audience. “Several people apparently took it upon themselves to take… um… ‘photographs’ and then placed them in this book. We each got one. Look! All the ‘photographs’ are neatly labeled. There’s Glorfindel and this is where most of them live. The house is known to the Mortals as Edhellond.”

“And these are Mortals?” Lirillë asked, pointing to one photograph of the wedding as she and the others poured over the album, softly exclaiming at what they saw.

“Yes,” Olwë said. “Let’s see. Oh! This is David Michaelson and his wife and children. David is their chief of police, rather like Eäralato as my captain of the guards, only his remit is for the entire town. He and his people help keep the peace and solve crimes that might be committed. Oh, and here are Nicole Lord and her children. They are special friends of Glorfindel.”

“They look so… different,” Falmaron said as he stared at the photographs. “They are not very lovely to look upon, are they?”

“By our standards?” Olwe asked, shaking his head. “No, of course not, but their fëar shine bright and they are as beloved of the Valar and Eru as we, perhaps more so, for their lives are so very short and they are beset by many ills that never touch us and yet they have the one thing we do not have, the one thing we need to have if we are to survive.”

Everyone gave him surprised looks. “What?” Lindarion asked. “What do they have that we do not?”

For an answer, Olwë flipped through the album until he found one particular photograph. He pointed to it and everyone leaned over to view it. It was a photograph of Glorfindel at the wedding surrounded by several children of various ages, one of whom could not have been more than two or three sitting on his lap. Glorfindel was laughing, apparently at something one of the children had said. The children themselves were wreathed in smiles and three little girls off to one side were even holding hands in a circle dancing.

“Children?” Lirillë asked, giving her husband a shrewd look.

Olwë shook his head. “Something more basic than that.” He stared down at the photograph, a fond smile as he remembered that day gracing his lips. He looked up to see everyone looking at him expectantly. “Hope,” he said. “The Mortals have hope.” He stabbed a finger at the photograph. “And there’s the proof. Each child you see here is a sign of hope, hope that there is a future, hope that Eru loves us and wishes us well, hope that tomorrow may be better or if not better than no worse, hope that Life is stronger than Death.”

He paused to look at his audience, his family, hanging onto every word. “The Mortals live in a perilous world fraught with dangers that we have long put behind us in the peace of the Blessed Realm,” he continued. “They have suffered greatly, and yet, they go on. Some would tell you, if you asked them, that in the end they have no choice in the matter, but they do. They could take the same route as we and allow despair and apathy to lead them to extinction, and they certainly have reasons to think that might be the wiser course, but they do not. Oh yes, there is much evil in the world and there are many who have joined with Evil to their destruction, but there is also much good and these people, these Mortals of Wiseman, for the most part, are on our side and are willing to fight with us, but we have to do our part.”

“And what is that, Uncle?” Helyanwë’s brother, Beren, asked. He and his sister had been quiet throughout the evening. Beren, when the two had been reunited, being ever perceptive of his sister’s moods and having been warned by Lirillë earlier, had simply whispered ‘I love you’ to her when they hugged and she had smiled tremulously, though to Olwë’s relief, she had not dissolved into tears again. Now, they sat together with the Telerin royal family, enjoying the company of those who were to some extent ‘family’.

Olwë gave the young ellon an approving look. “We need to find hope again. We need to regain estel and we start by encouraging the adding of children unto us.”

Everyone looked at him with various degrees of skepticism. “And will you and Ammë lead the way and give us another bundle of siblings to play with?” Lindarion asked with a quirk to his lips.

Everyone laughed. “No, my son. We’ll leave that to the younger generations.”

“Well most of them are not even bonded,” Lirillë pointed out. “Should we not encourage them to marry first?”

Olwë shrugged. “The Mortals don’t always bother when they wish to bring forth children,” he said and everyone gave him shocked looks.

“Well, as I see it,” Lindarion said after a moment or two, “our first task is to instill estel in our people, in all our people, and then hopefully, the rest will follow.”

“How do we do that though?” his wife, Teleperiën, asked.

“Well, I have an idea,” Olwë said before Lindarion could answer. He stood and went to a desk where he retrieved a manila envelope, opening it and drawing out a sonograph. “The Mortals have something called ‘ultrasound’ that allows them to see inside their bodies. Women who are pregnant have it done as a matter of routine to ensure that their child is well and they are able to tell what its gender is. This is a picture of triplets, though only two are clearly visible.”

“Triplets!” more than one person exclaimed as Olwë handed the picture to his wife who held it up to the light the better to see it.

“Twins are rare enough, but triplets!” she said. “No wonder Mortals are so prolific.”

“Oh, these are not Mortal children, my love,” Olwë said with a laugh. “These children are elven.”

“What?! You mean…”

Olwë nodded. “Eru has seen fit to add three children to the house of Amroth and Nimrodel, once of Laurenandë. I have it in mind to show this to our people, to show them that our kin in Endórë still cling to hope, still believe in a future. Elrohir Elrondion and Serindë have married and I do not doubt that in due time children will be added unto them. Our niece, Nielluin, has been betrothed to an ellon who was born in Endórë and has never known elven society. They too, in time, may add children to their house. And there are others. We need to show our people that not all is lost, that there is indeed hope in the world and in Eru’s love for us.”

He took the sonograph from Lirillë’s hands and held it up.

“This will show them the way.”

****

Words are Quenya:

Rómenya Tëa: Eastern Road.

Aramalina; Royal-yellow.

Carnimiru: Red-wine, also known as Carnitirion or Tirion Red, a popluar wine produced from the Noldorin royal vineyards.

Lindaran: King of the Lindar, Olwë’s title. While non-canonical, it is based on the canonical titles Ingaran ‘High-king’ and Noldóran ‘King of the Noldor’, Ingwë’s and Arafinwë’s titles, respectively. When speaking only as King of the Vanyar, Ingwë’s title is Vanyaran, which is also non-canonical.

Laurenandë: An earlier form of Lothlórien, it means ‘Golden valley’.


Sador and Alassiel, Helyanwë and Beren’s great-grandparents, arrived in Alqualondë a week later, after Olwë sent word to Sador requesting his presence. Both were naturally concerned and wondered why Olwë had summoned them specifically rather than Helyanwë’s parents, though in truth, that would have been impractical, since Castamirion and Rían were presently visiting their older son, Herendilion, who now resided in Vanyalondë.

Thus, when the couple arrived in the Swan Haven via Gil-galad’s own ship, Olwë was on hand to greet them as they stepped onto the quay.

“How is she?” Sador asked quietly as he and Olwë greeted one another with kisses as between old friends.

“Well, she’s stopped weeping at the drop of a hat,” Olwë answered ruefully as he gave Alassiel a hug and a kiss. “Beren’s been with her, talking to her, and I think that’s helped, but she obviously feels as if she’s let you down and fears your…um… wrath.”

Sador gave Olwë a shocked look. “Wrath? When has anyone seen me wrathful? Finrod, yes. Glorfindel, definitely. Even Alassiel, but me?”

Olwë and Alassiel both laughed at his affronted tone. “Come and see then,” was all Olwë said and with a nod to the guards, they set off for the palace.

Deciding to table any discussion of his great-granddaughter for the time being, Sador said, “Gil-galad told us about Ingwë calling an All-Aman Council. He was rather surprised and not a bit put out. Kept going on about the inconvenience of it all just as he was about to escape to his private haven away from the, and I’m quoting here, ‘damn orc-brained idiots whom I laughingly call my court’.” Sador flashed Olwë a wicked smile and the High King of the Teleri laughed while Alassiel snickered.

“That sounds like Ereinion,” Olwë said. “Well, he’ll have to postpone his escape until later, I’m afraid. This Council is of vital importance if we’re to survive as a race.”

Sador sobered at that. “That serious, is it?”

“Yes, it is, but we’ll discuss it later. Here are your grandchildren waiting to greet you.” Olwë gestured to where Helyanwë and Beren stood in the plaza before the palace. Beren had an arm around his sister, comforting her, for her expression was beyond bleak at the sight of them. Sador and Alassiel exchanged looks and his wife gave him an imperceptible nod before going straight to Beren while Sador went to Helyanwë.

“Beren! I’m so glad to see you, child,” Alassiel said, holding out her arms to her great-grandson. “I’m sorry we weren’t able to see you when you and Falmaron came into Avallónë, but we were visiting friends in Tavrobel and by the time we heard you’d already left for Alqualondë.”

“So we were told,” Beren said as he hugged his great-grandmother, giving her the winning smile that often had the ellith swooning at his feet, though he paid them little heed, being more interested in planning his next adventure with Falmaron, Vondo and Calaldundil who was his great-uncle and one of the best navigators known to Elda-kind.

Sador, meanwhile, was giving Helyanwë a hug. “Your parents are visiting Herendilion and his family else they would’ve come,” he said softly.

“I’m sorry,” Helyanwë said sorrowfully.

“Shh… do not fret, child,” Sador said gently, giving her a kiss on her forehead. “Now, why don’t we go inside and you can tell me all about it. Olwë, do you still have that Aramalina Reserve you’ve been hoarding like a dragon? I think this calls for something other than the swill you usually foist on us whenever we visit.”

Helyanwë and Beren both goggled at their great-grandfather’s tone and goggled even more when Olwë laughed as they all entered the palace and headed for the royal apartments with servants and guards trailing. “I’ll ask my steward where he’s hid it. Eällindo refuses to let me down in the wine cellars. He says I have no taste.”

Sador gave his old friend a smile. “You don’t, but Eällindo definitely does.”

“Is this any way to speak to the Lindaran?” Olwë asked, trying to look stern but the twinkle in his eyes gave him away.

“Of course,” Sador rejoined airily. “I’m only doing what Glorfindel told me to do before he left.”

“Oh?” Olwë gave the Sinda a skeptical look.

“Yes, he said, and I quote, ‘I’m relying on you to keep the royals humble as only you can, háno, since I won’t be here to do it myself.’ I promised him I would and I take my promises seriously.”

Olwë laughed. “And you’re doing a splendid job. I’m sure even Gil-galad appreciates your efforts.”

Sador snorted. “Gil-galad? Are you kidding? That Reborn terror on two legs puts the ‘nu’ in nucumë.” That statement set all of them laughing, for they were well familiar with the Reborn king who ruled Tol Eressëa. Sador continued, “I’ve never met anyone so humble in my life. He doesn’t take himself half as seriously as everyone else does and he’s the bane of his steward’s existence.”

“That steward being you, as I recall,” Olwë said with a knowing smile. “You two were definitely made for each other. I’m glad you agreed to remain in his court and help him integrate himself back into elven society. Ereinion has not had an easy time of it with all the strong personalities he has to deal with.”

“You mean Morcocáno and Galadhwen,” Sador retorted shrewdly.

“Not to mention Meril,” Alassiel interjected heatedly. “I swear that elleth is worse than all the others put together, though thank Eru Gildor is able to reign in her more outrageous enthusiasms.”

“Meril likes to stir the pot on purpose and then sit back and watch everyone else run around like brainless orcs,” Sador said. “Gil-galad says she’s a one-elleth army. He finds her highly amusing and likes to make bets as to which way people will react to her latest… um… schemes.”

“Meril is crafty and Gildor has my sympathies,” Olwë said.

“Gildor ignores her for the most part and spends his days writing poetry and wandering about the island,” Sador said. “Frankly, I’m surprised he stays on Tol Eressëa. I was sure he would hightail it to the Southern Reaches as soon as he could and spend his days with the Ranyari.”

“Meril won’t allow it,” Alassiel said with a smug smile. “She let him have his way once, but not again. Actually, I think he’s grateful to be sitting in one spot and he seems content to spend his days working in the gardens around Cormë Alalvëa. They’ve become a wonder under his careful management and people come from all over the island to consult with him.”

By now, they had reached the royal sitting room where Lirillë and the rest of the family waited to greet them and they spent time catching up on each other’s news. Olwë ordered the Aramalina Reserve to be decanted and for a time all worries of the past and the future were put aside as they visited, the room filled with laughter and love. Even Helyanwë relaxed long enough to enjoy her great-grandparents’ presence and the wine.

****

Later, Sador invited Helyanwë to join him for a talk. She did so reluctantly, but Alassiel gave her a kiss and an encouraging smile. “You have nothing to fear from us, child. We love you.”

To Helyanwë’s surprise, her great-grandfather, whom she was wont to call ‘Daerada’, led her away from the palace and along one of the major canals to where a celmavenë painted a lovely shade of green awaited them. Apparently Sador, or possibly Olwë, had made previous arrangements, for he greeted the luntequen politely as he helped Helyanwë into the boat. Once they were settled, the boatman shoved off and began to pole them into the canal.

For a time, the two just sat and admired the city as they floated along. Finally, though, Sador looked at the elleth sitting next to him and brushed a loving hand through her hair. “Do you want to tell me?” he asked quietly.

“I failed you, Daerada,” Helyanwë said with a hitch in her voice.

“In what way did you fail me, child?” Sador asked.

“I couldn’t… I couldn’t stay… not after what I did.”

“And what did you do? Hush now, no tears, child,” he said, giving her a hug as she began to quietly weep. “Tell me. Take your time. I’ve hired the boat for the next hour and I can just have him take us around the city again if necessary.”

In spite of her tears, Helyanwë smiled. “I think it will take more than two trips around the city to tell all.”

Sador just smiled, giving her a hug. “Then our friend behind us will be well paid.” He looked back at the boatman competently poling the boat along and exchanged a smile with the ellon before turning back to his great-granddaughter. “Now, just start from the beginning and leave nothing out.”

Helyanwë sighed and after a moment began hesitantly telling her Daeradar everything that had happened: meeting with her first Mortals, the confusing sights and sounds of a modern town, even one as remote as Wiseman, the kidnapping and subsequent court, the holidays and the impromptu court held by the mortal judge when Glorfindel had attacked Finrod, her growing feelings for Glorfindel and his for her, the words that had been spoken between them that led to his mugging and all that followed from that…

“And then, the kings showed up, along with Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn, and I was suddenly homesick and no longer wanted to remain,” she ended mournfully. During her narrative, the boat had indeed made a circuit of the city and they were on their second lap around.

Sador had listened without interrupting her, save to ask a clarifying question or two. His heart went out to this child who had left so bright-eyed and eager for new experiences, following in the footsteps of her two brothers, one an explorer, the other a diplomat. He had thought the experience would do her good and even hoped that she would find happiness and a purpose in her life. Now all that was over, or so it seemed to her, though Sador had his doubts.

“You did not believe Glorfindel truly forgave you for what you said to him,” he said, making it a statement rather than a question.

Helyanwë shook her head. “I wanted to believe it, and I think he did, but, no. Every time I looked at him all I could think of was that he almost died because of me, that I drove him away with my words.”

“Words that you still believe to be true,” Sador persisted, hoping to reach the root of the child’s problem.

She gave him a slightly puzzled look. “I suppose I do,” she said pensively. “I guess I just couldn’t get past the fact that Glorfindel isn’t Findaráto’s equal.”

Sador actually laughed. “No one is, my dear, not even me. Findaráto is in a class all his own, as is Glorfindel.”

“You are a prince!” Helyanwë protested.

“I am a potter,” Sador corrected. “Gil-galad gave me the title of prince because he needed me to stay with him, else I would have happily left Tol Eressëa and returned to Tirion or gone to the Southern Reaches.”

“I have to wonder how Glorfindel would fare in Gil-galad’s court,” Helyanwë mused. “I doubt he would survive the protocol.”

“Good lord, child! Do you not know your history?” Sador exclaimed in shocked amazement. “Glorfindel lived in Lindon for over four hundred years and knew Gil-galad intimately. They’re old friends. According to Gil-galad, the two of them would go off with Elrond and spend a week fishing off one of Círdan’s smaller boats built for that purpose or hike in the Ered Luin. I do not understand where you acquired such snobbishness, certainly not from Gil-galad, who is likely to sneak out of Kortirion on occasion to spend an evening at Cormë Alalvëa getting uproariously drunk with Gildor Inglorion while they play chess, the two of them thick as thieves plotting mischief. Glorfindel would fit right in.”

Helyanwë blushed slightly at the reprimand.

“Well, the damage is done, so to speak,” Sador said after a moment, sighing slightly. “I am sorry it did not turn out well for you, child. I suppose it was asking too much for you and for that I ask your forgiveness.”

“My forgiveness?” Helyanwë exclaimed in surprise. “Why my forgiveness? You did nothing wrong. I am the one who made a mess of things and now everyone will laugh at me and whisper behind my back about what a failure I am.” Her tone was bitter.

“Let them,” Sador said, “but we who are your family, who know you, know the truth and the truth is that we love you and only wish you well. If anyone messed up, it was I. I should have just told Gil-galad to find someone else to be his steward because I was going to join my brothers in Endórë. I should have gone, not you.”

“What about Daernana?” Helyanwë asked. “Would you have left her behind?”

“Oh we talked about it,” Sador admitted, “and Alassiel would have gladly come with me if Gil-galad had allowed it. Well, water under the bridge because it didn’t happen that way. Helyanwë, what happened, happened. Nothing you do or say will change it. You’re here and not there and whatever happens next is no longer your concern, however, you still have a role to play in all this if you wish.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, you spent six months in Wiseman, watching the Mortals and our friends. You have a unique opportunity to be able to speak authoritatively about the conditions there, what the Mortals of this age are like, good, bad or indifferent, and how our kin interact with them and to what extent. This is information that not even the kings really have for they were only there for a short period. If you can put aside your own… prejudices and view your experience in an objective manner, you can be of tremendous help to me and to Gil-galad, indeed to all of us. You know about the All-Aman Council that Ingwë is calling.”

Helyanwë nodded.

“Well, Gil-galad has to attend as a matter of course and I told him in no uncertain terms that I would be going with him, but I think you should be part of our entourage, if you are willing.”

“Me? Why me?”

“For the reasons I stated. We need your intelligence. We need to know what is happening in Endórë and unless and until we can communicate directly with our people there, you are our one source of information, information that will not come from any of the Valar.”

“You don’t trust the Valar to tell you the truth?” Helyanwë asked in disbelief.

“I didn’t say that. I said that you were a source outside of the Valar. So, are you willing to help me, help all of us to know the truth of the matter as it stands now? I’ll understand if you feel you’re not—”

“I’ll do it! That is, if you’re sure you want someone like me around.”

Sador gave her a tight hug and kissed her gently on the temple. “Oh child, I can’t think of anyone else I would rather have.” He looked about and recognizing where they were, said, “I think we’ve seen enough of the city, don’t you?”

Helyanwë actually giggled. “We haven’t even looked as we’ve been too busy talking.”

“Well, in that case…” Sador turned to look at the boatman, giving him a brilliant smile. “Once more around, if you please. This time we promise to actually take in the view.”

The boatman’s silvery laughter floated across the water. “In that case, good sir and lady, permit me to entertain you with song.” And with a nod from Sador, the ellon began to sing a popular sea chanty in praise of Lord Ulmo known even to the citizens of Tol Eressëa. Sador put an arm around his great-granddaughter’s shoulders and together they joined in the chorus as they boated around the city a third time.

****

“So everything settled with Helyanwë?” Olwë asked Sador when the two of them had retired to Olwë’s study the next morning after breakfast. “She seems to be in a better mood.”

Sador nodded. “Once she realized that Alassiel and I still love her in spite of what happened, I think she calmed down a bit. I’ve convinced her to join us as an advisor of all things pertaining to Endórë when Gil-galad and I attend the All-Aman Council.”

Olwë raised an eyebrow. “Speaking of which, how do you think it should be handled?”

“Depends on what the goal of the council is, I suppose.”

“The goal is to motivate our people, to begin bringing back estel into our lives,” Olwë replied. “Have you seen the picture of the triplets yet?”

Sador grinned. “Oh yes. Lirillë showed it to us and Alassiel got all maternal and began talking about babies with your wife. If we’re not careful, you and I will both end up being atari again.”

“As the Mortals are wont to say, ‘when hell freezes over!’” Olwë exclaimed.

“Hell?”

“A place of punishment where people go after death if they have been less than sterling in their behavior while alive from what I understand.”

“How odd,” Sador stated and then shrugged, not interested in Mortal theology. “At any rate, to answer your original question, I need to talk with Gil-galad first and I want him to hear what my great-granddaughter has to say about Endórë and the conditions there.”

“Will she be able to give an unprejudiced report, do you think?”

Sador nodded. “I warned her that her personal feelings are not to be factored in. She must speak objectively and without emotion. I am sure she will be able to do so. She’s been trained as a courier, after all, and you know they are taught to divorce themselves from the message they are relaying.”

Olwë nodded. “Then perhaps she will prove of use to us after all. She lived there long enough, I think, to be able to give us details neither I nor anyone else who accompanied us to the wedding would be able to speak on, though we obviously have our own impressions and these we will share with everyone else.”

“Well, if you have any questions you would like to ask Helyanwë, now is the time to do it.”

“When do you return to Kortirion?”

“We’ll be here for another week,” Sador answered.

Olwë nodded. “Then, with your permission, I would like to have Helyanwë attend my next privy council meeting to answer whatever questions I and my people might have.”

“I will let her know. I assume I’m invited as well.” Sador gave his friend an imperious look that did not fool either one of them.

Olwë sighed. “Well, if you insist, but only if you behave yourself.”

“And when have you ever known me not to behave myself, Olwë?”

“That’s a trick question, right?” Olwë quipped and then the both of them were laughing.

****

Words are Quenya unless otherwise noted:

Nucumë: Humility, derived from the verbal stem nucum- ‘to humble, humiliate’, which is supposed from the attested adjective or past participle, nucumna.

Ranyari: Plural of ranyar: Wanderer [ranya- ‘wander, stray’ + -r (agental suffix)], i.e. the Wandering Companies, one of which Frodo, Sam and Pippin encountered that was headed by Gildor Inglorion.

Cormë Alalvëa: ‘Garth of Many Elms’, the name of Meril and Gildor’s estate outside Kortirion.

Daerada: (Sindarin) Hypocoristic form of daeradar: Grandfather, literally, ‘great-father’. The word is unattested (though the elements making up the word are) and it’s considered neo-Sindarin. The (neo)Quenya equivalent is anatar.

Celmavenë: Small canal boat [celma ‘channel, canal’ + venë ‘small boat, vessel, dish’.

Luntequen: Boatman, cf. the attested word ciryaquen ‘shipman, sailor’.

Daernana: (Sindarin) Hypocoristic form of daernaneth: Grandmother.

Atari: Plural of atar: Father.

Notes on original characters from previous stories mentioned but not met in this chapter:

1. Vondo (Vorondil) Herendilion is the reborn brother of Aldundil, the father of Vorondil (see next entry); he first appears in Elf, Interrupted: Book Two and later in A Long-Expected Wedding.

2. Calaldundil, son of Vorondil Aldundilion and Marilla, appears as an elfling in The Last Messenger: A Tale of Númenor. He is the older brother of Laurendilion, who is married to Ninniach Sadoriel, daughter of Sador and Alassiel. Ninniach’s son, Castamirion, is married to Rían and they are the parents of Herendilion, Helyanwë and Beren.

3. Morcocáno is a Noldorin Returnee, residing in Avallónë. He appears in Elf, Interrupted: Book Two and makes a cameo appearance in In Darkness Bound.

4. Galadhwen is a Sinda who Sailed and now resides in Kortirion on Tol Eressëa. She appears in Elf, Interrupted: Book Two.

5. Meril of Cormë Alalvëa is a Noldorin Returnee who is the (non-canonical) wife of Gildor Inglorion. She appears in Elf, Interrupted: Book Two and A Long-Expected Wedding. She originally appears as Meril-i-Turinqi ‘of the blood of Inwë [Ingwë]’ in the Book of Lost Tales 1.


Sador and Alassiel left for Kortirion with Beren a week later, but Helyanwë remained in Alqualondë, not wishing to return to her home immediately. She still felt ashamed by what she saw as her failure. In spite of her great-grandparents’ assurances to the contrary, in spite of her brother’s loving teasing, she still felt that she had let her family down and she did not wish to see the look of disappointment in their faces.

“It’ll take her time to get over it,” Lirillë had told them at one point.

“I wanted her to return with us so she could tell Gil-galad directly what her experiences were in Endórë,” Sador said with a sigh.

“Bring him here a week before the Council,” Olwë suggested. “Eärendil and Elwing will be here and he can listen to her story then. We can all travel together.”

And so it was decided. At Beren’s suggestion, Helyanwë agreed to write everything down that she could remember about Wiseman and the Mortals and the situation in which the Elves found themselves. “Leave nothing out,” he told his sister as she helped him to pack. “We need to know the bad as well as the good.”

“We?” Helyanwë asked teasingly.

“Náto, nés’ anameldanya, mé,” Beren had rejoined gravely and suddenly her little brother seemed yéni older than herself.

“You should have gone,” she said softly. “It should have been you.”

“Except Glorfindel’s not my type,” Beren retorted with a wicked smile, “so it wouldn’t have worked out anyway.”

She stared at him in disbelief for a moment and then something passed between them and the Prince-Steward of Tol Eressëa and his wife, along with the Lindarin royal family, were treated to the sight of Helyanwë chasing a laughing Beren through the halls of the palace, dodging servants and guards. The older Elves looked at one another and shrugged.

“Some things never change, do they?” Olwë said with a twinkle in his eyes and the others laughingly agreed.

****

Messages from Ingwë and Arafinwë arrived in Alqualondë almost at the same time a few days after Sador and Alassiel had left. Both messages said the same thing, requesting that the three kings meet prior to the Council to plan their approach and Olwë replied in the affirmative, then sent missives to Aewellond and Tol Eressëa, alerting Eärendil and Sador as to the change in plans.

Thus, the Valanya before the summer solstice saw Gil-galad coming into Alqualondë on his flagship, Anaralcar, even as Eärendil and Elwing arrived in Vingilot. Their meeting was merry, but their joy was overshadowed by the reason for it. Accompanying the king was Sador, who, as the Prince-Steward, normally would have remained in Kortirion while Gil-galad was away.

“Valdanna is more than capable of keeping everyone in line while I’m gone,” Gil-galad explained, naming his queen, a Reborn Noldo who, like Gil-galad, had been born in Beleriand. Their romance had taken everyone by surprise but it had been a perfect match, for Valdanna’s steely character complemented Gil-galad’s more relaxed nature. Everyone agreed they made a formidable pair and Valdanna had the respect of all.

Beren also was with them, though he was there more for Falmaron’s sake than for Helyanwë’s. “The situation in Endórë will be the main topic of discussion at the Council, but we need to give a report on our latest expedition as well,” the ellon explained to his sister when she asked. “As I am the ship’s loremaster, it is my task to present our findings to the Council and answer any questions they might have.”

“I doubt they will have many,” Helyanwë said shrewdly. “No one cares about what you found. I think only Círdan cares and possibly Eärendil.”

“Perhaps,” Beren said equably. “Whether they care or not, it is still our duty to report what we have discovered. Perhaps in conjunction with what the High Kings will reveal about Endórë, people will find a reason to care.”

The party remained in Alqualondë for a day before everyone who would be attending the Council boarded Vingilot and soon they were sailing over the Pelóri mountains and across the plains of Eldamar toward the city of the Powers. Even from their exalted height, that jewel of Aman was not immediately visible as Eärendil steered his ship northwestward, avoiding Tirion, for they knew that Arafinwë had already left for Valmar two days previously and was due to arrive at the city around the same time as Vingilot.

And so it was. Olwë looked down upon the city to see Arafinwë’s entourage entering through the mithril and pearl gates that spanned the eastern road. He saw his son-in-law look up at their approach and wave and he waved back. He could see that Arafinwë was accompanied, not only by Celeborn and Galadriel, but also Nolofinwë and his son, Turucáno. He did not see Eärwen and so had to assume his daughter held the regency in Tirion, even as Lirillë held it in Alqualondë. He had a momentary flash of insight that, except in a few cases, most likely the wives of the other kings attending the Council would be left behind to rule while their ellyn went off to play. He chuckled to himself at that realization, but when Lindarion, standing beside him, asked him what he found so amusing, he just shook his head and refused to answer.

Eärendil brought his ship to the quay beside Lord Ulmo’s mansion and soon they were all disembarking and making their way across the lake to the other side where Arafinwë and Nolofinwë were waiting for them, along with the others from Tirion. Warm greetings were given all around.

“I understand Ingwë’s waiting for us at the royal townhouse,” Arafinwë told them as they gathered their luggage and headed toward the northern gate of meteoric iron and diamonds that led into Eldamas, the elven enclave where those who worked directly for the Valar or were apprenticed to them lived. Only Olwë’s and Gil-galad’s personal guards, Eäralato and Celepharn, respectively, had accompanied them; Eärendil refused to have one, and the Noldor were rather used to doing things themselves, though Arafinwë had brought Calandil, his captain of the guards, along as a matter of course. Thus, the citizens of Eldamas were treated to the sight of three kings and other royal personages carrying their luggage down the streets of the town, chatting amiably among themselves and pretty much ignoring everyone else, as if they were just common travelers on their way to the inn of their choice. One or two people even found the nerve to approach and offer to carry the luggage for them but the royals just smiled, politely refusing their kind offers.

They reached the royal townhouse which was still used by the three high kings and sometimes by the lesser kings and their families to be greeted at the door by Ingwë and Ingwion and soon they were all unpacked and meeting in the main dining hall where servants permanently attached to the townhouse were setting up a light repast. No one spoke of the Council or its agenda, but concentrated on catching up on family news. It was only afterwards that Ingwë broached the subject of the Council when they retired to what was referred to as the library, though there were no books lining its shelves. Instead they were filled mostly with statuary and knick-knacks that no one really wanted but didn’t have the heart to throw or give away.

“We need to decide how we will handle this Council,” Ingwë said without preamble as everyone found places to sit or, in a few cases, to stand. Ingwë, himself, was ensconced in a comfortably padded chair with a mug of chamomile tea in his hand.

“What have you decided?” Olwë asked, giving Ingwë a shrewd look.

Ingwë raised an eyebrow. “If by that, you mean, do I plan to dictate how we will approach this, then the answer is, no. I honestly want to know how each of you who traveled to Wiseman feel about it and just what our ultimate goal or goals should be. There needs to be an actual outcome to this Council and not just a lot of talk.”

“What do you think our goal should be, Ingwë?” Gil-galad asked. “I have read the report that Lady Helyanwë sent me about her own experiences as well as what Olwë and Arafinwë bothered to tell me, but I have not heard from you, at least not directly, so I do not know what your own feelings about all this are.”

“Actually, you’ve not spoken of it to any of us,” Arafinwë added, “though I know both Olwë and I have sent you missives.”

“I apologize for not responding,” Ingwë said with a slight frown. “In truth, I have spent these last few weeks grappling in my own mind what my feelings are about Wiseman and the situation we found there. Also, I have been communing with the Valar, specifically Lords Manwë and Námo.” Here he flashed them a grin. “In fact, I pretty much camped outside Lord Námo’s gates until he granted me an audience.”

“Made you walk the spiral, did he?” Gil-galad asked with a wicked grin and Ingwë rewarded them with a rueful look.

“Damn Vala and his games,” he muttered and the others laughed in sympathy, having been on the receiving end of Námo’s ‘games’ themselves at one time or another.

“So, what have you decided, Ingwë?” Arafinwë asked, speaking king-to-king rather than nephew-to-uncle.

“We should each of us who were there give our impressions of what we saw and experienced. Helyanwë, my dear, you lived there the longest, so I plan to put you on the witness stand, so to speak, and have you field questions from the others.”

“A bit harsh, don’t you think?” Sador asked, putting an arm around his great-granddaughter in comfort, for she had paled at Ingwë’s announcement. “You know what some of them are like. They’ll eat her alive.”

“Not if we handle it and them correctly,” Ingwë countered.

“So how exactly do you want to do this?” Arafinwë asked.

“Lord Námo advised that we stick primarily to facts in our presentation and leave any feelings about what we witnessed or experienced out of it, at least initially,” Ingwë replied. “He told me that it was important that those who attend the Council be given as straightforward a recounting as is possible uncolored by anyone’s ambivalence, mine especially.”

“That is certainly something that I can do,” Olwë said, “and Arafinwë, but Helyanwë, are you able to divorce your personal feelings from the facts of what you experienced?”

Helyanwë frowned. “I do not know, Uncle,” she said quietly. “I went there with high hopes and now everything is wrong and I ruined—”

“Now stop that, nésa,” Beren said not unkindly. “You didn’t ruin anything. I, too, have read your report and I’ve listened to you describe what happened. It is obvious to me that our people in Endórë operate under a different set of parameters in their attempt to blend in with the mortal society around them. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that you who went were woefully underprepared for the reality of the situation. That is not your fault, but the fault of the Valar.”

“And yet, perhaps in their wisdom they realized that there is no adequate way to prepare anyone for culture shock,” Arafinwë said. “I recall how the Valar attempted to warn us who followed Lord Eönwë to Endórë in the War of Wrath about what we would find when we landed, but in truth, all the words in the world could not adequately prepare us for what we did find. It is just not possible. I am sure the Valar did what they could, but I am equally sure they knew that experience was the only real teacher in this case. Frankly I was surprised and pleased by the way in which our people were adapting to life in Endórë.”

“So you’re fine with Findaráto working as a menial in a bookshop for some Mortal who has barely seen three decades of life?” Ingwë asked, but there was a glint of humor in his eyes that told them that he was only teasing.

“It sounds like a lot of fun,” Ingwion interjected before Arafinwë could respond. “I wish I’d been able to go. I’m always left behind.” There was a note of bitterness that they all detected and Ingwë’s expression was sorrowful.

“There will be plenty of opportunities for you to go there, Ingwion,” Olwë assured his son-in-law. “We need to set up some way to communicate with our people in Wiseman, but until we come up with something, messages will have to be sent via couriers. I see no reason why you couldn’t act as one.”

“Except, eventually, I would have to return here,” Ingwion pointed out. “I will have to come back and leave them to have fun.”

“Fool! You sound like your brother newly reborn,” Ingwë exclaimed in disgust. “Fun? They are not having fun, Ingwion, and if you stopped feeling sorry for yourself for one minute you’ll realize that they are in a dangerous, even life-threatening, situation. Any one of them could actually die and it might not even be from a war-related injury. Elwë’s minstrel, Sairon, almost did and would have if Lord Námo hadn’t shown up to help Findaráto save him.”

An uneasy silence fell among them and the room was fraught with tension. Ingwion kept his head down, glowering, obviously resenting his atar’s reprimand. After a moment, Eärendil spoke, directing his words at Ingwë.

“You need to back down, Ingwë. Your son is ignorant but he is no fool. To him, hearing your stories, it does seem as if his cousin and the others are having fun, certainly more fun than he is having.”

“We are not here to have fun,” Ingwë countered between gritted teeth. “We are here to prepare for war.”

“Be that as it may,” Eärendil said equably, “the fact is, Ingwion is correct. You refused to allow him to accompany Findaráto even though the Valar gave their consent. Of course he feels as if he’s always being left behind and cheated of having adventures. What did you expect?”

“I had my reasons,” Ingwë said quietly.

“And I have no doubt that they seemed good reasons… to you,” Eärendil pointed out. He sighed, shaking his head. “Well, all this is beside the point. Ingwion, for what it’s worth, I think eventually you’ll get to Endórë sooner rather than later. I don’t think the Valar will allow family history to get in the way of your taking command of the Vanyarin host, as you should have done during the War of Wrath rather than Intarion.”

“Well, we’re getting away from the topic under discussion,” Arafinwë said, hoping to divert the anger and frustration that could be seen in both Ingwë and his son. “What exactly is our ultimate goal with this Council? What do we hope to accomplish?”

“We need to convince our people that there is still hope,” Olwë answered. “We need to show them that all is not lost, that it is right to marry and have children added unto them.”

“Yet, how?” Ingwë demanded. “I do not really think that showing them pictures of the wedding or the ‘ultrasound’ will convince anyone, and trying to show them to everyone is highly impractical, indeed impossible.”

“It is a pity we could not return with, what was it they called it? A vid-something,” Olwë said. “You know what I mean. The moving pictures.”

“Yes, I do,” Ingwë said with a nod. “Unfortunately, we do not have anything like it and even if we did we do not have any means to show it.”

“What if we did have the technology, though?” Arafinwë asked.

“What do you mean?” Ingwë asked.

“It’s just that I’ve had my smiths and loremasters working on creating the technology we will need if we are to be equal with the Mortals in that respect. Our technology differs vastly from theirs, but there are commonalities that can be exploited. As Olwë pointed out, we do need to set up some line of communication between us and Wiseman that doesn’t involve Eärendil ferrying couriers or Maiar being sent. My people are looking into it as we speak. Unfortunately, they’ve only just begun and there is little to report as to their progress, but our people need to know this.”

“If I may make a suggestion,” Celeborn interjected, speaking for the first time.

“Of course,” Ingwë said with a nod.

“By all means, show them the wedding pictures and the ‘ultrasound’, speak to them about the efforts you are making toward upgrading our technology, but I think we need to stress Falmaron’s expedition and what they found more.”

Everyone but Galadriel and Eärendil gave him surprised looks. “Why, though?” Falmaron asked. “Do not mistake me. I think our expedition was important. We need new horizons, new challenges, but only a handful of people even care.”

“Exactly,” Celeborn said, “and they will care even less for what news we bring of Endórë, but the eastern continent is within our grasp. We do not need the Valar to open up a dimensional barrier for us to reach it. I propose that as part of our war effort we institute a massive relocation program to the eastern continent. Send the younger generations to colonize it. Tell them that they have so many years to not only set up settlements but to double their population.”

“They will not go there voluntarily, though,” Ingwë rightly pointed out.

Celeborn nodded. “No, they will not, which means we will have to force them to go. Make it part of the war effort. Tell them that we need to double our population within a certain time period because we’re going to need all the warriors we can get for the upcoming war. And that’s no lie. As it stands now, we are woefully undermanned. We need to increase our population because when the war begins we will be at a disadvantage in that respect.”

“So how do we get them to go?” Arafinwë asked. “Do we have our guards take people into custody and throw them into the hold of Olwë’s or Círdan’s ships and just send them with little more than a blessing and a wave farewell?”

“A lottery,” Galadriel said. “We have a lottery and those who win it are the lucky ones who get to colonize the eastern continent.” She gave them a thin smile and others snorted in amusement.

“It sounds though as if we’re going to have to force them at the point of a sword however we do it,” Ingwë said. “People are not going to voluntarily get on the ships and leave the only home they know for the unknown.”

“True, and it will seem harsh and draconian to many, but we leaders need to show them that it can no longer be business as usual,” Celeborn said. “We cannot force them to have hope, but we can force them to fend for themselves, to survive or not and if we have the Valar on our side, particularly Lord Námo, then it might just work.”

“Why Lord Námo?” Sador asked.

Celeborn gave them a wicked look. “If the Lord of Mandos lets it be known that anyone who ends up dying out of carelessness or foolishness will get no sympathy from him and he will be very, very unhappy to see their sorry fëar cluttering up his halls, then, maybe, just maybe, those who are sent will take things seriously and strive to survive as best they can.”

They all looked at one another, each attempting to gauge the thoughts of the others. Finally, Ingwë said, “I think we need to speak about this some more and plan our strategy. Celeborn, I have the feeling you and your wife have been discussing this between you at length. Perhaps you two along with Falmaron and Beren can cobble up some sort of presentation for the Council. We need to have all the rulers on board with us if we’re going to make it work.”

“Do you think force colonization will do it though?” Olwë asked.

Ingwë shrugged. “I don’t know, but I do know this: we must take drastic measures or we are doomed as a race and when the time comes I do not wish to tell our people in Endórë and their Mortal allies that they are on their own because we are too sunk in despair to care.”

There were nods of agreement all around.

“Galadriel and I have some ideas,” Celeborn said. “Let us speak with Falmaron and Beren and we’ll let you know.”

Ingwë nodded. “Then, for now, let us adjourn and we will gather again on Isilya to flesh out our agenda. The others will be arriving soon. I will speak with Lord Manwë about having a ball on the evening before we convene the Council. Until then, my lords and ladies.”

He stood and all rose as well, giving Ingwë as Ingaran their obeisance. Once he left with Ingwion, the others separated with Arafinwë and Olwë deciding they wished to visit the Laughing Vala and Eärendil joined them, while Elwing and Helyanwë decided to visit one of the nearby markets under suitable escort. Falmaron and Beren joined Celeborn and Galadriel and together they strolled through the gardens attached to the townhouse while the once Lord of the Golden Wood outlined his ideas about colonizing the eastern continent. None of them were aware of an invisible Eönwë following them, listening to their conversation.

****

Words are Quenya:

Nato, nés’ anameldanya, mé: ‘Yes [emphatic], my most beloved/dearest sister, we [stressed exclusive, thus not including Helyanwë]’. The _-a_ in Nésa ‘sister’ has been assimilated.

Yéni: Plural of yén: an elven century, technically, 144 solar years.

Valanya: ‘Powers-day’, i.e. Friday, considered the ‘Sabbath-day’ among the Eldar of Aman. In 2012, the summer solstice fell on a Wednesday, or Menelya ‘Heaven-day’ as it was known to the Elves.

Anaralcar: Sun-glory.

Valdanna: Worthy-gift.

Isilya: Moon-day; our Monday.

Note on names: Turucáno = Turgon; Elwë = Elu Thingol; Sairon = Daeron.

The Council Continues

The next day, being Valanya, the elven High-day when no business was transacted, was a day of rest and the Council met again the day after, on Elenya, about three hours after dawn. Ingwë sat looking out upon the tiered seating where the delegates waited for the session to begin. He recalled the conversation with Lord Manwë and Lady Varda and what had been decided between them with Falmaron giving them suggestions as to how to bring up the Council of the Reborn and their agenda.

“For you know that they helped sponsor my expeditions,” he told them as they ate, “not only to explore and map Valinor, but also to seek out and begin mapping the eastern continent and I know from speaking with Eärendil that there are at least two other continents that we have not yet reached.”

So now the moment of truth had arrived and they would see whether he, as High King over all the Elves, had the ability to inspire his fellow rulers to join him in implementing their plan. Ingwë glanced at Arafinwë on his right, who gave him a supporting nod, and then Olwë on his left, who smiled at him. Then he took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he banged his gavel to get everyone’s attention.

“We adjourned the other day without giving you the opportunity to ask us questions about our trip to Endórë. You have all had the opportunity to think about what we told you and I know that some of you have spoken to others who went with us about their own experiences.” He glanced briefly to where Thranduil sat with Elu Thingol and Celeborn. The two kings both looked troubled while Celeborn just looked bored. Galadriel, sitting on his other side had a very smug look to her and Ingwë wondered what all that was about. Nothing good, he was sure.

Laelir of Garth Laegeldrim raised his hand and Ingwë acknowledged him. The Reborn Nando stood and gave the High Kings a bow of respect. “My lords, we are aware that while several people who accompanied you to Endórë remained behind, there was one who went with Lord Findaráto who returned. My fellow delegates and I are curious as to why Lady Helyanwë did not remain in Wiseman.”

He sat down and there was an air of expectancy among the delegates, almost as if they were waiting for something bad to happen. Ingwë glanced to where Helyanwë sat between Sador and Alassiel and gave her an encouraging smile. “Would you like to address the Council, Lady Helyanwë?”

Helyanwë nodded, looking reluctant and resigned at the same time. Alassiel squeezed her hand and Sador gave her a kiss of benediction before she rose and walked to stand in front of the dais and faced the delegates. For a moment she just stood there and cleared her throat a couple of times before she spoke. “My anatar, Prince Sador, asked me to accompany Prince Findaráto because Aran Gil-galad would not release him from his duties and my brother, Beren, was not even in Valinor but exploring the eastern continent. I did not wish to go, but I knew my duty.”

She paused for a moment as if gathering her thoughts together. “It was very strange and frightening. I did not feel at home even though I was surrounded by fellow Elves. The Mortals… I cannot adequately describe what I felt upon meeting them for the first time. They were nothing like I imagined them to be and they did not hold us in awe.”

“Were they supposed to?” Maglor asked, frowning. “I spent ages wandering the coasts of Endórë and interacted with the Mortals who lived there. Some knew who and what I was. They may have been a little in awe of me, at least at first, but I did not demand that of them. Most treated me fairly as they would treat any of their neighbors, others were less than kind.” He shrugged. “Did you expect them to fall at your feet and worship you, my dear?” He gave her a gentle leer to show he was not being serious.

Helyanwë blushed. “I did not know what to expect and on top of that there was the question of leadership. Prince Findaráto, by virtue of his station, should have automatically become the leader of us all, but those of Wiseman did not see it that way, deferring to Lord Glorfindel instead.”

“Which only makes sense,” Celeborn interjected. “Findaráto, for all his talents, would have known little of the ways of the Mortals of this day, while Glorfindel would be more than cognizant. From what I saw, Findaráto and Glorfindel appeared to work well together.”

“But some of us did not feel that should be the case,” Helyanwë said softly, not looking at anyone. Then she seemed to gather herself together and continued in a more forceful manner. “At any rate, various incidents occurred that forced Findaráto and Glorfindel to resolve the situation once and for all.” She paused for a moment. “I was not happy. I missed my family and my friends. I had no particular talents or skills that could be useful to those living in Wiseman. I felt superfluous and unneeded. Yet, I would have done what I could to fit in, to help out. It was only when Their Majesties appeared unexpectedly for the wedding that I realized that I no longer wished to remain in Endórë and when others petitioned to remain behind, I asked to be allowed to return.”

Before anyone could comment, Sador rose and addressed the chamber. “I regret that my granddaughter did not have a welcoming experience in Endórë, which only says that not everyone is cut out to go there. I knew that Helyanwë probably was not the right person to go, but I wanted someone to represent my family since I was forbidden to go myself and her brothers were unavailable.” He glanced to where Gil-galad sat and the king had the grace to look abashed, though he did not go so far as to offer an apology. “At any rate,” Sador continued after a moment, “I am very proud of my granddaughter for going and while the experience was not what I had hoped for her, I am assured that she has no regrets and learned from it.”

“Thank you, Lady Helyanwë,” Ingwë said and the elleth bowed and returned to her seat. “We kings are well aware of what happened and why and we have every confidence that whatever problems our people were having in the beginning have been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Now, what we of this Council must decide is where do we go from here? We have told you how it stands with our people in Wiseman and what they are doing and what they hope to accomplish. It is up to us here to decide what we will do.”

“But before we do, my lords, you have not said anything regarding my son and daughter-in-law,” Aran Amdir said as he stood.

“That is because I think the news should come from you, Amdir,” Ingwë said, “but let me first explain to our fellow delegates what you are about to show them.”

Amdir nodded and resumed his seat as Ingwë addressed them all. “As you know, Amdir’s son, Amroth, and his wife, Nimrodel, are expecting. When the news was first brought to us and we shared it with the people, I was disappointed in the response or lack thereof and the many, shall we say, less than polite words spoken.”

“Frankly, I was appalled and embarrassed,” Arafinwë interjected, “and I wish to formally tender my apologies on behalf of us all to Aran Amdir and Tári Ivoniel. I am sure you are very proud of your son as well you should be.”

“For a very long time we had no news, did not even know if he lived or resided in Mandos,” Amdir said, squeezing Ivoniel’s hand. “When Lord Námo came to us a few years back, we feared the worst, but he assured us that not only was our son alive but he was happily reunited with the love of his life. And then when we learned that they were expecting children, our grandchildren, our joy knew no bounds, but we were confused by the negative reactions of others, for children have always been precious to us and to denigrate another’s good fortune in having children added to their house was troubling.”

“Yes, it was, and it points to the fact that our people have sunk so low in despair that we no longer rejoice in the good fortune of others,” Ingwë said. “At any rate, while we were in Endórë, we learned something quite unexpected. Amdir, if you would.” He gestured and Amdir stood and approached the dais, handed the manila envelope to Ingwë but did not return to his seat. Ingwë stared at the envelope for a moment before speaking again. “What I am about to show you is an example of Mortal technology. More to the point, this technology revealed something that our own healers who now reside in Wiseman never suspected.” He opened the envelope and pulled out the ultrasound picture. “You will all have an opportunity to look at this closely. You need direct sunlight to see it. What I have here is a picture showing Lady Nimrodel’s womb and the children within it.”

Murmurs of shock and surprise ran through the chamber and it was a couple of minutes before Ingwë could get them to calm down. “Yes. It is the Mortal version of scanning, except they do it with machines. This technique, which in their language is called ‘ultrasound’, perhaps best translated as orlamma, is commonplace and every pregnant Woman undergoes it. Lady Nimrodel submitted to it as a matter of course.”

“And what does this picture show that we did not already know?” Aran Lórindol asked politely. “We know they are expecting twins.”

“And in that you would be incorrect,” Ingwë retorted. “They are not expecting twins, but triplets.”

Immediately, the entire chamber exploded with exclamations of surprise and disbelief. Several delegates even went so far as to rush toward the dais, perhaps with the intent of looking at the ultrasound themselves. They did not get far. Almost immediately, several Maiar appeared, armed with swords of light and towering above even the tallest of the Elves, blocking their approach.

The Elves instantly became statues, goggling at the sight of Eönwë, Manveru, Erunáro and several other warrior Maiar standing there with cold expressions. “Sit down,” Eönwë commanded in a soft voice that nevertheless held steel and the Elves complied, cringing in their seats and looking more like errant elflings than the leaders of their people.

“Ahem.” Ingwë cleared his throat and Eönwë turned to look at him, lifting an eyebrow at the High King’s amused expression. “Much as I appreciate the… ah… assistance, my Lord Eönwë, I think we can handle things without… um… divine intervention, as it were.”

“My apologies, Ingwë Ingaran,” Eönwë said with a slight bow of his head as he returned his sword to its sheath. The other Maiar also sheathed their swords and the level of light around them dimmed to more acceptable levels. “It looked as if you were being rushed and I have my orders from Lord Manwë.”

“Ah, well, you were only doing your duty then. Thank you,” Ingwë said graciously. He glanced at the backs of the other Maiar who remained looking out at the delegates, effectively blocking his view. “Perhaps if you and your fellows could possibly… um….” He made a motion with his hands as if parting something before him and Ingwë had the feeling that the Herald of Manwë was laughing at them or at least at the situation, though his expression remained politely neutral. Without a word, the Maiar all faded from view, leaving behind a myriad of floral scents that lifted their spirits and calmed them.

Ingwë glanced at Arafinwë and Olwë, both of whom shrugged, then looked at Amdir still standing before them blinking slightly.

“So, where were we?” Ingwë asked rhetorically. “Ah, yes. Triplets. Twins are rare, but not all that unusual among us. Triplets on the other hand, that’s something new, isn’t it? And I cannot help wondering if this is a message from Eru for us.”

“What do you mean, Ingwë?” Amdir asked.

“Just that, when we of Aman thought that your son and daughter-in-law were expecting twins, the reaction was rather, shall we say, ho-hum. But triplets? That’s something else again. Frankly, I haven’t seen any of you act so alive in ages, literally.” And the scorn dripping from him was obvious and several people started blushing and not looking at anyone directly. Ingwë let the silence drag out for another minute or two before continuing. “Well, you will all have an opportunity to view the ultrasound later. Right now, we need to discuss certain other matters.” He pushed the picture back into the envelope and handed it to Amdir with a nod. Amdir bowed and returned to his seat.

“As you all know, Lord Falmaron and his crew have recently returned from a mapping expedition of the eastern continent.”

“To what purpose, though?” one of the delegates asked out of turn. “We know it’s similar to the lands of Endórë, though presently uninhabited.”

“Yes, and that’s the point,” Ingwë retorted. “According to Lord Manwë, with whom I spoke last night, we should have been colonizing the eastern continent several thousand years ago.”

There was a general hubbub of surprise at that announcement. “People, please!” Ingwë called out. “Let me continue. Thank you. Now, as I was saying, Lord Falmaron returned recently from his mapping expedition. As long as he is present with us, I think it wise to hear what he has to say about it and the reason for it will become clear in due time. Lord Falmaron.”

Falmaron rose and bowed to the high kings. “Thank you, Your Majesty. I would have Loremaster Beren Castamirion speak of our findings.”

He sat and at Ingwë’s nod Beren rose and addressed them. “As Lord Lindir has pointed out, the eastern continent appears to be similar to Endórë in many respects based on the description that has been given by a number of people familiar with it from times past, but there are also significant differences and I will not bore you with them, for they are not all that germane to this discussion. What I will say is that the land is untouched. What predators we came upon are the usual type that would be found even here in Valinor. The land is fertile, the water plentiful. The areas we have mapped so far are temperate in climate. We stayed through the winter season and found it no harsher than what most of us are used to. In other words, the land is waiting for us.”

“Again, I ask, to what purpose?” Lord Lindir reiterated. “What has the eastern continent to do with us?”

“Everything,” Ingwë said, giving Beren a nod of thanks. The ellon resumed his seat. “With the approval of Lord Manwë we high kings have decided to institute a colonization program. We mean to send people to the eastern continent.”

“But why?” Lindir insisted. “It is not as if Valinor is overcrowded.”

“No, that’s just the point,” Ingwë said tightly, gritting his teeth in frustration at the obstinacy of the ellon. “Our population should have been greater than it is. Oh, we could never hope to equal the Mortals in their fertility, I grant you, but apparently, we should have had a larger population by this time than we do. A war is coming, people, the War. And we Elves are woefully undermanned. We do not have a sufficient number of warriors for what is to come, according to Lord Manwë.”

“Well, we have seven billion potential allies among the Mortals,” Laeglir said with a diffident shrug. “With Elves commanding the armies, there’s no need for more of us. We certainly have sufficient numbers for command.”

Ingwë sat there feeling appalled, not sure how to respond to the Nandorin Speaker. He glanced at Arafinwë and Olwë, both of whom looked as shocked as he felt at the elleth’s casual disdain. Many of the delegates, those whom Ingwë knew had once abided in Endórë and had had dealings with the Mortals, looked equally shocked, he was glad to see, but just as many were nodding their heads in agreement with what Laeglir was proposing.

Before Ingwë could muster up a reply to counter Laeglir’s words, Arafinwë leaned forward, his expression cold. “The Mortals are not ours to command,” he said. “They are our comrades-in-arms and when the time comes we Elves will fight side-by-side with them.”

“You commanded the armies in the War of Wrath,” Lindir pointed out. “What is the difference here?”

“You were there, as I recall, Lord Lindir, fighting beside Gil-galad. You forget, or you choose to ignore the fact that I and Lord Intarion commanded the Host under Lord Eönwë who had the supreme command and the Mortals who joined us fought under their own commanders. Actually, that’s not strictly true. Many of them joined us and fought in units comprised of both Elves and Mortals. Is that not true, Gil-galad?”

The erstwhile king of Lindon nodded. “Indeed. One of my top commanders was a Mortal.”

Arafinwë nodded. “Intarion and I had several Mortals among our captains who sat in council with us and Lord Eönwë as we decided on tactics and the deployment of troops. So, Laeglir, your idea that we Elves will just waltz on over to Endórë and take over the armies of the Mortals is both arrogant and wrong. We are all in this together and unlike us who have lived in peace for the last four or five ages, the Mortals have continued to hone their fighting skills. They certainly do not need us to lead them by the hand. If anything, we might do well to learn from them.”

That last statement met with reactions of disbelief by many, though not all. Ingwë saw Maglor nodding in agreement with Arafinwë, as did Celeborn and, surprisingly, Thranduil. Arafinwë leaned over to whisper to Ingwë and Olwë. “Too bad we don’t have any Mortals to show off. I think most of the delegates definitely are the ‘won’t believe it until we see it’ types.” Both Ingwë and Olwë nodded.

“If it weren’t for the dimensional barrier, we could do just that,” Olwë said. He gave them a wicked grin. “Bring Alex Grant here, lock the chamber and let him loose. These poor bastards wouldn’t know what hit them.” Both Ingwë and Arafinwë snorted in amusement.

Maglor raised his hand just then and Ingwë recognized him. He stood. “I am assuming that you want volunteers to go to the eastern continent and begin colonizing it. How does that help us, though?”

“I am glad you asked that, Lord Maglor,” Ingwë said. “Lord Falmaron. I believe you have something to say to this.”

Falmaron stood and walked down to stand before the dais, facing the other delegates. “It is not enough to just send a few hardy, adventurous souls to the eastern continent, which by the way, we have named Ambaróna. Those who go, go with the intention of bringing forth children. All who go must first be bonded and give oath that they will add children unto them within a specific period of time or be taxed.”

“Are you serious?” someone demanded.

“Very,” Falmaron replied. “And more to the point, that must also be the policy here in Valinor. You who are rulers, must issue an edict ordering all single Elves within your respective realms to be bonded within, say the next five years, or be taxed very heavily and all presently married couples who are capable of bringing forth children must produce at least one child within the same time period or be taxed as well.”

“And you, Ingwë? You approve of this?” Lórindol asked.

Ingwë nodded. “More to the point, the Valar endorse Lord Falmaron’s plan.”

“Lord Falmaron’s, but not yours,” Lórindol shot back.

“Lord Falmaron’s, as a representative of the Council of the Reborn, and mine.”

“The Reborn!” another delegate exclaimed. “Always the Reborn. What gives them the right to dictate policy?”

“In case it’s slipped your mind, my lord,” Falmaron said with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes, “we Reborn outnumber you Once-born and have outnumbered you for quite some time as Mandos has emptied out. I think it was Lord Námo’s not so subtle hint that we needed to increase our population. We of the Reborn Council have watched as you Once-born lost estel and simply gave up. At first we thought to… encourage you to a different course by marrying and bringing forth children ourselves in defiance of current policies but after consulting with the Valar on the subject, we decided to wait and see what would happen. In the meantime, I continued petitioning for the right to mount an expedition to Ambaróna with the intention of finding suitable places for colonization, for we knew that eventually the time would come when such colonization would be needed. Well, that time has come, my lords and ladies. Time and past time. As Lord Manwë told us last night, Ambaróna should’ve been colonized thousands of years ago.”

“This colonization project is effective immediately,” Ingwë said. “We will begin implementing plans to send the first wave of colonists within the next year. Volunteers are welcome, but if necessary we will send them by force.”

Now there was general disapproval from the majority of the delegates who were upset by the unilateral decisions being made, and arguments broke out with many insisting that there be a discussion on the matter first, followed by a vote. Ingwë was attempting to explain that the time for discussion was past and action had to be taken when suddenly there was a flurry of incandescent lights that blinded all of them, alerting them to the imminent appearance of one of the Valar.

When the light dimmed, they all sat in shock, but not at the sight of Lord Námo standing before the dais. That, in itself, did not shock them, long used to seeing even the dread Lord of Mandos come among them on occasion. No. What shocked even the high kings, rooting everyone in their place and making them speechless, was the sight of Lord Námo’s companion.

“Alex?” Ingwë whispered, recognizing the Mortal staring about with unfeigned interest.

Alex Grant turned around at the sound of his name. “Ingwë! This is a dream, right? Please tell me this is a dream.”

Ingwë could only stare at the Mortal, not quite sure how to answer him.

****

Words are Quenya:

Elenya: Star-day.

Valanya: Powers-day.

Orlamma : Literally, ‘above/over-sound’.

Ambaróna: Eastern (land). The place-name is canonical.

“Alex.”

Alex looked up at Námo and gulped. He had never seen the Vala in any guise other than as Nate, who appeared harmless enough in his duster. But here, wherever ‘here’ was, he saw Námo as the very Lord of Mandos that he was in all his dark, chthonic splendor and ‘Nate’ was anything but harmless looking.

“Relax, Child. You’re safe and no harm can come to you.”

“Wh-where am I? How did I get here? Is this—”

“You are in the city of Valmar and this is the All-Aman Council.”

“Valmar! You mean this is Vala-la-land, where no Mortal dares to tread for fear of being incinerated by the Almighty for his cheek? That Vala-la-land?”

Námo nodded and the delegates stirred, many whispering to one another.

“And I’m still alive how?”

The Lord of Mandos smiled. “Because you are here in spirit only. Your physical body is asleep in Fairbanks. And because I have Atar’s permission.”

“Atar’s permission! But not mine? Huh! Typical.” Alex looked down at himself and frowned. He saw that he was wearing the cotton lounge pants and old Led Zepplin T-shirt that he’d slipped into before dinner. His feet were shod in slippers. “I was reading my historical linguistics text,” he said to himself, slapping his face and then staring at his hand. “So, if I’m here in spirit, how come I look and feel solid?”

“Because I will it so,” Námo replied, “otherwise you would appear to everyone as a ghost.”

Alex shook his head as he looked around, spotting the few people he knew from their visit to Wiseman. He suddenly felt conspicuous standing there with all those Elves dressed so formally in silks and satins, staring at him, many of them in disbelief or maybe it was in horror. It was rather hard to tell from their expressions. He turned back to Námo.

“So I’m here why?”

Námo stole a glance at Olwë, his expression one of deep amusement. “Because someone thought it would be a good idea to lock the doors and let you loose on recalcitrant delegates.”

Alex noticed the Lindaran’s mortified expression and raised an eyebrow and gave him a dark look. “Really? I have to warn you, my services don’t come cheaply.”

“I was just jesting,” Olwë protested somewhat weakly. Alex saw Ingwë and Arafinwë nodding vigorously, looking equally mortified, and snorted, his own humor restored somewhat. He looked around, taking in the stunned looks of the delegates, admiring the architecture — like nothing he’d ever seen before — and sizing the situation up.

“Um… can they understand what we’re saying?” he whispered to Námo, nodding toward the delegates. “Because my Sindarin isn’t up to par and my Quenya still sucks.”

Námo chuckled. “Not to worry. My powers allow me to translate for all. Everyone hears what is being said between us in their own language and you will hear everyone speaking in English.”

“Okay. So what now?”

For an answer, Námo turned to the delegates, putting a hand on Alex’s shoulder. “Allow me to make the introductions. For those who do not know him, this is Alex Grant. He is a Mortal from Wiseman and an Elf-friend.”

“I am?” Alex said in surprise. “No one’s said.”

Námo smiled down at him. “Probably because they did not wish to embarrass you.”

“Yeah, right.”

Námo turned back to the delegates. “Alex is also known among the Maiar as Fionwë’s Bane and Manveru and Erunáro of the People of Manwë have declared him their sword-brother.”

“Which is pretty cute, considering I don’t know one end of a sword from the other,” Alex couldn’t help saying, beginning to find the whole situation to be just a little absurd and wishing Derek were there with him; he was feeling decidedly outnumbered.

There was a stir among the Elves and one of them stood, an ellon with dark hair and an imperious look. “For what reason have you brought this…this Mortal before us, my lord?” the ellon demanded, sounding somewhat affronted to Alex’s ears.

“Don’t worry, it isn’t catching,” Alex couldn’t help saying with a sneer before Námo could speak. “Your immortality is safe from me.” Námo squeezed Alex’s shoulder in warning and he gave the Vala a sheepish look in apology.

“My reasons for bringing Alex here are my own,” Námo said in a rather forbidding tone.

Alex blinked, feeling the blood rush from his face, quite forgetting that, as a spirit, he had no blood to speak of, but he was suddenly afraid and his non-existent heart began beating faster. Námo seemed to realize what was happening, for he placed his hand on Alex’s head. “Breathe normally, Child,” he said kindly. “All is well.” Alex felt something pass through him and a sense of calm enveloped him like a warm, fuzzy blanket. He took a deep centering breath and found that he was able to focus again. Námo released him, turning back to the delegates.

“You have a unique opportunity here, Children. Don’t waste it. Alex will not be staying long.”

Alex looked about, wondering just what he was supposed to do. Maybe Námo had brought him here to answer questions about Wiseman or more specifically about Mortals, though he could think of lots of other people who would be better qualified to answer such questions. For the moment, though, no one was asking him anything, many of the delegates speaking low to their neighbors. Perhaps they were all afraid to be the first to ask him a question. He ignored them and walked over to where Helyanwë was sitting between two people he did not know.

“Hey, Helena,” he said in a friendly manner. “How’s it going?”

“I am well, Alex Grant,” she said somewhat stiffly, speaking in English.

“I’d heard you’d gone back home. I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you. These your parents?”

“My great-grandparents, Sador and Alassiel.”

Alex felt his eyebrows leave his forehead. “You’re Loren’s Sador!”

“Loren?” Sador asked in confusion.

“He means Glorfindel, Anatar,” Helyanwë explained. “Loren is Glorfindel’s mortal name, just as Helena is… was mine.”

“Well, I’m pleased to meet you,” Alex said. “Loren was really upset that you didn’t come with Finrod. He’s spoken of you a lot.”

“I am afraid it was not possible for me to leave at that time,” Sador said apologetically, stealing a glance at someone, a dark-haired ellon, sitting nearby, who blushed slightly and looked away.

“So we were told,” Alex said with a nod, putting two-and-two together. “Well, it was nice meeting you,” was all he said, giving Sador a brief bow. “Helena, you take care of yourself, okay?” He didn’t wait for an answer, but headed back to Námo. “So why am I really here and why me?”

Námo smiled and Alex was suddenly afraid again. “Show and tell,” the Vala said.

Without warning, Alex felt a hand on his shoulder and reacted automatically, grabbing the person’s wrist and twisting his body to pull the person over his shoulder. He had a brief second to realize that this must be a Maia, dressed in loose-fitting clothes reminiscent of a gi. He did not recognize him. Before he had time to register any other details two other Maiar simply appeared and attacked ninja style and Alex was suddenly fighting and from the expressions on the Maiar’s faces, he knew this wasn’t a friendly sparring match.

“You have got to be kidding me!” he cried out even as he blocked one Maia’s approach with a kata form while delivering a roundhouse kick to the head and then, pivoting, kicking the other in the chest, sending him crashing into the first tier of seats, forcing delegates to move quickly out of the way. Elves were yelling and he vaguely noticed one, a redhead being held back by two dark-haired ellyn and Alex wondered if the redhead wanted to help him or join in fighting him. Then he dismissed it from his mind as now all three Maiar came at him, their expressions feral.

Suddenly, he was no longer in the council chamber but back in Spain before a fountain where three men had accosted him and the fear he had felt at the time came rushing back like a dark wave drowning him and that was the last conscious thought he had. It was only as he heard someone scream in horror as he twisted a neck in his hold that he came back to himself, blinking rapidly and breathing harshly, his blood pounding in his ears. He found himself holding the body of one of the Maiar, his neck apparently broken. For a second he just stared at what he’d done and then he let the body go and stepped back, feeling suddenly sick and weary and… abused.

“Alex.”

It took him a moment to realize that someone had been calling his name for some time. He tore his gaze from the body at his feet and turned to see Námo gesturing to him. As if in a dream, he stumbled over to the Vala and then he somehow found himself in Námo’s embrace and without conscious thought began to weep, soul-weary as he’d never felt before, feeling bruised and soiled.

“Shh…” Námo said, gently rocking him as he rubbed his back. “Hush, Child.” He felt the Vala bend down and kiss him on the top of his head and a wave of warmth and acceptance and, yes, love, swept through him and with a shuddering sigh he sank into it, allowing it to envelop him. He lost a moment or two of subjective time and when he finally came back to himself, he found himself feeling calm and refreshed, as if he’d slept for a time. He stepped back slightly out of Námo’s embrace to see the Vala smiling warmly at him.

“What was that all about?” he asked plaintively.

For an answer, Námo turned him around in time to see one of the Maiar still standing helping the one whom Alex thought he had killed to stand up, looking no worse for wear. In fact, the Maia was even blushing as his two companions chided him for being so careless as to allow a mere Mortal to best him in such a manner. Alex watched in stunned amazement as all three Maiar approached. He looked up at Námo in confusion.

“But I… I killed him, didn’t I?”

“Yes, and no. The Maiar are not fully incarnate, and even if they were, you would only have forced him to disincarnate for a time before he would be able to clothe himself in fana again.”

“It still hurt, though,” the Maia said with a grin, twisting his neck as if loosening tight muscles. His companions chuckled.

Alex felt himself grow angry. “You bastard!” he snarled at Námo, pushing him away. “Is that why I’m here, as entertainment for the masses? I’m not a damn toy for you to play with, you son of a—!” He felt the blood rush from him and his stomach twist in an uncomfortable way as the enormity of what he’d just done nearly overwhelmed him and there was bile in the back of his throat which he forced back down.

“No, Sword-brother!” he heard one of the Maiar call out and two sets of hands grabbed his arms, holding him back from attacking Námo, so he was unable to move, his breathing ragged as he struggled in their grasp. .One of the Maiar holding him spoke quietly into his ear though the words held no meaning for him, but the very calmness of his tone began to register on Alex’s soul and after a long moment he ceased to struggle and became calmer, but the Maiar did not release him. The third Maia held out a goblet that looked to contain water.

“Here, drink this,” he said solicitously and when his right arm was freed, Alex reached out and took the goblet, drinking gratefully, the clear liquid not water but something else, something that cooled his burning throat and brought him fully to himself so he felt more alive than he’d ever felt. He drained the goblet and gave it back to the Maia with a sigh and all the tension in his body left him. The Maiar holding him let him go and he was able to face Námo calmly.

“I am sorry that I did not warn you earlier of what was to happen, best beloved,” the Vala said softly. “I needed your honest response to the situation for their sakes.” He nodded to the Elves, all of them standing, silent and still, their expressions hard to interpret. Alex saw the red-haired ellon smiling at him and giving him a nod of respect which somehow heartened him. “Let me make the introductions,” Námo continued. “These are Manveru and Erunáro of the People of Manwë and trusted lieutenants of Eönwë.” They were the ones who had kept him from attacking the Vala. Námo turned to the third Maia, the one whose neck Alex thought he had broken. “And this is Aicatirno, one of my People, and one of our deadliest warriors.”

“I’m sorry,” was all Alex could think to say.

The Maia smiled benignly. “Now I know why Fionwë speaks of you with reverence, Alex Grant. Perhaps we should rename you Maianahtar, Maia-Slayer, instead.”

“Please don’t,” Alex pleaded, feeling very embarrassed, and all three Maiar laughed.

Manveru clapped him on the shoulder. “Until next time, Sword-brother,” he said and the three Maiar faded away, leaving behind the fresh scent of balsam and something minty, though Alex could not identify it.

Before anyone could speak or otherwise act, Alex rounded on Námo, feeling angry and abused all over again. “I’ve spent months trying to put my sordid past behind me, trying to live a normal life, and now this. Where do you get off jerking me around like that? What gives you the right? Because you’re some freaking archangel? Well you can just kiss my—”

“Alex!”

Alex glanced over at Ingwë who was moving around the table where he’d been sitting to stand before him, giving him a wide smile and shaking his head in amusement. “You and Glorfindel. You two are so alike.”

“No we’re not,” Alex protested in all honesty. “Glorfindel isn’t… tainted. He’s absolutely pure. Something I’ll never be.”

“Ah, Child. You have nothing to be ashamed of,” Ingwë said sincerely, taking him by the shoulders. “I regret that you were subjected to this, but I think I understand what Lord Námo was hoping to accomplish by bringing you here.”

“And what was that?” Alex asked, giving Námo a sour look.

“To show the worth of Mortals to those who might not believe you are anything more than tools for us to use in the coming war. Some are of the opinion that we Elves are destined to command the armies of the Mortals who side with us, and one does not need too many commanders, does one?”

Alex cast a shrewd look about him, attempting to gauge the mood of the spectators. He returned his attention to Ingwë. “Well, they had better rethink that notion. We Mortals are more than capable of leading ourselves. We don’t need a bunch of jumped-up, pointy-eared yahoos who think they’re God’s gift to the rest of us holding our hands.”

“Oh, well said, Alexgrant!”

Alex glanced to see the red-haired ellon applauding, while the two dark-haired ellyn on either side of him nodded in agreement. The way the ellon had spoken his name, Alex felt that he had made it into a single name. Ingwë grinned. “Maedhros obviously approves,” he said softly.

Alex blinked. “Oh, ah, that’s great, I guess,” he muttered, feeling completely out of his depth, not knowing what else to say. He stared at Maedhros, a sense of awe stealing over him as the import of who the ellon truly was impinged upon him and he felt somewhat faint. Námo seemed to know what he was feeling, for he stepped closer and placed a hand on Alex’s right shoulder, giving it a squeeze, which oddly comforted him in spite of the fact that he was still feeling put upon by the Lord of Mandos.

Then, Ingwë’s seemingly rhetorical question about not needing too many commanders took on a whole different meaning for Alex. “Wait! So you’re saying that this whole population issue you’ve got going here is because people figure you’ll do the commanding while we Mortals do the fighting and dying so there’s no need to increase the population?” He looked up at Námo. “Are they serious?”

“Apparently,” Námo replied neutrally.

“And that… that demonstration? What was that supposed to prove?”

“It was supposed to prove that Mortals have much that they can teach the Firstborn about warfare,” Námo replied. “Unarmed defense at the level that you have learned it is unknown here, for there was never any need to develop it.”

Alex nodded, then glanced out upon the spectators. A few, like Sador and Maedhros, looked upon him with expressions of respect, perhaps even friendship, but a number still looked upon him coolly. He took a few steps forward so they could see him more clearly. “You are the most pathetic bunch of yahoos I have ever met,” he said, his voice dripping with disdain, causing more than one Elf to grimace in disgust at being reprimanded by a Mortal. Alex ignored their reactions as he continued to remonstrate with them. “Get one thing straight: when the time comes, we will not be fighting under you, or before you and certainly not behind you. We will fight with you, side-by-side. So my advice to you is to get down off your high horses, roll up your sleeves and get to work. You have a lot of catching up to do and little time to do it in. We Mortals will do our part, but you have to do yours. And don’t expect the Elves who reside in Wiseman with us to carry the load for you. They’re already doing their part with Amroth and Nimrodel having triplets and Elrohir and Serindë getting married and now Gareth and Nielluin are betrothed—”

He got no further for instantly the chamber erupted into shouts of disbelief and more than one person called out to Celeborn to explain himself. Alex blinked in surprise.

“They don’t know about Nell and Gareth?” he asked Ingwë. “You’ve been back for a month. Why was no announcement made?”

It was Arafinwë who answered, sighing and shaking his head in dismay. “We’d hoped to avoid this very reaction. Nielluin is a… prize catch.”

“Oh? But I thought no one was bothering to marry anymore,” Alex said.

“True,” Arafinwë replied with a nod, “but we were hoping to reverse the trend with Nielluin.”

Alex stared around at the angry expressions as more than one ellon shouted at Celeborn who refused to respond in kind, glaring at them all coldly. Alex turned to Ingwë. “They’re not angry because they weren’t told. They’re angry because they wanted Nell for themselves or for their sons or grandsons, right?”

Ingwë nodded. “So I am assuming.”

Alex actually laughed, the sound of it cutting through the furor of the Elves, silencing them. “And Atar foiled their little dynasty plans by giving Nell and Gareth the whammy when they first met. Sneaky bastard,” Alex said admiringly. “I bet he’s laughing himself silly over it.”

“Something like that,” Námo said, his expression one of mild amusement.

“Well, I’m glad Atar managed to pull a fast one on this lot,” Alex commented. “Gareth’s a great guy and Nell couldn’t do better if she tried.”

“Atar?” someone asked.

“He means Eru,” Námo answered before Alex could reply.

“You speak rather familiarly of Eru Ilúvatar, Mortal,” one of the delegates said, an ellon with silvery hair, similar to Olwë’s, so Alex assumed he was a Teler.

“Well, we Mortals are on a first-name basis with Himself,” Alex retorted, offering them a nonchalant shrug. “Besides, I’ve met Him face-to-face… after I died the second time. We’re old friends.” Which was a slight exaggeration, of course, but the Elves didn’t need to know that. He doubted Námo would contradict him and as Atar didn’t seem inclined to strike him down with a thunderbolt for his temerity, he figured he was safe enough. Stealing a glance at the Vala he saw a glimmer of amusement in his amaranthine eyes. The Elves, on the other hand, just goggled, probably unsure how to react to his statement. He did notice Maedhros grinning widely, obviously amused by his words. One of his dark-haired companions, however, was rolling his eyes, apparently unimpressed with Alex’s boast.

“It is time for you to leave, Alex,” Námo said.

Alex nodded. “I’m still mad at you, you know.”

“I know,” Námo said equably, raising his right hand in benediction. “Farewell, Alex Grant. Until we meet again.”

Before he could respond, Alex felt everything around him fading, the chamber dimming and people apparently receding as if he were being drawn backward down a long tunnel. The last thing he saw and heard of the council chamber was Maedhros standing, giving him a salute. “Farewell, Alexgrant! We will meet again soon, I promise!”

And then everything went black….

****

Alex woke with a start, grabbing the textbook he’d been reading before it slid off his lap and onto the floor.

“Whoa! I need to leave off the anchovies from now on!” he exclaimed to himself, shaking his head, trying to clear it of the cobwebs of sleep. He was alone, sitting in the living room of the apartment he shared with two other men, Chad and Chris, whom Alex thought of as the Bobbsey Twins. Both roomies were out visiting with friends, so Alex had the place to himself for a while longer. He picked up a mug of coffee sitting on the table next to him and took a sip, nearly spitting it out when he realized it had gone cold.

“Gah!” he said in disgust as he got up and went to the kitchenette, dumping the cold coffee down the sink and pouring a fresh mug. “Man, Ron’s gonna have a blessed field day with me when I tell him about my crazy dream.”

He returned to the living room and settled into his chair, picking up his textbook, the memory of what happened already fading as if it was a dream as he concentrated on reading about the Great Vowel Shift in Middle English.

And back in Aman, Ingwë attempted to call the Council to order, but in the end, he dismissed them, declaring that they would resume their discussion on the morrow. Maedhros made an immediate beeline toward Námo who had not left, demanding that he be allowed to leave for Wiseman as soon as possible so that he could “be with my new gwador, Alexgrant, so he can teach me how to fight without a weapon”. Maglor and Denethor attempted to calm him, but he paid them no heed as he continued to importune Námo. Only when Arafinwë took him by the arm, promising to tell him all that he knew about the Mortal did the Reborn firstborn son of Fëanáro allow himself to be led away, much to the relief of Maglor, Denethor and Námo.

****

Aicatirno: (Quenya) ‘Fell Watcher’.


Glorfindel, Finrod, Legolas and the youngsters arrived back in Wiseman late Saturday afternoon just in time for dinner to find that the healers were back from Anchorage, having returned two days before.

“How did it go?” Glorfindel asked Elrohir as they sat down for dinner. Elladan did not return with them but remained in Anchorage, taking a flight to New York City to start looking for a place for him, Elrohir and Serindë to live.

“Well the results won’t be available for several weeks but I think they all passed with flying colors,” Elrohir answered. “Dan and I could tell that the people giving the tests were rather impressed.”

“How did they react to seeing all of you together?” Finrod asked with a knowing smile. “Mortals outside of Wiseman do not believe in Elves after all.”

“Well, as Gwyn or Gareth might say, they were verily gobsmacked,” Elrohir replied with a grin.

The healers who had gone to Anchorage all laughed.

“But once we got down to the business of testing, especially when we were doing the practicals, then they stopped being distracted by our beauty and in the end they were responding to us as they would to anyone,” he assured them. “At any rate, everyone did well and there were no incidents to speak of. So, how was your trip to Fairbanks and Denali? Did you see anything interesting?”

This last was directed at the Three Amigos and Nell.

“Well, we met some college students from Anchorage and rescued them from a bear, or at least Loren and Liam did,” Finda answered in a diffident tone, keeping his gaze on his plate, “and then we fought a monster, or at least the Maiar did.”

You could have heard a pin drop as everyone stared at the younger ellon in disbelief.

“Come again?” Elrohir said somewhat faintly.

Glorfindel gave Finrod a wry smile which his gwador returned. “What my son means,” Finrod explained, “is that while trekking through Denali, we came upon a group of young Mortals beside a… cirque, I believe is the term, a tarn actually.”

Several of those who had been living in Alaska for the last three years and were familiar with its geology nodded in understanding.

“Yes, well, anyway, just as we arrived several things happened almost simultaneously. There were earth tremors, more powerful than usual, powerful enough for us to comment on them. Then a grizzly bear showed up and Loren and Liam were able to convince it to go somewhere else. There was a stronger tremor just about then, and then the tarn exploded as something came out of it, something with many tentacles that grabbed Loren and me and dragged us into the tarn. We would have both died had Manveru, Erunáro and Olórin not appeared and rescued us.”

This last was greeted with stunned silence as everyone stared at him.

“Are you serious?” Daeron asked in a whisper, glancing between Finrod and Glorfindel as if perhaps hoping to catch one of them out, but Glorfindel nodded.

“Very and apparently it was… arranged.”

“Excuse me?” Elrohir exclaimed and others also voiced disbelief.

“Now, gwador, I disagree with you there,” Finrod said mildly. “I think it safer to say that the Valar took advantage of the situation. I suspect that their original intent was for us to rescue the children from the bear, but the Watcher in the Water was something they did not predict.”

“Yet the trees were concerned and I do not think it was about the bear,” Legolas chimed in.

“So you’re saying that something like the Watcher in the Water has been hanging out in a tarn in Denali all this time and no one’s noticed?” Cennanion asked.

“I think the earthquake opened a doorway to another dimension and the Watcher happened to be the first monster to get through,” Elennen answered before anyone else could speak. “Maybe it’s a hellmouth, like in Buffy.”

“Or the Void,” Calandil offered. “Hey! Maybe that’s how Morgoth gets back in.”

“Okay, I think you need to start at the beginning,” Elrohir demanded, glaring equally at Glorfindel and Finrod.

Finrod nodded. “Why don’t you tell them?” he suggested to Glorfindel, who sighed.

“We were camping at the Three Lakes area and had made our way into the next unit over, Riley Creek. At one point we stopped to rest and Liam took the youngsters off to teach them woodlore, but he came back sometime later saying the trees were concerned and they wanted us to go somewhere, so….”

It took a while for him to tell his tale and dinner was virtually forgotten as everyone listened in amazement to the events that unfolded, ending with their encounter with Lord Námo and what followed.

“So it appears we have five new recruits, though they must return to Anchorage and finish their studies first. I promised I would send them information about Elf Academy for next year,” Glorfindel ended.

No one spoke for the longest time as they attempted to grasp the implications of what they had just heard. Finally, Alphwen asked somewhat tentatively, “Do you suppose that’s what sleeps in Winterdark, another Watcher?”

Glorfindel shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine, Alfa. I’m disinclined to go and find out, though. I firmly believe in letting sleeping monsters lie.”

“Well, it certainly puts a whole different spin on the issue, doesn’t it?” Daeron said.

“These five students, what can you tell us about them?” Valandur asked. “What makes them so special that the Valar would go to the trouble of having you meet them in rather unique circumstances?”

“Well, Gary’s a double English and history major and plans to get an M.A. or possibly a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies. Chase is studying Biology with the intent of becoming a marine biologist. Joe’s doing Environmental Studies and hopes to someday join the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and Dani wants to be a lawyer while Micki is studying anthropology and wants to work in a museum. I told them to look up the SCA branch in Anchorage and join. They can begin their training through them.”

“A rather interesting mix of career choices,” Valandur commented, “but I fail to see what makes them so special compared to anyone else.”

“Perhaps it has nothing to do with what they are, but what they are destined to be,” Finrod suggested. “In spite of the strangeness of the situation, in spite of their terror, and they were terrified, they did not panic but attempted to rescue Loren and me, though their efforts were ultimately futile. That says much about their character.”

Valandur nodded. “Well, I look forward to meeting them someday,” he said and then Aldarion asked Legolas to describe exactly what the trees had told him and the evening was spent primarily in analyzing the entire incident with those involved offering their own perspectives. In the end, though, they came to no real conclusions and eventually Glorfindel declared that they were beating a dead horse and he, for one, was tired of it and could they find some other topic of conversation. So, Finrod asked Elrohir when he and Serindë were heading back East.

“We’re almost packed and plan to leave early tomorrow morning,” Elrohir answered. “We hope to be in New York City sometime next weekend. Dan emailed me last night and said he’s found a couple places in Brooklyn that look promising. We still have friends from when we lived there before. You remember Mark and Beverly Jaworski?”

Glorfindel nodded. “Yes. They were very friendly and always willing to lend a hand.”

“Dan’s staying with them for the moment. They have a place just east of Greenpoint. It’s a nice neighborhood, very Polish.”

“Nothing wrong with that,” Glorfindel said with a smile.

“Unless you’re Italian,” Elrohir quipped and Serindë and a few others chuckled.

“Luckily, you’re neither, so you should be fine,” Glorfindel shot back.

Elrohir nodded and then he and Serindë excused themselves to finish packing. Others began to scatter to pursue their own pleasures until Glorfindel found himself alone at the dining table with Finrod and Daeron, the three sitting in companionable silence as they sipped on some white merlot and nibbled on home-baked shortbread.

“I’ve decided to go ahead and have Ron regress me,” Glorfindel said without preamble.

Finrod and Daeron both looked up at that. “Because of what happened in Denali,” Finrod stated.

Glorfindel nodded but Daeron looked confused. “Why would what happened there have anything to do with your dreams that you can’t remember?”

Glorfindel sighed. “I left some details out of my story,” he admitted, not looking at either of them.

“I noticed the omission,” Finrod said mildly, “but did not see any reason to point it out.”

“What happened, then?” Daeron asked.

“I froze,” Glorfindel replied.

“I would have, too,” Daeron said, giving him a solicitous look. “It had to have been a shock and—”

“That’s not why I froze.”

“Oh?”

Glorfindel took a moment to refill his wine glass before answering, never looking up. “It was my dream or at least the monster was in my dream. When it burst out of the tarn, I suddenly remembered. In my dream I was on a bridge somewhere and, just as in Denali, I was wrapped in tentacles and being drawn into the water to drown and I was just as helpless.”

“The same monster?” Daeron asked, giving him a disbelieving look.

“Or at least a close cousin,” Glorfindel retorted, finally looking up. “I need to know what is going on with me, why I’m having these dreams. I had another dream last night.” He looked directly at Finrod when he spoke, almost challenging him.

Finrod nodded. “So I suspected, but as you did not mention it, I did not ask. Do you remember what it was about?”

“Just that that thing was in it and I was drowning.” Glorfindel drank some more wine. “Of course, it could have just been symptomatic of what happened earlier. Not every dream is significant, or as Ron would say, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but I guess you could say that what happened was a wake-up call for me. I froze when I shouldn’t have and all because of some damn dream!”

“Shh, Loren, take it easy,” Daeron said solicitously, reaching out a hand to offer him some comfort. “You’re being too hard on yourself. Now Ron won’t be home until tomorrow night. You can call him then and make an appointment or wait until Monday.”

Glorfindel looked at him in surprise. “Where is he?”

“He and Holly took their sons camping at Wild Lake for a few days. Both boys were feeling antsy and Cani was acting out for some reason so I suggested they take them to the lake and let them run around it a few hundred times or something and get it out of their system. They’ll be back tomorrow night.”

Glorfindel snorted in humor. “I can just see it: one more time around, my sons. But Ada, we’ve already gone around it ninety-nine times. Then once more around makes it an even one hundred. Get moving. Your nana wants to eat dinner before midnight.”

Finrod and Daeron laughed and Glorfindel joined them. When they had calmed down, Glorfindel said. “Well, I guess I’ll have to wait to talk with him then.”

“If you decide to sleep again, tell us and we will guard your dreams,” Finrod said soberly.

“Thanks, but I think I’ll just stay up. I’m not in the mood to sleep anyway.” Glorfindel glanced at Daeron, giving him a rueful look. “Place is going to be awfully quiet with the Twins gone for a whole year.”

Daeron smiled. “I’m sure we’ll get used to it. I’m looking forward to the peace and quiet.”

“Oh, from your lips to the Valar’s ears, my friend,” Glorfindel said in all seriousness.

“Well, one can hope,” Daeron retorted mildly as he took a sip of wine.

They fell silent, each lost in his own thoughts for a time. Finally, Finrod stirred. “Well, you may not wish to sleep, but it was a long and tedious drive and I am feeling somewhat weary from it. If you will excuse me, I think I will go find my wife. I bid you both a pleasant evening.”

“Good night,” Glorfindel and Daeron chimed as Finrod left.

“So, fancy a game of chess?” Daeron suggested.

“Sure,” Glorfindel said and they rose from the table, taking their wine and the bottle with them as they headed for the library where they found the place deserted, for most of the Elves were in the woods enjoying the late spring evening.

****

Daeron insisted that Elrohir and Serindë have breakfast before they left so dawn saw them all enjoying eggs Benedict and Belgian waffles. Amroth and Nimrodel drove over as they were eating and joined them.

“I know you and your parents said your good-byes earlier before they left to go camping,” Amroth said to Serindë, “but here is a hug and kiss from them and your brothers.” And then he gave Elrohir his own hug and kiss.

The mood during breakfast was bittersweet, full of laughter and not a few tears, particularly from the ellith, as people reminisced with Glorfindel gleefully dredging up all the embarrassing peccadillos perpetrated by the Twins, Elrohir in particular, much to the amusement of the others. Elrond chimed in with his own stories and Celebrían regaled them with tales of when the Twins were still elflings.

Eventually, though, the meal ended, the last of the luggage was loaded into the car and the couple drove off. There were many sighs as they watched the car disappear around the corner onto Kodiak and the mood was sober. Elrond and Celebrían, especially, looked morose.

“We’ve just been reunited with them, and now we’ve lost them again,” Celebrían said with a sigh as Elrond wrapped his arms around her and gave her a hug.

“You haven’t lost them, Kelly,” Glorfindel said, deliberately using her mortal name. “They are merely temporarily misplaced. Before you know it, they’ll be back giving us all grief.”

Elrond chuckled. “He’s right, my dear. Now, it’s too lovely a day to stay indoors. Why don’t we take a walk?”

Celebrían nodded. “We’ll see you later then,” Elrond said to Glorfindel and the two headed away arm-in-arm while Glorfindel, Finrod and Daeron returned to the house.

The rest of Sunday passed quietly and slowly, at least for Glorfindel, who found himself stopping every now and then to check his watch, wishing the evening would hurry up so he could call Vorondur and set up an appointment. At the same time, he dreaded having to do so, for the idea of the regression frightened him. Yet, not knowing what his dreams were about frightened him even more. At one point during the day, Finrod, who had been in the library with Amarië where he was teaching her to read English, came into the kitchen to get them glasses of water to find Glorfindel by the sink shaking as if from ague, his forehead clammy with sweat and his eyes too wide.

About the same time, Lindorillë walked in from the garden, stopping in surprise at the sight of Glorfindel. Finrod never hesitated. “My dear, go find Eärnur. I believe he’s in the sunroom,” he ordered as he tried to convince Glorfindel to come away from the sink and sit at the breakfast nook. Lindorillë just nodded and ran up the back stairs. A few minutes later she returned with Eärnur to find Finrod attempting to get Glorfindel to drink some water. Amarië was also there, standing out of the way, having come to see what was taking her husband so long. Finrod looked up as the two came down the stairs.

“I found him like this by the sink, shaking like a leaf,” he explained to Eärnur as he stepped away to give the healer room. “He hasn’t spoken and I’m not sure he even hears me.”

Eärnur nodded as he crouched down before Glorfindel, checking his pulse. “Glorfindel, can you hear me? Loren!”

But Glorfindel either wouldn’t or couldn’t answer. Eärnur stood and placed his hands on Glorfindel’s head, closing his eyes and taking a deep, centering breath. The others felt power welling from him. Finrod automatically placed a hand on the healer’s shoulder to lend him strength, closing his eyes to better concentrate, and then there was a rush of wind and Finrod had the sensation of giant wings brushing against him, enveloping them all, and for a brief second of eternity he felt a sense of well-being and of being loved that surpassed anything he had felt before. He gasped as if someone had thrown cold water over him and he came back to himself to find Eärnur gently speaking to Glorfindel who was no longer shaking and appeared to be cognizant of his surroundings.

“Do you want to tell me what happened?” Eärnur asked solicitously.

“I’m not sure,” Glorfindel said somewhat hesitantly, casting an embarrassed look around the room at the others. “I came in here for something and now I don’t remember for what, and then….” He shrugged, his expression one of puzzlement mingled with a sense of defeat.

Finrod brushed a hand through Glorfindel’s hair. “It’s all right, gwador. We’ll get through this together, I promise.”

“I can’t go on like this, Finrod,” Glorfindel said pleadingly. “I’m turning into an emotional wreck. First the damn dreams, then Helena and then Denali and what else is going to go wrong?”

“Let me call Amroth and see if Vorondur is back yet,” Finrod suggested. “They may have returned earlier than expected.”

Glorfindel just nodded and Finrod went over and picked up the phone, punching in a number, then waited for someone to pick up on the other end. He made a face. “Answering machine,” he muttered to the others and even Glorfindel managed a thin smile at that. “Yes, Ron, this is Finrod. I’m calling for Glorfindel. Call us as soon as you get in. Thank you.” He hung up the phone. “I guess Amroth and Nimrodel are out enjoying the day.”

“As should we all,” Eärnur said. “Loren, why don’t you go out to the woods or perhaps just out to the garden? Take a book with you and some lemonade and just relax. Don’t worry about dreams or the future or anything. I’d be more than happy to keep you company if you don’t want to be alone.”

“You have your own plans,” Glorfindel protested.

“I was just upstairs reading a medical journal Roy gave me. I can easily read it outside as anywhere.”

“Come, Brother,” Finrod said solicitously. “Let’s go into the library and pick out something for you to read. Amarië and I would join you, but we still have to get through the lesson for today first.”

“And it’s our turn to cook,” Amarië chimed in, “so we will be busy with that in another hour or so.”

“It’s okay,” Glorfindel insisted. “I don’t need a whole bunch of mother hens clucking around me.” He sighed, running his hands through his golden locks. “Fine. I’ve got a book in my room that I’m reading. I’ll go get it.” He stood up.

“I’ll go with you,” Eärnur said. “I need to stop at the sunroom and get the journal.”

“Do you even understand what you’re reading?” Glorfindel asked as he and Eärnur headed up the stairs.

“Well, the terminology isn’t the same as what I’m used to and I have to consult a medical dictionary,” Eärnur explained, “but I’m slowly getting the hang of it. Dan and Roy gave us all their back issues to read. All us healers take turns reading a particular article and then we sit down as a group with Kyle or one of the other doctors at the hospital and discuss what we’ve read as a way of furthering our medical education.”

“That’s great,” Glorfindel said. They continued up the stairs. Lindorillë excused herself, saying that she had originally come inside to use the bathroom. Finrod grabbed some glasses and filled them with water and he and Amarië returned to the library. About ten minutes later, Glorfindel and Eärnur came back downstairs, grabbed some lemonade and went out to sit by the fire pit to read, but Eärnur could tell even as he was looking up another medical term of art unfamiliar to him that Glorfindel was just pretending to read and resisted a sigh, wishing Vorondur would hurry up and come home.

****

As it happened, it was nearly seven before Vorondur called, having received Finrod’s message.

“Sorry,” Vorondur said to Glorfindel. “We got a flat tire on the way back. How was Fairbanks and Denali? You okay?”

“No, I’m not,” Glorfindel said. “Something happened during our trip and I’ve decided to go ahead with the regression, but I need to see you and tell you about what happened first.”

“I have a ten o’clock appointment,” Vorondur said and Glorfindel could hear him flipping pages of his desk calendar. “But I’m free after that. Why don’t you come over for lunch and we’ll talk afterwards?”

“I’ll be there,” Glorfindel said, “along with Finrod and Daeron.”

“Not a problem. Anything you want to tell me now?” Vorondur asked.

“Not over the phone,” Glorfindel replied. “Oh, and Amroth should be in on the discussion.”

“I’ll let him know. We’ll see you around noon, okay?”

“Thanks, Ron. I appreciate it.” He hung up and turned to see Finrod and Daeron listening. “And now I just have to get through the rest of the night.”

“Why don’t the two of us go for a nice long run,” Finrod suggested. “I feel a need to stretch my legs.”

Glorfindel raised an eyebrow but then shrugged. “I’ll go change.”

Several minutes later, Daeron stood at the front door watching as Glorfindel and Finrod loped down the drive and then turned left when they passed the gates, disappearing from view. It was well after midnight and the sky was full of stars before they returned to Edhellond, both of them in a better frame of mind.


Just before noon, Glorfindel, Finrod and Daeron showed up at the house on Evergreen to be greeted by Vorondur, who led them into the kitchen where they found Amroth standing at the stove checking the cream of spinach soup and removing what turned out to be a salmon loaf from the oven. They could see fresh-baked honey wheat bread and a bowl of salad greens on the kitchen table waiting to be taken to the dining room which was set for five.

“The ellith are out shopping,” Vorondur explained, “and plan to have lunch at the café and my sons are at Bronwen’s working.”

“How are they doing?” Glorfindel asked. “Daeron said they were feeling antsy. So, did you make them run around the lake a few times to get it out of their system?”

Vorondur and Amroth both laughed. “No,” Vorondur said when he calmed down, “I just had them swim laps. The lake is cold even for us and their… um… ardor cooled off rather quickly. I pretty much wore them out. Now they’re both suitably subdued and willing to listen to what we have to say, including what any Mortal has to say.”

“Ah,” Glorfindel said, understanding what the ellon was saying.

“Shall we?” Amroth said and soon they were sitting down to their meal.

For a time they spoke in generalities, enjoying each other’s company and the food, but eventually, as they were clearing the table and Amroth was putting together some tea for them, Vorondur said, “So what do you want to tell us about Denali?”

“We had a… um… close encounter of the weird kind while we were there,” Glorfindel replied.

Both Vorondur and Amroth raised eyebrows at that as they resettled themselves at the dining table with the tea and homemade peanut butter and white chocolate cookies.

“So tell us,” Amroth said as he poured the tea for everyone.

“By rights, Liam should be here to tell his side of it, but he had to return to work,” Glorfindel began. “Later, if you wish to speak with him about what happened, he said to tell you that he will make himself available at your convenience.”

Vorondur nodded. “Then tell us your side of it and if I or Amroth feel we need to hear Liam’s story then we will.”

“Okay, well, to begin with, everything was going pretty well. The youngsters enjoyed Fairbanks and we had a lovely visit with Gwyn and Gareth and even met up with Alex, who’s doing just fine, by the way. He said to tell you that so far he’s been way too busy with his course to get into any kind of trouble.”

Vorondur and Amroth chuckled at that and Glorfindel continued. “So, we got to Denali and ended up camping at the Three Lakes unit.” He took a moment to explain the park’s geography so that Vorondur and Amroth had an understanding of where they were and then he continued, describing how they had made their way into the Riley Creek unit when they went trekking the next day.

“I have to confess that it’s probably the most relaxed I’d been feeling for a very long time,” Glorfindel said with a sigh, “and then Liam said the trees were concerned and we needed to be somewhere.”

“Where?” Amroth asked.

“It turned out to be a cirque and there was a small tarn there. It took us nearly four hours to reach it,” Glorfindel replied, and then described what they had found there and what happened with the bear. “And that was freaky enough, but then there was another earth tremor, more violent than the others, probably well over six on the Richter scale.”

“There’s been no report of an earthquake of that magnitude hitting Denali,” Amroth protested.

“And no one at the park appeared to notice,” Glorfindel averred with a nod, “but I’m getting ahead of myself.” He described what happened next with the Watcher and the Maiar and both Vorondur and Amroth exclaimed in shock.

“Is what he’s saying true?” Vorondur demanded of Finrod.

Finrod’s eyes narrowed in disapproval. “Do you think my gwador would lie about something like this, child?”

Vorondur had the grace to blush, and Glorfindel suspected it was as much from being addressed by Finrod as ‘child’ as it was from the reprimand itself.

“Forgive me,” the ellon said sincerely, “I was out of line.”

“Hey, I don’t blame you for doubting me, Ron,” Glorfindel said. “Frankly, if I hadn’t been there myself, I’m not sure I would believe me either.”

“Still, I should not have doubted you that way and I apologize,” Vorondur rejoined, “though admittedly, it does sound fantastic, like something out of a sci-fi horror flick.” He gave Glorfindel a searching look. “There’s something about this that you haven’t told us, though, something that has made you change your mind about being regressed.”

Glorfindel nodded, grimacing slightly. “I froze, Ron. I did the one thing I never should have and because of that, I almost died… again, and Finrod almost died… again and Liam and the youngsters and those benighted Mortal children would have died. It was only because of the Maiar that we’re alive to tell you about it.”

No one spoke for a time after that. Glorfindel watched as Vorondur and Amroth exchanged looks that were hard to interpret. Finally, Vorondur leaned forward, his elbows on the table with his hands interlaced and his thumbs under his chin. “Loren, there is no shame in that and what could you have done anyway? You had no weapons.”

“True, but—”

“No, gwador,” Finrod interjected. “Vorondur is correct. You said yourself that it was the shock of seeing a part of your dream come true that made you freeze as you did. That’s understandable and anyone, and I mean anyone, would have reacted similarly.”

“Well, I’m not just anyone, am I?” Glorfindel countered with some heat. “I’m the great balrog-slayer who jumps in where even the Maiar fear to tread. I’m the great protector. That’s my job, my only job, according to some. And what happens? Children, mortal children do what I could not, what I should have done, but I was too damn busy freaking out over some stupid dream and getting myself and you killed.” He stood up abruptly, breathing hard. Amroth, closer to him than Vorondur, rose as well and went to him, taking him into his embrace.

“Hush now,” he murmured as he rubbed Glorfindel’s back. “Stay calm. All is well.”

But it wasn’t and to his everlasting shame, Glorfindel started weeping and Amroth held him tighter. It did not last long but he felt drained after that. Amroth released him, giving him a sympathetic smile. “Sit and have some more tea,” he suggested softly and Glorfindel complied. Amroth poured more tea into Glorfindel’s cup and then sat. Glorfindel took a few sips and put the cup down.

“I think I could use something stronger,” he muttered.

“We all could,” Vorondur said. “Why don’t we remove ourselves to the living room? It’s more comfortable there. I’ve got sherry or if you prefer some wine…”

“Sherry is fine,” Glorfindel said, giving him the ghost of a smile. “Val swears by it.”

Vorondur laughed and the others grinned as they stood up and made their way to the living room, leaving the tea paraphernalia behind with Amroth insisting he would clean things up later. Vorondur excused himself for a moment to get the sherry and Glorfindel went into the bathroom to splash some water on his face. By the time he came out, Vorondur was pouring the sherry for them all. Glorfindel accepted his glass gratefully, taking an appreciative sip and allowing the liqueur to warm him.

“Almost as good as miruvor,” he said and the others nodded in agreement.

“So this Watcher was in your dream as well,” Vorondur said, making it more a statement than a question.

Glorfindel nodded. “That’s why I’ve agreed to the regression. I realized later that part of the reason I froze was because when the Watcher appeared, I was suddenly reminded of my dream and it was the shock of that, rather than the sight of the monster itself, that I think caused me to freeze as I did. Maybe if I’d already been aware of what happened in my dream, it wouldn’t have been so great a shock and I might not have put everyone in danger because of it.”

“And there you go again blaming yourself for what could not have been helped or prevented,” Daeron said, speaking for the first time. “Loren, I, more than anyone here, except possibly Finrod, know what you are capable of. I have seen your power and your might in ways others have not and I’m here to tell you that as powerful as you are, as brave as you are, as insanely impulsive as you are—”

“Hey! I resemble that remark!” Glorfindel protested and the others chuckled at his levity.

Daeron grinned. “What I’m trying to say is that, in the end, you’re just a guy, like the rest of us. You are not a Maia or a Vala. You’re allowed to just be… human, in the broadest sense of that word.”

“Mirroanwë,” Finrod offered, “an incarnate with all our flaws and strengths. You are being too hard on yourself, hanno. No one expects you to have it all together all the time. That’s just impossible.”

“Not to mention arrogant to the extreme,” Vorondur added.

“Yeah, I guess,” Glorfindel said, clearly not convinced by their arguments.

“Your trouble, my friend, is that you’ve come to believe your own press, as they say,” Amroth said with a gentle smile, “and that’s a hazard we who have had lays sung about us face every day. You, me, Finrod, even Daeron to some extent. Ron, here, is the only one of us who has done deeds about which no one knows or cares.”

“And I want to keep it that way,” Vorondur said with a smile and the others chuckled. “So, are you willing to be regressed, Loren?” he asked, giving Glorfindel a considering look. “Do not feel you are being pressured into doing so. I want you to be completely comfortable with the idea or it won’t really work.”

“I can’t go on this way, Ron,” Glorfindel said. “I can’t not know because, what happens the next time, if there is a next time?”

Vorondur nodded. “I agree. I cleared my schedule for this afternoon so if you want to do it, now’s the time.”

Glorfindel nodded. “So where do you—”

“That’s up to you, Loren,” Vorondur said. “We can do it in my office, or even here in the living room which might be more comfortable for you. We can even go over to Edhellond and do it there if you want and you can have whomever you wish to be there with you, assuming they are available, of course.”

“Here is fine,” Glorfindel said. “I have the feeling if we waited until we got back to Edhellond I might chicken out.”

“I doubt that, but okay. You want to do it here in the living room?”

“Yeah, this is fine.”

“Maybe I should leave you then,” Amroth suggested, standing. “You certainly don’t need an audience.”

“No, that’s not a problem, Amroth,” Glorfindel assured him. “I have the feeling you’re going to need to know eventually anyway. That’s why I asked you to join us for lunch.”

“Then, finish your sherry,” Vorondur said. “It should help you relax. Finrod, Darren, let Loren have the couch. He’ll be more comfortable there than in the chair.”

Glorfindel drained the last of the sherry in his glass and removed his shoes as Finrod and Daeron got up from the couch and soon he was lying down with the others standing over him. He looked up at them and grinned. “I feel like I should be holding a candle while you all eulogize me.”

They all chuckled. “Just relax, Loren,” Vorondur said as he drew up a hardback chair and sat beside him, shooing the others to step away a bit, which they did. “Close your eyes and take a few centering breaths…That’s it… Just listen to my voice and nothing else. Keep breathing… in… and out… and in… you’re doing fine, Loren… now I’m going to start counting back from twenty and as I do, you’re going to sink further into relaxation, letting all your worries float away. You will remain aware of everything that is happening and you won’t fall asleep, do you understand?”

Glorfindel just nodded. “Okay, here we go… twenty… nineteen… eighteen…”

The others watched as Vorondur counted down, a hand on Glorfindel’s right wrist, checking the ellon’s pulse. They could see the slow rise and fall of Glorfindel’s chest, his whole body relaxing more and more.

“… ten… I want you to start going back to your dream, Loren. No… there’s nothing to fear… stay calm… you’re safe and nothing can harm you… that’s it… as I continue counting down, you’re going to allow the dream to surface. Imagine yourself sitting in a movie theatre and the movie is about to begin… nine… eight… keep breathing... in… and out… seven…six… five… the lights are dimming and the movie is about to begin… four… three… two… one… where are you, Loren? What do you see?”

For a moment or two, Glorfindel did not respond and the others remained still.

“We’re having a Father’s Day picnic,” Glorfindel suddenly said, speaking just above a whisper.

“That’s good, Loren. Who’s there? Can you describe it?”

“Edhellond… Fionwë… he’s in full armor… he’s warning us to flee for the Enemy is upon us… Gwyn… Gwyn has a plan… Edhellond… it’s in flames but we all got out in time….”

The others listened in rapt horror as the dream unfolded. Glorfindel became upset when describing the deaths of Alex, Felicity and Derek and it took Vorondur a few minutes to calm him down before he continued to tell his dream. At the end, though, as he described the scene with Farrell and then racing across the bridge only to have the Watcher in the Water reach up and drag him down did he become so agitated that Vorondur was forced to bring him out of his suggestive state sooner than he would have liked.

“It’s okay, Loren,” he said soothingly. “I’m going to count up to twenty and as I do, you will let the dream go. It no longer has any power over you. You will remember every detail but it will no longer haunt you… one… two… three….”

Glorfindel ceased to thrash and calmed down as Vorondur continued counting. “…fifteen… you will awaken feeling refreshed and no longer burdened… sixteen… seventeen… start waking up now, Loren… eighteen… nineteen… all the way… and twenty.”

Glorfindel sighed slightly and blinked open his eyes, staring up at the ceiling. Vorondur continued to monitor his pulse and the others remained where they were, waiting for Glorfindel to react.

“Well, crap,” he finally said.

Finrod sniggered and the others grinned. “I’ll go make some coffee,” Amroth suggested. “I’m sure Loren could use a cup. I know I can.”

“How are you feeling?” Vorondur asked as he helped Glorfindel to sit up.

“Well, I guess I’m okay,” Glorfindel responded. “I can’t believe Lord Irmo would send me such a dream, though. What gives with that?”

“I don’t know,” Vorondur said, “except that I got a visit from, not only Lord Námo, but his brother and the Elder King the night after our first session. Lord Irmo admitted that he sent you the dreams for a reason but he did not say why, only that for some reason the dreams were being hijacked — his word — for the purpose of sending you deeper into despair.”

“Well, failing in a quest and letting the enemy get away with stealing the treasure and then getting yourself killed by the monster would do it, I suppose,” Glorfindel retorted. He swung his legs onto the floor and Vorondur got up and moved out of his way so he could stand. “Excuse me for a moment,” he said and headed for the bathroom. He came out several minutes later to find everyone now nursing mugs of coffee. Amroth handed him his own mug, which he accepted with thanks.

“So, what now?” he asked.

“That depends on you, Loren,” Vorondur said. “It was your dream. It’s for you to call the shots.”

“Do you think that knife is what Lord Irmo wanted you to see?” Daeron asked.

“I’m assuming so, since the whole point of the dream seemed to be retrieving a talisman that would help defeat the Enemy,” Glorfindel averred, “but still… it just seems rather a convoluted way of going about it.”

“Perhaps it is the only way the Valar could go about it, gwador,” Finrod said. “Anything more direct might have been noticed.”

“Well, this apparently was noticed, because, according to Ron, the dream was hijacked. I’m wondering now what parts of it weren’t in the original… story, so to speak.”

“I think that’s rather obvious,” Vorondur said and when they all gave him enquiring looks he raised an amused eyebrow. “Children, were you not paying attention? There were two places where the dream apparently went wrong. The ending, of course, but also when Alex, Felicity and Derek died.”

“How can you be sure, though?” Glorfindel asked.

“Because I think Lord Irmo tried to correct it with the appearance of Charles Waverly.”

They contemplated that for a bit. Glorfindel replayed that part of the dream in his mind and nodded. “Yeah, I can see that, but in the end, where does this leave us? I’m no wiser about what I’m supposed to do next than before.”

“Perhaps our next step, or rather your next step, is to speak to Gwyn and Gareth,” Finrod stated. “The dream centers around retrieving the talisman. Whether it truly is a Silmaril embedded in the hilt of the knife or not, it appears to be important enough for Lord Irmo to keep sending you the dream in spite of it being constantly interfered with by the Enemy. We need to find out what those two know.”

Glorfindel scowled. “Damn! And if I’d not been such a jackass about all this, I might have already known about the talisman and I could have asked them when we saw them last week.”

“We can just Skype them,” Amroth suggested.

Glorfindel gave him a jaundiced look. “Except it’s rather hard to knock someone up against a wall and threaten them with mayhem if they don’t come clean via a computer linkup.”

“And do you think you would need to resort to such a thing to get information out of them?” Vorondur asked in amusement.

“With those two? You bet,” Glorfindel shot back.

“They’re planning to come up for the Fourth,” Finrod said. “We can wait until then and ask them.”

“Except time might be of the essence,” Daeron said.

“Probably not,” Amroth countered. “In the dream it was both Father’s Day, which is always the third Sunday of June, and the summer solstice, and if I’m not mistaken, the next time they happen to coincide won’t be for another three years. The next time after that isn’t until twenty-twenty, I believe.”

“And you know this, how?” Glorfindel asked.

Amroth shrugged. “Just one of those things, I guess. The point is, that if Loren’s dream is in any way prophetic, we have at least three years to prepare for it.”

“Yet, can it truly be prophetic if Lord Irmo sent it?” Daeron asked. “Do not all prophecies come from Eru rather than from the Valar?”

“I don’t think I want to get into that kind of theological debate at the moment,” Glorfindel said. “Okay, we’ll wait until they come up for the Fourth. I really think it will be better if I ask them about the talisman in person.”

“And in the meantime? Amroth asked.

“In the meantime, I think we stay calm and keep this to ourselves,” Glorfindel answered. “Ron, I appreciate your help. I’m sorry I waited this long to deal with this.”

“That you’re dealing with it now is all that matters,” Vorondur said. “Do you wish to continue meeting?”

“Yeah, sure. Do I still have to attend the anger management classes though if I do?”

“No, I think we can dispense with them. In fact, I was going to suggest that they are no longer needed, but if anyone wanted to continue meeting either as a group or on a private basis either with me, Max or Sunny, then that would be fine. We’ll wait until those who are still with the rangers get back and I’ll hold a group meeting and let everyone know.”

“Good. Well, I guess we’d better get out of here,” Glorfindel said. “The ellith should be returning soon and I really don’t want to have to deal with awkward questions.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Vorondur said with a smile. “That’s my job. Yes, by all means, go if you feel you must. With Alex gone, I have Fridays at four opened if you want to continue meeting with me, Loren, otherwise, I will sign you off and let Judge Harrison know since, technically speaking, you were attending the anger management classes under a court order, even if not formally so.”

“Thanks,” Glorfindel said, “and thanks for everything, truly.” He stuck out his hand and Vorondur shook it. “Okay. We’re out of here. Thanks for lunch. We’ll see you all later, okay?”

Vorondur and Amroth saw the other three ellyn to the door and waved as they drove off with Finrod at the wheel. Vorondur closed the door and stared at Amroth contemplatively. The ellon stared back.

“Well, that was interesting,” Vorondur finally said.

Amroth smiled. “Go write it up before you forget all the juicy details while I go clean up the kitchen and start dinner. Della and Holly should be home soon and your sons are due back in the next half hour. You have that much time before they are here demanding your attention.”

Vorondur snorted in agreement and without another word, headed for his office, already mentally organizing his thoughts while Amroth, whistling a tune, made for the kitchen, picking up discarded sherry glasses and coffee mugs along the way.

The ride back to Edhellond was done in silence. As usual, Finrod was driving with Daeron riding shotgun. Glorfindel sat in the back with his eyes closed, looking drained. Finrod glanced in the rearview mirror and grimaced at Daeron who only nodded. Once they were home, Glorfindel announced that he was going upstairs and rest.

“Do you wish one of us to guard your dreams, gwador?” Finrod asked.

“No, I don’t think that’s necessary now, thanks,” Glorfindel said as he started to climb the stairs. He stopped at the first landing and looked down, a slight smile on his face. “Of course, if you hear me yelling…”

“We’ll send up one of the ellith to sing you a lullaby and tuck you in,” Daeron said before Finrod could respond, giving them a suggestive smile.

Finrod gave the minstrel a surprised look but Glorfindel just chuckled. “Just so long as it’s the right elleth,” he retorted as he continued up the stairs and disappeared down the hall. Daeron smirked.

“What was that all about?” Finrod asked.

Daeron actually blushed. “Ah, it’s a long story and a rather embarrassing one.”

“Oh? Do tell,” Finrod said, a glint of mischief in his eyes.

“Um, maybe some other time. I… I think I’ll just go out to the flowers… I mean the garden and check on the ellith… er… flowers and see if they need anything… I mean watering… see if they need any watering… or weeding… or something.”

Finrod watched in amusement as Daeron practically ran down the hall, obviously flustered, and vowed to himself to get the story out of Glorfindel somehow. He stood in the foyer somewhat indecisive as to his next move. Normally, he would’ve been at the bookstore at this hour. Checking his watch, though, he saw that Nick would be closing up soon anyway, so there was no point walking over to lend a hand. He could hear someone working in the kitchen and had to assume they were getting dinner together, though it would be several hours yet before they sat down to eat. With a mental shrug he wandered down the hall, figuring he could give whoever was there a hand.

Glorfindel slept almost until dinner time, waking feeling refreshed and rested for the first time in days. He took a shower and dressed in comfortable lounging pants and a T-shirt and went downstairs to see what was going on, following the delectable smell of roasted chicken into the kitchen where he found Cennanion and Alphwen, along with Finrod, Elrond and Celebrían helping. In the dining room he saw Daeron and Melyanna setting up the buffet.

Everyone looked up as he walked in. “Have a nice nap?” Finrod asked.

“Yes, thank you, and no, no nightmares. In fact, I don’t remember any dreams at all.”

“Finrod told us you allowed Vorondur to regress you,” Elrond said carefully. “I am glad he was able to help you.”

“He did and no, I have no intention at this moment of discussing what the dreams were about. Sorry.”

Elrond gave him a surprised look. “Do not apologize, Glorfindel. I am not prying, nor have I importuned either Finrod or Daeron about it. If you wish to tell us, that is your affair, and if not, that is your right. Just know that any one of us will lend a willing ear if you ever need to talk about it.”

“And I appreciate it, truly,” Glorfindel said. “Right now, I’m not in the mood to discuss it. There are aspects of the dream that need additional thought on my part before I can speak of it, but I promise that soon I will sit down with everyone and tell them, because they will need to know anyway. Now, let’s change the subject.”

“So what was all that earlier about elliths and tucking you into bed?” Finrod asked in a diffident manner as he sliced some bread.

Glorfindel raised an eyebrow and stole a glance into the dining room where he saw Daeron blushing and not looking at him. “Sorry, gwador, but I think we’ll pass on that one. Way too embarrassing for everyone.”

“So Daeron said,” Finrod retorted and the look he gave him warned Glorfindel that his gwador was not done with him and eventually he would get the story out of him. Glorfindel returned his look with one of his own that clearly said You can try. Finrod nodded slightly, apparently accepting the challenge.

Glorfindel, seeing the curious looks everyone else directed his way, decided to change the subject as he picked up the salad bowl to take into the dining room. “So, Conan, when are you finally going to take the plunge and ask Alfa to marry you?”

All eyes fell upon the hapless ellon, who blushed and stammered something no one could make out while Alfa just raised an eyebrow at him.

****

The eight ellyn who had gone camping with the Inuit ranger, Harvey Lightfoot, returned the next afternoon, practically fighting one another to be the first to take a hot shower with threats of bodily harm to any who lingered too long. And when the water did go cold before Aldarion, Gilvagor and Mithlas were able to take their showers, they practically burst into tears. Glorfindel, who happened to be home at the time, offered to drive them over to Edhellond-two (after consulting with Ercassë when he called to explain the situation) so they could take a shower and not have to wait for the hot water. Mithlas nearly fell to the floor to kiss Glorfindel’s feet in gratitude. They returned in time for dinner and then those who had not gone camping watched in bemusement as all eight just about fell upon the food like ravening coyotes, as Daeron described it later, demanding seconds and thirds of the spaghetti and meatballs and sausages that was that night’s dinner .

“Thank Eru!” Mithrellas had declared. “It’s easy enough to boil more pasta and there’s plenty of sauce.”

But when Haldir went for a fourth helping, Glorfindel had had enough. “Okay, just who are you people and what did you do with our friends?” he demanded, only half seriously.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d swear they were soft-living Noldor from the way they’ve been carrying on,” Daeron chimed in before anyone else could respond. “Are you sure they’re ranger material?” he asked no one in particular.

“Well, four of them are Noldor and one’s a Vanya,” Glorfindel pointed out in a reasonable tone. “Only Haldir, Mithlas and Beleg are properly Sindar, but you’re right, Darren. They sure don’t act as if they are hardy rangers used to the wilds.”

“Now you know why I became a police officer,” Prince Legolas smirked and more than one of the would-be rangers cast him a dark look.

“So, does Harvey Lightfoot think you’re ranger material?” Glorfindel asked, deciding to divert attention from Legolas.

“Oddly enough, Beleg asked him the very same question,” Aldarion replied.

Everyone looked at Beleg who shrugged. “I remembered what Max Connery said in a recent anger management class about how to treat Mortals who may become our superiors.”

“And what was Harvey’s response?” Glorfindel asked.

“He said he would pray to… to God and ask the angels for guidance before giving his evaluation to Paul.”

“Harvey is a devout Christian, as are most of the Inuit, but he is also an angakkuq, a shaman, something like a priest or minister,” Daeron explained.

“Ed Finlay’s father-in-law, Atanninuaq, holds a similar position in his village,” Glorfindel added. “I’m sure Harvey will give Paul a good report. I’m assuming you all behaved yourselves and did nothing stupid or dangerous.” He glared at Beleg and Edhrahil, the only Reborn among those wishing to become rangers.

“We were the soul of propriety,” Beleg answered with a sniff of disdain. “Just ask anyone, anyone at all.”

Several people chuckled. “Truly, we were all on our best behavior, Glorfindel,” Thandir assured them.

“That’s fine then,” Glorfindel said.

At that point Daeron asked, “So who’s up for dessert?”

No one was surprised when all eight ellyn raised their hands, nor were they surprised when, after dinner, the same ellyn decided to call it an early night and elected to sleep in their own beds rather than haunt the woods as most of them tended to do when the weather was fair.

“All that soft living in Aman really did them in, didn’t it?” Barahir was heard to mutter to Cennanion and Gilvegil when they gathered in the library after bidding the other ellyn good night, the three laughing softly.

****

The rest of the week passed more or less quietly. Sunday was Father’s Day and, after consulting with Daeron and getting his opinion, Glorfindel announced that there would be a clambake at Edhellond, though just for the Elves. At the same time, Erestor and Lindorillë had their grand opening of the Elf Emporium that very weekend. Melyanna and Brethorn had elected to work with them and a number of Mortals were hired as well.

“Just in time, too,” one of their customers exclaimed at the check-out. “Father’s Day isn’t Father’s Day without a new tie, right kids?” Her two pre-teens nodded vigorously in agreement. The mother and cashier, one of the Mortals who’d been hired, exchanged knowing smiles.

All the Elves showed up for the grand opening to congratulate Erestor and Lindorillë and it seemed half the town came as well.

“More than half, I’d say,” Gilvegil opined as he, Cennanion, Alphwen and Eirien strolled down the aisles, admiring the displays. The store was crowded but the Mortals behaved themselves, obviously intimidated by the presence of all the Elves who appeared to be policing the aisles, though in truth, they were merely wandering about like everyone else and some even went so far as to make their own purchases.

At any rate, the opening was declared a success, though Erestor warned that the proof of success would be how many people shopped there once the newness and novelty of a store run by Elves wore off, but Daeron thought that most people would be shopping there for their clothes. “Just wait until August,” he said. “Have a back-to-school sale and they’ll be there buying up your stock. Keep in mind the various holidays and seasons and plan your sales around them. Your most important sales day will be Black Friday. I would suggest you talk with other store owners and get their advice on things.”

Of course, then Daeron had to explain just what Black Friday was and its importance for retail businesses. “You were probably unaware of the phenomenon last November because we were all busy putting Finrod’s court together for that evening.”

Sunday dawned fair and the day promised to be warm and summery. “A good sign,” Mithrellas said as she and Celebrían were in the garden checking on the flowers. The picnic was scheduled for around two. The fire pit was stacked with wood and the menu set: barbecued chicken, steamed clams and salt potatoes along with a couple of salads and chocolate cream pie for dessert.

Around ten, the phone rang. Glorfindel happened to be in the kitchen when it did and answered it.

“Dan! How are you?” he exclaimed when he heard who was on the other end. “Have Roy and Sarah arrived yet?… Great… No, we’re just having a picnic later on… What about you?… Ah, well good luck with that… Yes, hang on, he’s around here somewhere.” He turned to see Eirien walking in. “Daisy, go find Elrond, will you? His sons are on the line.”

Eirien smiled. “I think he and Celebrían are outside working on the front garden,” she said and went back down the hall. A few minutes later Elrond showed up with Celebrían. “Did they arrive safely?” he asked Glorfindel anxiously. Glorfindel held out the phone and Elrond took it somewhat gingerly, still not used to it, remembering to put the receiver to his ear the right way and not shout into it but to speak normally. “Hello?… Elladan?! My love it’s Elladan… Yes, and Elrohir! But how are you both speaking at the same time?… Oh, how amazing… What?… Oh, thank you.” He looked at his wife with tears in his eyes. “They called to wish me happy father’s day,” he said huskily, his throat tight with emotion. Celebrían just smiled at him, clinging to his arm. “Here… you should speak to your nana.” He handed the phone to her and for another minute or so, their son visited with their mother. She was laughing and crying at the same time. Elrond held her gently and Glorfindel stood nearby watching them both fondly.

“Don’t hang up, Elrond,” he said, “I need to speak with them.”

Elrond nodded and when Celebrían finally finished speaking with them, Elrond took the phone back. “Glorfindel wishes to speak with you, my sons. Your nana and I wish all three of you were here, but we’re very proud of you. Elrohir, give Serindë a kiss from both of us. I love you, my sons… here is Glorfindel.”

He handed the phone to Glorfindel and then he and Celebrían stood there and hugged one another, heedless of their tears. Glorfindel smiled lovingly at them as he spoke into the phone. “Hi, yeah, it’s me… Look, I wanted to let you know that I had Ron regress me to find out what my dreams have been about… yeah, they’re pretty weird. Roy, you and Sarah are planning to go to the Adirondacks soon, aren’t you? … What part of the park?… Whiteface…. Oh, I will be sure to tell Amroth that. I’m sure he’ll get a kick out of knowing you’re going to visit Santa’s Workshop.” He chuckled, giving Elrond and Celebrían a merry look and a wink, though neither really understood why. He continued speaking into the phone.

“Do me a favor, okay? …When you get there, look up the following for me and take pictures. You have pen and paper handy?… Okay, in Saranac Lake, see if you can find the Grant Building on Broadway Street… Yes, that’s it… then head toward Wilmington and check out the High Falls Gorge. In particular, see if there’s a tree growing out of the cliff that has a trunk that is bent in a way that you can sit on it, like you were sitting in a swing. It will be just before you come to a bridge… humor me, son… okay and then go on to Wilmington and see if you can find a road called Owls Fly Way… yeah, that’s right. It should be on your way toward Jay. I think it’s a private road so don’t bother going down it, just take a photo of the street sign… No, I really don’t know if it’s there or not. That’s why I’m asking you to take pictures. Email me when you have them… No, I’ll explain later, after I’ve seen the pictures, and listen, you two be careful… yeah, yeah, that’s me in Captain-of-Imladris-mode… What? … Oh, thanks… yes, me too… Bye.”

He hung up the phone, his expression contemplative. Elrond, having listened to the one-sided conversation, gave him a considering look. “You seek confirmation for your dreams,” he said.

Glorfindel nodded. “Yes. I need to know if I dreamt true or not.”

“Would you not know, though?” Celebrían asked.

“Usually, but in this case, as I’ve never been to the Adirondacks I do not know if my mind simply made these details up or not.”

“So what did our sons say to you at the end?” Celebrían asked, giving him a loving smile.

“What makes you think they said anything, dear lady?” Glorfindel responded with his own smile.

“Because I saw the look on your face and I know they said something to you that you were not expecting.”

Glorfindel nodded. “They wished me a happy father’s day and said… they said that they love me. I don’t know why. I mean, they already have their father…” At that point, he broke down and found himself weeping, too overwhelmed by emotions that he had held in check until now. Celebrían hugged him and Elrond rubbed his back, but it was several minutes before he calmed down, apologizing for breaking down that way.

“There is no need to apologize, Glorfindel,” Elrond said warmly. “Celebrían and I will always be grateful that you were there for our sons when we could not be. As far as we’re concerned, you’re family and will always be so. Now, come outside with us and give us your opinion about what we’ve done with that ridiculous statue of Eönwë. Honestly, I thought Mithrandir was vain at times, but the Herald of Manwë takes the prize.”

In spite of himself, Glorfindel laughed and shortly the three were outside admiring the garden and the statue of ‘Angel Eönwë’, as Daeron called it, which was its centerpiece.

Vorondur and his family arrived along with Amroth and Nimrodel around one. Dar and Cani immediately gravitated to the Three Amigos, demanding to hear about their trip to Fairbanks and Denali. The five ellyn were seen walking across the field to the woods deep in conversation.

Vorondur, Glorfindel and Finrod watched them go.

“So, how are they doing?” Glorfindel asked Vorondur.

“I think they’re beginning to settle in,” Vorondur replied. “I’ve arranged for the daughter of one of our neighbors to come in the evenings and tutor them in English and history.” He gave them a wide smile. “Brittany is all of seventeen and stands about this high.” He held his right hand up palm down to about chest level. “As young as she is, though, you would swear she was older even than Dar, never mind Cani, the way she comports herself. Her father admits that she’s very mature for her age, almost too mature for her own good, as he puts it. She’s also super smart and already has a full ride at Berkley when she graduates next year.”

“What do your sons think of her?” Finrod asked.

Vorondur laughed. “They’re absolutely terrified of her. I don’t think they’ve ever encountered anyone like Brittany before. She’s not impressed by them at all, nor is she in awe. ‘Pointed ears or not, they’re still just boys’ she told me with all the disdain that only a teenaged girl on the brink of womanhood can muster.”

Glorfindel and Finrod both laughed.

“Roy called, he and Sarah, to wish me a happy father’s day,” Vorondur then said.

Glorfindel nodded. “He and Dan called here as well to speak with Elrond. I asked Roy when he and Sarah go to the Adirondacks next week to take some pictures for me.”

Vorondur gave him a considering look. “Roy asked me if I thought he should.”

“Indeed? And what did you tell him?”

Vorondur raised an eyebrow at the almost belligerent tone. “I told him that I was not his nanny but his father-in-law and he should not be running to me for permission to do anything where you or anyone else was concerned.”

“Hmm… and how did he take that?” Glorfindel asked.

Vorondur’s smile was cold. “Well, he wasn’t happy, but he got the message.”

Glorfindel shook his head. “Sometimes I wonder if they will ever grow up.”

 “Welcome to our world, gwador,” Finrod said as he and Vorondur laughed. About then, Amarië came looking for her husband and Vorondur asked her if she had decided on a mortal name yet.

“I am debating between Amanda and Mara,” she told him. “What do you think?”

Vorondur smiled. “My dear, what I or anyone else think about it is of no consequence. You must ask yourself which name pleases you more and how comfortable are you in having people, Mortals especially, address you by that name. Be sure in your own mind and the rest of us will accept your choice as the right one for you.”

“And I’ve told her the same thing, more or less,” Finrod said, giving his wife a fond kiss on the forehead. “I will accept whatever name she chooses, but I refuse to choose for her.”

“Which is only right,” Glorfindel said and he excused himself to go check on the kitchen detail to make sure everything was running smoothly.

Later, as everyone gathered in the clearing to eat, Glorfindel showed up with a large shopping bag and began handing out long thin boxes to several ellyn, all of them fathers. “Happy Father’s Day,” he said to each and every one of them, while the others all looked on with various degrees of bemusement. When Vorondur opened his box he laughed out loud, holding up a tie.

“Just what I need, another useless piece of wardrobe accessory,” he said and then his sons demanded to know what a tie was and how it was worn and why and Vorondur spent a couple of minutes explaining it to them.

In the meantime, the other ellyn were also commenting on the ties they’d been given, the ones from Valinor unsure why they were even getting them. “But why a tie?” Valandur asked in curiosity. Glorfindel just shrugged. “Tradition,” was his only answer. Amroth, when Glorfindel handed him a box, insisted that he didn’t deserve a Father’s Day gift yet, but everyone equally insisted that he certainly did.

“The children may not be born yet, but you are certainly a daddy,” Glorfindel said, “so wear your tie with pride.”

“Only if I’m truly desperate or depraved,” Amroth shot back. “This tie is ugly.”

“They’re all ugly,” Glorfindel rejoined with a smirk. “That’s the point.”

The original Wiseman Elves all chuckled while the Valinóreans just shook their heads.

“I don’t know,” Finrod said in all seriousness, holding his tie in front of him. It was blue with a floral pattern in shades of red, yellow and green in an impressionistic style. “This would actually go well with my suit.”

“Which you have yet to wear,” Glorfindel pointed out.

Finrod shrugged. “Haven’t had the occasion to do so, but you insisted on my buying it.”

“Because every man should have at least one suit hanging in his closet. Trust me. There will be times when you will need to don it, such as for when Nicole and Tim are married or when someone dies and you attend the wake or funeral. It’s inevitable.”

“Well, thank you for your thoughtfulness, gwador. Even if done in jest, it still was good of you to go to the trouble.”

Others uttered their own thanks. Findalaurë then gave his atar a small gift and Calandil and Elennen gave gifts to Laurendil and Valandur, respectively.

“You may not be my atar but you have been one to me here,” Elennen explained when Valandur pointed out that he was not related to the ellon even by blood.

Dar and Cani became upset at the thought that they hadn’t gotten gifts for their father, but Vorondur gave them both a hug and a kiss. “You’re gift enough, my sons, more than you can ever truly comprehend,” he assured them. “Now, dry those tears. This is supposed to be a celebration, after all.”

“So tomorrow is the beginning of Elf Camp,” Daeron said then. “Everything is set and ready to go. Both sessions are filled up, so I think we’ll have lots of fun with the children running us ragged.”

“That’s what children do,” Vorondur said with a smile.

“Well, I said I’d like to help out this year,” Glorfindel said. “Let me know what I can do.”

“We have a boffer tournament set up,” Daeron said. “Perhaps you can help out with that. We need volunteers who are willing to die… all for a good cause, of course.”

Glorfindel raised an eyebrow. “Oh? Well, been there, done that, bought the T-shirt. Just sign me up.” And everyone laughed.

When they calmed down, Glorfindel nodded at Finrod who nodded back before stepping forward. “Speaking of which, there is something I would like to say.” Everyone gave him their attention. “Recently, an incident occurred that, save for the intervention of Lord Námo, could well have ended in tragedy, but thankfully, one whom we all hold dear was not required to make the ultimate sacrifice. Glorfindel and I have spoken about this between us and we have come to an agreement as to how we would like to honor Daeron for his bravery and willingness to put himself into harm’s way for the sake of another.”

All eyes fell upon the ellon, who stood there rooted to the spot, looking suddenly pale. Gilvagor, who happened to be standing next to him, took his elbow to steady him. “So what did you decide to do?” the warrior asked.

For an answer, Finrod pulled a bag out of his pants pocket and, untying it, poured out some silver beads, along with pearls and what looked like black opals and moonstones, though no one there thought they could be real.

“Warrior braids?” Gilvagor asked in surprise, holding onto Daeron tighter when that ellon looked to flee. Laurendil came up on Daeron’s other side to help steady him. “Where did you find the proper gems?”

“Unfortunately, in this day, it is almost impossible to find the proper stones,” Finrod admitted. “These are manufactured, but they will have to do for now. My question to you is, do you agree that Daeron of Doriath deserves to be brought into our Warrior Society?”

“Yea!” came the reply from all the Elves present, even those who were not themselves warriors.

“No!” Daeron practically shouted, the lone dissenting voice. “Are you all mad? I’m no more a warrior than I’m the King of Siam. This is crazy!”

“No, Daeron, this is right.”

Everyone turned with a gasp to see Eönwë standing at the entrance to the clearing in full battle regalia. In his hand he held a long, thin wooden box of nessamelda wood. The Maia addressed Finrod. “I figured you would need this, so I brought it with me.” He opened the box and they all saw a gleaming knife made of silver and mithril.

“That’s the sereg-e-hereg I forged in Lórien!” Finrod exclaimed in surprise.

Eönwë moved into the clearing and handed the box to Finrod who accepted it gladly. “Thank you. We were going to use a knife Glorfindel has had in his possession for centuries, but this is better.”

The Maia nodded, then glanced at Daeron whose expression was bleak as he struggled in Gilvagor’s and Laurendil’s hold. “Daeron, listen to me,” he said gently as he took the minstrel by the shoulders. Gilvagor and Laurendil stepped away to give the Maia room.

“This is insane,” Daeron whispered harshly, almost angrily. “I am not a warrior. I have no intention of being one, even for the Dagor Dagorath.”

Eönwë raised an eyebrow. “Truly? And what do you see yourself doing while the rest of us are fighting and dying around you?”

Daeron blushed, refusing to make eye contact. Eönwë brushed a hand through Daeron’s hair. “There are many ways of being a warrior,” he said musingly, almost as if speaking to himself. “You showed that when you took the bullet for another, as I believe Mortals would say these days. You may not see yourself as a warrior, but how we perceive ourselves and how others see us do not necessarily coincide. I think you should trust the judgment of those of us who are warriors. We know a fellow warrior when we see one.”

With that he stepped back, giving Finrod and Glorfindel a sideways glance. “I’ll let you do the honors.”

“Should you not do it, my lord?” Finrod asked respectfully. “You are, after all, the oldest warrior among us by far.”

“Actually, Manwë is the oldest,” Eönwë said with a smile, “but this ceremony is of your devising. You, of course, would not know it, but many of the Maiar who fought in the War of Wrath adopted warrior braids for themselves to better blend in with you Children, but none of them underwent the blooding. That is strictly for incarnates. So, you will conduct the ceremony and I will stand witness to it for the benefit of those, like Olwë, who will want to know how Daeron fares.”

“And I have no say in this at all?” Daeron demanded hotly.

“Of course you do, Daeron,” Glorfindel said briskly. “You can say ‘le hannon’. Finrod, you take the right side and I’ll take the left.” And with that he pulled out his own bag of beads and stepped to Daeron’s side while Finrod did the same, handing the box with the knife to Amarië to hold. Gilvagor and Laurendil silently came to stand behind Daeron to prevent him from fleeing, but the ellon just stood there shaking his head, glaring at Eönwë who watched with clinical amusement. Finrod handed his bag to Laurendil to hold as he began braiding the right side and Glorfindel had Gilvagor hold his bag of beads and gemstones as he worked on the left side.

“Stop fidgeting, Darren,” Finrod ordered sharply in English. “Honestly, you’re worse than a two-year-old.”

That set everyone laughing. Daeron went still and suffered Finrod and Glorfindel to braid his hair. When the braiding was finished, Finrod turned to Amarië and took the knife out of the box. Without a word, Glorfindel held out his right hand and Finrod neatly sliced the palm so that a thin bead of blood welled. Glorfindel never flinched. Then Finrod flipped the knife into his left hand and did the same to his own right hand. Both warriors then placed their bleeding hands on the braids they had just done and wiped the blood from their hands onto the braids, staining both hair and gems.

“Sereg e-maethor af finnil e-maethor,” Finrod intoned and Glorfindel echoed him, speaking the words in Quenya: “Sercë ohtar’ ohtaro findin.”

“Maethor onnen, gwador onen,” Finrod then said and Glorfindel again echoed him in Quenya. “Ohtar ontaina, otorno antaina.”

“Onnen ah onen,” every warrior there intoned.

“Ontaina ar antaina,” Eönwë echoed, giving Daeron a glad look even as he handed strips of cloth to Finrod and Glorfindel to wrap around their palms.

Daeron just stood there, tears streaming heedlessly down his cheeks as each warrior, beginning with Finrod and Glorfindel came and gave him the three kisses of a warrior, first on each eyelid and then on the lips. Dar and Cani gave exclamations of surprise when Vorondur stepped up to offer his own kisses to Daeron and when he returned to stand with them and Ercassë, they gave him wondering looks which he ignored. The last to give Daeron the three kisses was Eönwë himself. The Maia looked upon him with grave compassion.

“I know you feel unworthy of this honor and indeed every warrior here will tell you that they felt the same way when it was their turn, but trust me when I say that no one deserves this honor more than you. You are an inspiration even to the Ainur. Believe this.” He then kissed the minstrel on the top of his head in benediction and turned to speak with Finrod.

“You should keep the knife handy. I think in time you will initiate others into the society. You might even consider designing a ceremony with Mortals in mind. None of them are likely to let their hair grow long in the hope that someday they might wear warrior braids, but there are some who are even now worthy of the accolade.”

Finrod nodded. “The thought had crossed my mind as we were doing this.”

There was a pause as people wondered what they should be doing next. Daeron grimaced as he fingered one of his braids, now sticky with drying blood. “I will not wait until tomorrow’s sundown to wash my hair,” he said firmly. “I have Elf Camp to run tomorrow and the last thing I need is to have to explain to parents why I’m walking around with blood in my hair.”

“Well, you can always say you’re practicing for when you’re dying in the boffer tournament,” Glorfindel offered in a bland tone.

Others sniggered at that as Daeron cast him a sour look. “Keep it up and you’ll be the only one dying in the tournament, over and over and over….”

Glorfindel sniffed in disdain, clearly unimpressed by the ellon’s threats. “Promises, promises.”

“All right you two, don’t make me come over there,” Elrond said warningly from where he and Celebrían were standing and now everyone else was laughing.

“So, who’s up for dessert?” Mithrellas asked, deciding it was time to change the subject to something less fraught with emotion.

Everyone practically goggled when Eönwë was the first with his hand raised. “What!” he exclaimed with feigned surprise. “I like chocolate cream pie as much as the next Maia.”

“Fine, but Daeron gets the first slice,” Glorfindel said, giving the Maia a stern look.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” the Maia said as he gave Daeron a wink. Daeron raised an eyebrow but when Eirien handed him a generous slice of the pie he didn’t refuse it and soon they were all enjoying dessert.

****

Words are Sindarin unless otherwise noted:

Nessamelda: (Quenya) ‘Nessa-beloved’, the name of a type of tree, mentioned in Unfinished Tales.

Sereg-e-hereg: Blood-knife, forged from silver and mithril. It was made for the sole purpose of ‘blooding’ the new warrior with the blood from the two oldest warriors present. Traditionally, the new warrior would not wash the blood out of his hair until the following sunset.

Le hannon: ‘Thank you’.

Sereg e-maethor af finnil e-maethor: “Warrior’s blood for warrior’s braids”. The Quenya translates the same way.

Maethor onnen, gwador onen: “A warrior is born, a (sworn) brother is given”. The Quenya translates the same way.

Onnen ah onen: “Born and given”. The Quenya translates the same way.

As they were waiting for their slices of pie, Dar and Cani importuned their adar, demanding to know how it was that he was part of the Warrior Society.

“You never told us,” Dar said accusingly.

“It was not relevant,” Vorondur replied calmly. “When you were alive, we were living among people who barely had the concept of warfare except for the occasional skirmish against one or two of the neighboring tribes and you may recall that our very presence among them kept the tribes quiescent, especially after what I did to them the first time one of the tribes attacked our village. This was when you were still a baby so you wouldn’t remember. Now Cani and I fought in a couple of the wars between the Greeks and Persians, but there was nothing like our Warrior Society among the Greeks. We simply showed up for the battle as did everyone else.”

The two brothers gave their adar wondering looks. “What did you do… when the village was attacked?” Dar asked. “I remember how respectful, even fearful, everyone was of you and that the headman, Tangaroa, always consulted you whenever there was a problem that needed to be solved.”

“What I did is also immaterial,” Vorondur replied firmly. “Suffice to say that I put the fear of God in them, to borrow a phrase common among the Mortals of this day. Now, eat your pie.”

Nielluin, in the meantime, was importuning Finrod with her own questions. “What about Gary and Gwyn? They’re warriors. Shouldn’t they be initiated into the Warrior Society? Maybe we can have a blooding ceremony for them when they come for the Fourth of July.”

Finrod smiled upon his niece. “Child, I doubt if either one would see the point.”

“But they’re warriors! They should be initiated. Everyone else is!”

“Not everyone, my dear,” Amarië said with a light laugh, taking the elleth’s arm and leading her away, giving Finrod a knowing smile which he returned. “Your Gary, as you call him, is indeed a warrior, as is his brother. Anyone with eyes can see that, but neither one grew up in an elven society so they have no expectations about our customs.”

“It’s just not fair though,” Nielluin protested.

“Well, perhaps when they come up to visit your uncle will ask them if they wish to join. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled by the invitation.”

“Do you think so, Aunt?” Nielluin asked hopefully.

“Of that I have no doubt. Now have some pie.”

Glorfindel and Daeron were speaking to Eönwë as the three stood eating their pie. “Are you really eating that or just pretending?” Glorfindel couldn’t help asking as he watched the Maia apparently enjoying the dessert, even going so far as to praise the cooks.

Daeron looked a little shocked at Glorfindel’s question, but Eönwë gave him a wide smile. “You’re forgetting what every Mortal child of high school age knows, Glorfindel, that all matter is energy and I am pure energy. What you see here is merely a mask that I don for your benefit, and while I am not fully incarnate, I can still experience the universe through the five physical senses to which you mirroanwi are limited. So, yes, I am indeed enjoying this delicious pie and yes, it is being consumed and converted into pure energy on which I draw sustenance.”

“So how many senses do you have?” Daeron asked in curiosity.

“In my natural form?” Eönwë asked and when Daeron nodded he shrugged. “It’s rather hard to describe as you have no frame of reference. You incarnates gather information about the world around you and within you through your senses, your brain interpreting what your eyes, ears, nose, tongue and other parts of your body tell you and that information comes to you in discrete parts, I suppose you could say. For instance, your eyes provide information that your ears do not and vice versa.” Both ellyn nodded in understanding.

“At any rate,” Eönwë continued, “your brain, which is truly a marvel, is capable of taking the different bits of information from your various sense organs, synthesizing them into a coherent whole, and you experience the universe around you as a whole. With us, when we are in our natural forms, all that information comes to us at once without any mediation. In my natural form, I really do not have eyes as such. I do not have to turn around, for instance, to see what is behind me because there is no ‘behind’ or ‘front’ for me. I ‘see’ the universe in a panoramic, three-hundred-sixty-degree manner and my mind is able to process all that information without me going insane.” He gave them a bright smile as the two just stared at him in wonder.

“But when you’re incarnate?” Glorfindel finally asked.

“Then we are limited in the same manner as you are,” Eönwë answered, “and let me tell you that for us, it is like you putting blinkers on your head so you can only see what’s immediately before you and stuffing your ears with cotton so every sound is muffled and donning thick gloves so you can’t feel anything.”

“That has to be… frightening,” Daeron said faintly.

Eönwë shrugged. “Which is why most of us prefer to remain disincarnate or just manifesting a fana that is solid enough to interact with you, as I am doing now, but what you are seeing is merely a small fraction of my actual being. The rest of me is… larger.”

“How large?” Glorfindel couldn’t help asking.

Eönwë gave him an amused look. “Large enough.” He handed him his now empty plate. “Great pie. Thanks. Well, I must be off.” He gave them a deep sigh of regret which they knew was feigned. “Places to go, people to annoy. You know how it is.”

Both ellyn laughed. “Oh, yes, indeed,” Daeron said. Eönwë gave them a brief bow and then he simply wasn’t there. The two incarnates sighed almost as one, staring at the spot where the Maia had been.

“Why do I always feel slightly bereft whenever any of them leave?” Daeron asked, looking troubled.

Glorfindel gave him a hug and a brief kiss on the forehead. “Perhaps it is because while they are in our presence we are that much closer to the Source of all our being. They bring with them an ancient light from before the first star ever to blaze in the heavens.”

Daeron gave him a surprised look. “We’re getting rather philosophical in our old age, aren’t we?”

“You wish,” Glorfindel retorted and the minstrel laughed.

****

Monday morning, bright and early, the Elves who were volunteering their time to help out at Elf Camp were at Elf Academy to welcome the children who arrived around eight with their parents. True to his word, Daeron had washed his hair and refused to rebraid it, saying that, since none of the other ellyn braided their hair, he shouldn’t have to either. No one argued with him about it.

It took about an hour to get through the registration and assigning the children to various classrooms which had been transformed with tables and chairs suitable for each age group where they were given instructions on a variety of subjects, from Sindarin to sword-making, though all weapons were boffer weapons for safety reasons. There were even more traditional arts-and-crafts, such as finger painting for the little ones and working with clay or papier-mâché for the older children.

Nor were the Elves the only instructors. There were several Mortals, mostly teachers or stay-at-home moms, helping out as well. The program was highly structured with everyone knowing what they would be doing at all times. Lunch was served in the cafeteria and afterwards, the little ones were escorted to the physical education building where they donned foam-rubber helmets and armor and wielded their newly made swords with the Elves teaching them simple moves. Glorfindel helped out there, calmly and patiently giving the children instructions and even the most restless of them paid strict attention to him. The other adults could tell that the children were in absolute awe of him and hung on his every word. A boffer tournament was planned for the last day of the camp, but until then, the children were given instructions on proper use of weapons and tournament etiquette.

Older children were given lessons in woodcraft with the Elves taking them into the woods bordering the college. Daeron had devised a scavenger hunt that they would go on at the end of the week that would involve them having to use what they’d been taught about tracking and such in order to find the clues and the prize.

Nielluin helped out as well, putting into practice all which that she had learned in her classes and she proved a big help to Daeron, keeping things organized. Daeron actually did very little. Even a month after the shooting he was still feeling weak, though he was improving every day. His healers warned him not to overtax himself.

“I know you’ve been looking forward to this,” Vardamir told him, “but we don’t need you collapsing in the middle of it all and frightening the children, now do we?”

So Daeron acquiesced and contented himself with wandering the halls and slipping into classrooms now and then and observing the controlled chaos that children of all ages seemed to engender whatever their activities. He especially loved being around the youngest and when he stepped into their classroom, which was being run by Eirien and a Mortal kindergarten teacher named Claire Bettinger, the children all stopped what they were doing and swarmed around him begging him for a story. He gave the two women an apologetic look. Eirien just smiled knowingly and offered him a chair while Claire chivvied the children to sit quietly on the colorful mats that had been brought in for the children’s use. Daeron waited for a few minutes until they were all settled before speaking.

“So, what story would you like to hear?” he asked.

“I wanna hear about a printheth,” one little moppet lisped, her two front teeth missing.

“A dragon,” one of the little boys declared and all the other little boys and even some of the girls nodded.

“Ah, well, let me see what I can come up with, shall we?” Daeron said with a fond smile and at the enthusiastic nods of the children he began. “Well, once upon a time in a far-away land called Beleriand there lived a beautiful princess named Lúthien….”

Afterwards, while the kindergarten teacher was handing out the children’s midmorning snack of orange juice and muffins, Eirien said to Daeron, “An interesting mix of truth and fantasy.”

Daeron shrugged. “They don’t need to know that, not yet at any rate. For them, they just want to be told stories where good conquers evil and dragons are put in their place. It is how they learn to take control over their world. Fairy tales tell them what they already suspect, that dragons (both literal and metaphorical ones) are for real, but they also teach them that dragons are not to be feared but dealt with in a proper manner. The problem, of course, is that the adults have all forgotten that fairy tales were not originally written for the children but for them, which is why most have forgotten how to slay the dragons in their lives.”

Eirien nodded and Claire, who had overheard the conversation, had a wondering look. Daeron excused himself then and continued on his way, deciding to check in with one of the older groups being run by Cennanion and Alphwen where he found the youngsters busy learning the fine art of calligraphy and illumination, copying out a text in Sindarin on sheets of vellum and illustrating it. When he read the text, he raised an eyebrow in disbelief and gave Cennanion an enquiring look.

“Are you trying to embarrass me, mellon nín?” he asked softly.

Cennanion shrugged and smiled. “Alphwen picked out the text,” he said in defense.

“That’s right, blame me,” the elleth said with a sniff. “Actually, I asked Finrod and he was the one to suggest this section of the Lay of Leithian where Beren stumbles upon you and Lúthien.”

“Not one of my finer moments,” Daeron said sadly.

“Hey, we all screw up,” Cennanion protested, “and, in the end, things turned out well enough, didn’t it?”

“How do you figure that?” Daeron demanded.

The ellon shrugged. “You’re here, aren’t you? I don’t think this place would run half as well as it does without you, to tell you the truth. You have a real gift.”

“Thank you,” Daeron said with all humility. Alphwen gave him a hug and he left them to continue with the class, staying just long enough to admire the children’s handiwork and praising them for their efforts. When he left, he made his way to his office where he sat for the longest time, thinking about all the mistakes of the past he had made and wondering what his life might be like now if he hadn’t done what he did.

“More than likely, I would have died in Doriath,” he said to himself. “I’m not sure if that wouldn’t have been better.” Then he sighed deeply and glancing at the clock realized he needed to get back to monitoring the halls. It was almost time for lunch and he had already warned the others that he would call each class separately to the cafeteria starting with the youngest.

Putting aside his morose feelings he left the office, running into Melyanna who had come searching for him. She had been helping out in one of the classes and had worried when Daeron hadn’t shown up as he had promised to check on how she was getting on with her class of ten-year-olds. She had left the Mortal teacher who was helping her to handle the class while she went to find Daeron.

“Are you all right, my love?” she asked with some concern.

“I am now,” he responded with a smile, taking her into his embrace and they exchanged kisses. “Come, help me with the lunch detail. We’ll let the little ones get settled in their own corner first before we allow the older students to invade the cafeteria.”

She chuckled and they made their way to the first classroom arm-in-arm.

****

By the end of the first day, all the Elves who had helped out with Elf Camp were exhausted.

“You weren’t kidding about those children running us ragged,” Glorfindel declared to Daeron as he sat down to dinner. “And this is only the first day!”

“It gets better, I promise,” Daeron said with a smile. “Do you still want to pursue a career in childcare, Nielluin?”

“Oh yes!” the elleth exclaimed. “Now more than ever.”

Finrod smiled at his niece in approval. “I am glad to hear it,” he said, then turned to Glorfindel. “Do you feel ready to begin training? I think we both need to start getting back into it. I met Jud von Frank earlier when he stopped at the bookstore and he told me that the SCA group is coming along nicely, but they have no one to teach them sword fighting, though a number of people have decided to do fencing instead. As it is, there’s no one to act as a marshal and that is something for which they need to be certified. I told him I would talk to you about it.”

Glorfindel nodded. “We need to speak to Gwyn and Gareth about that, find out what the procedures are for being marshals and perhaps getting some specs for the armor. As I recall, there was a wide variety of armor types rather than a single style when we witnessed that demo in Fairbanks. Apparently fighters wear the type of armor their persona would have typically worn in the day. We need to find out what the rules are. We can certainly help with the making of armor and swords and any other weapons. That wouldn’t be a problem. Now as for you and me, well, I have no objections. I’m healed enough and so are you. We’d best get started before we both grow soft and flabby.”

Everyone chuckled at that. “I doubt that will ever happen, gwador,” Finrod said. “Very well, perhaps we can arrange something in the evenings. Can we borrow one of the gyms for our own workouts, do you think?”

“I don’t see a problem with that,” Glorfindel said. “I’ll check with the college admin and see what is available. Now that it’s summer, there won’t be evening classes anyway and no sports so the phys. ed. building should be free for our use. But let’s wait until Elf Camp is done with.”

“Fine by me,” Finrod said.

“What about the rest of us?” Barahir asked. “If you are training, we should as well.” Several of the other ellyn nodded.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Glorfindel promised and they had to content themselves with that.

The rest of the week went by quickly enough and, as Daeron promised, it did get better. By midweek the Elves were thoroughly enjoying themselves with the children who responded in kind, joining in the activities planned for them with great enthusiasm. Saturday would be the last day of camp and there were only two planned activities: the boffer tournament and the scavenger hunt in the morning followed by a cookout. The parents of the campers joined them to cheer on the youngsters.

Glorfindel, along with several of the other ellyn donned light armor and took turns fighting and dying as the little ones attacked with great enthusiasm if not with any measure of skill or finesse. There was much laughter and cheering among the spectators and it was obvious that everyone was enjoying themselves.

While the tournament was going on, the older children were happily hunting for clues in the scavenger hunt, moving through the woods in teams, nor had the Elves made it easy for them. Some of them even participated, acting as one of the clues, for the children had to find them as they hid in the woods and they had to ask the right questions, always in Sindarin, before they were offered the necessary clues. Even the trees became involved in the game as the Elves had them randomly block the way the children could go, forcing them to go in other directions, but they were very careful to keep track of all the children, making sure that none became unduly lost or frightened. In the end, the children exited the woods in triumph with a team of two girls and a boy having found the ‘treasure’ which turned out to be a bag of commemorative gold coins, enough so each child attending the camp could have one. The coins were stamped in Sindarin with the words ‘Elf Camp’ and the year.

“Not real gold,” Daeron assured one of the parents during the cookout, “and you will see that it has a small hole so you can string it for Lisa to wear.” He smiled fondly at the twelve-year-old who was happily munching on a hot dog while she and her friends rehashed the fun they had had in finding and figuring out the clues.

Later, when the last Mortal had left and the Elves were cleaning up, Glorfindel said to Daeron, “That was certainly a lot of fun and a lot of work. I can understand why you’re taking a two-week break between sessions.”

“Do you think you will want to help out in the next session?” Daeron asked.

“I’ll have to see how things are going. Even if I’m not able to help out during the week, I will make it a point to be there for the last day and help out with the boffer tournament.” He flashed Daeron a bright smile. “I enjoyed myself very much and I didn’t mind dying over and over again, either.”

Daeron chuckled. “I’m glad to hear it, mellon nîn, very glad indeed.”

On the Monday following Elf Camp, Glorfindel looked up George Stillman to ask him about using the facilities at the phys. ed. building.

“How’s Janey?” Glorfindel asked solicitously when he entered Stillman’s office.

“She’s doing better,” Stillman answered somewhat stiffly. “They released her about two weeks ago. She’s undergoing rehab. Doctor’s think she’ll be able to return to school with no problem. That Elf, the Twins’ father, he’s been around to help with her therapy.” He paused, looking embarrassed. “I didn’t want him or any of you near her, but my wife—” He gave Glorfindel a helpless shrug.

Glorfindel smiled benignly. “It has been my experience down the long ages that men tend to live longer if they allow their wives to rule over them where their children are concerned instead of the other way around.”

Stillman nodded. “Yeah, I know what you mean. Anyway, what did you want to see me about?”

Glorfindel explained. Stillman frowned. “This whole Dagor Dagorath thing is nonsense. How do we even know if what you say is true? I’ve never really gotten behind this whole Elf business, not the way Richard was.”

“Richard was very special,” Glorfindel said quietly.

Stillman gave him a shrewd look and sighed. “Yeah. That he was. There are days when I sit here and I say to myself, ‘Damn that bastard for dying when he did. He had no right to leave me with this unholy mess we’re all in’.”

Glorfindel gave him a concerned look. “What mess are we talking about? Except for Elf Academy, we Elves have very little contact with the rest of the college.”

The Man ran a hand through his thinning hair. “I’ve been getting a lot of flak from the trustees about the athletic field being… um… borrowed.” He gave Glorfindel a knowing look.

“And I can appreciate that, but no one at Edhellond had anything to do with that. That was strictly something that the Maiar decided on. Frankly, it would’ve been better if they had simply set up behind our estate. There would’ve been plenty of room and no one would’ve been importuned by them.”

“Yes, well, all that aside, the damage, as they say, has been done,” Stillman said impatiently. “As if I had any say in the matter. I had to actually hear about it from campus security.”

“And again, I apologize, but George, what’s done is done and I noticed that the athletic field was not only put back the way it was before the kings showed up but even improved upon at no cost to the college so frankly no one has any cause for complaint, including the trustees.”

The Man gave him a mirthless grin. “Easy enough for you to say, but I’m the one getting the business.”

“Well, you might point out to these people that in the end, none of this matters.” He waved his hand about to encompass the office and presumably the college as a whole.

“How can you say that?” Stillman demanded.

“George, I have seen whole civilizations crumble into dust. They come and they go. Usually one civilization builds on the bones of a previous one. Whether the Dagor Dagorath occurs next week or a millennium from now, the end result will be the same. Wiseman will eventually cease to exist. That’s just the way of things. The trustees are being petty for the sake of being petty because they feel that they have no control over matters, and, on one level they don’t, none of us do. On the other hand, they do have some control over you and the other administrators and they are exercising it. Your job is to point out to them that acts of God are outside your purview and if the Almighty manifests His wishes in the form of the Valar and Maiar, there is precious little you can do about it.”

Stillman sat for a moment staring out the window contemplating Glorfindel’s words. Glorfindel stayed quiet, preternaturally patient. Finally Stillman looked at him and his smile was sly and rueful at the same time. “Would you like to tell them that?”

Glorfindel barked a laugh. “Sure, George. I’d be happy to, but I doubt they would enjoy the experience. I’m more likely to chuck them out the window as not.”

Stillman chuckled. “You and me both. Okay, back to business. When did you want to use the gyms? Now that we’re in summer session, we leave the building open during the day for the students’ use, but since there are no games scheduled, we close up around six and nothing is opened on the weekend.”

“Well, we’re still working out the details. I need to get everyone’s schedule and see what works for the most of us. We’re not in any particular hurry. Let me get back to you later this week and I’ll let you know, but I suspect that possibly we would want at least a couple of nights available. I know, I know, that means someone in campus security has to be on hand to let us in and you’ll want someone from janitorial as well and that means overtime. Tell you what, we will make sure everything is washed down and put to rights after we’re done and as for campus security, they just need to come and unlock the building for us and stop in again later to relock it. There’s always someone on duty anyway, so that shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Okay. Get back to me when you can and I’ll see what I can do.”

Glorfindel stood up and the two shook hands. Just as he got to the door, Stillman said, “I still wouldn’t mind having you explain the facts of life to the trustees, you know. Coming from you, they might actually listen.”

Glorfindel stopped and gave him a brilliant smile. “I might let Finrod play with them. I may be a balrog-slayer, but he’s a king and he’s way scarier than I can ever be.”

“I really find that hard to believe,” Stillman said with a jaundiced look. “But frankly, you all scare the hell out of me. Until you arrived my world, as crazy as it is, was at least… safe. Now….”

Glorfindel came back around the desk to face Stillman, putting his hands on the Man’s shoulders in a friendly manner, his demeanor grave. “George, let me tell you a little secret. The world has never been safe. The difference between now and before is that now the blinders are off and you are seeing the truth behind the veil that most people erect to hide themselves behind from what is really going on. What should frighten you more than knowing the truth is how complacent you were about reality before the veil was ripped from your eyes. Most people will die never knowing the truth and will only learn of it afterwards. You should be grateful that you have been given the chance to learn it before you die. Trust me when I say that few Mortals are ever granted that particular blessing.”

“Blessing?” Stillman echoed in disbelief.

Glorfindel stepped back with a nod and the quirk of an eyebrow. “It may not seem so to you at the moment, but if you think about it for a bit, I believe you will see what a blessing it is to be able to face reality as it is and not as we wish it to be. Self-delusions are our greatest sins and I know of what I speak because when I died and was Judged I had every self-delusion stripped from me until I stood naked before God, as it were. It is not a pleasant experience. Pray that when your time comes, there will be one less self-delusion for you to have to deal with.”

With that, he gave the Mortal a slight bow and walked out, leaving Stillman gaping after him.

****

On Wednesday, Daeron went to see Vorondur for their usual session. Vorondur greeted him warmly as they sat down.

“I hear Elf Camp One was a success,” Vorondur said. “Congratulations.”

Daeron grinned. “It was amusing to see how ragged my helpers all were by the end of it, even Loren, but everyone enjoyed themselves. I think the Valinóreans had the most fun interacting with the children. I could see in their eyes how much they regretted that there are no little ones in Aman.”

“Yes, that is something. It’s a pity that there is no way to show those of Valinor something of what we do here among the Mortals and the joy the children give us. Joy and purpose.”

Daeron nodded but did not comment. Vorondur gave him a shrewd look. “So, how does it feel to be counted among the warriors? I’m only sorry that Dan and Roy weren’t here for it. They would have been so proud. Have you spoken with them lately?”

“They called over the weekend to let us know that they found a place in Greenpoint,” Daeron replied and Vorondur nodded.

“Yes, they called here as well to give us their new address. So what did they say when they found out?”

Daeron gave Vorondur a scowl. “I wasn’t going to say anything about it but Loren did.”

“Why did you wish to remain silent?” Vorondur asked in a neutral tone, giving nothing away as to how he might feel about it.

Daeron gave him a jaundiced look. “C’mon, Ron! Look at me.” He spread his hands wide. “Do I look like a warrior to you?”

“And what is a warrior supposed to look like?” Vorondur countered. “After all, even my sons had no clue that I belong to the Warrior Society and have since the First Age. Do I look like a warrior?”

“More so than I,” Daeron shot back. “Look, it was very nice for everyone to want to honor me in some fashion for saving Olwë’s life, but really, a hearty handshake and a gold watch would have been better and more useful. And now they’re all going on about training.” He huffed in disgust. “Gilvagor even asked me the other day what my weapon of choice was.”

“And what did you tell him?”

“I told him that the only weapon I planned on using was my voice. He just stared at me as if I’d suddenly begun speaking to him in Urdu or something and walked away looking rather bemused.”

Vorondur smiled slightly. “Gavin is a warrior; he knows weapons, but he has little knowledge of Songs of Power and their uses.”

“I don’t know much about them myself,” Daeron admitted. “I’ve asked Glorfindel about them, sure, but he’s always been reluctant to talk about them. I’ve been meaning to ask Finrod, but between him working at the bookstore and me at Elf Academy, there hasn’t been much time.”

“Do you think you would want to learn Songs of Power or are you just interested in them theoretically, as a subject of study without actually utilizing them?”

The minstrel shrugged. “I’m not sure, really. The whole concept fascinates me. We Sindar never really developed Songs of Power; that seems to be something that the Valar taught the Noldor.”

Vorondur nodded. “So I was told when I was being tutored in them as an elfling. Even so, it seems that only those who once resided in Valinor were ever able to wield Songs of Power effectively. I learned the rudiments but I would never rely on them solely.”

The two fell into silence for a bit and then Vorondur said, “I know you are as capable as the rest of us of wielding weapons. You’ve sparred with Loren—”

“Once,” Daeron interrupted, “and I vowed never to do so again. You may have noticed that anytime Loren wants a sparring match, I stay firmly out of it. I’ll hold his weapons for him, but that’s the closest I ever want to get to wielding them.”

“And yet you have down the ages, have you not? And you are a black belt in more than one form of martial arts, as I recall.”

“Oh, sure, but I’ve only wielded them in defense and I never participated in any of the Mortal wars, not the way Loren and the Twins did, though during the First and Second World Wars, they didn’t either. We all helped with the Red Cross and being medics. Loren had decided that we would not involve ourselves further with what was happening among the Mortals. Even so, I can recall at least twice where we were in dangerous situations and could well have died.” He shrugged.

“Well, getting back to my original question, how do you feel about being counted among the warriors?”

“You’re not going to let this go, are you?” Daeron countered with a scowl.

Vorondur gave him a warm smile. “Just doing my job. Darren, I know you don’t see yourself as a warrior, certainly not in the same class as Loren or Finrod or even Gavin, but you didn’t survive all these ages being St. Francis of Assisi or even Mahatma Gandhi. What disturbs you about being initiated into the Warrior Society beyond the fact that you don’t see yourself as a warrior of any stripe?”

For a moment, Daeron did not speak, his gaze on his lap. After a moment, without looking up, he whispered, “I’m afraid I will have to pick up a weapon and I dread what will happen to me when I do. I am afraid I will lose myself in the exultation of bloodlust and hate. I don’t want… I can’t allow myself to feel that again… not again.” He stifled a sob and forced the tears from flowing, looking shamed.

Vorondur sat for a moment allowing the ellon to get himself under control before speaking. “Why don’t we talk about your fear of losing yourself in the bloodlust and see what we can do about it? I will tell you that this is something every warrior faces, so there’s no shame in how you feel about it, okay?”

Daeron nodded and the rest of the hour was spent with him telling Vorondur about the first time he had allowed the bloodlust to rule him and why. By the end of the session he felt emotionally drained and Vorondur refused to let him drive home immediately but insisted that he lie down for a bit and rest.

“I don’t want you behind the wheel in your state,” he said when Daeron started to protest. “Rest for an hour and then I’ll let you go.” He led the minstrel upstairs to the room that his sons shared and once he was comfortable in the bed, Vorondur led him through a deep breathing exercise and within minutes Daeron was fast asleep. Vorondur stayed for a moment or two longer to make sure the ellon remained sleeping before returning to his office to write up his notes.

****

From the sealed files of Dr. Ron Brightman:

Name: Darren Harper (Daeron of Doriath)

Personality Profile: ISFP: Composer

Charm: Above average by elvish standards

Adaptability: Cockroach

Planning ability: Needs development

Survival preparations: ‘Well, duh!’

Weapons skill: Ninja (but you would never know by the looks of him)

Intelligence: Cunning

Warm fuzzies: Toasty but somewhat secretive

Leadership skills: Would rather not

Analysis: Darren, as he prefers to be called these days, is, first and foremost, a person who is largely defined by his inherent need to create. His talents and passions with lore, language and music especially, reveal someone who loves creating for the sake of creating, and is more than likely to get lost in his newest composition, disappearing for a time into the space between the notes. Others have learned to leave him alone when he’s like that, for he can be emotionally intense. That said, Darren has proven to be the consummate aide-de-camp for Loren, and Loren relies on him heavily, especially in helping him rein in the Twins when they get ‘overly excited’ as he likes to put it. Darren has survived much and has suffered more than most, but he has learned to forgive both himself and others and treats everyone with a gentleness that recognizes the imperfections in others and cherishes them for those imperfections, affirming the worth of others by his treatment of them. I think Loren would be lost without him, as would we all….

His recent initiation into the Warrior Society, however, has forced him to confront a facet of his personality that he would rather not deal with: falling into the bloodlust of battle. It is one reason why he studied the martial arts and has black belts in at least two styles that I know of, possibly three. When I asked him what was the difference between using martial arts and wielding a sword to defend oneself, his answer was very revealing: ‘There’s usually no blood’. Unfortunately, when the Dagor Dagorath arrives, I very much doubt that we’ll all be fighting ninja-style. Much of Darren’s reluctance stems from what he did at the time Loren and the Twins rescued him from the Mortals who held him in bondage. He has never truly forgiven himself for allowing his rage to get the better of him, although no one else blames him for it. If anything, his actions are quite understandable and I would have been more concerned if he hadn’t acted as he did. I only hope I can help him put all that in perspective; eventually Darren will need to pick up a sword again. When the War commences, there will be no room in the foxhole, so to speak, for conscientious objectors.

Perhaps he can be taught Songs of Power if he feels he does not wish to trust himself with a weapon. Finrod would need to be approached about it. How successful he would be at it is anyone’s guess, but we’ll never know until it’s tried….

****

Glorfindel’s session with Vorondur was on Friday and he came armed.

“Roy sent me these photos that I asked him to take while he and Sarah were in the Adirondacks,” he said, clutching a folder as he took a seat in one of the overstuff chairs rather than at the desk as he had done in his first session. Vorondur raised an eyebrow but did not comment.

“Anything interesting?”

“I’d say!” Glorfindel exclaimed as he placed the folder on the coffee table that sat between them and opened it, spreading the photographs out. “Look! Here’s the Grant Building where the Twins and Sarah were supposedly living. And here, look! Owls Fly Way. I couldn’t make up a street name like that if I tried. And oh, here’s the clincher.” He picked up one of the photos and held it up. Vorondur saw a yellow building with a large sign that read ‘High Falls Gorge’.

Vorondur leaned over slightly to take the photograph from him and Glorfindel rummaged through the other pictures until he found what he was looking for and held it up for Vorondur’s perusal. “And look what they found when they visited the Gorge.” Vorondur took the proffered photo and stared at the evergreen tree growing out of the cliff face, its trunk twisted just as Glorfindel had described from his dream. He glanced up at the ellon sitting opposite him and leaned back in his chair.

“What conclusions have you drawn from seeing these photos?”

“Well, obviously I dreamt true,” Glorfindel said with a huff of annoyance as if he felt the answer to Vorondur’s question was self-evident.

“Yes, but was the dream prophetic? Will the events that happened in your dream play out in reality? Will Edhellond be destroyed? Will we all be on the run? Will Conan and Barry die in a car accident and will Alex, Felicity and Derek drown? Will you end up as lunch for a Watcher in the Water?”

“Eru! I hope not,” Glorfindel exclaimed, growing pale at the thought. “Almost becoming some monster’s lunch once is enough.”

“I was told by Lord Irmo that your dreams were being hijacked,” Vorondur continued. “He refused to tell me what the dreams were about or even why he sent them. Apparently he felt this was something I had to learn on my own. So my question to you, Loren, is: what parts of the dream do you think were the Enemy’s and what parts were sent by Lord Irmo?”

Glorfindel sat back, running his hands through his hair. “I’d like to say all the bad parts, but how can I be sure?”

“A reasonable assumption. Let’s take a look at the dream more closely, step-by-step. We’ll begin with the Father’s Day celebration. According to you, it was also the summer solstice which is a very significant date for you.”

Glorfindel nodded. “Sure, but you know, after all this time, it doesn’t have the same effect on me as it used to. Back when I first returned to Middle-earth, I often went off by myself during that time instead of hanging about Lindon or, later, Imladris for their celebrations. As the ages wore away and we were struggling just to survive the ice and what followed afterwards, it just wasn’t all that important. Somewhere along the line, it just became another day.” He shrugged then.

“So I noticed the first time the date came around after Holly, Sarah and I joined you here, and I’m glad for that. Okay, so ignoring the date and its significance, do you feel that the destruction of Edhellond was the beginning of the Enemy hijacking the dream?”

“Actually, no,” Glorfindel answered. “I’ve been thinking about it and I realize that that was the starting point. It was how Lord Irmo got me to leave Wiseman for Saranac Lake, you see?”

“Yes, I do. So, let’s jump forward to when you arrived at Saranac Lake. Can you see at what point in the dream the storyline got hijacked?”

Glorfindel half-closed his eyes, dredging up the memory of the dream and all that happened in it. “I think it was when I got the text message telling me that Barry and Conan had been killed and then Alex, Felicity and Derek drowned.”

“Do you know why the dream took a darker turn at that point, rather than at some other point?”

“What do you mean?”

“Lord Irmo said the dream was hijacked, but he never said at what stage. Technically speaking, the Enemy only had to change the ultimate outcome of the dream, where at the very moment of triumph in recovering the talisman, it is stolen from you. That would have been devastating enough for anyone, would you agree?”

Glorfindel nodded. “So, the attack coming earlier than that was aimed at what?”

“Aimed at you. Loren, do you know how the you in the dream felt when you received news of Conan and Barry’s deaths and when Alex, Felicity and Derek drowned? Can you recall what you were feeling at that point?”

“Sad. Angry. Hopelessness, like nothing really mattered anymore.”

“In other words, despair.”

Glorfindel nodded, looking thoughtful. “I found myself walking into St. Margaret’s. Wait…” He rifled through the photographs again. “Ah, here. Look.” He handed Vorondur a photograph of a small white church with a sign outside declaring that it was St. Margaret’s Roman Catholic Church with Mass at 7:30 A.M. “And you want to know the weird part? I never asked Roy to take a picture of it, assuming it actually existed. Not sure what prompted him to do so, since he didn’t know the content of my dream.”

Vorondur gave him a brief, knowing look. “Perhaps a little birdie told him to,” he offered and Glorfindel awarded him with a lift of an eyebrow at the implications. “So, yes, St. Margaret’s where you met Charles Waverly,” he added, handing the photograph back to Glorfindel who stared at it pensively.

“Do you think that part might be prophetic?” Glorfindel whispered.

“Why would you think so?”

Glorfindel looked up. “Because in the dream, I knew Charles was dead, had been for a good year, but there he was, sitting in the church reading his breviary, looking pretty much alive.”

“Well, on one level, it probably was prophetic,” Vorondur offered.

“How do you mean?”

“Simply because eventually, Charles, like all Mortals, will die,” Vorondur replied with a shrug. “Will he die inside the next three years? Only Eru knows. Will he die regardless? That’s an absolute given and he is not young. His days are numbered, more so than say Josiah’s, who is a couple decades younger. But perhaps we can look at it another way.”

“What way, Ron? He was dead in the dream!”

“But why was he dead? And why was he even there? What role did he play in the dream?”

Glorfindel did not answer immediately, staring off into space as he replayed that part of the dream in his mind. “He kept saying that Alex, Felicity and Derek were alive but only if I believed they were. He had me read something from the breviary.” He closed his eyes to better concentrate. “’In you, Lord, is our hope. We will never hope in vain. We will dance and rejoice in your mercy. We will never hope in vain.’” He opened his eyes and looked directly at Vorondur as he spoke. “He told me I was losing estel, that I needed to regain it.”

Vorondur nodded. “I may be wrong, but I think the whole St. Margaret episode was Lord Irmo’s attempt to regain control of the dream.”

“But why Charles and why did I dream him as being dead?”

“Perhaps because had he simply walked in out of the blue and told you to regain your hope, it would have shattered the dreamscape. While you were in the dream, it was absolutely real to you, was it not?” When Glorfindel nodded, Vorondur continued. “Then, the only way having Charles be in Saranac Lake and you accepting his presence was if you believed he was dead and you were speaking to his ghost. I suspect that it was as direct as Lord Irmo could get in speaking to you through your dream, hoping to derail the Enemy’s attack upon you. He partly succeeded because you still went ahead with your plans to retrieve the talisman, but in the end the Enemy still took control, which is why you die in the end of it.”

Glorfindel closed his eyes again with a sigh as he leaned back into the chair. “I don’t think I could deal with it, Charles dying, or any of them dying. I actually dread the future, something I’ve never done before, but before we came to Wiseman, I always knew that eventually I would move on to some other place where I did not know the people, that I would not necessarily have to stay and watch people I had come to know and care about grow old or contract a life-threatening disease and die. But now….”

“Now, we know that we will have to watch our friends die, generation by generation, until the time of the Dagor Dagorath and that thought would depress any of us,” Vorondur concluded and Glorfindel nodded, not opening his eyes. “Well, a discussion for another time. Let’s get back to your dream. Assuming that it is not prophetic, that the destruction of Edhellond was a… story plot to get you on your way to Saranac Lake, what do you think the actual point of the dream is?”

Glorfindel opened his eyes, his expression more set and decisive. “Oh, that’s simple enough. The talisman. Everything revolves around it. I don’t know if Gwyn and Gareth actually have it or know of it, but I intend to find out. I have the feeling that it may well be a weapon we will need in the end.”

“Because of the Silmaril embedded in it,” Vorondur offered, making it more a statement than a question.

Glorfindel nodded. “Assuming it is a Silmaril. I only got a quick glance at it in the dream and I don’t trust that. It could well have been symbolic rather than an actuality. But you know, now that I think about it, when I was in Fairbanks, we stopped at Gwyn and Gareth’s house to visit and I told them that a recent dream involved the two of them though I could remember no details about it. I asked them if they had any idea why I would dream about them and they both said no, but looking back, I realize that Gareth, at least, seemed more frightened than surprised. I’m wondering if even then, he knew what I was asking.”

“Well, they will be up next week for the Fourth, so you can ask them about it and you have proof now that you dreamt true,” Vorondur said, pointing to the photographs. “But, when you do confront them, I think it would be wise if I, Finrod and Elrond were present.”

Glorfindel gave him a mirthless grin. “Why? So you can protect them?”

Vorondur shook his head and in all seriousness said, “No, Loren, to protect you.”

Glorfindel’s response to that was a disbelieving snort, but he did not contradict the ellon.

****

From the sealed files of Dr. Ron Brightman:

Name: Loren DelaFiorë (Glorfindel of the House of the Golden Flower)

Addendum:
…Loren is determined to confront the ap Hywel brothers about the dream and the talisman. I wish he wouldn’t, but my wishes do not enter into it. I fear, though, that the confrontation will go badly and, as the saying goes, there will be tears before bedtime. Loren is on a knife’s edge emotionally. He hides it well behind a veneer of calm and good cheer, but his eyes are haunted. If the ap Hywel brothers vacillate or simply have no clue what Loren is going on about, I do not want to think about what Loren’s reaction will be at being thwarted. Next week will be fraught with danger for many. I only hope that when the dust settles, I will be able to put them all emotionally back together again, Loren especially.

A wizard indeed!…

Saturday afternoon just after lunch, Vorondur got a call as he was sitting in front of his computer working on some notes.

“Alex! Good to hear from you. Are you in Wiseman?”

“Yeah, I left Fairbanks real early this morning,” Alex answered. “I’m staying at Edhellond since my place is still being subletted. I’ll be here until next weekend.”

“So do you want to get together after the Fourth then? Of course, I’ll see you at the picnic.”

“Yeah about that. Is it possible to squeeze me in before the Fourth? Something happened not long ago and I… I really need to talk about it.”

Vorondur blinked, trying to gauge the tenor of the Mortal’s tone. He did not like what he was hearing. “Well, as it happens, I’ve given all my patients the week off so my schedule is open, but I can see you now if you really need to.”

“No. That’s okay. I got up earlier than I usually do and you know how wretched the drive to Wiseman is, so as soon as I hang up I’m going down for a nap. I guess Monday will be soon enough. I don’t want to make you change any plans you had for tomorrow—”

“I’ve made no plans other than to help Amroth paint the house as it needs a new coat, but my sons are more than capable of giving him a hand, so why don’t you plan on coming over for lunch and we’ll talk afterwards?”

“Great. Thanks.”

“Alex, is everything okay with you? You sound… tense.”

“Just tired. A nap is what I need followed by one of the Elves’ home-cooked meals.”

Vorondur chuckled. “Okay, then. Enjoy your nap.”

He closed down his phone but did not stir from his chair for several minutes, analyzing the conversation and Alex’s tone. The young Man had not sounded tense but frightened and that concerned him. He was tempted to call Alex back and insist on seeing him then and there but resisted. Time enough tomorrow to find out what it was all about. He got up and went in search of his wife to tell her to expect Alex for lunch on Sunday and then Amroth to let him know that he would be unavailable to help paint, explaining why.

Amroth gave him a concerned look. “What do you suppose happened to frighten him, if he is indeed frightened?”

“I guess I’ll find out tomorrow.”

“Alex does not frighten easily,” Amroth insisted. “So whatever went down had to be something outside his experience. Could the Enemy be involved, do you suppose? We know it’s been after Alex almost from the beginning.”

Vorondur shrugged. “I have no idea. I had similar concerns when Alex first broached the idea of spending the summer in Fairbanks. The only reason why I didn’t gainsay him was because I knew Gwyn and Gareth were there and could keep an eye on him and help him if he needed it. They are young by our standards, but they have survived in this world and are more than capable of handling any situation that arises.”

“Well, I was going to the paint store and get what we need. I’ll take your sons with me and they can help with that. Might as well teach them from the ground up, as it were.”

Vorondur nodded. “I’ll go find them and let them know.”

****

Sunday just before noon, Alex showed up. Vorondur greeted him at the door, shaking his hand. “You’re looking well. All rested and recovered?”

“Yeah, more or less. Man, I hate that drive.”

Vorondur chuckled as he led the Mortal into the kitchen where everyone else was waiting for them. “We all do. I think the Valar deliberately chose Wiseman just for that reason. Of course, they don’t have to drive it.”

“Yeah, it must be nice to just think yourself anywhere.” But instead of smiling, Alex’s expression became more pensive, even disturbed, and he appeared tense to Vorondur. Then he seemed to force himself to relax as he greeted the others, asking Dar and Cani how things were going for them.

“Settling in alright?” he asked.

The two ellyn nodded and told him about working at the nursery, though Vorondur noticed that they didn’t mention why they were working there. He exchanged a knowing look with Ercassë, Amroth and Nimrodel, deciding to let it go. It really wasn’t important. They gathered in the dining room and spent a pleasant hour eating and catching up on each other’s news. Alex asked if they’d heard from the Twins or Sarah and Ercassë answered.

“We heard from them not too long ago. They’ve found a two-bedroom apartment in Greenpoint. They said they preferred to live there than nearer to Columbia University and didn’t mind the commute. They begin classes next week.”

“So, how has Fairbanks treated you, son?” Amroth asked.

“Okay. I took a class in historical linguistics and next week I’m taking a seminar on constructed languages, you know, languages that people create, like Esperanto. I guess the class is designed to teach you how natural languages evolve.”

Amroth nodded. “Have you made any friends?”

“Not really. Most of the people in my class are still in their twenties and have yet to join the real world, if you know what I mean. I’m sharing an apartment on campus with a couple of guys, Chad and Chris. They’re an item. Chad’s working on a Ph.D. in Geophysics and Chris is doing a joint MA/MFA in Creative Writing and Literature. They’re friendly enough but we pretty much go our own ways.”

“What do you mean that they’re an item?” Dar asked before anyone else could comment.

Alex looked a bit nonplused and gave Vorondur a rather helpless look. Vorondur smiled. “I’ll explain later, Dar. Right now, though, you will have to excuse us.” He nodded at Alex who got up, thanking them generally for the lunch, and then, taking a mug of tea with him, followed Vorondur to his office.

“So have you heard from Felicity at all?” Vorondur asked as the two settled in chairs.

Alex nodded. “Got a postcard from Israel and an email earlier this week. She’s in Germany at the moment. She’ll be back before the end of the month. She says she’ll let me know when she’s flying into Fairbanks and I can come pick her up.”

“So it sounds as if she still likes you,” Vorondur said neutrally.

“I guess,” Alex allowed, though he didn’t seem very convinced as he sipped his tea, not looking at Vorondur directly.

The Elf decided to let it go for now. “I was surprised to get your call, since I know we’d arranged to meet after the Fourth before you returned to Fairbanks. Whatever happened must have—”

“It was a dream,” Alex interrupted. “At least, I sincerely hope it was, because if it wasn’t….” He looked up at Vorondur and the Elf was shocked at the fear he saw in the Mortal’s eyes.

Vorondur leaned over and put a comforting hand on Alex’s shoulder, giving it a squeeze. “Why don’t you tell me?” he said gently and then leaned back in the chair.

Alex took a deep breath and nodded. “It was about a week ago, after dinner, and I’ll admit that it might be an anchovy-induced dream or nightmare because I’d had some pizza for dinner, but I’m not so sure. Anyway, I was sitting in the living room reading my textbook and then… then I was somewhere else.”

“Were you having a flashback?”

Alex shook his head. “No, this was like happening in real time. I mean, I was still dressed in the T-shirt and lounging pants that I’d put on when I got home after being out all day running errands and doing some shopping. Even had on my slippers.”

“So where were you?”

Alex visibly swallowed. “According to Nate, I was in Vala-la-land, as Derek likes to call it.”

Vorondur blinked. “Nate? Nate was there?”

“Yeah,” Alex said and Vorondur noticed the young Man looking a little green. He stood and went to the window and opened it, allowing a gentle breeze to flow in. He could hear Amroth quietly explaining to Dar and Cani the proper way to use their brushes as the three set about painting the house. Ignoring that, he turned back to Alex.

“Drink your tea and try to relax,” he said as he resumed his seat. “Take your time. I’ve left the rest of the afternoon open for you.”

“You should be outside helping with the painting,” Alex protested.

Vorondur smiled. “I’m sure they’ll get along without me. Do you feel that you can continue?”

“Yeah, sure,” Alex said. “Okay, so, I suddenly found myself in this large, circular chamber with tier seating and there were all these Elves there and Nate was there too, except he wasn’t Nate, you know? I mean, he was… he was dressed differently, like the way Finrod was when he first arrived. I think he was Lord Námo then, not Nate, and that’s weird because I’ve never ever seen him as anything but Nate.”

“Was anyone else there whom you knew?” Vorondur asked.

“Oh sure. All three kings and Helena.”

Vorondur couldn’t resist raising an eyebrow at that. “And they were in a large, circular chamber. Can you describe it?”

“Well, it was… round and it sort of reminded me of the General Assembly at the United Nations, you know with each country’s representatives sitting at these tables, except the seating was tiered so it was like being in a stadium with the kings on the floor. Should I describe the architecture?”

“Describe whatever you wish, Alex. Give me as much detail as you remember. It will help me to see where this dream is going.”

“Assuming it was a dream,” Alex countered. “I mean, it was too real, too solid and I don’t think I could make up something like that.”

Vorondur thought for a moment. “There is one way to be sure,” he said slowly.

“What’s that?”

“If you will allow it, I will call Finrod and ask him to join us, have him listen to your description. He would know if that chamber actually exists or not.”

“I guess that would be okay,” Alex said somewhat reluctantly.

“We do not have to do this if you feel uncomfortable about it.”

“No, you’re right. I need to know, but frankly, I don’t know what scares me more, the idea that what happened wasn’t a dream at all or that it was.”

“Either way, know that I will be here to help you to deal with it. Shall I call Finrod?”

“Yeah, go ahead. I need to use the bathroom anyway and then I’ll go out and cheer on the painting crew while we wait for him to come.”

Vorondur smiled. “You do that. I’ll call for you as soon as Finrod arrives.”

Alex nodded and left. Vorondur reached for his phone and dialed Edhellond. “Ah… yes, this is Vorondur… I need to speak with Finrod if he’s there… thank you… Yes, Finrod, this is Ron, look, could you come over? I have Alex here and he had some sort of episode recently where he apparently was in Valinor and he’s describing it to me but I don’t know if what he’s describing is real or not. He’s agreed to have you listen to him. I’m figuring if what he’s describing actually happened, you would know… Great! I’ll let him know. We’ll see you shortly.”

He hung up and went out to find Alex who was speaking with Dar and Cani, telling them something about Fairbanks and the university, as the two ellyn were painting. Vorondur suspected one of his sons had asked Alex a question about it. Alex broke off when he saw Vorondur, giving him an enquiring look.

“He’ll be here shortly,” Vorondur said. “Why don’t we go back inside and you can tell me about how your linguistic class went while we wait.”

Alex nodded and followed him indoors. They returned to Vorondur’s office and Alex told him something about his class and was describing his professor and some of his classmates when they heard the front doorbell ring. “Ah, it looks as if the cavalry has arrived,” Vorondur said with a smile as he stood and went to answer the door. A moment later, he returned with Finrod who gave Alex a warm smile, shaking his hand as the Mortal stood to greet him.

“I did not get a chance to greet you when you arrived yesterday, Alex. I was busy at the bookstore and then Amarië and I spent the evening having dinner with Josiah Makepeace and his family. I understand you had some sort of episode recently.”

Alex nodded but did not speak. Finrod gave Vorondur an enquiring look. “Why don’t you take this chair, Finrod and I’ll sit at the desk and take notes. Alex, why don’t you start at the beginning?”

Finrod sat down and Alex did as well. “Okay, like I told Ron, I was studying my textbook after dinner…”

“Excuse me, what day was this?” Finrod interrupted.

“Why? What difference does it make?” Alex demanded somewhat impatiently.

“Perhaps none, but it is best to have as much information as possible,” Finrod answered.

“Well, um, let me see. It was last Saturday. Is that significant?”

Finrod shrugged. “I do not know. Please continue.”

“Yeah, well, all of a sudden I wasn’t in Kansas any longer…”

First Alex had to explain what he meant by that and then went on to describe the chamber. Finrod stopped him at one point and asked him to describe some of the people, notably the ellon whom Ingwë had identified as Maedhros and his two companions, as well as the ellon who had asked Lord Námo his reason for bringing Alex before them.

“Nambarauto,” Finrod muttered.

“You recognize him?” Vorondur couldn’t help asking in surprise.

Finrod turned and gave him a brittle smile. “Oh yes, and the two ellyn with Maedhros — and Alex described him quite accurately — they were his brother Maglor and Denethor, the leader of the Harthadrim, as they call themselves.”

“So those people were real?” Alex asked.

“As were Sador and Alassiel, and the other whom you rightly suspect was Gil-galad. The chamber I have been in, though I doubt if it was in the same location as the last time I was there. The Valar tend to shift it around when it suits them.”

Both Alex and Vorondur gave Finrod disbelieving looks which the ellon ignored, lost in contemplation. After a moment he turned back to Alex and gave him a shrewd look. “You have not told us everything.”

Alex gulped and shook his head. “After I spoke with Helena and Sador, I started back toward Nate and asked him why I was really there. He said, ‘Show and tell’ and the next thing I knew I had three Maiar attacking me…”

He went on to describe what happened then. Finrod’s expression darkened, but Vorondur became alarmed and silently began cursing the Valar in general and Námo in particular. By the time Alex came to the end of his narrative, he was white as a sheet and shaking.

“I killed him, Ron,” he said. “In front of all those people, I killed him. I mean, I know he didn’t really die being a Maia and all, but… God! Why can’t they just leave me alone?” He put his head in his hand, sobbing.

Vorondur got up from the desk and Finrod moved out of the chair to let him near Alex. “I will leave you,” he said quietly, “but call if you need—”

Alex lifted his head, his eyes bright with anger. “He had no right! Atar’s permission but not mine? Where the hell does he get off, that son of—”

“Alex, calm down,” Vorondur ordered.

“I don’t want to calm down!” Alex countered, jumping up, his fists clenched at his sides. “I want to find the bastard and wring his neck and send him to his own damn Hall. He had no right! Talk to the Elves, yeah, not a problem, but he didn’t even warn me about it, said he wanted my honest reaction. Honest reaction? That bastard set three Maiar on me and I could tell they weren’t playing. They were going to kill me unless I killed them first. I could see it in their eyes. Damn it, Ron! He made me kill. He made me kill!”

And then as the realization of what he’d just said and its implications struck him, his breathing became ragged and before either Vorondur or Finrod could move he threw back his head and screamed and it was a scream of despair as much as it was of anger. Both Vorondur and Finrod reached for him attempting to hold him down and calm him. He fought them, still screaming, as they wrestled him down to the floor. Footsteps came pounding down the hall and the door flew open to reveal Amroth, looking distressed.

“What happened?” he demanded.

“Later,” Vorondur said through gritted teeth as he held the still thrashing Mortal down. He and Finrod were squashed between the coffee table and the chair in which Alex had been sitting. Half the items on the coffee table had been knocked off, though luckily nothing had broken. “We need to get him calmed down.”

“Allow me,” Amroth said and before Vorondur or Finrod could utter a protest, the once king of Laurinand pushed the coffee table out of the way, reached down with his left hand to grab Alex by the collar of his shirt and hauled him up far enough to strike him with his right fist, sending him into oblivion.

****

Alex came to unsure where he was or how much time had passed. He was lying in a bed, that much he had figured out. The bedroom was not his. Ranged around the bed were Vorondur and Amroth on his right, Finrod on his left and, surprisingly, Glorfindel at the foot of the bed. They were all very solemn as if at a wake and he was the corpse.

“So, did I die?” he asked as he struggled to a sitting position, surprised at how raw his throat felt. He tested his jaw where it throbbed with pain, giving Amroth a glare.

None of the Elves’ expressions changed, though he thought Glorfindel’s eyes brightened a bit with amusement. Amroth turned to pour some water from a pitcher sitting on the night table and handed him the glass, which he accepted gratefully, still eyeing Glorfindel.

“How did you get here?” he asked.

“I drove Finrod over,” Glorfindel answered. “I was outside helping with the painting when we heard you scream. Amroth ran to see what was happening while I dealt with Dar and Cani. They became very upset.”

“Sorry,” Alex said.

“Not your fault Alex,” Glorfindel said. “Ron’s told us about your so-called dream. Finrod’s confirmed that where you found yourself was real as were the people there. You say Lord Námo brought you there in fëa?”

Alex nodded. “And when I asked him why I felt and looked solid, he said it was because he was there.”

“And without your permission,” Glorfindel said.

“Atar’s permission,” Alex corrected, “but not mine, at least I have no memory of being asked.”

“I cannot believe Ilúvatar would countenance what happened though,” Finrod said.

Glorfindel shook his head. “No, neither can I, nor can I see Lord Manwë allowing it. Bringing Alex to the Council to speak to them about the Mortals is one thing, though frankly, I would think even doing that would be downright dangerous to Alex, but the rest? I think that was all Námo’s idea and I doubt he had permission from anyone, especially… um… borrowing Manveru and Erunáro for the demonstration.”

“I’m trying to put my life back together, to be a normal guy doing normal things, but no one will let me,” Alex said plaintively, fighting back tears. “He had no right. I’m not his… his toy to play with.”

“No, you are not,” Vorondur said, sitting down on the edge of the bed and squeezing the Mortal’s shoulder in an offer of comfort. “I know you’re angry and you have every right to be, but how else do you feel? Do you want to talk about it? Alone, of course.”

Alex sighed, closed his eyes and drew his knees up, hiding his face. “I wish Derek was here,” he whispered forlornly.

“He’s not due until Tuesday,” Glorfindel said gently. “I’m afraid we’ll have to do until he comes.”

“Felicity’s never going to want to be with me after this. I’m nothing but a killer.” And the despair they all heard in his voice saddened them.

“No, you are not, Alex,” Finrod said firmly. “Don’t even think it.”

Alex glanced up at the Elf-prince. “Will it happen again, do you think?”

“I honestly don’t know, Alex,” Finrod answered. “None of us do.”

“What do I do if it happens again? How do I stop it?”

“You don’t,” Glorfindel replied shortly, “but if it does happen again, ask no questions, don’t look for an explanation, just attack and bring the bastard down.”

The other Elves blinked at the absolute coldness of his tone, giving the ellon surprised looks. Alex just grinned and nodded. Vorondur decided not to pursue the matter further but turned back to the Mortal. “We can talk about it some more if you want.”

Alex shook his head. “No. I… I need some time to think things through.” He stifled a yawn. “What the hell?” he exclaimed in disgust.

“You’ve had a very emotional afternoon,” Vorondur said, “and you’re drained. Why don’t you lie back down and take a nap. Right now I wouldn’t trust you behind the wheel of your car.”

Alex started to protest, but Glorfindel cut him off. “No. Rest for a bit. I need to get going, but Finrod will stick around and he can drive your car back to Edhellond if you’re still feeling out of it. I’ll see you back home later, okay? And tonight, after dinner, we’ll Skype Derek and you can at least speak with your gwador.”

“That sounds like a plan,” Vorondur said approvingly, standing up. Alex nodded reluctantly, settling himself back down in the bed.

 “Thanks, all of you,” Alex said. “Sorry about—”

“You have nothing to apologize for, Alex,” Glorfindel assured him. “You’ve done nothing wrong. I’ll see you and Finrod later.”

He turned and strode out of the room. Finrod and Amroth followed. “Don’t hesitate to call out if you need anything,” Vorondur said as he stopped at the door. “Bathroom’s to your left, second door on your right. I’ll be downstairs, either in my office or in the kitchen helping with dinner.”

Alex nodded and closed his eyes as Vorondur exited the room, softly closing the door. The other Elves were congregated at the head of the stairs. “Five months of hard work ruined,” Vorondur muttered at them in disgust.

“Lord Námo has much to answer for,” Glorfindel said with a nod of agreement as they headed down the stairs.

“Násië!” Finrod added with much fervency.

Glorfindel cast them a wicked look. “Too bad there’s no one to give Námo a little chat. I wouldn’t mind seeing him squirm for a change.”

“From your lips to Eru’s ears, my friend,” Vorondur said with a chuckle and the others laughed quietly as they saw Glorfindel to the door. He bade them goodbye and then Amroth invited Finrod to come outside to help with the painting to which he agreed while Vorondur went back to his office where he straightened the mess up before he sat in front of his computer and began writing up notes on the session, all the while silently cursing a certain Vala for what he’d done to Alex.

Raguel, an Ayanuz of the First Choir, sat beside Atar on the lip of a pool in the watermeads of the Timeless Halls, watching the events unfold in the Little Kingdom, as his friend, Tulkas, had called it. He couldn’t help smiling at the thought of his dear friend as he witnessed, first the debacle at the All-Aman Council in Valmar when his brother Námo brought the Mortal in the spirit to confront the Eldar there, and then the consultation in the Elda Vorondur’s office and the same Mortal’s subsequent psychic meltdown. Raguel stole a glance at Atar sitting serenely beside him, idly swishing the waters of the pool with the fingers of his right hand, for they had both incarnated at Atar’s suggestion when the Ayanuz had been summoned before the Throne.

Atar looked up and quirked an eyebrow at him. Raguel glanced back down into the pool in time to see the Elda called Amroth slug the poor Mortal into unconsciousness and then gently pick him up as if he were a babe in arms and take him out of the room. The golden-haired balrog-slayer — and Raguel could not help smiling at the sight of him — came in just then demanding to know what had happened as everyone trooped upstairs where they placed the Mortal in a bed, then stood around it waiting for him to awake with Vorondur softly explaining to Glorfindel what had transpired.

As Raguel continued watching, he wondered what Atar meant for him to do. Was he to visit chastisement upon his brother Ayanuz and bring Námo to account? The thought saddened him, for in all this time, Atar had never sent him to chastise the Valar or their servants, richly though they might have deserved it for their mismanagement of the affairs of Arda. To do so now when the End of Days was so near…?

He shook his head, as if to clear it of dark thoughts as he watched the Mortal waken and listened to the conversation that followed, noting the despair in the poor child’s voice, seeing his spirit dim. He itched to go to him and comfort him and vaguely noticed the knowing smile on Atar’s face, but his entire attention was on the scene before him.

…“Five months of hard work ruined,” he heard Vorondur mutter as the four Firstborn exited the room to let the Mortal sleep.

“Lord Námo has much to answer for.” That was Glorfindel.

“Násië!” the reborn haryon of the Noldóran exclaimed and Raguel could almost see that fervent prayer wing its way to the Timeless Halls.

Glorfindel cast them a wicked look which Raguel recognized all too well. “Too bad there’s no one to give Námo a little chat. I wouldn’t mind seeing him squirm for a change.”

“From your lips to Eru’s ears, my friend,” Vorondur said with a chuckle and the others started laughing. Raguel was hard-pressed not to laugh himself. Ah, incarnates! Whatever would they do without them and their irreverence?

Atar swished his fingers more forcefully, sending ripples, and the images broke and faded, leaving just a pool of clear water where fish swam and waterlilies floated. For a time that was timeless, the two sat — Atar in supreme serenity, Raguel pensive and trying not to fidget too much. He was unused to being incarnate and found it annoying. He couldn’t imagine being this way all the time as his brothers and sisters who resided in Arda apparently were.

Atar suddenly stood and Raguel followed. “Let us walk,” Atar said softly and Raguel fell into step as the two wended their way through the watermeads. Other Ayanumuz were there, though not all were incarnate, but all stopped what they were doing long enough to give Atar their obeisance. Atar smiled graciously at them all but eventually the two came to a part of the gardens where they were alone save for birds singing in the trees and small animals scampering about.

“Tell me thy thoughts, Little One,” Atar said quietly.

Atar’s endearment surprised him. Not because he had never been called that before, and indeed, reveled in the feeling of warmth and love the endearment engendered within him, but normally, when being summoned for a mission, he was usually addressed simply by his name. He always knew when things were really bad, though, when Atar called him by his title.

“Thou gavest my brother Námo permission to bring the Mortal to Valinor in the spirit?”

Atar nodded but did not otherwise speak.

“And what happened there, was that also by Thy will?”

Atar smiled. “Everything is by My will, Child, but if thou meanest, did I give Námo permission to have the Máyar attack young Artemus, then, the answer is no.”

Raguel pondered that for a moment while Atar continued to wait patiently, allowing him the time to think things through for himself. Not for the first time Raguel sourly wondered why Atar even bothered, since He knew everything anyway, but when Atar smiled and took him in his arms and kissed him in loving benediction, his spirit soared and he decided it didn’t matter.

Atar released him and Raguel came back to himself. “Dost thou wish for me to summon the Kadoshim Chayyoth against Námo then?” he asked hesitantly.

“A bit extreme, wouldst thou not say?” Atar countered mildly.

“He was in the wrong,” Raguel pointed out.

Atar nodded. “But he was not disobedient to My will. He acted as he thought best, though I agree that he could have handled the situation better. Young Artemus is… fragile and what was done to him was… unfortunate.”

Raguel raised an eyebrow. “Unfortunate? Yes, I suppose one could call it that, poor child. He is on the brink of despair.”

“On the brink, but he hath not yet fallen off,” Atar pointed out.

“So thou hast summoned me for the Mortal?”

“For them both,” Atar corrected. “Námo doth need a talking to, but I will not do it. That will be thy task. At the same time, I need thee to help Artemus. He hath been sorely mistreated by thy brother and Manwë hath not seen fit to chastise him for it.”

“Doth he or any of the others even know what happened?”

For an answer, Atar led him to another pool, bending down to swish his fingers in the limpid waters and an image of Manwë’s audience chamber in his mansion in Valmar appeared. Raguel bent down to view it better and chuckled at what he saw transpiring. His brother Manwë looked… flustered and — what was that phrase Glorfindel liked to use? — Ah, yes, royally pissed. Raguel glanced up at Atar who was also chuckling.

“Thy brother is about to have kittens, as the Mortals would say.”

Raguel started laughing and Atar joined him. After a moment though he sobered and gave Atar a more pensive look. “Thou wishest for me to call Námo to account as well as succor the Mortal?”

“Manwë would reprimand Námo, but he feeleth that to do so would damage morale among his fellow Ayanumuz and especially among the Máyar. They are all losing hope, Raguel, even thy brethren. They have been battling against the despair of the Firstborn among them for longer than any of them anticipated having to do so, struggling to bring hope, to bring estel, as the Eldar would say, and failing. Those Eldar still residing in Arda are their secret weapon against the insidious malignancy of despair that hath crept across Valinor. At least that is their hope.”

Raguel looked down at the pool still showing the scene in the audience chamber and pondered Atar’s words. Then, almost as an afterthought, Atar said, “They have even forgotten the Yána Elenion, the Chapel of Stars, that I had Manwë construct just for times like these. None of them have visited it for some time. They need their hope restored, Raguel, and I wish for thee to help them find it.”

Raguel nodded in a distracted manner, his gaze still on the scene being played out in the pool, though his thoughts were elsewhere. He was startled by the soft touch of Atar’s hand brushing his hair and gave his Creator an enquiring look. “Tell me thy concerns, Child,” Atar said gently.

“Glorfindel,” Raguel said without thinking. “Thou dost not seem unduly upset by the fact that he appeareth to be fading. Should I not be chastising Irmo for what he hath done to the Elda?”

“Glorfindel’s fading is not Irmo’s fault and the dreams he hath sent the Child were, as thou knowest, suborned, but I tell thee truly, the situation with that impossible ellon is… under control, as the Mortals would say.” Atar flashed Raguel a sly grin and Raguel responded with his own smile. “Glorfindel is fine for the moment and he is even now working his way to finding the answers he seeks. My main concern is Artemus. He will someday have an encounter that can quite literally change the course of Arda’s history for good or ill and his present mental and emotional states may affect the outcome. Námo’s little stunt hath set the Child back. It will be thy task to help Vorondur bring harmony unto Artemus’ soul.”

“He hath left behind the name Artemus,” Raguel could not help pointing out.

Atar shook his head. “Nay, he only thinketh so. Artemus he will always be whatsoever name he chooseth for himself.”

“What encounter?” Raguel asked suddenly.

“Ah, well, we will just have to wait and see, won’t we?”

Raguel resisted a sigh, knowing full well that if Atar chose not to enlighten him there was nothing he could do about it but muddle through as best he could. He hated going into an assignment without all the facts. How could he do what he needed to do if he were half-blind?

“Raguel,” Atar said gently, brushing a loving hand through the Ayanuz’s hair. “If I withhold information it is only for thine own good. It doth thee no good to have all the answers. Thou must needs find them for thyself or thou shalt never advance in wisdom. All that is required of thee to know at this time is that Artemus is in need of thy special gifts, so that he may experience peace within himself once again.”

“Yes, Atar,” Raguel said meekly.

Atar started walking again and Raguel hastened to catch up. “Now, thou wilt enter Arda at the following spatial-temporal coordinates,” his Creator said and even as they were walking, Atar raised a hand and began writing symbols in the air. Raguel memorized them instantly. “Keep in mind that when thou dost enter linear Time, the events which thou didst see transpire in Vorondur’s office will not have taken place yet. That will be a week hence from these temporal coordinates. Thou must take care to keep this knowledge to thyself until that day.”

“Should I not be able to use the knowledge to bring Námo to task?”

“Yes, but at the proper time. When thou dost arrive in Arda thou wilt do so not as the Prince of the Chayyoth but as My envoy to coordinate battle plans for the coming War. Only when what happens with Artemus transpireth may thou actest as my Sword and bring Námo to account for his actions, but heed Me, Child. Námo has not transgressed My laws, he is not Aulendil or even Melkor. Thou shalt correct him gently but correct him thou shalt.”

“Publically, or in private?”

“I will allow thee to decide that. His chastisement is not for woe but for weal. Remind them of the Yána Elenion. Remind them that I am there to bring them healing and hope. They just need to seek Me out.”

Raguel nodded and Atar took him into His embrace and kissed him in benediction. “Go now, My best beloved. Bring them all what they most need: My love.”

Atar stepped back and Raguel bowed. Then, with a single thought he was gone, winging himself through the portal that would take him from the Timeless Halls into Eä. For a time that was timeless, Atar stood there smiling at the space where his beloved Child had been, then sighing for effect He turned to the next item on His to-do list, silently calling for one of the Ayanuz of the Second Choir to attend Him as He continued walking through the gardens.

****

Mittatyalië Mardi Lúmelórassen: (Quenya) ‘Interlude in the Timeless Halls’. Mittatyalië, literally means, ‘interplay’, which is the original meaning of interlude.

Ayanuz (pl. Ayanumuz): Valarin: Ainu, i.e. a Holy One (pl. Ainur), in general terms, what we would call an angel regardless of the Choir to which any one of them belongs. This is the original term for those whom we know as the Valar and Maiar.

Máyar: (Quenya) An older form of Maiar. There is no attested Valarin form for the name of this angelic choir.

Notes:

1. Raguel, in Judeo-Christian lore, is the archangel of justice, fairness, harmony and vengeance. He appears in the Book of Enoch and in the Gospel of Bartholomew, among other non-canonical writings of the Jews and early Christians. The name means ‘Friend of God’. In Quenya, the name would be rendered Erundil. His colors are traditionally pale blue or white.

2. Kadoshim Chayyoth: (Hebrew) ‘Holy, heavenly beasts’(Holy Hayyoth in English), a class of Merkabah angels equated or ranked with the Kerubim (Cherubim), second only to the Seraphim in the choir of angels. They are Heaven’s warriors and, when summoned, are sent to purge those who transgress against God’s laws. They traditionally guard the entrance to Eden with flaming swords. Chayyiel is their ruling prince along with Raguel.

When Raguel arrived at the space-time coordinates given him by Atar he found himself in Manwë’s audience chamber in Valmar and everyone was still shouting at everyone else. He allowed himself to incarnate, adopting the style of dress worn by the Mortals of the day: a pair of white slacks and a pale blue button-down shirt over which he wore a white silk vest. His feet were shod in black leather loafers and had he been in Wiseman instead of Valmar, most people would probably not have looked at him twice. No one paid him any attention as he manifested his fana, leaning casually against a pillar off to one side of the chamber where he could see everything, his arms and legs crossed in a casual pose as he looked over the scene before him.

His brother Manwë was seated on his throne with Varda beside him and Raguel smiled at the sight of her, for he well remembered her when they had all resided in the Timeless Halls. She was as beautiful and as regal as ever. The other Valar were also there, ranged about the thrones, as was Eönwë in his capacity as Herald and Oathkeeper. Manveru, Erunáro and Aicatirno were also there, all three looking rather uncomfortable. Eönwë kept stealing glances at the three, shaking his head, and then looking worriedly at Námo standing serenely beside his brother Irmo, apparently unfazed by all the shouting.

And there was plenty of that, Raguel saw with amusement. Before the thrones stood the three High Kings, Celeborn, Galadriel, Gil-galad and Sador. Maedhros, Maglor and Denethor were also there, along with Eärendil and Turgon. At the moment, Ingwë, Arafinwë and Olwë were all demanding an explanation for Námo’s decision to bring the Mortal before the All-Aman Council without consulting them first. At the same time, Sador and Gil-galad apparently were shouting at one another over Gil-galad’s decision not to allow Sador to join his brothers in Endórë while the firstborn son of Fëanáro was loudly insisting to Eärendil that he be allowed to go to Wiseman immediately so he could “Be with my new gwador, Alexgrant!”

“Maedhros, for the love of Eru, will you stop going on about Alexgrant!” Maglor shouted above everyone else, effectively silencing them all. The second-born son of Fëanáro clenched his hands, shaking his head with his eyes closed, muttering imprecations, obviously at his wit’s end, and Raguel had the distinct feeling that Macalaurë was seconds away from slugging his older brother, who stood there glowering at everyone. Raguel almost laughed out loud when Eönwë sighed, the sound loud in the silence, and a blue leather-bound book suddenly appeared in his hands along with a quill. The book opened of itself to a particular page and he began writing. The Eldar watched him with unalloyed fascination and Maedhros’ anger at his brother was momentarily forgotten by him.

Into the ensuing silence, Manwë spoke, sounding as frustrated as Raguel had ever heard him. “My children, please, let us remain calm. I promise we will get to the bottom of this. Námo, perhaps you would explain yourself.”

Námo raised an eyebrow at Manwë, his expression forbidding. “I am not in the habit of explaining anything to anyone, least of all to the mirroanwi,” he said and even Raguel felt himself shivering at the Vala’s tone, understanding now why Melkor had tried so hard to suborn the younger Ayanuz to his will: Melkor with Námo at his side would have been unstoppable. All the Eldar paled visibly and the Maiar straightened automatically. Námo’s fellow Valar just stood there, though Raguel saw both Ulmo and Oromë roll their eyes. Manwë, obviously not in the mood, allowed his expression to darken.

“Make an exception, just this once, my son.”

Yes, the Elder King was definitely having kittens, Raguel thought to himself, highly amused. He heard distant laughter from the Timeless Halls as Atar shared his own amusement at what was transpiring. For a moment, Námo did not respond, his expression fell, the temperature in the chamber dropping precipitously, and Raguel wondered how long Manwë would wait before calling upon Higher Authority to make his fellow Vala speak, but before the Elder King’s patience was further tried, Námo relented.

“Too many of the Council were dismissive of the Mortals and the role they must play in what is to come,” he said. “I decided a demonstration of their worth was in order.” He paused and looked straight at Manwë. “And I did have Atar’s permission to bring him here.”

Oh, he just loved it when someone handed him his cue and he was so tempted to step in at that very moment and haul Námo over the coals then and there, but he decided doing so before the Eldar would not be politic at this time. The Children did not necessarily need to witness him chastising one whom they looked upon with awe and respect. He was not here to destroy their morale even more than it already was. Manwë gave his fellow Vala a jaundiced look, shaking his head. “I rather doubt Atar countenanced having two of my own attack Alex Grant, never mind Aicatirno, and when you asked me to loan them to you, I thought it was because you needed them for something important.”

“This was important, Manwë,” Námo countered. “The Eldar of Aman needed to see for themselves the worth of Mortals and Alex Grant was the best one to show them.”

“And what about Alex?” Irmo asked, his expression coldly clinical. Raguel could tell that Námo’s younger brother was decidedly unhappy with his older brother. “Did you ever consider what effect all this would have on him, how being forced to kill again would destroy what little confidence he has that he can live a normal life?”

“And what is normal about his or anyone else’s life, Irmo?” Námo shot back. “And yes, I did consider it, but I think we don’t give that Child enough credit. Alex is stronger than you know.”

“That may be, but while you obtained Atar’s permission to bring him here, I don’t think you obtained Alex’s, am I correct?” Manwë asked shrewdly.

Raguel watched with interest as Námo hesitated for a moment, looking momentarily unsure, and then shook his head without offering any explanation. Manwë nodded. “We will discuss your… lapse in good manners another time, my son,” he said softly. Raguel raised an eyebrow as Námo almost cringed. Ah, his brother was not the Elder King of Arda for nothing and Raguel truly wondered why Atar had sent him here. Manwë looked ready to skin the younger Ayanuz alive and hang him out to dry and only the presence of the Eldar kept him from doing so. Raguel felt his presence to be superfluous. A wave of love swept through him in benediction and he closed his eyes briefly, knowing that Atar was there with him, as He always was. Well, perhaps chastisement coming from him rather than from Manwë would make more of an impression on Námo. Or he could simply bear witness to the fact that Atar had not approved of what had been done to the Mortal and leave it for Manwë to mete out any punishment necessary. He opened his eyes and realized with some amusement that he’d been found out. Maedhros was staring at him in wonder, pulling on Maglor’s arm, trying to get his brother’s attention.

“Maedhros, not now!” Maglor hissed, but Maedhros kept pulling on his brother’s arm and pointing at Raguel.

“Who’s he?” he demanded and everyone now looked around to see what had caught the Reborn’s attention.

Raguel straightened his pose but otherwise did not move, waiting to see what the others did. He allowed his electromagnetic signature to be more visible to his fellow Ayanuz so they would recognize him, for none of them had ever seen him in fana. The Eldar only noticed a blue-white glow about him and recognized that he was neither an Elda nor a Mortal, though he could have passed for either one. They looked upon him with open curiosity and all three Reborn offered him friendly smiles, which he returned.

The reactions of the Valar and Maiar were something else again. Eönwë hissed in shock and all four Maiar went for their swords, obviously intending to defend their masters from him, which he found both amusing and endearing. The Valar appeared stunned and he could see Manwë biting his lips, a look of anguish on his fair countenance, and Raguel felt sorry for him, believing that he was there to finally punish them for all their mistakes in governing Eä. He gave his brother Ayanuz a gentle smile and a slight shake of his head, hoping to allay his fears. Manwë did not look comforted, but he pulled himself together and addressed the Eldar.

“Please leave, Children. We will resume this discussion later.”

The older Elves gave the Vala considering looks, obviously recognizing that the presence of the stranger had upset the Valar and Maiar without understanding why. Ingwë gave the Elder King his obeisance which the others echoed, all but Maedhros, who came to stand before Raguel, his expression guileless. “Greetings! My name is Maedhros. What’s yours?”

Raguel smiled at the Reborn, well aware of the others watching his every move. “Greetings, child. My name is Raguel.”

“That’s a funny name,” Maedhros exclaimed with a laugh.

Raguel’s smile deepened. “In your language, my name would be Erundil.”

That sobered the Elda somewhat and he gave Raguel a more considering look. “Are you and Eru really friends?”

“I would like to think so,” Raguel said, glancing briefly over Maedhros’ head at Manwë and the other Valar, none of them looking happy. Returning his attention to the Reborn before him, he added, “and He is your friend, too.” Maedhros nodded. “Now, I think you and the others should leave as Manwë has asked. I need to discuss some business with him.”

“Yes, go, my children,” the Elder King said rising and Varda joined him. “We will resume our discussion later, I promise.”

Ingwë began herding the others out, all of them stealing wondering glances at him. Maglor came over and pulled Maedhros away. Soon only the Valar, the four Maiar and Raguel were left. No one moved or said anything; all of them watching him warily. Raguel wanted to laugh. Instead he made his way across the chamber to where the others were, giving the four Maiar an amused look that did not comfort them.

“And did you think your swords would save you or anyone had I called upon the Kadoshim Chayyoth, children?” He asked dismissively. All four Maiar looked stricken. Without waiting for an answer he turned to Manwë and Varda, opening his arms to embrace them and give them kisses in greeting. “Manwë, my brother, it is good to see you again and Varda! You are as lovely as ever.”

“Raguel, what are you doing here?” Manwë asked faintly, swallowing nervously. “Has… has Atar finally decided to punish us for our… um… constant stupidity?”

Raguel gave the Vala a sly look. “Oh, I don’t know, Manwë. I would think being yelled at by all three high kings at the same time while having to listen to the firstborn son of Fëanáro go on about ‘my new gwador, Alexgrant’, punishment enough, wouldn’t you say?” He had pitched his voice at the last to sound very much like the Reborn, eliciting involuntary snorts of laughter from his listeners.

When the laughter died down a bit, though, his expression sobered. “That is not to say that chastisement is not in the offing, only that I am not here solely for that reason.” He looked directly at Námo as he said this and the Vala raised an imperious eyebrow. Everyone else eyed Raguel nervously.

“For what other purpose are you here, brother?” Manwë asked.

“Hmm? Oh, Atar wants to start coordinating efforts between us in case He decides to allow the Kerubim and Seraphim to join you in the War.”

“I thought that Atar had decreed that we alone would confront Melkor and his People, since he is or was our problem from the beginning,” Manwë countered.

Raguel nodded. “I think you will bear the brunt of the attack, yes, but Atar thinks that having the First and Second Choirs on standby alert only prudent. Melkor cannot attack the Timeless Halls, though I wouldn’t put it past him to give it a try. Dude is totally obsessive.”

“What?!” Manwë exclaimed with a laugh and the others looked equally nonplused, though Raguel noticed a small twitch of a smile on Námo’s part.

Raguel chuckled. “Sorry. I’ve been looking in on the Mortals of Wiseman lately to see how they and the Eldar are getting along and I guess I’ve picked up some of their speech patterns. They are very… expressive in an irreverent way.”

“To say the least,” Námo said with a nod, then his mien darkened. “All right, Raguel, now that we’ve gotten all the pleasantries out of the way, why don’t you do what you do best, summon the Chayyoth and let’s get this over with. I’m sure you have places to go and people to destroy, so let’s not waste anymore of our time pretending you’re here on a visit among friends.”

Every one of the Valar, with the exception of Manwë and Varda (for they had no way to do so with their thrones at their backs) stepped away from Námo, even Vairë, as the Lord of Mandos stared down Raguel, not about to give him an inch or apologize, waiting for doom to fall upon him. Running was useless, they all knew. Were the Chayyoth summoned, there would be nowhere in this or any other universe or dimension where any of them could safely hide. Raguel gave Námo a considering look, remembering with fondness the younger Ayanuz when he first came into existence, all wide-eyed and eager and totally innocent. Looking at him now, he saw one who had endured torture and shame at the hands of Melkor and had conquered his own dark nature, remaining in the Light. The innocence was gone, but in its place was something more precious: wisdom and acceptance.

“Still full of yourself, aren’t you, Námo?” Raguel finally answered, smiling slightly. “Now, I remember a certain Ayanuz bouncing between stars looking for a good place to sleep while his Máyar chased him all over this dimension. Still giving poor Maranwë a hard time? It amazes me that he or any of your People put up with your histrionics, and your poor wife. Vairë, you have my sympathy.” He turned back to Manwë, effectively dismissing Námo for the moment, ignoring the stunned looks on everyone else’s faces. “Now, where were we? Ah, yes… coordinating efforts.” He took Manwë by the arm and started for the door. “Now, I was thinking I need to see how your warriors train and what measures you’ve taken so far….”

****

The two ended up in the rose garden, stopping at a fountain in the shape of four wingless dragon-like creatures standing back-to-back with the water spouting out of their open mouths. Raguel had done most of the talking as they had wandered away from the others with Manwë grunting, sighing or otherwise making appropriate noises to show that he was listening to the Prince of the Kerubim, who was effectively his superior, though had Manwë remained in the Timeless Halls, he would have been ranked with the First Choir as well. However, being Elder King of Arda was not the same as being a Prince of the Kerubim. Ruling the Little Kingdom was small potatoes in comparison.

Raguel glanced over at Manwë who stood staring pensively into the water. His brother was still very unhappy and feeling insecure and no doubt worried about the fate of the Lord of Mandos. No doubt they all were, though Raguel suspected that Námo was not so much worried as he was impatient to get it over with so he could get back to his work. Raguel hid a smile. What was it Mortals called it? Ah, yes, job security. No one else in this or any other universe would be daft enough to want to take over Námo’s duties as Lord of Mandos and Doomsman of Arda should Námo be recalled to the Timeless Halls or remanded to the Void for his sins, and Námo knew it!

“Relax, Manwë,” he said. “It’s not as dire as all that.”

“What do you intend to do?”

Raguel thought for a moment. “Is the All-Aman Council still in session?”

Manwë looked at him with a nod. “They’ve only met the two times so far and what happened with Alex Grant has them all in a tizzy. Ingwë declared a recess until Aldúya, that’s two days from now.”

Raguel nodded his understanding. “Well, certain things need to happen first before I can render judgment.”

“What things?” Manwë demanded.

Raguel shook his head. “I’m sorry, my brother, but there are some things you are not privileged to know just yet.”

“In other words, Atar doesn’t trust me and you can protest all you want to the contrary but I know you’re here to take over and send the rest of us packing for our incompetence and stupidity.”

Raguel sighed in frustration. “No, Manwë. I am not here to take over. Frankly, I wouldn’t take your job for love or money, as I believe the Mortal expression goes. You have a thankless job and believe me, I know about thankless jobs. I can’t go anywhere among our fellow Ayanumuz without them all getting nervous and suspicious because they think I’m there to render chastisement for imagined sins, when all I want is to enjoy their fellowship. It gets rather wearying after a while. I hate being the bad guy all the time.”

Manwë actually snorted and Raguel gave him a surprised look. “You should hear Námo on the subject,” the Elder King said. “The two of you should go to a tavern and drown your sorrows in drink while trying to outdo each other with just how much your respective jobs suck.”

Raguel burst out laughing. “Perhaps we should, but I think I will have to wait until after.”

“What do you intend to do?” Manwë asked again, looking weary and resigned.

“Well, I wanted to summon the Kadoshim Chayyoth, but Atar thought that was a bit extreme.” Raguel said rather blandly.

Manwë swallowed nervously. “I once told Námo that if he crossed the line again I would personally escort him to the Void.”

“Ah yes, I remember that,” Raguel said with a fond smile. “It’s just as well you never had to. Some might construe that as cruel and unusual punishment where Melkor is concerned, having to put up with Námo as a companion.”

The very drollness of his tone caught the Elder King off-guard and he gave Raguel a disbelieving look that slowly mutated into a sly smile. “There’s an expression among the Mortals that I’ve heard: ‘When I die, I’ll go to Purgatory because Heaven won’t have me and Hell’s afraid I’ll take over’”.

Raguel smiled back. “Yes, that’s Námo all over. Manwë, you have nothing to fear either for yourself or for Námo. Yes, I’m here to give him a little chat, as I believe he himself calls it, and yes, it will be somewhat public because I think the Eldar, or at least those who are their leaders, need to know and understand an important truth.”

“And what truth is that?”

“That even you who are the Guardians of Arda are answerable to the One for your actions or inactions and that applies to the Eldar as well. Atar is well aware of their despair and your efforts to combat it. He knows you have done everything short of ordering them to be happy to lift them out of their state. You are correct that the Elves of Wiseman and the Mortals who have befriended them are the key to restoring their hope, but I think the Amaneldi need a more forceful wake-up call, so to speak.”

“So you will put Námo on trial, humiliate him before—”

“Humiliation is not what I plan, Manwë,” Raguel interrupted somewhat impatiently, “but make no mistake: Atar sent me here to make Námo accountable for what he has done to young Artemus. He has yet to realize that the child is far more fragile than he suspects.”

“And you know this for sure?”

Raguel nodded. “Yes, for I have seen it. No.” He held up a hand to stay Manwë’s next words. “I will not speak of it further. The time for speaking is not yet, but soon. In the meantime, I think I would like a tour of Valinor, get an idea of what the actual state of the Eldar is so I can better help you to plan how to counter their despair and restore them to estel.”

Manwë nodded, looking resigned. “Let us retire to Ilmarin, then. You will be able to see all of Arda from there, and if you will permit, I will ask Varda to join us. With her beside us you will be able to see further and more clearly.”

Raguel smiled. “Yes, by all means, let us summon your lovely wife.”

And with that, Manwë sent him the appropriate coordinates even as he called to Varda and then the two were gone, leaving the rose garden to itself.

****

Amaneldi: (Quenya) plural of Amanelda (sic): An Elf of Aman.

The Prince of the Kerubim kept out of sight for the most part during the following week as he waited for the time when he could act. He was sometimes seen in Manwë’s presence, the two primarily discussing training and tactics. Occasionally, Oromë would join them.

“Though really, you should be talking to Námo,” the Lord of the Hunt said at one point. “He’s our greatest strategist.”

“It would be better to wait until after,” Raguel countered.

“Oh, and will there be an after for any of us?” Oromë practically sneered while Manwë went white.

Raguel sighed and deigned not to answer, simply asking his questions about tactics as if the Vala had not spoken. Reluctantly, the other two answered him and the subject of Námo was not brought up again.

In truth, none of the Valar were in a good mood with him there and they studiously avoided him. Ulmo flat out refused to leave his own realm and Raguel was forced to go to him instead. Ulmo was polite enough in a distant sort of way but it was obvious that he had no use for him and wished him gone. When he was not in conference with Manwë, Raguel spent much of his time in the conservatory in Ilmarin, sitting on a bench before the central fountain. It reminded him so much of the gardens of the Timeless Halls and he felt closer to Atar there than anywhere in Valinor, which he knew was ridiculous, for Atar was ever with him wherever he went.

He understood why they all felt as they did, but it didn’t make it any easier for him. In the end, he was one lonely Ayanuz and wanted to curse Atar for sending him there, for even making him who and what he was. Why couldn’t someone else be the heavy for a change, let him play the good guy for once? It was a ridiculous notion, of course, and he knew it, but it didn’t make it any less true, and in the end, everyone hated him.

*Not everyone, child,* came the gentle voice of Atar.

“Just once, just once,” he said out loud. He could almost see Atar’s smile as he felt the brush of his Creator’s hand on his forehead and His love sweeping through his fëa, and gave a sigh of pleasure, closing his eyes. After a moment, as he felt Atar withdraw, leaving him to himself, he opened his eyes to see someone standing before him.

“Hello, Raguel. It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?”

Raguel blinked and stood up. “Olórin?”

Olórin smiled, opening his arms to embrace him and after a moment’s hesitation, Raguel hugged him back, the two exchanging kisses as between brothers. “Still giving Atar a hard time, Raguel?” the Maia asked as they separated.

“What do you mean?” Raguel protested. “I’ve never given Atar a hard time, unlike some Ayanumuz I know. You, as I recall, were often getting yourself into one kind of scrape or another.”

“Still am,” Olórin said with a chuckle, then gave Raguel a shrewd look. “So, Atar finally caught up with us, did He? Well, it had to happen sooner or later, though I imagine we’re pretty far down His to-do list, hmmm?”

“That I wouldn’t know,” Raguel said primly. “I just go where He tells me.”

“So when will you be hauling Lord Námo over the coals?” Olórin asked as he sat down on the bench.

Raguel sighed as he resumed his own seat. “Do you think I enjoy this, Olórin? Because I don’t. I never have, but it is what I was created for and I do my job to the best of my abilities.”

“Oh, I know that, my friend,” Olórin assured him. “You and Eönwë probably have the most thankless jobs in any universe.”

“Oh?”

The Maia nodded. “I can’t tell you the number of times he’s come to me practically in tears, forced to record some of the oaths uttered by the Children.” Olórin shook his head in dismay. “When Fëanáro… I thought Eönwë was going to have a heart-attack or a stroke like some Mortal. He could barely hold the quill in his hand and I had to support him. And then when Fëanáro’s sons uttered the same oath!”

“I have nothing but the deepest respect for him,” Raguel said softly. “His strength of character is amazing to behold and if I did not know that he was of the Second Choir, I would think him one of us who belong to the First Choir.”

“Many think he is,” Olórin said with a slight smile, “or should be. In truth, though, he is content to be who and what he is.”

“And you? Have you ever wished you had been placed among the First Choir and been one of the Valar?”’

“Oh no! I am quite content with my lot in life,” the Maia assured him. “Besides, fewer headaches and I get to travel.” He gave Raguel a sly smile and Raguel chuckled. “So, how soon?”

Raguel sighed. “Soon enough. I need to wait for certain events to happen first.”

“Certain events, meaning, Alex Grant.”

Raguel gave him a surprised look and Olórin smiled. “Oh, don’t look so surprised, my friend. I know what happened with the Mortal when he was brought to Valmar in the spirit. Poor boy’s been having nightmares. I’ve checked in on him when my duties do not keep me in Wiseman.”

“I understand you and Fionwë are both there keeping watch,” Raguel said. “A bit of overkill, wouldn’t you say? One Maia is enough to take out the entire star system, never mind one small town.”

“Ah, but with both Glorfindel and Finrod under the same roof, my Lord Manwë’s not taking any chances.”

“Even Atar refers to Glorfindel as ‘that impossible ellon’.” The two shared a laugh.

When they had calmed down a bit, Olórin stood. “Speaking of which, I need to get back to Wiseman. Between Glorfindel fading and Alex… well, a Maia’s work is never done.”

“Atar said the situation with Glorfindel was well in hand,” Raguel said as he stood also.

Olórin shrugged. “Depends on your definition, I suppose. Glorfindel refuses to acknowledge that he is in danger of fading, that the Enemy is targeting him especially. Lord Irmo’s dream I think has set off a chain of events the outcome of which I doubt even Lord Námo can safely predict. Add Alex Grant into the mix and you have trouble with a capital T, as they say.”

“And my being here doesn’t help matters,” Raguel said with a nod.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Olórin countered. “I think you being here is probably what we all need.”

“Why do you say that? In fact, you seem to be the only one who actually is glad to see me.” Raguel eyed the Maia with some suspicion.

“Of course I’m glad to see you, old friend,” Olórin said with a chuckle. “I may just be a Maia and not even very high in standing among my fellows, but I’ve always been sympathetic toward you, you know that. Now, I’m not saying that I wish to see Lord Námo chastised, but I knew as soon as I saw what was going down in the council chamber with Alex that there would be trouble. I will not speak against any of my masters, but I honestly believe you being here can only help us, however painful the process might be. Now, I must go.” The Maia gave him a heartfelt hug and then was gone. For a long moment Raguel just stood there staring at the space where Olórin had been and then resumed his seat.

“Thank you, Atar,” he said quietly, accepting the gift he had been given. He felt Atar’s presence brush against his fëa and sighed in contentment, filled with Atar’s Peace.

****

The All-Aman Council resumed meeting on Aldúya as Manwë had said, but they did not get far in their deliberations. When Ingwë brought up the possibility of enforced colonization most of the delegates protested rather loudly and threatened to simply walk out. Some even demanded that the Council be disbanded so they could all go home. Raguel, when he heard this, went to Manwë who was with Varda, the two taking their ease in one of the gardens surrounding their mansion in Valmar. Eönwë was with them, standing attendance.

“They need to remain here,” he told the Elder King. “I don’t care if they meet or not, but they cannot leave, not yet.”

“Yet, for how long?” Manwë demanded in frustration. “You say you are here to see Námo chastised but then you do nothing and we’re left twiddling our thumbs while you apparently are waiting for the magic moment. If you’re going to do it, do it and then go and leave us to pick up the pieces. Why Atar sent you to torture us this way, I don’t know and I don’t care. You want the Children to stay until you decide they can leave, you figure a way to do it. I’m too busy.”

Raguel stood stunned to immobility as Manwë stalked away, fading into the fabric of the universe, leaving him alone with Varda and Eönwë both looking uncomfortable in his presence.

“He’s been under a lot of strain lately,” Varda said apologetically after a moment or two of embarrassed silence. “We all have.”

“I don’t like this any better than you do, Varda. In fact, I hate it and I hate being here.” And with that, Raguel thought himself away, away from Valmar, away from Arda, until he was standing on a world in another galaxy whose present light would not reach Arda for several million years. It was an airless world that circled a blue giant and beset by violent stellar storms. He did not bother to incarnate, but simply allowed the coruscant flares from the star to bathe him with their electromagnetic warmth until he felt less tense and was able to think more clearly.

*Running away doth not help matters,* he heard the gentle reprimand from Atar.

*Perhaps not,* Raguel allowed, *but it was either that or stay and end up systematically destroying all of Valmar and most of Valinor while working out my frustration.*

Atar’s amused laughter rang through his fëa.

*It is not funny, Atar. I meant what I said.*

*Of course thou didst, child.*

*Manwë’s right. I should have simply come in, done my job and then left. Hanging about, waiting for some stupid Mortal to have a hissy fit, what’s the point? Other than to drive everyone to distraction, including me! If my brethren didn’t hate me before, they certainly hate me now. I’m tired of playing Thine enforcer, Atar. Thou dost wish to punish somebody, do it Thyself because I quit!*

*And what wilt thou do instead?* Atar asked curiously, sounding not at all upset or angry.

*Take up farming or basket-weaving. I don’t know or care. I just know that I’m tired of it all. I’m tired of my brothers and sisters despising me. I’m tired of being greeted with fear and suspicion instead of with joy and thanksgiving. I’m just tired. Find someone else to do thy dirty work, Atar. I’m no longer available. I’m sure Chayyiel will enjoy taking over my duties.*

*Chayyiel knoweth his limitations; he will not appreciate the… um… promotion,* Atar said with faint amusement. *Child, I know thou’rt frustrated and angry, but I assure thee all will be well. Námo’s chastisement is but a small part of thy mission and not even the most important part.*

*Then why couldn’t I have just come at the proper time and gotten it over with?* Raguel pleaded. *Why art thou making us all sweat?*

Atar’s joyous laughter rang through the universe and, in spite of himself, Raguel could sense his own mood lifting at the sound of it. When the laughter died down, Raguel felt Atar’s kiss of benediction and then He withdrew, leaving the Ayanuz alone with his thoughts as the flares continued to warm him.

*Ah, there you are.*

Raguel did not turn around, for in his natural state there was no need; he simply altered the focus of his attention to see the last person he was expecting: Tulkas.

*How did you find me?* Raguel asked. *Did Atar—?*

*You left a trail that the stupidest, blindest Mortal could have followed,* Tulkas replied dismissively. *I am neither stupid nor blind.*

*And you are here, why?*

*Well, I have half a mind to pick you up and throw you into the nearest black hole, or maybe I’ll just bat you around the universe for a bit until you stop feeling sorry for yourself.*

Raguel, had he been in fana, would have dropped his jaw in disbelief. As it was, his normal blue-white aura went toward the yellow spectrum in shock. Tulkas just chuckled.

*Why are you here, Tulkas?* Raguel asked again.

Tulkas answered by surrounding him with his own self in the electromagnetic equivalent of a bear-hug. *Because you should not be alone,* came the surprising answer.

*I’m always alone, Tulkas, even when I’m in the company of others, or haven’t you noticed?* Raguel countered rather heatedly.

*Oh, I noticed,* Tulkas said. *I also noticed that you are no more happy to be here than we are to have you, but when has that ever stopped you from carrying out your duties. Well I remember the number of times you hauled me before Atar’s Throne and Chayyiel! Is he still as bloodthirsty as he was back then?*

*He’s not bloodthirsty, Tulkas,* Raguel couldn’t help saying in a teasing tone in spite of the situation, *merely dedicated.*

*I suppose that’s one way of putting it,* Tulkas allowed. *Raguel, in spite of appearances, I have nothing but the deepest respect for you and what you do. It’s a lousy job, I know, but I cannot think of anyone else I would rather see doing it.*

Raguel’s aura shifted slightly toward a particular shade of green that always signified puzzlement for him. *I would think you would be the last person to defend me.*

Tulkas boomed a laugh. *Oh, I am not defending you, Brother.* He paused and his normally reddish aura flickered golden with amusement. *Do you know who you remind me of? Námo.*

*Oh?*

*Yes. You both have thankless jobs, and believe me, Námo’s job is indeed thankless, having to deal with the fëar of Elves and Mortals when they find themselves in his Halls. The Elves are the worst from what I’ve heard. Yet, in spite of it, he fulfills his duties with joy and with compassion even when he must act the Judge. You’re much the same, or you used to be. Certainly you were with me. Even as you were bringing me to task for some misdemeanor or another, I could see that you genuinely wished for my betterment. Whatever punishment you meted out was not done out of cruelty or vengeance but for correction, and I will be the first to acknowledge that I needed a lot of that in my younger days.*

Tulkas boomed another laugh that fairly shook the world they were standing on, nearly sending it out of its orbit.

*You weren’t that bad,* Raguel said, looking upon the younger Ayanuz fondly. *They miss you, you know, your friends, even Phanaínithil.*

*Now I find that hard to believe,* Tulkas retorted jovially. *I was the bane of her existence. Is she still reciting lousy poetry.*

*She has improved over the ages,* Raguel said carefully. “Ullukeluth eventually agreed to give her lessons.*

*Hmm…* Tulkas’ aura shifted toward blue to indicate skepticism before returning to its normal shade. *Well, when you go back, please give them my greetings. In the meantime, are you going to continue sulking or what?*

*I am not sulking!*

*Right. Which is why I find you hanging about in another galaxy far, far away. Besides, you’re missing all the fun.*

Raguel’s aura shifted to a shade of yellow that indicated disbelief. *What fun? What are you going on about?*

*Oh, just that Ingwë, Arafinwë and Olwë have Manwë cornered demanding that he Do Something,* and the way he said it, Raguel could almost see the capital letters.

“Do something? Do what? And how does any incarnate corner one of us?*

Tulkas’ aura brightened with a smile. *Ah, well, if you want to know the answers to your questions, you’ll have to come back and see for yourself.*

Raguel was almost tempted, but in the end, he decided he didn’t care. Let them deal with their own problems themselves; he had plenty of his own and was in no mood to return just yet. Tulkas seemed to guess what his decision was before he even spoke, for he gave Raguel another bear-hug.

*Well, it was just a thought,* he said. *Should I stay and keep you company? Nessa won’t mind if I’m not back until later. She, Vána and Yavanna are busy plotting ways to inspire certain ellith to want to conceive. Of course, I pointed out that the said ellith need willing ellyn to achieve that goal as it takes two to tango, as the Mortals would say. None of them appreciated my input.*

Raguel chuckled. *I appreciate the offer, but really, you do not have to hang about with me. I’ll be fine. I really just need to be alone for a little while longer. I’ll be back soon enough, I promise.*

*If you’re sure,* Tulkas said doubtfully.

*Yes, I am. Now off with you. And Tulkas, thanks… for everything.*

Tulkas just laughed as he thought himself away. For a long while that could have been measured in hours or days, Raguel remained in contemplation. *First Olórin, then Tulkas. Who’s next, Atar? Námo?*

Atar’s only answer was laughter.

Time fled and while Raguel was several million lightyears away, he knew what was happening back in Arda and in particular, what was happening with the Mortal Artemus. Thus, the day that he’d been waiting for came and with a single thought he was back on Arda where he sought out Manwë taking his ease with Varda in the conservatory in Ilmarin. They both gave him startled looks and he had the feeling that they had hoped he would just stay away for good.

He ignored the hurt he felt at their reaction to his arrival and said, “It is time, Manwë. Summon thou thy fellows and the Eldar of the All-Aman Council to the Máhanaxar.”

“And should I have Námo brought in chains while I do?” the Elder King asked acerbically.

Raguel grimaced, but before he could offer a retort, there was a flurry of multi-color lights and Námo was there in all his chthonic splendor. “That won’t be necessary, Manwë,” the Lord of Mandos said. “I am here. Let’s get this over with, shall we?”

****

Note: Phanaínithil ‘Bright Lily’ and Ullukeluth ‘Water Mirror’ are mentioned in Wars of the Valar, chapter 34.

Raguel waited for all the Valar to incarnate before their respective thrones in the Máhanaxar before making his own entrance. He had taken special care in how he would present himself, particularly before the Eldar ranged between the thrones with the three high kings standing together between the thrones of the Elder King and the Elentári. Gone was the modern-style clothing he had effected earlier. In its place he wore a pure white robe of heavy silk that fell to the floor and was cinched at the waist by a gold-linked belt interspersed with sapphires. The sides were slit to the hips, showing white wool leggings and white leather ankle boots. The sleeves of the robe were wide and trailing, a shirt of whitest lawn underneath, and the front was picked out in gold-thread embroidery showing a judge’s gavel, a symbol of his office. Over this he wore a cerulean blue mantle on the back of which was appliquéd a scale pierced by a sword: a reminder that justice, peace and harmony often came at a price. His long black hair was graced by a circlet of white gold with a single multi-faceted sapphire in the center. On his left hip hung a sword in a tooled-leather scabbard.

At his appearance in the center of the Ring of Doom, the Valar, each accompanied by their respective chief Maia, bowed before taking their seats. In contrast to the Eldar, who stood in all their court finery, bedecked with gems and precious metals glittering in the noonday sun, the Valar were more sober in their attire, eschewing bright colors for darker shades. Some of the Eldar, Raguel noticed with amusement, gaped at his brighter appearance while others appeared dismayed and even angry, though he was unsure why this was so. He allowed them to get a good look at him as he turned about, addressing them in Quenya.

“I am Raguel, or, in your language, Erundil, an Ainu of the First Choir, what you would call a Vala. I am come from the Timeless Halls, sent by Eru Ilúvatar to exact justice for a Mortal named Artemus Gordon Meriwether, whom you know as Alex Grant.”

“And what has that to do with us?”

Raguel turned to face the Elda who had spoken, a Noldo by his coloring, standing between the thrones of Oromë and Vána. Several of his fellows, standing nearby, stirred and he noticed Arafinwë frowning while Olwë whispered something in Ingwë’s ear that had the High King rolling his eyes and shaking his head.

“Do not be impertinent, Lord Morcocáno,” Manwë admonished the ellon sharply.

Raguel raised a hand. “Peace, Brother,” he said mildly. “It is a fair question, for after all, what does any Mortal have to do with you who are the Firstborn? The answer to that is because Eru loves them no less than He loves each of you and in His eyes you are all His Children. Artemus Gordon Meriwether has been wronged by one of the Valar and it is my task to bring him the justice he deserves.”

“And yet, I would ask again: What has this to do with us?” Morcocáno demanded, spreading his arms to encompass his fellow Elves. “If any of the Valar have wronged this Mortal, that may or may not be of concern to the parties involved, but we had nothing to do with it and frankly I don’t see the point. What punishment would you mete out? I have very little use for the Valar myself, but I would not see any of them humiliated just because some Mortal cries foul. From what I saw of this Alex Grant, I am sure he is quite capable of taking care of himself and does not need you or anyone else to be his champion.”

Raguel kept his expression neutral as the Eldar murmured among themselves while the Valar remained silent, allowing him to deal with the Noldo as he saw fit. He was beginning to regret having ordered the trial to be as public as it was. Perhaps it would’ve been better if he’d simply taken Námo to task in private and left it at that. He was wondering how to answer the ellon when surprisingly Námo spoke.

“Morcocáno, even after all this time you are still, shall we say… dense.”

The ellon bristled but did not offer a retort and Námo continued. “My Lord Raguel is not here to humiliate anyone. He is here because Eru is as concerned for the well-being of the Secondborn as He is for the Firstborn, for any of us who dwell here in the Blessed Realm. You and your fellow Elves are here solely as witnesses to justice for one who has no other recourse than to appeal to Eru, though the child is unaware that any of this is happening and I doubt he has consciously petitioned Eru for recompense, yet Ilúvatar hears all our prayers, whether uttered aloud or not. Now, I suggest you remain quiet for the nonce and allow Lord Raguel to continue.”

Morcocáno grimaced slightly but gave the Vala a short bow. Raguel felt somewhat at a loss as to why the person he had come to chastise was defending him and his mission to the Eldar. He turned to face Námo, who stood, exuding calm as he waited for Raguel to utter the charges against him. If the Vala was nervous or afraid, Raguel could not tell. Námo actually gave him a nod of encouragement when he hesitated a moment longer and suddenly Raguel had the feeling that things were really not as they seemed. He swallowed, keeping his expression neutral.

“Námo, Ainu of the First Choir, Lord of Mandos and Doomsman of Arda, thou standest accused of deliberately bringing spiritual harm to a Mortal, one Artemus Gordon Meriwether, also known as Alex Grant, in that you brought him here in the spirit without his permission and then forced him to kill one of the Maiar whom you had attack him. How do you plead?”

“Not guilty,” Námo said calmly while the Eldar murmured amongst themselves and the Valar and Maiar remained still as statues.

Raguel resisted a sigh. It would have been so much easier if the Vala had pleaded guilty. He really should have just summoned the Kadoshim Chayyoth when he first arrived and gotten it over with. He could be back in the Timeless Halls where he belonged by now. Thrusting that useless thought from his mind, he asked instead, “And hast thou any witnesses thou wishest to call in thy defense?”

Before Námo could reply, Manwë stood. “First, though, I would see proof that what thou sayest about Alex Grant is true. Let us see in what way he hath suffered harm from us.”

Raguel raised an eyebrow at Manwë’s words, for their implications were that, whatever sins Námo had committed, his fellow Valar would share the blame for them.

“If you wish,” Raguel said addressing them all and several of the Valar and not a few of the Eldar nodded. He nodded back and then with a small gesture he caused a rift in the space-time continuum to be opened in the middle of the Ring, so that they were seeing a scene from elsewhere and elsewhen. It was holographic so everyone saw it from their viewpoint as if it were right in front of them. Raguel exerted his power over them all so they would understand what was being said.

They initially saw Alex Grant sitting in an easy chair apparently asleep but suddenly startling awake. “Whoa! I need to leave off the anchovies from now on!” they heard him say and watched as he got up to get a fresh mug of coffee before returning to his chair. “Man, Ron’s gonna have a blessed field day with me when I tell him about my crazy dream.”

The scene shifted and now they saw Alex sleeping, but it was obvious that he was restless, for he tossed and turned and then he bolted upright with a yell. A moment later they heard knocking on the door of the room and then it opened to show two Mortal men wearing nothing but pajama bottoms.

One of them switched on the light as they came inside. “Hey, Alex! Are you alright?”

Alex blinked at them and nodded. “Sorry. Stupid nightmare.”

“Must’ve been some nightmare to make you yell like that,” the other Man said with a worried grin. “You want some water or something. You still look a little… frazzled.”

“No, thanks, guys. I appreciate it. I think I’ll just stay up for a while and read or something. You go back to bed. Sorry to wake you.”

Both Men grinned. “Oh, we weren’t sleeping… yet,” the first Man said suggestively.

They watched Alex seemingly blush. “Oh… ah… well… now I’m even sorrier.”

The two Men laughed. “You need anything, just call out.” With that, the two Men left, closing the door. Alex flopped back down on the bed with a groan and then uttered a few choice phrases of a scatological nature that had a few of the Eldar raising eyebrows in amusement. After a moment, though, they watched him as he got up, throwing a robe on to cover a pair of boxers, slipping his feet into slippers and padding out to the kitchen where he began making a cup of tea. Waiting for the water to boil he closed his eyes and leaned against a counter. They could all see how tense and drawn he was.

“God, I wish Ron were here,” they heard him whisper. “I sure could use his help.”

Then the scene shifted and it was daylight. Alex was now dressed, but he looked haggard. He was sitting at a table drinking coffee and reading a newspaper. The other two Men emerged from their bedroom.

“Morning,” one of them said in greeting. “Man, you look terrible. Did you even sleep last night?”

Alex shook his head. “Didn’t see the point.”

“Are you sure you’re going to be alright?” the other Man asked.

Alex smiled as he folded up the newspaper. “Yeah, I’m sure, Chad, but thanks for asking.” He stood up and went to rinse his mug out. “Gotta go. I’ll catch you later, okay?”

The other two Men nodded and wished him a good day. Alex grabbed a messenger bag and was soon out the door but the scene did not shift to follow him. Instead it remained with the two Men who gave each other worried glances.

“He hasn’t slept in two days,” Chad said with a sigh. “How long can he go without proper sleep, Chris?”

Chris shrugged. “Don’t know. I think he’ll eventually crash, but it won’t be a pretty sight when he does.”

“Whatever his nightmares are about, they must be absolutely terrifying if he refuses to sleep at all.”

“Well, not much we can do about it. At least this is the last week and then he’s off for the week until the next session. That might help some.”

“He’s heading back home, isn’t he?”

“Yeah. Wiseman.”

“Maybe while he’s there he can talk with someone about his nightmares, get some help.”

“Hopefully. Okay, it’s getting late. I better get going. You up for lunch?”

“Sure. I’ll pick you up after your class, okay?”

They watched as the two Men kissed briefly and then Chad was alone.

Now the scene shifted once again and they watched as Alex entered Vorondur’s office and then continued watching the arrival of Finrod and the Mortal’s eventual breakdown. They listened to the conversation in the bedroom.

“… I’m nothing but a killer,” they heard Alex exclaim, the despair in his voice obvious.

“No, you are not, Alex. Don’t even think it.” That was Prince Findaráto.

 “Will it happen again, do you think?”

“I honestly don’t know, Alex,” Finrod answered. “None of us do.”

 “What do I do if it happens again? How do I stop it?”

Now Glorfindel spoke, his tone cold. “You don’t, but if it does happen again, ask no questions, don’t look for an explanation, just attack and bring the bastard down.”

Several of the Eldar actually gasped at that pronouncement and Raguel saw Oromë and Tulkas grin, Tulkas shaking his head, but whether in disbelief or in amusement was debatable. Manwë simply rolled his eyes.

And then they watched as the Elves exited the room to let the Mortal rest.

“Five months of hard work ruined,” they heard Vorondur mutter in disgust.

“Lord Námo has much to answer for.” That was Glorfindel.

“Násië!” Finrod added.

Then Glorfindel spoke again. “Too bad there’s no one to give Námo a little chat. I wouldn’t mind seeing him squirm for a change.”

Raguel watched as several people automatically looked to Lord Námo who sat there in supreme indifference, ignoring them all as he watched the events in Wiseman unfolding before them.

“From your lips to Eru’s ears, my friend,” they heard Vorondur say with a chuckle and the others laughed….

Raguel gestured again and the rift closed and the silence which followed was long as they all contemplated what they had seen and heard. After a time, Raguel shifted his attention back to Námo. “Hast thou anything to say in thy defense, Lord Námo?”

For a moment, the Lord of Mandos sat in dark splendor. Raguel watched as he cast a glance to his left where Vairë sat, the Valië giving him a brief, encouraging smile. Then he looked to his right to his brother Irmo, who gave him an infinitesimal nod. At that, he stood and stepped toward the center of the Ring to face Raguel.

“Thou didst know of the scene we just witnessed before thou camest here,” he said mildly.

“I was shown it,” Raguel replied.

Námo nodded. “Odd that Atar did not show thee everything.”

Raguel gave him a puzzled look. “What meanest thou?”

“It is true that I brought Alex Grant here in the spirit, but it is not true that I did so without his permission or that he was unaware of what I meant to happen.”

“And yet we were there,” Ingwë said as he stepped forward a couple of paces. “We saw the look of terror when he arrived. We heard him say that thou didst not have his permission to bring him here.”

“And there is a good reason for that,” Námo said, “and with thy permission, my brother, I will show thee.”

Raguel just nodded, unsure where Námo was going with this. Námo for his part stepped back a couple of paces and Raguel, understanding his intent, did the same so that the space between them widened.

“Let us go back a little further in time,” Námo said as he gestured and the fabric of the space between them shifted as a rift opened again. This time they saw Alex in his apartment carrying a cup of coffee in one hand and a thick book in the other as he walked from the kitchen to the living room. He was dressed as the Elves remembered him from when he appeared to them the week before.

He placed the mug on a small table next to a chair and was about to settle himself when there was the sound of a buzzer. They all watched as Alex sighed, putting the book down and going to the door. When he opened it, they all saw Lord Námo standing there but dressed as a Mortal. There were murmurs of surprise among many of the Eldar at the sight of the Lord of Mandos in his black duster, though he wore no hat.

“Nate! What the hell!” they heard Alex exclaim in shocked surprise.

“May I come in?” Námo asked, giving the Mortal a mild look.

“Huh? Oh yeah. Sure.” Alex stood aside and gave Námo a slight bow, gesturing with his right hand, and, affecting a strange guttural accent, said, “Enter freely of your own free will.”

Námo raised an eyebrow, remaining at the door. “Should I call for my wooden stake and a gold cross?”

Alex laughed. “Sorry. Couldn’t resist. The Bobbsey Twins and I were watching the old Bela Lugosi movie the other night. So, are you in or out?”

Námo smiled and stepped inside, allowing Alex to close the door behind him. “So, to what do I owe the pleasure? You want any coffee or something?”

“No. I’m good, thanks. Shall we sit? There is a favor I would ask of you.”

Alex gave him a considering look and then shrugged. “Step into my office,” he said and they watched as the two sat in the living room with Alex retaking his chair while Námo sat opposite him.

“So how are you doing, Alex?” Námo asked politely.

“Well enough, but I doubt you came all the way from Vala-la-land to ask after my general health.”

“No.” Námo paused, looking almost hesitant. “The All-Aman Council is in session. It’s not going very well.”

“That’s a shame, but what does that have to do with me?”

“I would like you to come with me to address the Council.”

“What?! How? I mean, it’s not like I can just hop on a plane or anything, unless you have Eärendil bring me on Vingilot. Is that even allowed?”

“No. To bring you in the flesh would not be permitted but I can bring you there in the spirit.”

“In the spirit? What does that mean?”

“Just that. I can call your fëa, your soul, whatever you wish to call it, and bring it to Valinor.”

They saw Alex scrunch his face. “I’ll be a ghost? And what about my body? Won’t I be dead?”

“No. Your body will remain inviolate and your fëa will remain connected to it. If any were to come upon you while you were… away, so to speak, they would assume you were in a coma.”

“So you want me to… ah… come with you to speak to this Council. That’s going to be a neat trick since my command of either Elvish language sucks still.”

Námo smiled. “I promise that all will understand you and you will understand them, whatever language is spoken.”

The Mortal sat for a long time, staring at nothing in particular for a time before focusing his attention back at Námo who sat there calmly waiting for an answer.

“Will it hurt?” Alex finally asked.

Námo shook his head. “You will feel nothing. I will put you into a deep sleep. In fact, when you eventually awaken, the whole thing will feel like a dream and there’s one other thing you should know.”

“What’s that?”

“The nature of what I will do with you is such that when I summon your fëa and afterwards when you awaken here you will have no memory of my visit. You will remember nothing of this conversation. It will indeed feel as if you’d fallen asleep while reading your textbook and had a pizza-induced dream.”

“How did you know I had pizza for dinner?” Alex exclaimed.

Námo smiled. “C’mon, Alex. That’s a rather stupid question coming from you.”

“Ah… sorry. So, you’re saying I won’t remember me talking to you at all?”

Námo shook his head. “And if any were to ask, you would also have no memory of giving me your permission to do this thing. You might, in fact, suffer emotionally and psychically because of it.”

Alex gave him a considering look. “Are you doing this on the sly?”

“No. I sought Atar’s permission to bring you before the Council.”

“And He’s okay with it.”

“Yes.”

“There’s something you’re not telling me, though. You want more from me than just doing a question-and-answer session with a bunch of yahoo Elves.”

“Talking will do little good, I fear. Many of the delegates are questioning the worth of Mortals and the need to involve them at all in their deliberations. I think the only way to get through to them is to show them what Mortals are capable of. I need you to demonstrate your martial arts skills.”

“How? I mean, unless you bring someone else along who knows unarmed combat…”

“I will have a few Maiar on hand to attack you and I’m afraid that for this to work, it will not be a friendly sparring match. You will have to fight for real, calling upon all your skills. Fear not! No actual harm will come to you, I give you my word.”

“It seems odd though that you would bother to ask my permission knowing I won’t remember giving it. Why not just do it and be done with it?”

“Because to do so would be in violation of everything I as a Vala and a Guardian of Eä stand for,” Námo said gravely. “To do so would put me on par with Melkor.”

“Oh, yeah. I guess we don’t want that, do we? You’re scary enough when you’re a good guy. And if I say thanks but no thanks?”

“Then I will leave you and wish you well. Perhaps one of my fellow Valar will find a way to get through to these people and convince them that they need to take you Mortals seriously. They need a wake-up call, Alex. They need to get off their duffs and get with the program, as you would say, or we are doomed before we even get started.”

“Well, anything for the Gipper, right? Okay. I’m in and I’ll deal with the fallout if and when it comes.”

“Thank you,” Námo said sincerely. “It’s people like you, Alex, who give us Valar hope that in the end we will triumph.”

“So, what do I do?”

“Sit back and close your eyes.” Alex did as he was bid. “Slow your breathing as much as possible. Let your body relax. That’s it.” They all watched as Námo stood and placed a single finger on Alex’s forehead. “Á tulë!” he commanded. Alex’s body gave a slight shudder and then went still as they watched Námo fade away….

Raguel had watched in disbelief and rising embarrassment as the scene between Námo and Alex played out. *Thou knewest!* he sent an accusation toward the Timeless Halls.

*Of course I knew, child,* came the reply.

*But why—?*

*I have My reasons, Raguel. Now carry on. Thou art doing splendidly.*

Raguel wanted to scream, but he kept his face impassive as Námo gestured and the rift closed. For a long moment, no one moved or uttered a word, then Námo gave Raguel a respectful bow. “The Defense rests,” he said and returned to his throne, leaving Raguel alone in the center of the Ring.

*Now what, Atar?* Raguel implored. *Thou didst never intend for me to mete out punishment, didst thou?*

*No, child, not really,” came the gentle reply, *but it was necessary to call this trial so that all the evidence for and against could be revealed. The Eldar needed to hear the conversation between thy brother and the Mortal.*

*And Alex? What of him?*

*It will be thy task, thine and Námo’s, to help him regain his equilibrium and come to terms with what hath happened to him. Námo hath not the power to bring Artemus’ memories of their conversation to his consciousness, none of the Valar do, but thou dost.*

Raguel nodded. Yes, of course. He had forgotten that some of the powers of the Ayanumuz who had elected to enter into Eä had been necessarily curtailed by Atar. One such power was to be incapable of returning at will to the Timeless Halls. Another, presumably, was the power to call into full consciousness that which was hidden from the mirroanwi, whether they be Eldar or Mortal. And with that thought, Raguel knew how Námo would be ‘punished’.

He looked directly at the Vala waiting calmly for his sentence and had to admire his brother Ayanuz’s demeanor. Raguel nodded and Námo stood. “Námo, Lord of Mandos, Doomsman of Arda, I find thee not guilty of the charges laid against thee.” There were actual sighs of relief from many of the Eldar and even a scattering of applause. He held his hand up to still them and continued, “Except that I find thee guilty of not succoring the Mortal known as Alex Grant in his time of distress which hath led to his breakdown. For that, I sentence thee to go to the Mortal and help him regain his emotional and psychic balance.”

“I am sorry for what Alex has had to go through because of this. I honestly thought he would be able to handle it better than most Mortals, given his background. I accept my sentence. Unfortunately, I cannot help him to remember, else I would have done so from the beginning. All I can do is offer him comfort, but under the circumstances he will not accept it from me nor allow me near him and there is little I can do for him when I am not in fana.”

“Agreed,” Raguel allowed with a nod, and then smiled slightly. “I guess that’s where I come in.” Before Námo or anyone else could respond he turned to face Manwë. “I, Raguel, Ainu of the First Choir, Prince of the Kadoshim Chayyoth, am satisfied with this verdict. This court is dismissed. Námo, come with me.”

Raguel sent the Vala the necessary space-time coordinates even as he thought himself away. Námo gave Manwë a sardonic smile and a shrug before following his brother, leaving the Elder King to dismiss the Eldar and ordering the Maiar to take guard positions around the Ring to prevent them from being disturbed. Once the Valar were alone, they sat in silent deliberation and it was some time before anyone saw them again.

****

Words are Quenya:

Máhanaxar: Ring of Doom.

Elentári: Star-Queen, a title of Varda.

Á tulë!: Come! (imperative form).

Note: The sapphire is known as the ‘stone of destiny’; it is a symbol of heaven and joyful devotion to God.


Námo joined Raguel in Wiseman, the two manifesting fanar, though remaining invisible to the Mortals around them. They were walking up Kodiak toward Sycamore. Both had traded their formal robes for more modern dress with Námo dressed in black slacks, a black button-down shirt and his usual black duster. Raguel had reverted to his original attire, now augmented by a lightweight white duster of his own. Námo saw it and gave the Ayanuz a knowing smile. Raguel just shrugged but refused to apologize.

They continued walking up the street and, though they were invisible to the Mortals around them, said Mortals instinctively gave them space, walking around them without realizing they were doing so. Only very young children appeared to be able to see them and one little tyke of about three waved at them from his stroller as his mother pushed him, oblivious to what her son was seeing. The two Ainur smiled warmly at the child as they sauntered past.

From the coordinates Raguel had sent him, Námo knew that three days had passed since Alex had suffered his breakdown and it was now the American Independence Day. The town was festooned with flags and red, white and blue bunting. Námo ignored it, though Raguel looked about with interest, watching the Mortals go about their business, most of them apparently lining up along the street.

“There will be a parade,” Námo offered an explanation, “followed by picnics at the park and backyard barbecues.”

Raguel nodded but said nothing. Soon they were turning onto Sycamore and then they were standing before the open gates of Edhellond where they were met by Fionwë in his Finn disguise of jeans and a T-shirt showing a screen print of the American flag and the words Born in the USA, and Olórin in his Oliver Grey disguise of gray slacks and a blue button-down shirt. Like Námo and Raguel, they were both invisible to any Mortals. At Námo’s and Raguel’s approach, the two Maiar gave them their obeisance.

“So, did we kiss and make up, then?” Olórin said with a laugh.

Námo and Raguel exchanged amused looks while Fionwë punched his fellow Maia in the arm. Olórin gave them an unrepentant grin.

“How’s Alex doing?” Námo asked, ignoring the impertinent question.

Both Maiar sobered. “Hanging in there, I suppose,” Olórin answered. “Derek showed up yesterday afternoon and Alex practically fell into his arms weeping, telling him all about it. Derek’s response was about what I would expect from the boy. He just held his gwador through his recital and tears and then suggested they go to the Blue Petrel and have a few.” Olórin gave them a wry grin. “Neither one of them was capable of driving after having imbibed a large quantity of brew. Stan called Glorfindel who came and picked them up and the Elves had a merry time getting them into bed to sleep off their drunks.” Both he and Fionwë chuckled at the memory and Olórin sent Námo and Raguel an image of the two young Mortals singing off-key as the Elves attempted to get them up the stairs and into their respective beds. Finrod finally just picked Derek up as if he were a child of three and carried him up the stairs; all the while Derek continued singing.

Námo and Raguel grinned.

“They both have hangovers the size of Montana,” Fionwë said, “and are sitting very quietly nursing coffees, but Alex seems to be calmer and in a better mood than before.”

“Derek is very good for him,” Olórin added. “It is a pity he did not have someone like him in his life earlier.”

“He did,” Námo said with a sigh. “Paul Jackson should have been the gwador Alex needed, but in the end he betrayed Alex’s friendship. After that, Alex refused to allow anyone into his heart until Derek Lowell came into his life.”

“What about Glorfindel?” Raguel asked, deciding to change the subject. “Has he confronted the ap Hywel brothers yet?”

Fionwë shook his head. “No. We’re not sure when he plans to do so. He may decide not to ruin things for everyone on this day of all days and may wait until after.”

“Well, we’re not necessarily here to see those particular fireworks,” Raguel said with a grin and the two Maiar chuckled, “but to see to young Artemus and try to repair some of the hurt that he’s suffered.”

“Good luck with that,” Olórin said with a sardonic grin. “If my Lord Námo makes an appearance, it’ll be an even bet as to who will attack him first, Alex or Glorfindel.”

“Or Derek,” Fionwë chimed in and Olórin nodded in agreement.

“Which is where I come in,” Raguel said with a lift of an eyebrow. He turned to Námo. “Wait here until I send for you,” he ordered and then continued past the gates and made his way around the front garden, stopping for a moment to admire the statue of Eönwë set in the middle of a circle of flowers, shaking his head in amusement before moving on, disappearing around the corner of the house.

Námo remained where he was, standing in serene indifference, waiting for the summons, while the two Maiar studiously did not look at him or each other, both feeling somewhat embarrassed for the Vala.

Raguel entered the back garden and headed for where people were congregated around the fire pit. He smiled to see Glorfindel checking the fire and adjusting the logs while Daeron and Finrod entertained them with soft music, with Finrod playing his harp and Daeron playing a lute. Alex and Derek, the only Mortals present, were sitting next to one another, both looking slightly green around the gills but determined to enjoy the festivities. Others sat or stood about and he saw Vorondur and his family as well as Amroth and Nimrodel. He smiled at the sight of the elleth in full bloom and with a single glance at her swollen belly he knew that the children would be coming into the world soon, perhaps within the next month.

Gwyn and Gareth ap Hywel were also there with Gareth sitting with an arm around Nielluin, the two nestled together on a garden bench, while Gwyn sat next to Mithrellas holding her hand. Gareth was speaking as Raguel came near, addressing Alex and Derek.

“… heard you two tied one on last night in a big way.” The other Elves chuckled at the rueful looks from the two Mortals.

“Double boilermakers will do you in every time,” Glorfindel said with a wicked look.

“How many did you have?” Vorondur asked.

“I think I stopped counting after the third one,” Alex muttered as he sipped his coffee.

“Ouch!” Gwyn said sympathetically and others looked equally sympathetic.

“Well, if nothing else, you two are happy drunks,” Glorfindel said, “though we all could’ve done without your lousy singing.”

“I was singing?” Alex asked in disbelief. “What was I singing?”

“Something in French and very naughty,” Glorfindel replied with a grin. “I refused to translate. And Derek was singing something in Japanese, very off-key mind you, but as none of us speak that particular language, we have no idea what the song was about.”

Both Mortals turned red with embarrassment while the Elves all chuckled.

“Are you going to be alright, though, Alex?” Gwyn asked solicitously. “Gareth and I were told what happened. We’re very sorry. Our dealings with Lord Námo have always been cordial. I can’t imagine why he would do something so cruel.”

Alex shrugged. “Well, you’re Elves. Mortals don’t get any respect from anyone. We’re cannon fodder as far as the rest of you are concerned. We’re expendable, always have been, always will be.”

“That’s the anger talking, Alex,” Vorondur said firmly. “I’m sure you don’t mean to blame us for what happened.”

“Maybe not, but it doesn’t make it any less true,” Alex insisted.

“So, because one Vala does you wrong, you plan to tar the rest of us with the same brush?” Vorondur retorted.

“Look, I was there. Námo said those Elves figured they would be the commanders sitting pretty directing orders while we Mortals were the shock troops with our lives on the line. That’s why they can’t see the point of adding more to their population. You don’t need lots of commanders, only a few.”

The Elves looked disturbed by his words. Finrod stopped playing and frowned. “That may be what they are saying, but I doubt the High Kings will let them get away with it.”

Alex shrugged, apparently not interested in pursuing the matter further. “Anyway, not much any of us can do about it, so let’s forget them. They’re not important. What do they know about anything? From what I understand, none of them has done a blessed thing worth mentioning for the last hundred thousand years or so. That’s a long time to be sitting on your duffs doing absolutely nothing. They must be ossified by now.”

“I am sorry you’re feeling so bitter, Alex,” Glorfindel said with a sigh, looking distressed. “Eru knows—”

“Don’t speak to me about Eru!” Alex hissed, abruptly standing, his face suffused with anger. “He gave that bastard permission to do what he did to me and didn’t lift a finger to stop it. Well, he can just—”

Whatever profanity he meant to utter died on his lips as Raguel manifested himself at that very moment, deciding it was as good a time as any to make his appearance. He allowed his glory to shine in multi-colored hues that were brighter than the sun, forcing all the incarnates to close their eyes against the incandescent flare of light as he made himself visible to them. He had exchanged his modern look once again for the robes of his office, his sword in his hand. His cloak billowed behind him though there was no wind and a nimbus of light surrounded him.

Both Alex and Derek cried out in fear and pain and even the Elves were affected, some of them even falling to their knees in obeisance. These, Raguel noticed, were those who had never been to the Blessed Realm; the others remained standing, though they all bowed in reverence.

“Peace be with you all,” Raguel intoned in English and his voice was full of bells with a purity and beauty that no Elf could emulate. “Be not afraid! I am the Archangel Raguel come from the Lord your God in answer to your prayers.” He decided to use language that would sound familiar to the two Mortals, since his business was more with Artemus than it was with any of the Eldar.

“You… you’re from… Heaven?” Alex stammered in disbelief.

“I come from the Timeless Halls, son of Adam, in answer to your prayers and the prayers of your friends.” Raguel nodded toward the Elves as he sheathed his sword, the nimbus of light surrounding him dimming to more acceptable levels for the incarnates, all of them still flinching from it.

“Prayers? I haven’t uttered any prayers,” Alex protested.

Raguel smiled. “The prayers of your heart, son of Adam, are always heard by your Father in Heaven whether you are conscious of them or not.”

“And he sent you now? Why now? Why not sooner?”

“Because now is the acceptable time, and for everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under Heaven,” Raguel quoted. “God’s timing is always perfect.”

“Yeah?” Derek demanded, looking skeptical. “Well, maybe He needs a new watch.”

All the Elves flinched at the disrespect in Derek’s tone and even Alex gave his gwador a jaundiced look. Raguel took no offense as he heard distant laughter from the Timeless Halls and Atar saying, *Remind me to ask Santa for a new watch for Christmas*. “Peace, Derek Lowell,” was all he said in a conciliatory tone. “Your anger on your gwador’s behalf does you credit, child, but it is misplaced. I have been sent by the Father to help Artemus.”

“How?” Alex asked. “And my name’s not Artemus, not anymore.”

“Child, your name will always be Artemus, whatever other name you choose for yourself.”

“Raguel.” The Ayanuz turned to look at Glorfindel who had spoken. The Elf appeared to be thinking, his brow furrowed in thought. “Raguel… hmm… Didn’t some pope throw you off the rolls along with a bunch of other angels?”

Raguel raised an eyebrow at the almost smug look on the Elda’s face and forced himself not to laugh when he heard Atar say, *Remember how embarrassed poor Zachary was when I introduced him to you? The expression on his face was priceless.* Daeron punched Glorfindel in the arm and Vorondur rolled his eyes and muttered something under his breath. Raguel ignored the Elves to concentrate on Alex.

“The Father sent me to you, Artemus Gordon Meriwether, to help you.”

“Help me how?” Alex demanded.

“By showing you the truth.”

“I know the truth!” Alex nearly shouted and Derek grabbed his arm to hold him back.

Raguel shook his head. “No, child, you know only what you remember. That is not necessarily the same as knowing the truth, all the truth, but I will show it to you if you allow it.”

“Allow it? You mean if I say no then what happens?”

Raguel gave a slight shrug. “Nothing will happen. I will leave you. I cannot force the truth upon you, Artemus. You must accept it of your own free will.”

Alex hesitated, looking unsure. Vorondur spoke up then. “What do you fear most, Alex, knowing the truth or not knowing it?”

The Mortal looked at him and shook his head. “I… I don’t know,” he whispered and then clutched his hands to his head, his eyes closed tight as if in pain. “I can’t think.”

Raguel reached out and placed a hand on Alex’s forehead and the Mortal’s expression cleared as he opened his eyes, looking at the archangel in wonder. “Thanks,” he said, sighing in relief, and Raguel nodded, stepping back.

The Eldar remained still, watching the tableau. Raguel noticed Glorfindel frowning but most of the others looked on respectfully. Some of those from Valinor, such as Finrod and Valandur, appeared more at ease in his presence than the others and Raguel realized they were the ones who had more dealings with the Valar and Maiar than any of the others.

“What is your decision, Artemus Gordon Meriwether?” Raguel asked after a moment.

Alex nodded. “Okay, I guess, but I don’t know what you will tell me that is any different from what I know. I remember what happened.”

“Perhaps,” Raguel allowed. “If you wish to know the truth, however, there is someone to whom you must speak first.” He sent a silent command to Námo still waiting patiently at the gates and then Námo was there, becoming visible to everyone as he walked toward them. Alex gave an inarticulate cry and practically pushed Raguel out of the way to get at Námo even as Glorfindel was launching his own attack. Finrod and Daeron grabbed hold of him as Derek was attempting to grab Alex. Raguel raised a hand and allowed a trickle of power to escape and there was a flash of lightning and the boom of thunder, though the sky was cloudless.

“Hold!” he commanded in a voice that stunned them and they all went still, staring at him in fear and wonder. Námo had stopped as well, waiting for Raguel to orchestrate matters as he saw fit. The archangel looked about and shook his head. “Children,” was all he said and several of them blushed and looked away. “Námo, my brother, come here.”

Námo approached and Raguel laid a hand on the Vala’s shoulder as he addressed Alex, still held in Derek’s arms. “You think you know the truth, Artemus, but you only know what you remember. When I show you what truly happened, you will understand why you feel as you do.”

“Why are you showing me?” Alex asked. “Why not him?” He nodded toward Námo.

“Because I do not have the power to do so, Alex, else I would have done it from the beginning,” Námo answered.

“What do you mean?” Alex asked in confusion. “Why does he have the power but you don’t?” He pointed to Raguel as he spoke.

Námo looked at Raguel as if seeking his permission to explain. Raguel nodded and Námo spoke. “When we Valar decided to enter Eä at Atar’s behest, certain conditions were laid upon us and some of our innate powers were… suppressed. That’s why, for instance, we do not have the power to return to the Timeless Halls. Raguel, however, is free to do so, for he is acting as a messenger for Atar.”

“So you’re saying that you don’t have the ability to… to do what, exactly?” Alex asked, looking between Námo and Raguel.

“Show you the truth,” Raguel answered. “When Námo brought you to Valinor in the spirit, you had no memory of what occurred before. You complain that Námo received Atar’s permission but not yours, but that is not strictly true. Will you allow me to show you what really happened?”

“And do the rest of us get to see it as well?” Glorfindel asked.

Raguel gave the ellon a smile. “Ah, the impossible ellon and one of Atar’s more amusing creations.” Glorfindel actually blushed and several of the Eldar snickered at the sight. “This is for Artemus, but I am sure he will share what he learns with the rest of you. If you are ready, child.”

Alex glanced at Námo. “You made me kill even if it wasn’t for real.”

“And I regret that it had to happen, Alex, more than you will ever know.”

“So why didn’t you come and explain it all to Alex?” Derek demanded. “Why let him suffer?”

“Because I knew what his reaction would be,” Námo replied. “I knew that there was nothing I could do to change things so it was better if I stayed out of the way and let you deal with it. Atar, however, had other ideas.” He stole a glance at the Ayanuz standing beside him.

“He usually does,” Raguel said softly. “So, Artemus. What will it be?”

Alex still hesitated. Vorondur came over and took him by the shoulders. “Truth will set you free,” he said softly. “Truth will free you from the anger you feel now, anger that will eventually destroy you. You know this. We’ve talked about it.”

“Yeah, I know, but now that it comes down to it, I’m not so sure.”

“Well, I hope you say yes, Alex,” Derek said somewhat laconically, “’cus I’m just dying of curiosity wondering what really happened between you and ol’ Nate here.”

Alex grinned and several others chuckled. “And we can’t have that, can we?” Alex said. “Okay, let’s do it before I change my mind.”

Raguel did not hesitate, but placed his right hand on Alex’s forehead. “Remember,” was all he said and then Alex gave a stifled gasp and went rigid, collapsing. Derek and Vorondur caught him before he reached the ground and Vorondur lifted him up and laid him on a chaise lounge. “Fear not!” Raguel assured them. “He is unharmed and will recover soon.”

Even as he spoke, Alex uttered a soft moan and then began blinking open his eyes, finally focusing his gaze upon Námo who had moved closer, kneeling beside the chaise lounge and stroking Alex’s hair. “How are you feeling, Alex?” the Vala asked.

Alex blinked a couple more times and struggled to sit all the way up. Námo moved back to give him some room. He glanced up at Raguel standing impassively to one side. “That’s what really happened?”

Raguel nodded but did not speak.

“What happened, Alex?” Derek asked.

Alex looked up at Derek and the Elves and sighed. “It appears that Nate came to me and told me what he wanted to do and warned me that I would have no memory of our conversation. I’m not sure why, maybe the shock of being separated from my body or something. Anyway, contrary to popular belief, I did in fact give my permission for him to bring me to Valinor and I even knew going in that there would be a… a demonstration of my martial arts skills.”

“So you see, Námo is not the cruel bastard that you all think he is,” Raguel said with a grin and more than one person blinked in shock, not only at the archangel’s words, but at the sight of him now dressed in his mortal disguise complete with duster. “And now that we’ve got that out of the way, I think I’ll go watch the parade.” With that, he thought himself away, leaving the incarnates and Námo staring at one another, unsure what to do next. He had done his part; the rest was up to them.

****

Historical note: Great as Raguel is, this archangel, along with other high-ranking angels, including Uriel, was reprobated by a church council under the aegis of Pope Zachary in 745 C.E. and stricken from the official ranks of the heavenly host. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Raguel, Uriel and the others ceased to exist.

For a long moment, no one moved or spoke, most of them staring at the space where Raguel had been, trying to come to terms with what had just occurred. Glorfindel looked at Alex and then at Námo, his expression thoughtful.

“Why didn’t you just show up and tell us?” he finally asked.

“And would you have believed me?” Námo rejoined mildly. “Would any of you?” He gazed at Alex who turned away, biting his lips, his hands clenched at his sides. Námo just nodded as if he’d expected no less from him. “For what it’s worth, I thought long and hard about what I would ask of you Alex, knowing as I did the consequences for you. Believe me, I wished there had been another way but you saw them. You saw how they reacted just to your presence. That demonstration you gave them has set them on their ears. They haven’t stopped shouting since.”

“And will it do any good?” Alex asked, not looking at the Vala.

“I do not know, Alex,” Námo said. “I can only hope. These people sorely needed a wake-up call and, for better or worse, you were it.” He paused, gauging the mood of those around him. Derek was hugging Alex from the back, whispering something in his ear. Vorondur was watching the two Mortals closely while Glorfindel and Finrod exchanged looks, some private communication passing between them. The others looked troubled but not hostile. Gwyn and Gareth, in fact, both gave him understanding smiles and he smiled back. “Well, I will go now,” he said and started to turn away and then stopped, his expression somewhat sly. “Oh, by the way, you have a new gwador, Alex. Congratulations.”

Alex turned to face him, looking confused. “What do you mean? Who?”

“Can you not guess? Maedhros, of course.”

“Maedhros!” Finrod exclaimed in surprise. “My cousin Maedhros?”

Námo nodded. “He witnessed Alex’s martial arts demonstration and now all he can think about is finding a way here so he can be ‘with my new gwador, Alexgrant’.” This last was said in a voice and tone that several of those from Valinor recognized as belonging to Maedhros. Námo flashed them an amused look. “He’s driving everyone crazy and Maglor is ready to send him back to my Halls. Not that I would let him in, mind you. He was trouble enough the first time around.”

Everyone just goggled at him as he smiled smugly, giving them a nod of farewell before sauntering away, disappearing into the fabric of the garden.

“Well, that’s… interesting,” Glorfindel finally said, breaking the silence that had fallen upon them as they stared at where Námo had disappeared.

Finrod snorted. “To say the least.” Then he went to Alex, giving him a searching look. “Will you be well, mellon nîn?”

“Eventually,” Alex answered. “Got a lot to think about and… well, I just have a lot to think about.”

Finrod nodded in understanding. “Know that we are all here for you in any capacity.”

“I still don’t get why this Raguel character was the only one who could show Alex the truth of what happened,” Derek groused. “I mean, c’mon, I can see God or whoever taking away the Valar’s ability to jump ship, but why couldn’t Námo do what Raguel did for Alex?”

“I have no answers for you, Derek,” Finrod said.

“But I do.”

They all turned around to see Raguel standing there holding a red balloon of all things, smiling at them warmly.

“Enjoy the parade?” Glorfindel asked, staring at the balloon.

“Oh, yes,” Raguel said brightly. “And I’ve been invited to a barbecue at the home of Officer Keith Reynolds, one of Prince Legolas’ coworkers. He was kind enough to explain what the parade was all about and why they were having it. I’ve never been to a barbecue before, though. Do I need to dress differently for it?” He stared down at his clothes.

“Nah, you’re good,” Derek said before anyone else could answer. “So you were saying?”

“Hmm? Oh yes. Explanations.” Raguel let go of the balloon which did not float away as expected. Everyone blinked at it bobbing beside the archangel as Raguel thrust his hands into the duster’s front pockets, rocking back and forth on his heels. “How much do any of you know about the Ayanumuz, the Ainur, as I believe is the word you Eldar use? Angels to you and Alex, Derek.”

“What exactly are we supposed to know?” Vorondur asked. “Until I came to Wiseman, I had never met any of the Ainur, well, except for Olórin when he occasionally showed up in Imladris to consult with Elrond, but I only knew him as Mithrandir and never thought of him as a Maia and he certainly did not exhibit the powers that I have seen among the Ainur who have made an appearance here in Wiseman.”

“I know some of you have heard stories about angels and such,” Raguel said and the Elves who had lived in Middle-earth and the two Mortals nodded. “A lot of it is balderdash, of course, especially the cutsie stuff that’s been popular lately about befriending your guardian angel and all that. I think your man Rilke said it best: ‘For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure, and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying’.”

He paused for a moment to give them time to take in what he had said. “Angels, Ainur, whatever you choose to call us, are of an order of being that none of you can fully grasp or understand. I have the power to destroy this galaxy with a single thought. Those whom you call the Valar do as well, but they would have to act in concert to effect such destruction. That is the difference between them and me. Their powers were curtailed so that they did not inadvertently bring about destruction. That is why Melkor was not able to simply destroy Atar’s creation with a single thought.”

“But you can,” Glorfindel said.

Raguel shrugged. “Yes, if I wished or if Atar commanded it of me. The point I am trying to make is that as powerful as the Valar and the Maiar appear to you, they are weak in comparison to what they were when they resided in the Timeless Halls. Námo, estimable Vala that he is, as powerful in his own way as he is, just did not have the power to help Alex to remember what only his fëa, his soul or spirit as you call it, knew.”

“But he deals with the fëar of the dead all the time,” Dar protested.

Raguel smiled at the Reborn. “Yes. Of the dead, but not necessarily of the living. Now, if you will excuse me, I have a barbecue to attend.” Without looking, he reached out with his right hand and to the amazement of all, the balloon floated serenely to him, bobbing upon a nonexistent breeze. “We will meet again, son of Adam,” he said to Alex. “Until then, peace be with you all.” And then he was no longer there.

They all stood there, none of them willing to break the silence between them, all of them lost in thought, but finally, Daeron stirred. “Speaking of barbecues…”

“Yeah, right,” Glorfindel said, shaking his head. “Okay, I guess the show’s over, folks. Why don’t we put all this existential stuff aside for now and just enjoy the day?”

People stirred and one or two chuckled. “What about you, Alex?” Vorondur asked. “Are you going to be okay?”

Alex glanced at Derek who shrugged and Alex nodded, saying, “Sure. I’m good. In fact, I think I’m better than good. So, maybe I can trade this coffee for some lemonade instead?”

Vorondur smiled. “One lemonade coming up. What about you, Derek? Lemonade?”

“Uh-uh. I think I’ll stick to java for a bit longer, thanks.”

“Well, you and Alex relax while we get the food on,” Glorfindel said.

“I’m surprised Zach and Jud and the others aren’t here,” Alex said. “They usually hang out with you guys, don’t they?”

“Yes, normally, but Zach went home to spend the holiday with his family,” Glorfindel said. “Lily, too. The others went camping together somewhere east of Chandalar in the Yukon Flats. They’ll be back by the weekend. So, who wants hot dogs, who wants hamburgers and who wants barbecue chicken?”

Everyone took a moment to give Glorfindel their orders and then the rest of the day was spent in conviviality, and if at times Alex seemed to distance himself from the celebration and retreat from them mentally, no one minded, though Vorondur continued to keep a close eye on the Mortal just in case.

****

It was later, when the food had been eaten and the dishes cleared and people were sitting around the bonfire in the clearing enjoying their wine or other beverages, all of them in a mellow mood, that Glorfindel decided to confront the ap Hywel brothers. He had thought about it for some time, trying to decide how best to approach it, not wanting to cause any antagonism between him and the brothers, for he knew that they would go on the defensive if he accused them of withholding information from him. He realized that they probably were not doing so consciously, that his vague descriptions of his dreams which he had shared with them when he, Finrod and Legolas had been in Fairbanks with the youngsters would not have necessarily alerted them that he was speaking of the talisman, assuming that it actually existed and it was not just a symbol of something else to do with the brothers.

Now that everyone was replete with food and drink and feeling mellow, he figured it was as good a time as any to ask them about it. He glanced to his left and saw that Gwyn was sitting next to Mithrellas on one of the logs used for that purpose, the two deep in their own conversation. Glorfindel smiled approvingly at the sight of them holding hands. Gwyn leaned over and planted a light kiss on Mithrellas’ cheek and the elleth smiled and did not turn away. Glorfindel hoped it would work out for them both; Mithrellas, especially, deserved every happiness.

Glancing about, he spied Gareth sitting beside Nielluin on the opposite side of the bonfire from where he was. They were with Alex and Derek, along with the Three Amigos and Vorondur’s two sons, laughing at some joke that Derek had just told them. Glorfindel smiled at the sight, remembering how obnoxious Finda and his gwedyr had been when they first arrived and how Alex had put them in their places rather neatly. Things had changed for all of them, especially when the Three Amigos started attending the college. Glorfindel knew that the ellyn were already planning on taking Alex’s Italian 101 class next semester. Glorfindel nodded to himself in approval. It would give them a whole different perspective on their Mortal friend, seeing him in a position of authority over them in that one regard.

“What are you thinking, gwador?” Finrod whispered to him.

Glorfindel looked at Finrod sitting on his right, the ellon’s expression knowing. “I’m thinking it is time to ask a few pertinent questions about things.”

“Here and now? Do you wish to spoil the mood for everyone? Can it not wait until tomorrow at least?"

“When will there ever be a good time in anyone’s mind?” Glorfindel retorted. “You and Ron will always find an excuse as to why I shouldn’t confront Gwyn and Gareth over my dream. I don’t intend accusing them of duplicity or anything, but I need answers. We need answers. Those dreams came to me for a reason and the longer I delay in finding the truth about them, the worse it will be for all of us, I deem. Gwyn and Gareth hold the key to my understanding what is happening to me.”

“Just go carefully,” Finrod admonished him.

“Don’t I always?” Glorfindel couldn’t help saying, giving his gwador a grin. Finrod refused to dignify that with an answer.

Glorfindel stood and all conversations stopped as everyone looked to him, for it was obvious he was going to make a speech. “First of all, I’d like to thank everyone for a great day today. I think we all deserved the break.”

“Amen,” Daeron muttered and several people laughed while others applauded.

Glorfindel gave the minstrel a bright smile. “Second, and I realize that some here will think this is not the best time for this, but I wish to share with you something that has happened to me of late, namely the fact that I have experienced some dreams that may or may not be prophetic. If you will indulge me, I would like to tell you about them. Perhaps some of you will have some thoughts about them.” He purposely did not look at either Gwyn or Gareth.

For a moment, no one ventured to speak. Finally, though, Elrond nodded. “Let us hear your dreams, Lord Glorfindel,” he said formally, “and mayhap we will be able to help in interpreting their meaning.”

Others nodded in agreement. “Say on, meldonya,” Valandur said. “We are all ears.”

Several people shifted their positions to better see Glorfindel who remained standing. When everyone was settled, he nodded. “Okay, so the dreams always begin the same with us celebrating Father’s Day and Midsummer, which sometimes fall on the same day. I know for a fact that the next time that happens is in three years’ time. Anyway, we’re all together like we are now and then Fionwë appears and warns us that we must flee Wiseman for the Enemy is about to attack. So we do and as we leave Edhellond is destroyed.”

There were murmurs of surprise and shock at that. Glorfindel held up his hand to still any questions. “Let me finish telling the dream and then I’ll answer any questions.” He waited a moment for silence and then resumed his narrative. “We all meet at the Arctic Circle where we agree to go our separate ways to make it harder for the Enemy to find us and — yes, Alex?”

“Sorry, just wondering. You said all of us. Does that mean Derek and me as well?”

Glorfindel smiled. “Yeah, you, Derek… and Felicity. A very pregnant Felicity.”

“Huh?” Alex looked absolutely dumbfounded and several people sniggered at his expression.

“So should we be offering our congratulations now or wait until later?” Barahir asked with a sly look.

“Hey! It’s just a stupid dream. Doesn’t mean anything,” Alex protested.

“You hope,” Derek chimed in.

“But—”

“Hang on, gwador, and take a deep breath. No one’s saying you and Felicity are doomed to marry.” Alex gave him a disbelieving look. “So, just relax and let Loren finish telling the dream or we’ll be here all night. Not that these guys will care, but I need my beauty sleep.”

Now there was outright laughter. “I assure you, Alex, that while we would be happy to see you and Felicity together and in the family way, none of us will pressure either of you into it,” Vorondur said. “Relax, son. As you say, it’s just a dream and obviously Loren is just projecting his own wishes for your happiness.”

Alex took a deep breath and nodded. “Yeah, okay. Sorry.”

“Nothing to be sorry about,” Glorfindel assured him. “Okay, so the next part of the dream takes place in the Adirondacks because Gwyn and Gareth tell us that something they hid there will help us against the Enemy and we go to retrieve it.” Now it was the ap Hywel brothers’ turn to look startled, but neither of them said anything, waiting to hear what Glorfindel had to say next.

“The Adirondacks!” Daeron exclaimed. “We’ve never been there. How odd that you would dream of a place you’ve never been.”

“It gets stranger still as you will soon see,” Glorfindel said and several eyebrows went up, but before Glorfindel could continue Elrond interrupted.

“Forgive me, but for those of us newly come to these shores, what are the Adirondacks and what is their significance?”

“Oh, sorry,” Glorfindel said. “I keep forgetting that not everyone here is knowledgeable about present-day geography. The Adirondacks are mountains in the east, in the state of New York. They are actually a national park though unlike other such parks people actually live inside it in small hamlets. The largest towns are Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, both about the size of Wiseman in terms of population.”

“I used to live there,” Amroth explained to Elrond, “before I came here.”

“Not far from Wilmington, if I remember correctly,” Glorfindel said and cursed himself for forgetting that bit of information.

Amroth nodded. “About a mile outside on the way to Jay. Worked as an elf at Santa’s Workshop.” He grinned at the nonplused expressions on the faces of several people unaware of his past. “But we are getting away from the subject. So, you ended up going to the Adirondacks, Loren.”

“Ah, yes. Um… You, Della and your triplets were one group along with Gwyn, Misty, Gareth and Nell.” He couldn’t help leering at Gwyn and Misty.

“Hey! Are you trying to marry all of us off, Loren?” Gwyn demanded and others laughed while Misty just blushed.

Glorfindel plastered a surprised look on his face, his right hand over his heart. “Moi? Do I look like a matchmaker to you? That’s Darren’s job.”

“Oh no! Don’t you go blaming me. I just collect the rose petals, nothing more.”

Glorfindel grinned at the ellon while everyone else chuckled at the byplay. “Relax you two, it’s just a dream.”

“But you think it’s prophetic,” Valandur pointed out.

“I think part of it might be, but not necessarily everything, especially the insignificant details like who’s married to whom and all.”

“That’s not insignificant to us,” Alex said with a grin.

“Sorry, wrong choice of words. Do you think I can get to the rest of the dream before Derek falls asleep on us?”

“I’m not sleepy, not anymore,” Derek quipped. “So who else went with you to the Adirondacks?”

“Let me see, Darren, of course, Elrond and Celebrían and Finrod, you, Alex and Felicity. Roy, Sarah and Dan were already there, the Twins working at the local hospital actually. Anyway, we get to the Adirondacks and meet up with Amroth and the ap Hywels and that is when you, Gwyn, tell us why we were there.”

“Why were we there?”

“Because you two hid something there, some kind of talisman. You never said what it was, but only that you brought it with you when you came to America and you both had a dream about traveling to the Adirondacks, to Whiteface, actually, and hiding this talisman there, apparently for safekeeping.”

Gwyn looked distressed at Glorfindel’s words, but Gareth went absolutely white.

“Hey, buddy, you okay?” Alex asked in concern, grabbing the ellon who looked to be fainting. “Mir, I think he’s about to go into shock.”

Vardamir leapt from where he was sitting and came over, kneeling before Gareth and checking his pulse.

“Gary?” Nielluin asked, looking worried as she brushed a hand through Gareth’s hair to comfort him. “What’s wrong, love?”

“Do we have any more wine left?” Vardamir asked and immediately several people lunged toward wine bottles sitting near them. Barahir reached one first and poured some into the goblet that Nielluin handed to him and then gave it to the healer who, with Alex’s help, managed to get some of it down Gareth’s throat. “Easy now, child,” Vardamir said quietly. “That’s it… a little more… good.” He took the now empty goblet from Gareth and handed it to Alex then rechecked the ellon’s pulse. Vorondur had come over as well, giving him a clinical once-over.

“Keep breathing, Gareth,” he said solicitously. “That’s it. Everything’s okay.” He went to check on Gwyn who sat still as stone staring into space while Mithrellas tried to get him to respond to her. “How are you doing, son? You look almost as pale as your brother. Here, have some more wine.” He gestured and Barahir handed him the wine bottle. Mithrellas handed him Gwyn’s goblet and then the two attempted to get him to drink. After a moment, he seemed to come back to himself and took the goblet, downing the wine almost in a single gulp. “Easy, Gwyn,” Vorondur said quietly, then he turned to face Glorfindel. “Obviously this part of your dream means something, at least to these two.”

“What is this talisman and where was it hidden?” Amroth asked.

“I never found out until the very end,” Glorfindel said. “Perhaps I should skip to that part. Most of the dream dealt with us making preparations to retrieve the talisman because Gwyn and Gareth hid it in a place called High Falls Gorge, just south of Wilmington and in sight of Whiteface Mountain.”

Amroth nodded. “I know that place. Quite lovely, but you said you never went there. How did you know of the Gorge?”

“I don’t know. When I finally remembered my dream, I asked Roy to take pictures of certain places, like this High Falls Gorge, when he and Sarah were there for their honeymoon. He sent them to me just recently. I can show them to you if you want. So, should I skip the boring parts and get to the end?” He looked at Vorondur when he said this and saw the ellon raise an eyebrow, knowing full well that the ‘boring parts’ consisted of the Mortals drowning and the apparent ghost of Charles Waverly appearing. Vorondur gave him a small nod and there was almost a look of relief on Glorfindel’s face.

“Yes, why don’t we do that,” Vorondur said, glancing at the ap Hywel brothers, both of them looking far too pale still. “Then perhaps we can hear Gwyn and Gareth’s story.”

“Okay, so it turned out that this talisman — and neither Gwyn nor Gareth would tell us what it was, saying we would have to see it for ourselves — was hidden in such a way that we had to wait until a particular time of the month when the moon and the sun were in the sky together on opposite sides of each other with the moon about to set as the sun was rising.” He then went on to describe all that had happened in the Gorge up to the point where the door was opened and the talisman was revealed.

“Could the jewel be one of the Silmarils?” Elrond exclaimed in shock after Glorfindel finished describing the knife.

“That was my first thought,” Glorfindel allowed, “but the question really is, is the talisman for real or is this just a symbol of something else, some other object in Gwyn and Gareth’s keeping?”

The others automatically looked to the brothers at Glorfindels’ question. Gareth was still looking like death warmed over, as Derek whispered to Alex, but Gwyn appeared to be calmer and more together. He glanced at his brother before he turned back to Glorfindel. “The talisman is real enough, just as you’ve described it.”

“You mean, you actually hid it at this High Falls Gorge?” Nimrodel asked.

“Er… sort of. Look, it’s rather hard to explain.”

“Where did you get it in the first place?” Finrod asked.

Gwyn grimaced, stealing another glance at Gareth sitting quietly on the opposite side of the bonfire from him. “Actually we stole it.”

People started at that and Gareth shook his head. “He means I stole it.”

“And from whom did you steal it?” Finrod asked carefully.

Gareth actually snorted. “From Mortals, of course. Who else was there to steal from?”

“Okay, so when and where and why was this dastardly deed committed?” Derek demanded. “Inquiring minds wish to know.”

“It’s a long tale,” Gareth said with a sigh.

“That’s all right. No one’s going anywhere,” Glorfindel said, “though Derek might wish to excuse himself so he can get his beauty rest.”

“When hell freezes over,” Derek said sharply and several people laughed.

When they had calmed down, Gareth spoke. “Well, to begin with, we came upon the talisman while we were fleeing Acre before it fell to the Mamluks in twelve-ninety-one and—”

“Okay, hold it right there,” Alex insisted. “Let’s back up a bit, shall we? For those of us who are a little vague on our history or don’t know it at all, perhaps you can give us a bit of background as to what you were doing in Acre.”

“We were members of the Order of Knights Templar,” Gwyn answered before Gareth could speak.

“You were Knights Templars?” Derek asked in surprise.

“Are you daft?” Gwyn retorted in exasperation. “Of course not. The Templars did not knight anyone. You had to be a knight already before you were admitted into the Order. We were Sergeants. We were the support personnel, you might say, as well as the shock troops. As to how we came to join the Templars, well, that’s an even longer story, but here’s a brief synopsis: In eleven-forty-four, the first Crusader Kingdom, Edessa, fell to the Saracens and a second Crusade was called the following year. By then I was eighty-six, Gareth was forty-five. I decided to go on Crusade and Gareth wished to come even though he was, by our standards, still an elfling, yet some of our Mortal friends who were sixteen, seventeen, were joining so our parents reluctantly allowed him to go with me.”

“That must have been hard for them,” Daeron said softly.

“Yes, it was, knowing the possibility that neither one of us might survive,” Gwyn replied. “At any rate, we were there in the Battle of Hattin, which proved to be a disaster for the Crusaders and Jerusalem fell to the Saracens. We were actually captured by the Saracens and would probably have been sent to Egypt and sold into slavery along with some of the other warriors so captured if it hadn’t been for Salah al-Din, whom history knows as Saladin. He saw us and seemed to know that we were Elves, though we never learned how. He kept us by him, had one of his other slaves teach us Arabic.”

“God in heaven!” Daeron uttered in absolute shock and both Glorfindel and Vorondur were beside him immediately with Glorfindel quickly pouring some wine into a goblet and thrusting it at Vorondur who attempted to get the minstrel to drink.

“Is he okay?” Gwyn asked worriedly. “Did I say something wrong?”

“No, Gwyn,” Vorondur assured him. “You’ve said nothing wrong. I’m afraid your history hit a little too close to home for him. Daeron, do you want to leave?”

Daeron shook his head. “No, no. I’m fine. Sorry. It just… forget it. Gwyn, continue, please. God, we were so close and we never knew.”

“What do you mean?” Gwyn demanded.

“You and your brother,” Daeron said, looking up at Glorfindel. “We were traveling through that very area. We actually met Salah al-Din in Damascus just before he went off to war.”

“Yes, but by the time Gwyn and Gareth were with him, we were already making our way to Constantinople,” Glorfindel said. “There is nothing any of us could have done, because we did not know.”

“So what happened?” Derek demanded. “I mean, how did you end up in Acre with the Templars?”

“Two years after the Battle of Hattin, the Third Crusade occurred.”

“That’s the one with Richard the Lionhearted, isn’t it?” Alex asked.

Both Gwyn and Gareth nodded. “Among others,” Gwyn answered. “Jerusalem was the goal of the Crusaders, but they failed in recapturing the city, though other coastal cities were captured. One such was Acre in eleven-ninety-one and the Templars made it their headquarters. Gareth and I, in the meanwhile, began plotting our escape from the Saracens, though we were reluctant to depart from Saladin, for he treated us more like guests than slaves. Still, we wanted only to return home to our parents.”

“But that didn’t happen, not for another hundred years,” Gareth added sadly. “We escaped during the time when Richard and Saladin were meeting to form a treaty whereby the Saracens kept Jerusalem but allowed Christian pilgrims and merchants to enter the city. We knew we could find no sanctuary in Jerusalem, so we headed for the coast to Jaffa, one of the other cities recaptured by the Crusaders. Unfortunately, we found no refuge there and the whys and wherefores would take too long to tell. Suffice to say that we were unable to take ship and were forced to flee the city and head north, pursued by Saladin’s agents intent on returning us to our… um… master.” He grimaced at that and Gwyn took up the narrative.

“We reached Acre and in a moment of desperation, we went to the Grand Master of the Templars, Robert de Sablé, and pleaded for him to succor us, revealing to him our true nature.”

“That was dangerous,” Glorfindel said.

“It was less dangerous than the alternative,” Gwyn countered. “The long and the short of it was that de Sablé granted us sanctuary and brought us into the Order as Sergeants and there we remained for the next hundred years until the city fell and we escaped bearing the talisman. We were part of a group that snuck the Templar treasury out of the city. That’s where we found the talisman, in the Templar vault. It was hidden in a dark corner where it was forgotten, I presume. Gareth happened upon it and we could tell that the jewel was like nothing we had ever seen before. Gareth ended up hiding it in his satchel. I didn’t realize what he’d done until we had already left the city and by then it was too late. Had we attempted to return it, we would’ve been summarily executed for thievery. When the ship reached Sidon, we left, so essentially we are deserters, if you want to look at it that way. We made our own way back home after that.”

“And the talisman?” Finrod asked. “What did you do with it?”

“And how is it that Glorfindel is dreaming about it now?” Valandur asked.

“Let us refresh our goblets and Gareth and I will tell you,” Gwyn suggested, and a few minutes were spent with people refilling goblets, with a few entering the woods briefly to relieve themselves before returning and settling down. When everyone was back, Glorfindel gestured to Gwyn.

“So, tell us the story.”

****

Meldonya: (Quenya) My (male) friend. A female friend would be meldenya.

Note: Raguel quotes from the First Elegy of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies.


Llanfihangel Rhyditon, Wales, 1291:

Gwyn and Gareth crossed the border from England into Wales on a blustery September afternoon at Y Gelli, known to the English as Haya or La Haye, in what had been the Kingdom of Powys, having left Dover nearly six weeks earlier. They had avoided London altogether, making their slow way past Winchester, the ancient seat of kings, to Southampton and then northwestward past Salisbury and the Hanging Stones that they looked upon with awe. Eventually they came to Gloucester and then westward to Hereford. Their goal was Fforest Faesyfed, known by the English as Radnor Forest, for their last missive from their parents, now nearly a dozen years old, informed them that they had settled in some small hamlet on the western border of the Forest with the unlikely name of Llanfihangel Rhydithon, where a church dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel apparently stood. Neither of them was confident that they would find their parents there, but it was a start.

From La Haye, which lay about twenty-two miles west of Hereford, they followed the road south to Talgarth before heading northwest again to Llanfair-ym-Muallt. From there they were but a day from their goal. With their destination in sight, the brothers decided to stay at Llanfair for a couple of days and rest. They both knew that it was unlikely that they would find their parents at Llanfihangel and they might well be moving on just as soon as they ascertained where their parents might have gone. They knew that someone in the village would have been told their next destination.

Armed with that belief, they rested themselves and their horses, horses which they had bought upon reaching England, though they cost them nearly all that they had in terms of gold. Still, they made out better than they had hoped and they managed to hoard the rest of their coin, stopping at monasteries and abbey houses where the good monks were duty-bound to shelter them and feed them, at least for a night, before they moved on. Along the way, they occasionally stopped long enough to earn a copper or two by helping the local blacksmith of some nameless village or town for a few days. Thus, by the time they reached Llanfair, they were, if not wealthy, at least not destitute and were able to pay for a small room in an inn. They had slept in worse in their time so they had no complaints and at least the food was excellent.

The brothers had arrived on a Friday and dutifully attended the service at the church dedicated to Our Lady on Sunday, speaking the responses in flawless Latin, much to the surprise of the parishioners. The next morning, after breaking their fast, they obtained directions to Llanfihangel and settled their bill, off for the last leg of this part of their journey, setting out in midmorning, for they only had fifteen or so miles to go. They made their way north to Y Groes, or Crossgates, where four roads intersected. It was about eleven miles from Llanfair. Westward lay the coast, and north would take them to Y Drenewydd, a recently built town by order of Edward I to be the new administrative center for the cantref and called Newtown by the English. Even further north was Y Trallwng, called Pool by the English. However, their road lay east to Penybont, two miles along, where they took the left fork along a track leading to Llanfihangel, which lay another two miles or so further on. On their right lay Radnor Forest, though there were no trees. It was, in fact, a broad, featureless plateau rising above the land around it.

The day was wet and the rain fell in a dreary drizzle that did nothing for their moods. Gareth was withdrawn, wondering how much further they would have to go before they caught up with their parents, wishing they had received more current news of their whereabouts, but they had been lucky enough to have received even as much news as they had over the century or so they were away.

Gwyn was simply weary: weary of traveling, weary of the rain, weary of his life. Looking back upon it he could not have said that it had been a good one. Certainly it had been exciting at times, but he knew now that such excitement was not for him, not anymore. He longed to settle somewhere and put down roots. He was not sure that would ever happen, not when his family was forced to uproot themselves every few decades to avoid suspicion from their neighbors as they grew old and died while he and his brother and parents remained the same. It had been different in Acre, but he never wanted to see that wretched place again.

It was nearing noon by the time they came to Llanfihangel, a sorry looking hamlet of a score or so hovels centered around an even sorrier looking church, its stonework cracked in places, looking rather dilapidated and uncared for. It was obvious to the brothers that this was a poor community. The gray skies and soggy ground did not help endear the place to them.

“Why did they come here?” Gareth whispered to his brother. “There’s nothing to commend itself to anyone.”

“Perhaps that is why,” Gwyn replied with a shrug. “Here. Let us find the priest. He is more likely to know where Da and Mam have gone.”

They headed for the church and discovered what they assumed was the priest’s residence, for it too was made of fieldstone, though the roof was thatched. It boasted two rooms and was better kept than the other houses made of wattle and mud. They dismounted and Gareth held the reins while Gwyn went to the door and pounded on it. After a moment, it opened to reveal a Man in a stained robe glaring at them suspiciously. He was portly with greasy black hair and pale eyes that held no warmth. His suspicious look changed to one of awe, almost of fear, when he spied them and he tried to slam the door in Gwyn’s face. Gwyn, however, held it open with negligent ease.

“Good day, priest,” he said conversationally in Welsh. “My brother and I mean you no harm. We are travelers and we seek information. Is there a barn where we may put our horses? We will pay you, of course.” Privately he doubted this particular Mortal lacked coin. Certainly he did not go without if the state of his belly was any indication.

“What information do you seek, good sir?” the Man asked, licking his lips and stealing nervous looks between Gwyn and Gareth.

“Let us see to our horses and then you may feed us and we will tell you,” Gwyn said firmly. He had seen the look of near terror in the Man’s eyes and wondered. Did their parents warn him of their coming, knowing that someday he and Gareth might come looking for them? Why had they stopped here in the first place? Would they not have fared better in a large town where they could remain anonymous to some extent? What had drawn them to this place?

He mentally shook his head and stared at the Mortal. “Well?”

The Man gulped and pointed to his right. “There is a barn just there. Put your horses there.”

“Thank you,” Gwyn said politely, then without removing his hand from the door, turned and nodded to Gareth who nodded back and with a soft snick, led the two horses away while Gwyn returned his attention to the Man. “While my brother sees to the horses, why don’t we go inside and wait for him?”

Even as he spoke, he pushed his way past the priest to enter the house where he discovered a Woman and three young children, the oldest, a boy, about ten or eleven, while the other two were girls, perhaps five and seven by his guess. Neither the Woman nor the children looked particularly well-fed or clothed. The Woman, in fact, looked worn and beaten by life and though he did not think she was above twenty-five, she looked a good ten or fifteen years older. She and the children stared at him with similar expressions of awe and fear as the priest.

He looked about him. It was a typical, low-ceilinged house with a large fireplace at one end and a rude table with benches in front of it. He could see more than one sleeping pallet rolled up in a corner and assumed they were for the children, while their parents slept in the other room, though he doubted that the Woman was the priest’s wife in the true matrimonial sense of the word. Celibacy had long been in place among the priesthood, but Gwyn was neither naïve nor blind and knew that in these small hamlets away from the prying eyes of bishops, the priests were likely to find comfort in the arms of a local woman, or more rarely, another man. That the children were the priest’s he had no doubt.

“God’s greetings to you all,” he said, giving the Woman a short bow and smiling upon the children. “I am Gwyn ap Tristan ap Hywel. My brother, who is looking after our horses, is Gareth.” He turned to the priest standing by the still open door and gave him a significant look.

“Bring us food, Elen,” the priest growled. “You three, out. Go play in the barn, but leave the horses alone. Twm, see to it your sisters behave.”

“Yes, Da,” the boy said meekly and without another word, took his sisters’ hands and led them outside.

Gwyn, meanwhile, divested himself of his wet cloak, placing it near the fireplace so it would dry and sat on one of the benches before the table. He ignored the looks between the priest and Elen as he waited for Gareth to come in.

“Your name, priest?” Gwyn asked imperiously.

The Man scowled slightly at his tone as he sat heavily in the only chair the house could boast. “Maelwys ab Anwas. Father Maelwys.” He stressed his title.

Gwyn gave him a cold smile. “Yes, I can see that.”

Elen, meanwhile, huddled over the fireplace, ladling up some soup into bowls while the Man stared at him in silence. A moment or two later the door opened and Gareth walked in, took in the surroundings and nodded to Gwyn, speaking in French.

“The horses are taken care of.”

Gwyn nodded and gestured to the bench. “Sit then,” he said, speaking French as well.

“What are you saying?” Maelwys demanded. “What heathenish language do you speak?”

Gwyn and Gareth stared at him in surprise. “Odd,” Gwyn said rather laconically, reverting back to Welsh. “I was unaware that the French were heathens, were you, Gareth?”

Gareth shook his head. “News to me, but then we’ve only fought beside their warriors in the Holy Land so who knows?”

“You… you are come from the wars?” the priest asked, giving them an uncertain look.

Elen plopped bowls of soup in front of the three men. Small hunks of meat floated in the thin broth — deer perhaps, though Gwyn had his doubts — along with some parsnips. She went to a cupboard and retrieved a hunk of dark bread for them. Gwyn, ever the spokesman for the two brothers, nodded as he picked up a wooden spoon and started to sip the broth. “We returned recently and now we are in search of our parents. Our last letter from them said they were living here. Tristan and Iseult ap Hywel.” He glanced up at Elen coming over with the bread. “You wouldn’t happen to know where they are now, do you?”

The Woman’s reaction to the names was telling, for she froze for just an instant before she forced herself to move and place the trencher of bread on the table. Gwyn saw from the corner of his eye the priest grimacing.

“Can’t say the names are familiar to me,” the Man said smoothly. “We’re a small community, you see. Everyone knows everyone else and strangers are few and rarely welcomed. I do not recall anyone moving here in all my years. Some have left, yes, but none have come from elsewhere to live here. The families that do live here have been here for time out of mind. I grew up not far from here myself, in Bleddfa.”

“And yet, our last letter from them clearly states that they came here to Llanfihangel Rhydithon hard by Radnor Forest. They would not lie about that. What reason would they have to do so?”

“Yet, if they were here even for a time and then moved on, why did they not send you a letter letting you know?” Maelwys enquired, his expression sly.

Gwyn shrugged. “I am sure they did, but it will not be the first time letters have gone astray. These are unsettled times and the road between here and Acre is long and full of dangers.”

The priest gave them startled looks. “You were in Acre, you say? You were there at its fall?”

Both brothers nodded but neither was inclined to speak. They concentrated on their meal instead. After a few minutes, Gareth looked up at the Man. “I find it rather odd that there would be a church here. Why would anyone bother to build one here, for it is a rather desolate place and there is little here to commend itself to any, in my opinion.”

Maelwys’ expression actually brightened. “Ah, you do not know the legend then.”

“And what legend is that?” Gwyn asked as he tore off a hunk of the bread, carefully dunking it into the broth to soften it enough to eat without breaking his teeth.

“You saw Rhos Fawr,” the Man said, making it more a statement than a question.

“The dome of rock that dominates the landscape,” Gwyn said with a nod.

Maelwys nodded. “Legend has it that one of the last dragons of Wales lies sleeping beneath Rhos Fawr.”

“A dragon!” Gareth exclaimed. “Truly?” Gwyn was equally impressed.

The priest nodded again more vigorously. “Aye, and four churches were constructed in a circle to contain it. Each of them is dedicated to St. Mihangel the Archangel whom, it is said, defeated the dragon.”

“And this church is one of them,” Gwyn stated.

“Aye, it is, along with Llanfihangel Cefnllys, Llanfihangel Cascob and Llanfihangel Nant Melan.” Even as he named the other three churches he pointed in various directions, ending with the south. “It is believed by many that the dragon will awaken again if any of these churches are destroyed.”

The three men fell silent as they continued eating. Elen sat by the fire watching them. Gwyn glanced at Gareth. “Such a legend would draw them here, I deem,” he said in French. “Sûrment, Maman.”

Gareth nodded. “Then where did they go? Why does this priest insist he remembers them not? The Woman. She knows something. I saw it in her eyes when you told them our parents’ names.”

“So, should we beat it out of the Man or corner the Woman?” Gwyn asked conversationally.

Gareth gave him a Gallic shrug that spoke volumes and Gwyn hid a smile, finishing the last of the soup and pushing the bowl away. All the while, the priest eyed them with suspicion and fear. Suspicion, Gwyn could understand, for strangers could prove dangerous, though Christian hospitality and guest-rights would curtail most violence done to either host or visitor. The fear, however, he did not understand, unless it was the sight of two men in chain and wearing swords. It was unlikely the Man had occasion to meet with soldiers returning from the wars to the East, not in this remote corner of Powys, so perhaps it was that, but Gwyn was unsure. The Man was definitely lying about knowing their parents. The question remained: why?

“Do we speak to the villagers then?” Gareth asked, still speaking French.

“They would not give us who are strangers any answers,” Gwyn said with a shake of his head. “No, the answers lie here inside this house.” On an impulse he said to the priest, “I would like to see your church and light a candle to St. Mihangel in thanksgiving for delivering us from the hands of the Saracens.”

Gareth nodded. “As would I.”

“The church is closed,” Maelwys said shortly.

Both Gwyn and Gareth evinced shock. “Closed?” Gareth echoed. “When is a House of God ever closed? Surely you sing the Angelus, though now that I think on it, I do not recall hearing the Ave bell being rung and it should have been ringing even as we came upon this village.”

“At any rate, we still would like to see the church so that my brother and I may pray to St. Mihangel,” Gwyn stated, deciding he did not wish to hear the Man’s excuses for not fulfilling his ecclesiastical duties. Neither he nor Gareth held to the beliefs of the Mortals, but they had lived among them all their lives and had followed the religious practices of the times as a matter of course. And as putative members of a monastic order for the last hundred years, they had fallen into the habit of following the liturgical rote of prayers and devotions throughout the day.

“Shall we?” Gwyn rose from the table, giving Maelwys a stern look.

The priest hesitated a moment longer and then sighed, rising from his chair. “Come with me, then,” he said ungraciously as he lifted an iron ring on which was a single key off a hook by the door. The brothers followed.

Outside, the rain had finally stopped and there were rents in the clouds showing blue, but it was still cold with the hint of frost in the air. Maelwys marched over to the church and unlocked it, then flung open the heavy oak door, gesturing for the brothers to enter. “Please,” Gwyn said politely, indicating that the Man should lead them. He gave them a sour look but did not argue. Upon entering they saw a large stone baptistry situated before the nave, intricately carved with angels and what appeared to be a biblical scene of Jesus being baptized by John at the River Jordan. It stood almost chest high and was a couple of feet wide. It was partially filled with water and the brothers automatically dipped the fingers of their right hands into it and crossed themselves, genuflecting toward the altar. Then, before they entered the sanctuary proper, they removed their swords, leaning them against the baptistry.

Gwyn looked at Maelwys and gestured for him to continue further into the church. The priest scowled but did as he was bid and the brothers followed.

The sanctuary, they saw, was divided by a wooden rood screen intricately carved with images of saints and angels, separating the altar from the rest of the church. In a niche to the left of the altar stood a crudely carved statue of Mary and on the opposite side, a statue of St. Michael in full armor and holding his sword. Before the statues were fat votive candles stuck in sand. A few before the Mary statue were lit; none of those before St. Michael were. Gwyn and Gareth exchanged grimaces and without a word, Gareth went over to the Mary statue and returned with one of the lit candles, handing it to Gwyn who then proceeded to light two of the candles before St. Michael, sticking the other candle into the sand when he was done. Then the two brothers knelt and Gwyn began praying aloud the Angelus with Gareth joining in while Maelwys stood by and watched.

“Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariæ,” Gwyn intoned.

“Et concepit de Spiritu Sanctu,” Gareth responded.

“Ave Maria, gratia plena…” they both prayed.

They continued with the rest of the prayer with Gwyn reciting the versicle and Gareth following with the response.

“… Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum,” Gwyn prayed the final part of the prayer.

“Amen,” Gareth said.

They remained kneeling and Gwyn spoke now in Welsh. “O, most holy St. Mihangel, slayer of dragons, prince of the Host of Heaven and God’s most puissant warrior, we thank thee for bringing us out of the hands of the infidels and protecting us as we traveled home. Protect us now and lead us safely unto our parents who await our coming. Guide us home, O most noble warrior, we humbly beseech thee. Amen.”

“Amen,” Gareth echoed and then they both piously crossed themselves again as they stood and faced the priest who gave them a sour look.

“You do not fool me with your piety, sirrah. I know what you are, what you both are.”

“Indeed,” Gwyn evinced a skeptical air. “And what, pray tell, are we?”

“You are not of mortal kind, and you mock God with your impious piety.”

Both brothers raised eyebrows at that. “Perhaps we are angels in disguise come to test you, Maelwys ab Anwas, for I sense a certain lack of… devotion on your part,” Gwyn offered.

Maelwys hesitated for a moment, his expression becoming unsure but then he shook his head. “No, I do not think that is what you are. Angels would… hide themselves better. You are both inhumanly fair to look upon, too beautiful for any mortal and there is a… a glow about you. Angels in disguise would not glow.”

“Then what are we, if not angels?” Gwyn asked.

“I deem you are of the Tylwyth Teg,” the priest said accusingly. “I deem you to be Gwyn ap Nudd himself!”

Both brothers blinked at that and exchanged bemused looks.

 “It is true, as you have guessed, that we are not mortals, that we are of the Tylwyth Teg,” Gwyn said carefully, “but I am not Gwyn ap Nudd, though I was named for him. My brother and I are duly baptized Christians who fought for the Cross in the Holy Land. Indeed, we have been to Jerusalem. We have walked the Via Dolorosa and have seen the tomb of Christ.” He gave the priest a cold smile. “We are far more devout than you appear to be, Maelwys ab Anwas, for all that you are supposedly a priest.”

“You are soulless creatures sent to mock me!” Maelwys shouted.

Almost more quickly than human eyes could follow, Gwyn was upon the Man, pushing him up against the wall. Maelwys was white and trembling as Gwyn held a knife at the Mortal’s throat. “If we were truly soulless, priest, we would have no compunction in spilling your blood on holy ground or torturing you for the information we seek.”

“If you know that we are not mortal,” Gareth interjected before Maelwys could respond, “then you know of our parents. How else would you recognize us for what we are?”

Maelwys shook his head, fear in his eyes. “I know nothing of your parents.”

“So you say,” Gwyn retorted coldly, “but we know they came here if only for a short while. It would have been ten or twelve years ago. I am sure you’ve been living here for at least that long.”

“I came here eleven years ago when the old priest died,” Maelwys said. “If your parents had been here they left before I came.”

“This is getting us nowhere, Gwyn,” Gareth complained, speaking again in French.

“I know, little brother,” Gwyn replied in the same language, “but we cannot leave until we learn where they were headed. Someone in the village must know. They would have told someone, left some message behind, just in case.”

“So what do we do?” Gareth asked.

Gwyn cast his brother a grim-looking smile. “We make ourselves at home.” With that, he stepped away from the Man and returned his knife to its scabbard. When he spoke again it was in Welsh. “Well, I think we will spend a little time here and see if we cannot find answers to our questions. You say you never knew our parents. Fair enough, but others in the village do, of that I have no doubt. Until we find what we are looking for, I’m afraid you’re stuck with us, Maelwys ab Anwas and God and St. Mihangel help any who stand in our way.” He gave the Man a cold smile that boded no one well.

****

Sûrment, Maman: (French) ‘Certainly, Mam’.

Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariæ, Et concepit de Spiritu Sanctu, Ave Maria, gratia plena…: (Latin) ‘The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, And she conceived of the Holy Spirit, Hail Mary, full of grace…’.

Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum: (Latin) ‘Through the same Christ our Lord’.

Tylwyth Teg: (Welsh) ‘the Fair Folk’, the Welsh name for the Elves. Gwyn ap Nudd is the name of the Lord of Annwn, the Welsh Underworld, and King of Faerie.

Notes:

1. Fforest Faesyfed: Radnor Forest. It is only a forest in the medieval sense of an unenclosed area used for hunting. The legend surrounding it is a real-life legend and not invented for the sake of this story.

2. Llanfihangel Rhydithon: Church of St. Michael the Archangel at Rhydithon. Mihangel is the Welsh form of Michael. The other three churches mentioned still stand as well.

3. Y Gelli/Haya/La Haye: Present-day Hay-on-Wye, on the very border between England and Wales, a mecca for booklovers with its nearly two dozen bookshops.

4. Llanfair-ym-Muallt: Church of St. Mary at Buallt; present-day Builith Wells. The town has been in existence since post-Roman times.

5. Y Trallwng: Present-day Welshpool. It was originally just called Pool but the name was changed to differentiate from Poole in England.

6. Angelus: A Catholic devotional prayer commemorating the Incarnation. The name is taken from the first word of the prayer in Latin: Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariæ ‘The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary’. It is generally recited at dawn, noon and dusk with the ringing of the Angelus or Ave bell. While the history of its development is not entirely clear, the Angelus has been recited as a distinct prayer for over 700 years. The full Latin text and English translation can be found on Wikipedia under ‘Angelus’.

7. While the Church of St. Michael in Llanfihangel Rhydithon actually exists, its description is based on the various medieval churches I have visited and not on actuality.

8. Via Dolorosa: ‘The Way of Sorrow’; the route through Jerusalem taken by Christ to Calvary where he was executed.

“So, did that priest really not know where your parents had gone?” Glorfindel asked as Gwyn paused in relating his and Gareth’s story, draining his goblet and refilling it.

“And is there really a dragon under Radnor Forest?” Alex asked.

“I do not understand how these four churches are supposed to contain the dragon if one exists,” Finrod said almost at the same time. “How can they do that? What spells were wrought to make it so?” Several of the Elves nodded their heads at that and Valandur was heard speaking to Laurendil about possible Songs of Power that could be used in such cases with Laurendil saying it would’ve been nice to have had that power when Glaurung was sacking Nargothrond.

Gwyn and Gareth exchanged amused looks. “Hey! I don’t know, your guess is as good as mine, and you’ll find out if you let us continue our tale,” Gwyn said, pointing first to Alex, then Finrod and finally Glorfindel, answering their questions. Several people chuckled at that.

“Okay, okay,” Glorfindel said with a sniff. “So you got to this village and were being stonewalled by the priest. Did you ever learn why your parents ended up there if only for a while?”

“Mam was always seeking out evidence of the Elder Days,” Gareth answered. “She and Da were treasure hunters of a sort, seeking out artefacts that might have belonged to the Elves that somehow survived the ages.”

“Did they find anything, though?” Finrod asked. “I thought all traces of our existence were destroyed by the ice?” He turned to Glorfindel with an enquiring look.

Glorfindel shrugged. “We assumed so because we never saw any evidence, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t. We just never looked.”

“You never did,” Barahir interjected, “but I did. Why do you think I became an archeologist even before that term was coined? Granted, I never found anything conclusive, just legends and snippets of tales that might have been dim echoes of our past, but I always thought I would find some trace, some object that somehow survived through the ages, ending up in some Mortal’s tomb or in a temple as an object of worship. Never did, and then I just forgot about it and concentrated on helping my fellow archeologists rediscover their own past.”

“Same with Mam and Da,” Gwyn said. “They started out looking for evidence that some memory of the Elder Days had survived among the Mortals, but, as you say, Barry, the evidence was inconclusive and finally Da just gave up and became more interested in the sciences, especially as the Mortals began to make discoveries about the universe that had been unknown to any before. Mam ended up taking all the knowledge she had accumulated of legends and myths and began sharing it with those who were interested in such lore, eventually teaching it at university when women were allowed to do so.”

“Well, so what happened next?” Derek asked. “That priest, Malwis or whatever his name is, sounds like an oily bastard. And I didn’t think a priest would be able to get away with having a wife and kiddies like that. Weren’t they supposed to be celibate?”

“In the Celtic church, that wasn’t necessarily so, though, over time, celibacy eventually became the rule,” Gareth explained with a shrug. “Maelwys probably did not marry Elen. She most likely started out as his housekeeper and then later became his lover. The Welsh were more tolerant of such matters than the English and in that remote part of the country the bishop was likely to ignore irregularities unless they were blatant.”

“Did you really pray to St. Michael or were you just pretending to because that’s what people did back then?” Alex asked.

“They still do,” Gwyn said with a smile. “And yes, I did honestly pray to St. Michael. While Gareth and I didn’t necessarily believe in the Mortal religions of our acquaintance, whether Christian, Muslim or Jewish, we did follow the religious practices of the day wherever we happened to be. In Palestine, while we were with Saladin, we prayed toward Mecca five times a day along with everyone else in his entourage, but when we joined the Templars, we followed the canonical hours of the Order. Ultimately, we figured all our prayers would eventually make their way to Eru however convoluted the route.”

“Yet, it does seem odd that you would pray at all,” Cennanion said. “It isn’t something that we Elves do.”

“Yet we often sing hymns to Varda,” Barahir pointed out.

“Yes, but we don’t necessarily pray to her in the same way as Mortals do to Eru,” Cennanion countered. “I was just surprised that Gwyn and Gareth would do so.”

“Mortal born,” Finrod offered and both Gwyn and Gareth began to bristle.

“So, anyway…” Glorfindel intervened before either brother could comment, giving them a significant look.

Gwyn nodded and glanced up at the sky to gauge the hour. “This is a long story and we can’t really shorten it, otherwise it won’t make any sense to you. Are you sure you want to hear it? It’ll take hours, I think, to tell it all and it’s already after midnight.”

“Well, if you think Derek and I are going to leave before we hear the end, you can think again,” Alex said firmly. “We’ll sleep later. Carry on.”

“Very well,” Gwyn said, “but if you fall asleep in the middle of our recitation, I have no intention of repeating it all for you later.”

“We’ll get the Reader’s Digest version out of Darren or Val,” Derek said. “They’re trained loremasters. I bet they could repeat your words verbatim if they needed to.”

Both Daeron and Valandur nodded, but neither commented and Gwyn left it at that. “Okay, so we ended up staying in the village rather than going on simply because we had no idea where we should go. Even if we had a direction, if not an actual destination, that would’ve been something. At any rate, we decided to see if we could find one of the villagers who would remember our parents. If what Maelwys said was true, that he arrived in the village after they had already left, then there was no point badgering him about it, but Elen… Now that was another matter. We guessed that she was a local girl rather than coming with Maelwys from Bleddfa. She would’ve been in her teens when our parents arrived in Llanfihangel, old enough to remember two strangers settling there. Gareth suggested that we concentrate on her….”

****

The brothers exited the church with Maelwys, who stopped long enough to lock the door again. The three made their way back to the house where the brothers retrieved their now dry cloaks. Both Maelwys and Elen eyed them warily.

“Thank you for the meal,” Gwyn said graciously to the Woman, giving her a slight bow. “It is pleasant to have someone else doing the cooking for a change since my brother seems incapable of boiling water.” He cast a fond look at Gareth who grinned unrepentantly but did not otherwise make a comment.

“You are leaving then?” the priest asked, giving them a dubious look.

Gwyn shook his head. “Not until we learn what happened to our parents. Fear not! We will sleep in the barn with our horses and we will not bother you for meals. I am assuming the Forest is a free hunting ground for all who live in these parts?”

Maelwys nodded. “Though no one goes near Rhos Fawr. To do so is to chance waking the dragon.”

“And we don’t want that, do we?” Gwyn said with a nod of understanding. “Very well. We will stay away from Rhos Fawr. Thank you for the warning.” With that, he turned and strode out the door with Gareth behind him and headed for the barn. Entering it Gwyn saw that it only had a couple of stalls. Their horses occupied both stalls while a mule, apparently belonging to the priest, was tied up to a post looking… well, mulish at having been ousted from its own stall. Above them was a hayloft where they heard the children playing. At their entrance, all three peered down from above, their eyes wide with wonder.

“Are you angels?” the youngest girl asked.

“Don’t be daft, Annest,” Twm said with brotherly arrogance. “Anyone can see they are Fair Folk. If they were angels they would have wings.”

Gwyn and Gareth exchanged amused looks, then Gwyn gestured to the children. “Come down now, my little ones, and return to your Mam.”

“Sioned, help Annest down,” Twm ordered the older sister and the two girls went first. Only when they were safely on the ground with Gareth lifting them off the ladder and setting them before them did Twm follow.

“Off you go now,” Gareth started to say, giving them a kind smile.

“Wait, though,” Gwyn said, holding up his hand. “Tell me, boy, who is your blacksmith if this village boasts of one?”

“That would be Rhisiart,” the boy said promptly, “but he lives halfway to Llandegley. I can show you the track you must take to reach him.”

“Yes, I would like that,” Gwyn said, then he turned to Gareth, speaking French. “While I go speak to the blacksmith, do a bit of hunting while we still have daylight.”

“Do you think the blacksmith will have the answers we seek? Should we not ask the Woman? She knows something. I could see it in her eyes.”

Gwyn nodded. “Yes, but let me speak with the smith first. I do not want to confront the Woman unless we have to.”

Gareth started to say something but Twm interjected just then, speaking with some impatience. “What are you babbling about? Do you want me to show you where Rhisiart lives or not?”

Gwyn smiled at the child. “Patience, boy. How far does this smith live?”

The boy shrugged. “Mayhap a mile or so on the road to Llandegley.”

“Then show me,” Gwyn ordered, giving his brother a knowing look as he allowed the three children to lead him away. Gareth spent a couple of minutes visiting with the horses, making sure they were well, double-checking to see that the knife was well hidden in a secret pocket of one of the saddlebags where thieves were unlikely to find it. Then, with a soft word to the mule, he grabbed his hunting bow and quiver and set out for the Forest, well aware of the Mortals that watched him from doorways as he flitted by.

****

Gwyn followed the three children through the village, the two lasses skipping merrily ahead while Twm strode beside him.

“You and your sisters were born here?” he asked.

The boy nodded but did not otherwise speak and Gwyn did not press. They came to the last of the houses and Twm stopped and pointed toward a track that ran southeast. “There,” he said somewhat unnecessarily. “Rhisiart lives yonder. Annest, Sioned, come back. You know Mam does not like you leaving the village.”

The two girls turned back and without another word to Gwyn, Twm grabbed their hands and led them back to the village. Gwyn watched them go for a moment and then glanced at the sky. He had perhaps an hour or two before the sun would set. More than enough time, he thought, to find the smith and then return to the village. He set off at a brisk pace following the track. To the east rose Rhos Fawr and Gwyn wondered idly if there were indeed a dragon sleeping under the dome. He recalled the tales his parents had told him and Gareth of the Elder Days and the dragons against which Elves and Men had fought. Smaug had been the last dragon slain as far as he or anyone else knew, but perhaps one or two had survived somehow. He suspected that the legends surrounding Rhos Fawr had been what had drawn his parents here, but they did not stay long. So where did they go?

He heard the smith working before he saw the smithy itself, coming around a bend of the track to find himself facing a rough-hewn stone house with a smithy attached to it. He could see a Man working over the bellows, heating something before returning to the anvil and picking up a hammer. The ringing of metal on metal echoed in the air. The Man looked up as Gwyn approached, his expression one of mild curiosity as he continued to hammer away at what appeared to be a horseshoe.

“God’s greeting to you,” Gwyn called out cheerfully.

“And to you, stranger,” the Man answered dutifully enough. He paused in his work, expertly examining the piece before laying down the hammer and tongs, placing the horseshoe to one side along with some others. He was brawny as befitted a smith, his dark hair and beard brindled with grey, his blue eyes bright and knowing.

“I am Gwyn ap Tristan ap Hywel,” Gwyn introduced himself.

“Are you now?” the Man said, raising an eyebrow.

“And you are Rhisiart, or so I was told by Twm ap Maelwys.”

“Aye, I be he. And what do you be needing me for, Gwyn ap Tristan ap Hywel? Has your horse thrown a shoe? Do you need the sword you carry repaired?”

“I need information,” Gwyn said. “You are the smith for this area. I believe you will know what I seek if anyone does.”

“And what do you seek?” the Man asked, eyeing him suspiciously.

“Not what, who. My father and mother actually. Tristan ap Hywel and his wife Iseult. I have a letter from them dated about twelve years ago saying that they had come here to Llanfihangel, but they are obviously not here now. I wish to know where they went.”

“Twelve years,” the smith said musingly. “A long time. And where were you all this time if I may ask? For you seem rather young and twelve years ago you couldn’t have been but a child.”

“I am older than I look and until recently I was in the East, in the Holy Land,” Gwyn answered readily enough. “My brother and I fought in the Crusades there but we have returned to our homeland and seek out our kin.” He forbore to ask the Man directly if he knew of his parents. It would be better if Rhisiart supplied the information voluntarily.

The smith gave him a searching look and Gwyn refused to look away. He allowed a small part of his native power to peek through and saw with no little satisfaction when the Man’s eyes widened and he hastily crossed himself.

“How can one of the Fair Folk handle iron?” Rhisiart asked, looking pointedly at Gwyn’s sword.

“Some myths are only that,” Gwyn replied and the smith gave him a considering look. “Do you remember my parents? Do you know where they went?”

The Man shook his head. “Remember them, aye, that I do, but they never confided in me as to their plans. One day they were here, the next they were gone.”

“How long did they abide here?”

Rhisiart furrowed his brow. “Let me see, they arrived on the Eve of St. John and were here through the winter and into the next summer, but they were gone again before the Feast of St. Michael.”

“When did the priest arrive?”

“Maelwys?!” Rhisiart exclaimed, apparently surprised by the question. “Well, now that I think on it, he came a week before your parents left.”

“So, he lied then.” Gwyn nodded in grim satisfaction.

The smith gave him a searching look. “Lied about what?”

“He claims not to know my parents.”

“And that may not be a lie exactly. Father Dewi went to his reward a couple of months before. I and one or two others traveled to speak to the bishop to inform him of the death and the need for a new priest. The bishop said he would send someone and we returned home. Several weeks later, Maelwys showed up claiming to have been sent by the bishop. As far as I know, neither he nor your parents actually came face to face and then inside the week they were gone.”

“Where did they live, though? What I saw of the village leads me to suspect that no new houses have been built in some time and there is no inn.”

“They lived with Old Dewi far as I know,” Rhisiart said with a shrug as he worked the bellows for a bit before picking up the tongs and grabbing a bit of iron to thrust into the fire. Gwyn watched him for a moment, reviewing all that the smith had told him, coming to certain conclusions.

“Elen. Was she Father Dewi’s housekeeper by any chance?”

“Elen?” Rhisiart gave him a puzzled look. “Elen is Dewi’s daughter. Her Mam died aborning her.”

Gwyn blinked at that revelation and several pieces of the puzzle fell into place for him. He suspected that his parents had moved out of the priest’s house before Maelwys arrived, perhaps staying with Elen’s mother’s kin. Yet, if his parents had been living in the priest’s house, they would’ve been well acquainted with his daughter. It was quite possible, as Gareth suggested, that their parents had confided in her as to their next destination. They might have to question her after all.

Rhisiart ignored him as he set about returning to his work. As the smith began hammering on the heated metal, Gwyn thanked him and bade him a farewell which Rhisiart barely acknowledged. Gwyn shrugged to himself and set off for the village. When he returned to the barn he found Gareth skinning a brace of coneys. A small fire had been started and water was heating in the pot that they used for cooking. Gareth looked up as Gwyn approached.

“What did you find out?”

Gwyn crouched down before his brother, looking pensive. “He knew our parents but they did not confide in him when they left. They were living in the priest’s house with the previous priest who died a couple of months before they left the village. Elen is the old priest’s daughter.”

Gareth stopped what he was doing to give his brother a searching look. “And now she’s Maelwys’ wife or at least his… paramour.”

“Which is neither here nor there, but certainly she had to know our parents quite well while they lived under the same roof for over a year. I think you’re right that we will have to speak to her, but we should do it when Maelwys is not around to interfere. I do not like him.”

“Nor I,” Gareth allowed. “Well, I’m sure the opportunity to speak with Elen alone will arise if we are patient. In the meantime, these are all yours.” He picked up the skinned rabbits and handed them to Gwyn. “I’m going to go wash.” He stood and strode away toward a small brook that passed along the east side of the village while Gwyn set about cooking their meal.

****

As it was, Elen came to them the next morning bearing a gift of a loaf of dark bread, a few eggs and some cheese, which the brothers accepted gratefully. “These will make for a cheerful breaking of fast, mistress,” Gwyn said politely.

“I did not want you to leave here thinking we are inhospitable, my lord,” the Woman said.

“Oh, no lord am I, nor is my brother, I assure you,” Gwyn said with a laugh. “We grew up outside Caerdyf, on a farm, until we went crusading.”

“You are Fair Folk, though,” Elen insisted.

“And you recognized us as such because of our parents, did you not?” Gareth enquired. “You were just a lass at the time they came here. Rhisiart the Blacksmith claims they lived with you in the house with your father.”

Elen scowled. “Rhisiart talks too much.”

“Yet, what he says is true, is it not?” Gwyn pressed. “You are the old priest’s daughter. Our parents lived in your house for over a year. Did they say naught of their next destination, even if it was only that they were heading, say west, instead of north. Any information you might have for us, mistress would be gratefully received.”

“I should go,” Elen said. “My man would not like it if he found me talking to you.” She turned to go.

“Elen,” Gwyn said and she stopped but did not turn around.

“St. Mihangel,” she said softly. “He knows. They told him, so your mam said. They told St. Mihangel where they were going.” She hurried off refusing to stay longer. Gareth looked to go after her but Gwyn stayed him.

“No, let her go, Brother. I think she told us all she could or dared,” he said. He resumed his seat at the fire and Gareth joined him.

“They told St. Mihangel?” Gareth exclaimed. “What does that mean? Tell some mute statue but not a living soul?”

“Living souls who could die at any time,” Gwyn pointed out. “Living souls who could fail to pass on the message to another just in case.”

“Then it’s hopeless.”

“Not necessarily,” Gwyn countered, his expression pensive. “What if they left a message of some sort in the church itself, hidden perhaps in or around the statue where none would think to look if any thought they should?”

“We will need to get inside the church. Do we break in?” He raised an eyebrow at Gwyn in a suggestive manner but Gwyn shook his head.

“No. We will not break in. I would not chance it. We will wait until we can legitimately enter and then you and I will kneel before St. Mihangel and wait for everyone to leave.”

“That won’t work though because Maelwys will insist on staying until we’re ready to leave. He’ll want to be locking up the church, though why any priest would do so is beyond me.”

“Rhisiart said that Maelwys showed up claiming to have been sent by the bishop,” Gwyn said. “What if he wasn’t?”

“How do you mean?” Gareth demanded in surprise. “Surely he is a priest, even if a poor one. Would the villagers put up with someone who was not?”

Gwyn shrugged. “That I don’t know, but it strikes me that Maelwys may not be who he claims to be. Not that it matters to you or me. If he is here under false pretenses, then let the villagers look to it if they will.”

“At any rate, we’ll need to come up with some reason for Maelwys not to hang about so we can examine the statue in peace.”

“A way will be found,” Gwyn said with more confidence then he felt. “If we must, we will confide in Maelwys. I think once he understands what we seek, he will cooperate. He wants us gone and as quickly as possible. He will do anything to see it done.”

“Well, speaking of the devil,” Gareth muttered as he noticed Maelwys approaching. The brothers rose and gave the Man their greeting. Maelwys scowled at them.

“How long will you remain here?” he demanded.

The brothers gave him disbelieving looks. “The hospitality to guests has deteriorated since last we were here, I fear,” Gwyn said.

“You are unwanted here,” the Man said, ignoring Gwyn’s implied censure.

“Then the sooner we learn the truth about our parents, the sooner we are gone,” Gwyn shot back. “But mistake me not, sir. My brother and I will not leave until we do learn the truth. Rhisiart states that they were here the week you arrived from Bleddfa. It is possible, though unlikely, that you and they never came face-to-face, but you must have known of them, for how else did you recognize us for what we are?”

Maelwys’ expression became crafty. “Do you think you are the only Fair Folk I have come upon? I never met your parents, this I swear before God, but your kind… yes, I have met your kind before.” He scowled then, a look of disgust crossing his face. “Soulless creatures. They are an abomination before God.” He spat on the ground in contempt.

Gwyn felt his blood turn cold and before the Man could blink, he was upon him, ramming him into the side of the barn, his knife at the priest’s throat. “What do you mean? You have met others of our kind? Where? When? Speak, sirrah, or I shall turn you over to my brother to torture. He has had plenty of practice with Saracens.”

It was a lie, of course, but he knew Gareth would play along, and indeed, his brother actually smiled an evil smile. “I’ve rather missed hearing a Mortal screaming as I… played with him.”

Maelwys was trembling, fear in his eyes, as he looked between the two Elves. “You would not dare!” he shouted. “I am a priest—”

“And I wonder how true that is,” Gwyn said softly, pressing the knife a little more against the Man’s throat. “At any rate, if we’re the soulless creatures you claim us to be, then killing you would not damn us any more than we already are. Now speak! These others. Who were they? Where did you meet them?”

“I do not know who they were, nor do I care,” Maelwys answered, scowling at them, though they could still see the fear in his eyes. “I came upon them on the road by chance years ago when I was newly ordained and going to my first parish in Rhos-y-meirch, to the east near Tref-y-Clawdd. They offered me their hospitality.”

“And?” Gwyn urged when the Man hesitated, looking nervous more than frightened.

“And I did what any God-fearing man would do,” Maelwys replied, glaring at him. “I ran from them lest I be tainted by their evil. They did not follow or attempt to stay me and I never saw them again, but I did not forget, I did not forget their unearthly beauty.”

Gwyn stepped back, his expression pained. Others of his kind, other Elves, still abided here. That revelation unnerved him as almost nothing could and he dropped the knife as he stared at the priest who was rubbing his throat where the knife had been.

“Get you gone, soulless creatures who mock us with your false piety,” Maelwys hissed.

Gwyn shook his head. “No. Not until we get what we came here for. You want us gone, then open the church to us, for we think we know where our parents hid a message for us.”

“And why would I do that?” Maelwys demanded.

“Because if you don’t, Mortal, my brother and I will make sure that none of your villagers see the next dawn, starting with your woman and your children,” Gwyn said coldly, letting his true nature show forth, “and in the end we will just take the key from your cooling corpse and enter the church anyway.”

For a long moment, the Man stared at them, and then he licked his lips and nodded. “Come then, and may God strike you down for your sins.”

“You cannot have it both ways, priest,” Gareth said. “Only those with souls can sin, and if my brother and I are soulless as you claim, then God does not care what we do and keeps no accounting. That is for those with souls.”

“Come. Let us not waste any more time,” Gwyn said, bending to pick up his knife and gesturing for Maelwys to precede them. “The sooner we find what message our parents left for us the sooner we are gone from this wretched place.” Then on an impulse he said, speaking French, “Bring the knife. It may prove useful.”

Gareth did not argue but went into the barn while Gwyn herded the Man toward the church.

****

Note:

1. St. John’s Eve would be 23 June. Traditionally, midsummer was celebrated on 24 June, the Feast of St. John the Baptizer. The Feast of St. Michael is on 29 September.

2. Caerdyf: Present-day Cardiff. The present-day Welsh form of the name is now Caerdydd.

3. Tref-y-Clawdd: The Welsh name for Knighton, a market town that lies just to the east of the English-Welsh border today. Rhos-y-meirch lies just to the west of the border.


“Well, I’ll be damned,” Barahir exclaimed, interrupting the flow of the narrative.

“What?” Gwyn asked in surprise.

“That was Maelwys?” Barahir asked back. “That was the—?”

“Barry! What are you babbling about?” Glorfindel demanded.

But Barahir ignored the question and turned to Gilvegil. “That was Maelwys!” he said.

Gilvegil shrugged. “I don’t—”

“Remember you and I had business with the cloth merchants in Nottingham and we were returning home when we met that funny little priest who took one look at us and started ranting and raving about demons or some such?”

The light of remembrance brightened in Gilvegil’s eyes and he nodded. “Oh yes, now I remember. Stupid git actually threw holy water at us. I wasn’t sure what he expected us to do, burn up or something. I just know I didn’t appreciate getting wet that way.”

There were some snickers from the others.

“So let me get this straight,” Alex said, looking between Gwyn and Barahir. “You’re the ones this Maelwys character met on the road and that’s how he knew Gwyn and Gareth were Elves?”

Barahir nodded. “We were actually living in Wales at the time, in Anglesey, actually and—”

“Mam and Da often talked about moving to Anglesey,” Gareth interjected, “but they never did, we never did. Not sure why. We certainly lived all over Wales over the centuries but we never bothered to cross the Menai Strait to Anglesey. How long were you living there?”

“Oh, let’s see… we came to Britain with the Romans, hung around Londinium for some time, but when the Romans departed, we headed west into Wales to avoid the Saxons who were beginning to invade the island. I think we ended up on Anglesey around the tenth century. It was very remote, barely settled with any people, so it suited us well enough. For a time we even lived in the forests, building flets, but after a while we found ourselves feeling bored so we left the woods and settled in a mortal village on the coast and remained with them for a couple of centuries. By the time you speak of, Gwyn, we had actually moved back across the strait to Caernarvon and had set up a mercantile business, trading textiles between there and England, Nottingham, especially, which was known for its textiles at one time, especially lace, though that was later.”

“So that was Maelwys,” Gilvegil said with a sigh. “Poor man. We met him outside Tref-y-Clawdd, or Knighton, I suppose is its present-day name. We actually came upon him as we were crossing Offa’s Dyke.”

“Why were you in Knighton, though?” Gareth asked. “That’s quite a bit south of where you would want to cross into Wales to reach Caernarvon. I would’ve thought you would go through Shrewsbury or even further north and make your way along the coast.”

“And normally we would have taken the road to Shrewsbury from Birimgham,” Gilvegil acknowledged, “but for some reason that I’ve forgotten now we decided it would be easier to cross the border at Knighton. As it was, we ended up going north to Bishop’s Castle anyway and then onto Shrewsbury. From there we continued to Caernarvon.”

“A rather long detour for no particular reason,” Gwyn said.

Gilvegil shrugged. “Perhaps, but as the weather was fair and we were not expected back at Caernarvon at any particular time, we didn’t mind.”

“So do you think you were…ah… inspired to go to Knighton for the sole purpose of meeting Maelwys just so he would later recognize Gwyn and Gareth as Elves?” Alex asked.

“Now that, I don’t know,” Gilvegil said, his eyes widening at the thought and Barahir looked equally surprised. “I cannot truthfully say what made us go there. I guess, this late in the day, it hardly matters, does it?”

“So this Maelwys threw holy water at you, did he?” Derek asked, giving them a wicked grin. “And when you didn’t start smoking or anything that must have unnerved him.”

“We offered him our hospitality, as was only proper,” Barahir said with a huff, “but he seems to have been a bit narrow-minded in his views and it doesn’t look as if experience broadened it. Why was the church locked all the time? Were any services held while you were there?” This last was directed at the ap Hywels.

“I don’t think he was a very good priest,” Gwyn said judiciously and then shrugged. “It really doesn’t matter. The Man’s been dead these seven hundred years. They’re all dead. I doubt any of the children survived long enough to marry and have children of their own, or if they did, it’s unlikely their descendants still live. We never went back there at any rate.”

“It seems odd though that none of you met,” Alex said. “I mean, you seem to have crossed paths, but always too early or too late.”

“The world is wide, Alex,” Glorfindel said with a shrug, “and we did not have the advantages of instant communication that we enjoy today. We Wiseman Elves are only together now because of the internet.”

“So where were you guys when all this was going on?” Derek asked Glorfindel.

“Hmm… let’s see, we went to Constantinople and then worked our way north into Europe. Around the time Gwyn and Gareth were looking for their parents, we were in Rome and pretty much remained in Italy through the next few centuries, moving about from time to time. Got involved with the Guelphs and the Ghibellines for a time, but that was later. Right now, I’m more interested in Gwyn’s story. Why did you have Gareth bring the knife into the church?”

“I really have no idea,” Gwyn admitted. “It just seemed the right thing to do at the time. Frankly, I was nervous with it and even hidden away I always felt… I don’t know, unsettled. More than once I silently cursed Gareth for stealing it in the first place and I cursed myself even more for not insisting we drop it into the Mediterranean and be done with it.”

“Sorry,” Gareth said morosely. “I always seem to screw up. It was because of me that we ended up being captured by the Saracens. We could’ve made our escape, but—”

“Water under the bridge, bro,” Gwyn said. “I never blamed you for what happened. I blamed myself because I should’ve been looking out for you more than I did. Well, we’re getting off track and Alex and Derek are fighting to stay awake so I’d best get on with the story, hadn’t I?”

“Yeah, that would be nice,” Glorfindel said with a grin, “Derek’s not the only one in need of his beauty sleep.”

Several people chuckled and Gwyn grinned and after taking a sip or two of wine he resumed his narrative. “Okay, so I herded that stupid git of a priest into the church and didn’t even bother with blessing myself or anything as I headed straight for the statue of St. Michael. Gareth joined us a few minutes later, carrying the knife wrapped in velvet….

****

Gwyn pushed Maelwys against the wall on the left side of the niche where the statue of St. Michael stood and then ignored the Man as he studied the statue. Gareth came in and joined them, standing to one side.

“So where do you think they hid the message?” he asked Gwyn, speaking now in Sindarin. Gwyn vaguely noticed Maelwys’ eyes widening, but whether in shock or joy or something else, he didn’t know and didn’t care. The Man was unimportant at the moment. All that mattered was that they learn where their parents had gone so they could follow.

“It cannot be anywhere obvious,” Gwyn said, also speaking Sindarin. “The statue would’ve been dusted on occasion and the candles replaced, the sand renewed.”

“And the knife?” Gareth asked. “Why did you want me to bring it? Do you think it wise to reveal it where the Man can see it? I do not trust him.”

“Nor I,” Gwyn averred. “As for the knife, just hold on to it for now while I check out the statue.” He reached out and took the three lit votive candles and placed them carefully on the floor to one side, then removed all the other candles, thus freeing the space directly before the statue. Then he pushed himself up to stand before the statue. Maelwys made a sound of protest but Gareth put a finger to his lips and the Man stilled, looking decidedly ill.

“You desecrate holy ground,” the priest hissed.

“I very much doubt you really care, priest,” Gwyn said with a sneer as he carefully examined the statue before him. It was life size, which was unusual but it made it easier for Gwyn for the niche was large enough to accommodate the statue and he was not forced to stoop. Michael was dressed in a hauberk with a cloak around his shoulders, wings half furled to accommodate the space. He held the sword before him with the point down, his hands clasping the pommel in a state of readiness. The angel stood on a plinth and from the unfinished look of its feet it was obvious that it had been carved from a single block of stone. There was no moving the statue to examine its back but there was space enough, however tight, to get around it.

He crouched down for a better look at the niche, trying to imagine his parents standing or perhaps kneeling before this very statue deciding where best to leave a message that their sons would be able to find yet would remain hidden from the sight of the Mortals.

“The Woman said that they told him,” he muttered in Sindarin, more to himself than to Gareth.

“Surely they did not mean that literally,” Gareth said in the same language.

Gwyn shrugged, brushing the sand before him to expose the stonework underneath. “Where could they leave a message where they thought we could find it easily enough if we ever came here yet it would not be found by the Mortals and destroyed?”

“It’s all stonework,” Gareth pointed out. “Not too many places to hide anything.”

“Unless they made their own hiding place,” Gwyn said. “The old priest was dead and I suspect that Ada and Nana had already made plans to be away, knowing that whoever was sent would not necessarily welcome their presence. They knew that any letter they sent to us might not reach us, given the precarious situation in the Holy Land, so they devised a way to leave a message that they were sure would not be lost, stolen or forgotten by any Mortal, though I suspect they also sent us a letter which we never received.”

“Hey, Gwyn, there’s writing carved here below the statue.”

“Where?” Gwyn turned from examining the statue’s sword to see Gareth pointing at something and jumped lightly down to see what it was. There, carved into the stone beneath the niche was what appeared to be a Latin text in two uneven rows. Sunlight, streaming in from a nearby window illuminated part of it.

“How did we miss it when we were here yesterday?” Gareth asked.

“It was dark because of the rain. There was no sun, remember?” Gwyn reminded him as he examined the words closely. They were shallow, more like scratches and difficult to read. He found himself tracing the letters with his fingers. “N… o… nos. Hmm… the next two letters I think are i… n… and then I think it’s d… u…”

“Inducas?” Gareth offered. “But then shouldn’t it be ne nos inducas as in the Pater Noster?”

Gwyn looked up at Maelwys standing there glaring at them. “Well, priest? What is carved here, do you know?”

“I do not. I have never noticed it. No one has or they would have mentioned it.”

“Hmm… well, you’re right, Brother. The next word is inducas but the rest is not from any prayer I know. Let’s see… the next word is ad, so we have nos inducas ad ‘lead us to’.”

“Lead us to where?” Gareth asked.

“Patience, Brother,” Gwyn said. “This next line of text is even shallower than the first and I can’t make out all the letters. Let’s see… m…u…n…hmm… muni… munitum… I can’t quite make out the next word. I think there is an ‘n’ and a ‘d’ in the middle. The last word is l…o…c…locum. “

“Munitum something locum,” Gareth mused. “That middle word has to be inde.”

“Nos inducas ad munitum inde locum!” Gwyn exclaimed, standing up. “That’s got to be it. ‘Lead us to the fortified place’.”

“The fortified place?” Gareth said, sounding frustrated. “What does that mean? There are plenty of fortified places throughout Wales and England.”

“Yes, but think, Gareth. How do you translate munitum inde locum as an actual place name in Welsh?”

Gareth shrugged. “Amwythig…” He gave his brother a surprised look. “Shrewsbury?”

Gwyn grinned. “Yes, I think that’s what they meant. It’s obvious this text is not part of the statue, but was carved in much later and hurriedly. Notice how uneven the letters are with some being deeper than others and the entire text is not really at eye level when one is kneeling but a bit lower.”

“You think Da did this?” Gareth asked.

“Yes.”

“But surely others would have noticed that suddenly there was text where there never was before,” Gareth objected.

Gwyn shrugged. “Perhaps, but except for Maelwys, I doubt anyone else in the village is literate. They may have simply thought that the scratches were the work of children being naughty. The letters are deep enough for the most part that you would have to do quite a bit of sanding to erase them.”

“So, Shrewsbury,” Gareth said contemplatively. “Do we leave now or wait until morning?”

“We leave now while we have daylight. Knighton is not far. We can easily reach it before the curfew bell is wrung, but even if we do not, I much prefer camping out in the wilds than remaining in this village another night.”

Gareth nodded and the brothers started back up the nave, the priest forgotten. They had only taken a half a dozen steps when Gareth suddenly felt a great warmth emanating from the knife in his hands. “Gwyn, something is happening,” he said softly in Sindarin, coming to a stop. “The knife has become warm, almost hot. Can you not feel the heat?”

“What can it mean?” Gwyn asked, standing in such a way that the priest would not be able to see.

Gareth shook his head. “I know not, but it has never done this before.”

“Unwrap it,” Gwyn ordered and after a moment’s hesitation, Gareth complied and soon the knife was exposed. They both flinched at the light that blazed forth and Maelwys screamed. There was the sound of something heavy hitting the stone floor. The brothers turned to see the Mortal standing behind them, clawing at his eyes. One of the heavy silver candleholder s that graced the door of the rood screen lay at his feet and it was obvious to them that the Man had meant to strike them down with it. Gwyn glanced at the knife in Gareth’s hand and saw the jewel glowing brightly. He stared down at the priest who had fallen to his knees, moaning in pain, and felt nothing for him, neither anger nor compassion. He looked at Gareth who was staring down at the knife, his expression one of awe and trepidation.

“Let’s go,” he said and without another word, he turned and headed for the door. A moment later, Gareth joined him and the two made their way to the barn. Twenty minutes later they were ahorse and on their way east toward Tref-y-Clawdd, known as Knighton to the English.

****

“So, the jewel glows and the knife becomes hot when danger threatens?” Alex asked somewhat skeptically.

“My cousin, Ingwion, has a ruby ring that darkens when danger is near, brightening again when the danger has passed. It cannot protect you from the danger; it can only warn,” Finrod said before anyone else could comment.

“Yes, I remember that,” Glorfindel said. “It’s a good thing you followed your instincts, Gwyn, else I think you or Gareth might have been seriously injured even unto death.”

“So we thought as well,” Gwyn replied. “We talked about it on the road to Shrewsbury, though we came to no ready conclusions. We knew too little about such things. I think it was one of the few times when I wished there were other, older Elves to whom we could turn for counsel. We grew up with the stories, both Elven and Mortal, of talismans and such, but it’s one thing to listen to such tales, it’s another to find oneself in one, or so it seemed to me at the time.”

“Whatever happened to the priest?” Derek asked.

“I do not know, nor do I particularly care.”

“A rather cold attitude,” Derek said with a frown. “You didn’t even check to see if he was okay?”

“The villagers could do that easily enough,” Gwyn said with a shrug. “All I wished was to be gone from the blasted place. I did not care for it. There was something dark and ugly about that village and its inhabitants. If Maelwys was blinded, it only served him right, and if it meant having a different priest come, it could only have been an improvement. In the end, it really doesn’t matter, Derek. As far as I know the village still exists and the church still stands. For all I know the inscription is still visible. I’m sure it is a pretty puzzle for the historians.”

“Do you-all feel the same way?” Alex asked, looking about.

Several of the Elves shrugged, but none offered a reply. Both Mortals sighed almost as one, their expressions troubled.

“They’re dead, Alex, Derek,” Glorfindel said quietly. “They have all been dead for a very long time. Whatever their failings, whatever their griefs, they have passed beyond the Circles of the World and sorrows touch them no longer. I know that Gwyn’s attitude troubles you. You want us to be saints, to somehow be better than Mortals in all things, more merciful, more caring. I wish we were, but we are no more or less than you. Do not put us up on a pedestal. We neither deserve it nor want it.”

“I know,” Alex said. “I do. I guess I wanted you Elves to be above the pettiness and sordidness of our lives. I doubt I would’ve acted any differently if I’d been in the same or similar situation. In fact, more than likely, I would’ve made sure the bastard never harmed another soul. That village would have been minus a priest. You at least showed him enough mercy to just leave.”

“I doubt he saw it that way,” Gwyn said with a sardonic twist of his lips. “He probably cursed us to his dying day and perhaps even beyond. Well, it’s in the past. Let it remain there.”

“So, that was rather clever of your folks to leave you a message in that way,” Ercassë said. “Were they often in the habit of defacing church property to let you know where to follow them?”

Both Gwyn and Gareth laughed. “Hardly, or if they did, we never learned of it. I’ll have to remember to ask them the next time we Skype them.”

“So, did you find them in Shrewsbury, such an odd name, or had they already fled to somewhere else?” Thandir asked.

“Ah, well, as to that, perhaps we should save it for later,” Gwyn said. “Derek hasn’t stopped yawning for the last five minutes and Alex is struggling to keep his eyes open. Why don’t we stop for now and let them and anyone else who desires it get some sleep and we’ll pick up the tale later. I warned you that this tale is long. I think it will take more than one day to tell it properly.”

“That sounds like a good idea,” Glorfindel said. “Let’s clean up. The sky is already lightening. It’ll be dawn in another hour or so. Derek, Alex, go to bed. I promise Gwyn will not continue the story until after dinner, okay? You should be awake by then.”

“Yeah, okay,” Alex said around a yawn. “We’ll see you later. C’mon, Derek.”

“I’m right behind you,” Derek said and the Elves wished them pleasant dreams.

“Well, why don’t I go and throw some breakfast together for any who want it,” Daeron suggested.

“I’ll give you a hand,” Glorfindel said.

“As will I,” Finrod added.

The three left while the others began cleaning up the area, retrieving goblets and wine bottles, dousing the bonfire. A few were content to remain in the clearing and some wandered away into the woods but the others made their way back to the mansion to enjoy breakfast.

And all the while Glorfindel pondered what he had heard so far of the brothers’ tale and wished that the day would hurry on so that they could hear the rest of it.

****

Notes:

1. Pater Noster, or the Lord’s Prayer. In Latin, ‘And lead us not into temptation’ is rendered as Et ne nos inducas in tentationem.

2. The Welsh name for Shrewsbury is Amwithig, which means ‘the fortified place’.

Derek and Alex slept until nearly noon and then spent the rest of the day relaxing, walking into town to stretch their legs and ended up visiting the bookstore where Finrod was working. He gave them a bright smile as they entered the shop.

“You are finally awake,” he stated.

“Just barely,” Alex replied with a grin. “I suppose you didn’t bother to go to bed but came right here after breakfast?”

“Well, I took a quick shower first and that woke me up. That and loads of coffee,” Finrod said with a laugh. Then he gave them a furtive look, putting his finger to his lips in a conspiratorial manner. “Don’t tell anyone,” he said in a fake whisper, “but I’ve been weaving dreams while working.”

“Sleeping with your eyes open can be very useful for fooling the boss,” Nick said as he came in from the back room carrying a box of books, apparently having overheard the conversation. “Here you go, Quinn, you can sleepwalk your way over to the mysteries and start stacking.”

“Ooh, busted!” Alex said with a laugh and Derek joined him. Nick grinned and gave them a wink while Finrod tried not to blush as he grabbed the box and headed to where the mysteries were shelved. Alex and Derek followed after giving their greetings to Nick.

Finrod was kneeling in front of a display that was labeled ‘New Mysteries’ as he opened the box. He looked up as the two Men approached and rolled his eyes, causing them to snicker. “Dude’s learned all your tricks, has he?” Derek asked.

“Apparently,” Finrod said, giving them a resigned shrug, then grinned. “I will have to come up with new ones.”

“I heard that,” Nick called out from the front counter where he was working.

“As I meant you to,” Finrod called back and Nick gave them a disbelieving snort but did not otherwise comment.

“Here, Derek, hold the box and I’ll pull the books out while Finrod shelves them,” Alex suggested. “It’ll go faster.” Derek did as he was bid and for the next couple of minutes the three occupied themselves with putting the new books up. After working in silence for a bit, though, Alex asked, “So, what do you think of Gwyn’s story so far?”

Finrod looked at him. “It is very interesting to hear about how they have lived and what they have done in their short lives.”

“Short?” Derek asked in disbelief. “I don’t call nine hundred odd years short.”

Finrod shrugged. “You may not, but for me, nine hundred years is only six yéni and I was older than that when I left Valinor and founded my own kingdom of Nargothrond. Gwyn and Gareth are still quite, quite young by our standards. Even my niece, Nielluin, is several thousands of years older.”

“Can’t really get my head wrapped around that concept,” Alex said as he handed Finrod a couple more books to shelve. “I mean, intellectually, I know it has to be true, but I look at you or the other Elves and none of you look as if you’re old enough to vote and, I don’t know, it’s just weird.”

“The eyes are the give-away, though,” Derek said. “I look into your eyes, Quinn, and they’re old, older than Time, it seems to me, and I have to look away, which is rather embarrassing.”

Finrod gave them a sympathetic look. “I am sorry about that. When we Noldor first came to these shores, our Sindarin kin used to call us Lechinn, ‘Flame-eyed Ones’ because of the brightness of our eyes, for we were newly gone from Valinor and the Light of the Two Trees still shone in them. Even today, these many ages past, their memory is still deep within us, almost at the cellular level, I would say, at least for those of us who have an actual memory of them.”

“Cellular level,” Alex said with a grin. “You been boning up on your sciences?”

“There are lots of books waiting to make my acquaintance,” Finrod said with a smile. “And, of course, we have our own sciences. We have not been so idle that we have not done our own exploring of the universe, just not in the same direction as you Mortals have.”

“So getting back to Gwyn and Gareth,” Alex said as he took the last books out of the box and handed them to Finrod, “it’s just so incredible to me to think that they fought in the Crusades. That they actually knew people like Saladin and Richard the Lionheart and who knows whatall? And for them it’s no big deal.”

“And that knife,” Derek interjected as the three made their way back to the front of the store. “Do you really think it has a Silmaril embedded in it?”

Finrod shook his head. “Unlikely, but until I see it for myself, I cannot really say. To the best of my knowledge, the Silmarils had no other property than to give off light.”

“It sounds like it almost knew that the brothers were in danger though,” Alex insisted.

“You said your cousin Ingwion has a ring that warms of danger,” Derek added. “How does that work?”

“Honestly? I have no idea. The Valar have powers that we poor mirroanwi have no clue about. They exhibit only the smallest amount of that power.”

“And according to that Raguel guy, even that’s limited in comparison to his own powers,” Derek pointed out.

“Yes, which leads me to believe that one should never piss off an archangel who has come straight from the Timeless Halls,” Finrod said with a wry grin and both Mortals laughed.

“Which archangel is that?” Nick asked as he accepted the empty box.

“All of them,” Alex answered for Finrod and Nick nodded in agreement, not bothering to pursue the subject further.

“Thank you for your help,” Finrod said. “I will see you tonight?”

“You bet,” Derek said, speaking for both himself and Alex. “We’re looking forward to hearing more of their story. I bet Loren is wishing they would just come to the point and tell him where the stupid knife is now so he can go find it and do with it whatever he’s supposed to do with it.”

“How do you figure that?” Alex asked.

“Well, it’s obvious,” Derek replied. “He’s the one that’s been dreaming about it, not Finrod or anyone else. So apparently he’s supposed to do something with it. What that is, who knows? Maybe someday we’ll all find out.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Alex said with a shrug. “Well, I think we should be on our way again. See you later, Nick, Quinn.”

“Bye, guys,” Nick said. “It’s been good seeing you again.”

“I will see you for dinner,” Finrod said in farewell and the two Mortals nodded and made their way outside deciding they would return to Edhellond and help with putting together dinner.

****

Dinner was done, the dishes put in the dishwasher and the pots and pans were drying on the drainboard. A couple of large thermoses of coffee and one of hot water for tea were brought out to the clearing and placed on a table set up to one side, along with a couple of pitchers of lemonade and plates of molasses and chocolate chip cookies. A bonfire blazed in spite of the fact that the sun would not set until after midnight and then only for a few hours. A couple of camp chairs were brought along for Gwyn and Gareth to sit in, though they were originally content to sit on a log like everyone else.

“But this way you’ll be more comfortable while telling your tale,” Glorfindel pointed out, so they sat in the chairs.

“I feel as if I’m holding court or something,” Gareth muttered to his brother, though they all heard him.

Others chuckled and then they quieted down to hear Gwyn speak. “So, when last we left our intrepid heroes…”

People started laughing, one or two making rude remarks. “Hey, cut it with the soap opera and just get on with it,” Derek said and when everyone had calmed down, Gwyn nodded. “Yeah, okay. So, we wasted no time hanging about Llanfihangel, but were gone as soon as we had the horses saddled and we never looked back. We rode swiftly and reached Knighton just before the curfew bell was rung. Spent the night and then we were on our way again the next morning, making our way to Bishop’s Castle, about thirteen miles north of Knighton. Shrewsbury lay another twenty-odd miles further on. We came to Bishop’s Castle on a Saturday, so we stayed through Sunday, attending services along with everyone else and generally observing the Sabbath. I think we spent most of the day discussing the knife and what powers it might possess, for we could see that there was more to it than was obvious from just looking at it.”

“Did it ever react to danger again?” Glorfindel asked.

Gwyn and Gareth both nodded. “Once, and I will tell you about it at the proper time. At any rate, we continued to Shrewsbury, riding through the Long Forest, which no longer exists, crossing the old Roman Road that was still visible even then and reaching the city in good time. For those who are unfamiliar with Shrewsbury, it is surrounded on three sides by the Severn River with the north side open, though a wall surrounds it. Several roads led into Shrewsbury, roads which still exist today. One is the road from Bishop’s Castle and then further east is the road from Ludlow and Church Stratton, which also lay to the south, while a third will take you eastward to Birmingham. They all meet at what is called the Abbey Foregate with the Severn separating the abbey from the city. The abbey itself lies to the south of the Foregate.”

“How did you expect to find your parents, though?” Alex asked. “I mean they had no means of telling you they were living above the tailor’s shop on such-and-such a street or anything. Were you planning to ride through the city shouting their names in hopes they would hear?”

“No, we didn’t go shouting in the streets,” Gwyn said with a laugh. “That would have been both foolish and dangerous. No, we entered the city and went to the castle where the high sheriff resided, presenting ourselves to him, explaining who we were and enquiring as to whether he knew of our parents, though we stated only that we were kinsmen, for to the Mortals our parents would appear not much older than we.”

He paused to take a sip of lemonade and Gareth spoke. “You must realize that Shrewsbury was not overly large, not by today’s standards, but it was large enough. It had once been the capital of the Welsh kingdom of Powys, and indeed, lies only about eight miles or so from the Welsh border. It was, in fact, on the Marches and even back then the relationship between the English and the Welsh were not always cordial. Even as late as fourteen hundred, the Welsh under Prince Owein Glyndwr, or Glendower as the English called him, rose up in revolt though it was unsuccessful.”

“Given the times,” Gwyn interjected, “it was incumbent on all newcomers to the city to register themselves with the High Sheriff. If our parents meant to remain in Shrewsbury for any length of time, they would have gone to the castle to do so. We knew this. Obviously, the Man himself did not know of our parents, but he had clerks who searched the rolls and found their names. They were living in the shadow of St. Alkmond’s Church on Fish Street, which lies between Butcher’s Row and the High Street.”

“They were not living above a tailor’s shop but above a fishmonger’s,” Gareth added with a grin at Alex.

“It must have smelled to high heaven,” Alex countered.

“But it masked other, less desirable odors which were part and parcel of medieval towns,” Gareth said. “The present age is very antiseptic compared to earlier ones.”

“I bet they were surprised to see you when you finally showed up at their door,” Derek offered.

“Ah, well, as to that,” Gwyn said, looking a bit embarrassed. “We had a slight problem.”

“Oh?” Glorfindel said. “Do tell.”

Both brothers sighed almost as one and glanced at one another. Gareth nodded slightly and Gwyn shrugged resignedly and turned back to their audience. “Those of you who lived through those times will understand that we did not follow a direct route from Acre to London and beyond. The ship that we took from Sidon was a merchant ship with an ultimate destination of Cyprus but it made stops in between to some of the other, smaller islands along the way. Then we had to wait in Cyprus for about a week before we could find another ship going west, eventually coming to Brindisi, so of course, from there we had to make our way thro