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Elf Academy 4 - The Unfinished Tales  by Fiondil

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.

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