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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.
“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?”
“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.
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