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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.
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