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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?”
“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.
“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.
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