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As they were sitting around the dining table drinking tea and munching on warmed-up scones, Alex decided that he did not want to return to his own apartment. “I don’t want my mom out of my sight until she’s on the plane,” he told them.
“Which is very sweet of you, dear, but entirely unnecessary,” Anne said as she took a sip from her cup.
“I can make up the couch if you’d like,” Gwyn offered. “Gareth and I will take turns keeping watch.”
“Now that’s going a bit too far,” Anne exclaimed. “Really, there’s no need for all this melodrama. Just lock the doors and go to bed. Though, why is it still light out? It’s well after nine.”
“It’s the height of summer, mom. Alaska, Land of the Midnight Sun, remember? They didn’t make that up just because it sounds good in a travel advertisement. Sun won’t set until around midnight and then it’ll be up again before three.”
“Which is why we have black-out shades,” Gwyn said. “Now, if you’re serious about staying here, Alex, that’s fine. I can lend you something to sleep in.”
“I’d better call the Bobbsey Twins, let them know what’s up or they’ll worry.” With that, he excused himself from the table, pulling out his phone as he walked into the living room, though the others could hear his side of the conversation.
“Yeah, hey, Chris it’s me, Alex… I’m fine. Look, I ran into a couple of friends and I’m with them. I’ll probably spend the night at their place, so don’t wait up for me… No, we’re in the middle of a game of Monopoly… Hey! What can I say? Sometimes you just want to pretend you’re a kid again…” They heard him laugh, apparently at something Chris had said then. “Yeah, I’ll see you guys tomorrow. Good night.”
He shut down his phone and returned to the dining room where three pairs of eyes stared at him. “What?”
“You lie so convincingly,” Gareth said.
Alex shrugged. “Comes with the territory. ‘How to Lie With a Straight Face 101’. Standard course for all agents. After all this time, I don’t even have to think about it.”
“And when does the lie become the truth?” Gwyn asked in all seriousness.
Alex gave him a lopsided grin. “What? We’re all philosophers now? As if you haven’t spent most of your life lying through your teeth, pretending to be what you’re not.”
“Why make up a story when you don’t have to?” Gwyn shot back. “You could’ve just said, ‘Met some blokes and I’m staying the night with them’ without making up all the rest about playing Monopoly and implying the game will go on into the wee hours so why bother going home.”
“Look, the one thing about lying is that in order to be convincing you have to have a ready excuse, not only ready but plausible. I couldn’t very well say that I’m staying the night here because some archangel plopped my mom on your front doorstep, now could I?”
“Yes, but—” Gareth started to say.
“Boys! Stop it!” Anne demanded sharply and all three men looked at her in surprise. “Artemus, I really don’t approve of you lying to your friends. It’s simpler to just tell them the truth, though I grant you that under these circumstances the truth would be too bizarre, but Gwyn is right. You didn’t need to embellish the lie.”
“It’s not really a lie, though, if the lie becomes the truth,” Alex shot back.
“What do you mean?” Anne demanded.
Alex turned to Gwyn. “Zach told me you guys play a mean game of Monopoly.” He gave them a suggestive look and the brothers gaped at him.
“You’re kidding, right?” Gwyn asked. “At ten in the evening?”
Alex shrugged. “You were going to stay up and watch over us anyway, so what’s the big deal? I’m too wired to sleep as it is, so why not a game?”
For a moment, they just stared at one another, then Gareth stood. “I’ll go get the board,” he offered.
“I’ll go make us some more tea,” Gwyn said, picking up the teapot.
“Beer’s better,” Alex suggested.
Gwyn nodded. “Three Guinnesses coming up.”
“Make that four,” Anne said primly and Alex and Gwyn stared at her in surprise. Anne just raised an eyebrow. “Come, come, children. I may be an old lady, but I like beer as much as the next person and do you honestly think I’m going to go meekly to bed while you stay up and play?”
“You are not old, Anne,” Gwyn said with a grin. “Trust me on that.”
“Flatterer,” Anne said with a sniff. “Now go get us the beer.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Gwyn said and sauntered off to the kitchen shaking his head in amusement as Gareth returned with the Monopoly game. A few minutes later they were all seated, drinks at hand with Anne rolling the dice.
The game broke up around two when Anne decided she really did need to get some sleep. “Especially when my sleep was interrupted in the first place,” she pointed out. Alex was also yawning, finally coming down from the adrenaline rush of earlier. Gareth helped him make up the couch and soon only the brothers were awake, sitting at the dining table, finishing up some beer and speaking quietly, making plans.
When Anne woke several hours later, she discovered one of her suitcases and an overnight bag sitting on the floor at the foot of the bed. There was a note attached to the suitcase that read: The rest of your things will be waiting for you at Edhellond when you arrive. Checking the contents of the bags, she found that the suitcase held a couple of mix-and-match outfits and plenty of underthings as well as her sensible walking shoes. The overnight bag held all her toiletries, including a curling iron and hairdryer. “Obviously one of the female Maiar must have packed this,” she muttered to herself as she pulled out one of the outfits and laid it on the bed. Then she grabbed her toiletries and a towel and headed for the bathroom. Fifteen minutes later, showered and dressed, she made her way down the hall in search of the kitchen.
Passing through the living room she saw that her son was still sleeping. She paused, smiling down at him, remembering the little boy with the tousled hair and freckles and leaned down to give him a light kiss on the forehead, settling the bedcovers over him more. She straightened to find Gwyn standing there smiling knowingly at her and she felt herself blush for some reason.
“I have coffee on if you’d like some,” Gwyn said in a loud whisper.
“Thank you,” Anne said gratefully as she followed the ellon into the kitchen. “Did you and Gareth even go to bed?”
“Oh, Gareth went down about an hour ago,” Gwyn said as he poured some coffee into a mug and handed it to Anne. “Milk and sugar’s there if you want it.” He pointed to the creamer and sugar bowl sitting on the counter. “I’ll sleep later. I’ve checked with the airport and booked you on the flight that leaves tomorrow at eight. I’ve already called Loren to let him know.”
“All this before seven in the morning?” Anne exclaimed in disbelief.
Gwyn grinned giving her a shrug. “One of the benefits of not needing lots of sleep. You get more done. Now, normally, Gareth and I attend fight practice on Sunday afternoons, but under the circumstances I think we’ll skip it and devote the day to entertaining you.”
“Good lord! You make me sound like a prima donna who always has to be the center of attention. Go and beat up on your friends. I’m perfectly fine by myself and Artemus will be here.”
“You may want to start calling him Alex,” Gwyn said, his expression becoming serious.
“His name is Artemus,” Anne insisted.
“But here he is known as Alex Grant and it’s important that you acknowledge that, Anne. Artemus Gordon Meriwether is someone who was forced to do terrible things in the name of national security and he’s suffered for it in ways I don’t think you can fully appreciate. Alex Grant, on the other hand, is a foreign language teacher and a student of Linguistics. He is as far away from the seamy environment of spies as he can get. Every time you call him Artemus, he is reminded of the monster he almost became.”
“Monster! What do you mean?” Anne demanded.
Gwyn sighed, the depth of sorrow and pain in his eyes more than she could handle and she had to look away. At that moment Anne realized that it was easy to fool herself into thinking that Gwyn and Gareth were young men in their twenties instead of being nearly a thousand years old. It was only when she looked into their eyes that she was reminded of the truth and the thought disturbed her sense of rightness. Such beings had no right to exist in her world, but they did, and the implications of that were almost too frightening to bear.
“Anne,” Gwyn said softly, “Artemus was more than just an intelligence officer, he was a government assassin. Yes! I know you don’t want to think about it, but it’s true. He was trained to infiltrate and assassinate whomever your government ordered him to take out. That is a hard cold fact of his life. But he’s put that behind him. It was destroying his soul, Anne. His coming to Alaska, to Wiseman, was no accident. He was brought there for the sole purpose of saving his soul before it was too late and they almost failed. He’s died twice and the second time he met with Eru, whom you call God.”
“You mean he just imagined it,” Anne said.
“No, Anne,” Gwyn insisted. “He met the One, whom the Valar call Atar. That means ‘Father’ in Quenya. It’s rather hard to deny that such a thing could happen when you’ve consorted with angels and archangels, don’t you think?”
“But ‘Alex’ is so ordinary sounding,” Anne protested.
“Which is probably the point, dear lady.”
Both Gwyn and Anne gasped in shock as Olórin entered the kitchen dressed as Oliver Grey. “Peace, children. I would have rung the front doorbell, but I didn’t want to wake the sleepers. Ah, is that coffee I smell?”
“Would you like some then?” Gwyn asked as he reached for another mug and began pouring.
“Yes, thank you,” Olórin said. “I’ve grown rather fond of it.”
“So, to what do we owe the pleasure of your visit, my Lord Olórin?” Gwyn asked as he handed the Maia a mug.
Olórin took an appreciative sip before answering. “I’m just here to help keep an eye on things while Anne is with you. We don’t want anything untoward to happen while she’s here, do we?”
“And do we anticipate trouble?” Gwyn asked, crossing his arms and ankles in a casual pose.
“It’s better to prepare for what may never happen than to be caught with our pants down, metaphorically speaking, of course.”
“Well, I appreciate it, though I doubt we’ll need your services.”
“Yes, but Anne will need mine,” Olórin said amiably. “I’ll be sitting next to you on the flight to Bettles.”
“Oh?” Anne said.
“Well, Lord Raguel did promise that you would not be flying alone, did he not?” Olórin retorted mildly and both Anne and Gwyn nodded. “Good. That’s settled then. I’ll see you at the airport tomorrow, bright and early. Good coffee. Jamaican blend, isn’t it?” Without waiting for a reply, the Maia put the mug down on the counter and faded from view.
“Hey! Was that Olórin?”
Gwyn and Anne turned to see Alex standing at the doorway yawning and wiping the sleep from his eyes.
“Yes,” Gwyn said. “He just stopped by to let us know that he’ll be flying with Anne. I’ve booked a flight for tomorrow at eight.”
“Great! My class doesn’t begin until ten so I’ll be able to see you off, Mom.”
“Go grab a shower,” Gwyn suggested. “I’ll have breakfast ready when you’re done.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Alex sauntered off down the hall and they heard the bathroom door close.
“So, bacon and eggs okay?” he asked Anne.
“Just tell me what I can do to help and you can also explain who this Olórin is,” Anne said and in minutes she was cutting up grapefruit while Gwyn told her about the Maia.
Gareth woke up about the time Alex was finishing getting dressed and they met in the hallway, giving each other greetings as they made their way to the dining room where they found Anne setting the table while Gwyn stood before the stove, turning the bacon and checking the eggs. Soon they were seated and eating, discussing their plans for the day, but in the end, they decided it would be prudent to just lie low until it was time to head for the airport, so after breakfast they ended up watching a variety of movies from the ap Hywel’s DVD collection. Later in the morning, Gwyn called Sir Llewellyn ap Daffyd, one of the barony’s marshals, telling him only that unexpected guests had arrived the night before and neither he nor Gareth would be at fight practice that afternoon.
“So you’ll have to take over. We’ll see you on Tuesday, though,” he promised and hung up.
Gwyn ordered pizza and wings for dinner and between the brothers and Anne, Alex was convinced to return to his own apartment for the night.
“I promise, Anne will be watched over,” Gwyn said. “You go home, get a good night’s rest and meet us at the airport. We’ll be there around seven.”
Alex reluctantly agreed and when he finally left, the brothers and Anne all sighed with relief, giving each other knowing smiles. Anne excused herself to get ready for bed and the brothers settled in to keep watch.
The next morning, they all met at the airport to find Olórin still in his Oliver Grey disguise waiting for them. He smiled benignly as he offered to take Anne’s suitcase and led them to the ticket counter. Anne checked in her bags and they collected the boarding passes and made their way to the gate, passing through security with Olórin in the lead. Somehow he was able to make it possible for them all to go with him even though Alex, Gwyn and Gareth had no tickets. The security people never even blinked.
The flight was leaving on time and so they did not have long to wait before the call to board was announced. A flurry of good-byes and then Olórin was escorting Anne through the gate. Alex and the ap Hywel brothers wandered over to the windows to see them crossing the tarmac to a small prop plane that probably only seated about a dozen or so passengers. They remained before the windows until the plane began to move and was soon away. Gwyn and Gareth wished Alex good luck with his class and the three separated to go their own ways, Gwyn and Gareth to their respective places of work and Alex to his Linguistics class.
Alex entered the classroom where he found a half-dozen or so other students, some of whom he recognized from his previous class. The professor had yet to arrive. Alex found a seat and waited for class to begin. By now, the plane should have touched down at Bettles and Glorfindel should be whisking his mother away to Wiseman. Olórin had promised that he would have Glorfindel text him as soon as they reached Edhellond since he would still be in class. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and set it on the desk where he would see if someone had sent him a text.
And then, the door opened and the professor walked in. Alex felt his eyes widening at the sight of the man, for he had the ethereal beauty that Alex now associated with the Elves, his shoulder-length hair dark and lustrous, his eyes a piercing gray. He was tall and he walked with a grace no Mortal could emulate. The other students looked equally stunned at the sight of him, but the man ignored their expressions as he stood before them.
“Good morning. I’m Professor Redelfs,” he said, his voice sounding mellifluous as only an Elf’s voice could be. “Shall we get started? Let me see who’s here.” And he began calling the roll. When he was finished, he continued with a description of the course. “Right then. This seminar is on constructed languages. Its purpose is to teach you the mechanics of language structure by having you study what are known as conlangs, languages that are made up, usually for a specific purpose. So, we won’t just be looking at a language such as Esperanto or other such languages that were designed to become universal languages, but also some of the languages created for alien races you see in movies or on TV, such as the language of the Na’vi from the movie Avatar.”
He paused for a moment to let them digest his words before continuing. “And in the end, you will be on your way to creating your own language. You will need to decide which sounds are permissible and which are not, which consonant clusters are allowed and which are not. You will need a basic grammar and some vocabulary. You will find that it isn’t as easy as you think to create a language, and yet, we have done so naturally over thousands of years. Every language spoken today was created. Oh, not consciously, but in a sense, every language ever spoken is an artificial construct. Any questions so far?”
One of the female students raised her hand and the professor acknowledged her. Alex, from where he was sitting, could see her still stunned expression and he doubted she’d heard a single word the professor had said. He was proved right when she asked, “Are you married?”
Alex watched Redelfs — and where the hell did he come up with that name? — blinking in surprise as just about every student there, including the male ones, waited with bated breath for the answer. Alex, far more used to Elves, sat back to enjoy the show, a slow smile brightening his visage. He so could not wait to tell the others that he’d found another Elf.
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