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Sunday, Alex woke feeling groggy and out of sorts.
“Bad night?” Chad asked in sympathy as he handed Alex a mug of coffee when he came out to find his roommates putting together some breakfast for themselves.
“Yeah. Had this really weird dream. Not a nightmare, just weird and all jumbled up.”
“I hate those kinds of dreams,” Chad said with a grunt. Chris just nodded.
Downing a couple cups of coffee to wake him up, Alex returned to his linguistics assignment and continued working on it. He finished early enough that he could join Gwyn and Gareth and the rest of the Barony of Winter’s Gate for fight practice in the afternoon. They actually met outside at a nearby park during the summers, using the gym only for inclement weather.
“There’s a war game event coming up later in the summer,” Gwyn told Alex as they watched the fighters suiting up. “Most of them are preparing for it.”
“Will you go?” Alex asked in curiosity.
Gwyn shook his head. “I’ve had enough of the real thing to last even an elven lifetime. Same with Gareth. This may only be a game, however seriously taken by the participants, but Gareth and I remember the Crusades. We fought in them for over a hundred years, mostly with the Templars. We were at the fall of Acre. Too many good men died, men whom we considered, if not friends, then certainly comrades whom we respected.” He paused, grimacing at if in pain, looking pale. “We went to one war game soon after joining the SCA. It was a nightmare for me. I kept suffering flashbacks, something I’d not experienced in ages, literally. Gareth was in even worse state. Unfortunately, we had come with others so we could not just leave, but we did not join in the fighting as we’d planned. It came too close to home.”
“That must’ve been tough,” Alex said in commiseration.
Gwyn nodded. “The others with us didn’t understand. Some even made rather disparaging remarks, looking upon us with contempt, but how do you explain something like that to children? That’s what they were to us. Most of them were college students. None of them had ever been in a real combat situation.”
“Did any of them know who and what you were at the time?” Alex asked.
Gwyn shook his head. “No. That came later. Gareth and I were forced to endure the taunts and the jibes at our expense during the entire weekend, though a few people were kinder to us. We had the foresight to bring our bows and we participated in the archery contests instead, so the weekend wasn’t a total loss, but we seriously considered leaving the SCA altogether after that.”
“What made you stay?”
Gwyn gave him a sardonic smile and Alex nodded. “You got a chat from a certain Vala who will remain nameless,” he said, making it more a statement than a question.
“Yes. Oh, he was very gentle about it. Sat there telling us stories about his own war experiences.”
“When was he ever in a war?” Alex asked in confusion.
“Apparently from the moment they all arrived in Eä,” Gwyn replied. “He told us about the many battles he and the others fought against Melkor and his minions. Did you know there used to be a planet where the asteroid belt is? Melkor was using it as a base. Námo helped blow it up.”
Alex felt his eyebrows leave his forehead at that statement and he now had a whole different image of the Lord of Mandos from the one he’d had.
“At any rate,” Gwyn continued, “we agreed to remain in the SCA but we refused to participate in any of the war games. We’ll help the others to prepare for them, but that’s the extent of it.”
“What about when the Dagor Dagorath comes? Will you sit out on that, too?”
“No, of course not. Why would you think that? But that will be for real and lives and souls will be at stake, including ours, but these war games…” He shook his head.
“Hey, I hear you,” Alex said sympathetically, putting a hand on the ellon’s shoulder and giving it a squeeze. “I’ve never been in actual combat either, but I’ve been in situations that might as well have been. It’s one reason I don’t think I can do this SCA thing, especially the fighting.”
Gwyn gave him a faint smile. “Well, we always need a cheering section.”
Alex grinned at that. “And that I can do.”
The rest of the day passed pleasantly enough for Alex and he was in a better frame of mind when he finally fell into bed, his sleep uninterrupted by bad dreams. Monday, he went to class and was pleased to find that he had done a better job at coming up with vocabulary for Neo-Cymry than most of the others and Redelfs had him explain how he had structured the language and why. There was a lively discussion about the pros and cons of his system and others contributed some of their own ideas, but in the end, the professor declared that he had done a credible job and suggested that perhaps Alex would like to continue developing the language as his final project.
“I would be interested in seeing what you do with it,” Redelfs said. “Feel free to change any of the parameters to suit yourself, including phonology and morphology, and you can even change the name if you don’t like Neo-Cymry.”
“Won’t you be using the language for your lectures?” Alex asked.
Redelfs shook his head. “I always start with the bare bones of an a posteriori language and then turn it over to one of the students to complete if that student shows exceptional promise. Had you taken this seminar last term, you would have been working on a Finno-Germanic language. This term the languages I chose for this exercise just happened to be Welsh and Latin. Next term it’ll be some other combination of languages.”
Alex nodded. “I wouldn’t mind continuing with this, thanks. I had some ideas of what the language might look and sound like while I was working on the assignment, but we’d already established certain parameters so I couldn’t implement them.”
“And now you are free to do so,” Redelfs said. “As for everyone else, your next assignment is to submit a proposal for your own a posteriori language by Friday. After this week, you’ll only have four weeks to work on it because we’ll be spending the final week of class having show-and-tell with each of you presenting your language to the class. Wednesday we’ll start examining a number of conlangs that others have created to see what makes them work or not. We’ll look at phonology first, then morphology and so forth. Hopefully, this will help you in developing your own languages.”
At that, he dismissed the class. Alex hung back and waited for the last student to leave. “I just want to let you know that I’ll be gone Friday and next Monday,” he told Redelfs.
“That’s fine,” the professor said. “You seem to have a better grasp of the mechanics of language construction than the others, so I don’t think you’ll miss out on too much.”
“Well, it’s probably because I have the advantage of being multilingual, including speaking Russian and Arabic,” Alex pointed out. “The others, I think, are only bilingual and probably just barely. I don’t think any of them are actually fluent in any language but English.”
“Perhaps, but I sense a natural gift in you for understanding linguistics. You appear to have grasped certain concepts more readily than most of your classmates. Frankly, I’m not sure why some of them are even taking this course. They don’t seem very interested in applying themselves.”
“They’re young,” Alex couldn’t help saying with a smirk. “Most of them have not yet experienced the real world.”
“As you have,” Redelfs said with a nod of understanding. “You are older than the others, I’ve noticed. What was your line of work before becoming a student of linguistics, Mr. Grant?”
“Getting into trouble,” Alex said lightly, but there was an edge to his words that Redelfs seemed to sense and he did not pursue the matter further and they parted amicably.
Later, Alex called the airfield in Tacoma where Moynihan’s plane was parked to check on its status and learned that it was already being prepped for flight.
“Bloke has all the right credentials,” the man on the other end told him when he enquired. “Said he was hired by you. Gave his name as… um… let’s see… oh, yes… here it is… Nate Smith.”
“Oh, good,” Alex said with false cheer. “I wasn’t sure he’d get there in time. Well, that’s good to know. Thanks for your time.” He hung up. “Nate Smith, huh?” He shook his head in amusement as he accessed the internet and a half hour later he had made the hotel reservations.
Tuesday, he received an email from Sanderson alerting him that he and Moynihan would be arriving in Fairbanks on Friday around nine in the morning, giving the particular gate number. Alex sent off an email to Glorfindel letting him know. He called Gwyn later that evening when he knew the ellon would be home and told him. “I’d like you to meet Rufus before Saturday if you can manage it.”
“I’ve put in for vacation time, so I’m free Friday,” Gwyn said. “Just let me know where to meet you.”
“As soon as I hear from Nate,” Alex said. “Apparently, he’s the one flying the plane up.”
There was a brief moment of silence on the other end before Gwyn spoke. “Oh. Okay. A Vala flying a plane. The mind boggles.”
Alex chuckled as he hung up.
Thursday, he received an email with an address that read valaexpress.com. Shaking his head, he opened it to see a single line of text: Arriving Friday 01000h @ Hangar 14. N.
He emailed Sanderson, Glorfindel and Gwyn with instructions as to where to meet and then made his own plans. On Friday, he drove out to the airport flashing a government ID badge that he’d created the night before that allowed him immediate access and let him bypass most of the security checkpoints, though he did suffer through one scan to ensure he wasn’t armed. Sanderson’s plane landed on time and Alex was on the tarmac waiting for it. It took a few minutes before the door opened and he saw two men step out. One was Sanderson, the other was dressed in prison orange and in shackles and Sanderson had to hold him steady as he came down the stairs. Alex went over to greet them.
“Good to see you again, Greg,” he said, holding out his hand, which the lawyer shook. “How was the flight?”
“Bumpy,” Greg replied. “Hit some turbulence crossing the Wrangell Mountains, but otherwise it was uneventful, though I’ll be glad to have Mr. Moynihan off my hands.”
“Oh?” Alex glanced at the other man, who was looking about with some interest. “Give you trouble?”
“Not to speak of, but he never shut up. Kept spinning one outrageous yarn about his time in the Agency or as a smuggler after another. If he did even half the things he claims to have done, I’m surprised he wasn’t eliminated with extreme prejudice long before this.”
“Not for lack of trying,” Alex said, giving Moynihan a thin, cold smile. The other man patently ignored him. “Okay, well, we have to get to hangar fourteen. I have a vehicle over here.” He gestured and they headed over to his car with Moynihan shuffling his feet. “Did you make plans for tonight?”
“Yes. Mr. Moynihan will be staying in lockup courtesy of the U.S. Government. I have street clothes for him to wear tomorrow and an overnight bag with essentials. How are you going to keep him from running off when you get to Syracuse?”
“Oh, don’t worry. I have my methods,” Alex said as he unlocked the car. Sanderson helped Moynihan into the back seat before taking his own as Alex started the car and then they were making their way across the tarmac to where private planes were parked. “We want hangar fourteen. Hmm… that’s twelve… okay… here we are and here are the others. Good. Right on time.” He pointed to where Gwyn was getting out of his car even as a van pulled up and they saw Glorfindel with Finrod, Amarië, Valandur and Barahir. Alex went to greet them while Sanderson helped Moynihan out of the car and took him inside the hangar.
“Looks like old home week,” Alex said as he held out his hand to Glorfindel. “I didn’t expect you to be here until later today.”
“We left around three this morning,” Glorfindel said. “It was only going to be Barry and me, but Finrod insisted on coming and of course Amarië had to come as well and then Val decided His Highness should not have just a lowly Wiseman Elf to chaperone him, so he invited himself along.” Glorfindel gave Valandur a glare while Barahir just grinned, not at all offended, and Finrod and Amarië kissed. Valandur stood there smirking. “They’re going to stay the weekend and wait for our return,” Glorfindel added.
“Well, the plane should be arriving soon,” Alex said, checking the time. “Let’s go inside and I’ll introduce you to Rufus.”
Inside the hangar, they greeted Sanderson with Finrod introducing his wife to the lawyer and they spent a couple of minutes catching up with each other’s news. Then Alex, in turn, introduced them to Rufus, who had been standing silent, staring with opened-mouth surprise at the sight of the Elves. The Elves, in turn, saw a Man who was probably an inch under six feet with a shock of sandy-red hair and smoky-blue eyes that held little warmth in them. His face was weather-beaten, as if he’d spent most of his life in the outdoors, and his hands were heavily callused. He was older than Alex, probably somewhere in his forties.
“So you’re the famous Rufus Moynihan,” Glorfindel drawled. “I see Alex is taking no chances with you.” He glanced pointedly at the Man’s shackles.
“Alex?” Moynihan asked, speaking for the first time since getting off the plane. His look of confusion cleared as he glanced at Alex, his expression turning sly. “Would that be you, boyo?” He spoke with an obvious Irish brogue.
Before Alex could reply, there was the sound of an engine and they all looked to see a small cargo plane taxiing up to the hangar. Everyone looked on with interest but Moynihan’s eyes lit up with surprise and delight. “Saints and begorra! Louise!” He tried to go to the plane which was coming to a stop, the engines dying, but Sanderson held him back. Moynihan continued crooning. “Ah, Louise, it does me heart good to be seein’ you again, lass. Did you miss me, my lovely?”
Everyone stared at the Man crooning as if to a lover, but then their attention was taken by the pilot climbing out of the plane and Alex watched in amusement as the Elves saw Námo in his Nate disguise, augmented by an old-fashioned flying scarf, though thankfully, he wasn’t sporting goggles. The Vala sauntered over, handing Alex a set of papers.
“So, Nate, how was the flight?” Alex asked, evincing nonchalance as he accepted the documents while the Elves executed half-bows to the Vala.
“Tedious,” came the reply. “If it hadn’t been for my Arctic Fringe CDs I would’ve gone bonkers long before I reached Anchorage. I do not know how you incarnates stand it.”
“Yeah, well, when Atar was handing out gifts, he neglected to give us wings or the ability to teleport, so we just have to do it the good old-fashioned way,” Alex couldn’t help retorting. “Thanks, by the way. Greg, let Rufus have a look at Louise. He’s practically foaming at the mouth.”
“He named the plane Louise? Why?” Barahir couldn’t help asking as Sanderson took out a set of keys and began unlocking the chains. Moynihan barely paid any attention, his eyes solely on the plane before him, his expression one of deep hunger.
“Why not?” Alex rejoined with a shrug. “At least he didn’t call it the Millennium Falcon.
“So, who’s Louise?” Glorfindel asked with a knowing look.
“Doesn’t matter,” Alex said shortly and then his expression softened as he watched Moynihan run his hands over the skin of the plane, apparently checking every bolt and plate, still crooning loving nonsense. “It was a long time ago,” he added, his eyes sad.
“So he’s from Ireland, then,” Barahir said in the lull that followed.
“Who? Rufus?” Alex said, shaking off memories of an earlier time. He snorted. “Rufus was born and raised in Wisconsin. The closest he’s ever been to Ireland is The Wicked Monk in Bay Ridge.”
“The what?” Finrod exclaimed. “Who is this wicked monk and just what is a monk, anyway?”
“Not who, what,” Alex answered. “It’s the name of an Irish pub in Brooklyn.”
“And as for what a monk is, I’ll explain later,” Glorfindel added.
“So, want to take a look?” Alex asked with a glint in his eyes at the Valinórean Elves. “C’mon.” He sauntered over to the plane with the others following, though Sanderson stayed outside to keep an eye on Rufus, who was still examining the plane from nose to tail. Námo remained where he was as well. The others followed Alex inside the cramped space.
They saw the cockpit, divided from the rest of the plane by a curtain. Directly behind the cockpit were two other seats. They looked as if they’d been taken from the first-class compartment of a 747, looking more comfortable than the cramped cockpit. The back was taken up with what turned out to be the toilet. There was nothing else except for a bare space in between.
“Rufus has a hidden cargo space under the flooring,” Alex told them, stomping a foot. “We can stash our bags in it and we’ll need to stock up with snacks. I don’t want to waste time hunting through strange terminals for vending machines while we’re refueling.”
“It’s going to be a very long trip,” Glorfindel opined.
“Yeah, I know,” Alex admitted.
“Good thing I thought to bring my e-reader,” Glorfindel said with a smile. “Loaded it with a whole bunch of mysteries to keep myself amused.”
“I’ve got a large cooler,” Gwyn said. “We can use it for food and drinks.”
“Good enough,” Alex said and gestured for them to go back outside where they found Sanderson and Námo having what sounded like a deep philosophical discussion revolving around Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. Alex found it amusing to realize that Námo would have known both philosophers personally, at least after their deaths. He doubted that Sanderson understood this as he argued with the Lord of Mandos over the concepts of existentialism, nihilism and the human condition. The two broke off their discussion when they saw the others leaving the plane. Rufus, having examined the outside of the plane, was ready to take a look inside, but Alex stayed him.
“You can check her out later. You need to come up with a flight plan and submit it before tomorrow.”
“And where will Louise be takin’ us?” Rufus asked.
“Syracuse, New York.”
Rufus’ eyes widened in surprised, but then they turned sly. “But wouldn’t ye rather Louise and me take ye to someplace warm and sunny where the lasses are willin’ and the drinks overflow? There’s nothin’ in Syracuse of any interest.”
Alex shook his head. “We’re on a mission, Rufus. This isn’t a joyride.”
“C’mon, Meriwether, ye’re so serious all the time. Ye need to be loosenin’ up, boyo. Life’s to bloody short. Now I’m thankin’ ye for rescuin’ me lovely Louise from the scrap heap, so I’ll be on my way and—”
Alex’s eyes went flat and the next thing anyone knew, he was slamming Rufus up against the side of the plane, an arm across the Man’s neck in a choke hold. Valandur noticed with clinical interest the honest fear in Moynihan’s eyes.
“Let’s get one thing clear, Rufus,” Alex said, his voice cold and deadly. “I own Louise, which means I own you. You will fly us to Syracuse and back. No detours, no side jaunts, no nothing. This is your one and only warning. You screw up, hell, you even look at me the wrong way, and I will take you out and dump your sorry carcass in a cornfield in Iowa. Do we understand each other… boyo?”
And at that moment, the Elves, with the possible exception of Amarië, knew that it was Artemus Meriwether speaking, not Alex Grant, and that he was deadly serious. He would indeed do as he threatened and not even blink. Valandur made a mental note to let Vorondur know when he next saw him. Rufus, meanwhile, said nothing, but he gave an aborted nod and after a moment of painful silence Alex released him.
“I know you used to carry extra fuel when you were in the smuggling business,” Alex said in a conversational tone and they realized that Alex was back in control, though perhaps no entirely, “but we won’t be able to do that here, so plan your flight accordingly. We’ll probably have to make at least a couple of pit stops for refueling.”
Rufus rubbed his chin. “From here?” he shook his head. “Saints and begorra, man. Are ye daft? We’ll be needin’ at least three stops, maybe four. We’ve got to be gettin’ through the Rockies, don’t ye be forgettin’. That’ll eat up the fuel for sure.”
“You’re the expert, Rufus. That’s why you’re here. We’ll plan to leave as early in the morning as we can. Greg, he’s all yours. We’ll see you tomorrow.” With that, he walked out of the hangar without a backward glance. The Elves gave each other bemused looks, bowed briefly to Námo who had not moved and followed the Man out. As they were leaving, they heard Námo calling to Rufus.
“Let’s you and I take a look at the cockpit and have a little chat while Mr. Sanderson waits outside for us.”
The Elves gave each other knowing looks, some of them wincing in sympathy, well acquainted with Námo’s ‘little chats’ themselves. Outside, they saw Alex standing by his car, gazing out onto the airfield. Glorfindel would have gone to the Mortal, but Valandur, surprisingly, stayed him with a hand on his arm and shook his head. Glorfindel nodded and they watched as Ingwë’s spymaster went to stand beside the former agent, staring out at the same airfield. For several minutes no one moved or spoke, but finally, Alex shook his head as if in answer to an unspoken question.
“I’ve got things to do,” they heard him mutter and he started to open the car door, but Valandur blocked his way, now facing him.
“You’re not leaving here until I know who you are,” Valandur said.
“What do you mean?” Alex demanded hotly. “You know damn well who I am.”
“Do I? Back there just now, who was threatening Rufus Moynihan with death? You, Alex, or someone else?”
“Of course it was me,” Alex retorted with a sneer. “Did you see anyone else? My evil twin perhaps?”
“Perhaps,” Valandur rejoined with a nod. “My question is: Do we need to fear anything from him?”
“I would never hurt any of you,” Alex said softly. “I doubt I can, anyway.”
“This from the man who took out a Maia twice,” Valandur pointed out. “Alex, I don’t want Glorfindel or Gwyn on that plane with you unless they know precisely who is flying with them. Are you Alex or Artemus?”
“I’m both and none,” Alex said, his expression turning toward anger. “Damn you, Val! I get enough of the psycho-crap from Ron; I don’t need it from you or anyone else. Right now, I need to be Artemus if we’re to survive this. Alex hasn’t a clue but Artemus knows Rufus, knows what he’s capable of. You look at him and you see a jerk pretending to be Irish when he’s not. Hell, I’m pretty sure Rufus Moynihan isn’t even the name on his birth certificate. He’s a fake, but he’s a dangerous one. He’ll sell us out in a New York minute if he thought he could get away with it, not out of maliciousness or anything, but because to him it’s all a game, but these games are deadly and I need to make sure we all come out of this alive. Alex can’t do that, but Artemus can.”
“Fair enough,” Valandur said. “I just want it to be clear from the start who is going to Syracuse. I hope that when you return, you return as Alex. I like him much better than Artemus.”
“So do I,” Alex said, sighing, rubbing his temples as if to ease them of a headache. He glanced around, realizing that not everyone was there. “Where are Rufus and Greg?”
“Ah… Mr. Moynihan is presently having a little chat with Lord Námo,” Valandur replied.
Alex actually winced. “Better him than me,” he muttered.
“Amen,” Glorfindel said, moving to join him and Valandur. The others followed. “Alex, I don’t mind if you need to be Artemus for this. Artemus doesn’t scare me and I can take you down with one hand tied behind my back if I have to. But just so we’re clear: you can threaten Moynihan all you want, but we’ll leave the violence at home, shall we?”
“And you’re leaving me no choice in the matter,” Alex said, making it more a statement than a question.
“It’s not an option,” Glorfindel said with a shake of his head, his hair like spun gold shining brilliantly in the sunlight.
“Okay. I guess I can live with that.”
“Good. Now, I promised Val a tour of the city, so we’ll be going. Call me when you have the departure time set.”
Alex nodded and the Wiseman Elves made their way to the van. Gwyn stayed where he was, giving Alex a considering look. “I think you need to bash something. You have that look to you. Why don’t you follow me back to my place and I’ll let you spar with me? We’ll even use live steel if you want.”
“I’d rather just pummel you to the ground.”
“You can try,” Gwyn said, giving him a cold, deadly smile and his eyes held a promise of pain, a pain that Alex welcomed and half-needed. With a nod of acceptance, he opened the car door, fishing out his keys. “I’ll be right behind you.”
Gwyn said nothing as he went to his own car. In minutes, the two were driving away, Sanderson and Moynihan forgotten.
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