Na Annun Hae (to the west, away)
The grey ship tossed like a restless horse under a tight rein, her bowsprit, carved like the outstretched neck of a tundra swan, reached for a shore no-one under her vast clouds of canvas had ever seen. Her bow knifed through great grey waves as she beat into the wind, fountains of seawater rising on each side of her reaching swan neck. A lone figure straddled that neck, one hand laid casually on a stay, an array of pale jibs above him catching the wind, like the primary flight feathers of a swan wing.
"What do you see? As if even an Elf could see anything in this soup."
The Elf turned, his waterfall of dark hair flying with the heave and roll of the ship and the wail of the wind, his eyes bright silver-grey as the leaping waves and the silver sky. Behind him, square in the center of the deck, his mine-dark eyes firmly fixed on where the far ...and quite motionless... horizon should be, sat a Dwarf. Sat was not entirely an adequate word. He was wedged against an Elvish deck construction built for the convenience of the ship's geese, like a badger in a hole. One of the geese was complaining in loud strident tones about the intrusion.
"Are we there yet?" The Dwarf muttered at the Elf.
The Elf laughed, "No, mellon, it will be many days yet."
"Days? Days! I thought this was the straight way."
"It is, old friend. Did not the ginger help?"
"Yes, my stomach no longer feels like ten thousand orcs rampaging."
"Merely five thousand."
The Elf swung a leg over the swan neck of the bowsprit, he rose and ran along it as easily as he had once run across a rope strung over a wild stream on the borders of Lothlorien a lifetime ago. He leapt lightly down to the foredeck, silenced the goose with a gentle hand and a few words and sat beside the grey-bearded Dwarf. Behind them the foremast rose into silver sky, and deck and mainmast and mizzenmast vanished abaft into grey mist. The Dwarf could hear the light sounds of the rest of the Elvish crew going about their daily chores; aloft in the maze of standing and running rigging among the clouds of white cloth; on deck navigating, caring for the small zoo that had been brought along from Ithilien, cleaning, fixing, singing, braiding strange things out of rope (what was that huge fuzzy thing for anyway?). Most of them were kin of the Prince of Mirkwood, they had followed him to Ithilien and helped heal it after the War of the Ring. Now they were following him on their last great adventure, seeking the way to the Uttermost West. Sailing off the edge of the map to Eressea, to Elvenhome, where the leaves fall not, land of their people forever.
"Perhaps a tale to take your mind off the weather and wind. Or have you tired of Elvish tales and song already?" Legolas said.
A smile made its way through Gimli's thick braided beard. "No, not quite yet."
"We have traveled far together, and yet, there is much we don't know about each other's lives."
The Dwarf nodded.
"Well," Legolas looked down at the new wood of the ship's grey deck, an odd little smile playing around the edges of his mouth, "here is a tale that has never been told in Middle-earth. I have just remembered it. It happened a long time ago, and yet, it has not happened yet."
"Must Elves always speak in riddles?"
"Yes. It keeps the Dwarves guessing. And it keeps their attention almost as well as good ale."
"It started with a bath. A bath on a midsummer's night."
At the Sign of the Pooping Pony
"Dude, you're supposed to put the used shavings on the poop cart."
I looked up to find Dana leaning on the stall door, and a pile of fresh shavings in the battered wheelbarrow affectionately known as Manure Force One. "Oh." I said and started scratching them back into the stall. Behind me, Cherokee flicked an ear and dropped a nice fresh pile for me. Dana grinned, the lean brown dog at her side grinned wider, like a hyena. Horse humor, ha ha. You just wait, you big spotted lump.
"You've been in some other world all day. What's up, Lizard?"
Dana's one of exactly four people in the known universe who can call me that and get away with it. My real name's Elizabeth, like a queen with too much makeup. Liz for short. But a few people claim Lizard fits better. Dana's old. Older than my Mom I mean, not old like Gandalf or something. It's her barn, on a handful of acres called the Greenwood, backed up against the sprawl of a State Forest. The Greenwood contains an old weathered barn, remodeled to hold a dozen horses, an outdoor arena with a good sand surface protected from weather by a circle of pines and spruce, a house that's mostly an eighteenth century log cabin, and a bunch of rich kids' horses. I'm not a rich kid so I trade poop-scooping for time on the horses instead of behind them.
"Geek World." I said. If there's a bigger geek in the world than me it's my friend Lorien. When a teacher asked her what her favorite sport was, she said glosseopia. I can't even pronounce it. It means she could hand in an essay or poetry in perfect Elvish (Sindarin or Quenya) and the teacher had to give her an "A" because they didn't have a clue how to grade it. We're best friends the way Legolas and Gimli are. It was raised hackles at first sight. She's short and pudgy and funny looking and has fuzzy hair that stuck out all over, and the kind of glasses that scream "book nerd!" not fashion statement, she dresses like a refugee from the sixties. I'm into running and horses and climbing trees (and rock walls and anything else) and beating up any boy that calls me Lizard.
A couple of weeks after I first saw her, Lorien showed up in home room with a big fat book that weighed about as much as all her class books put together. Lord of the Rings. She'd actually read it more times than I'd seen the movie. Her mom had started reading it to her before she was born. One of those weird ideas intellectual parents have about raising smart kids. that's where they got her name, of course, from The Book. Hey, her parents were bigger geeks than her. Who else would name their lawnmower Bill the Pony.
Her book had pictures by some guy named Alan Lee. I liked the way he painted horses, and his Aragorn looked just like the one in the movie. Of course he designed some of the stuff in the movie, although I don't think he designed Viggo Mortenson. If you were going to invent a face like that, you'd have to be a girl. He never did Legolas' face though, that kind of bugged me, at first. I wanted to see it.
Lorien saw my Legolas bookmark and started telling me all this stuff that was in the book. Stuff I didn't remember from the movie. Stuff like Legolas shooting down a Nazgul, or running under the stars in Mirkwood, or being a kickass whitewater paddler, or standing at the edge of Fangorn, listening to the trees, or turning back and riding to the Huorn wood, and wanting to talk to the trees. I knew about herons and Hurons, but huorns?
There was a lot more that wasn't in the movie. The best was when Legolas got Arod from the Rohirrim, and rode him without saddle or bridle, because he had The Elvish Way With All Good Beasts.
Wow. Awesome. Just like the stunt guy who rode Shadowfax in the movie. Only better. Lorien gave me an old paperback version of LOTR to borrow. I paid her back with about thirty years worth of X-Men, after I told her all the stuff that wasn't in those movies.
"The Elf is fuzzy?"
Yeah, like the velvety end of a horse's nose. And blue. And the wizard is bald, and the dwarf has claws instead of a battleax, and Strider has flaming eyeballs instead of a flaming sword. And the girls kick more butt.
I read The Book inside a week. It took Lorien a little longer to plow through classic Uncanny X-Men, but she fell for the blue fuzzy elf the first day. Lorien came to the Greenwood and rode three days later. She rode like Gimli. Pumpkin didn't mind. Too much.
I looked up and Dana was still leaning on the slidey door with the kind of endless patience Pumpkin has for beginning riders. She'd stay there till I said something. Not just anything either, but what was really bugging me.
"Me and Lorien, the Geek Patrol. The only two girls in our class who don't have a better wardrobe than the latest boobychick on the cover of whatever. The only two girls who are never gonna make it to Homecoming, or Prom, or even a barn dance."
"Sounds like you need a Faerie Godmother."
Dana grinned, stopped leaning on the stall door and went to fetch the grain.
Two days later, I was firing up the truck to leave, the one Dad had welded and ductaped together out of three other ones. It's a Ford Ranger, kind of greenish and brownish and greyish (five shades of primer, door, fender and tailgate from different trucks), but it's got a big kickass engine, and the kind of tires that could climb Caradhras.
Of course I named it Strider.
Dana came out of the barn with a paper bag in her hand. "Here." she thrust it at me through the window. "A gift from your Faerie Godmother."
Kodi stood up from his place on the seat beside me and stuck his wet Siberian nose into the bag. He snorted, and went back to his side of the truck seat. I peered in and saw a bunch of dried herbish looking stuff on the top of it all, and a couple of outrageous feathers poking through. "It's not anything illegal, is it?"
She laughed, "Sage, sweetgrass, some other herbs, a few rocks, couple of bones, some feathers, all quite legal. There's a couple more items you'll need to find yourself, but there's a list with the directions in there."
I pulled out one of the feathers; definitely not from anything native to southcentral Pennsylvania, so no protected species, nothing the Game Commission would have fits about. The feather, and its mates were a good foot long and they were clipped and notched the way some headdress feathers were among certain Native American tribes; showing the status and accomplishments of the wearer.
But they were no colors any traditional Indian would wear; patterned in bright blues and greens, and shaded with impossible purples. "Somebody pluck a parrot? Or a circus performer?"
"Beats me. A friend sent me that stuff when I asked about the spell."
Ok...some weird NewAgey Native Americanish ritual thingie, the barn always smelled like sage or incense. Every stall had a bundle of herbs or a dreamcatcher or a wreath. Maybe it wasn't real magic, like Gandalf or Professor X could do, but hey...you never know. The mind is a powerful thing, Dana said that all the time. Maybe it would work if I believed.
Her face looked serious. "Be sure to follow the directions exactly." she intoned, "And be careful what you wish for."
Meddle Not in the Affairs of Wizards
Wednesday Night at the Campfire Circle: Lizard
I swear, I followed the directions exactly. Even the part with facing east and a moon shaped like a drawn bow and the feathers and the funny chant, and the green leaves...you try finding four green leaves on the last day of October. Ok, maybe I got the chant wrong. I shoulda' got Lorien, she's the language geek, besides Elvish, she speaks about half a dozen other languages. But there I was in my backwoods in the middle of a very cold freakin' night and there's this blammoblooey of green light and the next thing I know there's this tall, lean, dark-haired guy standing there in our campfire circle looking like he just saw a balrog.
Oh yeah, and he was dripping wet and wearing absolutely nothing.
I stared, he stared, I stared some more. With great difficulty I made my eyes fix on his face.
Holy great piles of horse crap, the spell actually worked...
I finally remembered how to breathe again.
Nekkid Guy's expression changed to one of complete consternation and he turned and vanished soundlessly into the woods.
Great. Wonderful. Typical. Summon Prince Charming and lose him all in the same thirty seconds. Story of my life. I grabbed up the survival gear I always brought out to the campfire circle; blanket and a headlamp and a cell phone and a compass and my dog and plunged in after him. It's a big woods. It's actually a State Forest, and we're lucky enough to live on the edges of it, like Dana. I could just see Prince Charming freaking out and getting lost in there. And me having to send in rescue dogs and the National Guard and helicopters and everything. And having to explain it.
Kodiak found him inside five minutes. Nekkid Guy wasn't shivering at all. In fact he looked a little annoyed that I had found him. Until Kodi shoved his nose into the guy's face. He was crouching, maybe he knew about dogs and where they liked to stick their noses. He knelt there, on the trail, Kodi grinning in his lap, like a big furry Siberian blanket, staring into the bright halogen bean of my headlamp without even blinking.
"Um." What do you say to a guy who was probably enjoying a nice hot shower five minutes ago and is now freezing in somebody's woods. At least the poison ivy is all dead now. "Sorry." I held out the blanket. I didn't make him get up.
He took it and wrapped it around him, and Kodi, like a cloak. He let loose a stream of some language I didn't know. At least it didn't sound like he was swearing at me. In fact, it was kinda' beautiful. Like the way a creek flows over rocks, or the way wind blows through the trees.
Uh, ok, now what. I tried English again.
He cocked one falcon-wing eyebrow, then talked again. This time it sounded different. Harder around the edges, not like song, like the first time.
I shook my head. I knew a little Spanish, most of it rude. And enough sign language to look the way an old Tarzan movie sounded. I tried both anyway. I drew blank looks and another beautifully cocked eyebrow. The eyebrow wasn't the only thing about him that was beautiful. I was starting to wish I hadn't given him that blanket.
He sighed, said something to Kodi, something soft and low and musical, like nightwind in the trees. Kodi grinned up at him. Kodi grins at everyone.
Then Kodi turned and practically dragged me back down the trail toward the house. He's got thousands of years of ancestry bred for dragging, so I didn't get to turn around and see if the guy was following until we got in the underwater glow of the big security light by the shed.
He was there, a couple of strides behind me. Staring wide-eyed up at the pole light like it was magic or something. He said something in that fluid sounding language.
And I recognized a word. I'd heard it about a zillion times in the movie.
Elvish for light.
I stared for about an eternity into eyes like a moonlit sea, set between ears that were shaped like the new-opened leaf of a beech tree.
Then I got Lorien on the cell.
Lorien had an older brother who was about three sizes bigger than the Elf. I had a Dad about four inches shorter than his six feet or so of height, but closer to his lean, lithe build. Between us we came up with enough clothes to keep him from freezing to death, or getting us arrested. I explained about the sage and the chant and the the whole green light thingie. Lorien didn't think I'd gone around the bend. It's the thing I like best about her. She doesn't think I'm a geek.
Lorien said a few words to the Elf, and we went back down the trail to the campfire circle, hoping everyone was going to stay asleep in my house for awhile, and not wonder where I was. Lorien's house didn't count. They'd just figure she was logging educational hours on the internet, or reading another couple of books.
I lit a fire, and we cozied up to it. Lorien introduced me, and herself, getting a raised eyebrow at her name. She launched into a lengthy conversation, the lengthy being mostly on his part, she was good, but she still sounded like a Hobbit talking to an Elf-lord. Then I picked out a couple more familiar words. Eryn Lasgalen. Courtesy of Lorien, I knew that was the Elvish name for Mirkwood.
And Legolas Thranduilion.
Urp. Yep, I saw the extended version about a million times too. Not just any old Legolas Greenleaf.
Lorien and I stared at each other. No way.
She fired a couple more questions at him.
"What were you supposed to be doing in this ritual? The part where you pictured your ideal man?"
"Ah." I studied the dark hair, falling to his waist, the eyes which were any color but blue, and a face that was impossible to describe; there were cheekbones like gull-wings, and chiseled edges, and ears that were slightly leaf-shaped, and skin like moonlight on beach, and it all added up to something uncannily beautiful, but not like anything I'd ever seen.
"He does not look at all like Orlando Bloom." I said.
"Orlando Bloom is an actor. A very good one. A very English, very human one."
"The human part's debatable." I said. " Anyway, this guy's hair's dark." I think I sounded a little whiney. He was supposed to be blond, dammit.
"Tolkien never said what color his hair was."
"Yeah but his dad was blond, it's in The Hobbit."
"We don't know what color his mother was, and most Elves were dark."
His eyes were going from one to the other of us with that patient look Pumpkin had with newbie riders.
Kodi was staring at him in pure adoration. We stared at him awhile longer, pretty much in pure adoration too. I tried to remember if he could read minds like Galadriel. If he could, I was in deep doo doo.
"What are we going to do with him?" Lorien asked.
"Do with him? I was thinking prom date...or something. I was expecting some guy from class to just ask, I was expecting some girl to introduce me...us...to her brother. I did not expect to rip the Prince of Mirkwood out of his bath!"
"Do with him." Lorien stated, " Here he is. He doesn't speak English, he doesn't have a car, a job or a social security number. And in fifty years, he will look exactly the same, and people will begin to ask questions. And then someone will kidnap him and stick him under a microscope. And most importantly, " she eyed her watch, "it is one AM and we are in the middle of the woods."
Hoo, hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo, hoo HOO! boomed out of the woods, awfully close. Lorien jumped and squeaked like a mouse.
"Just a Great Horned Owl." I said, and paused for effect; "Four foot wingspan, one thousand psi per talon tip, likes to eat skunks and the odd Shi Tzu for lunch."
Lorien sat back down and inched closer to our mighty Elven warrior. He gave her an odd look and hooted softly back at the hidden owl. "Where are we going to put him?" Lorien said.
Hoo-hoo HOO! the owl called back.
"He comes from the woods." I said, as he answered the owl.
"You're going to tell a Prince to camp out in your backyard?"
"They camped all the time in the book, I think he knows how to camp. And it's not like I can smuggle him into my room. I can see Mom; 'What's that?' 'Oh, just pay no attention to the little man behind the curtain, it's only a figment of my imagination."
Except that it wasn't. There he was, solid and real in my Dad's sneakers and Lorien's brother's mountain jacket, and jeans just a bit too short. He didn't even have his bow or his knives. Knife, if you're a book geek like Lorien.
"I mean, there he was, " Lorien was saying, "bathing in a pool on a nice warm summer night in Mirkwood and bamf! he ends up here. In the butt hind end of Pennsylvania. In October."
Lorien never says butt.
"He's taking it rather well." I offered. He was still holding an in-depth conversation with the owl, now perched in the shadows over our heads. I looked at my watch. "Anyway, it's November now."
"He asked if you were allied with the Dark Side."
"What did you tell him?"
"Only when you're PMSing."
Lorien gave me one of her smiles. The one that makes Sauron look friendly.
He turned his attention from the owl and made a small, polite, inquisitive noise.
"You could put him in your spare room." I told her. He'd probably vanish in the clutter.
"Too hard to explain, even to my parents. We should send him back."
I stared at Lorien, looking just like a grouper about to swallow a refrigerator. Send back the man...er...Elf, she'd been in love with since she was five? That I'd been in love with since I was...well, since Peter Jackson put New Zealand on the map. "Nooooo! Not yet! Anyway, I have no idea how!"
"He should go back. People will miss him. Anyway, they need him in the Fellowship ."
"Hasn't all that already happened?"
"No. I got a blank look when I asked about Gollum and Bilbo and Thorin Oakenshield and he'd never heard of Aragorn either. You must have pulled him from some time before the events of The Hobbit or LOTR."
"It doesn't matter, they can just send Glorfindel or Elrohir or someone. Anyway, can't we just keep him for awhile?"
Lorien gave me a hard look, "He is not a lost puppy." She turned and stared into the fire.
"Hoo hoo hoo." The owl suggested.
"Hoo hoo-hoo hoo." the Prince replied.
"Dana." Lorien said at last. "She gave you the spell, she probably knows how to reverse it. And at least she could put him up till we figure this out. She's read the book too."
That would work. "Yeah, I guess."
Lorien turned to our guest...I was still having trouble thinking of this dark-haired guy in sneakers and the bright red mountain parka as the Prince of Mirkwood...Lorien rattled off a fluid stretch of Elvish, Sindarin I guess. I did remember those were his people, book impaired as Lorien claims I am. He nodded and followed us to Lorien's car.
I couldn't see his face, because I got squashed into the back with Kodi, but he spent a lot of time clutching the dash and firing terse Sindarin comments at Lorien. She didn't bother translating. I figured it was stuff like "Slow down, no don't take that cornersofast!, no noooo, is your mind full of squirrels?!, watch out for that deeeeer, and what's that flashing? and Aiiieeee!, a roadhog, a roadhog is come, we're all doomed!"
He untangled himself from the seatbelt and jumped out before the car quite stopped, looking like a guy who'd just got swallowed by a monster and spit back out.
Gwennin Na'lim (Gone Fishing) or The Maiden of Duracell
I remember the fish."
"Fish? Ehhh, fish. Promise me there are cows in Aman." Gimli said. From somewhere in the vicinity of the mainmast came a plaintive "maaaaa-aaa-aaa". Even the ship's goats were losing their sea-legs in this weather.
"I speak of the fish in the pool, the bathing pool. Beautiful, round as Hobbit party platters, flat as pancakes, and a whole rainbow of colors. One was orange, orange with blue flecks, like jewels...another was..."
"I wish to hear the whole of this tale before I die, so perhaps we should skip the fish."
Legolas gave him a look, like a child who has had a favorite toy taken from him. Gimli sighed a patient sigh and Legolas went on, "I was watching the fish and there was a flash of green light, and the pool and the warmth were gone. I was by a small fire, in a circle of sawn logs, in a bare-leaved wood. With a very surprised girl staring at me."
"Was she beautiful?"
"She was of the Edain, but that is all I noticed. I was in the bath, remember?"
Gimli chuckled. "And what did she think..."
"I fled into the woods."
"Well that was brilliant. No wonder you've been single for, what, two thousand years?"
"I'm not that old. And it is different for our folk. We..."
"The fish, no, no, not the fish, the girl..."
"She found me. Well her dog did. A strange sort, like a small wolf, gentle, silver and white, with blue eyes and he was tied to a light strong string that coiled and uncoiled out of a case on the girl's belt, I wished I could bring you one so you could see how it worked..." his fingers flew out and back, describing the strange device.
"How about the girl?"
"Tall, lean, with hair like sparrow's wings."
"It had feathers in it?"
"No, no! The color!"
"Can't Elves ever just say anything straight out, as in; 'She had brown hair' ?"
"No. And she bore on her head a light like," his eyes misted over, "like a Silmaril." he whispered.
Gimli sat up in surprise, "No!"
"Yes. Some magic the Edain had made. I learned later that it involved trapping the energy of a mysterious substance called Duracell."
"More like Dwarvish."
"Well what did the Maiden of Duracell do?" Gimli asked.
"Gave me a blanket. She spoke a word in a strange tongue, but I felt its meaning; sorry, she said, as if she had something to do with my being there."
"Where was there?"
"A dark, cold wood, after leaf-fall. It felt much like the Greenwood, after the dark things were driven out. But she was dressed oddly; close-fiitting blue pants and a great coat, like a down quilt. One might have mistaken her for a young man." Legolas said.
"Yes." his eyebrows folded, "But in a contest of strength between those two, I would not bet on Dernhelm. I tried to speak to her, but she knew no language of Middle-earth that I knew. So I asked her dog to take us home. Perhaps there would be others there with whom I could speak. We came out of the woods to a cluster of buildings; a great hall and a barn. And a light. Ah, the light, what a strange and wondrous thing, on a pole as tall as a tree, it threw silver light in a circle a furlong wide! I asked her about it, but she still did not understand me. But for one word; galad. She knew that word."
"What strange place was this?"
The Elf's smile grew, "Middle-earth."
First First Breakfast
(three hours past Elevensies) Friday, 2am: Lizard
Somehow Dana wasn't surprised to find us knocking on her door at two am. She led us into her kitchen, full of hanging herbs, bookshelves (yeah, in the kitchen) and cats. Three of them came right over and twined around the Elf's feet. Kodi leaned toward them with the kind of smile I reserved for Godiva chocolates. I'd known the cats for a year and two of them still snobbed me off. Then there was Shenzi. The Malenois was a little smaller and leaner than a German Shepard, with five times the attitude. She'd terrorized door to door religion salesmen, drunken teenagers, a rabid skunk, and an arsonist. Figures she'd cozy right up to the Elf.
Lorien and I sat at the big wooden table, Dana pulled out a gallon of milk and some powdered baking cocoa, organic hooney and stirred up four hot chocolates. She popped them in the nuker, and produced a box of cookies.
The Elf...Legolas... I had to make my brain think of him that way...moved silently around the kitchen like a caged wolf, staring at books and clock and Dana's collection of horse figurines (scattered through the whole house like a manic wild herd) and the toaster and the refrigerator humming softly to itself in the corner, and the blender and the stove with its flat burnerless top (and a pot of good smelling herbs steaming cheerfully away on it) and the pile of magazines with their glossy photos.
He had the same look of wonder on his face that he had when he rode into Rivendell, in the movie. When he was blond and Orlando Bloom. Then the microwave bleeped and he spun like a cornered cat, hand reaching for a knife that wasn't there.
It occured to me he had no idea what a microwave was or even color photos. I tried to imagine an Elvish word for microwave.
No. It'd be like Dwarves trying to ride horses.
Lorien was trying to explain stuff to him. He held up his mug of steaming chocolate and said something with a question mark at the end of it. Lorien opened the fridge and handed him the gallon of milk. Both dogs and three cats watched him closely, hoping he was going to drop something edible on the floor. He held a hand up to the fridge, like he was warding off something evil. Then stepped up to it like a deer walking into a clearing full of potential predators. He ducked and studied the little light, turned and made another question mark with his voice, soft as wind in the trees.
Lorien bumbled through a few hestitant bits of Elvish, then, for once, ran out of words.
He shrugged and Lorien closed the door. He was still holding the gallon of milk. Staring at it like it was some kind of unknown and potentially lethal mushroom.
Lorien said something, and pointed to Dana's cow magnet on the fridge.
The Elf's eyebrows went up in an 'aha!' of enlightenment. He handed back the gallon, and said something in Elvish.
"They don't seem to have cows in Mirkwood." Lorien said.
"OH." Dana said. "I hope he's not lactose-intolerant. Maybe I should have used the soy milk."
Too late, he was already sipping his chocolate. He set it down and picked up a copy of People Magazine, graced with the latest bubblychick in bare midriff and painted on jeans, he wrinkled his eyebrows and asked Lorien something. He looked kind of appalled.
Right there he went up about another 500 points on my male-o-meter.
We sat with our hot chocolate, Lorien and I both talking at once, the story tumbling out like hyperactive puppies.
Dana was only slightly surprised that, with her spell, I'd conjured up a fictional character, now sipping hot chocolate at her table and talking to her cats. "This is a new spell for me." she explained. "I mean, attracting love can be tricky, and it's far from my specialty." She made a wry face, she was still single. "Got this one from one of my friends. She didn't say where she found it." She studied Legolas.
He looked up at her over the rim of his mug, the way her horses do sometimes; calm, interested, intense, as if there's a conversation going on I can't hear. "Oh boy." Dana said to us, "You have done it." She was silent for a moment. "Of course, it is All Hallows Eve, Samhain. Traditionally the night when the gates between the worlds open, and all manner of things come through."
"We can put him back, can't we?" Lorien said.
"Noooo, not yet!" I punched her in the arm.
"I don't know the counterspell." Dana said. "If there is one."
"Can't you just do the other one backwards?" Lorien asked.
"No." Dana said.
I let out a big sigh of relief. "Maybe we have to wait till next Halloween?"
Lorien got a worried look on her face. She glanced at Legolas, and fidgeted with her hair the way she does when she's thinking real hard about something, and her brain starts smoking.
"He's a character from a book!" I said, "It doesn't matter if we send him back!"
Dana gave me one of those long, patient Pumpkin looks.
Lorien stood up, held up one of Legolas's hands, he cocked an eyebrow at her, probably wondering what strange custom this was. "Does he look like a figment of your twisted imagination?"
"No, mine would have been blond and blue-eyed." I briefly contemplated my first pointy-eared love, "Or blue and blond-eyed."
"Exactly. You summoned him, but you summoned the real one! And now you have to put him back!"
"Well, we can't."
"We can't." Dana said. "You can. You summoned him, somehow. I lay bets you're the only one who can send him back."
Whew, well, that was a relief. At least Lorien couldn't do it without me.
She glared at me from the other side of the table. Still holding Legolas' hand.
He looked at her, then at me. His expression was as readable as a hawk's.
I took a great interest in my chocolate just then.
"I'll start researching it." Dana said. "In the meantime, please explain to him that he can sack out in the living room. Show him how the fouton works and where the guest blankets are in the chest. And tell him about the fridge and the nuker." She paused, "Uh, and the bathroom."
Lorien sat down, still holding Legolas' hand, explaining everything. Her Elvish was already sounding more fluid. Sometimes I just hate her.
Iau in'gonathras (Fruit of the Loom)
"Well of course it's Middle-earth, where else would it be?" Gimli stared up into the rigging. At the moment, a lithe Elven woman clad in a short tunic and leggings was untangling a bit of line just over his head.
Legolas gave a sigh of endless patience, "Dwarves have such limited imaginations, except where the virtues of Elven women are concerned."
"Hrmmmmp." Gimnli's attention returned, reluctantly, to the heaving deck.
"There are many worlds, many possibilities, even for this one, all of these woven together like a great forest..."
"I was not looking for a course in Elvish philosophy, merely the rest of the tale."
"Ai." Legolas sighed again. "It was Middle-earth, but not any land you or I have walked, nor any we have seen on any map."
Gimli leaned forward, studying his friend's face, "Then what land was it?"
Legolas shook his head, "I think that will wait for later in the tale. We stood under the light, the Maiden of Light and I, and the dog, Kodi, she called him, but she did not say her name, yet. Nor ask me mine. She still had a look upon her face as if ..."
"She was quite surprised to have found me there. From her pocket she drew out a device, smaller than the palm of her hand, dark and polished, with strange designs running about it, in very odd colors; bright blue, like the sky over the mountains, and orange like fire, and a green that hurt the eyes..."
"What did it do?"
"She punched a few buttons on its face. It made a merry little tune. Then she spoke to it, I remember she said 'Lorien'."
"The Golden Wood?"
A smile grew on the Elf's face, "She was speaking to her friend, far away, a girl named Lorien."
"Speaking, far away, it was a, a ..." Gimli whispered, "palantir?"
"No, mellon, not a stone such as the wizards used. More magic of the Edain. Like the carriage which needed no horses to draw it; it roared like Beorn the Bear-man, and fumed a great stench like Smaug himself. For eyes it had lamps that cut the night like swords of light, like the light of Galadriel herself. Lorien arrived in such a carriage..."
"With a name like that she must have been fair as a maiden of the Golden Wood."
A gentle look passed across the Elf's face, "That depends on how you mean 'fair'. She was short, and stout, round about the edges, and had dark hair that stuck out like this," he held his hands out some distance from the side of his head.
"Ah!" Gimli said with satisfaction, "A real woman, with meat on her bones! One of my kin?"
"Perhaps. With a kind heart. But no beard. And she spoke the Elvish tongues. Well enough for us to talk, at least."
"No doubt an Elf unable to speak would die of frustration."
He cocked an annoyed eyebrow at Gimli. "They brought me some clothes. Odd things, such as the Maiden of Light wore. Sturdy blue pants, with a strange closure like," he frowned, closed thumb and forefinger and moved them up and down, then he interlaced his fingers waving them before the Dwarf's nose. He finally shook his head, unable to make it clear, "It was positively Dwarvish. They called it a zipper. And if one is not careful, the teeth bite. Places one would rather not think about. And then there was The Fruit of the Loom. Underwear, they called it, as if one needs to wear anything under. Odd people, very odd."
He paused and said a strange word in a language the Dwarf did not know.
"What?" he interrupted.
"It is the Maiden of Light's name. It translates as 'Lizard'."
"Lizard? That is an odd name for a fair maiden."
"She is an odd fair maiden. We did not go up to the Great Hall, for they did not wish to disturb Lizard's parents. It seemed my arrival was something they wished to keep secret. We returned to the campfire circle and talked. They were startled, disbelieving when they learned my name." he paused, for suspense.
"What, get on with it."
"..they already knew my name, and that of my father, and of the Greenwood. They knew me!"
"'We have heard tales of your land'. Lorien told me. What tales, I could not imagine then. I had certainly done nothing worthy of a song or a tale."
"When was this?"
"A long time ago, before the Coming of the Dragon to the Lonely Mountain. Lorien spoke the names of Bilbo, and Thorin, and Aragorn, and I did not know them."
"If it was before the Coming of the Dragon, how did she know them?"
"From the tale. As she knew the names of Galadriel, and Pippin, and even you."
"Me! I was not yet born!"
"Yes, mellon, even you."
"How can they know the names of the Fellowship and yet it is before the Coming of the Dragon? That is preposterous!" Gimli said.
"The River of Time does not flow in all places the same."
"The River of Time?"
"If I must explain Elvish science, we will never finish this tale."
"Elves...time...hmmmph. Time is a straightforward matter. Things happen, then more things happen because of the first things that happened. It's simple. Elves make everything so complex."
Legolas rolled his eyes skyward, trying to explain such things to the Dwarf was like pouring water on a rock, nothing sank in. "Nevertheless, this is how it happened, will happen..."
"There you go again with the time strangeness."
"It is an expression of theirs. Whatever. The two maidens argued for awhile in their own tongue, looking at me now and again." He made a wry face, "They looked like us."
Gimli broke into a smile, "Two women, two! Wrestling over you, hah! And one Dwarvish! And what did you do? Bring neither one of them back!"
"Ahhhh. I could not...ai." Legolas paused and looked off into the grey mist. The ship rolled on, the wind blew, the white foam flew. From somewhere belowdecks came the warm delicious scent of Elvish cooking. A scent Gimli did not recognize.
"Ahem." Gimli suggested.
Legolas turned back to his friend and the tale, "We entered their carriage then, and drove to another house, smaller than the first, with a great stable, and gardens. Elo!, Sam would have loved the place, but he would have been too busy with his shears, for it was all wild and overgrown, like the wood around our halls in Eryn Lasgalen. A woman lived there, of the Edain she was, but with an air of the Istari about her. We entered her kitchen, and ate wonderous food, a hot drink like," he closed his eyes.
Gimli leaned forward, the Elf's expression looked as blissful as a Hobbit contemplating elevensies. "What?"
"It is indescribable."
"And would probably take days to describe if you tried, but go on anyway, I'll take my chances."
"Drink of the Valar." he said wistfully, "Chocolate, they called it. They mixed it into the milk of cows."
Gimli eyed the goats perched well out of the spray on their shelter by the mainmast. He had hoped they were destined to end up on his dinner plate, but it seemed their purpose was to provide a fine, spinnable wool, and an excellent cheese, as well as butter and cream for cooking. He had never seen Legolas' folk drink the milk straight.
"But they are not small children! They are beyond the age of drinking milk."
"Not in this land. They have the strange custom of drinking it even after they are grown."
"And there was strange waybread," he held up thumb and finger for size, "this big, shaped like Dwarves in hoods, two wafers, with a marvelous cream filling. They told me the runes stamped on them said 'Keebler'. Ah! And such wonders! Books everywhere, even in the kitchen."
"Odd place for a library."
"The whole house was a library. And horses, this big, and this," he gestured with his hands, "fine crafted and so real you could almost hear the thunder of their hooves. And the books...with pictures as real as life! But pictures of a strange world; with people, yes, and trees and hounds and horses, but..."he fell silent, shaking his head.
"Go on, tell me more about this wonderous place!"
"Yes, there is more to tell, a strange and wonderous world. But," his eyes got a faraway look in them, the look Gimli had seen when Legolas first heard the wail of gulls in the dark. " A world of the Edain, for none of our folk seemed to be left in it."
Anne and the King of the Living Dead
Wednesday 4 am: Lizard
I sneaked in about four am. I got some bacon from the fridge and gave it to Kodi, hoping he'd stay quiet. He did.
As I was pulling the covers on my bed back I noticed something weird had happened to my room decor. Oh the books and the stuffed animals and the horse collection were still there, and the computer clutter and the starships hanging from the ceiling, and the whale collection dangling from the curtain rod, and the shelf full of X-Men still fighting evil. But the Legolas action figure on the Breyer horse Smokey, the one that just happened to be his size, the one that had graced my computer (except when the cat knocked it off and broke his tail so I had to fix it with epoxy and real horsehair... nevermind... squirrel!) since last year was gone. I dove under the desk, searching the floor. Nope.
Then I saw the horse on another shelf, same grulla Smokey horse, sans Elf. Weird.
And my poster was missing, the big one on the back of the door, with Legolas in the woods, bow half drawn. Gone, gone, gone.
Whoa! Well, of course! We, ok, I pulled him out of Middle-earth, before the events of The Fellowship, Lorien said, so maybe they did send someone else with the Fellowship. Oh well, their loss, our gain. We had the real one now, not just an action figure.
I reached out to flick off the light and noticed one last thing; the whole LOTR action figure collection. It occurred to me to look among the figures and see who replaced Legolas.
Except that the whole collection looked weird. Like they'd been designed after a particularly bad nightmare; Anne Rice and Stephen King honeymooning on the Night of the Living Dead in Dracula's Castle. I stared and blinked and didn't believe it. I pulled down a particularly nasty looking orc and shook it. And something that looked like a mutated Hobbit. I ran to the shelf that housed the movie book.
Something was wrong, big bad really awfully wretchedly wrong.
The bad guys, it seems, had won.
When It All Goes South
Thursday, bleary 7:30 am: Lizard
"Just look at this!" Lorien thrust her copy of LOTR under my nose, the one it took a crane to lift, the special anniversary edition with the Alan Lee paintings in it, where you never see Legolas' face. So you can imagine it any way you want.
"Look!" she was practically shrieking. She thumped it down on my lap before I even had her car's seatbelt on. Lorien was babbling somewhere between tears and 'this is it you're gonna die'.
I let the rest of my schoolbooks slide to the floor and peeled her book open. Carefully. It was one of those treasures she never let out of the house. So why was it here now, on my stable-work encrusted lap?
I had a really bad feeling about this.
Yep. Alan Lee had vanished, or mutated into something really scary. Like I've seen some hard-core comic books that were less scary than this.
"Uh oh." I said.
Lorien was still babbling, her voice wailing right up into the zone with fingernails on chalkboards. "...and when Frodo says 'I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine!' there's no Gollum to bite off his finger and take it into the fire!"
"What?" I dropped The Book and shook her. "What are you talking about?"
"Haven't you been listening to anything I've said? No, of course you haven't!"
"Gollum? What's Gollum got to do with this?"
She closed her eyes and put the backs of her hands together, raising them slowly from her middle to her chin, breathing really slow, then letting it all out in one carefully controlled breath. Centering breaths she called them. Some weird obi-wan-zen of kung-fu-tai-chi thing. She gave me a long hard look. "You aren't surprised."
"Well...my action figure collection looked kinda' different last night..."
"Action figures! This is not about action figures! It's about real flesh and blood people who have just had their world ripped to shreds!"
"I think you're over-reacting."
"I AM NOT..." she closed her eyes and did another re-centering breath.
"Gollum." I suggested, quietly, very quietly.
"Gollum was a pivotal character." Lorien said, trying not to clench her teeth. "Remember how Gandalf councils Frodo not to be too swift to pass out death and judgement?"
"Uh, yeah, sure."
"Frodo doesn't throw the ring in the fire." she said with the kind of patience reserved for extremely dense children. "Frodo never throws the Ring into the Fire. Not in the original story, not anywhere else. He never actually does what he sets out to do because the power of the Ring becomes too much for him. He claims it for his own!"
"Oh...yeah." I forgot about that part, mainly because Legolas wasn't in it. "Right."
"It gets destroyed anyway, because of the compassion he and Sam showed Gollum. It's Gollum who destroys it!"
I never did get that part, they avoid doing the obviously smart thing of just squashing the little bugger, then he bites of Frodo's finger, and that's a good thing. Aren't the Good Guys supposed to just kick butt?
Lorien continued, her voice desperate, "Without Gollum, Frodo becomes the next Dark Lord!"
"Whoa, Mini Vader." I tried to picture it, but it bent my mind too much. "And what the hell does that have to do with our Elf?"
Lorien gave me the longest, patientest...most patient...look she could muster. Through tight teeth she said, "Why was Legolas at the Council of Elrond?"
"Uh...I do remember he was wearing camoflage; well, green and brown..."
She closed her eyes and did another recentering breath. "He was a messenger from his father."
"The message was...?" she gestured toward me for the answer.
"Um. That Aragorn was the once and future King of Gondor?"
"It's Rivendell! He was raised there! They already know that! Except for some thick-headed Gondorians!"
She glared at me. I gave her a winning smile. It didn't win anything.
"The message was that the prisoner that Aragorn had left with," she made little quote signs in the air, she always did that when she was quoting a line from The Book, "the watchful Elves of Mirkwood, had escaped. Legolas was one of those Watchful Elves. Possibly the leader of the company set to watch the prisoner that day, and he escaped."
"Gollum, you idiot!"
"Ok, so why would that change the book?"
"If Legolas wasn't there, maybe Gollum wouldn't have escaped. Then, when Frodo and Sam reach Mordor, Gollum is still safely in the keeping of the Watchful Elves of Mirkwood and there is no Gollum to bite off Frodo's finger and destroy the Ring!"
"A butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can alter the course of a hurricane in India." she stated.
Honestly, I don't know where she gets this stuff.
"Anyway, there it is, you messed with it, and it's changed."
"How do we know if it'll change back, if we send him back? Maybe it's too late. Maybe it was some other reason. Maybe..."
She was getting really good at that glare thing.
"What if we can't change it and we send him back into that world ruled by the Dark Hobbit Lord of Doom?"
"What if a couple of Hobbits couldn't make it to Mount Doom in the first place? They tried anyway. And succeeded."
"At least in one version of the story."
"Oh boy...what are we gonna do?"
"Send him back!"
"LIke how, I mean if Dana can't find anything."
"She will. Or we will go to the ends of the earth looking!" She stared straight into my eyes with that Lorien look that means not hell, high water, parental units, or Tar-jhaaaay being closed will stay her from her course.
"Hey," I brightened, "maybe we could summon Gandalf, or Obi-Wan..."
Lorien sat up, grabbed me by the front of my grungey t-shirt, "No no no nonononononoNO NO!"
"...Hermione?" I sid hopefully, "Professor X?"
" I know, the Doctor! What we need is a time lord."
"Don't even imagine it!"
The Taming of Beowabbit
Thursday evening: Lizard
We met at the Greenwood barn right after school, horse poop is more important than homework, and we wanted to find out how far Dana had got in her search. Not very. The friend she had got it from didn't even remember it. The original spell, that is. She went back through her books and couldn't find anything like it. Not unusual, Dana said, she couldn't find her car keys most of the time either. Of course Dana couldn't be too specific about exactly what had really happened with the spell; summoning a supposedly fictional character out of his bath was something not even Dana's oddest friends would believe.
The weird thing was neither Dana or I could remember the spell either. She'd looked at it before she gave it to me, she was sure of that. But she didn't remember anything about it. Not the chant or the green leaves or the bow moon or the strange feathers. At least I remembered the moon and the feathers and the leaves. But the chant...
Lorien's the linguist, and she hadn't been there.
And the paper it had all been written down on was gone, burned in the fire like the spell had demanded.
And I had about a dozen stalls to clean.
Except that they already were. Clean, I mean. Our Elf was perched on a haybale by the tackroom, polishing a bridle, singing softly to himself, with Beowabbit peering over his shoulder like a lovestruck puppy. Legolas' hair was pulled back in a long snakey braid. Dana'd found him a pair of jeans with a better fit, and a big wooly Irish sweater, in greens and browns. And a very cool snowboarder hat, in totally outrageous colors.
"What," Lorien intoned, "is that?"
"It's a snowboarder hat. Cool, huh?"
"It's vomitive. It looks like a refugee from Santa's yard sale."
"No, dude, it's all good! The latest thing. Besides, it worked for Spock."
"Classic Star Trek! Every time they went back in time, they had to cover up Spock's pointy ears, so he always wore, like, knitted hats and stuff. It was easier than trying to get them to believe he'd caught his head in a mechanical rice picker."
We ambled over to Legolas. We tried to amble casually, it didn't work very well. It ended up being more like a stampede of starved sharks.
"Suilad!" I said with a big grin. Lorien taught me that. I was really hoping she was right and it actually was a greeting, not your hovercraft is full of eels.
He smiled up at us, then stood, unfolded, flowed up like a cat rising. Beo shoved him in the back in a friendly sort of way, he reached back and scritched Beo between the front legs.
Beowabbit's about seventeen hands of dark bay Warmblood trouble. Beo's owner, Amanda, bought him for an outrageously small amount of cash about a year ago, bought him from a few pictures and a video, of him moving through his gaits on a lunge line...without a rider. She found out why there was no rider in the video. Riders tended to log more air time than a jet pilot. Dana thought he'd just been spoiled by bad trainers. I figured any horse who'd been stuck with the name Beowabbit was just permanently peeved at the entire human race. Amanda couldn't seem to fix the problem and she was softhearted and honest enough to not pass him on to some other greenhorn.
And there he was with his nose in Legolas' back and his eyes half closed like he was in Lothlorien. Well, yeah, this was Legolas; the guy who'd left a perfectly good Rohirrim saddle and bridle lying in the grass in the Middle of Nowhere, Rohan, when he borrowed Arod from them, so he could ride bareback and bridleless through a few battles with an armoured Dwarf bonking around at his back. Bet Tolkien never rode bareback with anyone, especially a Dwarf. A Dwarf in chainmail, no less. With a battleaxe. With two riders bareback, the front rider gets shoved up onto the horse's withers; that's the pointy, mountainous shoulder blade hump at the base of the neck. It's bad enough if you're a girl, never mind a guy. And, uh, yeah, from what I'd seen when he arrived fresh out of his bath, Legolas would have had a serious problem.
"Just go ride for awhile." Dana said, "I've got a couple lessons, you can come back and feed later. Your handsome prince seems to have taken care of the rest."
"Cool." I said. It bent the brain picturing him in Wellies with a manure fork.
"How do you say thank you in Sindarin?" I asked Lorien. I was really hoping she wouldn't tell me to say something like go kiss an orc.
"Hannon le, Legolas Thranduilion." Lorien said. She bowed a little, like a lady before a prince.
I repeated it, a little less fluently. A lot less. He gave me a grave, courteous smile, instead of laughing his butt off like he probably wanted to.
Lorien asked him something, he replied. "He was bored." she said to me and Dana, " And I think he wanted to do something useful, not just be a guest."
Dana shook her head, "You sure you want to send him back?"
We both practically shouted at once;
Lorien glared at me. "I mean yes!" I said. Well, not at all really, but it was what we had to do. I guess. If we had to.
"Go ride. Put Lorien on Pumpkin, I won't need her for the lessons, you take Cherokee."
We both looked at Legolas.
"Tell him, if he can convince that reprobate Beo to work as nicely for Amanda as he did for him earlier, I don't want him cleaning any more stalls."
"None of our folk left?" Gimli said, "Has this got to do with that River of Time nonsense?"
"Nevermind. It would take from now till the end of the fifteenth age...what I want to know is how did you get there, and why?"
"Lizard summoned me."
"What, she was some kind of wizard? Lizard the Wizard?"
"No, no, no. Simply a maiden of the Edain. But she had found a spell."
"Like a Hobbit with a magic ring. Sounds like a ceiling of loose rock waiting for a Dwarf with a hasty mining axe."
"As ever, you hit the orc square on the head. Lorien was worried, she kept trying to reassure me that they were trying to find the way to send me back. Lizard seemed not to agree. She spent a lot of time glaring at Lorien and punching her. I could tell they were best of friends."
Three is Company...or Not
We rode out, me in the lead, because I knew the trails. Me on Cherokee, a compact little pinto mustang, wearing just a bosal (sort of a loose, rawhide noseband with no bit...no saddle either, I wanted to impress the Elf), Lorien on Pumpkin behind me, clutching the pommel of her armchair sized western saddle like a Titanic passenger clutching a life preserver. The reins stayed clamped between her hands and the pommel, useless. Good thing Pumpkin didn't care. She was a fat, quiet little mare, bright chestnut with a blond mane...the exact color and pretty much the shape, of a pumpkin, and she didn't care who was on her or what they were doing, as long as her nose was pasted to the tail of the horse in front of her. Legolas sat, bareback, on Beo, the soft cotton rope from the halter draped across Beo's neck. Lorien had managed to convince him it was just too weird for him to have nothing on the horse's head at all.
"Why?" he asked her, "And why did Dana want me to cover up my ears?"
Which is how he found out that here, at least, his people were a vanishing species. Vanished, actually.
Well, as far as we knew, at least.
He got a look in his eyes then, like I imagined he had...er...would...did...in the book...when he heard the gulls in the dark, waking the Sea-Longing, and he still had to ride to possible death and destruction to save a world that wasn't his anymore.
I felt awful right then. It was one thing to read about something hurting a character you loved, but to see it on his face.
And know you had something to do with it.
Yeah, ok, ok, it's my fault. It's all my fault. I'll put him back, I promise. We ambled on, little birds flew up from the woods' understory, vultures soared overhead on wings held in a shallow V, like the gulls you draw in first grade.
This is southcentral Pennsylvania, "Penn's Woods", like Mirkwood, only with more malls, and smaller spiders. It lies between the Appalachian hills and the Susquehanna River that flows down to the Chesapeake Bay and then down to the sea...
To the sea...
Oh crap ohcrapohcrap! A shadow passed overhead, and I looked up. I hadn't thought of this before, but here, like on the Anduin, the gulls really do fly far inland this time of year. They usually hang out at the malls, raiding dumpsters and picking up leftovers from Happy Meals. It's not exactly as picturesque as those paintings people get at the shore and hang over their sofas, but it's an easy meal for those survival experts.
The Sea-Longing...oh crap, the Sea-Longing!
Legolas Greenleaf, long under tree
in joy thou hast lived. Beware of the Sea!
If thou hearest the cry of the gull on the shore,
thy heart shall then rest in the forest no more.
All we'd need is for our Elf to see one, hear one and blammo, all is lost. We could still send him back but it'd be screwed. He'd have a bad case of Sea-Longing, he'd go around waxing poetic about western sunsets and ocean voyages and undying lands and stuff, and Gollum would stay in Mirkwood, and the Ring would stay with Frodo.
"Legolas!" I practically shouted, I had to distract him, "What's that tree?"
"Why did she ask you about a tree in her land?"
"I had no idea. It was very odd. It made me think of how I would suddenly ask my father about a bird, or a plant, when I wished to keep him from asking who had broken the eight hundred year old vase..."
Oh, that was bright. He has no idea what you said, and they probably don't have liriodendrons in Middle-earth and you know what it is anyway and he probably knows that you know and...
The shadow passed overhead and it was a hawk. A big redtail, soaring on the thermals.
Lorien twisted in her saddle, unlocking a hand from the pommel in front, to lock it onto the cantle at her butt, a feat of serious bravery for her. "Man galadh tan?" she said to Legolas, smiling, and pointing at my tree. Evil wench.
He looked surprised, looked at the tree, looked at her. Probably wondering why she was asking him about a tree in her world.
She unlocked one hand long enough to pull Pumpkin to a crooked halt.
Legolas nodded, sidepassed Beo right over to the tree. I didn't know Beo could even do that. Legolas put a fine-carved hand out onto the bark. He sat there, on a horse as still as stone for a minute...for five...
...tick...tick...tick...I looked at my watch. Elf and horse hadn't moved. Not a hair. Ten minutes. Pumpkin dropped her head and half closed her eyes. Cherokee stretched his neck, yanking the reins loose enough to reach the grass.
"Never," Lorien said, "Never, never, never ask an Elf a simple question if you want an instant answer. Or have you forgotten? They've got all the time in the world."
"Oh. Yeah. Right." Immortal and all that. Cherokee munched his way across the trail. I didn't bother arguing with him, and threw a leg over his withers, watching Legolas. Even with Pumpkin practically snoring, Lorien clung to the saddle.
...tick...tick...tick...fifteen minutes. If our trees spoke as slow as ents, this could take till the end of the next age.
A squirrel rampaging in the tree above him missed a landing and scrambled, letting loose a small shower of twigs and leaves.
He didn't move.
"You know, I never thought about this as a side-effect of having an Elf...around."
Lorien glared, "You can't have him."
"You can't either."
She made a rude noise at me. She never makes rude noises. Some shred of courage stirred in her, and she thumped Pumpkin on the side with her legs.
"Whump her with your heels, not your calves, she won't pay any attention to your calves."
Lorien whumped and Pumpkin raised her head and moved a single hoof. Lorien clutched the pommel tighter.
"Steer her fergawdsake!"
She unlocked a hand and pulled a rein. Pumpkin, who has better esp than anyone I know, ambled, one foot at a time, over to where Beo stood like a Gettysburg Battlefield monument. Pumpkin stopped, dropped her head and began to eat some weeds. Legolas remained pasted to the tree in some kind of Elvish Jedi-zen.
"Ummm, " I suggested, "Maybe we should go now." Nobody moved. Nobody paid any attention all the times Legolas said that in the movie either.
Lorien was looking up at the tree, "I wish I could do that."
"What? Talk to trees?"
"Yeah. What kind is it, do you know? I mean, you climb them all the time."
"Tulip poplar. Liriodendron is the scientific name.'
"I think it's Latin."
"Don't you wish you could talk to them, I mean, when you're way up there, what could they tell you?"
I slid off Cherokee and left him with his nose in the grass along the trail. There wasn't a tree I couldn't climb, and I knew all their names. I knew them by their leaves and by their bare bark in the winter. And what kind of wood was good for what. And I could recognize any kind in any lumber pile, by sight or by smell. But what did I really know about them? I watched Legolas' face for a moment, open-eyed but with his heart and mind walking somewhere on the strange paths of Elvish dreams. I reached out and touched the bark.
It felt like bark. Well, what did I expect, sudden enlightenment?
With a gentle movement, like a bird settling over nestlings, Legolas laid a hand over mine. Warm and real and light as a feather. And strong as steel. As mithril. For a moment I was too startled to think.
Then I stopped thinking.
And for a moment, I was the tree. I felt the dark damp earth, the great web of roots, big as the web of branches overhead, reaching into that earth. The relief and...thankfulness? Could a tree be thankful? Thankfulness for the damp, after a long summer of rock hard dry. Felt the branches reaching into the air, into light. Galad. Light. Galadh. Tree. Reaching, stretching, moving, growing,dancing, time stretching, the blurry scurry of little things like us at its feet. Feet, no feet, trees don't have feet. Or fronts or backs or faces or hands. They just reach, up and down all at the same time, into earth and sky...
"Hasty folk, these Edain. I had barely begun to understand who the tree was when Lizard broke the flow of energy by touching the same tree bole."
"What are you talking about?"
"It is like a stream, the energy flowing through the tree, drop a rock in a stream and what happens?"
The Elf's eyes softened, "But I felt something else then. She very much wanted to know what I was doing. So I showed her."
The world snapped back into focus, I blinked and reeled, like something uprooted. A strong arm caught my shoulders, steadied me. He smelled like woods, like Dana's herb pot, like...
Lorien was staring at me from Pumpkin's back. Legolas was saying something soft.
Not romantic, probably something like; silly human, talking to trees is for Elves. I shook my head and looked up through a spiderwork of bare branches. "Whoa!" The tree-top spun slowly and Legolas caught my face in a gentle hand. I stared into his eyes. What the hell color is that anyway? Bluey greeney grey treetwig possumfur silver sycamore bark sun on creek...
"Whoa." I looked up at Lorien and the world stopped trying to throw me off. Lorien looked kind of...jealous? "Whoa, I was the tree." I looked up at Legolas, "Hannon le! Hannon le!" I guess I had one of those big stupid grins on my face, like when I took Amanda's best hunter, Spindrift, over my first four foot jump.
Legolas gave me a smile. It was the kind of smile he gave Gimli in the movie, when he found out about Galadriel's gift. Sweet and warm and beautiful. A buddy smile. Except this was a different face.
But the same smile.
"No problem." he said quite clearly.
He looked up at Lorien and asked something in Sindarin. She nodded.
"What!" I demanded.
"He was making sure that was the right response."
"English! He speaks English!"
"Looks like he learns fast." She clutched the pommel again with both hands and struggled a leg over Pumpkin's butt. She dropped onto the ground, left foot still stuck in the stirrup. She did a little newbie dance and got herself untangled, let the reins drop to the ground and came over to us. She caught Legolas' arm and said something.
"Al na'galadh." he said gently. He said some more, but I only recognized the tree word. And the look on Lorien's face. Total disappointment.
"What?" I said.
"Nothing." she went back to Pumpkin and wrestled a foot into the stirrup, Pumpkin's nose was in the weeds, chowing down, the reins somewhere under her foot. I started to open my mouth to tell her to stop being such a stupid newbie and pick up her reins before Pumpkin broke them. Legolas went to Pumpkin, touched her neck. She moved her foot off the reins, raised her head. He picked them up and handed them to Lorien and helped her get back in the saddle. She blushed practically purple.
I sat on Cherokee looking like a bass swallowing a fly while our Elf showed her how to hold the reins, how to sit, how to steer and basically all the stuff I already showed her except it had run right off like water on rock.
Every few strides down the trail she seemed to need a refresher course. He didn't seem to mind obliging.
"Why did you not show the other how to talk to trees, then?"
"It was not her gift. Lizard had some empathy with trees, and horses, and other living things. And it spun even her like a maelstrom. But Lorien was so disappointed...ai, ai...so I helped her with the horse. That pleased her more than bright jewels have pleased many a fine lady."
"Hmmmph. If that idiot grin on your face means anything, I'd begin to think those fair young maidens were playing your heartstrings like..."
"An electric guitar."
Something Draws Near...
(...but I'm too busy flirting to feel it...)
Nightfall, Thursday: Lizard
The sun had fallen behind the grey hills by 4:30, some pink light still hung in the sky, but the treeshadow on the trail was dark. I knew the trails, so did the horses, and they were night-sighted. I wasn't worried, even with Newbie Lass, but I turned us around anyway. Lorien seemed to have finally gotten the hang of sitting and holding the reins right and actually guiding her horse instead of letting her just follow me. Although she kept letting Pumpkin plod. Which let Beo's longer stride put him beside her on the wider parts of the trail.
I just hate her sometimes.
We came out of pines down a long hill under trees with a last shred of leaf on them. An icy breeze was in our faces now, so we picked up the pace a little. The deep booming voice of a great horned owl sounded from the field edges ahead of us.
Lorien gave a start and pulled her parka tighter around her. From somewhere behind me, someone started singing, low, soft, like nightwind.
Well it sure wasn't Lorien.
The pink faded from the sky and the world went all blue and icy. And out of the blue dark came a rider. I blinked and pulled Cherokee up. There a few hundred yards ahead of us, where the trail wound around the edge of a cornfield, was a Black Rider.
Pumpkin plowed to a halt, her nose in Cherokee's tail. I turned to Lorien, "Do you see that?" I was kind of hoping she didn't. I was kind of hoping it was a really big buck and a lot of imagination.
"The radio tower, the cornfield, or the Black Rider?" She did not sound at all scared. Her expression looked like a parent who's just been told there's a monster in the closet.
"Um, yeah." I looked at Legolas, and felt a whole lot better. I did remember he'd shot one down in the book. Then I remembered he didn't have a bow right now.
Lorien whispered something to him.
He laughed, a light, clear sound in the dark.
Lorien whumped Pumpkin up beside me and punched me square in the shoulder. "Mustardbrains, it's some lady on a black horse. All bundled up, like us."
Oh. Yeah, right. If you have an Elf in the party, it would be wise to ask him what the mystery blur in the distance really is.
We rode on, Legolas singing softly behind us.
And the black rider rode toward us. Something tingled at the back of my neck. Like when I just know the horse is going to stop before a jump. Most of the riders in our barn were kids, except for a few boarders, none of whom rode out on trails in the dark and cold. And there were no other big dark horses like that in our stable. Or anywhere within ten miles. Where was she from, and what was she doing on our trail?
I pulled Cherokee to a stop. "Maybe we ought to go the other way." I suggested. I looked back at Legolas. What happened to"...something draws near, I can feel it..." Maybe it was all in my head, maybe...
Legolas was on the ground, throwing Lorien up on Beo, lashing Pumpkin's reins around the saddle horn, and leaping on Beo behind Lorien. "Noro!" he hissed, and Cherokee spun under me like a cutting horse, thundering back up the trail with Pumpkin's nose pasted to his tail. I heard Beo's long, light stride right behind her. I needed no translation. Somewhere behind me I heard a blast of sound, like a wizard's fireball going off. I glanced back and saw the treeline behind us ablaze with light.
"Just a woman on a great black horse, the sort of horse that is strong, rather than fast. No whiff of evil or darkness. Yet, I did not expect evil in that place. Lorien had told me all the orcs and wargs were long vanished. And if there were Dark Lords left, they were only human. Yet Lorien was afraid in the dark, afraid of the owl's voice, afraid of the nightwind. So I sang a song to ease her heart. And in singing the song, I did not read the black rider's intent. Not till Lizard slowed her horse as if she had felt something. Not till the rider uncloaked, and revealed her power."
"What was she?"
"That I did not know. Not like a Nazgul or a wizard, not like any of the powers I have known. And hunger, great hunger, like the lust of Ungoliant for light. Only not so great. But great enough to do us harm."
A dark trail is a bad place for a gallop, but at least the horses knew this one, and I knew the low branchy places well enough to stay plastered to Cherokee's neck. The horses slowed to a walk after a mile or so and half a dozen twisting turnoffs. Pumpkin's thick pony coat was wet with sweat, so was Cherokee's mustang coat, long as a winter buffalo's. Beo was barely breathing hard. Lorien was breathing kind of hard, but she didn't look too scared. Of course not...she'd been wrapped in Legolas' protective grip for the last couple of minutes.
Lorien was holding a whispered conversation with Legolas. We rode on, at a walk, in a direction I knew would take us back to the barn. "What was that thing?" I asked.
"He doesn't know, it's just like, all of a sudden she...uncloaked. Like you could feel her power. He says you felt it too. At the same time."
"Is she from his world?"
"I don't know. But she knew we were there, and she was looking for us."
Where No Elf Has Gone Before
(But Captain...that's not logical)
Dana was waiting for us, the Jeep was parked in front of the barn, covered with a fresh layer of mud, Dana's shotgun in the rack, Shenzi leering at us toothily from the back seat. Dana looked us over, then took a closer look at the horses. They were fine, despite their hard run in the dark. Together we untacked them and groomed them down. And told her what happened. I figured, from the look of the Jeep, that somehow, she already knew.
Dana told us her tale, Lorien translated to Legolas. As usual.
"I went up the trail to Myers' cornfield, and Shenzi just went ballistic. Turned on my spotlight and there was this chick about a hundred feet off, on the biggest damn black horse I ever saw. Bigger than Beo, I think, ditzing around like he just wanted to ditch his rider. Nasty aura, on the chick. Rotten seat, too. Bouncing around like she'd never been on a horse before. She was headed away from me, up the trail to where you must have been, but the way she was sitting that horse she wasn't getting very far very fast." Dana almost smiled. "Most horses don't like the sound of a shotgun." The smile grew, "Hers sure didn't."
"Long walk home?" I asked.
Dana looked like Shenzi, "Yep. She just vanished. Not that I really wanted to face her without more... ammunition." And she wasn't talking about the shotgun. Her eyes went to Legolas. "I can't imagine that either of you have PO'd anyone at school enough to send out something that felt like her. Come to think of it, no one at your school would know where to find something like her."
"What's that? Some kinda' undead, like the Nazgul or something?"
Legolas gave me a sharp look, startled. He turned and spoke with Lorien.
"No, he knows their evil, from the stories of his people, from the shadow that lies on Mirkwood." Lorien said.
Dana nodded, "I'm pretty sure this one's human. And that may be even scarier."
"What would she want with any of us?" I asked.
"Can't imagine. But there's one thing that's changed in the last couple of days." She eyed our Elf again.
"She has to be from his world, nobody here knows about him but us. He's not in the story anymore." Lorien said.
Something clicked in my brain, like when I realize there's a big gaping plothole in a movie I'm watching.
Lorien seemed to be driving the same road, because she saw the same plothole, "If he's axed from The Book, why do we remember him?" she said.
We stared at each other for a short eternity. Legolas edged forward, as if he was trying to read our thoughts. Lorien caught hold of his arm as if she thought he'd vanish in a puff of logic.
It was the plothole that finally vanished in a puff of logic. Vulcan logic, to be precise. "McCoy." I said.
Dana and Lorien looked at me like I'd lost it. "City at the Edge of Forever."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Lorien said.
Lorien never says hell.
"Classic Trek," I explained. "The Enterprise beams a bunch of its most important people down to an unknown planet full of potential brain-sucking aliens, like they always do, and McCoy falls through some sort of time portal and messes up the past and the Enterprise vanishes. The crew on the planet do not vanish, probably because the writers needed somebody to go back in time and fix what McCoy messed up. Or maybe it's because they were in the sphere of influence of the portal, so they stayed the way they always were."
"Whooo, sphere of influence, our vocabulary is growing."
I gave Lorien a Shenzi grin.
Lorien glowered back. "That's the dumbest thing I ever heard." she said. "What does a time portal have to do with Elves in York County?"
"Whoa, girls. I think you're on to something Liz. Sphere of influence...the spell. I handled it, you used it," then she frowned at Lorien, "wait..."
"Well, she wasn't there, but I sorta involved her. I mean, I did it for both of us. There was this part of the spell, where you were supposed to put something of yours into the fire...I threw in my scarf, the itchy icky pink one my grandma gave me, and one of Lorien's mittens..."
"My mittens? My hand knitted wool mittens that I left in your truck and I only ever found the one? Those were made by Native Tribes in the mountains of Chile! I can't believe..."
"Hey, I thought it was a pretty good tradeoff for an Elf...I mean I didn't know at the time it was an Elf but..."
"Girls!" It was Dana's schoolhorse voice, the one that made even Pumpkin pay attention. "I need you both here. Working together on this. Liz's explanation makes as much sense as any of the rest of this. But what's important right now is to find out who this chick on the horse is, and what she's got to do with this. And then get Legolas back to Mirkwood where he belongs." she turned to him, "Come." She rose and headed out of the barn.
"Tolo." Lorien said, following Dana. We trailed after them, the Elf and me. Back up to Dana's house, and the Museum Room. It was like a museum crammed into one room. If you looked long enough, you could probably find anything in there. Stuff hung from the ceiling, and the walls were bookshelves, and bookshelves filled the rest of it with little tiny aisles between. And a lot of the shelves held other things than books; pottery and pewter, dolls and old toys, a gun cabinet, an antique saddle, a whole carousel horse, a viking shield, a chainmail shirt...
...and a bow. A mooncurve of golden wood no longer than Legolas' arm. It was tucked into a buckskin sheath, with a fat quiver of arrows bundled with it. Dana took it down from the rafters and handed it to him. "If the book was correct, you're pretty good with these. I think you'll need them."
He accepted them with a courteous bow.
Lorien gave me a look that said, 'what the hell?' She leaned over and whispered to me, "Why is she giving him a kid's bow?"
"It's not a kid's toy." I said, "She made it herself, years ago. It's a buffalo bow, a horseman's bow. I tried to draw it once...wahzoo, l think it's got like a seventy pound pull or something! The arrows are matched to it. And it's a lot easier to carry around than the Great Bow of Galadriel."
The golden buckskin was free of any decoration except the natural ragged edge of the leather, like a line of mountains against the sky. Legolas drew out the bow, ran his hands along it, with that unreadable hawk expression on his face. He unwound the string, strung the bow. He did it in a heartbeat, like he'd done it a million times. He probably had, literally millions of times in hundreds of years. He drew the bowstring back slowly.
His eyes brightened, his mouth stretched in a smile. It reminded me a little of Shenzi.
I was really glad he was on our side.
"Oh. Dana added, "You might find these useful too." she gestured toward a pair of knives sheathed and hung from the edge of a shelf. She unsheathed them in a fluid motion, they circled in her hands like hawks and froze, hilts an inch from his hands. He took them with a nod and a grave smile.
I stood with my mouth open like a bass. "Those are Legolas' movie knives!"
Dana grinnned her Shenzi grin.
"How? Everything else got changed!" Lorien squeaked.
Dana's eyes flicked once around the Museum Room, "And in Lothlorien, the moon doesn't change the same way it does everywhere else."
We went back to the kitchen, Dana pointed me to the cupboard, "Get some chocolate for everyone, will you, I'll be right back."
Fifteen minutes later she reappeared with three small leather pouches on hide strings, something that looked like fat magic markers, and a really big stick. She held out the bags, one to Lorien, one to me, one to Legolas; "Protection." she said. "It's not perfect, it won't keep you out of detention," she eyed me, "it won't keep your parents from grounding you, and if you go snowboarding without a helmet on the Death Slope, you're on your own. But it will make it very hard for this...lady, " she said lady with her teeth showing a little, like Shenzi, "to see you. You're all probably safe on the farm here, there are...protections...around the perimeter, and I can do more. And there's Shenzi."
Lorien nodded gravely, then held up her bag frowning, "It's leather." she whispered loudly.
I punched her with my elbow. "Of course it is, banana butt."
"I'm a vegetarian."
"You're not supposed to eat it."
She gave me a look that said 'die the death of ten thousand screams'. I hung it around her neck, like mine. Legolas looped his around his own neck with a grave expression. He nodded a thank you to Dana.
Dana handed each of us the magic markers. Not magic markers.
"Pepper spray." she said, "It'll stop a grizzly bear." She handed one to Legolas too. "Explain to him it might be better to use this if he's anywhere near civilization."
That left the really big stick, six feet long, smooth and tapered slightly to each end. Dana handed it to me. "Everything you need to know right now is in the routines you learned."
"What's that?" Lorien wanted to know.
"Bo staff. A Japanese version of the buck and a quarter quarterstaff."
"It's a really big stick and you hit people with it." Pacifist parents leave you so deprived. They could have at least bought her a few violent video games or something.
"Oh." she said. She examined her pepper spray and began flipping the lid.
"No, no no, point it this way!" I grabbed it and saved us all from a fate worse than roadkill skunk. "I'll show you outside, later."
Dana regarded both of us with eyes that made me think of a wolf, a wise old pack leader. "Stay together you two, when you're not at home. Be watchful, be wary. You especially, Liz, you smelled her before the Elf."
We nodded, in unison.
"Ok, go home, get some sleep. See you tomorrow morning." She looked at Legolas, "We have a loose horse to round up." She didn't ask Lorien to stay and translate.
"You went out in the middle of the night, a cold, dark night, to find a horse?" Gimli said. He was still wedged against the goose shelter on deck.
"Honk!" commented one of the geese, and gave him a nip.
Legolas moved, and cradled the goose under one arm, quieting it.
Gimli eyed it, wondering how many plates it would fill.
Legolas continued, "In that world, there were many dangers for a horse loose in the night."
"I thought you said the orcs and wargs were gone."
"Yes, but I felt Dana's worry for the horse, and I learned later why; the swift carriages were many and could collide with a horse and kill it. And there were fences of wire to trap one, and a great forest to lose one in. And if we had the horse, we had a path that led to the Sorceress."
"You could have just tracked her."
"We did. She covered her trail well. Too well. The horse was easy to find."
The Scouring of the Shire
(or, you can clean that stall...)
Friday morning, when I came to do my usual feeding chores, Lorien came with me. Partly because of Dana's warning to stay together, but mostly to see the Elf. Not that the thought of seeing Legolas made it any easier to pry her out of bed. Her mom just smiled sweetly at me from her place in her studio, where she was sipping some sort of herb tea and easing into the day. She didn't yell at Lorien to hurry the hell up or anything. I don't think she ever yelled. Or maybe she was just glad to have someone else do it for a change.
I dragged Lorien, still juggling three books, her half full pack, two vegetarian sandwiches and her pepper spray, to the truck, and stuffed her into the passenger seat. She rode all the way to the stable with her nose pasted to the window. I could tell she was worried by the way she didn't complain about the bucking horse ride of the truck.
"She wouldn't be on the horse now." I said. "She's probably in a Porsche or something."
"Maybe the hospital." Lorien suggested, "Maybe we should start looking there."
"Dana went out last night, after we left, with Legolas. Maybe they found something."
They had, and it filled the end stall. The biggest damn horse I ever saw. Black with white up to his fetlocks on three feet, and a splash of white on his nose. We stood, clustered around his open stall door, while he tried to eat Legolas' braid.
"What is that?" Lorien said in awe.
Whatever it was, it made Beowabbit look like a pony. It stood a good hand and a half taller than Beo's 17 hands, and for reference, a 15 hand horse is average, which makes Beo huge. It was not built with Beo's light, athletic lines, but with big heavy bone, and feet the size of Rohan warshields, a true draft horse. "Shire, maybe?" I suggested.
Dana nodded in agreement.
"What? What do you mean 'Shire'? It doesn't look like anything remotely Hobbity!" Lorien squeaked.
"Shires are the biggest of the draft horses. Sorta like Clydesdales. Except Clydesdales compared to Shires are kinda like Gimli compared to Boromir."
"Not a common breed around here." Dana said. "Shouldn't be too hard to figure out where he came from. I'll start calling around. Somebody should know somebody who knows who's got a Shire or two."
"Yeah," Lorien said, "they'd be kind of hard to hide."
"Is that the tack that was on him?" I asked.
"Yeah, nice stuff, and sized for him. But that chick couldn't ride for crap. Wonder if she borrowed him, or rented?" Dana said.
"Nobody'd rent a horse out that late." I said.
"Stole, I bet." Dana added.
"Why not ask the horse." Lorien said.
We both looked at her like she'd lost it. She gestured toward Legolas.
"Can he do that?" Dana asked.
"I dunno." I said. I thought about the tree thing. About Arod refusing to go into the Paths of the Dead...until Legolas sang to him.
"In the Hobbit it says how the Elves of Mirkwood would get messages from the birds that loved them." Lorien added. "And Beleg Cuthalion could talk to the forest animals."
"Who?" I said.
"Hot Elven ranger. Read the Silmarillion."
"That's harder to read than my math book. And about as exciting."
"Was it not you who said the difficult horse is usually the most interesting?"
I hate it when I can't think of a snappy comeback to the Zen of Lorien.
Legolas came out from under the black horse's heavy mane to find three women staring at him. He looked from one to the other of us, like an elk surrounded by wolves. He cocked one beautiful eyebrow in a question mark.
"Tell him, Lorien." Dana said.
Lorien explained what we needed. I watched his face for any hint of an expression that said, ''is your brain full of weasels?' His face stayed calm, but focused, like a hawk.
He said something to Lorien, something rolling and fluid like the light canter of a good hunter. He nodded at Dana. He stood before the great black horse, face pressed against the horse's face, a hand on each side of the huge head, the great thick forelock flowing into Legolas' own hair, black on treeshadow. They stood for a minute, for awhile.
"Uh," I said, it occured to me we still needed to go to school. It occured to me that Elves probably didn't have anything like formal schools with bells and attendance and Mrs. Smeed. It occured to me we still needed Lorien to translate. "This could take awhile."
Dana looked at her watch.
"You could write us an excuse." Lorien suggested.
"I seem to remember something from the book," Dana said, "something about Elvish memories. You don't live for thousands of years and forget those years. The translation will wait till you get back from school."
I don't know who dragged their feet more getting out of the barn, me or Lorien. I wanted to stand next to Legolas and the horse for the rest of the day. I wanted him to put his hand over mine on that great silky neck and show me what it was like to be the horse.
"And what," Gimli asked, "could you learn from a horse?"
"Much, if you listen. But they do not think like my folk..." he gave the Dwarf a long thoughtful look, "like any of the speaking peoples. Their memories are sharp and clear, full of sight and sound and smell and motion, and full of their own words, though their words are few. And they do not see many colors; their world is like a painting in only a few inks..."
Flight of the Ford
Friday evening: Lizard
"But what color was the truck?" Lorien repeated in English.
Legolas shook his head. "I know...not."
"It's a horse," I said, "he doesn't see in color."
"A few limited colors, but scientists are still working on that one." Dana said.
"Well, this truck wasn't any of those." I said.
"Light? Dark?" Lorien repeated it in Elvish; "Donn? Lim, gael, gwind, maedh, malu?"
Legolas looked around the kitchen, then rose and touched one of Dana's books, "Light."
Mostly the horse had seen the inside of a horse trailer. Legolas had backtracked him, both from the enormous hoofprints on the trail, and the pictures pulled from his memory to a parking lot in the State Forest. From there, it was a few miles of trails, field edges and a dirt road to Dana's. Legolas made a scrawling motion with one hand, the left one, I noticed.
"Paper." I said.
Lorien repeated it in Elvish, with a questionmark at the end of it.
"Paper." he said.
I rooted through the mess on Dana's microwave and produced a pencil and a largeish piece of scrap paper, and handed it to the Elf.
He doodled on it for a minute or two and held up a remarkably detailed rendering of a dual-axled pickup truck and a monster gooseneck trailer, from the point of view of a horse tied to its usual place on the side of the trailer. Detailed right down to the swooshy graphic on the side of the trailer, and the Ford logo sprawled across the truck's window.
I stared at it in disbelief. I looked at Lorien, "I didn't know he could do that."
"He's how old?" she said, "What, you think he spent all his time wandering around in the woods talking to trees?"
"No, I thought he spent it learning to shoot orcs, and tightrope walk on troll chains and surf down stairways and demolish oliphaunts."
"Pop culture lemming."
"Book geek...and being a passable illustrator is not even in The Book!"
"Hey," Dana said, "I can read the license plate."
"What is a license plate?" Gimli said.
"It is like the runes on a sword. Unique for each car. Most of the time they are a collection of letters and numbers, meaning nothing."
"Why would anyone put meaningless runes on something they had crafted? Runes should tell the tale of the thing, its history, runes speak of the magic forged into it..."
"These runes do tell a tale in a way, in a mysterious fortress called the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, there are records of the history of each carriage, and you can find these by the runes."
"Well, now that is more like it. But why not have the runes themselves say something?"
"Sometimes they do."
"EVL WMN...isn't she being a little obvious?" I said.
"Maybe it's a red herring." Lorien said.
"Like introducing us to Glorfindel, then sending Legolas with the Fellowship. You think it's going to be one thing, and then it's another."
"I dunno, Legolas thought she was pretty evil." I said.
"Maybe it's not her truck, or maybe it's a fake plate, in case someone saw her." Lorien scrunched her eyebrows till she looked like Elrond.
"I doubt anyone who rode like that would have a truck capable of pulling a horse trailer, much less one rigged up for a Shire! Still, I think I'll run this past a buddy of mine, he's married to a cop." Dana said. "If nothing else, it might lead us to the horse's owner faster."
"What about before the truck, what did our horse see before he got loaded in the truck?" I gave Lorien a Meaningful Look, and handed Legolas another piece of paper. While Dana tracked down the license, real or otherwise, we would find the barn.
We were rattling down the eleventy-second potholey backroad, Strider's stereo cranking out the Grateful Dead...one of the few things Lorien and I could agree on. Legolas was scanning the horizon, sandwiched between us, like the filling in a Keebler Elf cookie. Lorien sat on the passenger side, clutching a sketch Legolas had done from his conversation with the horse. She was supposed to be scanning the closer bits of landscape out her window, iffy even with her glasses, but mostly she seemed to be scanning Legolas. He was kind of nodding and humming to the Dead, he'd liked them better than anything else I'd played so far, and Lorien thought it was funny that an immortal would like the Dead.
He'd stared at the CDs for the longest time at first, wiggling them and turning them around and playing with the rainbow effects. He looked just like my little cousin at Christmas. Then I'd chucked one in and turned it up and he'd ricocheted off the roof with that "Aiii, a balrog!" look on his face, reaching for a non-existent arrow. It took Lorien awhile to explain car stereos, there weren't exactly a lot of words in Elvish to describe things like woofers and tweeters and amps.
He made us stop three times so he could look under the hood for the tiny little band.
Gimli stared at the runes drawn with a wet finger on the deck before him, "C...D...They put meaningless runes on everything? Or does C and D mean something to them? What does it have to do with music? And what kind of strange magic can make music come from a flattened disk of metal with rainbows trapped in it? And why did you not..."
Legolas shook his head, laughing, "I am sorry, mellon nin, that I could not bring you one, for trying to understand it would have certainly taken your mind off the rolling of the sea and of your stomach! But I doubt even the mightiest of the Dwarf Craftsmen could have understood this strange magic of the Edain. I made them stop so I could look inside the heart of the carriage...truck they called it..." he paused, a gentle smile on his face, " Lizard named it Strider."
"Our Strider?" the Dwarf said in astonishment.
"That's preposterous! Naming a carriage after a king!"
"Well, all of that kind were called athrad, Ford in their tongue, after the man who invented them."
"Hmmph! Strange folk indeed. Are you sure there was not some trace of orc blood in them?"
Legolas laughed, "No! Maybe Dwarf. Yes, definitely Dwarf. Many of the folk of that land were stout and bearded and loved to build and repair things. And they loved ale and red meat off the bone!" His voice dropped into an approximation of Gimli's gravelly baritone. "But, the truck," Legolas went on, "under its hood there were metal boxes and wires, and an awful stench, and a great horrible noise, and the whole contraption shuddered like a chained warg, but there was no hint of how the music was made. Not under the hood, certainly!
"And," he continued, "the CD was not metal, but some strange thing called plastic. Many things in their world seemed to be made of plastic. Lorien always made a face when she said the word though, as if it was some kind of inferior material. But it was everywhere; hard as metal, soft as wool, clear as glass, tough as leather, in every color of the rainbow, and some colors never seen by the eyes of Man, Elf or Dwarf! Not even by a wizard, I think!"
"Did they mine it? Hunt it? Grow it on trees?"
"I do not know." Legolas frowned, "Though, at the mall, there were plastic trees..."
Strider ba-dumped over a couple more potholes Penn-DOT had missed, Lorien's nose made a puppy smear on the window, Legolas' long chiseled fingers made a light rhythm on the dash. This was nice...really nice. I almost forgot what we were really out here for. Even with my eyes peeled to the road, and to the landscape out my side window, I could hear Legolas' soft, low voice, like the murmur of a river in the distance. Hmmmm mmmm hmmmm, and every now and again a word from the song. His shoulder pressed against mine, solid as a tree, even through his mountain parka, and mine, and one jean-clad thigh was warm against mine.
Yeah, well, there's not a lot of room in a truck cab, and Lorien was pretty much in the same sad state I was, plastered against the Elf. What torture. Oh help save me do.
Whatever he thought of the situation, he wasn't telling us.
There are four people in the known universe who can call me that. Ok, five now.I looked to where he was pointing and caught a glimpse of perfect white fence; the kind of expensive high-tech plastic stuff you never need to paint. Big old trees, and a lane vanishing into the woods. A sign, a big, carved flashy one.
"Whoa!" I screeed to a halt, Lorien lurched and grabbed our Elf for support. I repeat; our Elf.
"Is that it?" I asked.
Lorien repeated it in Elvish.
"Yes." he said.
I spun Strider around in the middle of the road. It took awhile, it' s a truck. And the stickshift is in the middle of the floor, somewhere between our Elf's knees. I had to be careful not to damage him.
"I'm sure they know we're coming by now." Lorien said through clenched teeth, still clutching our Elf, instead of the dash, like usual.
I sat, Strider pointing the wrong way in the wrong lane.
"Last time I looked this was America, not England." Lorien said.
"I thought I smelled something burning."
"Do you want to just waltz up to the door and get zapped by the Nazgul Queen, or what?"
"We have an Elf, remember?"
"Who, apparently, is her prey item of choice, this week. Or can he, like, throw fireballs or bamf or something? Something you may have learned in all your long conversations with him?"
"He can tell a sparrow from a finch a league away." Lorien said smugly. "It's in The Book."
Geek fangirl. I looked at the long lane, I looked at the low hill rising behind it, well behind it. I looked at the bare trees. I looked at the firs up on the hill. I smiled. Kinda' like Shenzi. "We can hike up there, and scout out the place without anyone having a clue we're there."
I drove past the end of the lane again, read the sign; Classic Carriages; for memorable was a picture of a draft horse and Cinderella carriage carved and painted below the carved and painted words. EVL WMN was rich.
Yeah, but she didn't have an Elf.
I found a wide place in the shoulder of the road a hundred yards down from the lane and parked. We piled out and Legolas reached for the bow and quiver hanging in the shotgun rack. I frowned: he'd tried it out and knew it was a short distance weapon, though one powerful enough to bring down a buffalo. Not much use from the top of the hill...unless he was planning to get closer.
Lorien was babbling at him in frantic Elvish.
He said something back, short and sharp as falcon talons. Lorien gave me a look that said help! "Even if she is the Nazgul Queen, we can't just shoot her!" she squeaked.
Yeah, actually it would be a little hard to explain to the cops; 'uh, we thought it was a deer...' nevermind it was wearing high-heeled boots and too much lipstick. "Ummm, maybe you better just stick with the pepper spray this time." I told him. I heard Lorien saying something in Elvish. I reached for the bow.
His hand tightened like a Great Horned Owl on prey. His eyes paled from twilight grey up the scale into green-right-before-a-tornado.
"Uh." I said. I gave Lorien a desperate look. She babbled something else. I looked back into tornado-green eyes; eyes that belonged to a deadly warrior with hundreds of years of experience killing the kinds of things that inhabited my worst nightmares. Eyes old, wise and deep as the great green Hole in the quarry my aunt took me snorkeling in. As ancient as tree roots. There was nothing in those eyes that was even remotely cute, nothing that would have inspired The Santa Clause 3.
Then somewhere in the back of my head I heard a voice, and it sounded just like Gandalf; Dangerous! And so am I...And Aragorn is dangerous and Legolas is dangerous. You are beset with dangers, Gimli Son of Gloin; for you are dangerous yourself..." Yeah, dangerous myself. I straightened up and stared right back, maybe I wasn't five hundred years old, but this was my woods, my culture, and you couldn't just run around zapping people with arrows, even if they were the Queen of the Nazgul. Even if you were the bloomin' Son of the King of All the Elves of Northern Mirkwood. "You just can't take the bow this time." I said, never breaking contact with his eyes. It was like diving into that great green quarry hole, eerie and alien and cold. Or like looking into the space between the stars. There was stuff there I'd never understand, even if I had a thousand years to try. I made myself keep looking, the way I made myself get back on Spindrift after I went over a jump and he didn't.
The green softened, turned to something like light through new leaves. He tilted his head slightly, and his eyes held a look of surprise and wonder. He closed his eyes in a slow blink, and touched my face, like a hawk's wing, and his eyes were sea-grey again. He half turned and said something to Lorien. Then he nodded to me, almost a courtly bow, and hung the bow back on the rack.
We only had an hour or so of light, so we moved up fast through the trees. Legolas moved fast anyway; light and silent and fast, just like I always imagined. He moved like a hunting cat. It made me think of Bagheera in the Jungle Book...the Kipling book, not the Disney cartoon. The black leopard who could bring down a bull with a swipe of his paw. I didn't have too much trouble keeping up, I've been running around in the woods since I could walk. Or maybe he was just going slower than he could.
Lorien on the other hand...
She slogged. She stumbled. She swore at rocks. Lorien never swears. Then she swore at a particularly big twisty tree root...from her place on her butt on the damp cold rocky ground...and Legolas turned and stared at her. He looked like a devout Catholic who's just heard somebody swear in mass. Lorien glared up at him for a moment, then dropped her eyes. He came back and offered her a hand. "Lighter." he said, sounding just like Dana in a lesson. "Watch." he pointed at himself, then me.
I felt warm all over.
Lorien nodded, almost teary-eyed.
We crunched the rest of the way up the hill. The woods were dead quiet, as if they were wrapped in a heavy winter blanket. Behind us, the sun was going down all icy and green and yellow and silver. The slope below us was in shadow, the hill across still blazed with a wash of gold. The farm lay between in a hollow already full of dark. I tried to remember if Legolas could see in the dark. Or maybe that was just D&D Elves and the odd pointy-eared blue X-man. I asked Lorien.
"Ummm..." she said. I noticed she didn't ask him. "Yeah, I remember a line from somewhere; "Legolas Greenleaf whose eyes were like cats' for the dark."
We slunk into a little grove of cedars. Lorien's greens and greys made her hard to see, even from where I stood. I'd pulled out all my camo stuff on purpose for this, so I guess I would be pretty hard to see from the farm.
Legolas on the other hand...
...you could have spotted him from the space station with that red mountain parka. It was, after all, designed for rescuers to find lost mountaineers. The snowboarding hat didn't help either. He looked at us, noted our pointed stares, looked down at his parka, and took it off. And the hat. The greens and browns of the Irish wool sweater and the stone-blues of the washed out jeans worked a lot better. I turned away from him for a minute, to peer down into the hollow, and when I looked back again he was gone.
"Hey..." I said.
"Here." a soft voice said from somewhere above me.
We settled in and watched.
And watched and watched and watched.
"I'm cold." Lorien said.
"Weenie. Walk around or something."
I heard a lot of crunching from her tree. And slipping, and sliding. A muffled voice muttering "mustard balls." More crunching.
"They're going to hear you all the way down at the farm." I said.
"Squirrels." a voice said from the tree above me. I think it was tinged with laughter.
"Big squirrels." I agreed. But even a normal grey squirrel in the woods sounded like a loose moose.
We watched. We watched a stocky middle-aged guy pull up in a Volvo, and go into the barn. We watched a couple of medium sized draft horses come out of some trees in one pasture and head for the barn. We watched the wash of sun-gold creep up the far hill till it only touched the tree-tops.
No EVL WMN in sight.
"I just remembered something." Lorien said from under her tree.
I looked over, she was doing some kind of weird zen of tai-chi thing, hands together as if she was holding a big invisible ball. She said something in Elvish, or Chinese, or Japanese or something.
"What...are you doing?"
"I'm imagining fire."
"How about imagining some hot chocolate."
She snorted. "Nerd."
"So, what did you remember?"
"It was a different Legolas Greenleaf."
"Huh?" came a voice from overhead.
"It's not important." I called up to him.
"U-ndae rin!" Lorien called.
"What are you talking about?" I said to Lorien.
"The one who could see in the dark. It was a different Legolas, a Noldorin one, in the Fall of Gondolin. Ours actually said 'would that this night would end and I could have better light for shooting'."
I hate it when she does that. And whatthehell did she mean mouldering one?
"Helm's Deep, Two Towers." she sounded really smug.
I really really hate it when she does that. "Soooooo, you're saying an Elf on this hilltop is going to be pretty useless," I looked up at the dark hill across from us, not even the tips of the topmost trees were tinged with gold anymore, "right about now."
My tree moved slightly, there was a light thhht, like cat feet, and Legolas stood beside me peering down into the hollow. He was squinting. Not an expression I ever expected to see on Mr. I Can Tell A Sparrow From A Finch A League Away. The farm below us was dark, except for one small light at the barn door, and a spattering of Christmas lights wound around something on the porch. The rest of the place was shadowy with bushes and trees.
"You'd think they'd have a big security light or something." Lorien said.
"Some people like night to really be night. And sometimes those lights screw up horses hormones and stuff."
"Evil likes the dark." Lorien intoned.
"So do Elves."
Lorien was silent for so long I figured she'd fallen asleep, or frozen to her tree. Then I heard a great crash-crunching of brush and saw a shadow vanishing downslope toward the barn.
"What the...?" I said.
A shadow moved beside me, a hand caught my arm, "Hand gallop!" he said. He'd been watching Dana's lessons I guess. He vanished downslope ahead of me. I didn't need an invitation, I had no idea what Lorien was up to, but we were probably gonna have to pull her sorry butt out of it. At least she was easy to follow, she sounded like a moose. Three of them.
Legolas took a less direct route, one that included trees and shrubbery; cover. We zigzagged down the hill like fleeing rabbits, got to the fenceline.
Bright white fence, it practically glowed in the dark, making silhouettes out of us.
Legolas ducked past it, melted into a line of blue spruce and lilac bushes and forsythia marching neatly along the driveway. I followed him past a trailer and truck, pale in the dark, with a license that said EVL WMN. We lurked in the shadows twenty yards from the door. We could see Lorien as a shadow in the candle-glow of a straggle of Christmas lights wound around one of those tall fake birdboxes Martha Stewart types like to decorate their porches with. I looked at Legolas, raised an eyebrow in a question mark. His face was calm as a hawk's, but his eyes...they were picking up a lot of light, more light than they possibly could from those little Christmas lights, and they looked worried. He twirled something in his hand, the way he did his knives in the movie...I recognized Dana's Plus Five Pepper Spray of Black Rider Repulsion. Yeah, I had mine ready too.
A short middle aged woman stood in the doorway, round and cheerful faced as a Hobbit. A big black Newfoundland was slobbering on Lorien's coat, a big cheerful doggy grin on his face.
Lorien was chattering away at her as if EVL Hobbit WMN was her grandmother. If Lorien was terrified, it didn't show.
I looked at Legolas.
He twirled the Plus Five Pepper Spray and sheathed it in his parka pocket. He caught my eyes and shook his head. Whatever I thought I'd seen in his eyes was gone now, they were just deep grey pools in the dark. He motioned to me, and slipped back to the spruces, then cut across into the driveway, from there we just walked up to the door behind Lorien.
Anyway, anybody with a Newf had to be ok.
Lorien was scribbling something on a piece of paper. She finished and handed it to Hobbit Woman.
The Newf came over and slobbered cheerfully on Legolas. He smiled and rubbed the dog's moose-sized head.
"I'll be right over." Hobbit Woman was saying.
We hurried back to the truck, hoping Hobbit Woman wouldn't think too hard about why we seemed to be on foot.
"He says it wasn't her." Lorien said. "Nothing on that farm felt evil. Dogs don't lie"
"Did you see her truck?"
"Yeah, EVL WMN."
"She said it's the song that was playing when she met her husband. The truck was a present from him."
"Yeah, I figured."
"You did not. You looked like you saw a balrog."
"I did not."
Our voices were going up the scale to die the death of ten thousand screams level.
"Knock it off." It was a slightly deeper version of Dana's schoolhorse voice.
We both froze, staring at Legolas.
He looked at Lorien, then at me. Then he laid a hand on each of our shoulders, with all the practiced grace of a prince trained in centuries of diplomacy. He said something in Elvish that sounded like poetry, like song.
I looked at Lorien.
"He said, 'I need you both.'"