Disclaimer as before: no money made, no infringement intended.
Gerylon slid off his horse in the dim light of dawning, and half ran, half-staggered towards the vague shape in the mist he desperately hoped he recognized. The curving shapes of the portal were familiar to any scholar of ancient Elven lore, but he did not know whether he would find what he sought within.
He pushed aside the veils of growing vine-leaves and found himself faced with a door so ancient and so thick with old filth that he was not at all sure even his elven skills could open it. Nevertheless, he set his fingers to the ancient wood and muttered a charm under his breath.
Nothing happened, unsurprisingly. Gerylon sighed, tucking strands of damp hair back behind his ears, and tried another charm. Nothing.
He slipped off his cloak; the morning was warm, despite the thickness of the fog. Years and years of training slid through his mind with the perfect easy recall of the Elves. Something flickered in his memory; with a shrug, he drew a complicated wiggly sigil in the air and muttered something in the Old Tongue, older than Quenya, older than any of the Elven languages; older than Men.
The ancient door slid open.
Gerylon breathed in, slowly, aware of the thickness of the old air. Darkness was not so much a quality of light as a quality of air, in this ancient shrine. Slowly, reverently, he walked into the darkness, and as slowly the darkness faded into light.
He thought of an old, old song. Dust from the water, and water arising from dust...........and the robe containing all colours assumed into white..............
Slowly that darkness resolved itself into a structure Gerylon had only ever seen in ancient, crumbling manuscripts, and in dreams, when he had been training at the Houses of Healing. A low circular parapet, swathed in dusty cobwebs, with a single white marble spout arching from within its arc. He edged forward into the dimness, and saw—as he had never hoped to see with his own eyes—the movement of pale liquid down the curve of the spout.
It still flows, then. Even now, it still flows.
He swiped away some of the cobwebs and dared to sit down on the low white parapet. Reaching out to the spout, he lifted a drop of the pearly liquid on one fingertip, and sniffed at it. The same bright sharp scent of apples and rain made his head swim. More even than the scent, the realization made him dizzy: we have found it again, we have found the secret lost to generations, we can thwart death................
He fumbled in his pouch for a vial and held it to the slow drip of the nacreous fluid. It was heavy, heavier than molten metal, as it dripped into the vial; Gerylon almost had to steady his wrist with his other hand as he held it, much as he and Iriliath had had to hold the silver bowl with both hands, when they had made the Life.
The vial was full; he slipped in the stopper and tucked it away into his bag before rising to his feet and sweeping away the rest of the cobwebs shrouding the spout. No one and nothing had come here for years upon years; the dust lay like soft grey velvet on all the surfaces of the shrine. Softly Gerylon began to chant the spells and incantations that he had only ever seen written in the Old Tongue, the language before the Elves had come to Middle-earth, the language of live magic. The words fell softly into the dimness of the old shrine, and for a while Gerylon was not sure they were having any effect; but he noticed slowly that the darkness was fading, the grey shadows were growing shorter as his words continued, until the whole shrine was lit with a pale white light that grew and grew until it was brighter than day, stranger than day. His words seemed to echo differently, strangely, in the glowing paleness. It almost hurt, even for elven eyes, to look directly at the fount of the Life.
Gerylon edged closer, murmuring the final words of the invocation. As he fell silent, the fountain flared actinic white, too bright to look at even through squinted eyes, and he backed away; when the light died down again, the sharp sweet scent of apples and rain filled the air, and a soft gentle tinkling sound tickled at his ears.
The wellspring of the Life was flowing once more, as it had not done for more than three thousand years. The evil of the thing called Sauron had choked off the wellspring, made it flow softly, sadly, if at all; now the dam was broken, and the flow was steady and eternal, as it should have been these many years.
Gerylon sank to his knees beside the fountain, too weak to move, and just listened to the sound of the flowing pearl as it made its slow voyage from the depths of the earth into the light of day.
Hours later, having ripped away the strangling vines and cut back the branches of the trees threatening to envelop the springhouse, he had turned home again, with his precious burden and more precious knowledge tucked neatly away. Thunder thudded dully in the east. It had threatened to rain all day, and while Gerylon was in favour of rain in general for the sake of the growing things of his forests, he wished it would hold off for just one more night, until he could find the shelter of a rooftree, rather than his cloak, over his head. Elves were generally held to be above such mundane concerns as getting rained on, but Gerylon was, at worst, practical, and he didn't like what it did to his hair, anyway.
The flask of Life felt heavier than it should be in his pack. He had tried shoving it into a saddlebag, but he found himself constantly reaching in there to make sure it had not fallen out. He didn't like having it out of his reach. The awareness of this was beginning to worry him, but the benefits it would bring to the Houses of Healing cut down his anxiety. Once he got back, it would be out of his hands, and out, hopefully, of his mind.
His horse whickered uneasily. Not for the first time Gerylon wished he had let someone accompany him on his journey—Legolas, for preference, with his forester's bow and his ability to shoot something almost without looking at it and while carrying on a conversation without breaking stride. Gerylon was a Healer; he could use a knife, passed through a flame to cleanse it and washed in triple-distilled spirits, and he had considerable knowledge of where to put a blade in order to do the most damage to an opponent, but he didn't have the experience or the skill at self-defense that some of the others did. Not that he was likely to be waylaid on this road—it had not been traveled in years—but nonetheless he was uneasy.
With the ease of practice he cast his mind away from the dim shadows by the road and pointed it at the plans to be made. The wellspring of the Life was flowing again; the custody of the spring should belong to the Elves, by rights, but he doubted that would ring true for Men or Dwarves, or even hobbits; it would take much skill at diplomacy to ensure no one came to blows over such a resource. And the Life itself must be distributed to all the Houses of Healing, to be used only by those who knew what it could do, and what it must not be used to do. Gerylon had a brief vision of a Middle-earth populated by immortal, shambling relics doomed to interminable life by a hasty decision and a drop of white fluid, and shivered. Death came to all, in the end, and it was right to come. The Life only had value when administered to heal, not to immortalize. Even so, he wondered just how long they had given Frodo, with their few drops.
He was riding into the weather. In the distance, over the mountains, the sky was black; he wagered that rain was falling on Rivendell even now, and drew his cloak more tightly round him. No point hanging around until the rain came to meet him. He spurred on, and his tired horse broke into a canter. He was very aware of the hard heaviness of the flask where it sat in the pack hanging from his belt, bumping against his thigh with the horse's stride.
Frodo's cough was easing, slowly, and Iriliath had allowed him out of bed. He found himself most at ease in the ancient library, curled in the windowseat with books almost as big as he was, reading about older times and older peoples. It was odd to see Elrond's name, and Arwen's, on the same page as that of Isildur; odd to realize that these people he knew had known the legends personally—were the legends—and that they would be written about for thousands of years after he died. Hobbits were a long-lived race, for mortals, but they were evanescent and fleeting by the standards of the Elves. He wondered briefly what it must be like for Elves to associate with people who would flare up and disappear so fast; was it possible for two such different races to really know one another?
Frodo sighed, coughing, and flipped forward through the pages, past the story of the Rings. He was sick of Rings and Ring-bearers and wars and Sauron. The part of him that was still a respectable Baggins considered such things very far from necessary.
There was a page of illumination, the gold old and dim, the colours faded by time—Frodo thought he recognized the Lady, and some other tall pale figures, and grey trees—and then a new story began. The curly Elvish script was not easy to read, but Frodo seemed to find that his eyes slid over the quill-strokes more and more easily these days, that the words sounded in his head without strain.
.......and so it came to pass in the Shadow Time of history, long before the events surrounding the Wars of the Rings, that a wellspring arose from the living rock not far from a place called Liira's Helding; but the water that came from it was not water.........
Frodo squinted. Who cared about some geothermal event? He wondered where Liira's Helding was, and if anyone even knew anymore.
.....and those who came to it suffering from the grief of a wound, or mortal sickness, drank; and were healed, and went away with lighter hearts......and some were cured who were at the point of death, and some beyond it, though these it was kinder to destroy, for they walked the land as dead men walk, who should lie in the earth.
He read that sentence again, trying to make sure he'd got the difficult Middle High syntax right, and shivered. Dead people walking around.....the Dead Marshes.......strange knockings and tappings in the deep places of the earth....
And the Men, and Elves, who knew of the spring did call its waters the Life, for it was Life distilled, the pure bright blood of the world, and would make those who drank of it no longer quite mortal. But as with all things, the fount of the Life gave freedom from death, but its gift did not come without a price. Both Elves and Men wished to keep its bounty for themselves, the Elves because they believed in their wisdom that the fount required skilled and learned guardianship, the Men because in their greed they wished never to die.....
Frodo sighed. A nice story, but definitely written by an Elf. He had to agree that something so powerful needed a powerful guardian, but he wasn't entirely sure that the immortal Elves needed sole access to something granting immortality.
......and the matter came to anger, and then to blows, and then to war; but soon after the races clashed arms over the Life, the wellspring dried up, and sank out of sight, and the shelter they had caused to be built over it was empty and silent once more. It has been said that in a time of great need the Life will flow again, and some Healers have prayed for it, for a draught that grants freedom from death is a dear dream in the hearts of Healers. It is said furthermore that in these dark times, when Sauron sits in Mordor to the east, the Life cannot flow freely; that only with his defeat may we receive its gift once more. The old songs record that the Life is a thick white fluid, like to liquid pearl, and that it is sharply scented, not unlike rain and green apples. Yet it is but a myth, as is the Creation of Khitharas, or the coming of the Dark Ones from the east, with their sticks that spit fire and their machines to fly upon the air. The first telling of the story of the Life is so old that no one remembers when it was recorded......
Frodo's nerveless fingers let the book slip sideways to the windowseat. Green apples and rain......."They said I was dying," he murmured. "I felt myself dying. And......"
But how could they have used this Life on me? It's a myth. They know it's a myth. The book says so. No one has seen or heard of it for longer than three thousand years.....
But he knew, as somehow he had known since waking up for the first time after that flaming eye had receded from him; he knew that he had been changed subtly, and that nothing would ever be quite the same again.
Coughing, he slid off the windowseat, leaving the book open with its pages fluttering gently in the rain-breeze from the casement, and hurried out of the Library. He had to find....someone. Arwen, or Legolas, or even Sam—but he did not think he wanted to talk to Sam about this, not just yet.
So I am not to die yet. Perhaps in a thousand years I will have forgotten Sam, as the Elves will have forgotten us all, unless someone writes these things down in another book, and they pass into myth as well....
(to be continued)