Only a Game
A/N: I use Sindarin according to the wonderful grammar and dictionary of the Elvish tongues by Helmut W. Pesch, but I am no linguist, so please forgive any mistakes.
I put on my socks and shoes and climbed the narrow trail leading up the banks of the Bruinen.
The path turned into a dark forest of pine trees and then climbed steeply up again in a narrow ravine between cleft and cracked rock faces, which rose almost vertically in barren crags grown with crippled mountain pines, only just maintaining their precarious toe-hold among the rocks. Finally I emerged from the gorge on a small plateau looking across a deep valley cutting through the wild and rugged moors of the foothills of the Misty Mountains.
At once I felt a sense of an almost unnatural peace and quiet envelop me.
The steep mountain sides around the sheltered valley were grown with dark and deep pine woods, but the valley itself was green with a more Southern vegetation. The Bruinen rushed in many silver falls down to the bottom of the valley. Any buildings I might be able to see from my vantage point were lost in the silvery mists of the waterfalls. The spray of the cascades created a humid atmosphere in which lush green ferns and bright colourful flowers flourished. I was looking at an oasis of spring in the autumn of the harsh climate of moors and mountains.
Feeling my heart beat faster with the excitement of seeing the beautiful buildings of the Rivendell of the movies up close, I started down the trail under the dark and fragrant shadows of the pine trees.
Would anybody still be here?
I shook my head at my stupid thoughts. The game was obviously warped. While the landscape was brilliant and I had been having a really good holiday, the story was not running. There would be no one here. I would stay for a day or so to roam the valley and feel like an Elven queen, but then I would use that switch and return to reality. They really needed to put in some work before they could hit the market with this game. But, I smiled up at the branches of the pines and firs above me, inhaling the fresh forest air, tasting its clear and spicy quality like wine on my tongue… if they got this story trouble straightened out, no one would want to stay in real life anymore.
After endless turns leading in narrow serpentines down the mountain side, I finally stepped out of the dark of the forest into bright sunshine. I was at the very bottom of the valley. In front of me grassy slopes and meadows gleamed in deep green hues reminding me of precious jewels. The path I had been following led through the meadows to the river and across it on a delicate white bridge of slender arcs carved with flowing designs reminiscent of art nouveau. Carefully trimmed weeping willows echoed the soft lines of the bridge's architecture with their swaying lithe branches.
On both sides of the river many buildings climbed up the sides of the valley, with terraces and balconies and gardens set between them, halls and towers and cloisters on different levels following the natural rising of the ground, at times carved into the rock of the mountain itself.
In the air above a singing waterfall tumbling down between two terraces blooming with red flowers a rainbow was drifting, the rays of the sun breaking into blue, violet, red, yellow and green colours shimmering in the misty spray of the falling water.
I stared at in wonder at the beauty of Imladris, almost forgetting to breathe. This was not a house, this was a palace, and I would not call it homely. It was of an exquisite loveliness and an artfulness, which transcended mere mortal efforts at architecture and gardening. For the first time I had an inkling of what Elvish could mean.
But it was absolutely quiet.
The only sound was the rushing of the Bruinen from its spring high up above in the glaciers, the wind in the trees and the song of many birds delighting in the sunshine. There was no sign of anyone living in these summer palaces. Indeed, as I narrowed my eyes to discern more details, I saw many closed shutters and no sparkle of windowpanes in the sunlight at all.
I began walking towards the Last Homely House east of the sea with apprehension growing in my heart. I tried to tell myself that it was only a game, but the beauty of this place and its loneliness touched something deep inside of me. The sadness I had always felt at the ending of the books was tangible here among those empty palaces, a deep feeling of sorrow casting dark shadows even in the brightest light of the summer sun.
I climbed broad white stairs to a terrace in front of a great hall. The access to the hall was a large gate of dark wood inlaid with golden designs, the stone arches above it carved with flowers and leaves, almost like the tympanum of a cathedral. I tried to open it, but it was barred. I sighed and turned around. On the other side of the terrace a slender white staircase led up to another set of buildings closer to the river. I would try to get to the terrace with the rainbow, I decided. Even if I did not find a treasure at the end of the rainbow, I would surely have a lovely view of the palaces of Imladris and the valley. As I climbed the stairs, I noticed signs of neglect and wear. Weeds were growing from the crevices between the white stones, some of the stairs were cracked and in the edges dust and dry leaves had accumulated into small heaps of debris.
The stairs led to a narrow corridor between two buildings. There were two doors with rounded tops set across from each other. I tried to open them, but they were locked, too. I followed the corridor around the next corner and found myself on the terraced garden I had seen from below.
Between the cracked tiles of smooth cream coloured stone streaked with red grass was growing and the rose bushes desperately needed a trim. They were blooming in abundance nevertheless, and as I walked to the balustrade, I was enveloped in their sweet, summery perfume. Ten feet below the balustrade the river plunged in a silver arc into a pool on a lower garden and terrace. The spray of the cascades touched my hot cheeks in a cooling mist.
I closed my eyes for a moment to enjoy the sensation.
"Dan ech-tollen! You have come back! Ma phaid ech-pannen, Elladan? Which paths have you walked, Elladan?" A dark voice called out to me.
I jumped, almost swallowing my heart with fright.
I turned around and blinked in surprise.
I was looking in a pair of the clearest grey eyes I had ever seen. They were very bright and keen, like beryl come alive. They were set under dark slanting brows in a pale face without any trace of facial hair, the face almost chiselled in cool, clear angles, reminding me of carved marble statues of angels I had seen in a museum once. His sensual lips were touched by a hint of red, slim and straight, but there was no smile tugging at their corners. The nose was straight, thin and a bit arrogant. Long, dark, almost black hair was flowing down his shoulders and his back. Between the dark tresses I caught a glimpse of pointed ears as pearly white as his face.
I stared at the Elf in front of me, not knowing what to say.
"Who are you?" The Elf finally asked me, recovered from the same surprise that had me still staring at him with my mouth open. I closed my mouth and swallowed. He was speaking English or Westron now, and although I had understood his Sindarin words, and knew I could respond in Sindarin, I felt more comfortable answering in English.
"My name is Jarro. I am a ranger of the North. I came to Rivendell to see if it was true and indeed all Elves have left the shores of Middle-earth." My heart was pounding with excitement. He frowned, and his eyes flashed, looking me up and down. For a moment I had the uncomfortable feeling that he could see through me like Neo in the Matrix and only saw rows of green figures rippling in the void.
"There are no more rangers in the North." His voice was calm and cool.
A feeling of shock was spreading from my stomach. What was I to say?
"Well, I am. Or at least, a traveller from the North, if you prefer a humbler title." I swallowed. "And you are obviously an Elf. May I ask you name?"
His eyes darkened slightly. I had the feeling he was not convinced by my explanation, but had decided to let it rest at that for the moment.
When he answered, his voice was darker, too, a little bit husky, and tinged with worry.
"I am indeed an Elf. My name is Elrohir, son of Elrond-Peredhil and Celebrían of Lorien. Master of Imladris." At giving the last title a hint of sarcastic smile played across his lips.
"Is anyone else here?" I asked, before realizing that this was perhaps not a polite question.
"No", he answered, and his voice betrayed a certain tension. "They have gone across the Sundering Seas to reach the white shores of Aman, the Blessed Realm and home of our souls."
I stared at him, standing in his grey robes among the fading beauty of Imladris and felt sudden tears burning in my eyes. "You have to be very lonely."
His gaze, all at once very fierce, seemed to penetrate my mind, laying open the depths of my soul. "No more lonely than you are, my lady."
I shuddered, caught in the power of his spell. Then the feeling was gone, and I could hear the rushing of the Bruinen again, splashing across the rocks behind me.
"Where is your brother? Were you expecting him?" My curiosity was back.
A shadow passed across Elrohir's face. He shook his head. "He should be back any day now. We, too, have to leave the shores of Arda, having already lingered far too long. The choice of the Valar is almost upon us…" The last words he whispered, they were barely audible with the sound of the water fall behind me.
Then he seemed to shake himself free of his concerns and smiled at me politely. "Your quest, my lady ranger, was successful. You have found one of the two last Elves in Middle-earth. Until we depart, may I offer you what hospitality remains in the Last Homely House east of the Sea?"
I inclined my head, hopefully in gracious motion. "That would be lovely, my Lord Elrohir."
"Make that only Elrohir, my lady. There is no court left here to require such formalities."
I smiled at him. "Then you have to dispense with calling me 'my lady'. It's Jarro, please."
He grinned at me, looking suddenly very young. "Then Jarro it is. Please, follow me. You have to be tired and hungry."
He led me to a door leading out to the rose garden and opened it easily. Inside was a cool, shadowy room, completely empty of furniture. "Most things have gone with the last party of Elves travelling from Imladris to the Havens. My brother and I have been using a few rooms at the very top of Imladris. They offer the most magnificent view of the valley. But I am afraid it is quite a climb."
I shrugged. "That's alright; it was quite a climb to get into Rivendell at all."
"Then by all means follow me."
He turned around and swiftly made his way through a dark archway into a dusky corridor and then up a winding stair lit from small window slits set in the outer wall. The Elf moved with unbelievable grace. His silken robes gave only the slightest rustling sound, and he seemed to glide, rather than walk up the confined staircase.
His dark hair reached almost his hips, flowing in waves of silky twilight and leaving a spicy scent drifting behind him.
I hurried to keep up, my thoughts racing in tight circles. This was so unbelievably real, he felt so unbelievably real, and not at all human! How could anyone program an entirely different race with this kind of accuracy? If someone had told me about this, I would never have believed a single word!
Finally we reached the end of the stairs and stepped into a corridor bright with sunlight flooding from graceful arcs. The corridor opened into a hall with a ceiling of ribbed vaults supported by slender twisted columns. Large windows of clear glass, reaching from the floor to the ceiling, looked out across the valley, and from somewhere to the right I heard the muted noise of water. At the back of the room was a large fire place, and there were a few easy chairs and chaise longues facing either to the fire place or to the windows, some small tables sat between them. The wall opposite of the corridor through which we had entered was taken up by shelves crammed with books, lining the entire wall from the floor to the ceiling, surrounding the opening of another door leading into a room beyond. I thought I could see a huge desk and more shelves there.
"This is very beautiful", I said, looking at Elrohir, who had patiently waited for me to take in the view. He smiled, but his smile did not reach his eyes.
"Please, sit down; I will get you a drink. And then I will leave you for a moment to get a room ready. It's been some time since we had a guest here. Would you like wine, or water, or juice?" He moved to a table circling one of the columns, where several jugs, bottles and glasses were arrayed.
"Water will be fine, hantale." I answered and let my backpack slide to the floor with a muffled thump.
Elrohir looked up in amazement at my use of the formal Quenyan "Thank you". "You know the Elvish tongues?"
I nodded. "Mîn egor tâd phith. One or two words. But my grammar is atrocious. I learned from books. There is no one left to speak Elvish." I grinned at him. "Well, almost no one, as I now know."
He smiled at me, and this time his smile was filled with real warmth. "It is good to hear our language spoken by a guest. Mae govannen, Jarro." He offered me a beaker with water. I accepted gratefully.
"I will be back in a moment. Rest a bit and enjoy the view."
With that he was gone, leaving me to stare out of the window. My heart was racing, and my stomach was fluttering. I slumped down in one of the easy chairs, twirling the beaker in my fingers, asking myself how it was possible to feel absolutely real, physical attraction for someone who was neither human and nor real.
I drank the cool water and enjoyed the cool liquid running down my throat. I put the beaker down on a small table at the side of the chair I was sitting on. Even though the room was sparsely furnished and the furniture was obviously ancient, everything was clean and polished, very well preserved. In the quiet minutes of waiting, my heart calmed down again and I breathed easier. It's only a game, Jarro, I told myself. Enjoy it while it lasts. Tomorrow you are back to looking for another miserable job paying for your miserable tiny flat in a huge, noisy, dirty city, which never sleeps, where you can only dream of this kind of quiet or this kind of clean, soft air. Not to mention handsome Elves with beautiful grey eyes…
I had not heard Elrohir return to the room, but had suddenly felt his presence behind me.
I turned around, and my breath caught in my throat, as I saw the clear, shining profile of his Elvish face in a ray of sunshine slanting through the window. He crossed the room and poured a pale golden wine in a crystal goblet. "A room is ready for you, my – Jarro. Would you care for a glass of wine? It's a Lindon white, one of the few bottles remaining. I can assure you there is no better wine left in all of Arda."
"Thank you that would be lovely."
My eyes followed involuntarily the graceful movements of his hands. I only resurfaced from my musings, when I felt the cool glass pressed into my hand. My heart racing I looked up into bright grey eyes sparkling with faint amusement.
He sat down opposite of me and reclined in an elegant chaise longue, lifting his glass to me.
I frowned at him, but raised my glass all the same. "Slainte!" I said, as I had no clue what Elves might say for 'cheers'. He smiled at me. "Almare."
The pale golden liquid tasted of summer, golden sunny days liquefied with a hint of vanilla and lemon fruit. I swirled the wine around in my mouth, then let it run down my throat, enjoying the way it prickled against my palate.
"Where is your brother?" I asked abruptly, never taking the time to think before speaking and regretting it immediately, when I saw Elrohir's eyes cloud with anxiety.
"I don't know where he is", he answered, his voice husky. I could see his slender fingers grip his goblet tighter. "He… we… When it became clear that we must finally decide where to turn, to stay here in Arda, in Middle-earth and live a human life, or leave for Aman to rejoin our people for all eternity… you may not know it, but as our father was, we may claim either part of our heritage to decide our destiny. We can decide our fate, choosing a mortal life or living on as immortal Elves. After the war –" He paused, looking at me inquiringly, "you do know about the war, do you? In the human realms so many things are forgotten in such a short time that it is difficult to keep up with what knowledge now remains of the ages past."
I cleared my throat, forcing my voice to sound light. "I know about the War of the Rings, yes."
He nodded, as if he had expected me to know and continued. "We stayed here to help King Elessar rebuild his realm, even though most of our people had left. He was our brother, he was our closest friend. How could we go and leave him in the wake of such a terrible war?"
He was staring off into a distant time and place. When he spoke again, his voice sounded sorrowful and weary. "And when he died, and our sister died, too, how could we leave their children all on their own? But centuries have passed now, and those times are no longer alive in the memories of most mortals. My brother and I are all who remain in Arda of the firstborn. And the Valar have finally issued their call. A ship is waiting at Dol Amroth to bear us into the West."
I almost dared not to breathe, caught up in his tale, feeling an incomprehensible sense of grief surrounding the Elf. Elrohir sighed. Then he smiled sadly and forced his attention back to me and the present.
"Elladan… he could not decide at once. He said he needed time to think and went off, hiking into the Misty Mountains, and perhaps walking far from them, trying to find an answer to his questions."
He sighed and rubbed at his temples with his fingertips. "He should have been back a long time ago."
"Are you worried that something has happened to him?" I dared to ask, speaking softly.
He looked up, and his face was suddenly very white. I saw his jaw muscles tighten.
He swallowed hard and his eyes turned almost black.
"Yes, I am worried. And time is running short."
"The ship…", I trailed off, but when he nodded, I continued. "Is there a deadline or something? A certain time you have to keep?"
"Yes", he sighed. "If we want to depart, we have to sail before the winter solstice."
"Well", I said, "then there is enough time to find him. When do we leave?"
"Why would you come with me?" Elrohir asked, astonishment apparent in his voice.
I swallowed, realizing that I might spend a lot of time locked in the matrix of this game if I intended to roam through Middle-earth until December, searching high and low for a lost elf.
But I remembered the slightly conceited tone of the computer freak called Mr. Smith "You could spend years in this game, and it would only be an afternoon in the real world".
It had worked so far, I thought, after all I had already spent more than two weeks in this game. Why not add three more months? Why not put the game to a real test – especially now that a kind of interesting plot had surfaced? After all, there was really nothing in my real life that was really attractive at the moment. And if I was fed up with the game, I could go off in a corner any time, produce the box with the magic switch and go back to real life and a dinner with the nice doctor.
I looked up at the Elf and answered, trying to keep my voice as firm and noble as Haldir in the second part of the movies. "Once there existed great friendship between you and the rangers of the North. What could I do but honour this friendship of old? If your brother can be found, we will find him."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.