1. Captain Tinkerbell
We have returned to barracks following heavy losses on our last offensive. Over a third of those who marched from here a month ago are dead, including Lieutenant Saskiss, the other officer in charge of B Company. I have to write to his mother. He asked that I should be the one to do it, if it came to it, as "you have a way with words."
Had a way with words would be more appropriate, I think. I cannot write. Under the circumstances, one would think writers block the least of little Makalaurë’s problems. It concerns me because the last time I was lost for words I spent two centuries wandering the shores of middle earth. Nobody was shelling me then, and I had no soldiers under my protection.
September 22, 1916.
I was introduced to Saskiss' replacement today. He is not especially young at 24, but he makes me feel ancient. Apparently, he was reading Philology at Oxford before he signed up. He is very quiet, which he puts down to his aching feet.
Everyone has blistered feet, except me. I have blistered ears from shoving them under my tin helmet, but I do not think there is much wisdom in drawing attention to this. The men already call me Tinkerbell.
September 24, 1916.
I have a rifle for shooting Germans and a revolver for shooting deserters. Strange weapons, but at least they are metal, something to hold in your hand and feel the warmth spread through. Familiar territory. I hope I never have to shoot a deserter.
If I should have to, I know I would survive. Because I am an artist. I have journalistic immunity. I am only a witness, a martyr, someone who bears these events for the greater good of the listening public. That is what is cowardly about artists. They refuse to live their own lives.
Poetry. The difference between a mad elf and a dead one.
I write a diary, still clinging to the observer role by my stinking fingernails. I tell myself I will write it in verse later. I know I deceive myself. My poetry is as obsolete as my sword, but I only know one way to write.
October 2, 1916.
The new captain is serious about his folklore. He used to belong to a society of bright young things that read to each other from the ancient tales. I think most of them are dead now.
The other officers are immune to his tales of myth and glory. They see them as the romantic delusions of a college boy. There are no heroic deeds to be done here, only orders to be obeyed.
I do not think he is naive. I have lost count of the number of times I have caught myself speaking in Quenya under my breath. Just ordinary everyday words, phrases, nothing fancy. Down here, even these have power.
When a shell hits, there are no poems. What the men usually say, when they say anything at all, is one word, simple, brutal, monosyllabic and obscene. It strikes me as a fair comment.
Lament would be blasphemy. It is only the lesser words that can convey the experience of routine slaughter.
October 6, 1916.
Lieutenant Beowulf has finally given up on winning the officers over to the Norse Classics. Which is a shame because he tells them well enough. Now he has nothing. If this situation continues, he will go mad, or worse.
October 8, 1916.
We received our marching orders today. We head to the front at 6 A.M. sharp tomorrow. Beowulf and I sit together in the officer's mess in silence.
"Tell me your stories", I say.
That is why I came here after all, to listen. That is what we do, us elves.
When God is too remote, and mortals too preoccupied, we listen. We listen to feelings too ugly or vicious or banal to put at the feet of angels and saints. We are enough like humans to understand, and yet distant enough to be safe.
I have listened to the whispers of the hopeless for time uncounted. If people have lost their minds searching for us immortals, we have also saved minds and lives with our quiet presence.
I listen and change my song, and my own history shifts.
Of course we are not real. How can such creatures of quicksand be real? Fortunately, for Lieutenant Beowulf at least, we may not be real, but we certainly exist.
I think I may find a new voice.
The Somme, October 10, 1916.
There are, of all things, ginger twins in my trench. Jack and Johnny Maitlin. They both have TB.
My brothers are closer to me down here than they have been for millennia. I see them live and die every day. If we dig in any deeper, we are in danger of uncovering Maitimo's Silmaril. It shows how bad things have got, returning silmarils made me smile. Made me feel less lonely.
Sometimes, at night, I look to the stars, and think that that is what has happened. As winter draws in, Menelmacar is rising again. I look at his shining belt and think, is this it? Have my father's jewels been blown to light in the midst of a shell crater? Is this the Last Battle, Dagor Dagorath, the end of all Arda?
No, this is nothing so noble. I know that. Not even the merciless Valar would destroy so many of Iluvatar's children for so little reason.
Even here, we catch whispers of the voices in lands of peace. They call this inhuman and I, on behalf of inhumanity, would like to object. This is all your handiwork, to believe anything else is to deny responsibility.
October 14, 1916.
The water supplies have become infected. The men are getting sick. I could lick the trench side with my tongue and feel no worse than nauseous, but the troops are under my command and I pity them. It also does nothing to improve the stench.
What good is pity? What else can I do? Telephoned field command and asked to pull back because of the outbreak. My request was refused.
Lieutenant Beowulf has got it bad. He was throwing up all day and is now dozing, exhausted.
October 18, 1916
Lieutenant Beowulf has recovered. At least he is no longer being sick, which, with our current rations, is a miracle. He still looks pale. He should do. There are rumours of another offensive within two days.
Still, at least Beowulf has religion. He is a Catholic. He knows where he is going, should the Valkyries call on him. Eru only knows what is in store for me.
"Why did you come here?" He asks.
"I do not know," I reply.
I can listen to suffering anywhere, after all. But I chose to come here and spill yet more blood on my already indelibly stained conscience. I came here because this must be the hardest place on earth to listen, and yet it still needs to be done. If I do not kill, how can I offer killers comfort?
I am not trying to redeem my immortal soul. I am not trying to undo deeds that can never be undone.
I am looking for the story I never heard. The story only Maitimo could have told. He never did, and he was lost.
I listen to the worst stories in Arda, because no one deserves to be so desperate, no matter what they have done.
October 21, 1916.
We advanced today, or tried to. For some reason High Command still believes our heavy bombardment of the German trenches will kill everyone left to shoot us before we go over the top. Nobody in the trenches believes this, because the last thousand or so times we have done, there still appeared to be plenty of them around to form a welcoming committee.
We have our orders. There must be no retreat. We must be victorious at all costs. Casualties are to be left on the field. No Fingon the Valiant here.
Jack Maitlin was one of those casualties.
And we did retreat.
Later, I caught Johnny Maitlin trying to sneak over the parapet. He must have lost his mind. He did not reply, I do not think he could, but he looked terrified when he realized it was me.
"I'm not going to shoot you for disobeying orders," I said.
He let me guide him back to the fire bay. The two privates drinking tea there left.
"You were next to him when he died."
"Yes," I said.
"It was a bloody twenty ton shell that hit him."
"And you kept on walking."
"I must have been lucky. Jack must have caught the main blast. I am so sorry."
He shakes his head.
Lieutenant Beowulf is standing at the wall of the fire bay. He is staring at me too.
October 26, 1916.
It happened. The confrontation.
"You could not have survived that," Beowulf said.
I think he may have been at the brandy. The last losses have affected him badly, and he is doing his best not to show it.
"I did, I do not know why." I say.
"Gas has no effect on you."
"I must have strong lungs."
"You survived being struck through with a bayonet in the first offensive and were back on active service within a month."
"Your feet do not blister, they do not rot and you have never even so much as caught cold." Beowulf's feet are, literally, a sore point. They are now infected and giving him agony.
"What are you suggesting? "I say.
He pauses. He may have been at the brandy, but he is certainly not going to say what he really believes. Because he dare not admit he believes it. Front line officers have been shot for shell shock in the past and he has his sanity to protect.
"That it is not fair that one person should be so lucky."
"I think that depends on your definition of luck," I say.
We let it drop.
He cannot believe that he has come to the one place where reality, each precious second of it, is the only thing that counts, and there he has found a creature from his dreams.
Where else did he expect to find elves? When reality fails the only alternative is the feverish imaginings of generations. Which is my blood.
October 29, 1916.
Captain Beowulf is really unwell now. I confess I feel slightly guilty. Perhaps my disturbing presence has knocked his mind's defences. He has a high fever and cannot leave his bunk. I take him enamel mugs of tea. I dare not give him unboilled water.
"Elen síla lúmenn' omentielvo," he said, finally.
"Where did you hear that? "
"I heard you say it. I thought it was beautiful."
"It means a star shines on the hour of our meeting. It is a greeting."
"Rather beats hello."
"And what sort of people take the trouble to call on the stars when they meet?" he asks.
"I will not get an answer if I ask whom your people are, will I?"
"Then I will not ask." He paused. " Will you teach me your language?"
"Quenya, it's called Quenya." I say.
The shells whiz, the guns roar, the rain lashes the trenches until there are several inches of filthy standing water underfoot. And I teach my language.
October 30, 1916.
Not that it helped. Lt. Beowulf is worse today. In fact he is barely coherent.
They say it is unlucky to get too close to elves.
I stop being maudlin and get on the field telephone to the Casualty Clearing Station. As ever they are unwilling to accept anyone not actually on the brink of death. Makalaurë's vocal talents do nothing to sway those under orders. I am told to watch him and call back if he has not improved in 24 hours.
October 31, 1916
"Quendi." he says.
I could wring the necks of the CCS staff. I did not wait 24 hours. He is so sick he can no longer hold down water and has a fever of 103. They are sending stretcher-bearers. They have not got here yet.
"Quendi, why do you never tell your stories?"
"SSh, ssh,” I hold his hand. “I cannot, little one. I cannot. It would send you mad."
He laughed, very faintly, very harshly. I did not need to be told why. If this has not left him insane, what harm can a handful of fairy tales do?
He shuts his eyes. Insanity is better than death, I think. That was my choice anyway. What right have I to not even give this child the option?
He may not even remember me. He has been sick the whole time I have known him, feverish for most of it, and always cowering under the likelihood of death. When he is back in England, when he is safe, I will be just another of the memories that hover on the edges of belief, which is our reward for our presence here.
But he will live, and he will remember my story.
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.