4. Tramps and Fairy Tales
I was asleep within minutes.
I woke from someone screaming. My heart in my mouth I shot up and promptly fell over, constrained by my sleeping bag. I sat up clumsily and blinked dizzily at a middle-aged woman and a small white dog on a red leash. It had been the screams of that woman, which had woken me up so rudely. Now she had momentarily fallen silent, my heartbeat gradually returned to normal.
"You are not dead!" she gasped.
"No," I said, my vision slowly clearing. "At least, I don't think so."
"I thought you were dead," she told me, her voice shaking. "I thought you were the victim of a horrible murder."
Apparently not only my step-father suffered from the delusion that rural Germany is a dangerous place.
"Nope," I repeated. "No murder. Sorry. I am only on holiday from university." A life-long holiday, I added in my mind.
She gaped at me. "But… isn't that dangerous? All alone? As a woman?"
I peeled myself out of my sleeping bag. "No. At least statistically it is much more dangerous to drive to work on a German highway."
I reached into my backpack. "May I offer you a piece of chocolate? As a remedy for the shock? I'm afraid that's all I have for breakfast."
And it was. My precipitous departure had left me less than well supplied for life as a ranger.
"Oh, no, no! You've got to come with me and have breakfast with my family! My screams…" She blushed. "I must have scared you just as much as you scared me! I am truly sorry. My husband keeps telling me I shouldn't read so many thrillers."
"Well… I could have been dead; such things happen. And I guess you don't have many hikers just spending their night behind the next bush." And I won't do that again, either, I thought. Tonight I will hide in the woods. Not even a wild boar will find me!
Then I considered her offer of breakfast. Coffee…!
I accepted the invitation. It turned out that I had not really walked very far the day before. I was at Langenzenn, a village some twenty minutes drive from Erlangen. I suppressed a sigh. It was more difficult to be a ranger in Franconia than I had thought.
The woman, call me Marie, turned breakfast into a lavish affair, with homemade brown bread, fresh eggs boiled exactly the way God wanted eggs to be boiled, a fruit salad, freshly pressed orange juice, homemade preserves and delicious coffee. I was awestruck.
I told her she could follow me around and scream at me every morning, if breakfast with her family was always this lovely. She grinned at me. "I only do that on the weekends, normally, but with the holidays… you know, my husband does not get off work this summer, and I wanted the boys to have at least some holiday feeling…" Her husband had already departed to Erlangen, and the two boys in question were staring at me wide eyed from across the kitchen table. They were ten and thirteen, respectively, and Hans and Matthias were both suitably impressed by a girl staying out in the fields and scaring their mother out of her wits. Somehow I strongly suspected that Marie would be shopping for camping gear in the near future.
It was already late in the morning when I said good-bye and promised to write a postcard when I was somewhere interesting. I walked along the streets of Langenzenn and sighed. I had wanted to get away from normal life. I had wanted to experience the freedom of a true Dúnadan. I had ended up scaring women walking little white dogs.
At least I had made it to a town where I could get supplies for some days of real walking. Chocolate for breakfast was not my favourite way to start a day.
I bought provision for two weeks and a map for hiking in Franconia.
I left Langenzenn on the main, tarred road.
After a kilometre a muddy path started between thickets of brambles and piles of rubbish to the left of the road. I started down the narrow trail and promised myself to turn my back on anything resembling a village for the next two weeks.
It turned out to be a really hard job to keep this promise. Although I was walking through a lovely country of soft hills, little woods, small fields, a country dotted with fish ponds and lined with streams and rivulets, this lovely country was also quite densely populated, and had been for a long, long time… think long as in before Christ.
But I tried very hard. Every time I spotted a house, a real road, a church steeple, I turned and went the other way. I lost my bearings on the third day. My map was a really good map for walkers, hikers and cyclists. It showed even the small field lanes and trails I was using. But turning around every time I saw more than a hint of civilization was too much even for this valiant map. I did not care. As long as I understood the language, I thought, I would know that I had not ventured too far to the East or the West. And there were many large highways to cross in either direction before I could accidentally leave Germany, so there was no need to worry.
Staying away from villages got easier as I moved away from the population centre of Nuremberg, Fuerth and Erlangen – more than a million of people are kind of hard to ignore.
Three days after my encounter with Marie I sat at the top of a hill looking into a glorious sunset. Not too far in the distance nestled a small farming village in a valley between hills of woods and fields. For once I did not turn and run. It was not really close. And it was very soothing to look at the timbered houses and the small church built of sandstone, which was glowing reddish-yellow in the light of the evening sun. I heard the bell of the church ring out, and from the far side of the village the noise of a tractor returning from the fields drifted over.
My feet hurt from walking the entire day; I was sweaty, had a sunburnand needed a bath.
Nevertheless, I felt better than… I could not remember when I had felt better. Better than in a very long time, anyway.
When the sun had diminished to a glowing red ember a bare hand's breadth above the Western horizon I got up. A bit farther up into the hills I had spotted a small lake in front of a wood of deciduous trees, mainly beeches and oaks. A good spot to spend the night, I thought. Perhaps the water in the lake would be clean enough to take a bath.
As I walked up the path, I saw that I had been correct. This would be a nice place to spend the night, and the water of the lake looked only slightly muddy, not downright dirty.
But when I got closer, I realized that the best spot was already occupied.
At the edge of the small forest, only a few feet away from the lake someone had lit a fire.
Probably boys from the village, I thought, feeling disappointed. I was already turning to trudge back down the hill, when a gravelly voice called out to me. "Hello there! Why do you turn back? There's enough room here for the two of us. I don't bite! I might even share this delicious trout I caught!"
My heart started to race. It was an old man. Alone. Probably just an old vagabond, a harmless down-on-his-luck tramp, seeking the quiet of the country in the summer.
Or a mad axe-murderer, who had spent all his life just waiting for me to come along.
I shook my head at my unreasonable fear.
I wanted to play at being a ranger, didn't I?
Would Aragorn have turned back from the fire? Or Viggo Mortensen?
I gritted my teeth and turned back to the fire.
It was really an old man. His face was lined from age and hard times, too, I guessed. He had a long, white beard and his hair, which fell down to his shoulders in unruly waves, was also white. He had very bright blue eyes, which twinkled merrily under bushy brows. Around his neck he wore a silvery scarf, and next to him on the ground he had put a large bag of indistinguishable colour, a grey cloak, and a pointed blue hat. He was clothed in dark pants and a grey, tunic-like shirt, which he wore loosely above the pants. His shoes had once been black, but were scuffed and stained to criss-crossed grey colour. The only bright things about him were the blue hat, a shining white walking stick, which he had propped up against the oak tree behind him, and his blue eyes.
"Well, come on, my friend," he said, "Sit down! You have to be weary and hungry."
He patted the ground next to him. Then he grinned up at me. "By the way, my name is-" He coughed. "Georg."
"Nice to meet you," I said and dropped my backpack to the ground several feet away from him. Hopefully only a false name and not tuberculosis.
"I am Lothíriel."
He glanced up at me, and for a moment I was caught in a penetrating stare of keen, blue eyes.
"That is not a German name."
I sighed. Here we go again. The vagabond, who called himself Georg, dropped his gaze and busied himself with turning a stick with grilling fish, which he had put across two forked branches over the fire.
I sat down and got out my bottle of water. It tasted quite stale. Tomorrow I would have to go into the village and buy something to drink, if I did not want to try the little pills which were supposed to purify water on trekking tours in foreign countries.
"No," I said. "It's not a German name. It's from a book my mother loved to read when she was young. The Lord of the Rings." He would not know it. My step-grandmother was seventy-three, and she had never heard of LOTR, neither the books nor the movies, though I did not understand how she could have missed the movies; after all, she lived in Nuremberg, a city of more than 500,000 inhabitants and quite a number of large cinemas.
But to my surprise he looked up and there was a strange gleam in his blue eyes.
"Do you know 'The Lord of the Rings'?" I asked, delighted.
The old man looked into the fire for a moment, and then he smiled at me. "In a way."
He poked again at the fish. "Almost ready. Must be nice to be named for a legend."
I laughed at that. For a tramp he was really nice. He did not smell of booze or stink or anything and he spoke clearly, not the harsh slurred speech of the gutter. "If I only were… Lothíriel is a name mentioned only in a foot-note. I don't even know what it means. My mother liked the sound of it, and that was that."
"Indeed… then you have to fill the name with life yourself. That's maybe even better than being named for a legend." What a curious sentiment for tramp. Perhaps he was not a tramp at all, but a runaway professor of philosophy?
I took off my shoes and my socks, and after considering what kind of danger the old man might pose, I walked around to the other side of the lake, undressed, and had a swim. The water of the lake was quite clear and wonderfully cool. I used my shower gel only very sparingly, because I did not want to contaminate the water. Nevertheless, I felt completely refreshed and clean, when I returned to the fire, just in time for the trout.
I contributed a bag of crisps and two apples.
It was delicious.
We ate in companionable silence; the only noises the blowing of breaths to cool the hot fish and the rustling of the bag of crisps.
Not a mad axe-murderer, after all, I mused. Somehow I felt really safe and comfortable in the company of the old tramp. Lothíriel, forever the freak…
After this strange dinner the old tramp leaned back comfortably against the oak tree behind him and produced a long pipe. It was old and worn, but other than that it looked almost like the pipes produced for the LOTR movies. That's really globalised economy, I mused; after all, those pipes are made in Nuremberg, Franconia, by a traditional pipe-making factory.
The old man stuffed and lit his pipe. He puffed vigorously once or twice, and then exhaled softly, producing a beautiful smoke ring with lightly pursed lips.
I clapped my hands. "That's wonderful! I have never seen that before." I had always wondered if the rings had been just another special effect. Well, it was obvious that the ship made of smoke was, but I had not been sure about the rings.
The tramp raised his eyebrows. "Don't people smoke around here anymore?"
"Oh, they do, I know they do, and pipes, too," I answered. "Only I don't really know anyone who does. But I know that they do." Put like that, my explanation sounded really stupid.
But what the hell… here and now, for once in my life it did not matter if I sounded stupid or smart. I crossed my legs, propped my elbows on my knees and rested my chin in my upturned palms. The fire was a large, well built fire, not like my pitiful attempts at making a campfire during the past days. I enjoyed watching the flames, yellow and red, blue at the core, the big branches gradually turning into glowing embers.
"Now that we've introduced ourselves and shared dinner, why don't you tell me how you come to be out here? Shouldn't you be at… university or on holiday, a young woman, nowadays? Or have you run away?"
I looked across the fire to the old man. He was smoking his pipe, his eyes partially closed in relaxation. There was no reason to tell him. On the other hand, why shouldn't I tell him? The old tramp had to know more about failure and running away than I did, roaming the streets at his age.
"Perhaps I have run away. I was a law student in Erlangen. But I didn't like it. And a few days ago, I suddenly couldn't stand it any longer. I just packed my things and left." I stared into the fire. "I am twenty-four, and I have no idea who I am. I have no idea where I belong. I don't know where to go or what to do. But I can't stand this… world anymore. I just can't!"
I was surprised how vehemently the last part came out.
The old man took the pipe out of his mouth with a slight pop. "Oh, this world is not that bad. It could be worse, you know. And you seem to be a smart girl. You will find your place, somewhere."
"I really hope so." I whispered, and sighed. "It's only, I've always felt kind of strange here. As if I didn't really belong here. Always at odds with the world… Sometimes I wish, I could leave this world, just close my eyes, and take this one last step into another world, a world where I could really feel at home."
"Be careful what you wish for, Lothíriel, because it just might come true."
I laughed at that, and then stared at him in amazement. "You have pronounced my name correctly! You really have read Tolkien!"
He raised his eyebrows in mock surprise, but I thought I saw a fleeting shadow pass in his blue eyes. "I did? Really?" he said, rolling his eyes comically. "Must have been luck."
I thought about what he had said, and asked, "Do you really believe that there are other worlds beside this earth? Worlds, which we could reach?"
If he said yes, I would not be really surprised. There had been a homeless man in Erlangen, a drunk, paranoid man, who had talked to and shouted at the street lights.
The tramp favoured me with a very gentle smile, almost as if he had heard my thoughts.
"Maybe. Maybe not. Who can say? You know what they say about the rainbows, do you?"
"Rainbows?" I asked, slightly confused.
"Yes," he repeated. "At the end of the rainbow you will find your greatest treasure."
I frowned. "I thought you were supposed to find a pot of gold there."
He raised his eyebrows and replied dryly, "If that is your greatest treasure…"
Then he smoked again quietly for several minutes.
"But yes," he finally said softly. "I do believe in other worlds, different worlds. However, I would think that each world has its own troubles and toils, and that you would not necessarily find life easier anywhere else. But I do believe that there are more things between heaven and earth, Horatio –" He grinned at me, happy at his quote of Shakespearean drama.
I smiled back at him. Somehow this old vagabond had a really irresistible charm.
He exhaled the smoke of his pipe into another splendid ring of grey smoke.
"Ahh," he sighed contentedly. "Story telling at the campfire. Just lovely! You know, there are many wonderful fairy tales about reaching different worlds. There's one about mid-summer's day, St. John's day, Johannis, which I really liked… hmm… let's see if I remember it. Oh, yes: legend has it that if you step on St John's wort on midnight of mid-summer's eve, you can see the entrance to the world of the fairies. Now, long ago, there lived a little girl called Dott…"
We spent the evening telling tales and stories; I even remembered some poems I had had to learn at school, which delighted the old tramp to no end.
When the fire had burned down, the big branches reduced to a heap of glowing embers, I crawled into my sleeping bag with a happy smile on my face.
"Good night," I called to the old man, who had curled up under his grey cloak on the other side of the fire.
"Sleep well," he replied, and I fell asleep at once, dreaming of rainbows and roads to other worlds, elves and fairies…
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.