4. The Truth, Part 1
The passage of time means nothing to an immortal. The only perceptible mark of its passing is the changing seasons that surround them. The gift life gives to other men is the comfort of these seasons as they flow one into another. Summer heat gives way to the chill of autumn. Leaves fall from their trees and are renewed as new buds in the spring. But there is no comfort in this rhythm to an immortal who is unforgiven. To a heart burdened with the knowledge of its black deeds, the endless days are an unwanted gift. There is never enough time to ease the guilt that eats away at your soul as you journey down that long dark road of remorse. For those who are bound to their memories, time is a harsh penance.
As Maedhros watched Elizabeth, he knew time was not his friend. Like the different phases that change the face of the moon, time was altering her. One minute, much as an awkward colt, Elizabeth's arms and legs seemed to grow twice as fast as the rest of her body. Then suddenly, she grew taller, and began to walk with the grace of green reeds swaying in the gentle breeze. Each step drawing her closer to the woman she was destined to become.
Elizabeth was growing up and her curiosity was maturing. She still enjoyed the tales he told of the warriors of his world. But her eyes that once had been filled with childish wonder were slowly changing, becoming more questioning. Although she regarded him as her own private secret, she began to probe why he had been sent to her world.
What could he tell her? He could tell her that he was there to learn about her world so he could return to his and tell others. Would she believe that lie? Or could he risk her disgust with the truth? What would her hazel eyes say as he told her about the Oath and what he and his family had done because of it? It sickened him to even think what her response might be. Her regard was now more precious to him than even the Silmaril.
No…time would never be his friend.
- 0 -
Ailsa was still in bed hours after she normally rose. Her sleep had been deep, filled with strange dreams weaving themselves in and out of her slumber. Dreams full of soft moonlight reflecting off mirrored surfaces, a beautiful song filtered through dark trees, and the wind carried her in its arms as she listened. She woke with the previous night still fresh in her mind. She lay quietly wondering, hoping really, that it might have been one of her dreams after all.
A chill ran through her as she remembered the glow of the moon on his face, first walking through the trees, and then entering the clearing. When she closed her eyes, she could still feel the night air on her skin; she still heard Maedhros as he sang. The entire ethereal splendor around him as he sat so still beside the pool, all the while singing those beautiful words with his rich incredible voice. No, she knew she had experienced those things with her eyes wide open.
Sitting up, she drew her knees up to her chest along with some of the bedcovers. Hugging the bundle she tried to reason it out. Her eyes stared absently at the bedspread as her fingers slowly made circles over the pile. Why was he in that clearing last night? How was he able to sing like that? She would never forget the raw grief hanging from his youthful face. Regret echoed in every unknown word he sang. It had hurt to even listen to them. What could have possibly happened to him that he would grieve so?
She had teased him about being a man of mystery. But that's exactly what he is…a mystery. As she laid her cheek on her knees, a scowl creased her brow as a deep sigh escaped her lips. He was such an integral part of Egla Tir. The effortless way he handled the staff and the estate. The way her father always deferred to him, and the way Maedhros always seemed to expect it. No mere servant had that kind of power. How could she possibly begin to make sense of such a man?
Mrs. Whitehall has to know something about him. Ailsa's face brightened. That's where she would start. She got out of bed, quickly showered, and dressed.
As she left her room, she found Colleen with her cleaning caddy in her hand coming out of Maedhros' bedroom. The housemaid was closing the door when she spied Ailsa. "Good morning, Miss," she smiled.
"Good morning, Colleen." Ailsa smiled back at the girl. "I feel like such a slug sleeping in so late. Are my father and Maedhros around?"
"I think Maedhros said they were going to the library. I just finished his room. I'll do yours next if that's all right?"
"That'll be fine. Go right ahead." Ailsa looked past Colleen; Maedhros' door hadn't closed completely. She stepped aside giving Colleen access to her room.
Ailsa walked quickly toward Maedhros' door, ready to slip down the staircase if she needed to. Pausing for just a moment, she looked down at the hall. It was empty. With one more glance towards her doorway, she quickly entered Maedhros' room and leaned against the door as she closed it. She stood listening for any approaching footsteps. Hearing none, Ailsa allowed herself to breathe again. She knew she would have to be quick as her eyes darted around the room searching for anything that would help her.
The room was bigger than hers was, but sparsely furnished. The walls were paneled in unpolished oak. Strangely, some of the panels still bore hunks of bark, still fresh as on a living tree. Ailsa raised her eyes and discovered a border of real ivy vines trailing around the top of the walls. What an odd touch.
A large bed with an ornately carved head and footboard was positioned lengthwise in front of the French doors leading to the balcony. Two large bookcases stood against one wall, a dark mahogany desk and chair sat between them. The shelves were filled with books and neat piles of National Geographic magazines. Ailsa quickly scanned the titles of the books: mostly biographies and some reference books. Maedhros must be a man who would rather glean information about the world around him than lose himself in popular fiction or fantasy novels.
Large windows on either side of the French doors allowed the sun to bathe the room in its golden light. Carved tree branches held the panes of glass in place in the frames of the closed doors. Shear white panels of silk hung down their front, and there were two huge pots of ivy on either side of the doorframes. Ailsa followed the trail of ivy as it climbed around the doorframes and continued up the walls forming the border.
Ailsa's lips curled into a smile. Maedhros' bedroom reflected the same mixture of natural and elegant comfort that made up the entire house. She shook her head as she imagined Maedhros sleeping with the French doors open regardless of the weather like a child in a treehouse high above the ground.
She quickly moved over to the desk, and sat in the chair. There were neither drawers nor any little nooks to poke in. An onyx Monte Blanc fountain pen with gold accents lay all alone on the immaculate green blotter. She picked the pen up and rolled it between her fingers. The fat barrel was designed to fit a man's hand and she decided it suited Maedhros. She put it back on the blotter. A small brass carriage clock sat near the left corner of the desk. As Ailsa looked at the beautiful timepiece, she found there was something odd about it. She picked it up, and gave it a quizzical look. The face was mother of pearl, but lacked both an hour and minute hand. Why would Maedhros have a clock that was obviously broken sitting on his desk? She positioned it back in its corner and looked at the green shaded banker's lamp on the right corner. Ailsa pulled its small gold chain; it lit up. Well that works. There was nothing else on the desktop.
Sitting in the chair, she looked at the immaculate desktop. Ailsa realized there was something missing from it and in the room in general. It was obvious once she looked around the bedroom again. There weren't any photos scattered around or on the walls. No pictures of vacations, family members, friends, the odd girlfriend, not even a pet.
There was only one thing on the far wall. A long oddly shaped shield hung on the wall with a long sword and dagger mounted on it. The shield was metal and was shaped like a long leaf, tapering to a point at both ends. Nothing else was on the walls; just this mounted display. Maedhros must have an interest in antique weaponry.
As Ailsa approached the shield, she could sense a deep desire growing in her to hold the weapons in her hands. She easily dismissed it as harmless fancy, and couldn't help an admiring smile as she ran her fingertips along the finely embossed scabbard of the long sword. Such detailing made the sword more like a beautiful piece of art. Ailsa had some knowledge about ancient arms, however there was something unique about these weapons.
The fittings around the opening of the scabbards were made of polished brass and there were engraved brass tips at the ends. The long grip of the sword was leather-covered wood. An inlay of gold oak leaves spiraled around the handle and into the flat piece that acted as the counterweight at the end. Ailsa pulled the sword easily from its scabbard. The weapon was about five feet long and must have been wielded by a very tall warrior. It had the elegant shape of an elongated S. The handle was half its length in proportion to the sharp edged blade. She stood with both hands around the hilt and was amazed at the balanced lightness of it. She took a few amateur swipes, and smiled at the fluid curve of the weapon as it sliced gracefully through the air. She could actually feel the sword's reassuring power running up her arms, as if it was confirming…I will protect you.
Along the ridge of the blade was etched an amazing design of long tailed O's and scattered dots. An eight-sided star with eight accent spikes was engraved near the hilt. The end of the sword came to an intimidating tempered point. Ailsa imagined that when used properly, this was a weapon that could do some serious damage. She quickly sheathed it and pulled out the dagger.
It was about a foot long, but was just as deadly looking as the sword. This smaller weapon also felt very natural in her hand. It had similar decorations around handle. The triangular blade was etched with the same type of design as the sword. A smaller version of the star was engraved at the base of the dagger. Ailsa ran her finger over the etched design of the blade. The steel felt warm and the light reflected off the polished metal like a mirror. She reluctantly returned the dagger to its leather scabbard. Both weapons were in excellent condition, and obviously special to their owner.
Time was running out; she had to finish and get out of there before she was discovered. Besides, a feeling of guilt was starting to grow in the pit of her stomach that kept nagging at her…she really shouldn't be there.
Maedhros' dressing room was just that, a room to dress in. Several suits of various dark shades were hanging neatly from a pole. Closer examination found they were in the familiar style she had often seen him wear. There was a row of open shelves down one side of the wall with shirts, and other bits of clothing. Two pair of polished boots, one black and the other deep brown, stood pitifully alone on the floor below the suits. Ailsa shook her head; Maedhros was definitely no clotheshorse.
She walked over to the French doors and opened them. Stepping out onto the balcony, she stopped abruptly. "Wow!" She breathed out the word. Maedhros' balcony did have the best view. The forest behind the gardens stretched out before her and followed the coastline for some miles in either direction. The intense cobalt blue sky above her stretched out forever. There were only one or two wisps of clouds near the horizon to mar its perfection. The cliff and the sea were hidden behind the tall trees, but the wind brought with it the fresh salt scent of the breaking waves as it caressed her senses. What marvelous sunsets he must see from here. She found herself standing at the edge of the balcony, her body pressed against the railing. Ailsa ran her hand along the balustrade. She laughed; the stone was carved to resemble tree bark.
Ailsa closed her eyes and drank in the moment. The feeling of being part of the wind and the sea swept over her. Awareness of all the sounds of water and air, the far off call of birds, the rustling of the many trees around her. These things nourished her in the solitude of the balcony. But it wasn't her solitude. This was supposed to be his balcony, she was trespassing on his solitude. She quickly opened her eyes. What am I doing? This is crazy…I have no right to be here. It was definitely time to leave.
She opened the bedroom door a crack and peered into the gallery. No one was there. Ailsa left the room quietly closing the door behind her. As she descended the staircase, she breathed a sigh of frustration. Well, that was…useless. All she had discovered was Maedhros was very neat, he liked ancient weapons, he wasn't a clotheshorse, and he had expensive taste in writing implements. And oh yes, he had a strange attachment to clocks that couldn't tell the time. Good one, Ailsa.
There was only one thing left to do. She still had Mrs. Whitehall as a possible source of information. There was also a growing need inside her for a big cup of coffee. As she walked into the kitchen, she found the housekeeper making blackberry jam. There were several jars already made on the counter. Tammy, the other housemaid, was helping.
"Can I get you some breakfast, Miss?" Mrs. Whitehall smiled wiping her hands on her apron as she noticed Ailsa.
Ailsa nodded her "good mornings" to the women. "Don't bother Mrs. Whitehall. I'm the one who overslept. Toast and coffee will do me just fine." The smell of the cooking jam made her mouth water. "However, I could be talked into some of that jam for my toast," she suggested, her eyes twinkling mischievously. Mrs. Whitehall was eager to oblige. Ailsa found a large ceramic mug and poured herself some coffee. She sipped the wonderful dark brew as she walked towards the kitchen table.
"You go into the dining hall and I'll bring you your toast." Mrs. Whitehall smiled.
Ailsa refused to eat her simple breakfast alone in the large dining hall. "No you won't. I can't let you go to all that trouble. I can easily sit right here at this little corner of the table." She plunked herself down in the chair. "I promise not to get in your way."
The older woman shook her head smiling. Tammy brought Ailsa a plate of thick slices of buttered toast and a small dish of jam. As she ate her jam-covered toast, Ailsa watched the housekeeper as she went about her business. "How long have your worked for the estate, Mrs. Whitehall?" Ailsa asked nonchalantly between bites.
"Oh, the mister and I've worked here for nearly twenty years."
"How long has Maedhros been here?" Ailsa hoped she sounded less inquisitive than she actually was. She took a deep drink of her coffee.
"Oh, he was here before I came." She said matter-of-factly.
Ailsa choked on her coffee. "He was here twenty years ago?" She asked as she dabbed coffee droplets from her chin. "He must have been a boy," she said incredulously. Maedhros didn't look much older than thirty.
"No, he was very much an adult." Mrs. Whitehall turned her hand on her hip. "Unfortunately, some men don't show their age," she chuckled and winked at Ailsa. "Some of the villagers even swear the people of Eglar Tir have had dealings with the fairy folk."
"Humph," Ailsa's only comment as she finished the last morsel of toast. Now she could add the fact that Maedhros was a lot older than he looked. She just couldn't leave it though. "Does he have much family around here? He's such a quiet guy; he never talks about himself. I don't think we even know if there's a Mrs. Maedhros somewhere."
Mrs. Whitehall looked sadly at Ailsa. "I know he can be rather stand-offish. And that will take some getting used to, Miss." She stepped closer to Ailsa. "He's a good employer and a fine man. But there's a great sadness in him. One time, he told me that he considered Egla Tir his only home. His eyes were filled with such a look of sorrow, I knew that he had some great grief in his life." Mrs. Whitehall sighed.
That would explain the reason why he didn't have any photos in his room. Too many memories. If what Mrs. Whitehall said was true, she couldn't help feeling sorry for Maedhros. She couldn't imagine being alone like that.
"And then there was that awkwardness between him and the last heir." Tammy quietly joined the conversation.
"With Richard Matthews?" Ailsa was surprised. When he was in California, Maedhros had been eager to return to Egla Tir because Richard Matthews was doing so poorly.
"Now don't be going spreading gossip like that." Mrs. Whitehall chastised the housemaid. "We don't know for sure that they had hard feelings between them."
Tammy smiled wickedly at Mrs. Whitehall. "All I know is that Mr. Matthews never had much time for Maedhros. I don't remember them having too many friendly chats."
"That's quite enough from you. Why don't you go find Colleen and give her a hand with the upstairs cleaning." Mrs. Whitehall's face was a bit pink. She was obviously upset. Tammy ignored the older woman's anger and slowly left the kitchen.
After Tammy was finally gone, Mrs. Whitehall looked at Ailsa. "Don't be putting to much into servants' gossip, Miss. Mr. Matthews wasn't a very happy person. And well…Maedhros is such a private man; he's a bit of a fertile field for speculation. You know."
"I guess so." Ailsa couldn't think of anything else to say. It seemed that Maedhros was on more minds than just hers. She wasn't going to be able to get anymore information about him; at least nothing to help explain last night and why she still felt so disjointed about what she had experienced.
Maybe Richard Matthews found it too hard to have a friendship with a man so emotionally barricaded against the world. Who knows, maybe she'd never get to know him better. She had plenty of time to try to crack that interminable façade of his. Maybe now, she'd do better to put her energies into something other than prying into Maedhros' life. "Thanks for breakfast, Mrs. Whitehall. I'm going to the library to get some work done." She got up wiping her mouth on her napkin.
"Oh dear, I almost forgot. A delivery came this morning from your mother."
Ailsa looked up at the housekeeper. "Really?" Ailsa was excited. "Where is it?"
"I had the furniture put into the morning room. You can let one of the girls know where you want to put it. And the rest of the crates are in the back storeroom waiting for you to go through them." Mrs. Whitehall was very efficient.
"Does my father know the crates arrived?" she asked as she made her way to the back of the kitchen.
"Well, he's busy this morning and didn't want to be disturbed. Oh, and there's a note about someone named Earl?"
"My cat?" Ailsa couldn't believe her mother would send Earl to Cornwall. The English laws were very strict about foreign pets. There was a six-month quarantine before they were allowed into the country. That was the reason she had left Earl at home. Ailsa figured she'd be back in Berkeley long before he could be sprung from quarantine. Now what was she going to do?
She read her mother's note confirming Earl's predicament. "Nice one, mom," she said under her breath.
"I'm going to go through the crates, Mrs. Whitehall," she said. "Please let me know if my father comes up for air." She left the older woman chuckling in the kitchen.
She spent the rest of the day sorting out the stuff her mother sent. The furniture was easy, a piece here, a piece there. She even found a place in the library for one of the end tables. She wasn't surprised the door to the Archive room was closed. She'd tell her father about the shipment later at dinner.
The books were also easy. Most of them were her father's; the few that were hers she placed in her bedroom bookcase. There was a box filled with bags of her favorite coffee beans from Peet's Coffee. Way to go mom! Ailsa shook her head when she found a car survival kit at the bottom of one of the smaller crates, which included flares, a flashlight, a space blanket, and there was even the all important keychain sized can of mace attached to one of Ailsa's backpacks. Everything for every occasion.
She laughed out loud when she found the six cases of Napa Valley wine included in her mother's shipment. Three cases of Chardonnay, and three Cabernet Sauvignon. Leave it to her mom to make sure they had the correct wine for their meals. She had the bottles put into the small wine rack off of the kitchen.
She'd seen Maedhros only once during the day, and that was enough. She had taken a load of books into the library and found him sitting cross-legged on one of the window seats, writing in a leather journal. She watched him for moment. He was using the fountain pen she had seen in his room. She'd been right, it did suit him. She couldn't help thinking he looked like a little boy sitting in the sun doing his homework. She again remembered how differently he looked the previous night and a shiver shot down her spine. He looked up from his writing at that moment and their eyes locked. She could feel no sadness in those grey eyes now. Instead they seemed filled with curiosity. No words passed between them. She felt her face blush, and lowered her eyes. Ailsa placed the books on the desk. She could still feel Maedhros' eyes on her as she quickly left the room.
- 0 -
Maedhros watched Ailsa's face as they're eyes met. He could feel the questions she longed to ask him. And for a moment, he thought she might speak, but her discomfort in his presence only made her flee the room. As he rolled the pen in his fingers, he knew some of her discomfort was due to her own secrets. His eyes slowly traveled to the empty doorway. There was a cheerless smile on his lips as he remembered Ewan's words. "She won't be satisfied until she learns the truth."
Maedhros drew in a deep breath and wondered if the truth was really ever satisfying.
- 0 -
Days passed without any of the excitement repeating itself from the night of the full moon. Ailsa kept herself busy with odd jobs around the house. She explored more of the grounds; she even took a few trips into the village. Since she didn't want to terrorize the countryside with her American driving habits, Colleen graciously accepted her request to drive her to the village. Mrs. Whitehall had been right about the villagers though; they seemed politely intrigued by the new resident of Egla Tir.
Any questions Ailsa had about Maedhros took a backseat to her increasing worry as her father's growing obsession with the Archives took over his life. He spent long days and nights down there doing whatever it was he was doing. When she finally asked Maedhros, all he would say was that a particular scroll had fascinated Ewan. Ailsa didn't know if she should believe him or not.
The only times she saw her father was during meals, where he'd gulp his food down and rush off to continue his "research." She couldn't even convince him to tour his own estate. She was just about to call her mother with her concerns one morning, when she overheard her father already on the phone.
"I know Patrice…It may have been a stupid thing to do, but I've made my choice."
"Now you know you don't mean that…"
"Our life is here in Cornwall now…"
Ailsa sat on one of the stairs and listened. She couldn't believe they had upgraded their fighting to the transcontinental level. Her father held the phone to his ear for a long time without speaking. Finally, he lowered his head and said, "If that's what you really want Patrice, what can I say?"
Ailsa went to her father and touched his arm. He looked at her, disappointment filling his eyes. "Listen, Ailsa is standing here. Why don't you talk to her." He handed her the phone and left the hall. Ailsa watched him go into the library. Her hand trembled as she put the phone to her ear. "Mom?"
"It's just like your father to leave me with the dirty work." Patrice began sarcastically.
"What are you talking about…you mean closing the house?" Ailsa didn't have a clue what her mother meant.
"I've decided not to come to Cornwall." She announced.
"You've got to be kidding." Ailsa felt as if she had just been punched in the stomach.
"Do you know what he did?" Her mother raved on. "He quit his job. Quit! He didn't take a leave of absence, he just up and quit without discussing it with me or anyone else."
"I don't care what he did," Ailsa shot back. "Long distance is not the way to deal with something like this."
"I've had enough," her mother started to cry. "I'm not putting up with any more of his crap."
"But how…when…can't you come here and talk it out?" She tried desperately to think of a good argument.
"No! I don't want anything to do with his damn inheritance."
"But mom…you're being so unreasonable," she argued.
"No, he's being unreasonable. I'm just trying to keep from losing everything I've worked so hard for here." Ailsa was speechless.
"I have to go Ailsa. I'll send the rest of your father's things as soon as I can. You take care of yourself and I'll be talking to you soon. I love you." Click! Her mother was gone.
Ailsa stood for a minute with the phone in her hand. What the hell just happened? Slowly, she put the phone in the cradle. She needed to see her father.
She thought for sure she would have to go down to the Archive room, but instead she found him in the upper library. He sat at one of the windows, his face full of dismay. What surprised her most was Maedhros standing close by, attempting to comfort him with just his presence.
Maedhros saw Ailsa in the doorway and gestured to her to come in. She walked over to her father and knelt down beside him. Maedhros lightly placed his hand on her shoulder and gently squeezed it. Wordlessly, he left them alone. She covered her father's hand with her own and waited for the words to come.
Ewan sat there numb to everything, but the sensation of Ailsa's welcome hand covering his. He still couldn't believe what had just happened. What had made him think that Patrice wouldn't find out what he'd done? All his hopes had hung on her coming to Cornwall and discovering the wonders of Egla Tir. What a fool he was. She's not coming! She wants nothing to do with Egla Tir…or me! The phrases repeated themselves over and over in his mind.
After a while, he began to talk. "I knew Egla Tir was going to be our future. I honestly had the full intention of getting just a leave of absence. But by the time I was finished talking, I had quit my job." A brief sad smile came to his lips.
Ewan lowered his head further. "You know, it was inevitable." Ailsa couldn't bring herself to look at her father's face as he spoke. His voice was filled with such quiet pain. "We haven't been happy for a while now." He stopped, as if saying the words out loud suddenly destroyed any chance of salvaging his world.
Ailsa brought her arms up and held him close. "It'll be okay, dad." Unwanted tears blurred her vision.
Ewan sat very still. "Sometimes love's not enough." His voice sounded so small…so defeated.
Ailsa let go of her father and sat next to him, the touch of their shoulders the only connection between them. She kept hoping that this one incident wouldn't be the last straw for either of her parents. Father and daughter sat there for quite a while. She looked at his tired face as his eyes hung over the floor. "Well, I'm going to hold out for the 'she'll change her mind' approach." Ailsa set her jaw as she tried to sound convincing.
Ewan slowly turned and looked at his daughter. He genuinely smiled for the first time that afternoon. His hand came up and gently tweaked her nose. "If that makes you feel better, honey." He then took her into his arms and hugged her. Ailsa silently prayed her parents would be all right.
Ailsa didn't mind him going down to the Archive room to "do a little work" before dinner. Stepping into the hall, she looked around to make sure no one was around and quickly walked toward the great stairs. Her eyes stung with unshed tears. Refusing to be caught crying, she sprinted up the main staircase and almost collided with Maedhros. She stood motionless as his concerned eyes searched her face, and felt his comfort enfold her. Henion, tithen min.
She swallowed hard trying to control her tears. "Thank you for what you did for my father." She said, and quickly continued up the stairs. Maedhros watched as Ailsa made her way to her room. She seemed so much younger, so alone as she tried to hide her tears. He felt helpless that he could do nothing to help either father or daughter. He hated that they had to suffer over this. Standing a moment more watching Ailsa's door slowly close, he knew what he had to do.
To Be Continued Chapter 4 Part 2