15. Now what?
He stared at her, uncomprehending.
"Well," Mina said slowly. "Both, Lothíriel and Jar- your mother, found a way to Middle-earth. And the… sisters of time, was it? They sent you here. Gandalf…"
Gandalf… a wily wizard, if ever there was one. Mina had always liked the sense of humour that showed up in those fireworks and certain scenes in "The Hobbit". If he was real, she could believe that he would come here and buy his pipes at Vauen, the company that made the pipes which had been used in the "Lord of the Rings" movies, just for the hell of it.
Elentar frowned at her.
"Gandalf," Mina continued blithely, "obviously can pass between both worlds. Therefore, what we know is this: people – and wizards – can get from here to there, and back. So… we should be able to get you back where you belong."
He did not say anything; he just looked at her, thunderstruck. And… hurt. Too late Mina realized that her assumption that he did not belong here, but that he had to want to get back there, did not necessarily have to be accurate. Indeed, now that she thought back to his story, and the way he had told it, the most striking fact about his story had been, how he had never really belonged anywhere at all.
And still he did not say anything. The silence between them lengthened, growing uncomfortable, driving embarrassed heat into Mina's cheeks.
"How about another pot of tea?" she suggested finally, clinging to her grandmother's wisdom as a last resort of rescuing a conversation that was turning into a black hole of silence.
"Okay," was all Elentar said.
Mina swallowed and nodded, turning back to the kitchen. Elentar followed her.
She filled the electric kettle with fresh water.
"Herbal or regular? Or Earl Grey?"
"Herbal will be fine."
She pulled out a soothing rooibush mixture. She certainly needed that now. There were moments when she regretted that she had never acquired a real taste for whisky.
"I'm sorry," Elentar said suddenly. "I was overwhelmed by your idea. That was a bit… much. All of that." He gestured towards the living room, where the package with Lothíriel's copied diary still sat on the table.
Mina got out fresh cups, and this time, the honey. Then there was nothing to keep her from looking at Elentar again. She backed away to the window, leaning against the radiator. Then she did look at him. She looked at that young face, that clear-cut bone structure, the mess of dark dreadlocks. Those amazing silvery-grey eyes.
She swallowed hard. She would like to see those ears again. Not an appropriate thought. Had it been less than appropriate to feel attracted to a homeless stranger, now it was out of the question.
"I am sorry," she mumbled. "I did not think."
The water started bubbling, then the kettle switched off with a click that was much too loud. Mina carefully poured the water over the sieve, grateful that she did not have to face Elentar. He had not wanted her pity and barely accepted her help, when she had thought him to be nothing but a tramp. Somehow she had the feeling that now, with her knowing who he really was, he would be even more touchy about any offer to help him.
But he had appreciated honesty.
She scooped the sieve with the tea out of the pot and set it down in the sink. "Tea's ready," she said, "Have a seat. Do you want some cookies?"
She put the tea on the table and simply took down the cookie tin, another moment of respite. When she sat down, Elentar had already poured the tea for both of them. He sat with the back to the wall, turning his profile to her. Not a good sign if there was anything to the so-called secrets of body language. She wanted to sigh, but that would not help with him at all.
"I'm sorry, Elentar. From what you told me about yourself, I simply assumed that you are not really happy here. I jumped to the conclusion that you would want to get back to your – to Middle-earth." She looked at him. He still did not look at her, but he shifted his position almost imperceptibly. As if he relaxed a bit, just a tiny, little bit.
"It was not appropriate. I'm sorry."
He released his breath in a sigh and turned around slowly. He picked up the teacup, curling both hands around the mug as if he needed something to hide behind.
"I… I would be lying if I said I had had a happy life here, Mina."
She did not want to see the darkness and despair in his eyes, of those many years, centuries of life, hope, friendship, grief, loneliness… but if he had lived those years, those centuries, she ought to be able to face what they did to his eyes when he was thinking about them. Now it was her turn to cling to her mug.
"But many men and women all around us have lives that are less than happy," Elentar added calmly. "And my life was not any better in Arda."
Arda. Not Middle-earth. Again there was that thought: did he even know the books? And who was Tolkien?
"I'm sorry," Mina repeated. And now what? They sat and drank their tea in silence, but the silence was more comfortable than it had been. And now what? Mina asked herself again. Presumably he would return to his lonely life out in the streets. And she would return to the delicate balance of dreams and making ends meet that was her life. Somehow she did not like that thought at all. Suddenly an idea sprang to life and made her heart race. It was a wild idea. It was a completely crazy idea, and she knew that it could destroy that delicate balance she had worked so long to build her life on. She recalled a conversation with Lothíriel, several years ago, when the wild streak of that orderly law student had broken through, "No risk, no fun!"
No risk, no fun.
She had met some interesting people at the Tolkien conference last year. But no one that really mattered. She had a few good friends at the university and at the Tolkien Society. But no one that challenged her, and her Sindarin, the way Elentar did. Even after such a short time, she would miss that. His sulkiness, his contrariness. Along with his beautiful voice and the chance to really learn Sindarin.
Outside the day was growing dark, and it had started to rain again. Not a surprise in February, in Berlin, but it ought to make the thought of spending the night outside under a bridge or under an overpass quite uncomfortable.
"I have an idea," Mina said abruptly. She was nervous, which made her feel short of breath. "I hope you won't feel that it's because of pity or meant as alms or something. But… Look at the weather outside: it's ghastly. No dog should sleep outside –" She bit her lips. Wrong, wrong, wrong. She quickly continued because if she stopped now, she would lose her nerve. "No one should have to sleep outside in that kind of weather. And it's going to stay that way for some time. You know how it is, you can expect spring to hit the town around the middle of April, but even then…"
He was listening, his eyebrows raised, and frowning.
"Anyway," Mina went on. "I want to learn Sindarin. Real Sindarin. And as I see it, you are the only real expert on Sindarin in this whole world. So… I've been thinking I could maybe employ you as a teacher. I'm afraid that I cannot offer you much beyond room and board. I'll have to see how much I can spare. But it would be a few Euro a week at least. And you would have a place to stay."
He opened his mouth, probably to disagree with her, so she quickly added, "I'm really not offering that out of charity. I want to improve my accent, that's all."
She glared at him.
Something in her eyes must have said more than words, for he shook his head a little and replied, his voice sounding faintly dumbstruck, "Yes, your accent is really atrocious."
"I think it's enough for tonight," Elentar said in German. "You are getting hoarse. Even you can't learn a language within three days."
Raised eyebrows and a faint smirk were enough to suppress her glare. Instead she muttered, feeling what only could be called a wry smile tugging at her lips, "But I can try."
That made him chuckle and to her surprise, reach out for her in a friendly half-embrace. "You do that, don't you? As if you are afraid I'll run away…"
The unexpected touch made her gasp. She could not deny that, elf or tramp, hundreds of years older than she was, or several years younger, she was attracted to him. She was definitely attracted to him in a way she had not experienced attraction and desire for years.
As if you are afraid I'll run away…
She turned into his embrace and looked into his eyes. They were dark like the overcast, muddy sky outside.
"Will you run away?"
She felt each heartbeat, hers and his, separate, searching, but closer than ever before.
He grew completely still. They had grown closer during the last few days. Accustomed to each other. She knew that he felt safe here, and that he enjoyed working with her, speaking Sindarin, teaching her advanced grammar, picking apart her pronunciation quite mercilessly. But he had always kept at a distance, even when she had sensed… something about him, something that shifted towards her, that made her sometimes almost hope that he felt attracted to her, too.
He inhaled deeply, but he did not draw away, as she had almost expected he would.
"I'm good at running away," he said at last. "I've had a lot of experience."
She kept looking at him. What kind of answer was that?
He gave her a strange, sad-sweet smile. But still he did not draw away.
"I'll try not to," he said. "Is that good enough?"
Is that good enough? For anyone who was even halfway sane, this was definitely not good enough, Mina thought. But the touch of his arm on hers made her nipples tingle, and her stomach tighten with need. And the sadness in his eyes made her eyes burn for him, and made her want to kiss his memories away.
"No," she replied. "It's not good enough. But…"
She slowly rose from her chair. He followed her movement, his hand sliding up her arm and around to her back.
"I don't think I care."
One step forwards, two steps backwards, Mina mused, as she entered the bathroom for an evening shower. That was exactly how she would describe her relationship with Elentar to a friend if she had had the chance to do so ( which she did not, because none of her friends knew about Elentar).
They had kissed that night, yes. But for some reason, he had not touched her. For a moment or two she had entertained thoughts of simply dragging him to her room, ravishing him on the spot, saving any regrets for later. But such wanton acts of desire, just as "one night stands", or, to be perfectly honest, inviting homeless strangers to her apartment – that was not what Wilhelmina Elbenstern did. Sensible Mina did sensible things.
He had waited in front of her room the next morning and met her with the most gentle kiss imaginable. Once she regained her senses, she regretted only one thing: that she had not opened the door of the bedroom again and…
She let the hot water spray over her body.
Her body… She was 37, and she did not exercise enough. Her body was a scholar's body, soft, without muscles, pale. She was fortunate that she was of a slender disposition, and that she was careful enough with what she ate not to abuse that genetic blessing. However, she did not think that Elentar really cared for what she looked like. Except for the fact that she was a woman.
He was attracted to her. Of that at least, she was sure.
Mina decided to use the lavender shower gel today. Elentar had become fond of the one with lemon flavour. She agreed with his choice; it enhanced the spicy scent of his skin. Not that she got close enough to smell his skin very often.
She was attracted to him.
She turned the water on again. Was it the heat of the water, or the heat of desire that made her lean her cheek against the cool tiles of the wall for relief? She closed her eyes and forced herself to relax. She had always slightly despised not only the swooning heroines of romance novels, but her infatuated girl-friends talking about nothing but the sweet release of a night well-spent with naked bodies twining, heaving…
And now she was standing here in the shower, desperately trying to stop the movie playing in her mind, with herself and Elentar in starring roles. Oh, look and a behold how the mighty have fallen!
Resolutely she turned the shower to cold.
Yes, she was a sexual being.
Yes, she desired him.
He also seemed to desire her. But if and what would come of that… If she respected him, she had to wait until he was ready for… for…
And only because she was having wild fantasies in the shower, that did not mean she was ready for… for…
She practically ran from the bathroom.
She ran right into Elentar. He stared at her without a word.
She realized that she had forgotten her towel.
Now, for the first time, she saw how his cheeks flushed. His eyes were growing dark, his gaze intent on her naked body.
What did he see that was so fascinating? Her breasts – full, not quite sagging yet, a little irregular in shape – the slight swell of stomach, the wide pubic bone, dark curls interspersed with silver even there? Or was he following the trails and drops of water running down her skin…
She shivered, feeling curiously light-headed. She met his eyes squarely.
"Would you like to come to my room with me?"
His body was not unmarked.
As she stroked over a pattern of silvery-white scars on his back, he shivered against her. The light touch of flesh against flesh made her skin tingle and grow tight, almost too tight with desire.
"Even an elf will scar, if he gets beaten with a whip often enough."
She winced, but did not draw back.
"From when you were a sailor?"
He did not reply, but she felt his nod as he moved his head against her shoulder. When his lips touched the sensitive skin between shoulder and throat, all scholarly questions she might have entertained were driven straight from her mind.
Suddenly he pressed her against him, as if he wanted to crawl inside her body, as if he wanted to feel her every limb, every muscle… His penis – she would have to ask him what the Sindarin word was for that – was pressed high and hard against her stomach. And although she felt almost liquid with desire, somehow this was something more than sexual. It went beyond being hungry for sex and release.
He was holding her so tightly that she could hardly breathe, and he was beginning to shake. It started in infinitesimal shivers, like the waves of goose bumps that sometimes flow over the skin between the heat of desire and the cool air of the room, but it turned into shuddering, into an earthquake of helpless shaking, and she did not know what to do or what to say. So she simply returned his embrace. She held him as tightly against her body as she could. She pushed her breasts against his chest. She pressed her pubic bone against the root of his member; she twined her legs around his. She tried to breathe through the heavy, slightly scratchy weight of dread locks that was resting on her lips and the unbelievable, almost painful desire that was making her body shake in response.
And she held him. Simply held him.
After a long time, the shaking diminished, and so did the hardness. He grew soft against her, relaxing in her embrace. Finally, he turned his head up and faced her again. His face was wet with tears, and his left hand trailed down from her shoulder, to her arm, to her breast, to her navel in an almost reverent gesture. As if… slowly thoughts returned to her mind. As if she had done much more than simply holding him and allowing him to cling to her.
"When's the last time someone touched you?" she asked softly.
He looked at her through his tears, and she knew he would tell her the truth.
"Almost one hundred years ago," he replied. "I was wounded during the First World War. The wound needed to be taken care of, cleaned, sown, bandaged."
It was a scar that trailed his ribs on the right side, just above the stomach. Mina knew enough about wounds and history to know that no mortal man would have survived a wound like that. She reached out and followed the outline of the scar with her fingertips.
"It's been almost one hundred years since the last time someone touched you?"
He shivered again under her light touch. But he did not draw back, and he did not look away when their eyes met.
"Yes," he replied.
They did not sleep with each other that night, or the next night or any other night during that week. They slept in each other's arms. They kissed and they held each other close, naked skin to naked skin. There was heat, and there was desire, but there was more: a soft longing of sinking into each other, of finding a home in the other, body and soul, when their world would not offer them a home like that.
Somewhere in her mind, Mina realized that she was already neck-deep, and sinking quickly. She was falling in love with Elentar, and she was not sure if that was a good idea. When he held her close, when there was this endless need in his eyes, this incredible yearning, she was almost sure that he would not simply leave her, would not run away again. But… what he had offered her, painfully honest, made her doubt, made her question her sanity whenever she was not with him.
"I'll try not to," he had told her. "Is that good enough?"
Fuck, no. It was not good enough, not nearly good enough. She was 37. "I'll try not to run away" was nowhere near good enough. But she was already too much in love with him to send him away. Even without the additional bond sex would tie between them.
It was Saturday evening, and they had decided to stay home. Mina had suggested going to a concert or to the movies, but she had not really been surprised when Elentar had told her that he would prefer to stay at home.
"I'm glad you are comfortable here," she said. He was, curled up in the corner of the couch, reading Chaucer, a cup of tea on the table next to him. He looked up, for a moment his expression was guarded, wary, but then he relaxed, and gave her a smile that was so sweet she felt her heart melt.
"How could I not be? I am allowed to live in the most comfortable library I have ever seen, and I may drink tea while reading."
Was that a grin?
"I can't help myself," Mina replied tersely. "I simply like books."
Elentar put his book down, obviously quite content with being interrupted. Sometimes, she knew by now, her presence, the confinement of the apartment bothered him, scared him, perhaps. But at the same time he was hesitant to leave. As if… she and the safe haven of the apartment could disappear once he was outside in the street again. He also, Mina realized, simply enjoyed talking. The friendly company of another person. A person who knew who – and what he really was. Was that what had finally driven him to the fringes of society? That he could not bear to live one lifetime after another of lying to those he cared for?
"I'll even allow you to eat crisps, cookies or chocolate while you are reading," Mina offered. "Your choice." She put the sweets down on the table.
"This is paradise!" He tried the chocolate.
"I take it your father was very protective about his books?"
"Yeah," Elentar closed his eyes, his expression one of intent concentration on the flavour and texture of the chocolate. Mina watched with fascination how Elentar could give himself completely to the moment. Somehow that surprised her, with him being an immortal. She felt her tongue move to her lips in thoughtfulness. Maybe he had to be like that? In order to stay alive, as time and generations of men passed him by?
He opened his eyes again, his gaze catching her eyes, then travelling lower, following the womanly curves of her body. Mina felt heat rise to her cheeks. He winked at her, and she knew that the heat had to show in a slight flush that was visible at least to an elf.
"Yes, he was," Elentar went on, and the happy gleam faded from his eyes. "He said he had it from his father, my grandfather. Elrond. Elrond Peredhel, a great lore-master and warrior in his younger days. He was herald to the High King during the Second Age of Arda."
He really did not know the books!
Mina sat down at the other side of the couch. "You really don't know the books, do you?"
He fidgeted uncomfortably. Finally he sighed. He probably knew by now that Mina, a relentless scholar, would never leave the matter alone.
"No, I don't. I am good with languages, and I am an avid reader, when I get the chance. However, during earlier centuries, I was rarely rich enough to afford the idleness of scholarship. And… for a homeless street musician it's sometimes not that easy to get access to the public libraries. They don't want tramps and beggars in there, you know."
Mina winced. Elentar ignored her reaction.
"I think I did notice that there was something odd to the books when those movies came out." He looked at Mina, his face a little too tight and empty. "I… I could hardly fail to notice the promotion posters that sported someone with the same name as my grandfather." He shrugged. "Maybe I did not want to see the connection? Maybe I do not want to know how someone comes to be writing about what appears to be my home and my native language?"
He gave Mina that look with the raised eyebrows. Hugo Weaving had not been that far off the mark, Mina contemplated. Apart from the hairline, of course.
"I could change the subject now," Mina offered, "and ask you if I may touch your ears tonight."
That brought a grin to Elentar's face. "No. It's okay. I can see that you are incredibly curious, Mina. And though I would like to deny it…" The by now familiar shadow darkened his eyes and features, but he kept smiling at her. "I do admit that I am curious, too. Give me those books that are good enough to make you want to learn Sindarin with such passion. Maybe I'll even find out what's responsible for that accent of yours…"
She did not rise to the bait.
"I would like to know who Tolkien really was," she said.
"You don't believe he was from this world?"
She shook her head. "The world he 'created' always felt too real to me. Too real for someone who was just a visitor there, either in his imagination or for real. And… though there's not much about Sindarin and Quenya in his writings really, no matter that it was obviously enough to spoil my accent –" now she did glare at him, "– I think it's too much for someone to make it all up on his own. Yes, I think that Tolkien was not from this world. But damned if I know why he wrote books about your history and published them here. And why he stayed here."
Or did he? There was a grave in this world with Jarro inside it. Yet here on the sofa, curled up not quite as comfortably as a few minutes ago, was the living, breathing proof that only because there was a grave in one world, did not necessarily mean that there was not a second life in another world.
"Well," Elentar said slowly. "I guess there's only one thing we can do to find out. Give me those books and I'll read them."
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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.