The Return of the Shadow: 18. Fancrone

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18. Fancrone

Disclaimer: The letters mentioned in this chapter are a product of my imagination, they were never written in real life.

oooOooo

18. Fancrone

Mina leaned back in her chair and rubbed at her eyes. She was not sure if it was due to her pregnancy or simply to the long hours they spent at the library each day, but she was tired. Probably a bit of both. She felt as if she could lie down for a nap right then and there.

Napping in the library, she grinned wryly. Surely a time-honoured activity…

The library building that housed the Tolkien archive was situated on the outskirts of the small baroque town of Eichstätt, nestled in between tall, ancient trees and overlooking the meadows of the park at the edge of the river. It was small and quiet, filled with the comforting dusty scent of books and the warm quiet of slow breaths spent studying all day. Because it was an old, and an old-fashioned, library, there were still books in the reading room. Three walls of the room were taken up with shelves reaching from the floor to the ceiling. You could simply walk along the shelves and pick up whatever you were interested in, take it to your desk, sit down and read. In the storing room around the corner was a copy machine that was ridiculously cheap compared to what the university of Berlin charged.

When they had asked to see the Tolkien archive, the librarian had been grumpy at first. "It's mainly letters and scholarly material, from the Inklings – nothing to do with the movies, nothing fancy at all. We only have it because one of the presidents of this university was a member of the Inklings." Apparently rabid fans had disrupted the quiet life of the librarian when the movie hype had been going strong.

Mina had only smiled and nodded. "I know. I work for the German Tolkien Society, and my assistant and I are preparing a booklet for our annual conference."

She had produced her ID and watched how a smile had spread on the face of the old man. He had ushered them to a desk right at the window – "Better light over here." – and insisted on getting the fat catalogue with the references to the archived material down for them himself, swaying precariously on the ladder.

Unfortunately, the librarian had been right. While the archive certainly held a number of scholarly treasures, the statement that it was "nothing fancy" was undeniably true. And yet, somehow Mina felt that if they were going to find something, it would be here, or in another collection away from the beaten tracks of Tolkien research.

"It would help if we knew what we are looking for," Elentar whispered, putting down another few pages of gilded paper filled with the sprawling handwriting of one of the Inklings. Initially undaunted by what had been described as a "box with letters" to them, they had decided to go through the complete correspondence of Inklings that was available in the archive.

Mina sighed. That was a part of the problem. They had no idea what they were looking for. "It would be nice if we came across a set of simple instructions, wouldn't it? But I don't think so." She cast a baleful eye at the stack of papers on her side of the desk.

"One more letter," she murmured, "And then I think we'll call it a day."

Elentar nodded and turned back to his own stack.

Mina reached for the last papers on her "to do" heap and settled down to read.

"…our friend Ronald (Tolkien) is finally getting old and a bit weird, it seems. After the death of his wife, he has become more and more solitary and reclusive. Last week I spoke with his publisher, and he complained about some of the old gentleman's extravagancies. Apparently he has given a gift of three purebred Siamese cats (or another noble breed) to an admirer of his works. A spleen of an aging writer, you might say. But you know as well as I do that our good Tolkien does not even like cats. If anything he is what we call a dog person. The publisher told me that the old chap insisted on having instructions for their care prepared by his solicitor (!), and the gift was only to be executed if the lady signed those instructions, vowing most solemnly to do everything as he ordered it in those papers…"

Mina frowned. This was indeed odd. Tolkien's attitude towards cats had sparked many discussions among the cat-lovers in Tolkien fandom. Did he hate them? Or was he simply not a "cat person"? The feline imagery in "The Lord of the Rings" seemed to suggest that he was not a great friend of cats. And, of course, the tale of the "Queen Berúthiel" as it was mentioned in a footnote of "Unfinished Tales". But of course there was also that cat poem he had written, which was quite friendly and funny. At least it did not speak of any particular hatred towards the feline race.

And there was something else about cats, something she felt she should know, but she did not quite remember it. Mina glanced at the date and origin of the letter again and at the address. Maybe there was a reply somewhere in the archive? Or a follow-up letter?

She looked at her watch and shook her head. It was too late to request another item from the archive. Slightly annoyed she bent over her notepad and wrote down the information she would need on the next day to request the rest of this particular correspondence.

Then she got up and went to make a copy of the passage that mentioned this strange gift. Walking cleared her mind a little, but it also made her realize just how tired she was. If this got any worse, she mused, she would spend the rest of her pregnancy curled up in bed and asleep.

When she got back to their desk, Elentar was already cleaning up their days work, carefully stacking together the material that had to be returned to the archive. Mina gathered their notes and photocopies together, and within ten minutes they were ready to go, just in time for closing. The librarian wished them a pleasant evening, asking diffidently if they were satisfied with their progress.

To Mina's surprise it was Elentar who replied first, with a polite "thank you" and a few friendly words about the weather.

As they were walking along the river on the way back to the centre of the city, Mina dared to ask a question.

"I think you are really enjoying this work. Are you thinking about becoming a scholar after all?"

Elentar favoured her with his customary scowl. Mina chuckled. Sometimes even Elentar was predictable.

"I guess when all is said and done, I am my father's son," Elentar replied. "And my grandfather's grandson," he added as an afterthought. Then, unexpectedly, he reached for Mina's hand, holding it firmly, but gently in his right hand as they walked along.

"You are right. I am really beginning to enjoy this. Somehow… working with you, in this quiet little library, it's soothing."

For a while they walked along in silence, enjoying the spring sunshine and the sweet fragrance of new growth and delicate blossoms.

"I also like this place," he admitted, gesturing at the old buildings of the quiet town. "I feel less out of place. Not as lost. The passage of years seems to be slower here."

Mina smiled. Even though he was now very respectably dressed, he looked more out of place here than he had in Berlin. He was only so used to be looked upon askance that he did not even notice how much he stood out in this quaint little university town in the most conservative of the German states. But she could see that he was more relaxed here than he had been in Berlin.

"The rapid changes in Berlin during the last twenty years must have been difficult for you," she said. Time, the pace of the modern times and the perception of time in this day and age was quite a topic in science, for historians as well as for psychologists. The perception of time had changed dramatically during the last one hundred years. The speed of history, the speed of living had picked up. If ordinary people suffered from the pace, Mina mused, how much worse would that be for Elentar? But he had survived. He had been able to adapt to abrupt and dramatic changes of his life and environment.

"What are you thinking?"

She smiled at him. "That Tolkien, or whoever wrote those books, did not really get you right."

"Why?"

"Well, obviously you are adapting successfully to a world that is changing rapidly around you. Or you wouldn't be around anymore."

He laughed at that, but quickly grew serious again. "Maybe I'm simply too stubborn for my own good."

They turned around the corner and were now walking down a narrow lane between high walls of sandstone. Stonecrop was putting forth its first buds of the year in the cracks between the squares.

"I wouldn't know how it is for elves in general," Elentar went on, "if the passage of time is wearisome for them. I have never lived with elves, remember?"

There was a hint of pain in his voice. An echo of that pain seemed to cramp together Mina's stomach, cold and tight. She resisted the urge to reach into herself and draw strength from the peaceful growing of her daughter. But her determination to find a way to Middle-earth – and more specifically to Aman – was renewed. She did not want her daughter to grow up like that, so lost and alone.

At a loss for words, Mina did the only thing she could think of. She changed the topic.

"Did you find anything today?"

Elentar shook his head. "Quite some interesting gossip, but nothing that was in any way extraordinary. No easy instructions how to get from here to Aman in three days." He paused and glanced at her sideways. "But you found something, didn't you? In that last letter."

He was definitely more perceptive than an ordinary man.

"I'm not sure if it is anything. I'll have to try and find out if they have a reply to that letter and maybe a follow-up to it tomorrow. But yes, it was something. Something odd. About Tolkien."

"Odd? Odder than him writing about another world?"

"Oh, hush!" Mina released Elentar's hand, playfully swatting at him. He caught her hand with ease and drew her against him, kissing her irritation away.

"So what did you discover?"

"Discover?" Kissing Elentar tended to disrupt her concentration.

"Oh. Yes. It's a letter from one of the Inklings, a friend of Tolkien's. It was written sometime after the death of his wife. Tolkien's wife I mean. And the writer said of how Tolkien was finally getting a little strange in his old age. Apparently Tolkien gave a few cats to an admirer of his books, and not just any cats, but some very expensive breed, with detailed instructions on what she was to do with them. And he didn't even like cats!"

Elentar frowned at her. "While that does sound slightly eccentric, I don't see any connection to what we are looking for, to be honest."

Mina sighed. "Yes, I know. I said that I'm not sure it's anything. But there's something about cats and Tolkien that's bothering me. As if I'm missing a clue that's sitting right in front of me." She shrugged. "Maybe I'll get lucky tomorrow and find the follow-up letter. Maybe that will explain what I think I'm missing here. Let's talk about something else. What shall we do for dinner?"

They had a room in a small bed and breakfast with a lovely view of the wooded hills that surrounded the town. But that also meant they had to come up with plans for dinner every day. And although Eichstätt had some very nice restaurants, the variety was not quite up to the standards they were used to.

"Italian?"

Mina rolled her eyes. "Again? On the other hand, why not? I could have a lasagne…"

"Again?"

Mina's stomach rumbled, reminding her that she was eating for two at the moment.

oooOooo

She was in luck. The archive had a reply to the letter and, even better, a reply to the reply. Mina waited impatiently for the librarian to return from the archives with her loot. She all but snatched it from his hands and ran straight to their desk, eager to find out more about Tolkien's cats.

Apparently the person to whom the first letter had been addressed was a great cat lover and therefore openly curious about the strange gift of cats.

"Yes," she murmured, "That's exactly what I want to know, too. Why did he give those cats to a reader? And what were those instructions?"

Eagerly she thumbed through the pages to get to the follow-up letter.

The weather… a sermon at church… where was the reply about the cats?

There! At the very end.

"…I am glad I could amuse you with the tale about the feline gift our friend Tolkien gave to that long time admirer. Unfortunately I find myself not in a position to satisfy your curiosity. When asked about the incident – why he had invested such an effort into instructions about the treatment of a couple of cats (as your rightly remarked, my dear fellow, how difficult can it be to take care of cats, even if they are a special breed) – he merely shrugged and smiled.

'Not difficult at all,' he told me. 'As long as they are never let outside.'

He seemed to think this a great joke, which I have to say, I cannot share or comprehend. Maybe the breed is delicate in nature, so that they must not leave the confines of a house.

I hope this letter finds you well…"

Mina drummed her finger against her lips. Maybe there had been no clue after all. Maybe this was only an old man's folly, an eccentric way to say "thank you" to a faithful reader?

But still. There was something about cats.

Finally Mina shook her head and went to the shelf to look for "The Lord of the Rings" itself. Perhaps looking at the well-known story would make her realize what it was that she felt she was missing about this story.

Cats… no cats in the index, and why would there be? There were no cats in LOTR, save for that silly song in the Prancing Pony and that saying about Queen Berúthiel's cats…

…Queen Berúthiel's cats!
Mina thumbed to index II, "Persons, Beasts and Monsters".

Berúthiel, Queen. Book I, page 408.

She picked up book one and found page 408. There it was:

"…he is surer of finding the way home in a blind night than the cats of Queen Berúthiel."

Suddenly Mina remembered. Queen Berúthiel's cats had first appeared in LOTR in this short line, which was later explained by Tolkien as a reference to a well-known saying in Middle-earth, about how the cats of Queen Berúthiel would always find their way home, no matter how far away they were.

They always found their way home.

What was the reason for not letting cats outside, Mina mused. Of course the writer of that letter was right – purebred cats could have a delicate constitution that would not agree with being outside in the cold and wet. If you lived in the city, or near a big street, it would not be advisable.

Or… if you had just moved. Mina recalled a tale a friend had told her once, about a tomcat running back to its former home over the distance of many hundred kilometres.

They always find their way back home.

Would they even find their way back home if this home was not in this world at all?

Mina stared at the letter and the book.

They always find their way back home.

What a fantastic idea! What a completely crazy idea!

"Elentar," she whispered, and she barely noticed how her voice was shaking. "I think I have something."

oooOooo

Mina put down the phone. Her head hurt. Her feet hurt.

"And?"

She shrugged, rubbing her temples.

"Well, Tolkien Estate will consider my request. That's the best I could get out of him. And I'd better get going with that booklet for the annual conference of the German Tolkien Society. If I don't have enough serious material to impress them with, we'll get not beyond the considering stage with them."

The alibi project that had helped them doing their research at the university library of Eichstätt was supposed to get them access to the secret vaults of the Tolkien Estate as well, or more precisely, access to the letters of instructions for the care of three cats gifted from one J.R.R. Tolkien to one Madeleine Archer, Stow-on-the-Wold, Cotswolds, in 1972.

"Since the movies came out, it's practically impossible to get anything out of them. Damn those rabid fan girls."

Elentar raised his eyebrows at her, but he did not say anything.

Mina glared at him as she realized that in a way "rabid fan girl" – well, probably rather "fancrone", since she was not really a girl anymore, was probably the correct expression for someone who was so madly in love with "The Lord of the Rings" that she had attempted translating it into Sindarin.

"Yes, yes, I know, if the shoe fits, wear it. Get used to it; you are married to a rabid…"

He grinned at her, quite impudently. Sometimes it seemed to Mina that at least what Tolkien had written about the "Osanwë Kenta", the mind-speech of the Eldar, was true. She was almost certain that sometimes Elentar could read her thoughts, though she herself did not experience anything similar where Elentar's thoughts were concerned.

"Go on," she said. "Say it out loud."

"What should I say?"

He reached for her and pulled her against him, his fingers digging firmly, but gently into the tight muscles of her neck and shoulders.

"Ahhhh…" She relaxed against him, enjoying the closeness of his body. She wished their bodies would get even closer, but since that first night, Elentar had carefully kept a certain distance. He held her often, kissed her, too. But not more than that.

"Ohhh…" It felt so good to have that painful tightness teased out of her muscles.

"Fancrone," she gasped and tilted her head back to receive a kiss.

"Whose?"

She turned around to roll her eyes at him more effectively. She loved the way the pointy tips of his ears peeked through the dark mess of his matted curls.

"Yours, of course."

oooOooo

It was Elentar's voice that woke her. Somehow she was always tired at the moment, and no day seemed to go by without at least one nap, sometimes even three. Mina dreaded the end of the holidays, when she would have to return to university, evening classes and her job at the Tolkien Society. How would they find the time to discover a way back to Middle-earth between jobs, pregnancy related fatigue and other exigencies of everyday life? And she would have to find a way to conceal the fact that her pregnancy would last three months longer than normal, and what if there were any problems because the baby was Elvenkind? And…

Elentar was speaking English.

Flawless British sounding English. Suddenly Mina was wide awake. Sitting up in bed, she tried to make out what he was saying.

"Yes, thank you, a faxed copy would be great. We appreciate that very much."

"Yes, of course we will send you a sample. Thank you very much for your help."

"Yes, if we have any more questions, we will call on you again. That is a most generous offer. Thank you again."

"Yes, and to you. Bye."

Elentar put the phone down, and only a minute later the phone rang again, and then the fax machine started printing noisily. Mina got out of bed and padded over to where Elentar was standing, his eyes on the fax. His thoughts probably worlds away.

Without turning, he said, "I still don't believe it."

They had not discovered anything even vaguely useful apart from the cat story. And Elentar did not like the cat story at all, claiming to be a dog person. Mina suspected that Elentar's reaction was more due to the fact that he did not really want to return to Middle-earth. Here, he was a stranger, and there was a very good reason for his loneliness, and the difficulties in his life. There… as long as he had lived in Middle-earth, he had felt a stranger in his homeland.

"Was that Tolkien Estate?"

He nodded. "Apparently Christopher Tolkien remembered you." He raised an eyebrow at her suggestively. She only shook her head at him.

"Silly man doesn't even begin to cover it," she told him. "You… elf!"

But there was no real heat in her voice. She held out her hand for the fax.

"But it's good to know that Mr Tolkien remembers me. Now let's hope there's something useful in here."

"My dear friend,

I am sending this gift to you as a small token of my affection. You have always believed in my Middle-earth, and for this my heart goes out to you. What tales I had to tell about Arda and Aman, I have told; I doubt that what time is allotted to me on this earth will allow me to finish the tale for which you have asked me repeatedly. Therefore, the truth behind the rumours regarding the Queen Berúthiel will probably forever remain hidden now.

In my present circumstances I find that I do not have the heart to tell this tale. I thank you for the kind sympathy you have extended to me, and I hope the company of these grey felines that you adore so much may ease your disappointment. Instructions for their care you may find enclosed in this envelope. Begging your patience, I shall repeat the most important rule in this note. I pray you to never let those cats outside. The fickle feline nature should without doubt, turn their minds towards their home instantly. And you and I are old now. Where they would go, we cannot follow anymore.

Maybe one day others may undertake this adventure.

I shall keep you in my prayers continually for such as they are worth.

Yours very sincerely,

…"

Elentar had been reading the letter over her shoulder. Now he sucked his breath in, producing a low whistle.

"Okay. You win."

Mina turned around to face him, her stomach suddenly fluttering with nerves. She felt weak-kneed and almost sick, as if she had just climbed out of a roller-coaster.

"We'll have to find this Madeleine Archer."

Elentar nodded. "Yes, I think so. But… if she was around Tolkien's age in 1972, I don't think she will be alive today. And although I do know the legend of Queen Berúthiel, I have no idea if those mythical cats live longer than ordinary felines."

Mina shivered, her hands and face growing cold with fear. "But… but… he said… the way he said it…" She pointed at the fax.

"Maybe one day others may undertake this adventure."

"Surely the cats will still be alive?" Her voice sounded pleading and helpless even to her own ears. She did not even try to blink away her tears. "Surely they are still alive… somewhere?"

Elentar exhaled the breath he had been holding and put his arms around her, pulling her into a firm, protective embrace.

"If there is a way back to Middle-earth, we'll find it, Mina. I promise."

oooOooo

A/N: the term "fancrone", coined by Alon, refers to any female fan-person who is no longer a teenager, and thus, no longer a fan girl. Fancrones of the world unite!


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.

Story Information

Author: JunoMagic

Status: General

Completion: Work in Progress

Era: Multi-Age

Genre: General

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 08/08/07

Original Post: 03/05/06

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