9. The Sorrows of Her Changing Face
Posey was led through the corridors and showed to her room. "You'll be next to my bedchamber for this visit," Linda explained. "It's best to have me near until you know your way around this place."
The room had a large bed with hangings, a tall wardrobe, and a washstand with a pitcher and basin. Posey looked around for the door to the bathroom.
"This is it," Linda said, reaching under the bed. "A chamber pot, if you want to avoid the walk down the hall to the privy."
"And where is that?"
"Come, I'll show you. There are privies and washrooms on every level."
"Multi-story outhouses?" Posey said. "Then I really hope we're on the top floor."
Linda laughed her tinkling laugh. "Glenn made the same joke back in the Third Age, when Thranduil first laid out his plans for the caves."
"Then great minds must think alike," Posey muttered.
"Don't worry -- they're staggered from level to level. Here we are," she said as they reached the end of the corridor. "This is the cirth symbol for males, this other is for females. You will learn them in time, but for now all you need to remember is right and left."
The privies were in an interior room, each partitioned off for privacy and covered by a wooden lid and seat.
"A word to the wise," Linda said. "Do not drop anything down them that you do not wish to lose, and keep the lids shut. From here the waste drops to a gently sloping chamber at ground level where gravity takes it slowly toward the outlet. By the time it reaches the end, it has broken down from its own heat into compost, but the process takes years."
"This isn't unpleasant at all," Mariposa said.
"The chamber is well vented to the top of the mountain. It's the next best thing to a flush toilet. And the water outlets are in the outer room, for washing or filling your pitcher for your washstand. Turn the pipes either way to make the water flow."
"How do you manage running water in a cave?"
"There's a river flowing through the base of the mountain. We use windmills to pump it to cisterns at the top and gravity does the rest." Linda smiled with more than a hint of self-satisfaction. "There was a time when our realm was considered backward. I once overheard a Noldorin ambassador from Imladris sneeringly refer to our cave as a low rent Menegroth, but we had running water and decent toilet facilities when Elrond's folk were hauling their water from wells and using pits dug into the earth."
"What about bathing?"
"The boilers are lit mornings and evenings so that you can draw some hot water for washing. It's possible to bathe in your room if you ask for a tub, but it's much easier to use the bathing pools in the cellars. Just ask me, and I'll take you there."
"Maybe later. I'll just have a quick wash and lie down for a while. This has all been . . . a lot to absorb at once."
"Of course, Mariposa. Have a rest. And I'll be having a word with Hal about pointing his gun at you." She sighed. "Once a warrior, always a warrior, but he makes my job difficult at times."
Once back in her room, Posey fell onto the bed in exhaustion. Just a short nap, she told herself. She shut her eyes.
* * *
When she awoke, the crystal in her ceiling was still glowing and the candles in her wall sconces were still burning, but she noticed that clothing had been laid out on the bed beside her. The pitcher at her washstand had been filled, and she stripped off her ripped jeans and torn shirt and had a wash before putting on the new garments.
The clothing consisted of pull on trousers and a long loosely fitted tunic with a split skirt. No underwear. Which made her wonder if everyone around here did without it, and, with the image of Leif and Glenn and the rest of the males going commando, she decided it was best to put the thought out of her mind entirely.
A sensation in her bladder made her wonder just how long she had been asleep, and she left her room and headed for the privy. Out in the corridor, she met Leif, headed in the same direction and carrying a chamber pot. He grinned and shrugged impishly. "That's life on 'The Rez.' Good morning, Mariposa. You slept a long time."
Morning? That explained the need to pee and how hungry she was.
"They called you something yesterday, Linda and Wendell did. Laygolass?"
"That's my name," he said. "Legolas 'Greenleaf' at your service -- at least I'll be at your service once I lose the pisspot," he said with a wink.
Leif/Leaf -- very funny, she thought. He still managed to look utterly dashing, even outside the privy door, holding his own chamber pot, she told herself with a little mental sigh. To her surprise, he began to chuckle. "What? It's almost as if you can read my mind."
"The older we get, the more we can sense the thoughts of mortals," he said. "I try to stay out of other people's minds, but sometimes your thoughts are as plain as if they were written on your forehead. I'm very flattered."
She immediately turned bright red and excused herself, using the Midwich Cuckoos tactic of thinking about a brick wall, before the term 'commando' could cross her mind. Too late; she heard a snort of laughter as the heavy wooden door of the women's section of the privy shut behind her.
* * *
"What are they doing?" Posey asked, as elves pulled a heavy sledge carrying a six-foot evergreen tree past them. The wooden runners scraped on the stone floor of the cave's entrance chamber.
"Today is the Solstice," Linda said. "We celebrate it with an ancient custom."
Glenn came from the direction of the great stone gates, fussily brushing snow from his shoulder. "A snowball," he said, in response to Linda's unspoken question.
He shook his head. "Hal. But I acquitted myself well. Master Haldir is out on the bridge, shaking two fistfuls of snow out of the back of his tunic." Glenn seemed rather pleased with himself.
Linda rolled her eyes. "Men. A little snow and you turn into elflings. Did Leaf choose a good one?"
"Of course. I don't understand how you managed to keep Aran indoors, though."
"It was Felice's doing," Linda said. "She has an infallible method for keeping Aran in his room, and while he's not healthy enough to go tramping through the woods, he is well enough for that activity."
Glenn grinned. "Would that the Lady Healer would prescribe such a pleasant remedy for me! Good morning, Mariposa," he said, as the three of them followed the sledge to the throne hall. "I hope you're finding your stay here enjoyable."
Posey nodded. She was more curious about the fir tree, which was being removed from the sledge and set into a tub. She noticed a root ball, wrapped in cloth. "It's a Christmas tree?"
"Not exactly," Linda said. "It's an Avarren custom, celebrated in Greenwood since the early part of the Second Age. Although, I suppose word seeped out and it became the basis for the German Tannenbaum. We'll keep this one in the throne hall until the first day of Narvain -- the Yule, and then we'll plant it back in the forest."
As Linda spoke, other elves were filing into the throne hall. The last ones in were Felice and Aaron, followed by Leaf, carrying a carved wooden casket. Felice had a rosy glow on her cheeks, Posey noticed, and Aaron was looking very relaxed. The box was opened, and its contents were hung on the tree -- rings, brooches, bracelets and necklaces, their gems sparkling brightly in the reflected torchlight. The last out was a little necklace of silver and pearls, which Aaron ran though his fingers with a fond smile before hanging it at the very top of the tree.
At the very last, Felice reached up and removed the crown of holly berries from her husband's yellow hair. She hung it on the topmost branches, saying, "I dub thee Lord of Misrule." There was scattered applause, and Aaron laughed deeply.
"For the days between the Solstice and Yule," Glenn explained, "that tree is our king, and Aran has himself a well deserved rest from the rigors of leadership."
"What happens if something important comes up between now and Yule?" Posey asked, half seriously.
Glenn made a wry face. "In that case, I imagine the tree would have to consult Aran. And now . . . we party!"
Someone struck up a harp and pitchers of wine began to circulate. Mariposa noticed that Aaron headed toward a small group of elves, one of whom was the dark-haired lawyer who had greeted them upon arrival. Seated at his side was a white haired woman who looked to be in her eighties. She already had a glass of wine in her hand and she raised it in a toast as Aaron joined them.
"One more year, Aran!"
'One more year, Tovah, " he replied, saluting her with his own glass. "Le Chaim!"
"Who is that woman?" Posey whispered. "I thought you elves didn't age"
"Magorion's -- you know of him as Morrie -- wife is a mortal woman. Morrie and Tovah spend most of their time back east here in the Homeland now that they've reached the stage where the explanations would prove to be difficult. It's always awkward when a spouse is mistaken for a parent or grandparent." Glenn sighed. "The next few years will be hard for Magorion. They always are when a mortal spouse reaches the end. Most of us don't have the courage to try it. Leaf did twice, and I know it was painful for him -- so painful he seems to have given up on it."
"You mean Leaf's two wives were . . .?"
"Mortal women, yes. He always had a fondness for mortal females."
Mariposa nodded. So that was what Linda had meant by 'not his type.' "What happened to them?"
Glenn sighed again. "They died. That's how it is with mortals."
"And there were no children?" Posey asked, remembering Felice's cryptic words.
Glenn shook his head. "Elf women seem to bear children to mortal men quite readily, but with the elf men . . . it's not quite so easy. It's rare that a marriage like that produces children. That's why it's been worth it for Magorion. He and Tovah have a daughter. You would have met her except for the fact that she didn't come east this year. Her daughter-in-law just had her first child, and she's staying home to take care of the two of them."
Posey looked over at the group where Aaron laughed with Magorion and his wife. The dark haired elf was as youthful and handsome as all the rest, looking the same age as Aaron. A great-grandfather! And yet, the look on his face as he gazed upon his elderly wife was one of loving adoration. And why not? To him, she must be incredibly young. "Was she beautiful?" she asked softly.
"She IS beautiful, Mariposa. Especially to him. You mortals are so vital, so fleeting, and we elves find it enchanting because it's something we can't do ourselves."
Mariposa looked around the stone chamber. Everything was so beautiful, yet so strange. The tall pillars carved of the living rock, the burning torches, the tree with its jewels, and the people themselves, all young and lovely beyond description. Leaf and Gary -- she wondered what Gary's real name was -- stood talking as casually as if they were in The Harp at home, yet instead of their khaki trousers and button down shirts, they wore tunics of shining fabric and their hair gleamed in the torchlight. Linda had wandered over and stood at Leaf's side. Just as at home, she never met his eye, nor did he meet hers as she laughed with Gary. And suddenly it became all too much.
"I think I need to powder my nose," she said lamely.
"Your nose looks just fine," Glenn said.
"I need to go to the privy," she said pointedly. Gosh, these elves could be annoyingly literal most of the time.
"I'll take you --" Glenn began.
"No! I can find my own way. Please!" She nodded curtly and practically ran from the hall. Out in the corridor, she leaned back against the rough stone wall and shut her eyes. She didn't have to pee; it had been an excuse to be alone. Hearing voices, she ducked into the nearest doorway.
The chamber she found herself in seemed to be some kind of museum display room. The walls were hung with tapestries depicting strange and ancient scenes. There were weapons too -- a bow and quiver, a long sword with symbols on the blade, two slender knives with what looked to be ivory handles -- either on stands or hanging on the wall. The rear wall of the chamber had a mural that must have spanned fifteen feet from side to side. Mariposa approached it slowly with a soft smile of recognition.
It was a moonlit scene depicting a large meadow with low hills and three slender white towers in the background. She knew it well, for she had seen it in her childhood coloring book and on the wall in Leif's office back in Chicago, but nothing could have prepared her for the beauty of the original. The horses and the riders were almost life-sized and the detail was rich. Many of the faces in the group of riders were familiar to her. Hal was on a black horse in the third row and many of the people she worked with back in Chicago were in the ranks. At the head of the train, on a grey horse, was Leif, and beside him rode Felice.
"No father ever had a better son."
Mariposa jumped and whirled to find Aaron standing behind her.
"My boy came home to me, and he brought her with him. He had to defy the gods themselves to do it." Aaron smiled at her sadly. "Mariposa, have you ever had a moment when all seemed lost to despair and then suddenly things reversed direction?"
She smiled back. "I think I've had one of those moments. Yes."
"I will never forget that long ago day, when the birds began to bring whispers of a group of elves riding eastward across the plains of the Anduin. That very morning I had fancied I saw the light of the candle flame through my own hand, and I had feared it was the first sign of the end for me. Instead, it was a new beginning.
"Imladris had been deserted for many a year and Lothlórien was empty. Even the Havens held only a few of Cirdan's folk, awaiting the last stragglers out of Ennor. The elves of Ithilien had drifted back home to the Greenwood, once the rulers of Gondor had forgotten the old friendships. So who could it be? I rode out and met them, just inside the forest gate." Aaron paused and shook his head, lost in the old memory. "I couldn't believe my eyes. And when I finally believed it was true, I didn't know which one of them to embrace first."
The names and the places were all Greek to her, as was the history, but the human drama was universal. "Let me guess -- you hugged your wife."
Aaron let out a laugh, this time hearty. "You have that right! My father, bless his memory, he didn't raise any fools. But it wasn't long before I hugged my son. Parting from him had been almost as bad as losing her."
Aaron paused for a time, a poignant pause. "Don't ever tell my wife I said this to you, but I'm glad my son's marriages produced no children. It has been a great sadness to him, to be sure, but his children would have been mortal and he would have had to watch them age and die just as he saw his wives do. My son has loved and lost many friends in his time, and he has borne the loss with courage, but I think that losing a child to death would have been beyond even his strength. I will not risk seeing him fade from that grief."
Posey had no idea how to respond to that.
"And to think I have a dwarf to thank for all of it," Aaron continued. "If you had told me, I would scarcely have believed it. Dwarves were always my enemies, until my son became friends with one and made me put my mistrust aside. Leaf has told me very little about his time in Aman, but he tells me that his friend Gimli is buried near the forges of Aulë, and that his dying words were, 'I loved you, Laddie, but don't you dare burn that boat.'"
"Dwarves? Do you mean Little People?"
Aaron laughed. "They may be short, but there is nothing 'little' about them. They stay in their mountain now; they have a harder time passing in the modern world than my people do, but I couldn't have done it without Durin's folk. My best jewelry comes from Erebor, and many of my toy designs as well. You saw the mountain on your way in. I'll take you through it some time -- either this visit or the next."
Mariposa shrugged. "I'm sorry. This is all so much to take in. The names, the history, the places. I don't even know what to call you. Aaron? Mr. Rivers? Your Majesty?"
He threw back his head and laughed. "You could call me Randy for all I care. This is my week off, after all. But Aaron will do as well as anything. 'Aran' means king in our ancient tongue. It's my idea of a joke. I do love puns," he said with a wink.
She laughed politely. "It's hard to get a pun when you don't speak the second language."
"Give it a year, Mariposa, and you'll be speaking Sindarin like one born to it. And maybe reading a little of the cirth as well. Let us teach you. That's what we're here for."
"This mural," she said. "The style looks very familiar, but I can't read the signature. Is that the cirth you're talking about?"
He nodded. "The style should look familiar. It was done by your supervisor, Gary. Glavras, second Elven-lord of Ithilien. If you had asked me when he was just a young archer, I would never have predicted our Glavras had a talent for painting, much less leadership. But my son saw something in him and took him to Ithilien as his second in command. Glavras ruled the colony for three hundred years after Leaf . . . sailed." Mariposa couldn't help noticing that Aaron's face clouded and his voice still caught when he said the words. "He did a fine job of it too, just as he and Legolas have done a fine job of creating that landscaping company. I'm proud of the two of them."
"There's a question I need to ask. With this beautiful forest to come home to, why are you living in Chicago, of all places?"
Aaron shrugged. "We had to come out of the Woods and live in the world of men eventually, or fade. We've spent much of the preceding ages in the Old World -- Europe -- but when travel became easier, we were called west to the Americas. Part of it was the frontier. The skies were wide open in the New World, and that's attractive to someone like me who wants to make a fortune and use it well. But the other reason . . .
"When the Belain opened the Straight Road and let my son come home, they played a cruel trick. They neglected to take away his Sea Longing. I suppose this is the price they exact for one who defies them. He tells me it's like an itch he can't scratch, and while he says he's grown used to it and considers it a fair trade for his freedom, I don't entirely believe him. America is the closest he can come, physically, to the Undying Lands, the lands to which he is called but can never return. We elves began beside the waters of an inland sea, Cuivienen, and we have come full circle at the waters of Michi-gami. As long as we can come back here to recharge our spiritual batteries from time to time, I'm content."
"One more question. Those young women Duncan told me disappeared while working for you. Where are they?"
Aaron made a face. "Oh, he would tell you that. One of those young women is a brilliant businesswoman, and she has become the new head of our Singapore office of Whitestone Shipping. Duncan would know that if he could manage to find his own behind in broad daylight with both hands and a blazing torch. And the other is married to Magorion's grandson and is presently at her home in Lake Geneva, resting from the birth of her first child." He paused and smiled at her. "You can trust me, Mariposa. You can trust all of us."
* * * * * * *
To be continued . . .
A/N The little necklace of silver and pearls that Thranduil hangs on the Solstice Tree is the one given to him by Bilbo Baggins at the end of The Hobbit.
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.