In the Hidden Valley: 3. The Morning After

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3. The Morning After

Meg stirred, and then woke up rather suddenly at the sound of a single, ethereal voice singing somewhere in a language that was totally unfamiliar. It took her several moments to remember exactly where she was and how she had gotten there; and then she sank back into the embrace of a soft, fresh-smelling pillow and the warmth of lightweight blankets. The light streamed in through her bedroom window, letting her know that she had slept in for the first time since her brother's death.

She sat up quickly to rise, and then stared down at the thin and sleeveless sleeping dress she was wearing. Vaguely she remembered… she remembered… Norwen - that was her name! - helping her out of her flannel and denim and sports bra and then into this… shift. It was a very old-fashioned garment; but now that she was awake enough to notice, she couldn't help but admire the intricate embroidery on the bodice and the ribbons that lay over her shoulders. Everything she'd seen in this strange place spoke of skillful handcrafting - even this, the most basic and ordinary of things to wear.

Still, it was morning, and she was actually hungry. She turned and made up the bed until even her grandmother would have been satisfied at her work, then very carefully pulled the shift over her head. She walked to the wardrobe when she couldn't find where Norwen had stowed her clothes from the previous day, only to find the shirt and jeans she herself had hung on pegs - without a sign of her sports bra in sight.

She wasn't happy about it, but she donned her clean flannel shirt and blue jeans, then went back to the bed to rummage at the bottom of one side of the saddlebag for the spare set of socks she'd packed. Once she had pulled her boots back on, she felt a little better, far more prepared to face a day in the midst of mystery and people with whom she couldn't converse.

Her aura of confidence carried her through the sitting room and out into the corridor, where she remembered that the dining hall was somewhere off to the left. The sound of singing had not ceased, but rather another voice had joined the first in a play that allowed first one and then the other to carry the melody or work a descant either higher or lower. The effect of the music was compelling: peacefulness and a lack of urgency surrounded her like one of the light, warm blankets on her bed.

A young woman with her arms full of folded material approached from the other end of the corridor, and she smiled and gave a shallow bow of the head to Meg as she passed by. Meg found herself smiling back at the thought that maybe Wendell hadn't been exaggerating her welcome after all. Then she turned back to her path, hoping that she could remember the way well enough not to get lost.

What she hadn't seen before - but couldn't help but notice now - was the doorway set into the wall of windows near the end of the corridor. A single glance through the door, and Meg was drawn to the garden beyond. Stately, ancient-looking trees just beginning to show the turn of the season stood like silent sentinels over lush grass and borders of late summer blooms. The garden, as she had once considered, was surrounded on all four sides with glassed walls, obviously a masterpiece to be enjoyed as often as possible. Here and there were scattered stone benches for loitering, as well as graceful statuary. Off to her left and tucked into the corner, nestled among ferns and flowering plants and sheltered by one of the stately trees, a fountain sang a wet and merry tune.

Meg drew in a breath of fresh and fragrant air. Yes, this place was a mystery, but it was one of the most restful and peaceful places she'd ever known. To think that Wendell could enjoy the peace of this garden whenever he chose… She shook herself, wrapped her arms about herself protectively and turned to re-enter the corridor again. As much as she was enjoying discovering these bits of beauty, she knew she couldn't stay. Wendell and even Lord Celeborn were being extremely kind in just offering her an evening's hospitality and a restful night.

She couldn't inconvenience them much longer.

At the end of the corridor she halted and wracked her brain to try to remember if she had gone left or right. Both of the corridors were short, which didn't help much. Meg closed her eyes and decided to go with her gut and turned left.

But she immediately quailed and almost turned and bolted back to her suite when she saw, stalking confidently and quickly towards her, the silver-blond that Wendell had said was Haldir. Only this Haldir was pure warrior, in suede garb, a sword hanging from his belt in a tooled scabbard, a quiver of white-fletched arrows visible over one shoulder and a beautiful but deadly-looking bow in his hand. His eyebrows soared at the sight of her, and then lowered into a frown.

Thoroughly intimidated, no doubt what he had intended, Meg shrank back against the stone wall so as to give him as much room to pass by her as possible; but he stopped and spoke sharply to her. Wide-eyed and fearful, she could only stare at him. Again he spoke, this time in a clear demand of something. Meg wished with all her heart that she could know what he wanted of her, for she would give it to him if only so that he would go away and leave her alone.

"Haldir!" a feminine voice sounded from behind her, followed by a long stream of words that sounded angry. Meg flinched in surprise, and then sighed in relief as Norwen pushed past her and put herself right into Haldir's face.

Obviously the warrior hadn't been expecting any counteroffensive, for his dour expression shattered, first into incredulity and then chagrin. When next he looked into Meg's eyes, he was far less intimidating. He muttered something that must have been an apology, placing his free hand over his chest and bowing slightly - and then stalked past her at last on his way to wherever he'd been going before their encounter.

Relieved, Meg let herself lean back against the cool stone wall and gazed appreciatively at Norwen. "Hannon le," she said, remembering the one little bit of politeness she'd learned.

Norwen was immediately at her side, repeating the brief phrase that Meg was quickly coming to understand as the "you're welcome" of the language; only she continued on, her arm about Meg's shoulders and guiding her back in the direction she'd come in order to take her down the other corridor. As they walked, Norwen kept up her chatter, only Meg heard Haldir's name mentioned, and then Norwen's voice got angry again. She clucked her tongue and gave Meg's shoulders a comforting squeeze, and Meg decided she could learn to like the prickly woman.

Ah - at last she was walking through the huge, empty room toward the doorway through which Meg knew sat the dining hall and kitchen. "Hiril Meg," Norwen said at last, pulling them both to a stop, and then asked her a question. Meg stared at her without understanding, and Norwen gave her a sheepish grin before miming bringing food to her lips. Meg grinned back and nodded.

Norwen beckoned, and Meg followed her through the empty dining hall and into the kitchen. A pointed finger indicated that Norwen wanted Meg to sit down at the little table again while she bustled about the place, bringing a partial loaf of bread, the little bowl of honey, an apple and a mug of fresh, cool water to her. Meg gestured an invitation for Norwen to join her, but Norwen shook her head with a bell-like laugh and pointed to the hearth, where several pots hung at various heights over the flames.

At ease as she hadn't been since pushing the front door open, Meg allowed herself to thoroughly enjoy the repast Norwen had set in front of her. There was a sense of hominess here in the heart of the house that resonated with her memories of her grandmother. Many of the smells that assailed her here were familiar ones: bread baking, something heavy with savory herbs cooking. A young man came through the door at the far end of the kitchen bearing wood for the fire, which he deposited in a box to the side of the fire. Norwen smiled at him as she stirred the contents of one of the cooking pots, and they spoke briefly.

His eyes widened when he finally noticed the visitor in the kitchen, and he asked Norwen something. Norwen's brows rose, but she nodded, left off her cooking and motioned for him to follow her over to the table. "Hiril Meg," she began with some uncertainty. When Meg nodded, she pointed to the young man. "Alargon. Hervenn nîn."

Alargon. That was the name of the one who had taken charge of her horse the day before. Meg smiled widely, wishing she knew what the other two words Norwen said meant, but rose with a smile with her hand outstretched. "Alargon. Nice to meet you! Hannon le for taking care of Sadie for me."

Alargon stared at the outstretched hand for a long moment, but carefully put his in Meg's grasp after looking back at Meg's smile. Again Meg heard the phrase that nearly always answered her hannon le's, and then Alargon quickly withdrew his hand from hers. He turned and deposited a quick peck on Norwen's cheek, speaking softly to her before heading out the door again. Norwen's soft smile told Meg that it was possible those words she was wondering about meant something like "my husband" or "my love."

Now that she was up, however, she carried her plate and empty mug over to where there were several stacked, awaiting washing. The apple core she tossed into a bucket of similar leavings. On a table below a window sat a low tub filled with water and other eating dishes, next to a bucket of clear water. "Norwen?" Meg asked, happy finally to have some way to show her appreciation. She waited until she had the woman's attention and then mimed washing a plate and then pointed to herself. "Can I at least help you wash dishes?"

Norwen's reaction was immediate: she shook her head vehemently and began chattering at her. She grabbed Meg's hand and pulled her away from the table with its unfinished task, making it very clear that she didn't want Meg to do anything. Instead, she kept hold of Meg's hand and pulled her back into the dining hall and then through a different doorway, into yet another garden. The two women crossed the enclosure and entered yet another open door into a corridor and into another room.

And such a room it was! Floor to ceiling bookcases lined the walls, filled with books and some items that looked like rolled up scrolls. At a table with several scrolls in front of him, a quill in hand, sat Wendell. A word from Norwen, spoken in a respectful hush, brought up sparkling brown eyes.

"Ah - there you are!" He rose and spoke quickly to Norwen, who spoke to him at some length before she bowed and then bowed to Meg. "I take it you rested well, and have now eaten?"

Meg watched Norwen's retreat and then turned back to him. "I slept very well, thank you; and Norwen saw to it I had a good breakfast. I offered to help her with dishes, but I don't think she wanted my help."

"You surprised her," Wendell stated with a chuckle, and he gestured for her to take a seat in one of the other chairs at the table. "She wasn't expecting an offer of assistance. As a guest here, you are under no obligation to perform menial tasks…"

"I just wanted to help…" She let her eyes travel the room. "What is this place - a library of sorts?"

"Indeed. At one time, it was one of the larger libraries in this part of the world. But many of the volumes were packed and taken away when the original Master of Imladris decided to sail. What you see here is what was left behind - and what has been written since then."

"The name of this place is Im… Im…"

"Imladris. Let me see, what was it in Westron?" He closed his eyes for a moment and then pronounced something in a tongue obviously much coarser than the one Meg had become accustomed to hearing. "Imladris is in a deep slash in the mountainside, and yet is most peaceful - which is much of the meaning behind the word. I believe a good translation to your English would be 'Rivendell' - and that refers to the entire settlement."

Her eyes widened. "Then there's more to Imladris than just this one large and confusing building then?"

Wendell's chuckle grew. "Oh my, yes. We have several outbuildings: a stable; a forge; even an armory left over from days long gone to all except, perhaps, Haldir and his brothers; pasturelands; orchards; fields." His eyes smiled at her and gave her a warm feeling of welcome. "I shall have to give you the guided tour - perhaps after our midday meal?"

That brought matters back to her. "Wendell, I know I'm imposing on your time and Lord Celeborn's patience. I should…"

"You are doing nothing of the sort!" His dark brows furrowed into a frown. "You were led to us for a reason; no one ever finds Imladris without just cause. Do not doubt your welcome, please."

"But…" Her mind spun, unable to accept the unlikely offer.

"Do you not wish to stay?"

Meg's eyes widened. Stay? Actually have the time to actually enjoy a little of the beauty that seemed to surround her on all sides; time to examine art and craftsmanship taken to heights of excellence rarely seen? "What would I do here?" she asked instead. "I should at least be allowed to earn my keep…"

Wendell tipped his head at her. "What do you do in your world, Meg Litten? With what do you fill your days?"

"I'm a secretary… to the head of the law firm I work for. And…" She had to think; what did she do on a regular day? "I like to read…"

"All things you could do here, if you wished. Of course, we would have to teach you to read and write Sindarin; but if your hand is better than mine, I am certain Lord Celeborn would be most pleased to have your assistance. Not to mention that you will be able to finally answer questions about the outside world that I cannot."

What is he talking about? She had been thinking "stay" meant for a few days, and obviously he had meant something much more. She stared at him with open disbelief. "What's going on?"

He blinked his confusion. "Whatever do you mean?"

"A job offer?" She allowed her incredulity to embitter her voice a bit. "I break into your house; I, a stranger you have never seen, have no reason to trust is not here to steal you blind. At least Haldir's suspicions I can understand - but… this?" She shook her head. "Either you people are incredibly naïve, or something is going on here that you're not telling me; either way, I know things aren't supposed to happen like this."

Wendell's face grew sad. "And so I was not incorrect: the world outside has grown so cold and unfriendly that even such offers as ours would be viewed with skepticism. Trust has become such a rare commodity that those who live in such a world cannot be convinced of its existence?" He sat back in his chair and studied her for a long moment. "Truly, we have been isolated for longer than I'd thought."

Meg sighed. "You're speaking in riddles, and I don't understand."

"I know, and I am sorry for that." He sighed and rose. "I know that Norwen arranged to have your garments laundered for you; I will make certain that they are returned to you the moment they are dry. Alargon will be told to make ready your mount when you are prepared to leave us."

"Wait!" Meg threw a defensive hand up. "First you give me a job offer - talk about my learning your language and helping Lord Celeborn as if I were to consider moving in permanently - and now you're giving me the bum's rush?"

Wendell looked confused. "Is that not what you desired - to leave us as soon as possible because you cannot believe our offer of hospitality and occupation?"

"I don't understand most of what's going on!" she exclaimed, shaking her head. She finally gazed long at him, studying his face. "I have a feeling we're talking past each other, because neither of us really understands the other."

"You may be right," he relented, dropping back into his seat. "If the world beyond our fences has changed so much, such would be a natural occurrence." He dropped his chin into his hand to gaze at her. "Tell me then, Meg Litten; if you had your choice, would you be interested in spending some time here, perhaps learning a few words of our language and getting a chance to explore this place you and your brother found?"

"Yes," she answered softly. It was true: the idea that she could have the opportunity to come to know this odd refuge from time and everything she'd ever known was hard to resist. "I have two weeks left before I was supposed to be back at work. If I could, I'd like to spend part of that time here."

Wendell's face became pained. "Only two weeks? Such a little time…"

Meg's face fell as well. "Less, actually. I only rented Sadie for…"

"Sadie?"

"My mare. I only rented her for three days. I have to have her back to her owner tomorrow afternoon, at the latest."

Wendell brushed that aside with a wave of his hand. "I could deliver her back to the village myself, for that matter. You need not waste a day over and back for that."

"I should be the one to…"

He gave her a sharp look. "If you wish, then, we could go together; and you could ride back with me for the rest of your stay."

Meg still shook her head. "Even if I did, I could still only stay maybe ten days in all. I still have to travel back to my hotel in Edinburgh, and from there to London, and from there to Los Angeles, where I live, and then rest up so I could be at work bright and early."

"A lot could happen in ten little days, Meg. I am willing to help you take your mare back, and then to bring you back to the village again in time to make the connections that you need to take you home." His expression grew wistful. "You came here for a reason. Perhaps, in those ten days, you can find it."

She gazed at him, warmed by the earnest light in his sparkling brown eyes, and then chuckled. "You make a good salesman, you know?"

"A salesman - a merchant of sorts, you mean?" His smile brightened. "Yes, I suppose you could see my argument in that light." He sobered. "Does this mean that you are agreeable to my suggestions?"

He was a strange man, but a kind one that Meg could easily begin to call a friend. Ten days in such agreeable company wouldn't be a bad way to end a trip that had begun with such horrendous heartbreak. "Yes," she chuckled at last. "I will go with you to turn Sadie in to her owners and stay the other nine days here."

Wendell's entire being seemed to glow with happiness, and Meg could see that he was visibly holding himself to a more restrained grin. "Oh, most excellent! Lord Celeborn will be most pleased as well. He was quite concerned when you became so despondent at the meal last night. He told me to tell you that he promises no further questions about subjects that would bring you sadness - and I give you my word as well. Your stay here will be one of gladness to return you to balance."

His hand reached out and pressed hers, and Meg found herself turning her hand beneath his so that she could hold him back. The last thing she had thought to find on this ride into the ancient Scottish woods was a new friend. Now she was glad she had come - and glad she had agreed to stay.

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: Aeärwen

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: Other

Genre: Romance

Rating: General

Last Updated: 11/21/09

Original Post: 09/19/09

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