4. Learning More
Calmer and disciplined once more to quiet, they returned to the library, where she was allowed to look at the books stored there. She couldn't help but note that all of them looked to not only be hand-bound, but hand-written as well. The letters of the musical language were as alien and beautiful as the spoken word, and Meg regretted that she wouldn't have the time it would take to master being able to read it. The artwork that illustrated the writings was magnificent, and if hand-done, meant that the scribe had been a talented artist as well. Something told her that the library held stories that could keep her spellbound for years. The look on Wendell's face as she reluctantly returned the book after slowly paging through and gazing at one pen and ink drawing after another was one of understanding and sympathy.
Wendell also handed her a quill and bade her write in English - starting with the alphabet and then a few sentences as he dictated them to her. Mastering the use of a quill took another healthy bit of time - and no few muffled laughs - and while the dictation ended up fairly legible, Meg knew that she would be able to give him a far better writing sample with a little more practice. She had to admit that Wendell's attempts at writing English would probably be much more legible than any attempts of hers to write Sindarin.
After a light lunch of fruit and nuts with watered wine, Wendell claimed Meg's hand to his arm for a fully guided tour of the settlement. She found several times along the way that she wished that she had brought her camera, for the work taking place in the forges was quite dramatic and the serenity of the stables and the pastureland beyond would be indescribable without photo evidence to illustrate. There were rabbit hutches and chicken coops to provide both meat and eggs, a small herd of cattle for meat and dairy that mixed freely in the pastureland with the horses, and another small herd of sheep that supplied meat and wool.
In the later afternoon, he led her up a small but obviously well-used trail that climbed the rocky cliff behind the settlement to a vista point that looked out over the entire place. From there, Wendell pointed out the orchards that lined the river both above and below the settlement itself, and told her how berry vines were planted at the edges of the orchard. There was a singular flat field where he explained they grew what grain they could; and the view, the distant roar of the river over the falls that had resulted in the creation of the ravine, the fresh air - all of it - was more beautiful and special than anything she had ever experienced. "You are so lucky to live here," she finally commented as she settled on a boulder that looked as if it had been used as a seat for a very long time.
"Lucky." Wendell's tone was strange as he walked toward the edge of the small flat area. "I suppose you could think so. Imladris has treated me well, and it has been my honor to serve it for as long as I have. Before I came here, I was fairly itinerant; I went where I was most needed and did what I could. My expertise, at the time, was with the animals and the land itself.
"But eventually, the world was able to go on without my help; Men were not interested in what I had to give, for it did not line their purses with gold. Most of the E… well, most of those who knew me had sailed - except for Thranduil, who sailed eventually too, and Celeborn. Celeborn was determined to keep Imladris for those who still were not called West, and every so often would come someone from the outside world with great need for what Imladris offered; and we struck a bargain that I would assist in helping hide Imladris from the world of Men for the most part, in return for room and board. In time, he made use of my former familiarity with the outside world, sending me to the local villages when there were specific things that we could not provide for ourselves that we needed - herbs we could not grow in this clime, and the like."
He turned and walked back to her and sat down next to her on the boulder. "After all the time I spent trying to heal and nurture the land, I admit it was a relief to settle down and know that I had done the best I could. Now my sole duty was to protect those who still remained, in spite of all." He picked up Meg's hand and patted it. "Yes, I am lucky. But it has also been lonely, for in remaining here, I too have shunned the company of my own people. Celeborn and his people have made me welcome, but they never forget that I am not one of them."
Meg frowned. "You mean, you come from somewhere else, other than where they come from?"
"You could say that," he allowed with a gentle smile and another pat to her hand.
"Did you leave family behind?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes."
"What do you mean, 'in a manner of speaking'? Either you have family, or…" she began, only to stop as Wendell shook his head.
"My story is a simple one, but the facts that make it simple would not be simple for you to comprehend, my dear. In fact, if my experiences with the local villagers are any measure, you would find them very difficult to accept; and I would have you enjoy your little time with us without straining your credulity more than necessary."
"I don't understand," Meg said after a long moment, during which she struggled to wrap her mind around the mystery Wendell was putting before her. "You worried about me having no one; but it seems that I'm not the only one with that problem."
Wendell's gaze dropped to the ground in front of him, and the way his sandal moved the dust and gravel around. "When I came to this world, I was one of five; and now, of all of us, only I remain. But while I am alone, I am not solitary: Lord Celeborn will not let me withdraw into my rooms for long without summoning me forth again. He would give me whatever I wished, were it in his power to do so."
"But it's not always possible, is it?" Meg's heart went out to this friendly and warm companion. He sounded very much like she felt, sitting in an empty Edinburgh flat tasked with locking up after Sally had taken what little was left of Gene to London.
He gave her a wry glance before looking away again. "Celeborn's strength is in his wisdom; and that wisdom bade him remain in this world yet apart from it after all others had long abandoned it. He is a kindred spirit that loves this land with a passion that will not fade; and I am indeed lucky that, if I cannot be among my own, I can at least share that with him." He patted her hand again and then loosed it. "He may not be able to give me my heart's desire, but I can survive on what he can provide."
With that, he rose and extended his hand out to help Meg to her feet. "We should probably head back; Norwen is not in the habit of forgiving those who do not appear at the fifth bell for supper."
Meg lifted her head and could just barely catch the bell that was chiming. Wendell's tale confused and saddened her, but he obviously was trying to move past that. She decided the best thing would be to simply follow his lead. "Will we be late?"
"Nay." Wendell pasted a smile on his face again. "That was but the fourth bell. I have just enough time to get you back to the House with time to spare to freshen yourself before the fifth bell. Do you wish me to escort you again from your rooms to the dining hall, so you do not lose yourself?"
"Would you be terribly disappointed in me if I said yes - that I have seen so much that I am still completely confused by the place?"
The wavy, brown hair was tossed back as Wendell laughed, and Meg could feel herself glow with pride that she had brought him back to a good mood. "No, I am not disappointed at all, Lady Meg. I count myself lucky that I can speak your tongue and play escort and interpreter for you, and thus perhaps enjoy your company more than any of the others."
She blushed and allowed him to tuck her hand back into the bend of his elbow. He isn't the only lucky one, she thought with an inward smile.
Meg couldn't help but enjoy the softness of the towel she applied to her face and upper torso. Even though the water in the ewer had been less than warm, it had felt good to wash away the little bit of dust from the day. And, folded neatly on the foot of the bed when she had arrived, had been her clothing from the day before - including her sports bra! Finally feeling a little more secure, she opened the wardrobe and gazed at the dresses hanging from the pegs. They were there, obviously meant for her use; and she was feeling a little more secure in her welcome - did she dare?
The dress closest to her was a delicate green, and the fabric flowed over her hands like soft clouds. Carefully, she lifted it from the peg and held it against herself, again thinking that it just might fit her after all - if she could figure out how to get it on. There seemed to be no buttons, no zipper - nothing that opened; and certainly it wouldn't just fit over her head, would it?
It did. Light and flowing, it slipped over her shoulders easily and draped to just above the ankle. There were ties stitched to the dress at the waist that, when pulled to the back, made the bodice a nicely fitted one, and gave definition to the skirt. Meg tied the two pieces of soft fabric into a small bow at the small of her back and then walked into the privy to take a look at herself in the small mirror.
The green looked good on her - better, actually, than she'd expected. Her long, dark curls against the delicate light green were striking, and the way the mid-length sleeves draped her upper arms was nothing less than simple elegance. When she got the opportunity, she would have to have Wendell translate her appreciation to Norwen, for she felt almost as if she had just donned a prom gown made just for her. She picked up her hairbrush and began trying to tame her wayward curls into something suitably appropriate, only to remember she had brought nothing but a single Scunzzi and not a single hairpin. She would have to be content with just leaving it alone and hoping.
Behind the trio of voices that had been singing sweetly for most of the afternoon, a bell chimed five times; and the moment the last chime sounded, there was a knock at her door. This time, however, she didn't need awakening. She walked to the door and opened it, and then smiled at the look of surprised admiration in Wendell's gaze. "Is this appropriate?"
"Very." His voice was warm and slightly deeper than usual. "I must remember to thank Norwen for her help in selecting your wardrobe. She has outdone herself."
Meg blushed deeply, as much from pleasure as from not being accustomed to such compliments. "Thank you. But I fear my boots ruin the image." She pressed on the skirt to reveal she was still wearing her boots.
"I can almost guarantee that people will not be studying your footwear," he replied with a twinkle in his eye, "and those who are would not be worried about your mixture of fashion styles." He extended his arm. "Are you ready?"
"Yes, thank you." Meg put her hand on his arm, in the place he seemed to like her to keep it. "Or, I should say, hannon le, Wendell."
"Glassen, hiril nîn," he responded, and again his voice had deepened slightly.
They walked down the same corridor they had walked the evening before, lit by the same soft, blue lights; but Meg felt none of the hesitation that she had experienced the last time. Her day had been spent meeting many of those who would be sitting at the lower tables, smiling at them and receiving smiles in return; and she was dressed more like one of them. She no longer feared her welcome as the two of them crossed the empty floor of the large room and headed for the lit doorway.
Lord Celeborn, as before, was still standing at his place; and with a graceful gesture, indicated that Meg was to return to the seat she had occupied the evening before. Even he seemed both surprised and pleased in her choice of attire, and Meg congratulated herself on her bravery at trying on the dress. Haldir watched her progress with quite obvious surprise as well as some remaining surliness, although Meg didn't let her gaze rest on him for long. Rúmil's gaze was equally intent, but far less menacing.
Again, the moment Lord Celeborn took his seat, Norwen was carrying things from the kitchen - this time a platter with a healthy shank of roasted meat. She had two assistants this evening, each similarly burdened and bound for the other tables. Meg leaned toward Wendell. "Does she eat after everyone else? That isn't right…"
"She has already eaten," Wendell chuckled back at her, "and I shall tell her of your concern on her behalf. It is a privilege that is always accorded those who prepare the food."
"I think I like your traditions - at least, that one," Meg stated emphatically. Not being a very good cook herself, she had always resented, in a way, the manner in which others at her mother's and grandmother's table had treated the women who prepared their food like servants. She waited until Norwen had deposited the platter on the table after slicing servings for all seated, and then said softly, "Hannon le, Norwen."
Norwen brightened with a startled smile. "Glassen, hiril Meg," she murmured with a slight flush to her cheeks, and then bowed and headed back to the kitchen to bring the next item to the table.
"Your traditions are different?" Wendell touched her wrist to catch her attention.
"Sometimes," she nodded. "I remember both my mother and my grandmother being treated rather poorly after they'd worked so hard; it always used to make me a little angry. It's a relief to see I don't need to feel the same here."
Lord Celeborn leaned over and asked something of Wendell, and Meg surmised it was what they had been discussing. When Wendell answered, the silver-haired Lord looked at her and nodded with a gentle smile before speaking. "Each one here works as their skills and preferences lead them, and each is necessary in his task. There is no one task more honored than another, as each benefits us all," Wendell translated with an agreeing nod.
Meg looked down and studied her plate. So much in Imladris was old-fashioned and quaint, but the thinking of the people here was based on much more cooperative and respectful principles than in her own world. For however long she was being allowed to remain here as an observer, she was getting a look at how things could be.
"Why the look of sadness?" Wendell leaned toward her, ostensibly to take the platter of steamed peas from Celeborn.
She gazed at her friend. "Because I am coming to appreciate what you have here, over and above just the beauty of the place. I wish…"
"You wish…" he prompted gently.
Meg knew it was impossible. She had a job waiting for her, responsibilities that were hers in a far more heartless world. She knew nothing of how to live in this place, or what she could possible offer as her "essential task" that would benefit the whole. "Nothing," she muttered and busied herself cutting her slab of meat into bite-sized chunks. "Nothing important."
She shook her head. "Don't worry about it. It wasn't important, really."
Lord Celeborn asked a question over the top of her head, and Wendell answered it almost hurriedly before laying his hand on her forearm and stilling her movements. "Meg, wishes are important. They are what tell us where our hearts would have us go. Don't shut yours away so cruelly."
Meg gazed at him, the wish to tell him that she would much rather remain here in this apparently idyllic place rather than return to her dry and unfulfilling job in Los Angeles making her heart beat faster for a moment. "It may be where my heart would have me go, but I know it to be impossible. I don't belong here."
"Would you wish to?" he asked, his voice deepening slightly again and his face growing still and almost wary.
"It doesn't matter," she replied quietly. "I will enjoy the time I've been given, and I will remember this place, and you, for the rest of my life."
"Trust me, your memory will remain here with us for a very long time as well," he replied after a long moment. "But we shall discuss this again some time, perhaps when you are not so unwilling to share your dreams."
"Let's talk of something else, shall we?" Meg said in a deliberately brighter tone, pasting a smile on her face. "Something enjoyable."
"Very well." Frustration washed briefly over his features before he, too, schooled his expression to something contented, but very brittle. "You can tell me what you would like to do once we have delivered your mare back to her owner."
Meg paused in her chewing, mulling over the many things she had seen that day that she would dearly love to be able to spend more time with. "Spend more time in the library," she answered after finally chewing and swallowing her previous bite, "and maybe learning a few more words and phrases in your language." She blushed and looked at Wendell from the corner of her eye. "Maybe you could even show me how the Sindarin alphabet works?"
Lord Celeborn asked a quick question that Meg surmised was for a translation of what she'd said, and Wendell spoke to his lord before turning back to her. "I would be most honored to help you learn more Sindarin. As your livelihood has much to do with words and writing, I can understand your interest."
"Would it also be possible to take some pictures?"
Wendell blinked. "Pictures? You are an artist as well, then?"
"No," she answered slowly. "I have a camera."
Meg blinked back, and then realized that people who would have no electricity or sewer system would probably not be familiar with technology that she took for granted. "A camera is a device that allows me to preserve pictures of what I aim it at. The older ones used to use a film made of… celluloid, if I remember; mine is a digital camera."
Wendell began translating her words, but his translation was a slow one littered with painstakingly careful pronunciations of the obviously unfamiliar English terms. Lord Celeborn turned and gazed at her with curiosity as he asked his next question, which Wendell translated immediately. "Would it be possible for Lord Celeborn to examine this device?"
"Of course," she nodded. "I'd be happy to show it to him. I even took a few pictures before I knew that Imladris had people in it." She considered using her laptop to display the pictures at a larger size so more could see them at once, and then nixed the entire idea as potentially confusing people with more technology than they were prepared to see.
"In the time that I have spent in the village, I have seen very lifelike representations of people, some of them displayed in windows of some of the shops as… I believe they were marketing ploys, but could not be certain, as I do not read the language…"
Meg smiled. "Yeah. We call them advertisements. They're all over the place in my world; it's very difficult to go anywhere and not see them."
Wendell translated the exchange, and Rúmil, from the other end of the table, spoke up and asked a question. She turned to hear what he'd asked. "Rúmil asks about the means by which you came across the sea. Did you take a ship?"
Oh boy! How do I explain this one? Meg slowly shook her head. "I flew, in a vehicle that is able to do so and carry hundreds of people at one time."
Wendell's eyes got very wide. "Is this a common practice in your world - flying?" he asked in awestruck tones.
"Yes," she said gently. "Very common. When I go home, I will fly back."
The translation of her remarks drew only a snort of what could only be derision from Haldir, followed by a sharp statement that looked from his gestures to be quite dismissive.
"I took pictures of the plane before I got on," she added quickly, guessing at the content of the warrior's commentary. "When I demonstrate the camera, I can show you what it looks like."
Wendell relayed her words, only to have Lord Celeborn speak to his master of security in a very firm voice. "Lord Celeborn says that Haldir has forgotten how very many long-years we have remained out of touch with the world of Men, and that we should not be so quick to discount anything you say merely because it would seem more like the Dark One's magic to us."
"The… Dark One?" Meg frowned. "What do you mean?" Wendell passed her words to Lord Celeborn, who immediately looked into Meg's eyes with a sharp and penetrating gaze. After a long moment, where she began to feel as if her very soul were being weighed, she looked at Wendell. "Did I say anything wrong?"
Celeborn commented quietly to Wendell, and then indicated that he speak to Meg. "No, you have said nothing wrong. It had not occurred to us that the tales that to us are history would have been long since lost to your people. To us, the memories are all too clear. The Dark One was the one who wished to claim the world and all in it as his own against the intent of the Creator; and the struggle against him was long and bloody. Then, once we had vanquished him and he was thrust into the Void, his chief servant began to try to step into his Master's shoes; and more lives were lost in that long struggle. In the end, some of those who, in their way, served the cause of the Dark One's servant began to create mechanisms - machines, devices - which laid waste to the places of the world.
"Haldir's comment was not so much dismissing your claims as false as speculating that the world has once more been touched by the Dark One's minions; and your device for pictures is but a sweet coating to a much more bitter reality." He ducked his head briefly. "I am to apologize for the suspicion."
Meg finally looked up and gazed at Haldir. It's true, he fears me because he doesn't know what I might be capable of! What could she say in the face of the story she'd just heard to reassure him of her innocent intentions? The events Wendell had recounted sounded more like a paraphrasing of religious teachings about the creation of the world; but the manner in which the story had been told had sounded more… personal than that, as if it were… Wendell had said it himself: to them, the story was history; but to her people, it had been lost. She gazed at him and then at Lord Celeborn, suddenly uncertain of herself. Who are these people?
She couldn't remain silent though. "I won't lie to you; there is a lot of ugliness in my world - a lot of that which some of you, and even some in my world, would call 'evil' - but that I know of, I don't… I'm not…" She faltered, and then leaned to make her words more private. "Wendell, I know my world isn't half as kind and generous and beautiful as yours. I don't see it as 'evil' or under the influence of any 'Dark One', but… maybe Haldir's right?" She sighed; as much as she would want pictures of her stay, perhaps it would be better if she just hung onto the memories. "I don't have to take pictures. I can remember without them."
Wendell straightened and spoke at length, first to Lord Celeborn and then to Haldir; and then looked at Meg. "I do not see that you have been touched by the Dark One, nor that you would willingly have brought evil to us. I will see this ca-me-ra that you speak of, and see what it does before I say more." He bent to make his words more private. "Eat, my dear, and do not let this spoil your appetite. This is a puzzle caused by the collision of two worlds long set apart that we cannot solve at the dinner table; and I have no fears of you. Your world may be strange to us and filled with many things that we do not understand; but our confusion does not in itself make them evil."
Meg nodded thoughtfully. "A lot of people tend to be afraid of things they don't understand. It isn't that surprising."
The dark eyebrows soared in surprise. "Such wisdom, and so clearly spoken!" He immediately switched to Sindarin and spoke with animation. Whatever he had said, Lord Celeborn's face relaxed into the kind of smile that made Meg feel as if a light had been lit. Even dour Haldir looked startled, and gazed at her with more speculation than suspicion for a change. Rúmil threw his head back and laughed, a full-throated and clear sound that tickled Meg more than anything she'd heard so far; and he punched his brother in the shoulder and said something that had Haldir glowering at his brother in response.
Meg looked back at Wendell and blushed, for he was gazing at her with an expression of wistfulness and curiosity. "What?" she asked, smiling at the antics that continued at the other end of the table.
"I am thinking that I have not met one like you for a very long time, and I am enjoying the experience a great deal," he replied softly, glancing away. "And I am finding myself wishing that you did not have to return to your world at the end of your little time."
She grew wistful herself. "I've found myself wishing the same," she finally admitted, and then hid behind her ceramic mug of fresh water.
Again the brows rose, but this time as Wendell's face blossomed with a wide smile. "You do?"
Meg blushed. "I haven't felt this peaceful for a long time. And even though I still miss my brother a lot, for some reason it doesn't hurt quite so badly." She smiled back at him. "Maybe it's because I'm actually with someone and doing something other than moping."
"Perhaps," he replied, moving his hand to lay on top of hers. "But we shall have to see when the end of your 'little time' draws to a close. There are still nine days before us."
"Even if Lord Celeborn declares my camera a work of the Dark One?" She meant her quip as a joke, but understood that it would be taken as anything but.
His dark eyes grew serious. "I have seen into you, Meg Litten; there is no hint of darkness there that does not come from a natural grief. The Dark One has no hold on you. If it were up to me, you would be offered a place here, after all the necessary details were discussed." He smiled again. "We shall enjoy your 'little time' here, and then see what the One has placed before us. Agreed?"
Meg wasn't exactly certain who this 'The One' was - or whether Wendell was speaking of that 'Dark One' from before - but either way, she was determined to make the best of the time she had left in this magical place. "Agreed," she said, and felt the warmth of his smile through the slight pressure he put on her hand before releasing her again.