In the Hidden Valley: 5. Exchanges

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5. Exchanges

Her hands were shaking as she dug through the saddlebag draped at the foot of her bed, and then pulled the slender silver case out. Knowing that without turning it on, it would be relatively harmless, she handed it to Lord Celeborn without a word. Grey eyes filled with many questions gazed at her for a moment before he began examining the little device closely, turning it over and over in his long fingers. He touched the view screen carefully, as if understanding that this was a delicate part of the thing, and peered closely at the markings next to buttons that seemed, at the moment, to do little.

Finally he handed it back to her with a few words. Meg knew without Wendell's translation that she'd been asked to demonstrate. She turned the knob that retracted the lens cover and allowed the lens itself to slide outward, and then looked up as even Lord Celeborn gave a small gasp of surprise. She fought with herself, remembering how long it had taken to save up the money for the best camera she could afford, and then carefully handed the device back to Lord Celeborn.

Again he handled it gingerly, his brows furrowed slightly as he watched the strange movement of light and shadow on the view screen. He shook his head, telling her without words that he still didn't understand it, and handed it back again. Deciding a full demonstration was in order, Meg turned her back and moved closer to the tall Lord. She aimed the camera at the hearth after gesturing for all to move out of the way, then held up the camera and pointed at the view screen so that Lord Celeborn and all close to him could see the hearth represented. She pushed the shutter button, the flash lit up the room and caused another audible gasp from those gathered around her.

Lord Celeborn's hand landed on her shoulder, and she turned to see him frowning. He aimed a quick spate of words at Wendell, who immediately translated: "What has happened?"

Meg smiled, pressed the review button that brought up the picture of the hearth she had just taken, and handed Lord Celeborn the camera again - viewer side up. Grey eyes grew wide as he gazed over at the hearth and then down at the viewer screen. The others gathered around and peered over shoulders and around arms to get a look, soft whispers accompanying the glimpses of a simple view of Meg's chamber, captured on the tiny screen.

"How does this little box paint such things so quickly?" Wendell translated Rúmil's question to Meg.

She shrugged. "I don't know the mechanics of digital photography. All I know is that I aim that," and she pointed at the protruding lens, "at what I would like to take a picture of, and then I push that," at which point she indicated the shutter button. "The light flashes, and the picture is taken."

"Does it hurt if you take a picture of a person?" was another soft question from one of the women.

"No," she answered with a shake of the head. "If Lord Celeborn wishes, he may take my picture." She reached over the Lord's hands and turned the review button off. "He needs to point the lens - that thing that sticks out - at me and then watch the screen. When it shows what he wants in the picture, he just presses the button. I'll go over here, so nobody else will be in the picture." She stepped away and over to near the hearth as Wendell translated. "Tell him, whenever he's ready."

The silver-haired Lord fussed with turning the camera in every direction until finally the lens was pointing at Meg, and his eyes widened again. "Tell him to hold it very still, and move it until he likes what he sees - and then press the button." When the flash went off, she saw many around Celeborn jump again, and then the Lord was frowning again.

"Why does he not see a painting of you, lady?" Wendell asked, peering at the little screen over Celeborn's shoulder.

"Just a moment. I'll show you." She moved closer again and reached over the little device to press the review button again. Immediately the screen filled with her face, although it was slightly blurry.

Celeborn's eyes widened again, and he turned the camera about to check all the sides. "Where did the hearth painting go?" was the relayed question.

"It's still there." Meg pressed the dial to go back to the previous picture. "See?"

Again Celeborn twisted the camera about, and again he posed a question and then waited for his words to be transferred into English. "It keeps each painting? How many until the box will hold no more?"

"Quite a few," Meg answered, retrieving the camera from Celeborn once more. "But what does Haldir think of this?"

Her words translated, the others in the room turned to look at the master of security, who didn't look very happy at all to be the center of attention all of a sudden. But his nose rose, and he made a quiet comment that had others nodding in agreement. "He wonders of what use this would be."

"When I am home, and trying to describe Imladris to someone in Los Angeles, I could print out some of the photos and let them see for themselves," Meg answered easily. "And when I am thinking about everyone here, and everything I have seen, I could look at the pictures and remember more clearly."

Wendell's brows rose. "You would share the sights of Imladris with others?"

"I was just making an example," Meg replied, disconcerted by the worry she saw on his face. "Would you prefer that I not let anyone see?"

Lord Celeborn demanded something - probably to know what had Wendell looking so worried - and Wendell held up a hand and spoke briefly before turning back to her. "We have been very careful to protect ourselves from discovery by the world of Men, Meg. This little camera of yours, however innocent it might appear, could undo all of my long efforts."

Meg's eyes widened. "I hadn't thought of that," she said softly. With regret, she brought up the pictures that had just been taken on the review and deleted them, and then continued back through the pictures of her headboard, the little statue of the maid outside the front door, and even the views of Imladris from across the ravine. She let both Lord Celeborn and Wendell see what she was doing, until only words were visible, and then turned the camera off to hand it to Celeborn. "If you would, my Lord, please keep this for me until I am ready to go, and then hand it to Wendell, who will give it to me when we are safely away from Imladris. I don't want to do anything that would make you feel that I am threatening the safety of this beautiful place."

"And all the paintings that I just saw on this… smooth canvas?" Wendell asked, poking at the viewer with a forefinger. "What did you just do?"

"I deleted them," Meg replied. "Everything I had already taken - even those pictures I took before I met you all - are gone now." She sighed. "Like I said earlier, I don't think I'll need the pictures so much - I can just remember."

Lord Celeborn bowed, his empty hand pressed over his heart. "By turning this ca-me-ra into my possession, you demonstrate your wish to protect us; and in so doing, do us honor," Wendell relayed somberly. "Were you in any way under the Dark Lord's influence, you would not have demonstrated what you already had seen and painted for later - nor done what you did to remove those paintings from your device." Celeborn turned to Haldir, and Wendell continued to translate for him. "Has she proven your suspicions unfounded yet?"

Oh, Meg could see that the admission was hard-wrung; but Haldir did bow and nod his head. "What now?" she asked Wendell.

"I would imagine Lord Celeborn will lock away your little ca-me-ra, and then return to the Hall of Fire. We are to enjoy music and storytelling, now that the meal is over."

"Music?" After the stress of the past few moments, relaxing and listening to music sounded wonderful. "Will you try to tell me what the storyteller says?"

Wendell claimed her hand and nestled it onto his arm, and then held his other hand over hers almost possessively. "I will do my very best to do just that should the story be a spoken one," he said, his voice again just a little lower and warmer. "I will not need to do so for the music, however."

"Oh?" Now it was Meg's turn to raise her eyebrows in surprise.

"Trust me, my lady. We have been told that our music needs no translation often enough that I trust that it is true. You shall have to tell me, though, if it is true for you as well."

Impulsively, Meg covered his hand with her other one. The evening was going to have a good end after all, and that was all that mattered.

She was pleased when Wendell led her to a low bench against the wall not far from the great hearth, which had been well-filled and now burned with a steady, pleasing flame. What was more interesting was that he didn't immediately let loose of her hand, but held it loosely while, with his other, pointed out various of the other residents and gave her names and occupations. By the time the instrumentalists filed in and settled themselves in the open place among the occupied seats, Meg was certain her head was completely full of information she wouldn't remember in the morning.

And when the music started, she quickly abandoned any intention of trying to remember much other than the fact that she had never heard music like this before. Lyrical and sweet, expertly played, the melodies caught at her imagination and made her close her eyes so she could listen more closely. Vague images began to fill her head, images that came clearer as the song progressed, images of beautiful women dancing in the woods, of handsome men happening across them and the love that grew.

It was as if she were watching a love story set to music, and knew when the lovers were happy, when they were sad, when they celebrated the birth of their child, and when at last the man died and the woman couldn't stay in the world without him. As the last chords were played and the moment of silence that always follows a virtuoso performance stretched, Meg awoke from the half-dream of the music to realize that her cheeks were damp from tears.

She also noticed that Wendell had yet to let go of her hand. He sensed her return to the present and looked over at her with a soft smile, then fumbled with his free hand in a pocket of his robe. "Here," he said, offering her a fine linen handkerchief, "some friends from long ago convinced me that it was a good thing to carry one of these around, just in case of emergencies. I think this qualifies."

Meg laughed self-consciously as she dabbed at her eyes and cheeks, then sniffled. "That is what you call storytelling?"

"Did you like it?"

"Like it?" She was incredulous. "I've never heard anything so magnificent in my life!"

"Good." He looked supremely contented. "Good."

oOoOo

Meg settled the saddlebags across the very back end of the saddle and couldn't help but admire the way the worn rental saddle looked as if it were newly crafted. She would have to find a way to say thank you to Alargon, for it was he that managed the stables and the riding equipment for the entire settlement; so it had to have been Alargon to polish the saddle until it shone. The sound of more hooves nearby brought her head up, and she blinked at Wendell's leading a grey from the stable without saddle or reins - and only a bit of padding over the back.

"Aren't you forgetting something?"

He blinked. "Forgetting something?"

"Like a saddle?" She pointed.

"No, I'm not forgetting anything," he replied then with a grin, and with nothing but a hand at the neck of the grey, led the horse closer. "I put the pad there for you on the return trip, figuring you might not be used to spending much time on horseback without something."

Meg eyed the padding suspiciously. "Well, you're right I haven't much experience riding bareback - but even less riding without reins - or at least a halter and lead."

Wendell gave the neck of his grey a fond pat. "Losmith needs no reins or lead; he will take me wherever I tell him to go." The brown eyes were twinkling again, and Meg was learning that she was a sucker for dark eyes that twinkled as gaily as his. "Trust me, we will have no trouble finding our way back home." He gestured to the limp bags. "Do you have everything you need?"

"I'm coming back here, so I really don't need anything…"

"And it will take us far past the midday to ride to the village and back. Did you stop by the kitchen? I believe Norwen has some provender set aside for us." He laughed at her expression. "Never mind. I shall fetch it, as much because I know the… how do you say it… short path to the kitchen."

"Short-cut," she corrected and then sighed. "I didn't think of that…"

"Then you shall be happy to have me as a companion for the day," he called back to her before he swung around a corner and out of sight.

"I'm perfectly happy with you as a companion for the day anytime," Meg said to herself as she fussed with Sadie's forelock. Even Sadie herself looked sleeker and better groomed than she'd been standing in her owner's stable. Mr. McHugh would certainly not be able to complain about her treatment of his mare - or his tack - while they were in her possession. The mare's ears twitched, paying close attention to her rider almost as if she could understand. "I bet you wouldn't mind sticking around longer either, from the looks of it."

Sadie tossed her head and whickered softly before lipping at Meg's cheek gently.

"I know." Meg stroked the soft velvet muzzle and gazed around. Across the courtyard stood the little stone maiden that had greeted her less than two days before. "We had no idea what was waiting for us when we came here, did we? This place…" She turned; the ancient trees that lined the courtyard seeming even more like sentinels, although what they were guarding against - other than the intrusion of people like her - she couldn't entirely fathom. "This place is very, very special. You'd better not tell any of your horsie friends down below about it, just as I'll have to stay mum about it when I get home too. Not that I have anybody I like enough to tell anyway…"

"What?" Wendell's voice behind her startled her, and she flinched. "You have no one that you like well enough? Here, you can tuck this into those empty bags of yours, and we can eat just before we turn your Sadie back in." He held out two cloth-bound bundles at her with a concerned expression.

"I think the only person I could have shared Imladris with was Gene - and he's gone now," Meg answered and busied herself stuffing the anonymous bundles away. "And after last night's discussion, I don't think there is anyone that I know well enough to want to mention this place to. If protecting Imladris is important to you, then it will be important to me too."

"It is just that the more you speak of this place to which you must return, the less I like the idea. Have you no one in the world of Men with whom you can share confidences now that your brother has stepped beyond the circles of the world?" His voice indicated that he'd stepped closer.

Meg shook her head. "It's hard to make friends when you work at a place where everyone is trying to push down the other person to get ahead. Competition is fierce, and it doesn't lead to sharing confidences." She took a deep breath to try to settle the surge of sadness at the thought of having to return to such a sterile situation and then pasted a smile on to turn to him. "Are we ready now?" she asked tightly.

"Meg, it is to this place that you wish to return?" Wendell's eyes weren't sparkling anymore.

She sighed and turned away to gather the reins and reach for the pommel of the saddle. "What I wish is just a dream," she answered once she was settled in the saddle. "I really don't have a lot of say in it."

When she thought of it later, she would not be able to remember the precise move that Wendell made to land himself quite gracefully and securely on the back of the grey. "I think you have more say in your future than you might think," he answered quietly. "And I can see that I have a little more than eight days to convince you of this."

"What would you do with me here?" Meg asked with a wave of her hand backwards toward the building behind them as they walked their mounts toward the opening in the stone wall. "I don't speak the language, I can't write it either. I have no skill to offer the whole, as Lord Celeborn states that each here does. It wouldn't be fair…"

"We have eight days and a few hours more to find something that you could do, if you truly wanted to stay," he answered firmly. "I am certain we could find something that you could find both useful and satisfying…"

"I still have my responsibilities there; I can't just walk away from everything I've known, and people who are depending on me to return when I said I would," she sighed. "And just walking away isn't done."

Wendell kept his grey behind Sadie until they had crossed the bridge over the ravine, and he could put himself at her side. "Why is such a thing not done? Do you not have the freedom to choose your own path in your world?"

"Please, let's not talk about that," Meg begged. "Tell me about you. You told me you were five who came? Where did you come from, and who did you come with?" She gazed at him with open entreaty; she didn't want to think about Los Angeles, Bryant and Sons, or never seeing him again - anything but that!

She could see that he didn't want to change the subject, but he relented with a sigh. "My brothers and I came from a place called Valinor. As I said, there were five of us, originally. Two departed eastward almost the moment they landed on this shore, and neither I nor any of the rest ever heard of their fates. Another traveled through as many lands as he could, taking care of the task we had been set, but became engrossed in the study of lore that ended with him falling in with the Dark One's servant and eventually being overthrown as well. The last also traveled a great deal, but he never stayed long in any one place."

"What were their names - and you said you had several names too, what is your real name?"

Wendell shot her a glance. "You remembered that, did you? Well, 'Wendell' is the way those here in the area heard my Quenya name 'Aiwendil'. Those like Lord Celeborn, who speak the Grey Tongue, call me Radagast."

"Ai… Ai…?"

"Aiwendil," he pronounced it more slowly this time and then corrected her attempts. "Truly, I am content to hear you call me Wendell. My brothers who vanished were Pallando and Alatar. My fallen brother was called Cúrunir, or Saruman in the Grey Tongue. My wandering brother's name was Olórin; but those he met anointed him with many names, some of them less than complimentary: Gandalf, Mithrandir, Greyhame, Stormcrow…"

"Strange names," Meg said with a shake of her head. "And I've never heard of Valinor before. Where is it?"

"Across the sea - to the west," he answered slowly. "It is the land that some of the others believed you came from."

Meg blinked. "There is no other land to the west of here than the Americas, Wendell."

"No, I suppose there aren't," he agreed with a shrug of his shoulders.

"You're either pulling my leg, or you're being deliberately mysterious," she accused.

He gazed at her, his eyes almost sad. "Like many things concerning Imladris, I tell you the truth, but not all of it. I would rather you enjoy your eight days and few hours with us without wondering if we were insane people."

"You keep asking me if I would want to stay, though; how can I make up my mind on something that… major… without knowing this horrible truth you cannot tell me?" she returned.

"I have no intentions of keeping the truth from you forever, Meg," Wendell said softly. "I merely want you to enjoy Imladris and all it has to offer with a completely open mind. Then, as time grows short, you will learn what it is I and the others would rather you not know; and you can make your choice then."

"Is it that bad?"

"It may strain at your ability to believe, I think," he replied apologetically. "Much about Imladris will strain at that, frankly; which is why we… I… would rather you experience what it is to be there before you have to face things that may seem… unlikely." He looked away up the path to the brink of the ravine. "It is important to me that you make up your own mind about many things before that point."

Meg colored and remained quiet for a long time before she finally worked up the nerve to ask, "Important to you?"

Surprisingly, Wendell seemed to hunch a bit. "Yes." Then he straightened and gazed at her, his expression guarded. "Does that surprise you?"

For the first time, Meg considered that perhaps Wendell was a more vulnerable person than she'd thought. By his own word, he was alone among the other residents of Imladris - how was it he put it? 'Alone but not solitary.' "I suppose not," she answered finally. "I'm finding that I like you too."

Only his eyes showed the astonished glee, and it vanished almost the moment that it appeared; but the fact that she actually saw it warmed her heart. He's the closest thing I've had to a friend in years, and maybe he likes me a little as well. Why else would the idea of my staying on at Imladris be so important to him that he would hide inconvenient truths about it in hopes of swaying my opinion? Meg knew that Imladris and all the mystery that it represented intrigued her; but now her interest had another focus, and a much more immediate one. And of all the reasons for her to consider whether or not she wanted to leave, that reason might have more import than she'd originally thought.

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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