8. What To Do?
Celeborn led her all the way to Wendell's side, and then deliberately transferred her hand into Wendell's keeping. "You… tell… Radagast," he reminded her with a gentle smile and cupped her face with his hand. Then he spoke gently and quickly to Wendell before giving a bow with his hand to his heart and turning away.
Neither of them moved until Celeborn had vanished through the library door, and then Wendell released his hold so that Meg could reclaim her freedom from him. "You didn't tell me you were teaching him English," she commented quietly.
"He asked me to teach him the day I brought you back from the village after you left off your mare. I had no idea he would attempt to speak to you privately so soon. I should have told you. I am sorry for that." He turned back to his window.
"He wants me to talk to you," Meg said, moving to the other side of the window. "You told him how you felt?"
"The subject arose," Wendell allowed. "The Eldar are naturally curious creatures; and, according to Celeborn, I was rather obvious in my interest." He trailed a forefinger over the rippled glass. "If in doing so, I have embarrassed you, I am most sorry."
"It didn't embarrass me; it merely surprised me." She found herself tempted to follow his example and run her finger over the distorted glass pane. "He may not have a big vocabulary, but he certainly has the ability to use it well for only having studied for what - seven days?"
"He is not known among the Eldar as Celeborn the Wise without good reason."
She gave into the temptation. "He asked me if I loved you."
The quick jerk of his head told her that she had surprised him, but he quickly resumed his defeated slouch. "He should not have. I am sor…"
"Stop apologizing. Please."
He turned to gaze at her. "It is all I know how to do, hiril nîn. I have frightened you - convinced you that I am a magical charlatan at best, at worst a raving mad man - and now discover that my comrade asked you very personal questions. And right now I'd imagine that all you are hoping for is that you may bide your time unmolested until the hour comes when you be taken back to the village so you may return to your life in American."
"America," she corrected without thinking, "and I think Lord Celeborn asked me not to leave."
Wendell's shoulders hunched. "He is aware of my feelings in the matter; and I once told you that he would give me whatever I wanted, were it in his power to give it."
Meg played with the window again. "He showed me his ear," she said eventually.
"I made mention that you had told me about the Eldar, and he confirmed that that was what he was and showed it to me."
He nodded and grunted, as if not knowing how to comment on this development. She waited, but he obviously wasn't going to take the lead in conversation at all.
"What you did…" she began, trying to put her thoughts into words, "what you showed me,"
"I should never have done it," Wendell sighed. "I could see I had pushed you too far the moment I started to set aside the fana I have worn for so long. Olórin once told me that he frightened his Hobbit friends quite badly doing something similar once, and they already knew he was a wizard." He leaned his head against the cool glass even as he looked at her again. "I merely wished so much to show you that what I was telling you was no fantasy, no story to frighten little children at bedtime. And instead…"
"Is… that… what you really are?" Meg asked, afraid of the answer.
"I am as you see before you, but I can be that, if the need arises. I have not shed this form in many, many long-years - since long before I came to dwell in Imladris, I dare say."
"And when you said you made the eyes 'slide over us'…"
"I put us inside a… a bubble, if you will, that folds the surrounding scenery over what I wish to hide in a logical manner. If given enough time to prepare, it can even prevent sound from escaping, but that day…" He sighed. "Hard to believe, I realize…"
"If I hadn't seen it happen, it would be," she reminded him quickly. "But I saw them look right at us and not see us, so something you did, worked." Her finger worried a tiny pit in the glass near her nose. "Why me, Wendell?"
That made him straighten and look over at her, distressed. "What do you mean?"
Meg concentrated on the sensations under her finger so she didn't have to look at him. "If you are so old, and so powerful, why me? Why not…" She shrugged and then waved her hand around. "…one of Celeborn's people, or the people who were here before, or someone in your home on… whatever that place was called…"
"Yeah. Valinor. Surely there had to be someone there - someone like you, whatever you are…"
Out of the corner of her eye, she could see him shaking his head. "In all that time, and in all the places I have walked, I had not found one who caught at my heart - until now. I did not choose to remain alone all this time, I assure you. Finding you has been a very… unsettling… experience - but one that I will treasure until the unmaking of the world."
He was answering every question she had for him, and doing so in a kind and gentle tone and manner; and given how much she had already seen, she was a little more open to entertaining the notion that perhaps he wasn't pulling her leg after all. And her heart was crying out for her to go to him, no matter what he said. I have fallen in love with him. But is it enough?
She didn't want to cry, she didn't; but tears began slow tracks down her cheeks. "Wendell, I have a life out there…" She gestured awkwardly toward the space beyond the window.
"Is that what you call it? I call it being alone, but not solitary," Wendell said very softly. "I know how it is to walk among those who have lives and relationships and yet feel apart from all that they are or do. And I feel that is what you have been doing, and that it is a cold path that you would be returning to. You told me that all of your family, save a brother's wife and child, are gone now; and this brother's wife left you alone in your grief to return to her family - which is not yours. How long can you exist this way without fading yourself?"
"And I would have more here; is that what you're telling me?" she challenged him without any fire.
"That is exactly what I am telling you," he returned firmly. "Here you would have those who genuinely would be interested in you, in your life, in your stories; people who would be willing to teach you whatever you wished to learn so that you could spend your days with a purpose that fits the person you are. And I swear to you, you would have love here, as much as I could give to you. You would not be alone anymore." He took a step toward her. "You would have a life, Meg, rather than just a mere existence."
"What about my responsibilities? I have an employer that I promised that I would give two week's written notice before I could leave. I have my apartment, and my things, that someone would be forced to go through and dispose of if I didn't do it…"
"Meg, I don't know if Imladris will allow you to find it again, should you leave," Wendell told her sadly. "You are here because, I think, you need this place, and I know I need you. If you choose to leave, however, it is possible that your choice will be seen as a decision not to accept the offer made to you - and you will never again find the proper path down the ravine to the bridge. You, like the all others in your world, will have your eyes slide away from what you would need to see to return. And now that I know to fold the bubble of my protection over the top of Imladris as well, you will not find us by air again either."
Never find Imladris again? The very thought was like ice water in the face. "But you could watch for me? Wait for me… If you knew I would return…" She searched his face frantically, looking for reassurance.
"But watch and wait for how long? Winter comes very quickly here; in but a few weeks, the entire place will be covered in snow and ice, and the park will close until the Spring. The path in and out of Imladris is not safe in winter." He shook his head and took another step, not hiding his approach, but not drawing attention to it either.
"Is there anything back in your world that you would miss so greatly if it remained behind? Your employer, no doubt, is like so many others I have known of your kind down the Ages: his interest in you will only last as long as you continue to help him make gold for his purse. Were you to not return in the specified time, he would have no problem whatsoever promoting another into your position and forgetting you ever existed. The same would apply to the one who owns the building you rent a room from: your import to him would end when the promise of gold evaporates. Were you not to return, he would have no problem removing your personal belongings to either be sold or thrown to the midden pile in order that the room be free to rent to another."
The next step he took brought him close enough to touch her, and yet he refrained. "Stay, Meg. Stay with me. Do not run the risk of never being allowed to return. Look into your heart and find the strength to turn away from an empty life."
The proximity of his voice drew her gaze back to him, and finally he reached out a warm hand to finger away the tears and then cup her face. "I look at you and see our future - and it can be a bright one. I love you, Meg; I will never love another."
"I love you too, Wendell," she confessed finally in a very small voice, "or, at least, I think I do. But this is asking a lot, on only a very little time together."
"Then stay for now; and when the paths open in Spring, you will know your true decision." He stepped just a bit closer, and framed her face between his hands. "By then, you will speak Sindarin, and Lord Celeborn at least will be able to speak a little better English; and you will hopefully have found something that will have made you feel your time has been used wisely. If you decide to leave at that time, I will not stop you; I will see you given enough gold that you can re-establish yourself in your world without feeling any want at all."
He finally closed the space between them. "But if you are happy here, then all will be well. Would Springtime be enough time for you to know your mind and your heart?"
"Do you promise that if I've decided to leave, you won't try to stop me or talk me out of it again?" she shot back.
"I give you my solemn vow: if you decide, when the snows clear, that you wish to return to the world of Men, I will place no obstacle in your path. I will see you safely back to the village and supplied with enough gold that you will not want for anything while you re-establish a life for yourself in the outer world again." His hand pulled away from her face, leaving her missing its warmth, to press over his heart. "So say I, Aiwendil, Maia in the service of Yavanna and Celeborn the Wise."
Meg nodded, a little amazed at the very formal vow. No doubt, to these people, making a promise was serious business; and Wendell didn't strike her as the kind of person who would break a promise made with such serious intent. She took a deep breath. "I would like some time to think about my answer. As I said, you're asking a lot of me - even to ask me to give up a good job and all of my things just to stay until Springtime - and I want to make sure that I make the right choice."
Wendell's face grew long, and he withdrew his other hand from her and stepped back. "As you wish. But your time here, as you explained it, is grown short. If I am to take you to the village in time for you to meet all your obligations out there, I must do so no later than tomorrow."
She wanted him to hold her face again. No, she wanted him to put his arms around her and convince her quickly. No, she needed to think this through… I can't think clearly when he's around! "I'm going to go walk in the garden for a while and try to make some sense of things," she told him finally. "Will you be here when I'm ready with my answer?"
He gazed at her longingly, and finally nodded. "I have duties I need to perform that I have been neglecting of late; but I will be here after the midday meal, when you bring me your reply. Will that suffice?"
She took a step backwards and would have turned to leave the library, but Wendell suddenly stepped forward and caught her upper arms in his hands. "If you must think things through to make sense of them, then it is only right that you know all. My love for you is not merely words, Meg. You need to know…" A hand cupped her face again, and then he leaned close and pressed his lips to hers.
His kiss was sweet, and gentle, regardless the frantic way he clutched at her to hold her close. Drawn to him in spite of everything, she let her hand find his waist, and then curl up his back a little, holding him in return. As she did, she felt his hand at her upper arm ease and then slide to her back, and the hand that had cupped her cheek shifted to cradle her entire skull; and finally he had her drawn completely to him.
The kiss was short, and Meg wasn't certain whether she was merely surprised or genuinely disappointed that Wendell hadn't tried to deepen it. All she knew was that his arms were warm, comfortable, and strong, and his tender regard for her was more than obvious. Most of all, she really didn't want his embrace to fall away - although it quickly did. He cupped her face again as he backed away. "I ask you, I beg you, to choose for that which I offer you when your meditations are done, or at least to give me until Spring to help you settle your mind. But go now - quickly - for my instincts tell me to hold you fast and close; and I would rather you in my arms willingly."
His hand fell away, and he very deliberately turned away from her to head off toward one of the towering bookcases. Meg lingered halfway out the library door, her fingers at her lips as she remembered his kiss, and then she forced herself to turn away as well. The garden awaited - as did the battle between her head and heart.
If I leave, I might never be able to come back again. Could she live without being able to see Wendell again, without ever being able to take the time to find out if she loved him enough to leave an entire life behind? If she decided to return, only to have whatever protection Wendell wielded about Imladris prevent her from ever finding it again, she knew she would be beyond distraught.
If I stay, even if only until Springtime, I will lose everything I've ever worked for. Her job, her reputation as a competent, responsible legal secretary, her apartment and the mementos of her parents, her brother… All of it would be gone if she did not leave tomorrow as planned, if she did not step aboard that jumbo jet and fly back to a place where it rarely, if ever, snowed; a place where she might not be happy, but she wasn't destitute.
Oh! What do I want?!
Meg wrapped her arms about herself and paced back and forth between the fountain in the corner and the stone bench set into the grass. Her stomach rumbled, telling her that it had passed the midday meal quite a while ago, but she paid it no mind.
She had worked a very long time to learn her profession, honing her skills with a number of smaller jobs before she'd finally been tried and accepted as her father's law partner's secretary. And had she remained at that place, even though both her father and later his partner had slowly backed away from their practice and left the work for younger partners, she might have been more content. These were people she'd known all her life: acquaintances rather than friends, but with possibilities.
But no. Her parents' deaths, one followed only months by the other, had made remaining where too much reminded her of them far too painful. She had taken the glowing recommendation of her previous boss to Los Angeles - a place so very different from her hometown - and managed to secure employment again. The job paid well, but Mr. Bryant was an arrogant and presumptive man, difficult to please in the best of situations - and a lecher as well. She'd become quite adept at dodging hands reaching out inappropriately; and although she knew she could report him to the state bar association for harassment, doing so would mean sacrificing her reputation with other attorneys.
Her apartment was small, but the furnishings were either expensive, quality pieces or things she had taken from her parents' home before everything else went on the auction block. Pictures of her with them as a child, pictures of her with Gene as children, an album of pictures from family vacations - all of these decorated her home and gave her a sense of belonging, even in a place where she felt perpetually a stranger the moment she left her own front door. If she wasn't working, she was home, hiding among the mementos of a past that could not be reclaimed.
Wendell was right: it wasn't a Life, it was mere Existence. But it was something that was familiar, something she knew the rules for and the limits to which she could go. Given enough time, she knew she'd find a better position somehow…
Meg sank down on the stone bench, gazing around her at the beauty of a garden even in the fading days of autumn. Quiet and peace reigned supreme in every corner; and even in the disarray of the falling, golden leaves from the sentinel trees that scattered everywhere and danced with every stray breeze, a sense of grace and as-things-were-meant-to-be could be easily discerned. The maintenance of both the estate of Imladris and of the people who lived there offered quite a number of crafts and tasks that she could learn in order to become productive, an asset. They were older crafts, things now done in the outer world - when had she started to adopt their way of thinking of her own world? - as hobbies or oddities, but here quite essential or desirable.
If she stayed, the technology she had brought with her would slowly die; and her camera, her computer, would become useless as their batteries were drained. Could she live without electricity? Could she learn to speak Sindarin well enough - and read it well enough - that she would be able to use the library for entertainment in her solitary hours? Of course, if she were with Wendell, her hours wouldn't be quite so solitary, would they?
Oh, she didn't want to think of Wendell, but once her mind had moved past all the external arguments pro and con, his face was all that was left before her to consider. Did she want to leave him, knowing that the chances were that if she changed her mind at a later date and desired to return, she probably wouldn't be able to find her way back? Did she want to risk everything in the outer world to give herself more time in this world to make her decision?
Do I trust myself enough to make the right decision, for a change? Yes, that was the central issue - not job and home versus love and companionship, but rather whether or not she could trust herself not to screw up again and land herself in a situation worse than what she had in Los Angeles?
Wendell loved her, of this she was certain. And despite her indecision otherwise, she was certain that the rush of attraction she felt for him now could easily mature into a deep and abiding love that could easily rival what her parents had shared. She so wanted that kind of love! Is this my chance? Riddled with confusion and insecurity, she wrapped her arms around herself again and studied the dainty flowers embroidered on her silken skirt.
Whatever choice she made, it would need a leap of faith on her part: faith in Wendell, or faith that her options were better out in a world that she understood. No, it would take a leap of faith in herself to make the right choice.
I don't know what to do!!
She wept for a long moment, and then looked up and around herself with determination giving starch to her spine. Dashing the tears from her cheeks with an impatient back of the hand, she berated herself. You can do this, Litten. Think it through. She looked around again, and not only at the garden this time, but at the dark opening of a doorway that led into Imladris - that led back to Wendell. Do I want to leave?
Quietly, after a long moment of merely listening and looking, she had to admit to herself that she found Imladris a very comfortable place. Did she want to leave it? No.
Finally she had a grip on something she could know: she didn't want to leave. Which risk is too big to take: of leaving and never being able to get back, or staying and not being able to find myself again out there if it doesn't work out? But Wendell had promised that she would be provided with enough gold to take that last worry away, hadn't he? And from the looks of Imladris, it had never known want or lack of wealth; the gown that had been given her on the rainy day would have been truly luxurious even just two centuries ago. So…
Which risk is too big to take?
If she stayed, she could always return to the outer world, with or without Wendell's help or gold, whenever she chose. She had marketable skills; she could eventually find her way and build a new life. Now: which life did she want - a life with Wendell loving her, or a life of her own.
A cold, empty life, now that Gene is gone - alone but not solitary - or Wendell and Lord Celeborn and Norwen and Iavas?
She threw her head back and closed her eyes. Was it really that much of a choice? The possibility of everything she'd ever wanted out of life, or a career? Wendell or Mr. Bryant? Meg snorted, then sighed and opened her eyes again; that last one wasn't even a legitimate question.
I want Wendell, don't I?
Yes, she did. She closed her eyes and revisited that very sweet, very simple kiss. He hadn't pushed, hadn't pressed, hadn't asked for more than was proper at the time. But he had made his case more eloquently in that one little kiss than with all the words he'd given her before then.
I want to stay - at least until Springtime. We will decide on a day, and I will make my final choice then.
Her stomach rumbled again, more insistently this time, and Meg rose. It was time to eat, and then time to find Wendell. No, he needed to know of her decision. Food could wait.
He was sitting at the table where she had left him, books and scrolls and papers scattered about him as was his wont when he was working for Lord Celeborn. Meg moved to stand directly in front of him, with the table between them, her hands demurely clasped in front of her, and then raised her head to look at him. And then she smiled.
A face that had gone pale and still at her entrance filled with color and life, and brown eyes twinkled merrily as he rose quickly to his feet. "At least until Spring?" he asked breathlessly, obviously forcing himself to hold back until he'd heard everything there was to hear.
"At least until Spring," she repeated with a shallow nod.
This time, when his lips met hers, she was left with no illusions whatsoever as to the depths of his feelings for her, and of the elation that he felt at her choice.