3. Things That Cannot Be
Chapter 3 - Things That Cannot Be
It had been a long time since he had been a witness to a person starting to bloom. It was no less satisfying and uplifting now, watching one of the Second-born rediscover her innate worth and sense of being. Ages ago, he'd felt much the same after raising twin peredhil boys and watching them find their way as individuals as well as two halves of a whole. Even from a distance, watching Elros depart to become one of the Second-born's greatest leaders and then watching Elrond lead his people with compassion and deep wisdom had been both a comfort and evidence that there had been something he'd done right.
Marisol was determined not to end up back on the streets, or under the freeway overpass or a rusted bridge, again. The day after the storm ended, he had spoken to one of the owners of a small motel on the very beach itself, and they had given the child a job cleaning rooms as a way of paying for his assistance with new leaks in the roofs of the outlying buildings. Marisol had taken to the task with a vengeance, and the owner had privately told him at the end of the first week that the rooms had never been as clean as they were now.
There had only been one small hitch in their relationship, and it was one that he had seen coming clearly and dreaded, but had been unable to avoid. It happened during their second week together, when yet another storm broke unexpectedly over them as he escorted Marisol back to their cabin and drenched the both of them to the skin before he could throw the hood of his cloak over his head. Once safely within their shelter, the two of them had stood in front of a newly-laid fire with hands outstretched to gather in the warm. Marisol had glanced up at him in preparation to say something, and her eyes had gone wide and startled.
It had been inevitable, living in such close quarters with one of her kind. Some day, his long hair would be drenched and clinging tightly to his head, and his ears would become quite visible. He'd kept them hidden from those around him for as long as he'd been in this land, but he'd been alone all that time. "Marisol…"
It was obvious she was fighting flinching away from him and backing away. "Wh…what are you?"
Oh! The temptation to just spill his guts for a change was great, but he knew that this was not the time for such things. He was still getting used to her company, and she still needed the support and protection that he provided her. She would have to be brought into his secret very carefully, to be taught that he had become no more dangerous to her in the last few moments than he'd been for over a week, and to be shown that their differences were of no consequence to her. And it would need to start now.
"I am the same as I was when I carried you here and sheltered you from Crazy Larry and that bad storm the first time," he replied casually, deliberately trying to take the urgency away from the situation through tone of voice and lack of tension. "Have I changed in any way – really? Have I done anything differently to make you doubt me now?"
Despite her fears, this Mortal child had resilience to her, a strength of personality that many he'd met over the long, long centuries didn't have. He watched her eyes flick back and forth from peering deeply into his to contemplating the shape of his ears, and he knew she was thinking about what he said.
"No," she answered finally, "but… your ears…"
"Have ever been this way. You just have not seen them before."
He pressed on. "Do I not still have only two hands, two feet, two eyes? Do I not speak to you in a language you understand?"
"You sing in one that I've never heard before," she offered almost defensively.
He smiled at her. Such a brave child! "Yes, that is the language of my youth, but does it make me someone to be feared?"
Marisol blinked, and again he could see the thoughts roiling. "No. Of course not. It's just…"
"It is just that my ears look differently from yours, yes?" He waited patiently for the nod he knew would come. "Does the shape of my ears make a difference in the kind of person I am, in my actions toward you or another?" This time, he waited for the slow shake of her head. "Am I more fearsome now?"
"Are you human?" was the question that answered his.
He slung his cloak from his shoulders and moved back to the door to hang it on the peg so it wouldn't drip water in the middle of the room. "In a manner of speaking, I am," he responded, following up by moving to Marisol's side and gesturing for her to unzip her jacket and hand it to him. "A long time ago, my people shared this land with yours. I am the last to remain, however."
Marisol had followed his every slightest move with her eyes. "Are you an alien then? Like on TV or in the movies?"
"No, little one. At the very beginning, my people were here before yours."
Ah! He could see the flicker of disbelief in her gaze. Instead, she declared, "I bet you had surgery on your ears."
"Surgery?" He threw his head back and laughed long and hard. "No, little one. If I were going to have surgery, do you not think it would be best if I made it so that I no longer looked quite so different from you?"
"I don't know. It's a good way to make folks think twice about letting you near," she offered reluctantly.
She had a point. "Very true. But the fact is I have not had surgery of any kind. You may check for yourself, if you do not believe me." He bent down to put his head closer to her eye level. "If you wish…"
After a sharp glance at his face, Marisol did indeed step closer and with very tentative fingers trace the hair away from his head so as to see his ears more closely. He closed his eyes at the gentle touch, reminding himself that she belonged to her own people, that she had a home she needed to reclaim. There would never be one to hold him, to stroke his ears, to…
He straightened quickly, before he could finish the thought. "Any scars you can see?"
"No…" She blushed and stepped away from him. "I'm sorry I accused you of…"
He shook his head at her; her disbelief and wariness were quite understandable, especially in this day and Age. "Think nothing of it. The most important thing, at the moment, is that you know that I am still the same Mac who makes rabbit stew, and cuts the wood for the fire." He leveled an assessing gaze on her. "Am I still one to be feared?"
"No." The element of certainty was back, and it was a relief. "Who were your people, then?" she asked shyly.
My people were once known as "Quendi." That means "Singers" in my language."
"Is that the same language that your name is in?"
"It is." He walked over to the clothing press and pulled out two fluffy towels and handed one over.
"Say something in your language, please?"
When he pulled the towel from his head, he found Marisol standing, waiting, her eyes bright and expectant. She was neither fearful nor ridiculing; she was genuinely curious.
"Elen síla lúmenn' omentielvo."
"Oooo!" Marisol vigorously applied the towel she held to her own head. "That's pretty! What does it mean?"
"'The stars shine upon our meeting,'" he supplied quietly.
His face smoothed into a smile. "Get dry, little one. I shall teach you how to say it properly while we prepare our meal."
Life with Macalaurë was unlike any existence Marisol had experienced before. As the days turned into weeks, and they slowly got to know each other better, she could tell that he had relaxed some kind of inner guard. The private man behind defenses he threw up to others was funny, kind, observant, and quite passionate about a number of things. He was a dedicated story-teller, and insisted on hearing her story from beginning to end, without allowing her to omit the darker, less complimentary parts. Oddly, he didn't judge her or lecture her on what she should or shouldn't have done.
Instead, in return he would tell her tales that sounded as if they came out of a book of fairytales: of princes and great lords, of sweeping battles, of desperation in the face of implacable evil, of small kindnesses even in the worst of situations and stunning betrayals. As entertaining as his stories were, she couldn't help her skepticism when, after his first story, he claimed to have actually lived these tales himself.
"You're far too young to have done all these things," she reminded him, working the small rabbit-skin with the flat rock as he had taught her. "This is the twenty-first century, after all, Macalaurë; we don't run around with swords and spears and shields and…"
"And yet, I possess such," he told her in a calm voice that betrayed him practicing patience with her. "Do you wish to see them?"
She nodded vigorously. "Sure!" No doubt, she would now be allowed to examine stuff that had "Made In China" marked somewhere.
Macalaurë rose and went to a lower chest, nearly hidden against the wall under all of the drying skin frames. Whatever he was seeking was well wrapped, for it took him time to pull it out, and when he did…
"O wow!" Marisol stared. The sword he had unearthed shone in the firelight as if made of the finest silver. Even if it were a replica, it was an expensive item.
She stared as he carried it over to her and carefully buried the point into the wood of the floor before offering the hilt to her. "Be careful; it is very sharp and probably quite heavy for you."
That was a masterpiece of understatement! There was no way she could even begin to lift the thing herself, and a careful touch to the edge of the blade revealed that it was as sharp as any razor she had ever seen. What was more, now that she was close enough, she could see that the entire length of the blade had been etched with graceful symbols she'd never seen before. "What does it say?"
"It is an invocation to the Powers," he answered, for some reason blushing deeply. "It was for my protection while fighting. My father crafted this for me, and the dagger as well." He pulled the dagger that he always wore at his hip to show her, and Marisol could see, after Macalaurë untied the leather wrapping that hid the dagger's hilt, that the two were matched set. The same configuration of jewels decorated both, and a similar etching stretched the length of the dagger blade, just as it did the sword.
"Oh wow…" She searched for something to say, now that he'd made her question her doubts with his treasure. Her eyes widened when he retrieved the sword from her keeping, turned away from her and swung it in a tight circle, making it sing as it cut the air. There was a grace and skill and obvious familiarity with the way the thing was handled that couldn't be faked, and the hairs on Marisol's neck rose at the thought that maybe – just maybe – Macalaurë hadn't been just spinning a yarn for her after all. "If you used this, how old does it make you? I mean, we haven't used swords for centuries, and you look…"
"Too young, yes, I remember your saying that more than once." Macalaurë crouched and carefully packed the magnificent weapon back in its wrapping and closed the lid of the chest. "Do you remember my telling you that looks could be very deceiving?" When she nodded, remembering that odd statement from her very first night in the cabin, he nodded back. "It will be hard for you to believe, but my people do not age the way yours does. I am… quite old, by your measure."
"How old?" she pressed. Something told her his answer would stretch her ability to believe even further than his stories had.
"Older than I want to think about," was his hedging response. "It does not matter. I will be here when you are long gone, and your children's children's children as well."
"But…" Marisol thought for a moment, the concept of what he was telling her a difficult one to get around, "if you are the last of your people here, why don't you go to where the others are. Or…" Her eyes opened wide and upset. "Are they dead?"
Macalaurë shook his head, his expression quite sad. "No, they are not dead. But I am forbidden to return to them."
"Why?" What could he have done that was so bad? Even though he told tales that defied belief, he was no monster, no criminal…
"I have done things," he replied very slowly, almost reluctantly, "terrible things, things that are unforgivable by my people's standards. My punishment is exile."
Her brows rose and her hands stilled at their task once more. "Here? Exile here?"
She watching him take a very deep breath and stow away his sadness and something else that she couldn't quite identify. "Yes. Now, how comes that skin you've been worrying for the last three evenings?"
Marisol handed over her latest attempt to try her hand at making a skin ready for working, and yet she wasn't ready to drop the subject. She knew that he didn't like to be touched much, but she still put her hand on his as he took the skin from her. "I don't care what you did. You're a good person, and making you live in exile isn't fair."
When Macalaurë looked up at her, that strange glow that could sometimes ignite in the back of his eyes was bright and strong. "I appreciate your judgment of me, little one, even though I know better. Let us leave aside the talk of exiles and immortalities now and talk about what you would like to make with this skin. A wallet, perhaps?"
"Will you show me more on the harp later too?"
His smile widened, and he nodded. "I need to see how much you remember of the song as well. Music after the meal, then."
Marisol watched him examine her work with a fond eye. Her self-appointed guardian and mentor was such a person of mystery and contradictions, but he ever had time to give her any knowledge that she asked for. She liked him, and liked him more and more as time went on – even if his stories were hard to believe were reality.
Why couldn't Trevor have been more like Macalaurë?
Winter became Spring, and the weather slowly warmed. He escorted Marisol into town every morning that she worked for the Brite Spot motel, and slowly had become known as someone who was a good fix-it man. The change was as gradual as the weather, but the businessmen in the area weren't looking askance at the length of his hair, or the fact that he wore homemade leather trousers and tunics anymore. Instead, it seemed as if they'd learned to appreciate the quality of his work. As time passed, he was met on the street with smiles as often as not now, no longer considered a stranger but one of "them."
Life had an interesting spice to it now, with Marisol in the cabin with him. He would never know, from one evening to the next, what kinds of questions her fertile mind would pose to him, what kind of commentary would emerge regarding whatever story was told after the meal and before retiring. The child was bright, and he reveled in being given the chance to be a teacher once more. She was beginning to make music rather than merely noise on the lap harp, her skins were soft and easily worked into whatever she wanted or needed, and both her speaking and singing voices were pleasant songs that flavored his day.
Crazy Larry had tried twice to accost her, and both times had been chased away. The last time, however, he had been chased into the arms of the local gendarmerie, and now was contained in a locked room in the local mental health facility. Marisol visibly relaxed once all chance of running into that lunatic was removed, and her wit and humor began to shine everywhere, rather than only when safe in the cabin. Never was there an evening that he wasn't grateful this child of Mortals had fallen into his care.
Why had he never thought to simply be amongst the Second-born, rather than hold himself aloof as much as possible? Nobody knew or cared about his history, or would believe him if he chose to tell it to them. And without the burden of guilt and remorse from the censure of others, he was discovering that these modern Mortals only cared about who he was now and appreciated the tasks he did and his skill at doing them. He even had offers for company at the midday meals from those he worked with or for, and companionable conversations with people willing to accept him for who he was now became a much more regular facet of his dealings.
Perhaps it was the nature of the inhabitants of this little resort town on the edge of the Pacific Ocean to be more open and giving to one of their own. Perhaps it was because they all watched him watch over Marisol and saw that he was behaving in a decent, ethical manner towards her. Perhaps it was because bartering for whatever skills he had at repairing their properties or equipment was more affordable and therefore more acceptable when money was tight. Whatever it was, it was a strange and yet comforting feeling to know himself welcome by the townspeople rather than estranged from them. He may not have been a part of them, but he no longer felt the need to distance himself as quickly and often as possible.
But time was marching on, and the little pot on one of the upper shelves that had been set aside to hold the coin Marisol would need to purchase her bus ticket home slowly began to fill. He had cajoled and coerced and finally convinced her to write to her parents to see whether or not she'd be welcomed home again, and then given her the money for the stamp to post the letter. A week and a half later, she had at first stared dumbstruck at the thick envelope she had received in response; and when the tears began to fall to know that they still loved and wanted her with them, she had shyly asked for a hug and then sobbed into his shoulder.
How carefully he had held her that evening, marveling all the while at how frail she was, and yet how strong! The chance to hold her close and know his attentions welcome was a gift – a gift from the Powers that he had once thought had forgotten him utterly. They had placed this precious child of the After-comers in his care, and by accepting her into his life, he had opened his world to a wealth of simple pleasures that had been denied him…
No. Those simple pleasures were things he had denied himself. The Powers had nothing to do with any of that, just as they had nothing to do with the fact that he had exiled himself rather than go home to face them. So much of his anger and resentment at the Ages he'd spent on these shores, cut off from all that he held dear, had fallen away in that tender moment of comfort that was more mutual than he'd ever considered possible. He had begun humming his comfort to her then, holding her close to him and knowing the very nature of that moment to be fleeting, humming a refrain of an old song of joy and peace that he hadn't thought of since before the Arnoediad.
And now, as he stood at the counter pricing a bus ticket to Lincoln, Nebraska and beyond, he wasn't certain he was glad that his time with Marisol was coming to an end.
It seemed like a dream: the bus ticket was purchased and tucked into the soft leather wallet that Macalaurë had made for her months ago. Tomorrow, with everything she owned in the world tucked into another gift from him – a backpack that had a burned pattern on the flap that he told her was her name written in his language – she would climb on board one of those long busses for the three-day trip back to Nebraska.
She was the last one through the cabin door, so it was her responsibility that night to set the latch for the evening so that no one could disturb their slumber. As she pressed the wooden peg through the hole one last time, she sighed. This rustic existence had become very dear to her, and she wasn't entirely delighted to be leaving it behind.
Certainly, living with a man who was not her lover had been an interesting set of challenges. She had learned that she had but to ask him, and he would turn his back on her to give her whatever privacy she felt she needed. After the first few times of watching like a hawk, she relaxed in the knowledge that he really wasn't taking the opportunity to peek at her like any other guy would have. And, in return, she had made sure that when he asked, she would turn her back immediately and keep it turned, despite the curiosity that grew steadily in her.
And now, her time with him was nearly finished.
The evening had been spent in pleasant company, dining with her former employer and his wife at a local restaurant. Eating restaurant fare as it was intended, after getting very used to the limited menu in Macalaurë's cabin, was a shock. She had been almost sleepy for the entire walk back, and fumbled her way through her few evening tasks before changing into the soft leather tunic that she continued to wear for her sleeping garment.
It had not occurred to her how much she would miss her old boss, with his slightly grandfatherly treatment and unfailing words of encouragement. But she was well aware that she would most definitely miss Macalaurë most of all.
She watched from the bedside as he pulled off his boots and set them to the side of the hearth and then bent to bank the fire for the night. As she always did, she then found herself wondering about his being comfortable. For her entire residency in his home, Macalaurë had rested every night in that cushioned chair by the hearth without a single complaint or even a mention that he'd like to stretch out in his own bed once in a while. And every night, Marisol had felt guilty at displacing him so.
But this night, her guilt had an urgency to it: it was her last night. She had become very fond of her rescuer, but had never once tried to let him know exactly how she felt about him. She knew that he returned the sentiment, to one degree or other, because she would sometimes catch him watching her with his eyes glowing in that way he got when his emotions were close to the surface. And time was growing very short, if she were going to say or do anything.
She had thought long and hard about this for days. He had demanded nothing of her, never once tried to touch her or do anything else to her, even though she would have been glad to cooperate in these past few weeks had he asked. Trevor wouldn't even have asked, he would have… No. Macalaurë was a gentleman – a saint compared to the weasel who had tricked her into coming to California. And once, just once, it would be nice to give herself to a man freely, in a way she knew men enjoyed. It was the only thing she could think of to give him to express her gratitude for all that he'd done for her.
He glanced over his shoulder at her and then back at the task at hand. "Go to sleep, little one. Tomorrow is a big day for you." He quickly finished and then straightened to reach up for the harp.
Marisol took a deep breath. Normally, she would have been more than contented to listen to him play or sing in that beautiful language of his. But not this night. This night, she had other ideas. "Macalaurë?" she asked again, this time stretching out a hand to him. "Come to bed."
He froze, with the harp not quite off the peg, and then carefully and with graceful deliberation withdrew his hand and turned. "What?" His eyes were glowing, brighter than usual.
She smiled nervously. Now that the moment was here, she could only hope that he would take her offer in the spirit it was given. "You shouldn't have to sleep in the chair all the time when there's room for the both of us over here. Come to bed."
"Marisol…" She loved the way he pronounced her name with his accent. It would be so very easy to fall in love with him. Maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing…
But the look on his face told her she would have to convince him to do as she asked. "Do you remember the first night I was here, when I was so afraid you were going to want…" She blushed. "And you even asked me if I expected you to take…"
"I remember the discussion." His voice was soft, his gaze intense.
"I'm offering this time." She walked over to him and put her hand on his arm. "Come to bed."
It seemed like a dream. This child, this beautiful young woman, was offering herself to him. Her touch on his arm was electric, and every ounce of his attention was now on her. She smelled of the soup that her employer, Caleb, had allowed her to bring back with her to the cabin, a fresh and clean smell that was hers alone. Tendrils of her long, dark hair had escaped the single braid and curled in ringlets about her face. She was so lovely, and it had been so long…
He lifted a hand that trembled to brush very carefully at one of the more rebellious ringlets, the backs of his fingers barely touching her skin. It was soft and smooth, and so warm. And her eyes were gazing up at him with true affection in their depths, the like of which he hadn't seen aimed in his direction for…
The realization hit him hard. This couldn't be! If he did as she asked, chances were that he would want her to postpone her trip, if not cancel it entirely. He would not be able to merely take a single taste and then resign himself to emotional starvation again; no, he would want the chance to cherish her for all of her days, to keep her with him, to love her.
And in the end, to watch her die.
It was one of the most difficult things he'd ever forced himself to do since the day he'd tossed his father's jewel into the Sea, but he could not shirk this duty. She belonged with her people, not with him – not with him! As gently and lovingly as he knew how, he put his hand over hers. "Never think that I do not appreciate your offer, child," he told her in a voice that shook with the strength of the emotions she had awakened. "But both you know and I know that this offer is best made to the man who owns your heart and will share your life with you."
Marisol stepped closer still, covering his hand now with her other one. "But you do own my heart, in a way. You've been kinder to me than I deserved, even before you knew me; and you've always treated me with respect. You gave up your bed to me, and not once have you tried anything. This is one thing I can do for you to show you how much I appreciate…"
A forefinger pressed against her lips before she could say another word and destroy his determination to protect her from himself. He should not and could not taint her this way, nor let her demean herself this way. "Dearest one, your body is not now and never should be considered a commodity, something given in exchange for satisfying a debt…"
"That's not what I'm doing," she insisted, backing away from the restraining forefinger and now tugging very gently at his arm. "This is something I want too." And in the depths of her gaze, something warm glowed back at him. "Please."
Oh, but he wanted to! To know himself loved and accepted was a treasure that he had denied himself for millennia, and yet here was his chance, tugging at his forearm quite persistently. And there was no way in all of Arda that he could not take her into his arms and pull her close. He sternly schooled his body to obedience so that she would never know the depth of his desire for her, for such a discovery would undo them both and lead only to disaster. Instead, he tucked her against him and felt her arms surround him and hold him back. He closed his eyes and just allowed himself the luxury of enjoying the embrace, knowing that it must not last long and should never happen again.
But she deserved more, and she needed to know that nothing would happen, no matter how much she wanted it.
"I will always remember the offer you make to me this night with gratitude and pride, but I must say no. I respect you too much to do otherwise. Please respect my decision in this." When he felt her reluctantly nod and accept his decision, he brushed his lips across her forehead lightly. Then, regretfully, he loosed his hold on her and disengaged himself from her arms. "I promise you I am not uncomfortable in my chair, and it would please me to sing to you once more before you go."
Marisol stepped back away from him, her expression a mixture of sorrow and gratitude that made him wish he dared throw aside all his principles, all his certainties, and take her to him again for a night – a lifetime, her lifetime – spent in pleasures they both wanted. Instead he straightened his back, shouldering the responsibility for making certain things were done properly – at least this one time in his life – and then smiled at her. "Go," he said, pointing. "Tuck yourself in. And you can tell me which song you would like to hear."
He would sing to her all night, if that were her wish, his heart breaking with every phrase and chorus.
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.