JunoMagic's Birthday Stories Playlist 2006
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Not Fade Away: 8. If All Were Told
When Posey woke, the cabin was bright from the daylight coming in the tiny windows. She felt the plane descending and realized she must have been roused by the sound of the landing gear dropping. Her right cheek was resting against the rough tweed of Glenn's jacket, and she had drooled on him in her sleep. There was a glistening snail track of her saliva down his lapel. Wonderful.
She felt his arm around her shoulder. Had he held her all the way from Chicago? He must have, because he was still shirtless beneath his jacket. She could smell his bare skin, a clean earthy scent that was so nice that she was almost reluctant to lift her head. She was no longer in terror, but her wild fear of the night before had been replaced by a strange passivity.
The plane set down gently. Hal seemed to be a good pilot, but of course being an alien, that was only to be expected. As the plane rolled to a stop, she sat up. Glenn was looking at her warily. She noticed that he had covered his ears again. She reached up and drew back the dark strands with her forefinger. "You don't have to hide them. I'm not going to freak on you anymore."
She followed him out the door, down the gangway and onto the tarmac. The runway seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. To the west was a wall of trees. To the east, beyond the runway's edge were swamps, and she could see a single snowcapped mountain off in the distance.
"Where am I?" she breathed.
"You're east of the sun and west of the moon, young lady. This spot doesn't show on any map. Roads run around it, and planes and even satellites fly over it without seeing. Anyone wandering in without our leave will find himself turned around and wandering back out without even noticing."
She turned toward the friendly voice and smiled. Thank God! A normal human type person. He was a late middle-aged man in a brown jacket. Everything else about him was brown too, from his graying hair to his eyes, which held a gold-flecked twinkle. Just to look at him inspired trust, although she had no idea why this should be, considering the circumstances.
"Go easy with her, Wendell," Glenn said. "Mariposa has been through a lot in the last twelve hours. Mariposa, this is Wendell Brown, chief of security for all of the Rivers holdings."
"So I'm to be Wendell with her, eh?" He winked at her. "I suppose that name will do as well as any I have been given, most of which involve referring to me as the friend of birds and beasts, or simply, fool, as one of my brothers used to call me. Chief of Security is also a good way to describe me, I suppose. I'm the one who sets a girdle around this place and keeps the rest of the world out. Don't be afraid, Mariposa. Explanations will be forthcoming once we have all settled in. It is never good to keep your kind in the dark too long."
"But what is this place?" That mountain was beginning to look strangely familiar.
"It's the heart of Elvendom on earth, now that the Golden Wood is no more," said Hal, walking past. "Eryn Lasgalen, the Wood of Green Leaves."
"My word for it is home," said Leif, coming down the gangway ladder. Posey had never seen him looking quite so happy and at peace.
Behind Leif came Aaron, flanked by his wife and Linda. His forehead bore a large square of taped gauze. He walked slowly and seemed to be in some pain, but he moved under his own power, and he paused to nod to Posey with gratitude as he passed.
"And he," said Glenn, bowing his head, "is Aran Thranduil Oropherion, our last and greatest king. All of this still exists because of his strength of will, and the rest of us along with it."
This can't be real, she told herself. She must have cracked her head in that crash, along with Aaron, and this was a last hallucination of a dying brain. Or she was lying comatose in a hospital bed with tubes running in and out, and things could fade to black at any moment when the doctors decided to pull the plug on her. Might as well ride the dream while it lasted.
A group of strangely dressed people emerged from the snow-covered trees, leading a string of horses. "I hope you're not afraid of horses, Mariposa," Glenn said.
"I rode a lot when I was growing up, although it's been a few years. No problem"
"Good. They're the main form of transportation around here, although, I suppose we could take you in by boat. Aran's rule -- no modern technology in the Homeland. Except for the satellite uplinks in the treasury vault. But only a few of us have access to that. Aran's not entirely daft."
"I will not be carried in a litter in my own realm!"
They turned to see Rivers arguing with Linda. "But Aran, your injury. You can't risk a fall."
"I've had worse, and I will not fall from my own horse. That is final; healer or no!"
"Ai! Stubborn," Glenn muttered. "Forgive me, Mariposa, I need to go attend him. You'll be all right with Wendell."
He hurried off, and there was a huddled discussion, which Rivers obviously won, because a large bay horse was brought around to him.
"You will use the stirrup to mount, and that is my order," Linda insisted.
"If I must," he replied, as if granting a great concession. But when he attempted to raise his foot to the stirrup, his weakness became apparent, and he faltered. Both Leif and Glenn rushed to his side. Glenn got there first, bowing and giving him a gentle leg up onto his mount.
This man, alien -- was it elf that Hal had called it? -- whatever he was, he was all about pride and a fierce independence, and the others seemed determined to bolster him in it.
She and Wendell went to their own horses. No bit, Posey noticed; the reins were attached to a simple headstall and noseband, and the saddle was little more than a leather pad with stirrups. It was quite comfortable once she was aboard. The women mounted, Leif executed an impressively athletic scissors vault onto his grey, and the entire train moved off toward the forest. To her relief, her horse seemed to be well trained, responding to simple voice commands and shifts of her weight.
The ride through the snow-covered woods took more than an hour at a gentle walk. Once, she saw Rivers urge his horse into a trot, grimace with pain and quickly slow down again. They had ridden along a river, and at last they reached a spot where a grove of bare beeches marched down to the banks in soldier-like ranks. A stone bridge spanned the river, leading to massive gates into the steep hillside.
Posey began to laugh softly, for she recognized this place. "Oh, Leif, what were you up to?" she whispered. She continued to smile as Aaron dismounted carefully from his horse and strode to the gates.
"Lasto beth aran -- edhro!" he said, throwing his arms wide, and the gates opened.
They all followed him inside, and the twisting, cavernous tunnels lit by blazing torches were much the same as Posey had drawn them, based on Leif's instructions. Two tall men, one silver-haired and one dark, stood waiting to greet them, and they bowed as Aaron passed.
Leif hung back and nodded a greeting. "Heya, Sid. How's it going, Morrie?"
"Not bad, Leaf, and yourself? You may be here an extra week or so this time while we prepare the injunctions and make sure that Aran won't be arrested on his return. Sid plans to fly back first thing after Yule to see to it."
Posey shook her head. A pair of long-haired, pointed eared corporate lawyers in velvet robes. This was looking more and more like she really was in a coma-induced hallucination. She turned to Wendell Brown. "I'd like to know what's going on, and I'd like to know it now."
"I think you need to settle in first, Mariposa," Linda said. "This has all been too much for you, too soon."
"Damn straight," Posey said. "Which is why I want to have some answers right now."
"I agree with her, Linda," said Leif, turning back to join the discussion as Aaron and the rest continued on. Posey noticed that Glenn looked back in concern, but followed his boss.
Leif looked down at her and smiled gently. "Ages ago, I looked into the eyes of a small boy who had questions. He was confused, and a little frightened, I think. I couldn't give him any answers then. My hands were tied. Now I find myself looking into the eyes of my friend again, and I won't make the same mistake." Leif's eyes were kind, and Posey thought she saw a hint of an old sadness there. He drew himself up, looking very much like his father. "Explain it to her now, Wendell. Or I'll do it myself."
Both Linda and Wendell nodded as Leif turned and left. "So says Legolas!" said Wendell with a wry grin.
Linda sighed. "He's so much more . . . forceful since he started questioning authority."
Posey stifled a sigh of her own as she watched him walk away. Aaron had always had a regal quality about him, but this was the first time she had seen Leif looking . . . she fished around in her mind for the right description, and she decided on 'princely.'
"Take Mariposa to the library," Linda said. "I have to see to Aran, but I'll join you as soon as I can."
"You don't need to rush on my account," said Posey, smiling at Wendell. Who could be anything other than fine in his avuncular company?
"We've had faintings during these interviews," Linda said pointedly. "It's good to have a healer present."
"Oh, bull! I've never fainted in my life."
"You came damned close on the plane last night." She turned to Wendell. "You get started. I'll be back"
Wendell led her up a long staircase and down several hallways. More than once, Posey hung back, transfixed by a detail of a carved banister or an embroidered hanging on a wall. If only she had known about these when she was drawing the background of Leif's game. There was a roaring fire in the library, banishing the cold of the winter day. Tapers burned in carved stone candelabra, and a faceted crystal set into the ceiling radiated light. The room was filled with the homey smell of old books.
"This is Leaf's office," Wendell said, as he took her into an alcove off the main room and directed her to sit on a low couch, "but I don't think he'll mind us using it."
He himself took a stool that he drew up from a drafting table. "This is never easy, no matter how many times I do it. Where should I begin?"
"I'll help you. Who the hell and what the hell are those people?"
"Elves? Oh, really? Obviously not the cute kind that bake cookies in hollow trees, or make the toys for Santa. Although they do seem to make toys, come to think of it."
"No, there is nothing cute or amusing about them. These are the elves that form the basis of the legends of the Faery and the Siddhe. They are the First Born. The Eldar. The People of the Stars."
"Oh, aliens. I thought so."
"No. Well, yes, in a way. Their First Fathers did come from outside, but they are natural to this Earth. They are more tightly bound to it than you, the Second Born are."
"In what way are they more tightly bound?"
"In the sense that they don't age and die."
"I see. So that explains why everyone looks so young. I'll bet they're hundreds of years old," she said brightly.
Wendell merely smiled. "Try thousands."
She began to look around for the hidden camera. It was all beginning to make sense. The wonderful job she got with no qualifications, the unbelievably good looking people, the strange happenings. She had to admire the production values on this program, though. It couldn't be some basic cable channel. This had to be network.
"I've actually lost count of how many thousands of years old they are, and of course it's different for each of them. Your world has a much older history than your schools teach, Ms. Walker."
"Do tell," she said amiably. She had always admired that Matt fellow on the original Joe Shmoe Show, being the butt of an elaborate practical joke and behaving like a consummate gentleman through it all. If she was going to be the prankee, she was going to play it to the hilt. "How does King . . . Thrandweel fit into it?"
"He fits into it by being one of the most stubborn and strong-willed elves ever to walk Middle-earth," Linda said, coming into the alcove and taking a seat beside Posey on the couch. "And one of the worst patients a healer ever had to endure." She gave a weary sigh. " Although, I never met Feanor."
"I met Feanor and . . ." Wendell shrugged. "I think Thranduil rivals him. And so does his son."
He took a deep breath. "I'll give you the short version. Long ago, there was a war. The stakes were high; it was a war between Good and Evil. Leaf fought in it, and the Good side won, but at a price to all who took part in the struggle. The time of the Eldar was at an end, and all were called home. Those who remained behind were to eventually fade and be forgotten. This was the edict of the Valar.
"Leaf had seen the ocean and been taken by the call -- the Sea Longing. When the last of his mortal companions had died, except for one, he took that last friend and sailed west to the Undying Lands. Thranduil remained, torn between love for his son and the love of his realm and the people he had promised to lead. None of them had ever wished to leave their home for the lands of the West."
Posey felt glad that this was just a prank. The story was beginning to sound too sad otherwise. "So these 'undying lands' are elf heaven? This doesn't sound like a happy ending to me." She couldn't help thinking of a Mark Twain book her father had owned, Letters From the Earth, in which Twain had pointed out that heaven, as described, was most people's idea of deadly boredom.
Wendell sighed. "Yes. It was a living death, especially for one so used to challenge as our Legolas. But then something happened. Leaf did a thing unprecedented, except for once. He decided to forsake Aman. He has told me few details, but he insisted, in a way that only Leaf can do, that he be allowed to leave, either to return east to the lands of his birth, or, failing that, to the west to join his mortal friends in death. I understand that he laid his case before the Valar, and of all of them, it was Aulë and my dear Yavanna that first supported his petition. And then Vaire, for he had been her uncomplaining servant all along. And in the end, the Lady Varda Herself.
"They opened the Straight Road for him and let him go, to sail east, along with a group of others who were like-minded, but it was at a price. None of them might return, and they must share in the fate of those Eldar who remained in the Mortal world. To fade and become nothing. He came home, Mariposa, thinking he would die in the only sense that an elf can. He came home to be with his father at the end."
She felt her eyes misting. If they thought this was going to be funny, it wasn't. "So who are these 'Valor?'"
"Ahhh," Wendell sighed. "Now we get to the hard part to believe. The Valar -- or the Belain, as Thranduil's folk call them -- are the gods themselves. Or as you might understand it, they are Archangels."
She snorted, even if it was going to cost her big bucks in advertising contracts once this show aired. "I don't believe in angels. I don't even believe in God."
"You don't have to. What is, IS, however you choose to define it. I was there at the making of the Music, and even I cannot explain or understand if fully. What I do understand is that we are all beings of energy, clothed in flesh."
"You were there? I suppose you're some kind of angel too?"
"As a matter of fact -- yes I am."
"Oh, please! I'm trying to be a good sport, but you simply can't expect me to believe that!"
Wendell sighed. "Linda, hold her hand," He smiled at her, took a deep breath, and the friendly middle-aged brown man disappeared as the veil lifted. She saw light and beauty and something young yet unimaginably ancient.
"Stop it, please stop," she whimpered.
"Mariposa, put your head between your knees," she heard Linda saying, and she immediately obeyed, until the buzzing in her head stopped. "I wish you wouldn't do that, Aiwendil, "Linda continued sharply. "It unnerves even me."
Posey raised her head carefully to see that the familiar brown-haired man had returned. All right, he was an angel, and there was no way this was a hidden camera TV show. The coma scenario was back at the top of the list. "So, what happened then? Why didn't they all fade?"
"Most elves did, elsewhere. The legends tell of the pixies and the Pookah Sprites. Some even became dangerous for the Second Born to have dealings with. But not Thranduil's folk. At first, he meant only to preserve his forest and his people in it, but in time he realized that would not be enough. The world needed rebuilding and healing, and Men needed to be taught and nurtured. Leaf had understood this when he had healed the forests of Ithilien, while his mortal friend Aragorn was still alive. Now Thranduil began to do the same. And as I aided him in this, I began to understand why my dear Yavanna had insisted I be sent from the West along with the wiser ones of my order.
"There are still those who believe that Radagast the Brown turned away and failed in his mission when he fell in love with the birds and the animals of the Mortal lands. But they needed a protector, and that need increases with every passing age. The Elves need a protector now too, as Thranduil goes about his task of fighting the long defeat."
"Defeat?" Linda laughed. "Look around you, Wendell. There are more of us now than there were at the end of the Third Age. I think that stubborn elf is actually winning."
"At least, as long as he fights and there is a job to do in this world, you don't fade," Wendell said. "And that is victory enough."
"So how do I fit into all of this?" Posey asked.
"Over the years, there have been unions between Elves and Men, and there have been progeny. Those children are not immortal, but they have some of the spark of the Eldar in their natures. Those children go on to have children of their own, and so on. And sometimes, even after many generations, the old strain breeds true. Whenever we find someone like that, we nurture them, if we can, so that their gifts are not lost to the world."
'And I'm someone like that? Is that why you took my DNA?"
Linda nodded. "Not that it made a difference -- you had talents that were going to waste if we hadn't stepped in to help. For you, if you had gone on as you had been going, it would have been the Mortal equivalent of fading. Your husband had robbed your spirit, and you needed healing."
"So that was it. You were healing me." Her heart fell. Linda was a healer, and she had been doing her job over the course of what Posey had thought was a friendship.
"And you need healing still, if that's how little regard you have for yourself. The friendship was real, Mariposa. It was real from all of us. You have so much to offer, and some of it you have already proved. Glenn tells me you were a sight to behold, flying across that snowy ground. You did your ancestors proud."
Posey grinned. "It would have given my parents a kick to see me saving the day by flashing some bare chest, that's for sure."
"I wish I could have met your parents," Linda said. "They sound like some of our own too. But I meant some more distant ancestors."
"Yes," Wendell added. "You come from a very special line. You and I are distant relatives, in a way."
"It's nice to have the technology to confirm it," Linda said. "But we've always been able to tell. Leaf had meant to hire you regardless, because your drawing showed you had our kind of spirit and he had fallen in love with your leaf, but he told me he knew the minute he met you and found himself staring into his old friend's eyes. He's seen this many times before, and it's always a bittersweet thing for him."
"Yes, many times. The world is full of the descendants of Aragorn and Arwen, and much of what is good has come from them. You're one of many, but it's always good for us to find one of you."
"So, what happens to me now?" she asked.
"Mostly whatever you want to happen," Wendell answered. "You will live your life, and hopefully with our help you will make it count. The years will be kinder to you than to most, but in the end, you will age and you will die and leave the circles of this earth. It's the way of things, my dear."
"And you will still be here."
"As long as we have a reason for living; as long as we listen to Thranduil and don't succumb to sadness and inertia, we will not fade," said Linda. "And we'll be here to face the end, whatever that might be."
Mariposa looked at her. "Life without an end and the hope of rest, or dying and becoming nothing -- I don't know which is the more terrifying prospect."
"I know," said Linda, and the sadness in her eyes made Posey finally believe.
* * * * * * *
To be continued . . .
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