1. The White Tree
She made a vague gesture to reach for her bag, but hesitated. It was silly, but she simply couldn't shake the feeling that this tree was... sacred, somehow. Untouchable. An idea like that was preposterous, and the logical part of her brain pounced on her immediately. What woman in her right mind would let herself be intimidated by a tree? And a dead tree, no less! Besides, she had no intention of harming it. This was purely for research purposes. In fact, this was something she should have done in the beginning, if only she hadn't procrastinated.
She sighed. If my teachers could see me now! she thought despairingly.Whatever happened to her carefully thought-out plan? The one she was sure she could follow? She was supposed to gather information on the wildlife in this era first, researching the animal and plant-life. Then, she would move on to study the people of this era, making notes of their customs, their culture, and their language. It wasn't supposed to be particularly difficult. Almost any graduate student with the money could undertake such a research project.
However, her project was a bit more unorthodox. Most people preferred to travel no further back than the 21st century, mostly because they feared the lack of comfort that came with earlier times. But she was not daunted by that fact. She was fully prepared to endure less-than-ideal conditions, if it meant that her project would at least be different from the thousands of others that had been done before. But what she wasn't prepared for was this city... this country. Gondor.
It should have been easy to play the impartial observer, looking at the past with a superiority that could only come with hindsight. After all, were not the people of the future more enlightened? She should have been able to impart some wisdom to these people, as long as she took care not to give away the source of her knowledge, of course. Yet, the more she allowed herself to be immersed in their culture, the more she felt that she knew nothing at all.
She paused in her thoughts as a shadow fell across her view.
She started at the usage of her "new" name and stood up immediately. Despite the months she'd had to get accustomed to it, she was always terrified that she would slip up somehow, forgetting to respond to it. Resisting the instinct to run, she turned around stiffly. A pair of keen grey eyes greeted her, and she froze. A million different excuses for her presence were thought up and dismissed, as she tried to remain calm.
"Is anything the matter?" he asked, fixing his gaze on her, his voice not completely devoid of suspicion.
"No, no. Nothing at all, lord Denethor," she managed feebly, her voice squeaking a little. She winced. There were times when she truly despised this man, and this was definitely one of them. She hated being caught off-guard, and she had the distinct feeling that he was reading far more into her thoughts than she would have liked. For one crazy moment, she contemplated the merits of making herself a hat out of tinfoil, as so many characters from those ancient movies did to prevent hostile aliens from reading their thoughts. Not that she thought of Denethor as a mind-reading alien, but it was really quite unnerving the way he seemed to know... well, everything.
"Well, I suppose I should be leaving now. Good night." Faking a yawn, she quickly rushed past Denethor, not caring that her hasty exit would likely make her appear more suspicious. She thought that she heard a surprised laugh behind her, but she paid it no heed. Laugh all you want, she thought. One more month, and I'll be going home. Then you can go back to tormenting the other servants while I get a well-deserved "A" for my project.
But that wasn't fair. It was not entirely true that the lord Denethor enjoyed tormenting the servants. More often than not, he was too busy to even notice them. There were occasions, however, when there was no other explanation to his behaviour other than that he wanted them to suffer. At least, that's how it seemed to me, thought Lisette.
"There is nothing quite as dangerous as a bored Steward's heir, if you ask me," one of the older ladies had once remarked when Lisette complained of his tendency to turn up at the most inopportune times. "He does have the foresight of his Numénorean ancestors, you know. He can probably sense when one of us will make a ghastly mistake, and arrange for his presence there at that precise moment."
"Alas!" had been her only response to that statement, and it seemed quite appropriate for this occasion as well. Well, look on the bright side, she thought. At least he didn't catch me doing anything to the tree. Yawning for real this time, she entered her sleeping chambers, and fell exhausted onto her bed. Maybe next time I'll have better luck. And procrastinate less.
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.