3. Chapter 3 - Egla Tir, Lands End
Maedhros stood on the cliff edge and watched the wind riding swiftly over the white-capped swells of the ocean. He saw it take shape as it curled and twisted its way through the rock arches anchored in the seawater off Lands End. Gaining momentum, it climbed the wild sloping terrain above the water as it searched for the inland stream. Excelling over the rim of the cliff, it buffeted the lone figure standing there as it wrapped itself around and tried to go through him. Closing his eyes, Maedhros could hear the ancient songs the wind carried with it; tales of a thousand ships and the men who lived their lives on them. The taste of the sea was on his lips bringing with it the knowledge that the tantalizing secrets of its depths would remain just that…secret.
He basked in the sun's warm embrace, gazing out far beyond the curve of the horizon. Seagulls squawked at one another as they hovered above the surf. Their shrill cries filled the air with their demands for a free meal. Though the sea was alive and the wind spoke volumes, Maedhros could not calm the tension in his heart.
Today, Ewan Kincade would be arriving to claim Egla Tir as his own. Although Ewan had accepted the inheritance without hesitation after visiting the estate, Maedhros could not stop feeling anxious. It was the same anxiety Maedhros felt as he waited for the signed document to arrive from him after Richard Matthews' death.
His dark brows drew together as he remembered the last time he was in the late heir's presence. The stinging bitterness of his words still echoed in Maedhros' heart. "You're an abomination," the dying man had said to Maedhros' offer of comfort. "Leave me alone." Maedhros did as he was bidden and left without a sound. He did not return until the nurse came to tell him it was over.
Long ago, Maedhros' secrets had put a wall between them. The resentment Richard felt would never allow that wall to be breached by any attempt he made. Maedhros' impassive face could not mask the deep regret staring out from his intense silver eyes. He had misjudged Richard's ability to understand, and now, it was too late.
His eyes softened, remembering Ewan's excitement after being introduced to his inheritance. Maedhros rejoiced when he had seen the fire that lit up Ewan's eyes with his newly kindled fascination with Egla Tir and its history. Where Richard could only view Egla Tir as a burden, Ewan looked at it as a wondrous gift. It filled Maedhros with renewed hope, of feeling less alone. Ewan will be different, his mind insisted. I will just have to be more vigilant…more careful.
There were other considerations. Maedhros could not suppress the feeling of unease as he thought of Ailsa. Lately, she had been on his mind quite a bit. He could not forget the strange incidence when they first met. The connection still left him feeling a little alarmed. She is so very young. How could she have the wisdom to comprehend the world beyond her own? He turned the question over and over in his mind. How will I be able to hide anything from her when the mere touch of our hands can bring on such memories? He knew the truth was dangerous, but too many lies could be disastrous.
His desire to become closer to both father and daughter must not lead to careless mistakes. Yes, caution would be his plan regarding both of them. Maedhros straightened his shoulders and breathed in the clean sea air. He was more firmly resigned to his decision as he turned into the sunlight and started walking back to the house. So, it begins again.
- 0 -
Ailsa had expected their arrival in Cornwall to be acknowledged with at least a thunderous rainstorm, which would include the necessary lightning and howling winds. Just the kind of weather the Bronte sisters made famous. Bleak moors stretching out as far as the eye could see. An unyielding road snaking itself towards the "Great House." A crumbling edifice silhouetted against a black forbidding sky. There, a strange housekeeper waited to welcome the new owners. And just for fun, maybe an insane relative locked up in one of the tower rooms. Even these cliched thoughts didn't help Ailsa feel any better. Besides, she was beginning to feel she was the only one who was insane and needed to be locked up.
The days after her father's return and his startling declaration could only be summed up as complete hell. Ailsa wished there had been at least some yelling…lamps and crockery being broken… slamming doors at least. No, it was worse, much worse. There was a polite nothing. Silence covered the house like a thick smothering blanket.
And then, Richard Matthews passed away without a word. Well, except for the Federal Express packet that arrived from Maedhros announcing Mr. Matthews's departure from this life. She remembered how her father had pulled out the announcement, dropping the large Fed Exp envelope to the floor. Ailsa could see his hand tremble slightly as he stared blankly at the paper.
She picked up the large envelope and removed a second document. It was a curiously thick piece of paper and looked handwritten. The elegant calligraphy covering the page was incredibly beautiful. Intricate scrolling framed the written words with delicate tree branches, full and green; gold-leaf glinted in the light. It was exquisite.
The document declared that Ewan James Kincade, son of Bethany Helen Matthews Kincade, was next in line to inherit the estate of Egla Tir, Lands End, Cornwall, England. Affixing his signature to the document made any children of his body the next heirs to Egla Tir. Ailsa swallowed hard. Holy crap! That's me. The thought was more than a little unsettling. There was more swirling artwork at the bottom, but she couldn't make out what it was.
The small tremor in her hand was barely noticeable as she handed the sheet to her father. Without hesitation he signed it and made arrangements to send it back to Maedhros. Now all he had to do is let her mother know. Ailsa didn't envy him that task. But to her surprise, he didn't hesitate. He called his wife into the study and made sure he had closed the door so they wouldn't be disturbed.
Ailsa sat on the staircase waiting to see what would happen. She didn't have long to wait. Shortly, the door slid open and her father motioned for her to join them.
Ailsa's feet felt like lead as she walked towards the open door. She didn't know what to expect, it was all too quiet. Once inside, she sat in her father's desk chair; her mother sat in the leather wingback. Ailsa tried to read her mother's body language, but she sat stone faced and silent.
Ewan cleared his throat. "It's time for us to get ready for Cornwall," he began. "There'll be a tremendous amount of packing for the move. And since your mother has decided that she would rather stay here to oversee the packing, I was hoping you would come to Cornwall with me, Ailsa. It'll give you a chance to get a look at your future inheritance."
Ailsa frowned; she didn't like this plan…not one bit! She had decided to go with her parents when the announcement came, if only to help with the transition. This separation wasn't a good idea.
"But I can be the one to stay," she tried to reason. "That way mom can see to the new house and figure out just how much furniture needs to be sent and what needs to go into storage here." She looked at her mother for some hint of what she was thinking. Patrice was busy removing a nonexistent piece of lint from the arm of the chair. Finally, she sighed and returned Ailsa's stare. "It's better that I stay. I'll know what pieces to send. Besides, it's not as if you have anything keeping you here." She said and returned to the "linty" chair arm.
Oh, this is going well! Ailsa tried to check the anger threatening to erupt inside her. "Fine." Ailsa pushed herself into a standing position; her frustration with them both finally rose to the surface. "Then I'll go with dad."
"And I'll arrange for a leave of absence from the college." Her father called after her.
"Whatever." She spat at them as she walked angrily out of the study.
That was the precise moment Ailsa officially gave up trying to be the family peacemaker. During the days that followed, her mother would talk to her about any other subject except what was actually happening. Her father was just plain evasive and completely preoccupied.
When he wasn't teaching his class, his full attention was deep into some new project. He brought home stacks of books and magazines from the college library. He data-mined furiously on the Internet, spending hours scribbling like mad into various notebooks and pads of paper. Ailsa had hoped that they would turn out to be information on English estates or anything that would help him run Egla Tir.
Snatching Kyle away from his preparations, she convinced him to help her in a small conspiracy. The next afternoon, while her father taught his class, Kyle helped her search the study. As he sat at her father's desk and methodically scanned the computer memory for lists of visited websites, Ailsa checked the books and comments her father wrote on the various legal pads and notebooks scattered around the room.
There were fragments of thoughts about Celtic and Norse myths. Lists of publications and book titles. Strange words, "The Eldar" and "Arda" were printed very neatly and underlined boldly on one bright yellow writing pad. There were also arrows drawn to strange little squiggles and what looked like some kind of shorthand of circles.
She found volume after volume on myths and legends through the ages. There was even a book about the Aurora Borealis. A science journal dating back several years had a post-it attached to an article entitled, "Planetary Alignment Effects on the Earth's Magnetic Poles." What's he up to?
She watched Kyle frown from time to time as he read the documents on her father's computer, but Ailsa couldn't decide if he was just concentrating or if he had found something important. She anxiously hoped he'd find anything that would explain her father's behavior and his odd choice of reading material.
"Hmmm," Kyle mused.
"Did you find something?" Ailsa asked expectantly.
"I don't know," he admitted. "From the data I've looked at, I would say your father is doing research on Pre-Christian myths, legends, and…" There were a few more clicks on the keyboard. "…and fairytales?" Kyle looked at her as if he had just given her all the clues she needed.
"But what about the books and articles on magnetic fields, and what about this?" Ailsa held up a thin red volume with the title, Sunspots. "What do sunspots have to do with myths, fairies, and elves?" She was beginning to feel frustrated.
"Maybe your dad is just tired of all this inheritance stuff, and has decided to write a book," Kyle offered. "Well it's not as if you guys have inherited a fairy mound or something. It's just a house that you can probably lease out. It could be he's just looking for something to do in Cornwall." His mouth broke into a smile. "You know, you could just ask him."
"Thanks, Kyle," she said sarcastically. "That helps a lot."
"Besides…" She lowered her gaze and ran her fingers along the desktop. "I did. All he said was he was following a stream of thought. End of subject." Ailsa tried not to look at Kyle. "I don't know. I just can't stop feeling that something's not right."
Kyle let out a sigh shaking his head. "Ailsa, you're making too much of this." But it was no use. No amount of reassurance from him could explain her father's choice of reading material to her satisfaction.
The days seemed to fly by and before she was ready for it, the time came for them to leave. The lack of "good-byes" from her mother was obvious. Thankfully, Kyle took them to the airport. He seemed to be the only one genuinely excited for them. As Kyle bent his head to kiss her, it suddenly sunk in that she wouldn't be seeing him for awhile.
"You know…" She stopped his descent. "I may miss you," she teased. Kyle's soft lips gently covered hers. As her arms held him closer, a pleasant warmth ran through her body.
Still holding her in his arms, Kyle smiled. "When I leave for Turkey, I'll get a layover at Heathrow. Who knows, you just might be bored enough by then to want to come along." Before Ailsa could protest, Kyle turned, shook her father's hand in farewell and left them. As she watched him walk down the concourse, she couldn't help feeling a little guilty. He asks so little of me. Kyle suddenly turned and waved. Smiling, Ailsa waved back. Damn, I miss him already.
The flight was long, but pleasant enough. The seating helped; Maedhros insisted they fly First Class. The seating seemed rather extravagant, but as she looked around at the accommodations, she changed her mind. She couldn't imagine Maedhros being satisfied with Coach for himself or the heirs of Egla Tir.
Her father, of course, spent his time reading one of the many books he brought with him. Ailsa sat through most of the flight staring out the window just trying to make sense of, well…everything. She could have saved herself the trouble. Nothing was going to make sense for a while.
There was a car and driver waiting for them at the airport and she enjoyed much of the ride to the estate. The weather couldn't be better. The cloudless sky was a bright azure, highlighting the wonderful warm early autumn day. The countryside was a palette of rich greens with touches of the first reds and golds sprinkled amongst the trees.
The excitement she felt was steadily growing as they came up to the edge of the estate and she got her first glimpse the massive gates. As the car passed under the large stone arch, Ailsa saw the name Egla Tir in ironwork across the top. There was an unusual design of round swirls below the letters. It wasn't Celtic, but it emphasized the name rather nicely.
They traveled on a well-kept dirt road flanked on either side by a thick wall of trees. Maedhros had said there was an old growth forest on the estate, but they traveled many minutes without seeing any end to it. Ailsa was impressed with just how big the forest really was. Her father sat through the journey with a proud smile on his lips. Ailsa was happy…she hadn't seen him smile like that in some time.
Finally, the trees began to thin and a great clearing of manicured grass emerged. As they topped a slight hill, Ailsa saw Egla Tir. "Holy sh…" Her father stopped her with a nudge of his elbow. Her head snapped round to look at him. "That's a little country house?" She asked incredulously.
Where she pictured a typical English Cottage, stood a two story stone manor straight out of Jane Austen. Tall windows covered most of the front of the house. Low hedges skirted around the corners and ivy quietly climbed the stone walls between the windows. There were even decorative columns on either side of the door.
"Magnificent isn't it?" Ewan said proudly. "Wait until you see the library." Ailsa could only stare at him in disbelief. What have we gotten ourselves into?
There was a round gravel driveway in front of the house that could easily hold a dozen cars. There were a few cars parked to the side discreetly hidden behind tall hedges. The car pulled up to the big white door and stopped. As if on cue, the door opened and Maedhros stepped onto the marble front steps followed by a robust older looking woman. Maedhros was dressed in a deep grey suit similar to the one he wore when they first met. Once again, Ailsa was reminded what an extraordinarily good looking man he was. Not that she could ever forget. The woman with him didn't look at all as strange as she had fanaticized.
The driver came round and opened the car door. Ewan jumped out of the back seat as the door opened. As he greeted Maedhros, Ailsa sat very still and wondered if anyone would notice if she quietly slipped back to Berkeley. She quickly shoved the idea out of her head, angry with herself. "What's wrong with me. It's just a house." She looked at the tall windows and the imposing stone work. "Granted, a great white elephant of a house," she murmured. Taking a deep breath to steady herself, she exited the car with as much grace as she could muster.
Maedhros and Ewan stood to the side, in hushed quick conversation. The driver nodded as Ailsa thanked him, turning his attention to the trunk and their bags. As she stood there for a moment breathing in the wonderful country air, she realized she could smell the ocean.
"We're on the coast, Miss." Ailsa looked in the direction of the comment. "Welcome to Egla Tir." The friendly words had a soft Irish lilt to them.
Ailsa had forgotten the woman who had accompanied Maedhros. She stood smiling with her hands clasped quietly in front of her perfectly ironed blue dress. The women looked like she was in her early 60's. Her round face glowed with kindness and her bright blue eyes twinkled as she smiled her greeting. She was obviously a happy individual.
Maedhros and Ewan walked up to the two women. Maedhros seemed genuinely glad to see her. He offered his hand to her in greeting. "Ailsa, forgive me." He apologized. "There is no excuse for my poor manners." For a moment Ailsa hesitated taking his hand, remembering what happened the last time they touched. She looked into Maedhros' beautiful face and saw such warmth in his grey eyes, she knew it would be okay. She gently took his hand hoping she was right.
Nothing happened. "Welcome to Egla Tir," Maedhros greeted her.
"Thank you. I…I'm glad to be here." She smiled, hoping she sounded sincere. It was Maedhros who quickly let go of her hand. Why did he still make her feel so ill at ease?
"I am sorry that Patrice has been detained." Maedhros said to them. "Let us hope she will be able to join us soon."
"That's our wish as well." Was Ewan's short reply as he watched Ailsa's face.
"And now let me introduce you to the person who really runs Egla Tir." He motioned to the woman. "Ailsa, I would like you to meet Mrs. Whitehall. She is our housekeeper and runs Egla Tir with the heart of a warrior."
"Oh go on with yourself." The woman scolded and took command. "I'm glad to welcome you." She turned to Ewan. "Professor Kincade, it's good to see you again. Now, since you've had such a long trip, why don't you go inside? I'll arrange to have your bags taken to your rooms and unpacked. And I think some tea is in order." Ailsa already liked the woman.
Maedhros gestured towards the door. "Shall we?" Ewan quickly entered the house. Ailsa paused for a moment; there was such a feeling of warm regard surrounding her as she crossed the threshold. It was like the house was welcoming her. She wondered if her father felt it too.
Once inside, Ailsa eyes widen at the sheer size of the place. The entryway was done in pale marble, floor to ceiling. The rest of the wide hall was framed in rich dark wood with an intricate knot design carved into the doorframes and on the tall paneled doors of each room. Ailsa noticed they were varying types of Celtic knots. The wide doors to the six rooms stood closed. Maedhros was saying something about the various doorways, but Ailsa barely heard him.
At the end of the hall, an immense double staircase rose and split left and right leading to the open gallery surrounding the upper floor. Forming most of the wall between the stairways was a large arched window. Slender metal tree branches swirled across the Gothic window, holding the panes of clear glass in place. Beautifully sculpted leaves of oxidized copper made the tree look alive. Ailsa could imagine the branches swaying in the wind they looked so real. There was also the same kind of design from the front gate running along the bottom of the window frame.
This is Dad's new home! Ailsa turned slowly trying to take it all in. It was more than just a house, it felt alive. Everywhere there was warmth and light, and the memories of all those who had lived here before. Like her father, they too had come to claim Egla Tir as their own. Now the house waited as they did the same. Yes, she felt it. The house was welcoming them.
"Ailsa!" Her father's hand was on her shoulder. She looked at him wide eyed. "Hmm?" She murmured absently.
"I asked, would you like to see the library?" He gestured toward the doors Maedhros was opening. She stared at him with a bewildered look. Slowly, she woke from her trance. "Great, I'd love to. Sure."
Maedhros waited outside the huge doorway. With both doors open, the doorway looked big enough to drive a SUV through it. Once again Maedhros gave her that I know what you're thinking smile. "It is rather large, is it not?" He turned and walked into the library; Ewan quickly followed him.
Ailsa stood in the doorway of the library unable to move. Now, she finally knew why her father went on and on about it. Like most of the house she'd seen, the room was spacious. There were tall windows directly across from her. Other than that, every inch of wall space was covered with bookshelves towering to the ceiling. Books in a variety of sizes and varied bindings lined the shelves. There was a tall wooden moveable spiral staircase off to the side that was the only access to the books on the higher shelves.
Five sofas from different decades were scattered about on an ornate Oriental rug. Fringed shaded floor lamps stood in the corners. There was a large wooden desk at one end of the room. Ailsa smiled, unused to clutter-free desktops as she was; thanks to her father's desk in Berkeley.
Overstuffed chairs were placed around the room, each an invitation to sit and read a while. Throughout everything she'd seen in the manor so far, it was the three windows on the far wall that enchanted her the most. Multiple panes of glass in tall narrow windows reaching all the way to the ceiling. Beneath them spread three wide window seats. Each seat cushion was covered in dark green velvet matching the material of the drapes, which were drawn back, letting in deep shafts of sunlight.
Walking toward the windows, Ailsa closed her eyes as her whole body was bathed in brilliance. Without even seeing the rest of the house, she knew this would be her favorite room. Maedhros and Ewan had watched her walk around the room investigating it as a feline would, finding her place. They glanced at each other and Ewan finally spoke. "So, what do you think?" With her face lifted toward the light, eyes still closed, she smiled and stretched her arms out, palms up. "I'm going to live in this room. Okay?" Both men looked at each other and quietly chuckled.
The rest of the main floor tour didn't take long. There was a morning room, a dining hall, a living room, a smaller study, an enormous kitchen, and of course, the grand staircase. Maedhros indicated each bedroom had its own sitting or dressing room, as well as its own bathroom. His was the only bedroom that had a balcony that overlooked the gardens. The gardens were in the back of the house, but were best seen later. Mrs. Whitehall's husband, Edgar, was in charge of them and the rest of the grounds.
There were two housemaids, Colleen and Tammy, who saw to the cleaning and other light chores. The young blonde women smiled shyly as they said their "Hellos" and eagerly watched the new heirs as they followed Maedhros through the downstairs rooms. The staff didn't live at Egla Tir, and left each evening after dinner. Ailsa figured it was cheaper than housing everyone.
Maedhros took the lead as he guided them through the large rooms. As they walked, Ailsa noticed for the first time the hair clip Maedhros used to gather his long dark red hair. It too looked like some Celtic design. It was about three inches square and was a depiction of two trees: one of polished silver, the other of bright gold. Both trees were surrounded on each side by elaborate knots of burnished silver. On any other man, this beautiful bit of vanity might look out of place, but on Maedhros it looked very masculine.
Finding herself staring at the back of Maedhros head, she quickly returned her attention back to what was being said. Maedhros turned just then and looked at her. Ailsa could see the slightest glimmer in his silver eyes. He turned back to his description of the tapestries that hung before them. Now, she couldn't help wondering what he was thinking.
After a light lunch, Maedhros and her father excused themselves and went into the library. Mrs. Whitehall showed Ailsa to her bedroom. "Oohh." Was her first response as she walked into her rooms.
The walls were painted a sage green; most of the cherry-wood furniture was a simple design that suited her. The bed, however, was huge; the four tall wooden bedposts were carved with trailing vines and leaves. The bedding was a deep heather green with tiny cream-colored crocheted edging around the shams. Her sitting room was in deeper greens with similar accents. Ailsa was so glad the rooms weren't overly feminine. "This is lovely." She finally said as she walked around the room.
"Oh, I'm so glad, Miss. Maedhros was very particular about how these rooms should be done." Mrs. White was drawing back the moss colored drapes as she spoke.
"Maedhros? Chose all of this?" Ailsa couldn't keep the surprise from her voice.
"Yes he did. When I tried to suggest a few things, he told me he was confident this would please you best."
Ailsa was somewhat taken aback. She walked into the bathroom and stood for a moment. She was pleased with the room. How would he know what I'd like? She wondered how many more hidden talents Maedhros kept under that enigmatic shell of his. She quickly returned to the bedroom deciding not to make a big deal of it.
"Thank you for putting my things away Mrs. Whitehall. I always hate unpacking." Ailsa smiled at the older woman. Even her toiletries had been laid out on the counter in the bathroom.
"That's why we're here, Miss. Now you make yourself at home. Maedhros and your father are in the library. Dinner will be at 6:00. We all leave shortly after that." Mrs. Whitehall gave Ailsa a little nod. "It's about time we had some youthful enthusiasm about the place." She chuckled and left her alone.
Ailsa walked around the rooms again and tried to comprehend everything she had seen so far. Walking over to her bed, she ran her hand over the silk bedspread. She still couldn't picture Maedhros scrutinizing fabric swatches and paint chips; let alone knowing what would please her.
As she pulled back the white lace curtains at the windows, she realized her room was on the same side of the house as the library. The tops of the nearby oak trees seemed to be calling to her as their branches waved rhythmically with the soft breeze. She decided she needed some air. She found her favorite jeans and hiking boots. Changing into a long sleeve T-shirt, she grabbed her jean jacket and made her way downstairs.
As she came down the staircase, she couldn't help wishing she had grown up in this house. She absently ran her fingers along the curling design at the bottom of the great window. She marveled that the whole house had such a light, open-air feel to it. She was still having difficulty, however, imagining that all of this now belonged to her father. One thing I do know for sure, she told herself. Mom's going to love it once she finally gets here.
Her lips curled into a smile as she spied the shiny wood railings of the staircase. They practically screamed to be slid down. But alas, she conceded, her sliding days were over. Or were they? A mischievous look narrowed her eyes as she quickly looked around. Raising her leg over the polished wood, she pushed off. She quickly jumped to the floor at the curled end of the railing. Pleased with herself, she straightened her jacket and hoped the composed look that now covered her face would fool any casual observers.
She walked through the hall, pausing outside the library. The doors were closed, and she decided not to disturb the men inside. She quickly opened the front door and walked out into the sunlight. She marveled at the massive oak trees that seemed to create a framework around the edge of the house. They grew close, but not so close as to block any of the glorious sunshine. She stood for a moment letting the sun and wind caress her face. The wind still held the scent of the ocean.
The acreage, because calling it the front lawn seemed inadequate, rolled on forever. Although she'd love to have taken a look at the forest they had traveled through earlier, she decided to explore the back of the house and beyond for now. She made her way along the side of the house.
Inside the library, Maedhros and Ewan were in deep discussion. "Ewan, I think you are wrong." Maedhros insisted. "We should wait before telling Ailsa any more. She is very young and may not understand." There was deep concern in his voice.
Ewan shook his head. "As her father, and I may be prejudiced, I can assure you she has the intelligence to understand a lot more than you give her credit for. She has an inquisitive mind that will want to know more soon enough. And let me warn you, she also has a temper that won't be too forgiving if she finds out she's been deceived."
Maedhros stood, arms folded across his chest as he gazed out the library windows. "We will just have to make sure we are not put into such a position. I will not make the same mistakes as before. I am sorry, but I have to insist you follow my wishes on this." He stood quietly waiting for Ewan's reply. Out of the corner of his eye, Maedhros noticed movement and watched as Ailsa walked into view.
"Good luck!" Ewan answered smiling as he too noticed Ailsa.
Maedhros turned, and raised one well-arched brow. "Indeed."
Ailsa rounded the corner of the house, and came up short. For not the first time that day, her jaw dropped as she found herself confronted with another of Maedhros' understatements. She stood with her hands on her hips as she surveyed the gardens.
There was an area just behind the house that must be considered the official backyard. White cast-iron chairs and a round glass top table stood near stone steps. The steps began a long decent down the middle of what Ailsa could only describe as wide cascading terraces with rows and rows of every imaginable flower.
She glanced up, and could see the balcony attached to what must be Maedhros' room. She could just see the French doors leading inside his room. They were open and white sheers billowed out onto the balcony as a light draft played with them. There was a half circle of marble railing curving around the balcony. Even from a distance, it was easy to see that the balustrade was carved to resemble tree bark. The house had so many touches like that, wedding nature to stone in a very pleasing affect.
She slowly walked down the garden steps, looking at the colorful displays to her left and right. Each grouping of plants more beautiful than the last. As she recognized the different varieties, she wondered how they got some of the flowers to bloom so late in the season. At the bottom of the steps was another broad strip of grassy lawn leading into a wooded area. Ailsa smiled as she looked into the trees. She took a quick glance at the house to get her bearings and entered the forest. She stopped several yards into the trees, and looked back the way she came. She could still see where she had entered. She decided it wouldn't do to get lost her first day there.
As she walked, she enjoyed the solitude and the wonderful stillness the woods afforded. Shafts of bright gold broke through the thick foliage spotlighting the carpet of pine needles and leaf debris. She nearly danced around the tree trunks, gently touching the bark. She loved the feel of the wrinkled wood. The trees were very old; her hand almost disappeared into some of the deep crevices. She craned her neck seeking the treetops, and laughed as she caught herself before falling backwards with her attempt. She reveled in the complete bliss of just being there.
The trees dwindled the further she walked and there was a familiar crashing sound that grew louder. She could see more sunlight up ahead and hurried her pace. The woods ended abruptly onto a stony ledge. Tufts of scruffy dune grass sprouted from cracks in the stone. As she advanced into the clearing, a new wonder filled her eyes. There before her was the sea and the ocean beyond. She squealed with delight as she realized that the estate had a secluded cliff overlooking the restless vista.
She moved onto the cliff, the wind whipped at her hair and body. She stepped a bit further. Great walls of craggy rocks rose up from narrow paths on either side of her. These paths would have to be explored another time. She gingerly approached the edge of the cliff to see what the crashing sound was. Below, huge rust colored arches stood sentinel just off a crescent beach of white sand. The surf pounded the rocks with a great crash of exploding seawater. "Amazing." The word slowly slid from her lips.
"You should not get too close to the edge, Ailsa."
Ailsa spun round, instantly face to face with Maedhros. There was a touch of fear in his eyes.
"My God, Maedhros, you startled me." She suddenly felt she needed to defend herself. "I'm okay. I was only looking."
With the slightest of smiles, Maedhros gently took Ailsa's arm, and began to draw her further back towards the trees. "Forgive me Ailsa, but you are too close." He was adamant and would not let go of her arm until they were well away from the cliff edge.
Defiantly, Ailsa looked back and realized he was right. She quickly began to feel a little foolish. "I'm the one who should be sorry," she apologized reluctantly. "Whenever I get close to the ocean I can't help myself. I just can't resist its call I guess." Maedhros' face suddenly paled as she spoke. He raised his hand to his brow, closing his eyes as if in pain.
Ailsa reached out and touched his upper arm. "Are you all right?" Maedhros stepped back, away from her hand and her question.
Suddenly it was there…beating against its restraints. The desire to sail back to its waiting shores. The need to return to Aman began to thunder through him. By the Valar, why is this forcing itself to the surface now! NO! Torment me no more! Maedhros took a deep breath and waited, praying the moment would pass. When he looked at Ailsa again, he was more himself. The girl's face was filled with fear and worry. "I am well, Ailsa. I thought I was getting a…headache. But I was wrong. I am sorry if I caused you concern."
Ailsa relaxed a bit. "Is there anything I can do?" The way his face paled and the way he acted made her think it was more than a headache coming on. For a moment, Maedhros had looked so ill. Though, he seemed fine now.
"I think we should return to the house." Was all he said and started walking towards the trees. Her only option was to follow.
Once in the woods, she caught up to him and tried to make conversation. "How did you know where I was?"
"I saw you from the library window as you made your way to the gardens." He kept walking. "I thought you might have some questions, so I decided to join you."
Ailsa ignored the unspoken "and it's a good thing I did." She immediately felt bad. Maedhros didn't seem to be a "I told you so" type of person. She decided to change the subject. "These are lovely woods."
"They remind me so much of my home," he said wistfully as he looked around.
"Oh? Where's that?"
"Many miles from here."
Ailsa waited a moment and finally asked, "You're not going tell me, are you?"
Maedhros looked away for a moment. "No," he finally replied, forcing Ailsa to smile.
"You really love playing the man of mystery, don't ya." Her voice was full of amusement.
Maedhros stopped abruptly. "All things in their proper time, Ailsa," he answered tilting his head slightly. "I find many Americans have this unexplained need to tell complete strangers their entire life's story within 15 minutes of meeting them. I have always found that rather…frightening." He gave her a quick nod and proceeded once again through the trees. Ailsa realized that Maedhros had just told her very nicely to mind her own business. But rather than being insulted, she found herself amused again as she rushed to catch up to him.
As they climbed the stone stairs of the garden, Ailsa stopped at a large bush of red roses. Bending slightly, she brought one of the deep red blooms to her nose and breathed in its heady scent. "Hmmm, I don't know if it's the Cornwall soil or what, but I've never smelled roses like these."
"They are quite lovely. I will have some brought to your room." He offered.
"Oh no, don't do that." She asked as she put another bloom to her nose. "Better to let them stay where they are. Cut flowers die so quickly." She gently felt the velvety petals between her fingers. "That way everyone can enjoy them."
"It will be as you wish," he said in a low voice. Ailsa was certain she detected a tone of pride as Maedhros spoke. Once again, it seemed he heard her thoughts. Clearing his throat, he continued towards the house.
Ailsa stood watching him walk away. Just who the hell are you Maedhros?
- 0 -
Her language felt crude on his tongue, but he was determined to learn it as quickly as possible. As they took their walks into the countryside, Elizabeth would point to things and say their names; Maedhros repeating them back to her. Sometimes he would tell her the Elvish name for something and she would attempt to repeat it. Each would laugh at the other's attempts.
Finally one day, Maedhros was able to ask her the question that burned in his mind. "Where am I?" Her answer did nothing to calm the flame. The words Cornwall and England held no meaning for him. Arda was nothing! Middle-earth was a memory to no one but himself.
Elizabeth must have observed the distress in his face. One morning as they sat outside the passage, she told him that he would come to love this world more and miss his fairy kingdom less and less. Maedhros could not fathom why she thought he was from a "fairy kingdom." She told him that it was an honor to offer hospitality to an obvious King of the fairy world. Maedhros tried not to laugh at her childish misconceptions. She was so eager to make him feel better.
She went on to tell him she knew who he was right away. It was not only his strange garb and his ears that curled into a point. The glowing white jewel now safely stored in the leather pouch she gave him, and the shimmering visage that hung above the pool, were obviously made by his great magic. Who else but a fairy of nobility could travel to this world and have such treasures?
He found it hard to disappoint the little face that looked so triumphantly at him. Her hazel eyes were alight with anticipation as she waited for him to confirm her conclusions. But there could be no lies between them. Their friendship was too important to him.
"There are no such things as fairies, tithen min. I am not a king, not even a prince." He said the words carefully so he would not stumble over them and lose their intent. He said them for himself as well; fore there was no longer any nobility about him. "I have no magic. I am but an Elf. I am nothing more."
(Tithen min = little one)
- 0 -
Dinner was served in the large dining hall that night. Ailsa thought Mrs. Whitehall wanted their first dinner to be special. She found out that all the meals would be served in the large dining hall with all the family china, linen, and cutlery present. That night, Maedhros joined them. Conversation was light and Ailsa's trip to the cliff was barely mentioned. Ailsa did notice that although her father still seemed preoccupied, he had relaxed a bit. Now that they were finally there, maybe he would get back to being himself.
Right after dinner, Ewan excused himself. "I have some research to attend to in the library." He got up and headed for the door. Before he could reach it, Maedhros called. "Ewan, I think Ailsa should see the rest of the library." Her father stopped dead in his tracks and slowly turned. "The rest of the library?" he asked. There was a confused look in his eyes.
Maedhros got up and placed his napkin on the table. "Yes, I think she'll enjoy seeing the Archives."
The confusion in her father's eyes turned to relief. "Of course."
Ailsa had watched the exchange between Maedhros and her father with interest. "Come on Ailsa, let me show you the rest of the library." Ailsa gave Maedhros a hard look. She was beginning to dislike the imperious way Maedhros sometimes acted, as if he was the owner of Egla Tir. She pushed her chair back and stood up. "Okay, dad, let's go." She ignored Maedhros and followed her father.
As they entered the library once again, Ailsa felt the same charm she had experienced earlier. The drapes were now closed covering the windows for the night. Even in the artificial light of the various lamps, the library was a warm welcoming place.
Ewan turned to his left and walked directly to the far end of the room. Reaching up, he pulled on a green leather book and it moved slightly. A mechanical sound came from behind the bookcase and suddenly the first six shelves moved outward, opening as a door, exposing darkness within.
Ailsa moved cautiously toward the dark doorway. Her father reached just inside the opening and flicked on a hidden light switch, offering a better look. There were stone steps leading down a few yards and she could see a cement floor continuing on. She looked at her father, excitement filled her eyes. "What's down there?" Her father only smiled back. From behind, she heard Maedhros voice, "It is the true legacy of Egla Tir." Ewan threw him a questioning glance. With a slight shake of his head, Maedhros indicated "no."
"Let me go down first," Ewan offered and started his descent. Although she was filled with curiosity, Ailsa carefully went down the stairs. The steps were steep, and she was glad there was a handrail on the wall.
Once at the bottom, she took a few steps through a short passage and stood in the doorway of what looked like a cellar. The room was large, the air felt warm and dry. There was nothing damp about the place. Books of various sizes and rolled up scrolls filled the shelves on the wall in front of her. There were stacks of shelves to her left with the same kind of books and scrolls on them. To her right was a desk with a computer on top, ready to use. Her father's voice followed her around the room. "The air in the room is controlled to keep the documents and books safe from time and decay."
With the excitement of someone who has stumbled onto a precious treasure, Ailsa walked to the far wall and opened one of the books. Her eyes widened as she gently turned the pages. It was a beautiful edition of the Book of Kells. Each page was filled with Latin script and the amazing drawings and designs of Irish monks from centuries past. The book was priceless, both monetarily and artistically. Her father sat on a corner of the desk watching her, a pleased look on his face. She put the book back and walked around the room checking random tomes, scanning various scrolls.
"This is the legacy that your father has inherited." Maedhros stood in the doorway and gave Ewan a slight bow. Ewan nodded back to him. "These books and scrolls have been collected by the family for generations. They contain histories, legends, myths, and stories of valor as well as tales of great evil. By accepting the Egla Tir inheritance, your father has given his word that he will protect them."
"I've taken on the task of cataloging and organizing all this," her father said as he gestured around the room.
"Now I know why you've been so preoccupied lately." She looked around once more. "This is going to be quite a job," she admitted. Ailsa clapped her hands together. "Well, I'm ready when you are. When do we start?" She was excited at the thought of working with these wonderful volumes and the various documents.
"Well, I won't be needing any help right away," Ewan slowly began. "I'll need to do some preliminary work before the actual cataloging can begin." He smiled at her, but Ailsa could sense he wasn't telling her the whole truth. Didn't he want her help?
Ailsa's feelings began to hurt. "Okay. I'll keep myself busy working on the library above. I'm sure it could use a little organizing as well." Ailsa tried to sound light, but her voice was heavy with disappointment. "I think that's a good idea," her father said, "It won't be long before it'll be time for you to join me down here." Ailsa couldn't help noticing that her father spoke more to Maedhros than to her. Maedhros only nodded his assent.
No one said anything for a moment. Ailsa decided she couldn't stand being down there another minute. "Well, I've had a big day. I'm going to bed." She gave her father a quick kiss on the cheek. She turned and walked silently past Maedhros and up the stairs to the main library. Maedhros' "Good night, Ailsa" followed her up the steps.
She felt so foolish. She only hoped her father hadn't seen how disappointed she was. When she got to her room, she didn't put on the lights, but sat on the window seat looking out at the night. The moon winked its bright eye as it peeked over the silhouette of the oak treetops. In a few days, it would light up the night world with its full silver glow. Usually, Ailsa enjoyed such nights. She sighed heavily; at least there was something to look forward to.
Back in the archive room Ewan fumed. "I don't think we pulled that off very well, do you?"
Maedhros leaned against the desk. "It would seem you were right after all."
"Did you see how disappointed she was? And did you see the look she gave you when she left? If you want her to dislike you, you're going about it the right way." Ewan was upset with the way things turned out. "Maedhros, I truly understand your concerns, but I can't and won't keep her in the dark much longer. I'm her father, and it's my decision!"
Maedhros eyes snapped to Ewan's face. "And I am…" He stopped immediately; he knew better than to confront a father protecting his child. "…going to bed. Good night, Ewan." He silently climbed the stairs leaving Ewan alone with his anger.
Later, as he stood on his balcony, Maedhros watched the waxing moon as it came out from behind high thin clouds and traveled across the night sky. Although not in its full splendor, it still hung above him as a great blue-white beacon. Closing his eyes, he began to think of the coming full moon and his need of a better plan.
- 0 -
A few nights later, Ailsa again sat in her window seat and she let out a low sigh. It was very late, and the end of another day at Egla Tir. The moon filled the sky, its full-face bathing the grounds with the glow of false daylight. She had tried to act as if nothing had happened, but it had been impossible. She hadn't actually seen her father at all since their first night. The doorway to the archive room remained closed whenever she was in the upper library.
Ailsa had halfheartedly begun her cataloging. Her bruised feelings just wouldn't let her get into it. Oh, there were some amazing editions of various histories and commentaries. She loved handling the leather bindings and reading snatches of original passages she had only previously read in textbooks. Who knew, maybe this could be the place to kickstart her thesis?
Ailsa's previous concern for her father had quickly turned to full-blown worry. He was even more preoccupied than before. And now, he seemed to have put up a wall of secrecy as well. Ailsa would have confronted Maedhros about it, but she hadn't seen him in as many days. In desperation, she even thought about calling her mother, but decided that wouldn't be a good idea. Kyle would be just as worthless. She figured they would only tell her she was imagining things.
She sat a while trying to pull her thoughts together. Something wasn't right. Her gut told her that nothing was as it seemed. She knew Maedhros was deliberately avoiding her. And there was something important unspoken between she and her father.
Her attention was suddenly drawn to some movement below. There was a figure moving across the lawn towards the garden. It was Maedhros. Why is he out so late?
Although his walk was a bit hurried, he wasn't sneaking around. A little voice inside her whispered. Follow him. Well, she thought, if she stayed well behind him, he'd never know she was there.
She quickly put on her jacket and left her room. Once outside, she hurried and caught up with Maedhros as he was just about to enter the woods. He stopped for a moment and angled his head as if trying to make up his mind about something. She stood at the top of the stone stairs ready to dive behind a bush if he looked in her direction. He stood there for a moment more, then promptly walked into the trees. Ailsa was down the stairs as quickly and quietly as she could.
Thank God for the full moon, she thought as she rushed into the woods. The path was easy to follow in the bright blue moonlight and she could see the back of Maedhros as he walked far ahead. As she hurried to close the gap between them, she realized Maedhros had loosened his hair. The night breeze made his long dark hair billow like a shadowy cape behind him.
She tried to follow as quietly as she could. The rustling of the leaves in the mild wind and the gentle creaking of the tree limbs hopefully covered any loud missteps she might make. When Maedhros suddenly turned off the path, she knew he wasn't heading for the cliff. Where can he be going? Ailsa hesitated for a moment, but her curiosity and the bright moonshine spurred her on. She could still see Maedhros walking up ahead, his tall figure bathed in the moon's glow. Suddenly, he made another turn and was gone.
She raced to the spot where she had last seen Maedhros before he disappeared. She walked a bit more, searching for any sign of movement. The breeze swirled around her body encouraging her forward. She had decided to turn back when she began to hear the most incredible sound. Someone was singing.
Never in all her life had she ever heard singing like this. The song filled the woods with its mysterious presence. Her breath caught in her chest as she walked toward the haunting melody. Ailsa knew she had to find the singer. She tried not to rush, because she was afraid she'd startle him and he'd stop. But she already knew whom she'd find.
Peering from the safety of the trees, she saw him walking, eyes closed, arms slightly stretched out at his sides. The skin of his face glowed like the moonlight as he walked among the trees, going from light into the shadow. His mouth forming words unknown to her. Strange, wonderful words…their sound rang in her heart.
As he walked deeper into the trees, she knew what she had to do. Ailsa didn't care if she was lost. She had to follow his song, to find out where he was going. She pursued him, quickly ducking behind a large trunk as Maedhros entered a circular clearing.
In the middle of the clearing lay a pool of water and a long stone bench to one side. The moon reflected its cold light into the mirrored surface of the water, and bathed the entire clearing in its unearthly illumination. Maedhros sat on the bench looking at the pool and began another song.
This one was quite different. Ailsa could feel the sadness in this one. No, it wasn't just sadness, it was grief. A pure grief so deep, it clutched at Ailsa's heart with its cold fingers making her want to sob into her hands. As he sang, he turned his face towards the sky. His long hair hung motionless down his torso. His countenance so noble in bearing was so sad to see. On and on he sang his song of torment. It hurt to look at him, but look at him she did. Something deep inside her made her need to comfort him, despite the pain she knew she'd feel if she even touched him.
She heard the soft voice inside her whispering. Leave him now. She listened to him for a few moments more then slowly turned and began to walk back. She glanced only once more in Maedhros' direction. He was still sitting there as he sang his song.
Thank goodness, he hasn't seen me. She looked up at the white moon. She recognized the same glow she'd seen coming from Maedhros face. Suddenly she was very tired. She knew she had to get back to the house, and then a comforting sensation filled her whole being. Somehow she knew she'd find her way back.
As Ailsa walked quietly away, Maedhros ended his song and turned his tear filled eyes towards the path she had taken. Of all my children, what is it about this one…? Something is in the air…I can feel it! He slowly lowered his eyes and began to sing again.
To be continued.
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.