5. Chapter 4 Part 2 - The Truth
Ailsa sat alone at the large dining table, a cooling bowl of stew sat forlornly in front of her. She had no idea where Maedhros was. And once again, her father had waved off the offer of a hot meal. Since his wife's call, Ewan had buried himself even deeper in the Archives.
Poor Mrs. Whitehall had gone out of her way tonight preparing his favorite dish, a hearty beef stew. To add to the enticement, she'd baked three small loaves of fresh white bread, and a blackberry cobbler was cooling on the sideboard. Nothing had worked. Ailsa stared hard at the glass of Cabernet on the table. She took small comfort in the thought that her mother would cringe to know her favorite "Estate Grown Vintners Reserve" was being sipped with a lowly beef stew.
She sighed heavily, forehead cradled between thumb and forefinger. Even though she was still angry at her mom, Ailsa still missed her. As time passed, she missed California and her friends too. Heck, she missed her life! She missed poor Earl, still stuck in "kitty quarantine." She missed Kyle, though not nearly as much as perhaps she should. Picking up her neglected spoon, she slowly swirled it through the now thoroughly congealed stew and let her thoughts linger on her lack of concern about Kyle's absence.
"Good evening, Ailsa."
The spoon suddenly took on a life of its own as she started at the sound. It flopped out of the bowl and onto the damask tablecloth with a soft "flub," spattering brown bits of her meal across the place setting. The glass of wine also joined the party. Tapped by her elbow, it sloshed a good portion of its contents onto the cloth, spreading into a lovely red splotch.
Maedhros, standing in the doorway across from her, tilted his dark auburn head slightly to one side. The tiniest hint of amusement softened his features. "My apologies, I did not mean to alarm you…" He began, stepping nearer as if to help.
"Oh, no, no, no…really, it's fine… Oh, crap… I just…I didn't hear you…" Ailsa nervously tried to dab up some of the wine with her napkin, which was no help whatsoever. Giving up, she surveyed the mess she'd managed to make and made a small snort of disgust. "Well, this is nice." Blushing slightly she looked up at her now quite amused companion. He had grabbed a second napkin and held it out hopefully. "Would this…? No, perhaps not."
Ailsa decided to make light of it. "I don't suppose you'd like to try some?" she said, waving her spoon with its lumpy contents in front of his face. "It's actually quite good, in the bowl, that is." Maedhros rewarded her with the tiniest of smiles.
"No thank you. I believe I will trust your judgement on that. However, I am about to take a walk along the cliffs. There is a beautiful path that leads down to an open-air theatre. I believe you have not seen it yet. It is a fair distance, but you can see the entire coastline from there. Would you care to join me? It is going to be a lovely clear night."
Ailsa looked up at him, and considered his offer. He didn't seem so imposing now, with that slight touch of lightness softening his face. It took her only a heartbeat to decide. "Sure, why not. Just let me clean this mess up, first…"
Maedhros dismissed the idea with a slight wave of his hand. "Oh, I think Mrs. Whitehall will be able to take care of that. She is quite protective of her duties, you know. Shall we go?" With that, he stepped back and with a tilt of his head, informed her that the decision was made and it was time to depart. Ailsa walked round the table, and met his eyes briefly. "I could tell her that you did it," she teased, not wanting to loose complete control of the situation.
Again, an "almost" smile flitted across his lips. "She would never believe it."
"No, I'm sure she wouldn't." Ailsa smiled back.
As they walked, Ailsa's mind was awhirl with the thoughts she had accumulated about Maedhros. She couldn't get over the impression that he was just an observer, never quite willing to fully participate in their lives. He was kind, but so deeply guarded…so reserved. He seemed to know what she was thinking, but he never tried to talk to her about much of anything. Their exchange in the dining room was the first real conversation they'd ever had, and it had been about beef stew and taking a walk. Not exactly deep topics. This invitation was the first time he'd ever offered anything of himself to her since their arrival. True, he spent a great deal of time with her father, but even that didn't seem to be a friendship either.
She knew he took these walks each evening just before sunset. Clear or cloudy, each twilight he made the same journey. Why? Ailsa took heart, maybe this could be the beginning of her getting to know him better.
They walked for quite a while in silence. Maedhros led her down steps carved into the cliff face. Ailsa smiled as their destination came into full view. The large open-air theatre was perched high on a gully over a great black headed crag. Long terraced granite seats faced several small stages and the entire vista of sea and sky.
Ailsa slowly turned taking in the simple beauty of this strangely wonderful place. The rich orange gold of the setting sun played with the lengthening shadows over the granite seats. She walked to a stone wall overlooking the sheer drop into the sea and felt the touch of the wind as it played with her hair. She stood staring out across the circular bend of the high cliffs to her left. At their very tip, several dark fingers of rock jutted up from the sea floor causing the ocean to swirl and crash around them. The sun was slowly lowering itself into the waiting ocean. The sky was awash with blue and orange as the final rays of the sun painted the gathering clouds with its light. Ailsa stood mesmerized by the view.
Maedhros had gone a ways ahead of her, out to one of the circular points. Wanting to share the beauty of the sunset, Ailsa looked around for him. She found him sitting in profile on one of the wide stone walls, his hair once again unbound, his knees drawn up to his chest. As he stared moodily out to the darkening sea, the last light of the sun was casting a golden glow across the side of his face.
Ailsa studied him in that bath of golden light. For a moment he appeared not so careworn. She could see what he must have looked like before he worked so diligently to keep his true self hidden behind his thick impenetrable walls.
She drew in her breath slowly. His handsome face was a smooth golden alabaster in the waning sunlight. Bright copper threads were woven within the deep red strands of his hair. He was so…striking? Feeling her stare, the object of her musings turned his head slightly to look at her. No emotion was betrayed on his fine patrician features. He merely sat regarding her, his arms still wrapped around his legs. Ailsa took a few halting steps along the wall. She felt the need to speak, although the distance between them would have required her to shout over the loud rumble of the surf below.
Under normal circumstances she would have let her eyes slide past him, embarrassed at being caught staring so openly. Instead, she held his gaze steadily. Everything around her dropped away from sight. Even the sea seemed to be waiting for something; it's rhythmic pulse dulling to a steady drone. She felt she was peering through a spyglass at some vision far away. Only the face of Maedhros remained in focus. His grey eyes appearing all but black in the last moments of the day as the sun began to slip behind the crisp line of the horizon.
Again, she felt that sense of pain radiating from them. Like a thunder crack, it came to her. A flash of wild grief ripped through her. This was not the pain of a victim. No, it was far worse than that. His eyes were filled with a soul wrenching inner darkness. Terrible guilt and sorrow overwhelmed the spirit of the man in front of her. He had committed some heinous act, something that he could never ask forgiveness for, even from himself. How she knew this, there was no way for her to tell, but it rang inside her head like some great gong smashing into her senses and sending shudders through her body.
Terrified, Ailsa tried to focus on something, anything else. She found her eyes would not respond, no matter how hard she tried to peel them away. Maedhros too stared back as if frozen. His dark eyes grew even wider, awareness flashing across their surface like ripples on water. He knew she could feel his shame.
Ailsa tensed, waiting for a blow. She was unable to move, unable to look away from the building waves of pain coming from him. She expected anger, even violence at her unwitting intrusion. Maedhros still did not move. He seemed as powerless as she to break the bond that flowed between them. The darkness of his eyes grew like a black cloud, consuming all else in her sight. The sound of the sea began its pounding rhythm again, but now with a menacing tone, growing louder with each new assault. Infinite waves of remorse continued to roll through her, each building upon the other as they pounded through her soul. It possessed her. It became her guilt, her obsession.
There was an oath. A noble gesture decaying into a loathsome burden. A horrible path lay stretched out before her. Unthinkable atrocities committed. The pounding of the surf became unbearable, pressing into her ears in time with her heartbeat. If she were able to move, she would have covered her ears, but even that small comfort was beyond her now. This obsession had swelled out of control. Just as the unrelenting waves that now crashed into her were out of her control. Dangerous waves, carrying with them the thoughts of a killer. Dark and blood red, throbbing with fury, they were grinding her into nothingness like a pebble caught in the pounding surf of a beach.
Alone in the onslaught she could see nothing but the surf and the burning sky. Burning! They had burned all the ships! She could see the blackened skeletons of once elegant sailing vessels…foundered and ablaze in the waves. A sharp wind whistled around and through her, screaming in her ears. Screams that rose and fell, as they lost life, fading to sobs and then into nothing. Screams of immortals dying. She knew each voice, each face as if it were her own family. It was because of her. She had caused their voices to be stilled. So many, so fair, all to die for…nothing! For an oath, a dark oath that caused this affliction…this madness. Dear God, it was his madness! She felt sobs climb through her chest. She heard a scream and realized it was hers. "THEY DIED FOR NOTHING!"
"Nay, Ailsa, nay." A voice called softly, as a father would coax his frightened child out of a nightmare.
"Come back to this world, hini."
The voice, soft and infinitely gentle reached through the darkness that consumed her. It was all she had to hold on to, and she clung to it with every shred of her sanity.
"Lasto beth nin," the voice becoming more intense. It insisted on being obeyed. Although she couldn't quite make sense of the words, she understood their meaning.
"Tere hi tier, avakhin nin." The darkness receded. She could put a face to the voice. It was Maedhros, gentler than she had ever heard him, but still she was afraid to follow his commands.
"Ve unalye caul gar, nino yelde." His gentle grey eyes filled her vision as sight returned slowly to her. She blinked, realizing her own eyes were filled with tears. She took a shaky breath, wondering vaguely how long it had been since she took the last one. Still, she felt disconnected from the world around her and clung to his soft voice and those eyes that filled her dazed mind.
It was the sense of touch that returned to her next, tears wet on her cheeks, the cool night breeze drying them. His right forearm under her shoulder, his left hand firmly holding her jaw, keeping her eyes aligned to his. She staggered back from his touch, suddenly filled with fear as she remembered the dark waves and the screams in the wind. How could she reconcile the images and emotions that had just slammed through her with this gentle being in front of her? She stared wild-eyed at him, desperately trying to gather her scattered thoughts. Finally her voice returned. "Wha…My God…What? Why?" She couldn't begin to complete the sentence much less the overwhelming thoughts behind it.
Ailsa stood locked into Maedhros' gaze. She knew he must have been speaking to her because his mouth was moving. She just couldn't understand the words. Quite unexpectedly, he took his hand and pushed his hair behind his ears. Almost at once, his voice was clear and Ailsa eyes finally focused. "I am not what I seem." She heard him say. Ailsa watched what his hand was doing and her eyes widened in disbelief; instinctively she stepped back further as she looked at Maedhros' ears. Like some strange character in a fairytale, both of his ears came to a point.
Shocked, Ailsa began to laugh. "Oh no…no, no, no way." She backed away from him, hands extended in front of her, trying to make him keep his distance. She felt tears filling her eyes. She turned away, trying to control them. Maedhros stepped toward her. "Ailsa, I know this is distressing," he began.
Ailsa whirled around and pointed an accusatory finger at Maedhros. "You can't…I mean you aren't…I don't believe it…no…no way." She covered her mouth with her hand, hoping to keep herself from screaming. There was only one way to escape the madness that threatened to consume her. She turned and fled. Up the cliff stairs, and back the way they came. She had to get back to the house…she had to see her father…she needed to talk to him. Hell, what she really needed was to get them both out of there and back to Berkeley. She focused her thoughts on her father. She had to find him; she desperately wanted him to tell her that she wasn't crazy.
Maedhros was rooted to where he stood as he watched Ailsa fly up the stairs, trying to get as far away from him as she could. What had he done? His heart felt in shreds; she had seen and felt far too much. Their bond had caused her to know more than she was meant to. Like a broken dam, everything had poured out nearly destroying the poor girl's mind.
He lowered his head. Too much! Turning toward the cliff stairs, he began to climb.
Ailsa didn't know how long she had been running. She just knew that she had to get back to the house. Her feet flew over the grassy cliff top and down the rocky paths Maedhros and she had casually walked earlier. Her lungs burned with the exertion. Adrenaline provided the strength to keep her going. She was coming out of the woods and about to sprint up the garden steps, when she saw her father at the top of the stairs. His familiar shape stood silhouetted in the light coming from the back of the manor house. She almost sobbed with joy.
She ran to him and the comfort of his fatherly embrace. "Ailsa, what's wrong? Are you all right?" Dry sobs made her body shudder.
"I was in the Archive room when I got the strangest feeling that something was wrong and rushed out here." He said as he held her. "What's wrong?"
Ailsa took big breaths and tried to talk. "I…Maedhros…at the cliffs…" She finally swallowed as she gained control of her breathing. "Dad, there's something wrong with Maedhros."
Her father roughly grabbed her shoulders. "What has happened? Is he hurt?"
"Ow!" She winced. Ailsa stared at him in disbelief. Concern was one thing, but her father's face was filled with fear.
"No, he's not hurt." She snapped back. "In fact, he's just fine. Right down to his little pointy ears." Ailsa's eyes smoldered as she glared at her father.
Ewan relaxed his grip on his daughter's shoulders after her sarcastic remark. Ailsa couldn't believe it. He actually sighed with relief. "Oh, I see." He finally said.
"You see?" She nearly shouted.
"He was afraid you might be frightened by the fact that he's…different."
"Different? DIFFERENT! That guy's not human."
"You're right about that, Ailsa. Actually he's an Elf." Her father said matter-a-factly.
Ailsa stared at her father with her mouth slightly agape. She couldn't begin to understand what her father had just said.
"Wha...What?" Ailsa couldn't get her mind to work.
"Your father is correct, Ailsa" A familiar voice spoke from behind.
Ailsa whirled around to find Maedhros calmly climbing the garden steps. He reached the top, "I am of the race called the Eldar. I am an Elf. I've lived here for many years protecting my children, and their children's children of whom you are one."
Ailsa's knees began to buckle. Her father quickly took her arm and directed her to a lawn chair. He then sat next to her, his face filled with concern. Maedhros sat down across from them. Ailsa took a few deep breaths and stared at Maedhros. "At the risk of sounding disrespectful, what the hell are you talking about? I'm no Elf."
An ironic smile crept into the corners of Maedhros' mouth. "True, you are not one of the First Born, but you are a descendent of our race. The blood that flows through your veins is both that of my world and yours. There are many generations between you and I."
Ewan leaned forward and placed his hand on her arm. "Maedhros is our great-great-grandfather many times over." Ailsa eyes snapped to Maedhros' face.
"I am older than I look." He said in an embarrassed tone. "Elves…for lack of a better term…are immortal." Ailsa, shocked and pale faced, looked at Maedhros with a mixture of fear and fascination. Maedhros was upset to see her that way. "I regret you had to find out about this in such a manner."
Ailsa sat back, looking from one man to another. Well, from one man to an Elf. " So. You're…an immortal Elf?" She raised her hands in front of her. "Okay…I am SO not hearing this! This has to be some kind of a joke, right?" She turned to her father. "Isn't it?" Her eyes pleaded.
"It's no joke, sweetie." Her father paused. "There's so much we have to tell you. I don't know where to begin."
This is so insane. Ailsa tried to calm down; she needed to begin thinking clearly again. "I know where you can begin…how?" Ailsa asked as she looked at Maedhros, defying him to make her believe what he was about to tell her.
"That is easier to ask, than it is to answer." Maedhros hesitated a moment. Ailsa sensed his reluctance to remember the past.
"Try." Ailsa pressed her lips together indicating her skepticism.
"We lived in a world that we called Arda in a land called Ennor or Middle-earth. It is… was… a world of surpassing beauty and magic. There are few places on Earth, as you know it that can begin to match it for it's pure splendor and majesty. Arda existed in a place that is separated from your world. In my world, our people, the Elves, were the oldest and wisest of the speaking races. And, within our race, the Noldor, my family was considered to be among the greatest and highest.
I was the eldest of seven brothers. We were the sons of Feanor. Our father was once considered the mightiest of the Noldor, a prince if you will. His temperament was very fiery and proud, but he was rich in knowledge and skills that no others possessed. His creations were a source of joy and wonder for all of our people.
But there were evil forces at work, and my father began to jealously guard his creations. Dark lies were spread, turning Elves against Elves. In his arrogance, our father believed that everyone coveted his creations. When dark forces arose and killed our beloved grandfather, Finwe, all of the precious things our father wrought were taken from us. In his fury he swore a most terrible oath. It was an oath to pursue and destroy for all eternity anyone who stole or kept our treasures from us. Because of the love we felt for our father, my brothers and I felt it was our duty to join him in the swearing of this oath. Had I but realized the cost of our loyalty…"
Maedhros stopped; there was no joy in the telling of this tale. No matter how many times he offered this version, the anguish never diminished. He saw again his brothers gathered around their father, standing proudly, before the gathering of the Noldor. Fire burned in their hearts and eyes, and with their swords drawn they made the Oath together.
Sadly, he shook his head. "We swore by the maker and all that is holy to us, that to break or fail this Oath would doom ourselves to the Everlasting Dark. And yet now, I would gladly accept that fate, if it could have stopped the events that followed. We had all been deceived by evil words, and in our rage we followed our father's madness. He…we were responsible for the doom of our own people. In the name of the Oath, unimaginable feats of cruelty, betrayal and madness were committed. Unable to break our word, my brothers and I were responsible for much of the destruction of our own realm and the deaths of our people. Our family became despised by all." Maedhros stopped and averted his eyes.
Ewan continued. "His father and brothers were killed one by one until only Maedhros and his brother Maglor were left. Remorse over everything they had done made them abandon the Oath and Maedhros was sent here as punishment never to see his world again. Once here, he was resigned to living out his punishment forever. In our world, Maedhros began a different life and began a family ."
Ewan was unaware of Maedhros' silence. Ailsa watched Maedhros face as her father spoke. Whatever he was feeling, he safely hid it behind a familiar wall. Maedhros' attention was once again focused on Ailsa. "Through the ages I realized that most of the myths and legends of your world were similar to events of my world. The names of the people and places were different, but the stories remained true. I began to collect them as memories of my world. When I realized that these stories must be preserved in their original forms, I built Egla Tir as a refuge for the pieces of your world that reminded me of Middle-earth. My children have been the keepers of this legacy. For centuries, I have watched over my family, keeping track of the different branches so when the time came, they could be made aware of their inheritance."
She stared into the advancing night unable to fathom what she was being told. Ewan reached over and touched Ailsa's hand jolting her into the reality that she was actually hearing this story. "Generation after generation came and went in this area. Maedhros' name slowly evolved into the Matthews family name. This made your grandmother's branch of the family the next in line to receive the inheritance," Ewan said proudly. "That's where we come in, Ailsa. We're the next generations to safeguard not only our past, but Maedhros' as well."
The two men had finished and sat looking at the young woman sitting so quietly beside them. Abruptly, Ailsa slapped her thighs, "Oooookaaay." Without another word she stood up, pointed to the house and stalked off. She opened the door to the back of the house, walked in and slammed it behind her leaving the two men staring at each other. Maedhros began to rise from his seat, but her father held up his hand. "Remember what we discussed before? It's better to leave her alone right now. She'll have questions later. Trust me." A nervous smile touched Maedhros lips as he sat down. Too much.
Once in the house, Ailsa walked straight into the kitchen and then the pantry. She came out with a large water tumbler and headed for the fridge on the opposite wall. She removed a half-filled bottle of Chardonnay, leisurely walked over to the kitchen table and proceeded to fill the tumbler nearly to the top. Although the tumbler was big, it wasn't large enough to hold the entire contents of the bottle. Ailsa looked at the small amount remaining shrugged, and putting the bottle to her lips, drained it.
Taking her jacket off, she threw it on top of the table. She took the tumbler and walked purposefully through the house and into the library. Without pausing, she strode to the secret door, and nearly ripped the green book from the shelf. She stepped back quickly allowing the door to open, being careful not to spill any of her Chardonnay. Reaching in, she flicked on the light and went down the steps.
Once in the Archive room, she made her way to the desk. Sitting in the chair, she kicked her feet up on top of the desk, and rested an elbow on top of a leather book. She glared around the room still trying to wrap her brain around what she had just heard. Putting the tumbler to her lips, she took a deep pull of wine.
Looking around once more, she began to gently shake her head. "Holy shit!"
She took another drink. What am I going to do now? Maedhros is obviously crazy and dad has had a breakdown of some kind. And I'll be just as crazy if I believe one word of what I've been told. What the hell am I going to do now?
Many minutes later, her tumbler was empty, but her mind was just as confused. The leather book she was leaning on had an embossed design on the cover and was pressing uncomfortably into the flesh of her elbow. It was at that moment; she noticed the book for the first time. Dropping her feet to the floor, she picked it up and recognized it. This was the book Maedhros was writing in the other day in the library.
She opened it and began to flip through the pages. There in front of her were page after page of the same delicate designs she had seen on the front gate and hall window. They were the same markings she had seen on the sword and dagger in Maedhros room. She shook her head as she realized they weren't designs. "Of course, they're words," she said sarcastically. "It's a journal or something." One more thing that wasn't as it seemed.
How can I possibly believe any of this? Ailsa wanted to believe Maedhros and her father. She wanted to know what it was she had experienced at the open-air theatre. She wanted to be able to look both men in the face and say, "Yes, I believe you." But then, it'd be too late. She'd be crazy too.
Glancing up, she looked around the room again, and noticed for the first time that something wasn't quite right. One of the bookshelves on the adjacent wall didn't line up properly with the others. Putting down Maedhros' journal, she walked over to it. Upon closer inspection, it became obvious that more than just the shelf was askew. The whole wall was out of position.
Behind the offending shelf, was an unusually wide dark gap from ceiling to floor. Ailsa could feel a definite moist draft coming from it. She looked up at the steps leading to the library and remembered the secret door that led down there. She shrugged. "Why not?" Testing her theory, she took the shelf with both hands and gave it a strong pull. Not surprisingly, it opened like the bookcase in the upper library.
Triumphantly, Ailsa looked into the semidarkness and could see a long stone passageway. There was an opening many yards down on the right and a flickering light was coming from it. Ailsa stood looking at the open doorway trying to decide what to do next. A thought crossed her mind and her eyes narrowed determinedly as she pressed her lips together.
She walked over to the stairway leading to the library above and listened a moment for any sounds of footsteps. Hearing none, she quickly turned around, and faced the opening. Feeling the reassuring affects of her Chardonnay courage, she squared her shoulders, took a deep breath to steady herself, and slowly advanced through the dark doorway towards the shimmering light.
To be continued.
Henion, tithen min - I understand, little one.
Hini – child
Lasto beth nin - Listen to my words
Tere hi tier, avakhin nin - Do not follow me over this path.
Ve unalye caul gar, nino yelde - It is not your burden to bear my daughter.
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.