10. Hair of the Dog
She picked it up and held it up against the light. It was short and coarse, a dog's hair. She frowned at the hair as her thoughts went back to the dinner she had shared with the homeless young man who called himself Elentar.
Elentar, "king of the stars" – what a name to pick if you are living out in the streets!
The dinner had been… strange to say the least. The dog, at least, had been perfectly happy, in a warm apartment, on a soft rug, filled with good dog food: he'd slept soundly through the evening, now and then growling in his sleep, twitching his paws in a doggish dream. Perfectly happy, perfectly at ease. The same could not be said about the human side of the dinner. She had been intensely curious. How did he come to know so much about Sindarin? Where had he learned to speak it like that? Why did he live the way he did?
But that was of course not quite the kind of question you could ask during dinner with a stranger. And apart from his comment on her efforts at calligraphy, Elentar had not wanted to talk about Sindarin or anything else concerning "The Lord of the Rings". He had dodged and evaded smoothlyany questions or attempts to talk about her favourite topics. Now and then he had raised an eyebrow and given her an amused smile, almost as if he was thinking, "You'll have to do better than that to get me talking about something I don't want to talk about".
In the end, they had mainly talked about music. Elentar loved music. For a street musician that was probably not surprising. But Mina had been astonished to find out that he was very knowledgeable about classical music. They had talked about various composers they enjoyed, and Mina was touched to meet a man who admitted to a passion for Mozart. Berlin, like any big city, offered a plethora of theatres, with operas, concerts and musicals every day of the week throughout the year. Many of Mina's acquaintances professed a love for classical music, but most of the men preferred composers that she had a hard time of opening her heart to: Richard Wagner, Alban Berg, Shostakovich.
It was not very sophisticated to enjoy Mozart or Smetana. Mina grinned wryly at the dog hair in her hand. What was acceptable small talk about classical music in certain circles of society here in Berlin was of no concern to a street musician. And it should not even bother her. Mina sucked her lips between her teeth, biting down hard. She should at least have the courage to talk about the music she really enjoyed.
"Mozart had the power to touch hearts and to release people from the dreary confines of their daily lives. He was a magician of music," Elentar had told her. And she could see that he had meant every word he'd said. She envied him for that.
She envied a street musician for the way he talked about Mozart?
Mina shook her head at herself and briskly rose to her feet. "Girl, you have to watch yourself, or you will turn completely weird," she muttered to and went to the garbage bin. She tossed the dog hair into the bin and closed the lid with a satisfying thud, marred only slightly by the rustling sound of the plastic bag inside.
She put the vacuum cleaner back in the closet. A few minutes later she sat at her desk, listening to the radio, the local classical station, and tried to concentrate on preparing the next evening of her Sindarin course. Ten minutes later her tea was cold, the paper in front of her was still empty, and she was tapping her pen on the table in the rhythm of one of Mozart's concertos, now playing on the radio. After dinner Elentar had picked up his guitar and played for her. She had not even known that you could play Mozart on a guitar!
Mina took another sip of tea. Realizing that it was cold, and not all that tasty that way, she permitted herself an exasperated groan. There were days when she was driving herself crazy. Disgusted, she put the cap on her pen, shut off the radio and decided to take a walk.
Her walk inevitably led her past the thicket where she had discovered Elentar's sleeping place, and the damp undercrossing where he seemed to play his guitar when the weather was bad. The weather was bad today: it was January, it was cold, it was wet, and it was windy. No one in his right mind went for a walk on an evening like that.
Elentar was not in the undercrossing, and the thicket looked as bristly and abandoned as such an unkempt corner of bushes and trees next to the embankment of a suburban railway could possibly look.
She most certainly did not think about how he would pronounce a certain Sindarin word before teaching it in her classes. She also did not remember what he had said about her calligraphy when she sat at her desk during the evenings, patiently trying to feel the mood of swirls and swoops of tengwar before carefully, lovingly putting her pen to the paper.
It just so happened that her way to work led her past that thicket, through that undercrossing, over that intersection, and that this particular railway ran just a little earlier than the other line she could have used. And she was always careful with her pronunciation. She kept reminding her students that while this was an artificial language, Professor Tolkien had been a linguist, and he had left descriptions of the various sounds of his Elven languages with good reason. That was all there was to that little hesitation.
She had also read an essay about the emotional aspects to the art of making calligraphies. The memory of Elentar's words about the tengwar calligraphy done by the expert she had admired so much, "…they lack the love of language that should be inherent to all ornamental depictions of Tengwar. Yours is much better. You just need more practice. And you need to stop doubting yourself so much," had nothing to do with that, of course. And it was not that she avoided listening to classical music. She was simply more in the mood for some lively rock and pop music these days.
She glanced ahead, trying to see from a distance if there was a man sitting on the bench in that ratty undercrossing. A man with a guitar. She just liked to see what she was walking into. Just to be prepared. So she could come up with an appropriate greeting.
But the bench was empty.
She walked quickly through the undercrossing. It was cold and damp and smelled faintly of urine. There was a new graffiti on the wall. Nothing pretty, just an ugly black scratch tag. As she passed the thicket, she glanced at the tangled creepers and thorn bushes out of the corner of her eye. Was he at home?
She stopped in her tracks, turned around and stared hard at the bushes. Nothing moved. At home? How could anyone be "at home" here? How could she even think that? He probably had a place to stay during winter. He would be at one of the shelters for the homeless that the city's council supported. It was completely crazy to assume he would live outside in winter, in a thicket like that, with no roof above his head, and only his old dog for company and warmth.
But he had been living here in December. And now it was only the beginning of February. The mess of bushes and struggling elders, almost choked by dark creepers and vines, lay quiescent. Mina hesitated, her lips drawn in.
She would not enter that jungle to look if he was still there.
Suddenly, in an eruption of black feathers and angry chattering, a blackbird lit down on a low branch just in front of her. Mina jumped back, her heart racing. "You… you… idiotic bird!" she gasped. The blackbird kept up a vigorous scolding. Mina quickly looked around if anyone had noticed her strange behaviour, then she walked on, her stride a little too quickly to be called purposeful or confident, her shoulders just a bit too tense.
The sound of a guitar! Mina involuntarily jerked around, searching the railway cabin, her breath catching a little, her heart reacting to instant excitement. But the music turned into cheap rock'n'roll, and the guitarist was a fat, sleazy man with tattoos on his throat, who stank of beer and spirits even at a distance of more than four feet away.
Later Mina stood at her kitchen window, staring down into the gathering gloom of another winter evening. Shadowy shapes of people were rushing past the house far down below. There was rain and snow in the wind, a horrible weather, blowing people off the streets and into warm and cosy apartments, emptying the street down below quicker than usually. Were the movements of that tall and slender figure hurrying around that corner more graceful than those of a usual accountant or IT-specialist returning home from work? And that shadow, had that been a dog or just a fluttering coat? It was impossible to tell.
"Get him out of your mind," Mina told herself, impatient and annoyed. "You did a good deed, feeding the dog a good dinner for once. Leave it at that."
And another dreary day nearing its dreary end, Mina thought as she hurried along. A dreary day filled with hours of dreariness and boredom. Today she had been more than tempted to scream at her students. And more than once. If they absolutely did not want to learn Middle English, why didn't they stay at home or go to a café? Did they absolutely have to disrupt her lecture with talking and giggling pointlessly? She could not help it that there was more to the old forms of English than suggestive riddles and Chaucer's more ribald tales. For heaven's sake, no matter what you studied, there were always some parts that were not quite as interesting as others!
"If they want to pass that exam, they'd better get their act together quickly," Mina muttered, and then coughed as they icy wind cut into the back of her mouth. "No one's died yet of boredom."
Although, today had been certainly a close call. She had spent all afternoon at the office of the German Tolkien Society. All alone, with pretty much nothing to do. She had replied to three e-mails, had sorted a small heap of mail, had called the printer about some flyers that were supposed to be ready next week, and then she had waited for the office hours to go by.
When she had reached the point where she would have welcomed even another debate with Mr Karstens as a distraction, she had finally packed up her things and headed for the door. She was not quite ready to let herself be bored into insanity.
It's so time for spring. Mina shuddered with the cold, waiting for the lights to turn at the intersection. She was getting so sick of this weather, always cold, always wet and always dreary. No plans for tonight, so she would spend another evening in her apartment, playing with calligraphy, reading, drinking tea.
If her life reflected her personality, she easily had to be the most boring person in Germany. The echoes of her footfalls in the undercrossing sounded almost like clapping hands, rhythmically expressing their agreement with this insight.Rolling her eyes at herself, Mina stopped as soon as she was out of the tunnel. She needed to snap out of this mindset. She had the life she wanted to have. It was ridiculous to allow herself to wallow in depression like that. After all, she wanted to be her life that way…
Time to get home and have a nice bowl of soup. She was almost ready to continue on her way, when her gaze was drawn to that thicket once more. A tangled mess of vines, creepers and thorny bushes. And she was almost certain that it was empty except for an angry blackbird and some garbage left by various dossers. She would probably tear her skirt if she ventured into that jungle. And for what? To disturb a bird and find some empty bottles of booze.
She sucked on her lip for another moment, then looked around quickly, furtive glances to make sure that no one was watching her. Then she tried to slip neatly through an opening in the thicket.
Three steps into the jungle, she gave up on "neatly" and opted for a muffled curse, as some brambles snagged not only her skirt, but penetrated painfully to the skin of her shinbones. Then she was through this natural wall, standing in the copse where she had met Elentar –
and staring down at him.
He had heard her coming. Her angry footsteps in the undercrossing, the heavy breathing as she tried to reign in her temper, and her bitterness. The deep inhalation that heralded her decision to meet the challenge of her existence head on once more. And then, the surprise at the direction she took.
On another day, he would have disappeared in time, would have picked up his few belongings and noiselessly vanished between the tangled bushes and brambles. She would never have realized that he had been there, that he had watched her. But today, he could not bring himself to make that effort. He remained sitting on his knees in the mud, waiting for her to fight her way through the bushes and the thorns, his legs without feeling from having crouched there, unmoving, for hours on end. His body was paralysed with a cold that went far beyond the dreary weather of this winter day. He did not even look up as she entered the small copse. His eyes remained on the rough fur of the dog that was curled up in his lap, and on his hands, hands that were clutching the dog. Such an old dog, his muzzle was almost completely white with age, and the dog's body was so thin and emaciated beneath its shaggy coat that it felt more as if he was holding a kitten, and not a big dog.
The dog did not move.
The dog did not breathe.
The dog was dead.
The woman gasped when she saw him and the dog, instinctively taking a step backwards, entangling herself in the brambles all over again. When she had finally freed her skirt and stepped fully into the small copse, Elentar tried to force himself to look at her, to meet her eyes. She had raised her hands to cover her mouth, and he saw how her eyes went wide with shock as she registered what she was looking at. A homeless man, a useless dosser and good-for-nothing street musician and vagabond sitting in the mud and holding his dead dog on his lap.
Elentar gritted his teeth, his fingers desperately gripping the stiffening body of his long-time companion. His knuckles were standing out whitely, and he realized for the first time how dirty his dog's fur was, matted and dirty, covering a body that was a mere skeleton. And still Mina had not said a word.
Finally Elentar raised his head again. He had not been able to disappear in time. Therefore he would have to face her, if he wanted to or not. He knew that she was not going to leave on her own. Vaguely he thought that he should have made the effort to run away when he had heard her angry, discontent steps in the tunnel. He should have packed up his things. He should have left the dead dog and run. But for once he had not been able to bring himself to run away. So now, he would have to face Mina over the corpse of the dog. From the few glimpses on the train and even just that one meeting with Mina, he guessed that this lady was more than a little stubborn. She would simply remain standing there for as long as it took him to gather the courage to look up and face her. No matter how long that was. So Elentar looked up, and looked at the woman over the scruffy, scrawny, unmoving body of his old dog.
Their eyes met. If it had been pity in her eyes, he could have rallied and called up his pride one more time. He could have summoned the sarcastic smile to his face, raised an eyebrow and sent her away with a few well-chosen, cruel words, faint echoes of his pain.
But there was no pity, no hint of condescension in her eyes. What he did see in her eyes completely floored him. Patient, silent understanding.
She was waiting for him to say something. The silence lengthened. Her hair, growing damp in the unceasing rain, was beginning to curl around her chin. She shivered a little, but she did not move or look away.
Suddenly, she stepped forwards and knelt down in the mud in front of him. Her skirt was torn at a corner and he could see how the muddy water of a puddle seeped into the light green fabric. She covered his hands with hers. Her hands were slender, but strong for a woman, and very cold.
"If you want to, we can drive outside the city," she said, speaking slowly, and picking her words carefully."A friend of mine has bought a run-down farm over in the outskirts of eastern Berlin. She won't mind a guest sleeping in the earth of her property."
Her hands closed around his, gently, comforting, offering help and strength.
"E garitha·hidh." she added hesitantly in Sindarin, her voice a little husky, her accent strange and awkward to his ears.
He stared at Mina for a long moment, the words echoing in his heart and mind. Then he nodded wordlessly and began to cry.
"He will have peace."
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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.