12. Where did you learn Sindarin?
It was not her car. If he had known that she would have to borrow a car from a neighbour – an emergency arrangement, she had told him – he would have gone to the nearest hardware store and spent his last few Euro on a shovel. But at the time he was already standing in the hallway of her apartment, the wrapped form of his dead dog lying at his feet.
If she could borrow a car and call a friend, asking for permission to bury a dead dog in her orchard, then he could muster the courage to accept this as the gift it was meant to be.
"Aline said that we are lucky," Mina remarked. "The ground is not frozen. Two weeks ago it would have been impossible."
They were waiting at some traffic lights, a non-descript crossroads in the outskirts of Eastern Berlin. There were already allotment gardens creeping in between the orderly rows of grey apartment blocks. The day was already getting darker. If they did not hurry, it would be dark before they had reached their destination.
"That's good," Elentar said. What else could he say?
She took a moment to look at him, her hands relaxing imperceptibly as her attention shifted away from the lights – still red. "No." Her eyes were dark with sympathy. "It's not good. It's only better than the alternative."
The lights turned, and they were on their way again.
The grip of the shovel felt curiously good in his hand. Solid wood. It was dark now. The trees around them, apple, cherry, scrawny, seemed sleepy in the gloom of this cold not-yet spring night.
Aline had turned out to be much like those scrawny trees. A thin, energetic young woman, mother of three and alone, turning this run-down farm into an alternative way of living – organic, home grown food, a farm shop, artists' workshops. Armed with two strong electric torches, she had led them to this place, way at the back of the orchard, nimbly threading her way through soggy old grass and hanging branches.
"You can bury him here," Aline had said. "Please be careful to make the hole deep enough that no scavengers can get at him. I don't want the kids to find him and start poking him." It was not quite clear if she was bothered by this thought because of the dog's peace or because a carcass would be a less than sanitary toy for her children. She had shoved the other torch at Mina. "I'll have tea ready when you get back."
With that she had left them there, a Tolkien scholar, a homeless vagabond, and a dead dog in an orchard just outside of Berlin, one cold February night at the beginning of the 21st century.
He gripped the shovel firmer and kept on with his work. The light of Mina's torch was unwavering, lighting up maybe a square foot of ground between a fence of curling, rusty barbed wire, an old apple tree and a slightly younger plum. Almost out of sight was a small thicket of brambles that promised raspberries and blackberries come summer.
He worked quickly.
"Do you think this hole is deep enough?" He knew it was. There was this strange need to break the silence, to reassure himself that there was someone in the darkness behind the strange brightness of the electric torch.
The light wavered slightly. Mina cleared her throat. "I don't know," she said. "It looks deep to me." He could hear how she swallowed. She adjusted her grip on the torch. "Yes, it's surely deep enough." She hitched her shoulders up. She was probably cold. While the ground was no longer frozen, it was far from warm.
Elentar inhaled deeply.The hole was deep enough. No use postponing the inevitable. For a long moment he stood unmoving, the shovel in his hands, the grip now warm, smooth and familiar in his hands. He had to force himself to shove it into the heap of earth he had piled up next to the hole and turn around to where the still form lay that had been his only friend and companion for nearly fifteen years.
He knelt down in the grass next to the shrouded body of the dead dog. The cold wetness of grass and earth seeped through his trousers. The blanket. He ought to ask about the blanket.
"I don't need that blanket anymore," Mina put in. "And he should not be buried without… some cover."
He turned his head to stare at her. He could hear in her voice that she was really bothered by the thought. How did she continually manage to surprise him? He ought to reply with something that expressed what he felt. But he was not used to putting words to his feelings anymore. And already the pause was becoming awkward. "Thank you," he finally said.
He picked up the dead body of his dog. It felt curiously light and empty. Like a stuffed toy. Memories stirred. But Elentar had become very good at not thinking, at not remembering, at keeping his mind a cold and empty place that could not hurt. So there were no thoughts of a romping puppy that brought tears of laughter to his eyes, no memories of countless cold, wet nights of shared warmth, no recalled feeling of warm wetness when a long pink tongue woke him in the mornings, no remembering the coarse touch of fur on a belly, the best place to scratch an ecstatic dog… No memories, no thoughts, no regrets, no hopes. Just the feeling of the damp fabric of his jeans pressed against his knees, and the softness of the blanket under his hands.
He turned to the hole and carefully knelt down again, unheedful of the wet earth that now added stains of brown dirt to his already wet trousers. Gently he lowered the dead body of his dog into the hole. It was just big enough. His old companion fit in snugly, coming to lie on his side, the way he had enjoyed sleeping, snuffling in his sleep now and again, paws twitching in a dream.
Suddenly the light of the torch was much closer.
He looked up and saw that Mina was kneeling in the dirt, too, her neat woollen slacks soaking up the dampness much quicker than his own threadbare jeans. She bent forwards over the hole and reached for the corners of the blanket. Carefully she drew the lower corners upwards, while tucking in the cover on top. Methodically, slowly, she worked her way along the side. Strands of her hair had escaped the tie, black and silver. She was a little young to have grey hair, he mused. Though… considering her age, well in her thirties, maybe not.
Finally she sat back on her heels, the shaft of the light hitting the wall of the hole, the carefully tucked-in blanket soiled already with some loose crumbs of earth that had fallen down on it while she had secured the blanket.
"There," she said in low voice. "Much better."
"Yes," he agreed, and there was a strange feeling in his chest, tight, and… "Yes, much better."
He got up and reached for the shovel.
"Do you want to stay here for the night?" Aline asked them over a steaming mug of tea. "One of the guestrooms is empty. The bed is a bit narrow." Raised eyebrows invited Mina to say more.
He felt the same frown touch his eyebrows that appeared on Mina's face. Then she smiled at her friend. "No, thank you very much. I have to teach tomorrow." She drained her cup. As she looked at Aline, her eyes grew deep with an expression of sincere appreciation. "Thank you very much for allowing us to bury the dog here. It would have been hard on Elentar to give him up to the animal disposal."
He realized that it was time for him to say something, too. "Yes. Thank you very much."
Aline nodded at them. "It's hard to lose a pet. At least he'll have peace here."
Elentar thought of what he had seen of the orchard. Apple trees, plum and cherry. Soon it would be spring and white blossoms would rain down on a patch of bare earth. Grass would grow on it again come summer, and when Aline's children would clamber up the trees to get at the ripe apples and plums, and get all smeared with berry stains in the thicket just around the corner, nothing would show that there had been a small hole there one cold night this winter. He exhaled softly.
"Yes, he will," he agreed. "Thank you."
"You'll stay for the night." It was not a question. It was long after midnight and Mina looked tired. She was pale and there were dark circles under her eyes.
He wanted to say, "No, no you have already done more than enough for me." Elentar did not like sleeping indoors. Especially in a place where the only way out, the only way of escape was one door. Jumping was not an option from this high.
But when he looked at her eyes, there was again not pity, but only this quiet sympathy. And something else… a hint of darkness. He realized that she did not want to be alone tonight. With sudden clarity, he saw how she would spend the night if he did not stay, if he took the easy way out. She would not be able to sleep, but drink countless cups of tea, aimlessly wandering through her small apartment, checking that the door was locked for twenty times, gazing out of the window on the dark street down below every so often, sitting down on the couch only to jump up again after two minutes.
One night. That was the least he could do.
"It would be very kind of you," he said.
She smiled, a shaky grimace of friendliness worn thin by a long day and sadness over the events. "It's the least I can do."
"Here," her arms were heaped with a sheet, pillow, and a thick blanket. "You should be quite comfortable on the couch. I know it's not as good as a real bed, but…" She stopped and blushed.
He could not help a wry smile curling up the corners of his mouth. "Trust me, the place where I normally sleep is a far cry from clean sheets, blanket and a pillow. I'll sleep like a king."
She sucked her lips in between her teeth and bit down on them, something she always did when she was thoughtful, embarrassed or anxious. "Sorry."
Then, he was beginning to believe that courage and honesty were truly one of her basic character traits, she continued, "I'm really sorry. I have no idea how life is like for someone with no home. I don't think I can even imagine it. And just now… I think I almost forgot about that."
She had held out the bedding to him when she had entered the room, obviously expecting him to take them and make his bed for himself. Now she turned around and went to the couch. Before he knew how to react, she had started making up his bed, quickly spreading out and tucking in the sheet, fluffing up the pillow and pulling back the blanket invitingly.
He did not know what to say or do, he simply stood there, perplexed.
"There," This time her shaky smile was deeper. Embarrassment almost winning.
"Look, that was really not necessary!"
"Just a moment." Somehow his defensiveness made her feel better. She went into the kitchen, where he heard her rummage around for a minute. On her return she placed a bottle of water and a glass on the low table next to the couch, along with a neatly folded towel. She grinned when she turned to him again. "And I'll make you a nice breakfast tomorrow. How's that? Almost a proper B & B!"
He felt his eyebrow rise up. "I thought you have to teach tomorrow?"
Mina shook her head. "A little white lie. I have a day off. I just thought you'd prefer going back here. And now… sleep well."
She tiptoed into the room. She had not been able to sleep well. The events of the day had kept her brain moving and moving long after she had put out the light, the memories of the day replaying and replaying in scenes of dreary shadows in her mind. Curiously enough, when she had woken way before dawn, she felt wide awake, and only a little colder than usual, due to lack of sleep and the excitement of the previous day.
Now a quick look to see if her guest was ready for breakfast.
She peeked around the corner into her living room. Instantly a smile touched her face. He was still fast asleep. The air was filled with a faint floral scent. As she looked closer, she realized that he had the towel wound around his head. He must have taken advantage of warm water and her shampoo.
Suddenly, her mouth opened in a wordless gasp, her hand cold on her lips, her heart racing.
With the towel wrapped around his dreadlocks, his ear was exposed to the first grey light of dawn filtering through the window. She blinked and looked again. She did not dare to move, to step closer because she was afraid that she would wake him.
So she stood and stared.
At an ear that was…
…more than just "slightly pointed and 'elvish'", her memory supplied a quote from one of Tolkien's letters.
Finally she shook herself out of her daze. What charming tricks nature could play! she thought, as she got out the ingredients to make a hearty breakfast in the kitchen. At least she thought this extravagant deviation of the normal, round shape of an ear extremely enticing. Well, she was also a fan of all things Tolkien, she amended. I bet poor Elentar was teased quite mercilessly about the weird shape of his ears when he was a kid. Children are so cruel.
Her mind supplied instantly a vision of a dreary elementary school somewhere in Germany with a thin, dark haired boy in the middle of a group of laughing and pointing bullies… as a kid his parents no doubt had made him wear his hair short, no matter that he was called "rabbit ear" or something like that…
She wondered how it would feel to touch his ears… real, pointy ears, not the rubber ones that so many Tolkien fans put over their real ears at fannish events.
"Don't even go there, Mina!" she hissed at herself.
Heat washed over her face. She knew she did not blush, not really, but it certainly felt like that, hot and uncomfortable. "I – uh – I – I was just talking to myself; a bad habit, I know. I should get a cat or something, so that I have someone to talk to."
She was glad that she could turn around and had something to reach for. She presented the pot of tea, just ready for serving. "Would you like a cup of tea? Breakfast is almost ready."
Elentar smiled at her. Without the towel, freshly washed, his heavy, black dreadlocks looked almost beautiful, although his bony face was rather too thin for this hairstyle to look good. She imagined what he would look like with a more "elvish" hairstyle, long dark strands of hair flowing down his back, revealing those odd ears… and then there were these slanted eyebrows and the clear grey eyes. He would look almost like a real elf!
She realized that she was staring at Elentar wordlessly and the heat was back. "Tea," she repeated, flustered.
"Thank you," he replied. "That would be great."
Why did he look at her like that? With that penetrating silvery gaze of his?
After breakfast it started to rain. A heavy, cold, not-yet spring rain that was just a few degrees away from snow.
"Look, why don't you stay until the rain's stopped. I'd…" She had wanted to say 'I wouldn't send a dog out into this kind of weather'. "No one should be out in that kind of weather."
She could see that he wanted to argue, that he wanted to leave. He looked out of the window for long minutes. Mina knew what he had to be thinking of. What a dismal day it would be, out in the streets in this kind of weather, when no one would want to take the time to listen to his guitar playing in that damp undercrossing. And today he would be all alone out there. For the first time in many years. That dog had been old. At least thirteen, maybe sixteen. Elentar had told her that he had gotten the dog as a puppy… they must have grown up together.
"Please," she said. "Stay. You could help me with my translation project! And maybe even tell me where and how you managed to learn Sindarin like that!"
He ignored her question, but he was considering her suggestion, his gaze on the rain that was slowly turning into snow outside the window. Finally, he exhaled deeply as if he was forcing himself to relax. "Well, if you really need help, I guess I can stay for a bit. It's the least I can do after your efforts on my behalf yesterday."
Now it was her turn to raise her eyebrows at his stilted way of speaking. Again he ignored her. Then he sniffed a bit, thoughtfully? Disdainfully?
"However, if you expect me to help you, you really have to do something about your accent."
"My what?" she gaped at him.
"Your accent," he repeated. "Your accent is atrocious. Not that mine is much better now, I guess. But still…"
It was late in the afternoon, and Mina's jaw muscles were hurting from trying to pronounce familiar syllables and sounds in quite unfamiliar ways. The day was fading away into a flurry of snow and rain outside. Elentar was a stern taskmaster, and he refused to reveal how he had learned so much about Tolkien's exotic elvish languages. But he certainly spoke Sindarin as if he had been born to it.
Mina realized that she wanted him to stay another night.
I learned more about Sindarin today than during the last two years, the academic in her justified the thought. And it would be inhuman to send him outside in that kind of weather, the humanitarian inside her added. Apart from that, I enjoy his company, the woman whispered in her heart. You what?
There, the voice of reason. You enjoy the company of a homeless tramp with dreadlocks?
You want to keep him here on your couch like an oversized pet?
He would look better with long, smooth elvish braids, the woman inside her sighed longingly. MINA!
"You are really into this 'Lord of the Rings' stuff, aren't you?"
"Are you falling asleep?" Elentar glanced at the clock. "Oh, I am sorry. I had not realized how late it is already. I'd better get going."
He made as if to rise from this chair. Instantly, Mina held out her hand. "No, no, no," she said hastily. "I – my mind – my thoughts just wandered for a moment there. What did you ask me?"
"I was just thinking how involved you are in this… fantasy world." He looked at the many books piled around her desk, Tolkien's Letters, Lord of the Rings, Tengwar, Sindarin, Quenya, Old English, and there was a Middle-earth screen saver flittering on her computer screen.
"No computer games?"
Mina shook her head. "My interests are more of a scholarly nature. And besides, computer games can be really dangerous." She pointed to her pin board. "A young woman died in London last year when she was testing some new kind of computer game about Tolkien's Middle-earth."
"Really? Wow, how did that happen?" Elentar reached for the newspaper clipping she had indicated. Somehow "wow" sounded not like a word he should use.
He took the clipping and started to read.
"Ú-chenion, I don't understand, this… this… this…" he trailed off, his voice a whisper, his face deadly pale.
"What?" Mina took the piece of old newspaper from his hand.
"Young Woman Dies in Middle-earth – London. Jarro McCourt, aged 25, died when she tested a new kind of computer game that was supposed to take the player directly into virtual fantasy worlds, in her case Tolkien's Middle-earth. After the success of Peter Jackson's movies a computer game like this would have been an immediate success on the market. "New Dimensions", the company that developed the game, claims there is no connection between the game and the death of Jarro McCourt. Officer Paul Gerrick, who is in charge of the on-going investigations, said yesterday that he is determined to clear up what caused this death. "The kids would go mad for a game like that, we have to make sure that it is really safe before it hits the market, and we need to find out why Ms McCourt died."
Jarro McCourt's parents have filed a lawsuit against New Dimensions."
There was even a picture. A pretty young woman with brown hair and an easy smile. Something about the cast of Jarro McCourt's features reminded Mina of Elentar.
"What's the matter?" It was really strange, the way Elentar stared at his hand, the hand she had just taken the bit of old newspaper from. He looked as if he had seen a ghost.
"Did you know her?" She guessed that was possible; even a homeless vagabond living out in the streets like Elentar must have grown up somewhere, must have had friends and parents…
"Ú-chenion, ú-chenion, I don't understand! What kind of cruel joke is this?"
He repeated over and over again, that he didn't understand.
"Did you know her?" Mina was getting worried. He must have known her. He almost appeared as if he was on the edge of a nervous breakdown. She put her hand on his arm. He felt so thin! Too thin, but strong. She pulled him around to face her. "What's the matter, Elentar? Did you know her?"
He allowed her to turn him around without resisting as if he was completely numb with shock. Even if he had known that girl, this was a very strange reaction.
"What's the matter? What did she mean to you?"
He stared at her, moving his mouth silently as if he wanted to speak, but no sound emerged. She could see that he had to force himself to speak coherently.
"You are right," he said finally. His voice was breathy and too high with shock.
"I did know her. A long time ago. But that was in Esgaroth. And that was almost three hundred years ago." He swallowed hard and stared Mina right in the eyes, his face almost white, his eyes blazing.
"You see, she was my mother."
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.