She slumped down on the chair and had to intertwine her fingers to keep from literally wringing her hands. "I should never have gone to the doctor so soon…"
Elentar sat down behind her, perching on the arm of the chair. He reached for Mina's shoulders and began to massage her gently, a silent effort to calm her.
But Mina was in no mood to be calm.
She jumped up again and resumed her nervous circling of the room.
"Maybe I could say that I will change the doctor? Or that we will move away? And then wait three months until I go to another doctor?"
She did not like that idea.
After another circle of the room, she shook her head, determined to think of something else. It would not be easy to conceal the unusual progress of her pregnancy from the overregulated German healthcare system. However, at the moment there was nothing she could do about it. So she turned back to her desk, where a stack of papers – the results of a few weeks of research – was waiting for her attention. First things first. Not that she had much hope she could do more about this second project than about the first.
It had been easy enough to find out when Ms Madeleine Archer had died (September 19, 1982, peacefully in her sleep). To find out what had happened to her cats proved to be more difficult. They were still in the process of trying to locate any descendants and getting the law firm that had drawn up the initial paper about those cats to talk to them. So far the fax they had been sent from Tolkien Estate had not been sufficiently persuasive, and Tolkien Estate had not yet reacted to their renewed pleas for more information.
She dashed impatiently at her eyes, burning with silly tears of anger and exhaustion, trying to calm herself by mentally reciting a paragraph from one of her new books. "As your body adjusts to the pregnancy, the levels of hormones in your blood will change considerably. These adjustments may cause mood swings, anxiety attacks, unreasonable anger as well as periods of feeling elated and positively 'high'. All of this is completely normal…"
"It's not unreasonable that I feel anxious," she muttered.
Elentar stepped next to her and laid a comforting arm around her shoulders.
"You have every reason to feel anxious, and angry," he said. "I only wish that…"
He trailed off.
Mina gave him a wry smile. Neither of them regretted their union. Both of them wanted their child. But damnit, things could have been a little easier.
"Maybe Tolkien Estate will call back tomorrow." Mina tried to sound hopeful. "Meanwhile we can count ourselves lucky that Mr Karstens is delighted at my initiative concerning this project. He sounds as if he's going to give me some extra money for this. I think he's already envisioning his preface and his speech about the project at the conference."
In fact, she would not be surprised if he had already an appointment with a photographer for a portrait picture that could be used in the book… But the additional money was more than welcome.
Elentar grinned. "My offer stands: I'd be delighted to teach your boss correct Sindarin."
By now he was familiar with all of Mina's gripes about Mr Karstens rather parochial attitude towards her Sindarin courses.
Mina smirked. "You just don't understand: it's not a real language, dear. No one can really speak it. It is a great linguistic achievement, and it should be valued as an academic masterpiece."
Elentar's grin broadened, and suddenly Mina remembered how to smile, too. Apparently encouraged by her reaction, Elentar drew her against him and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. It felt good to be touched, and to be held. She felt herself relax a little, and the tension headache seemed to fade.
"I hope we'll find some clue soon…"
Two days later there were no news and no clues.
"I think we'll have to go to England," Mina said and did not look at Elentar. In her mind she was already calculating the costs of the journey. Plane from Tegel to Heathrow, train from London to Oxford. The archives in the Bodleian Library were much more extensive than those in the Eichstätt archive. Maybe they could get a meeting with a representative from Tolkien Estate?
"I think we can afford it."
She tried to ignore the wounded look of Elentar. He had started contributing money to the household with his guitar lessons, but she knew that he felt it was not enough. It was awkward, and she did not know how to discuss that problem, especially when she really hoped that they would manage to reach his home world.
And then what?
She tried to ignore that thought, too, not quite successfully.
"I would like to visit the… grave of my mother," Elentar said.
She blinked, completely taken by surprise. She had no idea what to say to that. For a moment she hesitated, then she simply went to him and put her arms around him. It had been hard to lose her mother once. She did not want to imagine how it was to experience that twice.
He tensed, but he did not draw back. They kept standing like that for a long moment, holding on to each other in silence, lost in thought and worries…
To her surprise Elentar loved flying. He got the seat near the window, and he enjoyed every moment of his short time in the air.
"It's just so amazing, just look at this! You can see houses, and cars, they are only tiny dots! And now, there's the ocean!"
"Actually, that's only the Channel, but, yes, it's quite pretty. And look over there: the white cliffs of Dover!"
"Yes, I recognize that." He squeezed her hand happily. She had to admit that the landscape looked beautiful spread out below them in the sunshine. Mina did not mind flying, but she was not precisely a fan of this mode of transport. However, Elentar's enthusiasm was contagious. She leaned over to see what had him so delighted. They did have great weather for flying. With the sun so brilliant, and the air clear with springtime, the view was indeed breathtaking.
The trip from the airport to the station was surprisingly smooth. No overly long queues anywhere, and the ticket machines quite out of character and cooperative. Additionally, the train was on time.
"I take that as a good omen," Mina said and slumped down on her seat. "I can't remember a layover in London that went quite that well. I'm still pretty exhausted, though."
"Put your feet up," Elentar suggested. "It looks like the train will remain quite empty."
"We're too late for the morning commuters and way too early for evening rush hour. And it's the middle of the week. I can't believe that I managed to pick a good day for travelling."
Mina took her shoes off and curled up on her seat. She tired more easily, but apart from that she did not notice any uncomfortable side effects of the pregnancy yet. She was assiduous about taking the trace minerals and vitamins her physician had recommended.
"When was the last time that you visited England?" Mina asked. She envied him his flawless accent. Of course it helped that he had had several hundred years of time to learn the major European languages.
"During the war…"
"Should I ask which war?" The question was half-serious, half-silly.
Elentar sighed. "Good question. During too many wars; but, actually, I meant World War II. I… fought for the Allied Forces, you know."
"Did you live in Germany before… the war?"
"Yes." He smiled, but it was a painful smile. "It's the language you know. German was the language I spoke when I first fell in love in this world. It's the language I spoke with my first real friends in this world."
"Mozart," she said. She did not dare to speak of that other woman, the one he had loved and been betrothed with, who had died of the plague so many years ago. She shivered.
"Yes," he said. "That language and the music… I can't really say why, but it's what kept me in the area, if circumstances allowed."
Mina shivered as she thought of the circumstances he mentioned, the darkest days of her country's history. It was painful, but she had to admit that she was glad to hear that he had fought against her country. She shook her head. Strange thoughts in an even stranger situation. Most of the time it was easy to forget who, and what, Elentar was. He looked so young, so handsome. So very now, with his dread-locks and faded jeans… it was hard to imagine him dressed in uniform, or in the frilly fashion of the 18th century.
"When did you come back?"
"As soon as the war was over and they let me go."
"I guess I should not ask what exactly it was that you were doing for the Allied Forces?"
Elentar's face changed a little, growing still and hard, reminding her – even more than the topic of their conversation – that he was not twenty-five or twenty-seven years old as his boyish looks intimated, but rather four-hundred-twenty-seven…
"I will answer any question you ask me, Mina. But there are some questions I would prefer that you don't ask, for your sake."
They fell silent.
Outside the Bodleian Library grey skies promised rain. The atmosphere was oppressive and no relief for Mina after spending hours in the stuffy, dusty atmosphere of too many books in a small room.
"Now that did not help us at all," Mina commented, leaning against the iron rails of the fence. Her temples were throbbing with the dull pressure of disappointment and stress. She tried to keep her overly emotional reaction under control. It's only pregnancy related hormones that upset my usual equilibrium, she repeated in her mind what had become something of a mantra to her.
Elentar sighed, an absent look on his face. They had not found any information about Tolkien's real identity, or about a possible passage from this world to Middle-earth. But they had spent the better part of the day – at least in their minds – in Middle-earth. She wanted to ask him about details, did he remember something about the things they had read, were the maps accurate, how was it really in Middle-earth? But she kept quiet.
"Let's go to the car, shall we? I think I've had enough for the day."
"Yes, absolutely," Elentar agreed. "You look tired."
She smiled at him in answer. Would that be a wry smile?
"Probably because I –am– tired. I'm glad you can cope with the steering wheel being on the wrong side of the car."
Elentar was not only comfortable with driving a car with the steering wheel on the right side, but also with driving on the left side of the road. Once in Oxford, they had rented a car which greatly increased their mobility.
"I think it's time for a day off," Elentar suggested. "How about driving around the countryside tomorrow? The weather is supposed to be better tomorrow. And the Cotswolds are beautiful in spring. We can visit 'Upper Slaughter' and 'Lower Slaughter' and see if we find a sign that says 'Attention, ducks crossing!'"
For a moment Mina stared at Elentar, speechless. It always took her unawares when a little thing, a casual comment, betrayed an experience of many hundred years. You are being stupid, she scolded herself. Even if he was an ordinary human being, there's no reason why he should not know his way around the English countryside.
But he was not, and she wondered when and how he had discovered the beauty of the Cotswolds, so reminiscent of Tolkien's descriptions of the Shire, for the first time. Although, that would not have been Elentar's impression, she realized. He had never been to the Shire, and it was more than likely that "The Lord of the Rings" had not yet been published when Elentar had visited the Cotswolds for the first time.
"We could visit the house that belonged to the late Ms Archer," Mina said finally. "Cecily Cottage, Stow-on-the-Wold. I've looked it up on the map; it must be at the edge of the town."
"It's a village, not a town," Elentar put in. "But yes, why not? We could get lucky and find someone there who remembers Ms Archer, and maybe knows what happened to her mysterious cats."
"Too bad Tolkien Estate could not come up with any more details about the connection between Ms Archer and Tolkien. But at least we'll get to see the complete letters the two of them exchanged. Letters of some twenty years of friendship. There should be something in there somewhere. And they have never really been studied, because they were in the possession of the late Ms Archer, so not even Christopher Tolkien knows what's in them." Mina sighed. "It's such a dratted case of good luck, bad luck. Good luck that the letters are there, and we get to read them Bad luck that Tolkien Estate has no idea what happened to those cats or Ms Archer's heirs." For a moment Mina was silent, chewing on her lip, weighing the chances of them finding any new clues. Then she turned to Elentar.
"You don't really believe that there's anything to those cats, do you?"
Elentar shrugged. "I don't want to hang my hopes on an old Gondorian proverb, that's all. And though I know that some cats grow quite old, twenty years or more, these would be closer to 50 than 40 years old now. That sounds rather unlikely, don't you think?"
"Just about as unlikely as an elf in Berlin," Mina snapped. He was the one with the pointy ears. By rights it should be her making sceptical remarks and not Elentar. Elentar just raised an eyebrow at her. She glared at him but did not say anything else. She was glad when they reached the car, and even happier when they were at their bed & breakfast. Maybe a nap would help her get rid of that headache.
They were lucky: the next day was the epitome of early summer in the Cotswolds. Soft sunshine, brilliant flowers, lush green meadows; hedges and hills gently undulating in a landscape where even the houses appeared to be somehow less than square and angular, as if their corners and edges were rounded.
"Idyllic," Mina said.
"Bucolic," Elentar replied with a relaxed smile. The day off had been a good idea.
"Tranquil." Mina grinned. Maybe they would be able to find a secluded spot behind a hedge to disturb the restfulness of the countryside? Elentar gave her a sideways glance. She quickly looked away, sucking in her lips, her cheeks flushing with heat. Was it possible that he could read her thoughts? Or was it simply obvious?
"Pastoral. How about lunch and a walk?"
"Okay." She could not really complain, could she? If he had read her thoughts, it was rather a sweet offer. And if he had not, it was still sweet.
"What do you suggest?"
"How about walking from Upper Slaughter to Lower Slaughter? The Washbourne serves a nice tea if I recall correctly. Out on the patio. And it's not far. About a mile."
"Sounds good to me." If there are bushes we can hide behind on the way, that is.
Elentar shook his head.
"You can hear what I am thinking."
"I think we have to turn right here."
"I thought so before. But now I'm sure."
"Do you see a parking space?"
"Don't change the subject." But she did look around. "Over there?"
"Yes, I think we'll fit in there." He switched off the engine. When he did not look at her, Mina decided to continue her questioning.
"You can hear what I'm thinking."
Now he did turn to her. She was not prepared for what she saw in his eyes. How could one look say so much?
She wanted to say 'I love you', but she did not dare to. It frightened him, and he would not reply with the same words, and then she would feel hurt no matter how he had looked at her only moments before. But she had to say something.
"Come on then, melethron nîn, time to earn our lunch!" She got out of the car, snatching up her camera. Elentar winked at her and threw a picnic blanket over his shoulder. Mina tried to keep her mind completely blank. When they had walked past the first row of picturesque limestone houses, Mina turned to Elentar again.
Elentar laughed, drew her into his arms and stopped her questions effectively with a long, lingering kiss.
The walk along the river was lovely, with blossoms unfolding in the sunshine almost while they were watching. Just as another kind of blossom was unfolding inside her body, much slower, almost imperceptible, but steadily all the same.
Somehow, as if it was the most natural thing in the world their fingers met and intertwined. They walked along in companionable silence, the warmth of their joined hands and the warmth of sunshine on their faces making it easy to forget all problems and questions that should be talked through.
Ducking below the low branches of a willow tree, Mina caught a glance at Elentar's face, and was taken aback at how serious he seemed all of a sudden. And of course he would not talk about it.
"What's the matter?" she asked, suppressing an urge to add 'And why is it that men (or elves) seemingly never can simply say what's up without being prodded?'. She did not need to be able to read his thoughts to know that he was contemplating to reply with 'nothing'.
"And don't say 'nothing', for I won't believe you."
Something changed in the way Elentar moved. The slight shift in posture told her better than words that Elentar was not happy with her tenacity. At least he had not released her hand.
"I am still not convinced that trying to reach Middle-earth is a good idea, Mina. I don't really belong here, but I did not really belong there, either. And I have not the faintest idea if and how we might reach Aman even if we manage to get to Middle-earth. And you would be a stranger in either land."
Mina wanted to draw away now. But she did not. She had fallen in love with Elentar, she had made love with Elentar, she was pregnant with his daughter, she was married to him. She owed it to him to listen to his concerns. And she could understand them, after all, even if she did not share them.
"I'm not sure how to explain this, Elentar. I… it's such a mess of fears, and feelings, and hopes and dreams…" she started in, stumbling over thoughts and words. "I know she will be Elven, just like you are. You know that, too. I… Elentar, I'm 37! If she becomes an adult at 50, I'll most likely be dead! I want her to be somewhere, to grow up somewhere, where she has at least a chance to meet her own people. I don't want her to be… Do you realize that here she would probably categorized as 'retarded' because of maturing like an Elf?"
Now she did release his hands, because she had to brush tears from her eyes. "But she won't be retarded, not anymore than you were. She'll just be… an Elf!"
Mina hated being so emotional. But thinking of her daughter and of her daughter's father was a subject matter that could bring her to her wits' end in seconds, or so it seemed.
Elentar looked as if she had struck him in the face.
"I'm sorry," she mumbled. "I know I've said all that before."
"Maybe I needed to hear it again." He sighed, and reached for her hand again, in a gentle, apologetic gesture. "I don't think my parents knew what I was, at least not in the beginning. And my sisters were not born as peredhil. I have no idea why our child will be… an Elf, or how it is possible that you know about this even now." He paused.
"Mina, I'm simply afraid of returning. I – I have been dreaming of it, for many years, for a few hundred years! I'm afraid of where we might end up, when we might end up! There seems no guarantee about time and place of passage, and the thought of risking your life, risking our daughter's life – it keeps me awake at night!"
Mina leaned against him, trying to comfort him with her presence, just as she took comfort from the strong, quick beat of his heart, and the tiny presence within her.
"I think we need to have faith. Though I don't really believe in fate or destiny, it was certainly more than chance that we met, that we fell in love. If there's a God, if there's Eru, I think maybe there is an opportunity that only we can use. Maybe it's only my mortal hubris, but I can't help thinking that there's a reason for all of this." She bit on her lips once more, trying to come up with something to cheer Elentar up.
"And besides, it will be a splendid adventure! I always wanted to see a fantasy world for real!"
Elentar grinned wryly. "Yeah, you and my mother."
"This is it." Elentar switched off the ignition. The rest of the walk and especially tea at the Washbourne Hotel had been a success, even if the mood had been a little subdued. Driving on in the afternoon they had been lucky, the weather stayed fine and in Stow-on-the-Wold it had been almost easy to find their way to the remote corner of the little town where Madeleine Archer had lived.
Madeleine Archer's former home was a typical Cotswolds cottage, just as the name "Cecily Cottage" implied: friendly, dun coloured limestone walls, a blue door with a beater in the shape of a lion's head. White window frames, and a white wisteria, neatly trimmed just reaching for the blue gutters. As charming as it could be. In front of the house, a very dirty jeep was parked carelessly askew. And a sign that said "Beware of the Dog" shattered any hope Mina might have harboured of the mysterious cats still being in residence.
The sign on the door was new and shiny: "Elaine Tarnost, GP"
Mina frowned. So a doctor was living here now. A family doctor and general practitioner. Somehow the name sounded familiar, but she could not quite place it.
"Tarnost, Tanrost… does that ring a bell with you?"
"Yes," Elentar replied. "In Middle-earth it is a fortress, situated north of Dol Amroth and south of the river Ringló. Is that a common name here?"
Mina shook her head. "I don't think so."
She bit down on her lips, her stomach suddenly in nervous knots. That doesn't have to mean anything, she chided herself.
"Shall we see if she's home?"
Mina nodded. "Good idea. Can't hurt to ask a few stupid questions."
She inhaled deeply and was secretly grateful for the reassuring squeeze of her hand that Elentar gave her, as they went for the blue door.
"Is there no bell?" She looked dubiously at the beater.
"Over here." He pressed a button that was almost invisible in the shadow of the wisteria. The deep echo of an old-fashioned doorbell rang out. There was no other sound, especially no noisy yapping of the dog the sign warned off. For a long moment nothing happened, and Mina was ready to sigh and turn back to the car when the sound of a door opening and closing inside the house, and quick steps advancing to the door made her hesitate.
Then the door opened.
A woman stood facing them in the small hallway that was separated from the rest of the interior by a white door with glass panes. The woman was tall and slender, almost delicate. She wore her hair very short and spiky, almost like a punk. Faded blue jeans and frayed, grey sweatshirt, and a very direct gaze from clear, grey eyes.
"Hello. Can I help you? If you need a doctor, Dr Curlew is on call today, the white house next to the church." Her voice was surprisingly deep. Something about the way she spoke reminded Mina of Elentar. It was not an accent, but rather a certain melody of speech, the way you would recognize Irish people by the gently rounded syllables of their manner of speaking. The strange thing about this was that Elentar had this special melody of speech no matter which language he spoke, German, English or Sindarin. But for now Mina had no time to ponder this peculiarity.
"We don't need a doctor, thank you. I am Wilhelmina Elbenstern," Mina said. "And this is my husband, Elentar."
"Nice to meet you." The woman's gaze turned positively piercing, but she shook first Mina's then Elentar's hand with a firm grip.
"I'm Elaine – Tarnost. If you are not looking for a doctor, what are you looking for?"
"I – uh." Mina fidgeted uncomfortably. How to explain the story without sounding completely weird?
"It's a bit complicated, and it may sound a little strange. I don't know if you are familiar with the author John Ronald Reuel Tolkien? The author of 'The Lord of the Rings'? I work for the German Tolkien society, and I'm preparing a booklet for the annual conference."
Elaine frowned. "And that brought you here?"
Mina laughed nervously. "Sounds strange, doesn't it? But yes. Many years ago a Ms Madeleine Archer lived in this house, a deep admirer of Tolkien's works and friend of the writer. After his wife's death, Tolkien gave a strange gift to Ms Archer, three grey cats. We are trying to find out what happened to them and why he gave them to the old lady."
"For a… brochure? For an academic conference?" A delicately slanted eyebrow was raised questioningly, but Elaine Tarnost did not look at Mina. She stared at Elentar.
"Yes, exactly. And I could not find out what had happened to the cats or any further details, so I thought we'd stop by, and… uh, maybe ask whoever lives here, now, ask you… if you happen to know anything about the previous inhabitants of the house." Mina swallowed, feeling awkward. "That is, if you don't mind, and just in case you know anything, I mean, I have seen the sign about the dog…"
This made Elaine finally look at Mina. She laughed, a deep, dry laughter. "Oh, I have no dog. A friend thought I should have that sign to scare away burglars, living on the edge of the village as I do." Then she suddenly grew serious.
"I think I may be able to help you. If you would like to come in?" She stepped back to invite them into the house.
"Oh, thank you!" Mina almost gasped with happy surprise, finally loosening the vice-like grip she had kept on Elentar's hand. "That's most kind of you."
Elaine closed the door behind them before she went to the door with the glass panes.
"This way, please. And careful."
She opened the door to reveal three sleek grey cats with brilliant green eyes that seemed to have waited for a chance to sneak outside.
"You see," Elaine said. "The cats are still here. I got them with the house when I moved here from London two years ago."
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.