1. A Time of Harvest, September 22nd, 1915
Young 2nd Lieutenant Tolkien watched through the carriage window as the train steamed past manufactories, over bridges. He looked out and down onto thin strips of yard behind the houses, divided by lines of dank, grey washing flapping listlessly in the cloud-dimmed September sunlight. The buildings became middle-class villas with lawns as he passed through Dorridge and Solihull, before the sprawling housing fell away rapidly to fields. Knowle, Lapworth, greener yet; now the fields were divided by the cumulous of towering Elms, rank after rank, the Grenadier Guards of trees – tall, stately, each capped with a swelling busby of still-green leaves. They swaggered in rows down fields yellowing under a wider sky, the lush grass there ready to be turned to fragrant hay.
Here and there were lines of dun clad men, rhythmically swaying as they scythed, a slow half turn to the left and back, step and turn again – ‘the most solemn of country dances’, he thought idly. And a picture came to mind of his Edith, eyes bright, a loose strand of hair tickling her face as they whirled, crossed hands clasped, down the double column of clapping, smiling dancers.
He looked down at his swollen bandaged feet, sore and constricted in the new shoes a size larger than his norm, but still feeling tight. He sighed, his feet were swollen and infected from long hours training and marching relentlessly over boggy ground, ‘…damned trench-foot’, and as yet he hadn’t even been to France
He looked eagerly over the tops of the surrounding Elms – there it was! He smiled, ‘…nearly there’. The tower of St. Mary’s was a landmark visible from every approach before you even caught a glimpse of the town; a faerie pinnacle topped by four delicate spires of intricate stonework stretching into the sky, clear and sharply defined even though they were still three miles away. It always reminded him of a great watch-tower surveying the landscape, more visible from afar than the crenulated towers of the Castle. Though the great castle had been fortified even before the Conqueror arrived, its ancient fortifications built on a rocky bluff above the river, the faerie tower stood high above on its own ancient, rounded hill.
The train swayed around another curve before advancing across the fields – the tower and its hill greened thick with trees that half concealed the red brick, black and white timbers and tall, sandstone houses roofed with blue slate tiles – Warwick, and Edith! The whistle’s long blast, signalling the train’s approach, made him lean forward eagerly – ‘…we’re there!’
The following morning, out of uniform and changed into civilian clothes, he walked the stone-paved streets a little glumly, his cane tapping the pavement as the ache forced him to limp. Edith had a bad cold, and although it was sunny and quite warm for late September, she was not able to get up. Her Cousin Jennie fussed around like a mother hen. He had a four day pass, a precious thing, but it looked as if he would be spending most of it alone. Aimlessly he wandered through the market square, with its public house at each corner – the place held a curious mix of architecture, from half-timbered Elizabethan – to stone-faced, Queen Anne austerity - to the small symmetrical red-bricks and painted wood facia of the raucous, and notorious, ‘Green Dragon’ inn. In a garrison town like this one, ale-houses prospered no matter how many of them there were, and these had been serving beer for a hundred or more years.
He turned into North Gate Street, ambling past the portico-ed Georgian splendour of the Assize Court and the old town gaol; the carved stone pillars a solid statement of eighteenth century justice. It had to be said… this town wore its history on its sleeve! All around, what wasn’t eighteenth century was seventeenth, sixteenth, fifteenth… but age had bowed it; much of it felt decayed, dusty with soot and grime, even here, in a country town, there was still the cloud of industry. He could hear it – the clack of machines. Standing there, he could smell stale beer from the open doors of the old coaching inn down the road to his right, ahead were the trees of the Priory’s park, and down the steep hill of North Rock to the left… A loud honk from a car-horn startled him, making him stumble back from the curb. A delivery van swung out as it rounded the tight bend and hurtled down the hill, raising more dust to plaster the bricks of the old three-storied houses lining the road. The top floor of each house had huge windows let into the roof, to light the ribbon-makers looms. Evidently several still plied their trade; this was where the harsh click, clack, clack hailed from.
If he could not be with Edith, then John wanted some peace, he wanted some quiet – it would be a lengthy walk for him, but it came to him exactly where it might be found – as long as the Earl’s game-keepers didn’t catch him! The wood that hid the old hunting lodge; it lay beyond the farmed land across the river, on the far side of the castle’s park. He had been there twice before unnoticed, ‘…third time makes the charm’.
The weather was fine and clear, nothing but a mere dabble of wispy cloud in a blue, blue sky. The town's trees were beginning to yellow under the Harvest sun ‘…a very good day for a picnic’, he thought as he turned his steps to the shops in the square. He bought apples, a small loaf, and a hunk of yellow cheese. He debated between beer or lemonade, eventually deciding that the smooth curve of the green cod-bottle of fizzy drink would fit easier in his pocket. ‘There must be a well there somewhere…’ where he could refill the bottle if he got thirsty.
Few of the townspeople took notice of the tall young man who, though leaning heavily on his cane, strode out through the grey stones of West Gate and down the hill beyond. The town was an army town, had been for a century, and they recognised an officer when they saw one. John soon found himself smiling again, absently noting that those he passed who weren’t dressed in black or navy blue, were often dressed in shades of green, not the dull yellowed greens of the army, but the dark pines or pale bottle-glass greens that hinted at blue. Even the tweed caps the workmen wore had soft leaf greens woven into the greys, ‘…must be the cloth of a local weaver’.
He reached the turn to the wood he was aiming for and started his stroll down the narrow lane, head held high. Better to look as if he had permission to be there than skulk along like a poacher! He reached the ancient stone bridge whose side walls reached barely to his knee. In the middle of the arch he paused to look down into the dark green water below. The Avon flowed smooth and swift here, barely an eddy on the surface, but just below, the long strands of river weed rippled sinuously in the invisible current.
He walked on. The ground rose slowly into a slope that was already well scattered with trees before the wood proper started. He was pretty safe from observation now – unless a keeper was actually in the forest - in which case… he’d have to rely on his wits, a quick tongue, and the shilling in his pocket to get him off a charge of trespass. On the other hand, he had no gun, knife or even a bit of string for a trap, so he could hardly be accused of intending to take a rabbit or a pheasant or two. Almost at that thought, a cock’s alarum cackled through the woodland. Ahead a whirr of wings - a flash of bright gold flew up and away, keeping low and banking between the trees. He’d forgotten the old Earl was partial to Chinese pheasants – each with a long, gaudy tail of golden yellow.
The sun had warmed him on his walk, here, under the trees, the dappled shade felt very welcome. The only sounds were a few song-birds, the rustling branches and his footsteps crushing last year’s leaf litter. Ahead was a huge fallen tree, brought down years ago by lightening by the look of it… a fine place to pause for a bite and a drink. John dropped gratefully onto the ancient tree-trunk, thick enough to make a decent seat. Taking his weight off his feet made him realise how much they ached. He exhaled hard, refusing to allow himself the luxury of a groan. He looked around ‘…why not?’ he unlaced his shoes and stretched his cramped toes before he took apples, cheese, bread and bottle from the ample game-pockets – a hunting jacket is a hunting jacket whether it’s used for the shoot or not – and laid them at his side, then shrugged out of his tweed coat. The apples were crisp, the cheese nutty, and the bread soft within its brittle crust. The lemonade was sweet and fizzy on his tongue, if rather warmer than he might have wished – but in the end…it had turned into a very pleasant day after all. In fact, he smiled broadly, it felt like a really good day – perhaps even inspiring?
Resting here awhile wouldn’t hurt; the sun was high over the fields, and the wind brought the far-off sounds of St Mary’s carillon striking the noon bells. He shifted and his feet twinged in protest ‘…perhaps if he put them up for a bit, before he walked back...’ He balled his jacket behind his back against the high rising arch of the dead tree roots and swung his legs up onto the trunk laying his head against smooth grey heartwood. He opened his notebook, uncapped his pencil and settled to write. He was worrying at the phrases of a poem he’d been working on for some time, a poem about Warwick and how he saw it – an ancient town swamped by melancholy and past memories of half-forgotten glories.
But his view of its past reached further back than Good Queen Bess and Shakespeare, further than Warwick’s Kingmaker earl and his son-in-law, that hunchbacked ‘son of York’, past Guy the Crusader, who returned from the Holy Land to live as a hermit; passed Athelfleda, the Lady of the Mercians, and granddaughter to Alfred the Great, back to the shrouded past of pre-Christian, pre-Saxon… to what? He knew it was the age of the uncanny, knew that other parts of these isles had their own stories of heroes, his friend McQuay’s Scotland, Morgan’s Wales - even Lawrence Trevellyan’s Cornwall had tales of mermaids and Cornish Piskies! – Why didn’t his Heartland? And if not… perhaps he could write some for them.
Of course… it was only for his and Edith’s amusement, but she loved him to read his tales and poems out loud to her. Her adoring eyes scarcely left his face as he recited his verses. Yes, the mode was a little derivative, but he would find his own voice with practise, he knew he would – he just needed the time… and the peace to be able to really think, to order his ideas and impressions. He read what he had corrected and crossed out, and frowned ‘…was this right? ‘Perhaps if he read it aloud…?’
O fading town upon a little hill,
Old memory is waning in thine ancient gates,
The robe is grey, thine old heart almost still;
The castle only, frowning, ever waits
And ponders how among the towering elms
The Gliding Water leaves these inland realms
And slips between long meadows to the western sea –
Still bearing downward over murmurous falls
One year and then another to the sea;
And slowly thither have a many gone
Since first the fairies built Kortirion…
Thou art the inmost province of the fading isle
Where linger yet the Lonely Companions.
Still, undespairing, do they sometimes slowly file
Along the paths with plaintive harmonies:
The holy fairies and immortal elves
That dance among the trees and sing themselves
A wistful song of things that were, and could be yet.
They pass and vanish in a sudden breeze,
A wave of bowing grass – and we forget
Their tender voices like wind-shaken bells
Of flowers, their gleaming hair like golden asphodels.
They know the season of the brilliant night,
When naked elms entwine in cloudy lace
The Pleiades, and the long-armed poplars bar the light
Of golden-rondured moons with glorious face.
O fading fairies and most lonely elves
Then sing ye, sing ye to yourselves
A song woven of stars and gleaming leaves;
Then whirl ye with the sapphire-wingéd winds;
Then do ye pipe and call with heart that grieves
To sombre men: ‘Remember what is gone –
The magic sun that lit Kortirion!’
…Bare are thy trees become, Kortirion,
And all their summer glory swiftly gone.
The seven lampards of the Silver Bear
Are waxen to a wonderous flare
That flames above the fallen year,
Though cold thy windy squares and empty streets:
Though elves dace seldom in they pale retreats
(Save on some rare and moonlit night,
A flash, a whispering glint of white),
Yet would I never need depart from here…
“They are not entirely like that, you know.”
The quiet voice made young John gasp in surprise. He scrambled around and the remains of his lunch and his jacket skittered off the smooth trunk to the loamy ground. Jumping to his feet was a movement too sudden for his swollen toes, and he stumbled badly. But before he fell, two hands griped his arm to steady him, and with firm but discreet pressure, lowered him safely to his seat.
“I am sorry. I did not mean to startle you.”
The voice was cultured, low and warm, rich with a subtle timbre and slight accent he couldn’t place. For a moment all John saw was a green shadow, he smelt sunny warmth, damp leaves and hay, before the tall man stepped away from him.
“That’s quite alright,” John said quickly, his astonishment allowing automatic politeness to overcome shock. “I thought I was alone.”
The quiet irony nettled slightly; it was not something to be expected from a game-keeper. John looked up sharply to assess his unknown visitor, but the brilliant sunlight through the leaves behind the man’s head dazzled his gaze. The stranger carried himself with confident ease. He wore countrified clothes in an older style, a grey-green gathered shirt of fine cloth, a long, old-fashioned waistcoat to mid thigh, and soft woollen britches in a darker green, worn tucked into fine, knee-high brown boots of soft leather. ‘He must have been gifted with his master’s old riding boots,’ thought John. In fact, he must have inherited all of his clothing, it was far too good a weave and too well-cut for a game-keeper – or maybe he wasn’t?
The man’s ample tweed cap was pulled down hard on his forehead, shadowing his eyes, but his fine-boned jaw and even white teeth convinced John this was no plain country bumpkin.
“Erm… I hope you don’t mind me being here? I just wanted a little peace to think.”
“You are welcome to that. Do not be afraid, I am no keeper or groundsman of the Earl’s.”
“You are not? Then who are you?”
Curiosity had finally got the better of John’s tongue. The stranger’s smile widened and he lifted his chin, a movement that allowed John a glimpse of his eyes – green and amused in the shadow of his peaked cap.
“I am one of the woodsmen. The old Earl and I made an agreement long ago about who can come and go in these forests.”
It was an answer that said nothing and everything. This man had permission to be in the woods, but from whom, and which just which earl that was, might be debatable, thought John, knowing country customs as he did. He looked up into the man’s face – high cheekbones, a narrow aristocratic nose, jaw wide and sharply angled, lips soft and pliant – this was no country face. He couldn’t really judge the man’s age; the crinkle at his eyes could be years, or sun. John realised he was staring at the same instant he also realised the man was standing perfectly still to allow himself to be scrutinized – and to take a good look at John. 'Like a huntsman waiting for a new horse or hound to get the scent and know his master could be trusted', John thought. That notion made him drop his gaze; John knew himself a good judge of men, so he believed, but this one confounded him. It was uncomfortable to admit he himself had been inspected and assessed – but had he been found wanting?
“I enjoyed your description of Kortirion, but about elves… you have not quite grasped what they are… or what they are capable of…”
“And you would know?” snapped John, still a little uncomfortable; the man’s cool confidence unnerved him.
The stranger ignored any rudeness and continued to stand easily and smile.
“My family has always lived in these woods. There is a wealth of old stories about how things were, tales passed down over generations of men.”
He had John at ‘old stories’ – there was little more the young man appreciated than folk-lore and myth – and the import of ‘generations of men’ only impacted on him much later. The stranger had the easy warmth of the sunny afternoon and the pleasant demeanour of an old acquaintance. John returned the man’s smile.
“That sort of thing interests me very much – if you have a little time, I would be delighted to hear some of them. Perhaps you’d like to sit, I have some…”
But in spreading his arm to indicate bread, apples and cheese… he realised they were all scattered in the leaf mould. John’s face fell when he discovered his largesse would come to nothing.
“I have some bread of my own, along with some cold beef and beer. If you’d care to, you could share that – the ale-jug’s in the spring behind the lodge. It’s not far… if you can manage?”
“Yes, don’t worry, I’m a little stiff, but exercise is good, so the medics tell me.”
The stranger nodded. He politely refrained from offering to help the young man to his feet, though he did retrieve the fallen cap and jacket and offer them silently to him. John’s feet had stiffened; they felt like blocks of wood at the end of his legs, but he refused to allow a groan to pass his lips. Pausing to stoop and re-tie his shoelaces, he picked up his coat and followed the woodsman.
The old hunting lodge crouched in the midst of the woods in four-square solidity at the centre of its clearing, but their way lead around and past it. They walked on a rising, falling path that meandered around the contour of the hill behind the lodge. The man in green set an easy pace through the gathering trees without speaking further. Occasionally John almost lost sight of his guide, his green-grey clothes blending perfectly with the crowded silver and brown trunks and the green shadows and bushes. Then the man would slow his pace until John’s halting steps had caught up with his long easy strides. After passing through a particularly dense thicket of low growing hazel and birch, John found the way opening into a clearing.
Patches of sunlight lit up lush emerald grass that fell away steeply down the hill on one side, the tussocks studded with small gold and white flowers John was not familiar with. Ahead of them the earth was stamped down hard and flat as if the place was much used, indeed there was a crude hearth there, roughly shaped rocks surrounding old ash, clearly a fire-pit in frequent use. To the far side was a high rocky outcrop half as tall again as a man, this sheltered the space and from near its base came the tinkling bubble of a rising spring. Long ago a natural basin had formed in the stone below the tiny cascade. John could see a rim of red earthenware rising above the water's surface, ‘obviously the promised jug of beer’, he thought, ‘…and that would be most welcome!’ It had not seemed that long, but his feet protested as if they had walked for miles and miles.
The man indicated a convenient tree-stump that had been shaped to form a low seat with a back; another was nearby, along with other logs to serve as stools or tables. John felt that he should be unsettled, to have walked far into the deepest woods with a complete stranger, but oddly enough, he wasn’t. 'Must be too tired,’ he though, and sat down with a thump. The seat was lower than he expected, and for the first time it occurred to him that they hadn’t been introduced.
“My name is John Ronald Tolkien, by the way.”
The man hoisted the thick earthenware jug from the spring.
“You may call me… Caleb... Caleb Green.”
The tiny pause wasn’t lost on John, but he let the hesitation pass.
“Have your family lived in these parts for long?”
Caleb smiled; he handed John one of the horn beakers in his hand.
“Oh yes, a very long time…” He poured out the beer, pale and cool, smelling crisply of yeast and hops. “…It might be said my family is as old as the hills.”
John nodded politely. The fellow used hyperbole, but then what country family didn’t double their lineage when they wanted to impress a guest? The beer smelt wonderful, light, not too hoppy, fresh… and it tasted as good as it smelt! Caleb stood ready to refill his guest’s beaker without being asked, and John, slightly embarrassed that he’d emptied his cup in one go, didn’t have time to demur. Caleb set the jug down on a nearby stump and went to a rocky shelf above the spring. Under a checked cloth was a platter of beef and a loaf; he brought it over, setting it down beside the jug.
“Will I help you to some?” he asked.
John nodded, only half noting the occasionally curious quality of his host’s speech. Though he’d eaten, it seemed like hours ago, and the sight of the golden crust and the pink-centred round of good roast beef made his mouth water. From under his long waistcoat Caleb produced a large knife, its long white handle carved in a sinuous pattern of curling vines.
‘Curious design,’ John thought, ‘maybe it’s that Art Nouveau style – must be another cast-off from his mas…’
But that thought dissolved before it was even completed; clearly this man had no ‘master’, which made him even more intriguing. John watched Caleb carve the beef and bread neatly into elegant slices. ‘That knife must be sharp as a razor,’ John thought, as he accepted the meat and bread sandwiched together. It tasted as good as it looked.
Caleb clicked his tongue in exasperation.
“Horseradish – I forgot!”
He returned to his ‘pantry’ and came back with a stoneware pot with an oil-skin lid.
“Would you care for some?” Caleb asked.
John nodded, his mouth full.
“Open your bread and I’ll help you to it.”
There was a touch of command as much as an offer about the words. Being among Jesuits and army officers, John recognised the tone instantly, but didn’t take offence, it was becoming increasingly clear this was someone who gave orders rather than took them… but who was he? Caleb dipped the end of his long knife into the pungent, creamy paste and spread some liberally over the proffered beef sandwich John held out to him.
“Thank you, that’s sufficient,” he said.
Caleb acknowledged his guest with a single nod. He attended to his own bread and beef, applying an ample layer of horseradish with his keen blade before settling down to enjoy his sandwich. John watched the man’s hands; they were well shaped with long fingers, he could see some calluses to the fingertips, but these weren’t the horny hands of a country labourer – even if the fingernails were a little grubby, but then, the man had been in the woods all day. At which point he thought to inspect his own hands and found them to be not as clean as he would have liked. Caleb clearly had no such qualms about the niceties of entertaining; he bit into his bread with relish, managing to smile at the younger man at the same time and still seem the charming host.
They ate in silence – it tasted that good. Only as Caleb finished and was licking his fingertips did John think ‘he hasn’t taken his cap off’. Still, they were outdoors, eating while wearing a hat wasn’t that outlandish – his own was at his side. His attention was caught by Caleb’s voice, John chided himself ‘…I must pay attention, my thoughts seem everywhere today…’
“…Will you drink a toast with me, John Ronald Tolkien?” Caleb paused with a quirk of a half-smile and a questioning look that expected acceptance of his proposal. “…To the Old Ways and the country ways; to the Oak and the Holly, the Elm and Ash – let them be before us as they’ve been behind us. To the Green, Man.”
“To the Green Man,” John responded, slightly aware that he hadn’t quite caught all the meaning here. He opened his mouth to voice a puzzled query, but closed it again before he’d formed the words – what was he to ask? This man was as at one with Nature as much as Nature surely was at one with him. To toast the trees and the forest was perhaps not that strange…
“Would you have me tell you a story now, young Tolkien?”
Young Tolkien felt that the beer might well be going to his head just a little. He smiled benignly, raising his beaker in approbation. His host took this as a request and with surprising speed was on his feet and refilling the cup, before John had formed the thought that it might be wiser to refuse. The sunlight filtering through the trees seemed much lower than it aught to have been ‘…it was so nice here – this really had turned out to be a wonderful day’. He slipped down the log seat a little, stretching out his legs in a comfortable sprawl. The sun dazzled him a little as it made patterns of light and shade within the densely overhanging branches.
The spring bubbled, the leaves whispered… and he realised Caleb was telling - no, telling was not enough… Like a bard of old, Caleb was recounting at length a tale of great antiquity and import. It began with music and the dividing of the world, of a place of beauty rent by discord, of spirits and elves and ancient times. John was entranced – so much so that when Caleb, pacing back and forth in a moment of emotion, snatched off his cap and shook out a mane of long, tawny hair held back by narrow plaits, hair as long and as beautiful as any woman’s John had ever seen, he was scarcely surprised….
On and on the mellifluous voice spoke, sometimes raised, sometimes low, sometimes with passion and chanting, sometimes harsh with emotion – a great tale, a marvellous tale, a tale of crowns lost, of maidens won, heroes vanquished, foes triumphant, but always the efforts of the good were never less than their all, no matter what the odds against them. There were dragons, goblins, winged eagles, hidden cities, long battles full of sorrow, moments of reunion and joy… and there was love.
John forgot time, he forgot the world, he forgot his life, he forgot everything but Caleb’s tale. Now and again they got up, moved stiff limbs, built a fire, prepared food together; all the while Caleb carried the tale forward. They washed their faces and hands in the cool spring, and it seemed to John that now Caleb’s words had colour and form – it was magical, and John never wanted it to end. At some points the story made him weep, at others growl with rage, his fists clenched, so affecting was the great legend unfolded for him under the trees. The sun set, the stars came out, but nothing interrupted the young man’s rapt attention to his magnificent bard. They ate, drank, and still, the tale went on and on…
At some point John must have drifted into sleep, because he woke up with a start hearing somebody shouting his name. He sat up hastily and looked around – where was he? There was no spring, no clearing, and what is more – no Caleb! He was curled into the lea of a fallen tree, his hunting jacket over him like a blanket, his head pillowed on a smooth canvas bag. Again he heard his name hollered.
“Here… I’m here!” he called; his voice was cracked and he realised he was parched.
A crashing through the heavy undergrowth came from right and left, as two men in heavy, rough clothes emerged, rapidly followed by a uniformed police constable.
“2nd Lieutenant John Tolkien?”
John nodded mutely.
“Thank the lord for that!” The policeman said, “We’ve been searching for you for two days.”
“Three, if you count today. After two nights out in the wood, we thought you might be a goner.”
“Nah!” said one of the game-keepers, “…not cold enough to kill a fella, but you’m give us all some worry you might be laying hurt like.”
“Sorry – I don’t know; I think I perhaps fell asleep. But - two nights? It can’t be…” John was stupefied.
“’Sright young man, but come along now - they’ve been worried sick for you.”
Standing up made him reel back; John found he could barely feel his feet at all.
“Give him a hand,” said the policeman.
The two men half-picked John up, strong arms under his arms and around his shoulders; they almost carried him down the long hill and out of the trees – but not to any point he recognised and not at all to where he had entered the wood. A pony and trap waited and they heaved him into the back. The policeman put his jacket, cane, cap, and the canvas sack up beside him, before going around to take the front seat beside his colleague. The keepers waved them off and disappeared back into the green shadows of the woods. John was still dazed – how had he been gone so long? Where was he now? He couldn’t have walked that far with Caleb… Caleb?
Some parts began to come back to him like fragments of a dream dispersed and changed by the daylight – the marvellous story, the majesty… Caleb’s amazingly long hair… and unbelievably pointed ears!
The policeman turned and offered him a nip of brandy from a small leather-covered flask.
“…Just a sip, sir. Doubtless you’ll be looking for a good meal and a nice cup of tea when we get you back – and a proper bed I shouldn't wonder - though I dare say our Inspector will want a word.”
John accepted the flask, took a gulp that made him cough, and nodded.
“I don’t really remember… I think I may have slipped… banged my head…”
The two policemen glanced at each other and understood… knocked out, then half conscious and wandering lost in the woods – yes, that would probably be it.
“You rest easy, young man. We’ll have you back in no time and find a doctor for you.”
John’s head was in a whirl, but not altogether from the supposed bump on the head. What had really happened? Had he really knocked himself out, and all he thought he remembered was just some sort of fever-dream?
The canvas sack rattled against his ankle as the trap juddered over a rough stretch of road. Odd, that; he knew he had not gone out with a bag. He lifted it onto his knees to examine it more closely. It was made of fine wool, not the coarse linen he had first thought, and the colour… what had seemed soft green under the trees now looked to be a shimmering grey, the threads woven in a subtle pattern that defeated the eye to follow. He loosened the drawstrings that held it closed.
Inside was a parcel wrapped in more of the fine cloth, tied up with a silky cord… and a folded piece of heavy, old-fashioned paper. He unfolded the single sheet; the hand-writing was fluid, long cursive strokes of fine penmanship. It was difficult to read at first – almost as if it were a foreign script used to write English with, but eventually he had it.
My friend John,
I recognised you some time ago as the one who could do our story justice. Ours is not a tale to be taken lightly, and the task I appoint to you may take years to complete, but I do believe that you are the man to accomplish it.
You will have realised by now, that I am not as you are. You may think of me as Caleb Green, but my true name, as pronounced in your language, is Celebmir. Celebmir of the Galadhrim. Lord of the Wood, the Last Peredhil… these have been some of my titles over the year. Many simply call me the Green Man.
The nights of the equinox are liminal – day and night are of equal length – and then there is magic abroad, the kind that lets a young man hear the great history of Middle-earth in two days and nights and think of it as not so much as a few hours. You will not remember it all at once, but it will come back to you, waking or sleeping. And occasionally I will be here to answer questions when there is need.
In the bag I have placed a book with stories you will find of interest. I have a second book, but I think that may be more suited to another. Use this book as you will, and use it wisely, but tell no one, show no one.
Make the words inscribed therein your own, with my blessing. You are become the bard of our history; I know you will not fail me.
May the stars that shone on the hour of our meeting long continue to shine upon you.
Celebmir, Lord of the Galadhrim
Tiredness had crept up and begun to overtake him, he ached all over, his eyes stung, his body felt leaden. With trembling fingers John untied the silk cords of the parcel. Inside was a book, heavy and thick, its red leather binding cracked and dried with great age. He opened it carefully, vellum pages, handwritten in a clear very rounded hand. He turned the pages – a more cursive hand… and here… runes! He traced out a few words that made his head spin, then he closed the book slowly, ‘…no, he couldn’t read this here and now.’
He held it close for a moment, head bowed. Yet he could not resist reopening the book and running his fingers over the deeply embossed gold letters inside the front cover. The runes, as best he could make them out, read…
“…being a faithful copy of The Red Book of Westmarch…” he murmured.
His spine tingled. He did not know if he would ever be able to read all of it, but he did know that from this moment he would concentrate all the time he could on it – this would be the most important book of his studies.
He re-wrapped the heavy volume reverently, tied the cord tight and stowed it back in its bag. A great feeling of warmth and well being suffused him – and it had nothing at all to do with the policeman’s brandy.
22nd September 2008 – and incidentally… Bilbo and Frodo’s Birthday!
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.