Meg shifted in her saddle and rubbed her eyes. She could hardly believe it, hardly believe that she had actually found it! But whatever it was, here it was - just as Gene had said it would be, and just as they had seen all those months ago…
"Do you see it?" he pointed down through the little plane's windows.
Meg did her best to follow the path his finger indicated; and there certainly was something amongst the leaves of the trees below. "This is a pretty deep ravine, Gene. What do you suppose it is?"
"I'm thinking buildings - maybe a settlement." She could hear the growing excitement in his voice. "Those look like tiles - the roof is tiled and covered with lichen. God only knows how old it is. Hang on, let's make just one more pass."
"If someone's living down there, they're going to wonder what we're doing," she warned, although it was difficult to imagine anyone living full time in the pristine wilderness of the Caledonian Forest. "How the Hell did you find this?"
"Search and rescue last year; a fella and his brother were lost along one of the hiking trails up here for almost a week. I flew this grid for hours, and only just happened to glance down in time to see the roof." Gene banked the plane gently, something for which Meg was deeply grateful. He knew how much she truly distrusted flying. "I noted the exact coordinates; and then after I got back to base, did some research and found the ravine in the satellite geological surveys."
Meg stared down as the little plane made one more pass over the ravine. Yes, that definitely had the look of civilization - perhaps an estate. She could almost make out the shapes of the buildings themselves, now that she knew what to look for. "So now what?"
"I'm thinking horses," he began, nosing the plane back out of the ravine and now banking in the direction of the airstrip where he had kept his plane for almost the entire decade that he'd lived in this part of Scotland. "According to the government, nobody lives in this part of the park - nobody's supposed to be in there without permission at all - and there's no mention of buildings or permits to build up here. Then again, this is a fairly remote area; I'd be willing to bet that nobody's been up here to see in all this time."
"And you intend to check it out for them," Meg chuckled at him. Her brother was such a little boy about things every once in a while. She promised herself that she would be there when he went back, knowing he would - if for no other reason than to drink with him when he discovered that his imagination had once more run away with him.
Gene gifted her with his toothiest grin, the one he used on her when she'd caught him out. "You know me, Meggie. I love mysteries. I just gotta know what's going on down there, and you know you do too. Nobody will even know we'd been out there. We'll have fun - you'll see - next year, when you come over..."
But he hadn't made it back to the ravine - and never would.
The drunk who had sped through the stop sign in the middle of town two months later had taken away his grin, his laugh, his annoying sense of humor and his eccentricities; but worst of all, deprived her of her best friend. With both their parents already dead and Gene's wife fled to her parents' home in London with their only child, Meg was left alone after the funeral, not ready to head back to the States and her dead-end job as a legal secretary. It had taken time, but she'd eventually decided to make the trek into the forest for the both of them. It was one last thing that she could do for him.
And now, here she was, sitting on a horse across what had proven to be a sheer cut into the mountainside by the roaring river below from buildings that could clearly be discerned through the trees and overgrowth in the high, noonday sun. Meg reached into the breast pocket of the flannel shirt she'd worn against both morning chill and direct sunlight to pull out her small digital camera. The view across the ravine was dramatic, and the buildings seemed to blend so well into their setting as to be almost organic themselves. No one would believe her if she didn't take pictures.
That done, she studied the path ahead of her, and the narrow bridge that arched so gracefully over the chasm between the winding path that had taken her over half a day to follow down one cliff face and the buildings across the way. The sides were of stone, and looked intact and stable; but as she clicked at her mount to walk closer, she discovered that the span itself was wooden - and looked worn. She dismounted, tucked the reins of her mount between two boulders at the side of the path, and then walked up to the edge of the wooden bridge. A tentative probing of the wood revealed it to be firm, and no sound of creaking could be heard.
Meg took a deep breath and stepped out onto the bridge, which remained solid beneath her feet. Each step was a three-stage affair, testing the next plank one by one, stepping on it, then waiting to see if it remained sturdy. By the time she'd made the middle of the bridge and nothing had even remotely seemed insecure, she began walking slowly forward. When she reached the other side of the bridge, she turned immediately and walked back to where she'd left her mount.
Once more with slow steps, cautious because of the extra weight, she led the animal across the bridge. Safely on solid ground again, she remounted and moved forward at a pace that was far calmer than she was. The path wound back away from the river and then through a stone gate.
Only then did she begin to get an appreciation for what she'd found, for she quickly found herself in an open area surrounded on three sides by silent stone walls. Ancient oak trees grew along them, nearly obscuring the stonework with leaves starting to turn as autumn slowly crept up into the Highlands. But most impressive, and totally unexpected, was the unimposing façade of the building that made the fourth side; a low portico spanning the entire breadth supported by delicate pillars of stone that looked to have been carved to look like young tree trunks. The courtyard - for that was what it must have been at one time - looked unkempt, with leaves and other plant detritus clumped at the bases of the ancient trees and next to the steps up to the portico.
It was funny, but Meg got the feeling that she was being watched, that perhaps somewhere in this to all intents and purposes completely abandoned and derelict place, someone was watching her every move. She slowly dismounted and once more shifted her sunglasses to the top of her head. "Hello?" she called out, not really expecting much of an answer.
"Oh, Gene, I wish you were here!" she sighed sotto voce, getting the same feeling that she did when speaking a little too loudly in a church. For the first time, she wondered if she were intruding - venturing someplace where she wasn't truly welcome - and it made her hesitant to go exploring. "Hello the house!" she called again, wincing as the sound of her voice acted like a pebble tossed into the middle of a peaceful pond.
Still, after no response or hint of sound or movement behind the darkened windows that looked out onto the courtyard, Meg was able to reclaim a little of her courage. She affixed the reins of her mount to the outstretched hand of a carved maiden who seemed to be waiting for her to do just that, and studied the frozen face as she did.
The maiden seemed to smile sweetly back at her, with long hair tossed back over her shoulder, her outstretched hand an obvious gesture of welcome, and a flowing dress that reached to mid-calf and left a delicate pair of feet and ankles exposed. Meg sniffed in admiration. The artist that had left this little treasure out, open to the elements, had been very talented. Determined to document everything she possibly could about this place, she hauled her camera out of her pocket and took pictures from several angles.
She looped the wriststrap of the camera over her hand and moved up the low steps. These steps had been well-used, for there was an indentation where thousands of feet had stepped in nearly the same places over the years. She turned and spared another quick glance at Sadie, her mare; but Sadie looked perfectly contented and safe in the hands of the stone maiden.
No furniture littered the portico; only a few stray leaves that had been blown into the shelter of the roof huddled against the walls of the building itself. Meg dared to step to one side and try to peek into one of the windows.
The glass, she discovered, was wavy, in the manner of truly ancient glass displayed carefully in museum settings. The function of the glass, back in those days, had been more the simple letting in of light rather than allowing one to gaze unimpeded either in or out. The many small pits and distortions made anything she might have discerned inside indistinguishable. She sighed. If she wanted to get a look at the condition of the interior, she would have to actually enter the building.
The door was massive, and decorated from top to bottom with an intricate bas relief of a forest scene. There were people portrayed as well: tall, slender, garbed in what looked to be medieval robes. The woman wore her hair loose and very long, and the man had hair almost as long and yet caught about the forehead with what looked like a thin band. A crown? Both held their hands out in a welcoming gesture.
Meg put her hand on the carved handle and then let her fingertips admire the smoothness of the wood. This was the polish of extended use, not the artificial smoothness of polyurethane or other chemicals; one could not mistake the one for the other. She gave a small shove, fully expecting the door to be frozen in place; and then nearly tripped and fell on her face when instead the door moved inward easily on utterly silent hinges, giving her a first glimpse into the darkened inside of the building.
If she had thought that it would smell dusty and old inside, as if it hadn't been opened in a very long time, she was mistaken; the foyer just inside the door smelled very much as the courtyard had: fresh, with a hint of pine from the forest. The room just through a simple arch from she had entered was dimly lit by the windows facing the courtyard, and better lit by windows that faced in the opposite direction. From the abundance of indistinguishable green through the warped glass, she guessed that the windows looked out into a west-facing garden that was still lit by the afternoon sun.
What few furnishings she could see were pulled against the walls, as if the owner had anticipated this part of the building being often the site of large gatherings. Meg walked across what seemed to be smooth stone - the echo of her soft footsteps louder than she would have liked - to gaze down at a carved bench near the larger garden window. The wood, once more, was use-polished, although the carvings in the arms and at the feet of the bench less so. Meg's eyes opened wide when she realized that, for an abandoned, derelict building, there was a surprising lack of dust and cobwebs. The windows were clean and clear - except for the occlusions that were the fault of age, not dirt and dust.
Her heart began to pound. This place was not abandoned, as both she and Gene had assumed. Someone was here.
"I'm sorry... I thought…" She began sputtering excuses, her eyes darting to the darkened passages that led deeper into the place, and then spun on her heels to retreat out the way she'd come in. Her movement, however, came to a screeching halt as she saw the very tall figure of a man standing directly in front of the door: a man wearing robes very similar to the ones in the bas relief on the door itself. He was incredibly tall, with very long and silver hair that must have streamed down his back. Slowly, as if with great deliberation, he crossed his arms over his chest.
Meg threw up her hands defensively and backed up a step. "I'm really very sorry. This place looked…" The expression on the man's face had not altered from the stony, cautious look he'd had at their first glance. "Please…" She gestured at the door, which still stood open. "I'll go, go and never come back. I won't say a word about this place or you…" Her words were having no affect on him whatsoever; and a trickle of very real fear slithered up her spine, raising the gooseflesh on her arms and the hair at the back of her neck. What had she gotten herself into?
The man's eyes flicked in the direction of the door. Meg had to swallow a whimper of horror when he slowly turned and with great deliberation closed the door. She was trapped, with no idea what to expect from the tenant of this amazing hidden retreat.
Whatever else, she didn't expect him to walk past her and then halt again, with a hand outstretched in the direction of one of the darkened doorways. "You want me to go that way?" she asked in a frightened voice, pointing the same direction he had.
The silvered head nodded just enough to tell her that was exactly what he wanted. Why would he not speak?
The arm stayed outstretched; and while the expression on the man's face remained stony and impenetrable, it didn't become any more threatening than before. He just nodded again, signaling with his nose where he wished her to go.
Very slowly, very reluctantly, Meg did as she was bid. As she walked past the man, she nearly jumped out of her skin when his large hand moved to cradle her elbow and very gently urge her to a little more speed. Her gaze flitted in terror to his face again, but she quickly looked away in confusion when she found herself drowning in a shining grey gaze that seemed to pierce to the very bottom of her soul.
"Ibeston," the man prounounced in a deep voice that sounded like the pealing of a very large bell.
"Gesundheit," she responded almost automatically, still afraid to look him in the eye again. In order to cover her fear, she walked just a little faster into the gloom, hoping that by doing so, he would release his hold on her. To her dismay, however, his pace sped with hers, and his hold on her elbow remained constant but secure.
With a gentle tug, he turned her to the left, and Meg found herself walking down another corridor that was lined on the right wall with more of the warped and distorted windows that opened onto a sunlit green. Was that the same garden that the other windows showed? Did this building - she wasn't even certain it was a residence anymore - form a square with a garden placed in the center of it? She would have leaned forward to try to see more clearly, but her guardian - her captor - was a tall and substantial obstacle.
A push, this time to the left, steered her away from the illuminating windows and through another darker portal and into a short corridor that opened into a huge space dominated by a massive hearth set into the far end. Along the walls, which were lined with windows that stretched from ceiling to floor, were situated more benches and a few leather-covered chairs that looked as if they might actually be comfortable. Considering what Meg could remember of Scottish winters while visiting Gene before his marriage, she imagined that the huge hearth would get good use in the near future. Even the nights at this time of year could get quite chilly.
Her guardian spared her not a single glance, but led her across the empty space and to a doorway to the left of the hearth. Meg was astonished to find herself in a rather rustic looking dining hall, with a few trestle tables and their accompanying benches looked use-polished and remarkably dust-free. She glance around herself as much as she dared, wondering if the number of seats available at those tables were an indication of the number of people who lived in this strange place.
Through another door, and they were in a kitchen that seemed just as rustic as the dining hall they had left. Another huge hearth sat at the far end, only this one was most definitely lit and in use. Arms of metal dangled at various heights from the blaze, one with a metal pot from which interesting and savory smells were wafting. Stirring the pot was a tall and thin woman, her very long and dark hair braided into a single long queue that dangled well past her waist at the back. Next to her, smiling and evidently chatting, was another man, this time garbed in what seemed to be an earthen-toned home-spun robe. His hair was a non-descript brown and hung in waves to just past his shoulders, and his beard was well-trimmed, although longer than most Meg had seen.
Startled grey eyes looked at her from beneath heavy brown brows that had risen dramatically at her entrance. The smile wavered a little, and then re-established itself quite firmly, with an element of joy to it. "Well, well," he chuckled in a beautiful baritone that held a lilt that was definitely not the customary Scottish brogue, "who do we have here?"
Meg's guardian tugged at her elbow and, once he had reclaimed her attention, pointed at a smaller table with chairs that was situated nearby. "Havo, ibeston le," he intoned, pulling out one of the chairs.
Guessing that he wanted her to be seated, she again did as directed, flashing the brown man a worried glance.
The moment she was sitting, her guardian launched into a rapid-fire monologue directed at the other man; although the woman at the hearth gave a quick bow and moved from tending her pot to gathering items and bringing them to the table: a loaf of bread whose freshness wafted easily up from the wooden cutting board into Meg's nose and made her stomach growl, a small bowl of berries that looked freshly-picked, another small bowl that was filled with some substance she couldn't identify, a mug, a plate and small knife. A few moments later, the woman had filled a ceramic pitcher with clear water from a barrel and placed that on the table as well.
Meg stared at the bounty spread before her, then at her guardian, who with a graceful gesture made plain that she was to help herself, and then she finally turned a puzzled look to the brown man. "I'm… I'm a trespasser, caught breaking in, and he's feeding me?"
"It has been a long… long time… that we have not seen strangers in our midst," the brown man chuckled again and moved to claim one of the remaining chairs, "but the traditions of this House are venerable and to be honored regardless. No one who finds this place is refused shelter." He sat and watched her for a long moment, during which Meg didn’t dare move. "Go ahead," he urged, his lilt almost musical, "this repast is for you."
With a shaking hand, Meg took a few of the berries and put them on her plate and then sipped cautiously at the water in the mug, only to find it sweet and almost cold. "Who… what is… I'm confused."
The tall man settled himself in the remaining chair with an astonishing grace, and the woman seemed to bustle about the kitchen to supply him with the same dining equipment as had been placed before Meg. He stated something in that musical language that held no resemblance at all to anything spoken by the natives in the villages nearby as he deftly sliced himself a thick slab of the bread and then revealed the unknown substance in the second small bowl as honey. Then, waving his doctored bread, he gestured, obviously telling the man in brown to relay his words.
The man in brown asked a quick question, and then nodded at the curt response. "He wishes to know how you have found this place."
Meg carefully set the mug back down on the table and directed her comments to her mysterious guardian. "My… my brother and I saw it… from the air." She waved a pointing finger in a small circle over her head. "We decided to come investigate what he thought were ruins."
No sooner had the words left her lips but the brown man was speaking in that musical tongue. Immediately her silver-haired captor asked something else, and then gestured for his words to be translated. He looks as if he's someone used to calling the shots, Meg thought to herself with a shudder.
"And where is your brother? Is he elsewhere on the grounds?"
She shook her head. "No. I'm alone."
Grey eyes from both men studied her face with a sharp intelligence that looked to miss very little. "Your brother did not accompany you after all?" was the next translated question.
"My brother is dead." Meg couldn't help the flat tone in her voice. It still hurt to even think that she would never hear Gene's laugh, or be the butt of one of his jokes…
The expression on the face of the man who had been her captor and guardian changed immediately as her answer was translated. The stony look vanished, and she found herself looking at deep compassion and concern. The question uttered then was one couched in worried tones. "Did he suffer mishap on your journey here? Should we send for help to fetch him?" the brown man translated urgently.
Meg shook her head and closed her eyes. "No. He died long before I came looking for these buildings. I just…" She wiped at the tears that never failed to slip onto her cheeks when she thought about Gene for long. "He was so excited and intrigued when he saw your roof; and he wanted so badly to see just what was going on here. I came because… because I know he wanted to come."
She was startled when the huge hand that had taken control of her elbow earlier reached out and gently covered her hand for a moment as it rested on the table. The deep bell-like voice chimed again. "Then we share in your grief, Lady, and are glad that you are come in his memory," the brown man quickly translated.
The statement was both a comfort and a cause for confusion. "Glad?" Meg turned to the brown man.
He smiled at her. "This place has always been a refuge, ever since its founding. While we do not often entertain guests anymore, we still honor the old ways. And while we are… surprised… that you found your way here, the tradition is that all those who manage to make their way here are never turned away. Please…" he gestured to the table and its contents, "eat a bit, while Norwen makes arrangements for your stay with us."
Meg's eyes widened. "But… I don't want to intrude, or be a…"
"Nonsense! We are honored to be allowed to once more serve our purpose in the world."
"But…" She frowned. "But… What is this place? Who are you people?"
The brown man nodded wryly. "Yes. I suppose introductions are in order, are they not? This," he gestured at the tall, silver-haired aristocrat seated at the table with her, "is Lord Celeborn, also known as The Wise." The tall man nodded at her, probably guessing the substance of the English and yet relinquishing not a bit of his regal bearing. "The lady preparing the evening meal, who is no longer here while she arranges for chambers for you, is Norwen. My name, in the Grey Tongue, is Radagast - although you may call me Wendell, as many of those in the villages do. It comes from one of my other names."
"I'm Meg - Meg Litten," she returned with a shy smile. His "other" names? How many names does he have?
Wendell looked around the kitchen, his gaze obviously meant to indicate the entire settlement, and then back down at her with warmth and friendliness. "Well then, Meg Litten, welcome to Imladris."
A/N: For those looking for a Sindarin vocabulary list, there won't be one. The reader will be introduced to the language as Meg is. Hang in there. Understanding will come.
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.