Hidden Flame - Chapter Two
Suddenly, my vision faded. I knew, without knowing how, that Anna was dead. There was a lurch, as if something had been in delicate balance and one end had suddenly been dropped. I looked down at my feet, and instead of carpet, I saw heaving waves. I turned to look at Chris, but he was only a pale image against the vivid night sky. I began to slip, into the water. I grabbed at Chris' pale form and fell into the water.
Chris and I woke, shivering, at the same moment. We were both covered in sand and dirt. I glanced around, and to my delight the sun was rising, painting the sky with the most vivid reds and golds and lavenders I'd ever seen. The beach we were sprawled upon was a sandy white, but the sand was tinted rose. I looked around, and saw a river flowing out of a nearby forest.
"Let's follow the river inland a little." I told Chris. "Maybe we can find some drinkable water." I was still exhausted, but my need for water far overpowered my want of sleep. My weariness was so severe, I did not wonder at what had happened; nor, I believe, did Chris. About a fourth of a mile inland, we found a small, clear spring. After we quenched our thirst, we collapsed under a nearby tree. We walked for days, I lost track of how many. With each step I took, the feeling that I'd been there before increased. The berries we found tasted so reminiscent of something I knew but could not place. Chris and I did not speak much, so I did not mention this growing feeling to him. We discussed our remarkable appearance in this paradise world only once. It was then that he told me about Anna and her parents deaths.
"They told me there'd been in an accident, and were killed. When I got to your house, you were fading away." Neither of us spoke of it again. I didn't know where I was, or where I was going, except that we were following the river. It provided fish, and fresh water, but most importantly, it was upstream that I was being called: I knew, inexplicitly, that there I would find what I'd been searching for all my life. We passed many villages, but shied away from them- we did not know how we would be received; in our filthy clothes and bedraggled appearance we must have seemed frightening. Once, two villagers saw us. They started shouting and waving to others in the fields nearby. They grabbed rocks and started throwing them at us. Chris and I ran away as fast as we could. We were not followed, but we knew then that we were not welcome.
Was it days? Weeks? How long before we met another person? I know not. As we trudged on, through the now familiar morning fog, under the now familiar stars, on and on to the place that I knew. And suddenly, I was there. It was a morning, and suddenly I felt a tug at my heart. I noticed a small stream empting out into the great river we'd been following.
"Chris, let's follow this stream a little, into the forest," I asked, my eyes pleading.
"Sure." Chris knew of the growing feeling I'd had, told me to follow it. A little way in, we came across a well-traveled path. Without a word, we turned, followed it west. I knew where I was, could almost call it up, and yet couldn't. the trees-so unlike anything on our Earth! And then, through the muffling fog, I heard... horses? I could hardly believe it. But there it was again, the steady plunk-plunk of a horse clopping its way around the bend ahead of us. I tensed, and unconsciously assumed a fighter's stance, body poised on the balls of my feet. As it rounded the corner, I saw a beautiful gray horse, his rider a tall man. And yet-like no man I'd ever seen before. His skin was just a shade paler, his long blonde hair a shade finer, eyes just an infinitely small amount lighter blue-he had an otherworldly quality that befuddled the senses. The rider noticed us before we saw him. He reigned the horse to a stop and dismounted in one fluid motion. I stepped back, afraid of the look in
his eyes. The same look as the villagers-fear? Confusion? As if I was a ghost... And then, the man bowed.
"Good lady, kind sir, may I ask of you your names?" Chris stepped forward.
"I am Chris, and this is Gwyn. We are lost. Can you take us to the lord of this place?"
"That I will do. Can you ride my horse, Lady Gwyn?" I nodded and mounted. I was wary, but I knew I could trust this man. We started forward, back the way he'd come.
"Your name, sir?" I asked, struggling to remember it. I knew him.
"Of course! I am called Legolas Greenleaf, son of-" I stopped the horse, "Thrandul of Greenwood."
"Is this a joke?" I glanced at Chris. "Where are we!"
"In Ithilian, my lady. Do you not know of it?"
"Impossible! What do you want from me!" The man looked confused. He glanced at Chris, who was contemplating the scene.
"Gwyn," Chris said, "Maybe it's true." I laughed.
"It's a story, Chris. It's not real!" but something inside of me said it was. I shook myself. "You're not Legolas. He doesn't exist. This can't be true!" Chris stepped forward.
"Think about it. Is coming to another world a "real" thing?" he asked. I shook my head mutely. "But we did it, didn't we? Then is it such a hard leap to say we're in Arda?"
"I assure you, madame, I am as real as you." Legolas interjected, a slightly amused look on his face. We resumed travel in silence. Had I gone mad? Could it be? Had Tolkien somehow come here, written about what he'd seen? Could the Red Book really be translated? It was not possible, and yet I could not deny that the trees I saw, the horse under me, were real. Could it be? What blessing was this? How many people would give anything to be where I was? I turned around. Chris was explaining what had happened.
"It has been said that sometimes people come, from a place were the very stars are different." A thought surfaced then. If I could move from my apartment in England to the Bay of Belfalas, then who's to say I couldn't end up in a time different than the one Tolkien wrote about?
"Legolas," I asked, who are we going to see?" "The king Elessar, ruler of Eridor. Do you not know of him?"
"I have heard many things about Arathorn's son. How long has it been since Isldur's bane was destroyed?" Legolas shot me a quick look.
"Nigh on forty-five years ago. Eldarin, his oldest son, is now thirty-seven."
"What of his daughters?" Another strange look. "Of the three remaining daughters, Elena and Arieal are married to princes, and Anyia is a priestess."
"Remaining?" I asked, my curiosity piqued.
"The youngest, Melyanna, disappeared when she was a year old. Many count her as dead, and yet some people still say she will return one day. Maybe she will. Maybe," he added, "She has." He would say no more.
The fog lifted, and I drank in the sight of fair Ithilen. I finally felt like I was home. I belonged here. We slept that evening under the stars, full for the first time in weeks from the meal of roast rabbit Legolas caught. I felt safe, and yet... watched. As I was eating, I looked up and caught the elf's eyes on me. I smiled tentivly. He was searching for something...what was it? He rose abruptly and turned to Chris.
"Are you at all acquainted with the sword?"
"I've used training foils, not real blades," Chris answered. I rose.
"Chris and Anna and I..." I felt a sharp stabbing pain at the mention of my friend's name, but pushed it aside. I would grieve later. "We took fencing lessons."
"Would you like to test your skills?" Legolas asked
politely. I nodded and took the blade. The familiar feeling spread through my body. I'd done this before.
*A chubby little hand clutched a wooden sword... A kindly face, showing the steps...*
I shook aside the vision, stepping into position. I balanced my weight evenly on my toes, my knees slightly bent. I did not know how they fought on Arda, but I turned to my side, limiting the vulnerable area my opponent could hit. Legolas nodded in approval, and assumed a similar stance. We crossed blades, and then began. I struck and he easily glanced aside the blow. Quickly, but not as fast as I knew he could be, he returned the strike. I parried that with little difficulty and attacked in earnest. I do not think he was expecting the strength of the blows that followed. He struck again, harder. The impact was staggering, but I steeled my arms and lifted my blade, sweeping up and around in a left butterfly cut. The elf backed away, parrying the blow. The move was and advanced one. I swung into the mirror cut. He parried and I stuck, He struck and I parried, around and around till I was breathing hard. The elf closed in and I backed up...against a tree. His face was inches above mine. We were both gasping for breath. He looked in my eyes for the longest moment... and then my knee was up, throwing him back. I stepped forward and rested my sword in the "kill" position on his throat. I paused for a moment, aghast. Then I laughed and helped him up.
"You were better." I said apagogically.
"But you won. Do you know why?" I shook my head. "You thought faster. And that is something no master, however skilled, can teach. I bowed, and yawned.
"Thank you." I smiled, and yawned again. I slept in Legolas' make-shift tent, and the men slept outside, near the fire. I'd been camping once before, with the Joneses. Each of us had a small, neon yellow tent in the national campground. I remembered, rather distantly, the air mattress I'd slept on then-Legolas's tent, made of a tough, shiny colored-colored material, and was much less sophisticated and yet far more comfortable. I lifted the corner and glanced around. Chris was asleep; Legolas was standing at the edge of the clearing. His arms were lifted to the sky. Pale, long fingered hands held palms raised up, as if in supplication. He began to speak, and I crawled out quietly, standing as he did. I sang with him.
Ai Elberith, Gilthroniel!
Silivern penna miriel
O merel aglor elenath!
Fanuibs, le linnanotren
nef aear, si nef aearon.
Legolas turned, saw me singing. He beckoned, and I came to stand beside him. "You're crying." he told me, tracing the trail of tears down my cheek.
"I remember this, and I don't know why." I explained. "It frightens me."
"Maybe the King can help clarify your thoughts."