Eli had put on The Fellowship of the Ring! Of all the stupid, incosiderate things, James was fuming. The title screen was just fading from view, replaced by the forging of the One Ring. Just as Galadriel said, “Three were given to the elves…” he hit the power button. James leaned his head against the cabinet, trying to compose himself.
“I….” a small voice spoke behind him. James turned, and the look on Naira’s face was gut-wrenching. Eli looked confused, and James knew he clearly didn’t see what he had done wrong. Naira spoke again, “I don’t understand.” Her voice was pained, for Naira was straining to hold her composure together. She looked at James, her eyes flooded with disbelief and tears she losing the battle to contain. I have to tell her, James realized.
“Eli, I need you to order a pizza or something -“
“A what?” She cut him off. Naira practically leapt of the couch, her body rigid. “Nothing here makes sense. You have all these odd words, and technologies that I have never even begun to think possible! And then, just when I am starting to think there is a mere semblance of sanity, you show me this – this pretend movie! Elvish isn’t pretend, that is what I speak! And the One Ring…” A sob choked her, reducing her tirade to tears and a rapidly breaking heart.
James stepped forward to try and console her, to make her understand. She flinched, and stepped back towards the couch. “Fetch me my garments, sir.” Naira’s voice was regal, it held a note of gravity he hadn’t heard in it before.
“But, why? Naira, I can explain!”
“Explain? You have laughed at me since I arrived. I think I understand now.” She looked at him like she might an insect on her food. “Here, in this Michigan of yours, elves are looked down on. We are a laughing matter. And your friend here shows me this mockery.” Naira walked up to James, and in a steely voice commanded, “Fetch me my clothes James, or I will hurt you. I want nothing to do with these hobbit-rags anymore! I am leaving.”
She tried to step past him, but James put an arm out to stop her. Naira turned on him, her eyes darkening with rage. The air between them was thick with electricity and unspent fury. James wanted desperately to hold her, to comfort her. Naira was dying inside. Gandalf had sent her to the worst place on Middle-earth, she was sure.
“Naira, I want to explain this to you. I need you to calm down.” The look in his warm eyes was sincere, the same trusting look that had been there when he had offered to help her. Something within her snapped, and she felt herself grow weak. She nodded feebly and didn’t try to fight the strong arms that encircled her. I couldn’t imagine going through this, he thought in despair.
Eli felt like the world’s biggest creep. As soon as he had seen James’s face, he realized his mistake. All I can do now, he thought, is make it easier for him to explain this. Trying not to disturb the two others, he slipped upstairs and got James’s copy of LOTR. As though he walked on eggshells, he approached the elf and his best friend. James seemed to be holding Naira up, her face was ashen and her eyes closed.
He caught James’s eye, and pointed to the book. He then placed it on the back of the nearest couch and retreated into the kitchen. He knew he was supposed to do something, but how could he focus when he may have just destroyed Naira’s entire existence? He fell into a chair and lost himself in his regret.
Naira was trying desperately to not think about what she had seen on the screen or how confused she was. Where was she? She didn’t notice James’s arm loosening and one of his large hands slipping into hers. He walked over and picked up the book and then led her out through the back porch onto the beach. Naira followed him as though she was a zombie. His mind was racing. How do I even begin? How is she going to react to this? He looked at Naira over his shoulder. Her eyes were still dark yet unfocused. It is up to me to protect her, he realized, and I am going to. But first, he thought, I have to be honest.
James stopped walking about six feet from the water, and asked her to sit down. She did so, her movement had some uncharacteristic roughness that bothered him. She was usually as fluid as water. He sat down Indian-style next to her, and placed the book carefully down in the sand on the opposite side of her. He reached out and took both of her hands in his. He marveled at their smoothness and at the way her veins were clearly visible through her glowing translucent skin. She was truly beautiful in her own way.
“Naira, I need you to look at me.” She didn’t, for her attention was still elsewhere. He bit the inside of his lip, discouraged. You have to do this, you have to… he was telling himself over and over. James placed a hand on her cheek and leaned in closer to her face. “Look at me Naira Cemendur.”
Now his voice held the authority and drew her attention. Her green eyes were so forlorn when they met his that James almost forgot what he wanted to say. He took a deep breath before beginning.
“You are incredibly brave, I know. You haven’t even known me for a day and already I can tell that you are intelligent, skilled and…. well, you know that you’re beautiful.” Naira looked at him in shock. Beautiful? No one in her entire thousand years of life had ever called her that. Not her parents, not Encaitar, and definitely not Oricon and Ainon. Why did this man think she was? “You are incredible, Naira. I need you to listen to me though, just listen for now. I have to say some things that may be hard for you to hear, but you have to… I need to know that you understand what I just said.”
James had Naira’s undivided attention. She nodded, trying to fight back the bittersweet feelings she had inside her. He was trying to explain and make her understand this madness, but he had called her beautiful! Her, plain Naira Cemendur.
“I am listening, James.” She said this softly, which encouraged him. He began talking, never taking his eyes off of hers. For a little over two hours he talked about his reality. James told her about fiction, the Earth, and many other little tangents. He was thorough and caring, and she bore it all. James then held out the book to her, and flipped through it, reading sections of it and explaining about the movie. He talked about the sword, and tried to make her understand why he had been so amused by her questions all day. Naira said not a word, her face sullen and sad. Every so often, a look of comprehension flashes across it.
“I know that you exist,” he said earnestly, “I can touch you and see you. You know that I am real too. The fact of the matter is that you are no longer in Middle-earth, but Earth. We are all mortals here, not elves or dwarves or dark lords. That doesn’t mean that magic doesn’t exist though. Your being here proves that. We don’t need to know why you are here, you just are. You wear Narya, or it’s twin. That proves that you are something special, Naira. You are destined for great things and somehow I stumbled into you path. I want to help you still, if you will let me. I will try and teach you our language and history. I want you to do the same. I want to understand you. I will share this road with you, and take it wherever it may lead.” He laughed softly and said, “Narya rests on your heart, doesn’t it? It shows the passion, the fire that you have for life.”
Now it was her turn to laugh. “That, James of West Carlisle, is the first statement that I can fully understand.” A pitiful smile painted her lips. “My name means heart of flame.”
His smile spread from ear to ear, and he took both her hands in his again. She looked out to the lake and sighed. It was the sweetest sound that James had ever heard.
“Are you alright?” he asked with care. The emerald orbs of her eyes were suddenly overwhelming him, and he knew that he would be haunted by them for the rest of his days.
“I will be, but I need you to help me.” Her voice was shaky, and he leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead without thinking. She froze again, every muscle seemed to tense. “Help me,” she said icily, “but never try to be so bold with me again.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that!” But she was already walking back to the house, holding the book. He leaned back onto his elbows and stretched out his legs.
“Well,” he said to no one in particular, “I don’t think I am going to relax much for awhile. But at least I won’t have to think about Lena.” With that, he stood up and brushed off his shorts. Hobbit clothes, he thought, chuckling to himself. The dying rays of the sun made Naira’s hair burn ahead of him a brilliant gold. James shook his head, and followed his new friend back to the house.