The sun came in through the window and peeked at her, brightening the room with warm, golden rays. She opened her eyes and winced, for the area around her bed was bathed in a near-blinding aura of sunlight.
Camio swore sleepily at the sun, and turned to look at the radio-alarm clock on her bedside table. It read: 8:02 a.m., Sunday, 30th of February 2000.
Wait a minute.
There wasn’t any 30th of February! And today isn’t Sunday, she thought. It’s Wednesday the 1st of March! She started panicking. I’m late for school! Mom’s going to kill me!!
“Mom?” “MOM?!” No answer. She called her sister’s name, but also to no avail. Camio searched the house and discovered it was empty of any sign of life.
She looked out of the window. The car was still in the porch. There was no one in the streets. Suddenly she realised what had been bugging her since she woke up – there was complete silence. No sound at all. To her horror, she grasped that everybody in her whole neighbourhood had disappeared.
Then she remembered……
“Yes, Aunt Margaret?”
“Get your lazy bum over here and help me knead the dough!”
“Yes, Aunt Margaret.”
“What is it, Cousin Alicia?”
“I spilled my nail polish!! Come and wipe it up!!!”
Sigh… Another day of slavery at Aunt Margaret’s place. It was the 29th of February, and also Cousin Alicia’s 16th birthday. Since Alicia only celebrated her birthday once every four years, the celebrations were always lavish. Worse, Camio, being one of the youngest, was always expected to run around serving the family like a slave.
They didn’t even remember my birthday last December, she thought bitterly. Let alone throw me a party like this. Fat hope, Camio. Don’t dream of getting even a card end of this year.
“CAMIO!!” That hated voice broke through her thoughts. “Stop daydreaming, you lazy girl! Go get the umbrellas!
“Umbrellas?” She treats me like a servant, as if I’m not her very own niece!
Aunt Margaret gave her a push. “Yes! You stupid birdbrain! Can’t you see it’s raining outside? We’ve got relatives arriving for the party. Go take the umbrellas from them.” As if they’re not MY relatives too… Camio thought as she hurriedly obeyed her aunt’s orders, lest she earn another slap for tardiness.
Sigh. Why must they all come at the same time? She despaired of ever learning how to handle two full armloads of umbrellas and opening the heavy, over-ornate veneer front door at the same time.
“Don’t worry Camio, I’ll help you.” It was Vella, their family’s maid for about thirty-odd years. Well into her fifties, Vella had always been there for Camio. “Thank you, Vella.”
Camio gasped as she caught sight of a tall boy at the back of the group. He looked – vaguely familiar, with wavy brown hair and warm, serious eyes. And he was the most attractive person she’d ever seen in her whole life.
“That’s your mother’s third cousin’s son you’re gaping at. My, I haven’t seen him since he was no taller than my elbow. Seems like Margaret wants to show her daughter off to the best looking boy in the family, now that she’s grown up. Come to think about it, methinks his got the same birthday as you. You’re born on the twenty-second of December, aren’t you?” Camio smiled. Trust Vella to know everything about everybody.
Suddenly, there was a pig-like squeal from behind them. “Anthonyy!!!” Alicia rushed past them and enveloped the boy in a possessive, dominating hug. There was a very audible groan from Vella. “Seems like both mother and daughter have their sights set on the poor fellow.”
Camio studied him, convinced that she had seen him somewhere before. He wasn’t terribly good-looking, but there was something about the way he carried himself that made him stand out like a beacon in the dark.
Camio nearly dropped the umbrellas when Anthony turned his gaze on her, and she could feel the hidden strength behind his eyes. She shuddered and tried to look away, but he held her. Then he relaxed and smiled, and Camio found herself wondering how she could have thought him dangerous and powerful.
“Shoo, you little nitwit! Don’t you dare look at my Anthony.” Alicia hissed furiously at Camio as she walked past.
Anthony gave her an apologetic shrug. “I’m sorry, but – is she always like that?” Vella cut in and replied, “She has been so since she was born.”
“Oh, then I should try to keep my distance, don’t you think? See you later, Camio. Maybe we can sit together at dinnertime.” Camio could only splutter and stare after him. Am I falling for him? she wondered.
“Well, it seems like the young man is as taken with you as you are with him,” Vella grinned.
At dinnertime, her Aunt Margaret banished her into the kitchen to eat alone. Anthony brought her some supper afterwards.
“I say, did you get sent in here because of me?” he asked gently.
“No, they always treat me like this. Oh, thanks,” she said when he handed her a couple of pears.
“But you’re family! How can they do that!” he nearly choked with outrage.
“Try telling that to them. They regard me as the lowest of the low. Why do you think I dread coming here? The strangest thing is that they absolutely adore my little sister.”
“And your parents? Do they think of you like this, too?”
“No, But Aunt Margaret is the oldest in the family, and Mom wants to please her.”
“But this is literally child abuse!” Anthony had stood up and was nearly yelling at the top of his voice. Camio stared at him helplessly, wishing he would change the subject. He must have seen the look on her face, for his expression softened, and he sat down.
“I’m sorry. Am I upseting you?” She shook her head. “Let’s just change the subject.”
“Yes, isn’t your birthday on the 22nd of December?” she asked shyly.
“Yes, how did you know?” “It’s my birthday too.” “Oh, my goodness, I can’t believe that!” The expression on his face was astonished. She laughed; “I turned fifteen last year. You must be a year older than me.”
They talked for quite some time, until Alicia screeched for Anthony. He grimaced.
“Oops, she’s calling for me. I’d better go and see what is it she wants.”
“Why must you go?”
“Because Aunt Margaret wants me to marry her when we’re older. I’m trying to convince Alicia that I’m a total nutcase.” He grinned. “See ya.”
She did not see him again that night.
In her bed, she sighed and wished she could just get away from her family. If only I could have some time to myself. Just one day of freedom from being pushed around like a pawn on a chessboard, with no control of my life. Or maybe to escape into a book like J.R.,R, Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings or David Eddings’ Belgariad.
Maybe her wish had come true! And she had really been released from her family! For one day at least… I’m going to enjoy myself. The only flaw is that Anthony isn’t here.
Camio quickly changed and went downstairs. She grabbed a bag of food and opened the front door.
Instantly, everything changed.
She was walking in the most beautiful woods she’d ever seen in her life. There was something strange about these trees, as if they were alive and conversing with each other. It didn’t help that the sunlight filtering through the leafy, dark green foliage made her surroundings seem enchanted, almost ethereal. She recognised some trees as birches, largely because her geography teacher had mentioned that birches had white branches and barks.
Where am I? she wondered. There was a sound of someone behind her.
“Arwen, Beloved, we must make ready. The Lady Galadriel would have us break fast with her.” Camio whirled around, and to her amazement, Anthony was standing in front of her. “Anthony! What are you doing here?” Strange, he looks so much older. And so different…
“Why do you hail me as “Antoni”, Arwen? You know very well I am called Aragorn. Come, or we will be late and Lady Galadriel would be displeased with me.”
“Wha… what?! My name’s Camio, not Arwen! What’s wrong with you, Anthony? Why are you talking like this…” She started spluttering but he had around her shoulder and was now drawing her towards some huge oak trees in the distance. To her utter horror, she suddenly knew where she was.
Few weeks ago, she had read The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. It was one of the best books she’d ever read. One of the heroes in it was called Aragorn… she was in the beautiful heart of elvendom on earth!
It suddenly dawned upon her why Anthony had seemed so familiar. He looked a younger version of the Aragorn she had formed in her mind while reading the book!
Uh, oh… I’m in deep trouble…
She gasped in amazement as Aragorn led her into a low, sprawling building. From outside it looked warm and homely, draped in lush, green foliage; but inside…
Camio found herself looking at the most beautiful dinning hall she’d ever seen in her whole life. There was a long, long table right in the middle of the hall. Seated, perhaps according to rank, was about 100 people. They had pointed upswept ears with no lobes and delicate striking features. They must be elves… she thought. And their clothes… they wore beautifully tailored garments of a strange fashion that seemed to shine from an unknown source.
At the head of the table sat a strong wise lord, and by his side, an exquisite lady of stunning countenance. Camio gave a start when she realised those lovely deep eyes where looking straight at her. This must be the Lady Galadriel that Anthony/Aragorn keeps talking about…
The lord stood up and said in his deep, booming voice: “Let us welcome to this sacred meal, Arwen Undomiel, the Evenstar of our people, and also Aragorn, who is called Estel, Hope, Lord of the Dunedain of the North.
To Camio’s surprise, every elf in the room stood and bowed. “Greetings, Celeborn, Lord of the Elves and Lady Galadriel, Elf Queen. I thank thee for thy hospitality,” Aragorn intoned formally.
Aragorn brought them to their places besides Celeborn and Galadriel. Camio was stunned, for she expected to be seated at the very end.
All at once, the elves fell on to their food. Even though she was not hungry, Camio found herself relishing every morsel. The food was exquisite.
Aragorn offered her a plate of small golden-brown loaves. She shook her head, indicating she had already eaten way too much. He smiled, “Try it. Trust me, it’s wonderful and also freshly come from the elven bakers’ oven.” She took a piece and bit into it, trying to imagine what it would taste like. She gasped. It was lovely. The crisp crust concealed a delicious filling that melted in her mouth.
Later that night, Aragorn accompanied her to her room. He gently grasped her by the shoulders and asked, “Is something the matter, Beloved? You were very dazed just now, as if your memory has fled…”
“I’m not sure, Aragorn. If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me.” “I will always believe your words,” he reassured her. “Let us take a walk on Cerin Amroth.”
On the fair hill Aragorn had called Cerin Amroth, Camio’s breath was taken away again when she saw the delicate elanor and niphredil flowers. She blushed and was glad it was long after twilight when Aragorn placed a lovely golden elanor in her hair.
“What is it that is bothering you, Arwen?” Aragorn gently enquired, concerned.
Camio calmed herself and told him everything. Aragorn listened gravely and when she had finished, he asked, “What will you do?”
“I don’t know, Aragorn. I must find a way to get back to my world.”
“Do you remember where you first appeared in this place?”
“I think I remember… It was where you found me this afternoon. So you do believe me now?” He nodded. “However unlikely your tale might be, I will always trust you. I did notice a change in you earlier in the day, a younger, different cast to your face perhaps. That said, this world is always full of enchantments… The birch woods we were in are not far from here. Let us go there and see for ourselves, Arwen.”
“I have told you so many times that my name is Camio, not Arwen.” He shot her a strange look. “What an unusual name,” he murmured.
It must have been almost onto midnight when they entered the woods, but it was still quite light under the trees. Camio guessed the moon was showing its big, round face that night, for how else could the woods be so bright at this unearthly hour?
Aragorn stopped. “Is this where you were a few hours ago?” he asked.
“I’m not entirely sure, but I think so.”
Suddenly there was a sound of hooves churning up the earth behind them. Camio turned in time to see Anthony crumple to the ground. Rearing up behind him was a huge, terrifying black-horsed rider.
“Camio!! Run for Cerin Amroth! Don’t let him get you!!!” she could hear Aragorn cry. And run she did.
Camio stumbled on a tree root, and swiftly the dark rider bore upon her. Blinding colours exploded on the inside of her eyelids as one of the horse’s hooves glanced off her forehead.
The world turned pitch black, but she could still hear Anthony cry her name in pain as the sword sliced through his body….
The sun came in through her window and peeked at her, brightening the room with warm, golden rays. She opened her eyes and winced, for the area around her bed was bathed in a near-blinding aura of sunlight.
Camio swore sleepily at the sun, and turned to look at the radio-alarm clock on her bedside table. It read: 8:02 a.m., Wednesday, 1st of March.
“Camio…” Her mom came into the room, sobbing.
“What’s wrong, Mom?”
“Oh, Camio. Your Aunt Lira… you remember her at the party, d…don’t you? She just called… Cam-Camio, your cousin Anthony was killed last night. There was a knife wound to his heart…”