Author’s Note: All right, my faithful readers! Please read this before continuing!! In case you haven’t read the comments of the Prologue or any of my previous two stories, anything in brackets–[word]–is spoken Elvish. If the brackets are itallicized–[word]–then it is Elvish spoken in one’s head, whether to oneself or as telepathy. (Thanks to geek_chick for telling me to tell everyone this. )
Also, because this is important, the character being spoken is not named in this first Tale. I did that on purpose, but if any of you have read my previous stories, you’ll probably be able to guess who it is.
Recap of Prologue . . .
And as they set sail on their quest, seventeen years in the past at that very moment two lives were being brought forth at the exact same time at opposite ends of America. Both would grow to be extremely beautiful and turn heads wherever they went. But they would be oblivious to each other, unknowing of the other’s existence and of their own abilities until they came to full adulthood.
The only difference between them was that one was the unknowing carrier of the salvation of the race of Men, the other the embodiment of evil.
The world of Men was about to become a battlefield.
~Sixteen Years Ago~
[Will you protect Valinor?]
That seemed a pointless question. Though he had chosen to remain in the ever-changing Middle-earth, he had hoped to one day rejoin his kin when his feeling of incompletion had dissipated. [If it needs such protection, yes.]
[Evil comes to destroy Valinor. Will you protect it?]
The same question. Why would his answer be any different knowing that it was evil he would be fighting against? It certainly would not be the first time he had participated in such a battle. [I will.]
[You must find the soul we sent to the world of Men one year ago. You must guard it until it matures and realizes the powers we have granted it. Once it has done so, you must allow it to perform the task we have set for it.]
[Where is this soul?]
[West. We will guide you.]
Perfect. He would be running all but blind. [I will set out immediately.]
[You doubt us.]
[Nay. I merely prefer to have more information at my disposal.]
[Information will be given as you travel. Trust in us.]
[Conceal your ears. Men no longer remember Elves.]
He had learned that a long time ago. [I understand.]
He woke then, sitting up slowly and looking out the window at the coming dawn. He understood his mission, though he still did not like having so few details to work with. Rising from his bed, he gathered what he would need, dressed in the clothes of Men that he had acquired over time, and set out.
He would wander for a full year.
He hated the cities of Men. They had not been so bad in the Third Age, when guarding walls had contained expansion. Now, however, industrialization had sprawled some cities over hundreds of square miles with nothing to stop them. And as a result, the air had become thick and rotten to breathe, particularly within the cities themselves. The Men, though, having created and lived in it for so long, did not see the trouble it was and would be causing.
Well, it was not really his business that they would be the death of their own race. He would save them for now, but he would not interfere when they destroyed themselves. Born evil was something he would fight, but created evil was a totally different story.
Unfortunately, he was in a hurry and he had to pass through the city (it was actually more of a bustling small town). He was a month behind–according to the Valar–though it was not actually his fault that he took the longer path around the cities because his lungs burned the nearer he came to any of them.
He moved purposefully down the sidewalk, listening to the conversation on all sides and trying to ignore the ache in his ears from the bombardment of noise. He had learned long ago to tie his hair at the base of his skull, thus keeping it firmly over his ears to hide them from inquisitive eyes, but as he had long hair and was still as fair as his race had ever been, he nonetheless drew stares wherever he went and no matter how many times a particular person had seen him.
A lone woman’s voice pierced through the wild bedlam that surrounded him. “Krystine? . . . Krystine?”
It had not taken him a very long time to master the new language of Men. It seemed to be little more than a complex twist on the Common Tongue, which he had borne a decent grasp of in the Third Age. And as it had morphed over the centuries into a thousand dialects, he had chosen the one he heard most often and learned it to use in his few dealings with Men.
“Oh my God! Krystine!”
He stopped and turned, assessing the situation in an instant. A girl of about two years had somehow escaped her mother’s watch and strayed out into the road. Unaware of the danger, she was completely oblivious to the huge pickup truck (which he had always thought to be an interesting invention even though few actually knew how to use the vehicles without endangering others) bearing down upon her.
As the truck showed no signs of stopping, he acted. Dashing through the onlookers out into the road, he focused on the girl and scooped her into his arms just as the vehicle connected with his body.
He had experienced just about every other sort of injury, being immortal, but he had never been hit or run over by a speeding automobile before. It was simply one of those things that he had not been eager to test but would take dutiful notes if it happened to come to pass.
And, it turned out, he had many notes to take. Being hit by a vehicle, he decided, was akin to being hit by two club-swinging trolls at the same time. Similarly, the impact snapped his head the opposite direction of movement and caused severe pain in his neck, as one might feel as they were becoming airborn. And then there was the bouncing connection with the asphalt after flying twenty feet which was, basically, being thrown from the top of a mallorn tree onto a bed of rocks. Finally, being run over could be matched to being trampled by a hundred heavy war chargers, whose sharp hooves dug into the skin and did grievous damage.
He laid on the burning pavement for several moments, his body wracked with indescribable pain. He tested himself cautiously; everything seemed to be working well even if the slightest movement caused immense pain. He had experienced such and knew it would be gone in time.
He recalled quickly, however, that he was still in danger and drew himself to his feet to stagger to the sidewalk, keeping the girl clutched tightly against his chest. She squirmed energetically, fussing softly and trying to get away from him and the danger she had finally recognized.
Once on the cement, he collapsed. The child wriggled from his lax grip and stood. Turning, she put one small hand on his torn cheek as a brace and kissed his forehead, then toddled past him with her arms up in the ancient gesture children use when they want to be picked up, crying plaintively, “Mama! Mama!”
Ignoring the agony that raced through his system, he pulled himself to his feet a second time and started to move off. He had to leave before the ambulance that had certainly been called arrived and his true identity was discovered. Really, he should not have gotten involved, but he could not have stood by and watched an innocent life come to such a screeching, grinding halt.
It was too late. The ambulance wailed up the street and stopped beside him, the back opening for the paramedics to get him. He considered fighting them off and running, but that would be far too strange, especially since he was not dead after what he had been through.
So he let them put him on a guerney and load him into the ambulance. The trouble started there.
The first checked him and them examined the equipment. “. . . Hey, Vic, is this thing broken?”
“Not as far as I know. Why?”
“It says everything reads almost normal. I mean everything! Heart rate, blood pressure, brain activity, respiration . . . If I was just looking at his chart I’d say he’d gone for a jog!”
Vic leaned over him. “Sir, do you know what just happened to you?”
As it made little sense to lie, he said through the mask they had put over his nose and mouth, “I was hit by a speeding one-ton Chevrolet pickup. Would you like the license plate number?”
He should have lied.
The paramedics looked at each other. Vic asked, “. . . Are you one of those people with photographic memories?”
“Actually . . .”
His stay at the hospital was not fun. As he was healing unnaturally fast, he became something of a celebrity. Doctors from all over the hospital came to look at him and whisper to each other. It did not help that when the pain resurged he would mutter to himself in his own tongue and stir up even more controversy.
Rumors flew. Mainly he heard that he was a) some sort of bio-engineered superhuman experiment run by the government for military purposes, and b) an alien who had been sent to check up on Earth’s inhabitants and deem them easily over-taken or a force to be reckoned with. A smattering of other similar rumors reached his ears, but as he remained awake as much as possible, none discovered the truth.
If they even knew what he was anymore.
One day a week after his admission to the hospital, everything broke from the monotony of sitting around watching telelvision (which was truly a very interesting invention; perhaps even more than vehicles) and worrying over why the Valar had not at least reassured him that there was still time to get to the soul. He received unexpected visitors.
A woman entered, carrying a small girl. He recognized the child immediately and smiled when she squealed in delight upon seeing him. The woman set the girl upon the bed and let her toddle to him. He gave her a gentle hug and let her kiss his cheek in that barely noticeable way children do.
“I’m so glad to see you well,” the woman said. “I was afraid you had gone into shock and would die and . . . Oh, I’m just so glad you’re well. Thank you ever so much for saving my little girl.”
He rolled the girl onto her back on his stomach and tickled her. She giggled and kicked. “I appreciate your concern. But do you know exactly how she got away from you? In my experience, women aren’t usually so . . . forgetful?”
The woman nodded. “I’ve been trying to invest in a net for the stroller, but it hasn’t turned out too well. She’s found ways to get out of it without my knowing and I thought I’d been checking on her often enough to keep her there.” The woman shrugged helplessly. “Apparently not.”
“It’s all right,” he assured her. “It’s the first time I’ve been in an accident in—a long time.” Wow, he nearly mangled that with his big mouth. “I suppose this time I got off easy for it.”
“Even so, please allow me to pay your bills.”
Oh, well, that was nice. He did not have such money anyway, but . . . “No, thank you, I couldn’t possibly burden you with—“
“Please, let me. It’s the least I can do. You risked your life to save a stranger and no one could ask more.”
Boy, if only she knew . . . “If you insist . . .”
“Then thank you. I am a bit strapped for cash.”
“Even better, then,” she replied. “Don’t worry about it anymore.” But she suddenly pulled back from him with a gasp. “. . . What are you?”
He quickly reached up and found that the hair had fallen away from its cover of his ear. He quickly rearranged it. “N-Nothing. It’s merely something that I’ve had . . . since birth.”
Hoping she would take it to mean he was truly one of her own race who’d simply not been graced with normalcy, he was surprised when she leaned toward him and hissed, “Are you an Elf?!”
He automatically became defensive. “What do you know of Elves?”
She sat back. “My family . . . We’re all historians by nature and I think it started when my great-great-grandfather found a very old library under the house. We never have shared any of the information with anyone else, but we managed to translate it and learned plenty about the Ages and all about the War of the Ring and—” She stopped and stared back at him. “Triggers memory, doesn’t it?”
He frowned. “I wish to see this . . . library.”
“Certainly! As soon as you’re free to leave I’ll show you!”
A few days later he was in the dank library beneath the woman’s (Marie’s) house, gazing around in wide-eyed disbelief at the dusty place. “This is . . . This is the library of Gondor in Minas Tirith. I can hardly believe it has remained intact after all this time.”
Marie, who had received his permission to invite her family home to gawk at him provided they did not tell anyone else, stepped up beside him and pointed around the room. “We have tried to leave everything as it was, which is why there’s still so much dust on it. Go ahead and take a look if you like.”
He did just that, spending a full week going over hundreds of pages of history that had been left behind. He saw no reason not to stay, as the Valar had not contacted him since he was hit by the truck, and was not in a hurry to get anywhere in such a case. Meanwhile, he found himself more and more often with the girl curled pet-like in his lap, absently stroking her soft dark hair. She did not fidget or squirm too much and he found her far more pleasant company than many adults of her own race he had encountered.
It was soon after that he learned her father had died in an automobile accident with a drunk driver before her birth. He pitied the child’s loss; she would never be as the others of her race who still had both of their parents.
And then it finally occurred to him–two months after his escape from the hospital–that he did not wish to leave this new life he had discovered. As cursing as the words were, he realized he had fallen in love with the little girl and could not simply turn his back on her and walk away. She had become strongly attached to him and he to her.
That was why, when Marie asked, he agreed to stay.