Writer's Note: I read a story where a modern girl met an elf for the first time (I think it was a Glorfindel/OC story, but I could be wrong) and was terrified by their perfection and inhumanness. Though I won't go quite that far, I've incorporated a little of that idea. If anyone knows that story, please PM me or leave the name in a review so I can offer the proper credit.
To make a realistic girl-falls-into-M.E. story: Humans are afraid of what they do not understand. Tolkien Elves do not exist in the real world—their every trait is fantastical (in the storybook sense): inhuman beauty, speed and grace, immortality, wisdom. Therefore, fear and awe are the most likely reactions a modern human would have to meeting a Tolkien Elf.
Disclaimer: I make no money from this work. Anything recognizable from The Lord of the Rings belongs to J.R.R Tolkien and affiliates.
Home With the Fairies
Chapter Six: All Beholders Eye this Beauty
I was back on the path again after some more tears, scrounging up my chewed on canteen, the remains of my shoe (there were, literally, just pieces left), and managing to break off a decent size branch from a tree.
I hadn't gotten down until dawn had long since come and the day had really begun. I hadn't been able to pry myself off that branch until I was positive the animals had left me alone.
Still, I remained so terrified that something would come back that, though stiff, sore, and without a wink of sleep, I was still moving.
The branch I held in both of my hands like a sword was plucked free of leaves and roughly the size of a baseball bat, though thicker than one. It was heavy, but I wasn't willing to give up my weapon if it wore me down a little. Sure, it might not be too much good against a wolf's claws and teeth or a bear's sheer size, but at least I'd hit the bastard pretty damn hard before he took me down.
The petrifying incident last night had really opened my eyes and gotten the adrenaline going. I had scrabbled down that tree, switched into the shoes Ysmay had given me despite being a little stiff from getting wet in the rain earlier, and was speed walking for another half hour before my endurance began to give. Still, I kept up a fairly quick pace in the hopes of getting free of this forest as soon as possible.
It was at the end of this day, the fifteenth if I'd kept all the numbers straight, that I came across a very shallow river.
There were trees along the banks shadowing the river as twilight descended, but it didn't look nearly as intimidating here as it had all along the way. The water glittered in the fading light, so clear the rocks and even small fish were visible. I filled my lone canteen and washed my face and hands, wetting my hair too in a vain attempt to get some of the dirt and debris of travel out of it, before I starting hunting for a tree.
I hadn't meant to wait this long to find one since it was getting dark now, afraid another animal might try for some fresh meat, but I'd heard the water and couldn't help myself from heading towards it. It was like a strange beacon of hope. At least in the movies, passing through water killed your scent, which meant dogs couldn't track you. That was the line of my thinking as I waded through the water, holding my dress up with one hand to at least spare it from being utterly soaked, my shoes in the other.
Who knew if it was true, at least it made me feel better.
On the other bank I exhaled slowly before putting my shoes back on and starting checking out the trees. Sure, I hadn't slept in the last one, but hopefully a perch up high would save me from predators below. This wasn't a jungle after all, I didn't think there were panthers or other carnivores that could get me up there.
I ended up dismally without a tree when full darkness settled. The trees on this side were getting thicker around the base and much older, so there were no low-hanging branches for me to fumble up. I finally curled up in the roots of large tree after rubbing the too-sweet smell of one of the bushes' leaves all over myself to hopefully hide my scent. I hadn't the faintest idea if it worked, but I figured it was better to be safe than sorry.
I didn't sleep well that night, but I survived it.
The next morning I soaked the bloodstained cloths I'd used in the river and tied them around the straps of my sack. They wouldn't dry very well, but I had no other way to carry them. Ripping some new ones from my already shortened sleeves (the bottom of the dress was filthy otherwise I would have used that), I was ready to go.
My stomach growled angrily in its hunger. Half a rotting apple and some water was not an adequate breakfast. The image of cheeseburger chased through my mind, and I swallowed dry. It was physically painful, but I had no control of my imagination.
I spent the whole day like that, torturing myself with images of tacos and pancakes, toasted bagels and cream cheese, peanut butter and jelly, and macaroni and cheese. I thought about my mother's home cooked meals and my dad at the barbecue. I remembered that boyfriend who could only make grilled cheese and my own chicken noodle soup from scratch. It was one of the worst days of my trip yet, and I cried on several occasions from sheer homesickness. I could feel it with every day that passed by and I moved deeper and deeper into this world: I'd never go home.
The next day my period finally ended. All the exercise and stress I'd been through the past month had made it the fastest and most pain-free one I'd ever had. But I'd take menstrual cramps any day at home over this bizarre, never-ending journey wherever I was.
My feet were starting to kill me too, and I'd noticed calluses were beginning to build up—not pretty. These suede shoes I'd been given had very thin soles and we're clearly not made for this kind of trekking. I'd also abandoned my tree branch-bat since nothing had come after me since. It was just too heavy too carry with me, though I was now far more careful about my surroundings.
That night I found a tree I could sleep in. I ended up on the ground though when I turned over and nearly fell off for the third time. It was uncomfortable, and after noticing the giant spider resting further up the tree I gave up and got down. I decided humans were too far evolved from monkeys to ever pull off sleeping in tree well.
It was the eighteenth day when the dirt road began to turn into a dirt path, getting thinner and windier as it led me down and down, though I could hardly see the slope of the land. The trees pressed closer all around until I was weaving around them, barely keeping track of my feet. Sunlight glimmered between the trees highlighting the vivid greens of the moss and the darker viridian of the plants underfoot; patches of wildflowers and blooming bushes of sweet smelling flowers dotted the landscape. The trees themselves were overgrown with ivy and mold, old and wizened trunks wide enough for five people to hold hands around.
After a lunch of blueberries, my last piece of apple, and water, I got lost. I suppose it was inevitable, but the path seemed to just disappear under my feet, and I ended up wandering around tree trunks so wide I lost complete sense of direction when I came around to the other side.
I started to get nervous then, realizing I was out of food and it would be getting dark soon. I tried to find the path again, but I didn't know when I had lost it and nothing looked familiar. I didn't know which direction I was facing and I couldn't even see the mountains through all the trees. Starting to feel that familiar panic again, I stopped to collect myself, leaning against a tree. When I put my bare hand against the rough bark I could all of a sudden feel the forest. Alive. Warm. And so old.
It was just a flash of sensation, of ancient life, stretching up up up, breezes and sunlight and birds, and then it was gone. I was left standing with my hand against a giant, old tree. I thought for a moment I'd lost my mind.
I tried to touch the tree again, and then another one beside it just to check, but both were just normal trees. I looked at my hand, not really sure what was going on, when I heard it.
It sounded like giggling.
It wasn't a child's laugh, but there was a lighthearted innocence to it that I couldn't explain any other way. It was above me in the trees, though no leaves rustled and I hadn't heard anyone else.
I stepped away from the tree, spinning in a circle looking up at those green boughs straining my ears.
I started to hear voices, some sounding far away and some very close, murmuring or singing so softly I couldn't make out words. The giggles bounced from tree to tree followed by whispers and snippets of song.
At first I didn't know what to think, but my mind jumped to those old myths, with mischievous forest sprites or sirens leading unwary adventurers to their deaths. But when the voices began to drift off to the right, fading almost completely before reviving, I plunged into the forest after them, too afraid to lose this chance.
Chance at what I didn't know.
The voices led me along through the forest, completely out of sight and just barely within hearing range, and I trotted along behind them like a lost puppy. I would later wonder where my sense of self-preservation had gone to, and then be reminded that I'd been using it for this whole demented adventure, and it had apparently run dry.
The voices rather abruptly began to move more quickly, sing-songing words and giggling more and more, and I raced after to keep up. I ended up in a clearing though, turning in every direction, straining to hear the laughter, the song, anything. There was nothing though, nothing but chirping birds and rustling trees.
I thought I'd gone insane. I'd hallucinated voices; I was probably hallucinating this entire adventure. I was going to die in the most beautiful forest in whatever world I was in—if I wasn't actually strapped down in a mental asylum right now—and no one would ever know. I was so depressed with myself all of a sudden that I sat down on the ground and promptly bruised my behind doing so.
I'd sat on a rock. And not just any rock. It was a white, oval shaped stone, which was preceded and followed by more of the same stones. In a path.
I started to laugh, hysterically even, and it took several minutes to regain control, aware now that I wasn't alone and I hadn't hallucinated those voices; they led me to a path. Except, which direction did I go in now?
I was at an impasse. When led to the middle of a pathway, how did the characters of books or movies know which way went the right way, and which one didn't? How did they know one didn't lead to certain death or back the way they came? How was I supposed to know?
Depressed now, I stood up again slowly, turned a full circle, and then looked up at the sky. I could just see the tops of the mountains to the east just over the trees (I had to be on a ridge since I could see them, but it was hard to tell in a forest), which meant the path ran north to south. That didn't really help me since the road I'd been following before ran east to west and it had mysteriously vanished.
Fantastic, I couldn't help thinking sarcastically. I had a path, but where did it go? Where did the voices go? And where had them come from?
I half expected a bird to flutter down on to the path and show me the way, or for the voices to come back, but God certainly didn't leave me a sign as I stood there. Then again, I'd already had pretty amazing luck all things considered, so I probably shouldn't press it.
I struck out north for no particular reason. I figured if all else failed, I might die here and wake up back home. Like a dream.
I didn't believe it for a second though.
The path wound through the trees, sometimes overgrown with moss, sometimes half-buried, and often stones were missing. I was careful to keep my eyes on it instead of the beautiful landscape for fear I'd lose the path again. I was aware the voices were likely watching me, whatever they were, but I couldn't bring myself to be bothered by it. I was tired, sore, hungry, and very, very lost. Magical voices in trees were the least of my worries.
In all my carefulness to keep track of the path I didn't pay enough attention to my surroundings. It was a miracle I even saw him before I walked into him.
Dressed in dark, weather-stained clothes, his unshaven beard starting to grow out, long hair shaggy and falling out of its ponytail, the man looked completely out of place: the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood's forest.
It was him, I realized after a second of just staring. The traveler Butterbur had introduced me to and I'd briefly spoken to. What the hell was he doing out here?
We were literally two stepping-stones apart, and I couldn't have been more surprised. I couldn't recall his name for the life of me, but I certainly remembered him. We'd attempted to find a common language and failed. And that had been that.
Or not, I guess.
My silence (and stunned face I imagine) was probably what prompted him to speak after an awkward moment.
Right. Trahern. That was his name. I remembered now.
"Maddie," I said. "Maddie and Trahern speak Bree."
My voice was rough from disuse, and I had to clear my throat after speaking. It hadn't occurred to me that I hadn't opened my mouth to do more than scream in eighteen days. Two and a half weeks.
Oh my God.
I think I swayed on the spot, I can't quite remember. Trahern's face became a little blurry as the blood rushed to my head and my vision became clouded with black. I leaned over on my knees to steady myself, waiting for the darkness to ebb and my equilibrium to come back. I felt like I was going to puke.
When I was able to let go of my knees and straighten, I realized Trahern was standing bare inches away from me, blatantly ignoring my personal space. I might have made a comment if what was in his hand hadn't distracted me:
It was the biggest, shiniest, most beautiful red apple I'd ever seen.
He offered it to me, and I did my best not to snatch it out of his hands like a greedy urchin. He didn't stick around to watch me hold myself back from my growling stomach as I try to be a civilized as possible while devouring the thing. Trahern turned, ponytail swishing to the side, then said, "Come."
I would have never thought, when I lived at home, that I could ever go without the simple luxuries of the modern world: mattresses, toilets, clocks, hand sanitizer (that was a big one in this dirty, dirty world).
It caused me to wonder how we'd ever gotten to the point where all the things we had in the world weren't found or made by us, and that we didn't even know the first thing about how to recreate it. Here, as Trahern whittled a stick into a sharp point so he could spear some of the dried meat he had (which smelled divine by the way), I'd never given half a thought to how to prepare meat right from the animal. I'd only ever worked with processed, packaged meat. And I didn't even know how to whittle.
I felt immensely stupid for never entertaining these thoughts before.
I'd followed behind Trahern as he weaved his way through the forest, following the trail I had been on at a brisk pace. He walked with one step in front of the other in a straight line, making almost no noise at all as he moved. I trundled behind him like a cart full of cans, tripping and stumbling and breathing like a wheezing, dying horse. The apple had done me a world of good, but I was still exhausted and my momentum had disappeared with his appearance.
He did indeed carry a weapon, a sword in fact, I noticed offhand at first. It was in a sheath, long and thin, with a shiny end that rested above his hip. He also wore a smaller scabbard on the other hip, and yet another one, even smaller, attached to his boot. I didn't know why he needed so many, or what he used them for, especially the sword. Could you kill a bear with a sword? I suppose so, but it seemed strange to me somehow. Swords were weapons for war, not for killing animals.
The thought of a war, here, where people used swords, and probably bows and arrows, and those dwarves with axes, made me a little sick inside. I was having enough trouble dealing with outhouses, let alone stuff like that.
We eventually stopped for the night in a small grove off to the side, the trees seemingly naturally parting to create a circle. I could see a small ring of rocks and the blackened patch of earth that was a telltale sign of a campfire. Had Trahern just been here? Or what about those voices?
I didn't tell him about the voices that night, worried that wasn't normal or a bad sign. What if they were dangerous? Or what if they weren't real and I really had hallucinated them? I decided to keep my mouth shut just in case, and Trahern didn't seem inclined to speak either.
That night we ate the unseasoned meat right off the bone. It was difficult to eat that way, especially since the meat was tough from being dried. It wasn't particularly tasty either, but it filled my stomach more than anything I'd eaten in a week. I wondered vaguely what animal I was eating, but decided I probably didn't want to know. Especially since Trahern had most likely caught it and prepared it himself just days ago.
When we finished eating and buried the bones I wasn't sure if I should sleep immediately or if he wanted to explain himself or something. For several long moments nothing happened. Trahern just sat there against a tree not too far from the fire, staring at it darkly.
In the end I pulled my tough blanket out of my bag and sleeping mat. I laid down on it, pulling my blanket up to my chin and curling my legs in. Trahern was a brooding shadow across the fire from me, not even his eyes could be seen in the glow from the flames. He looked dangerous sitting like that, like he was laying in wait for something.
Actually, now that the thought occurred to me, I hadn't even considered Trahern might not be helping me. He could be leading me somewhere to kill me or rape me or something.
I peeked over at him, but he hadn't moved at all.
I was probably being an idiot for just going along with him without even asking why, but what else could I do? I had no food, limited water, and was completely and totally lost.
I could feel my mind still going. My body was tired, worn out with all the stress and travel, but I couldn't stop thinking. I turned over on to my back, moving my eyes away from the dancing fire.
The sky was magnificent again, as it had been always since I'd come here. Not even the lights of Bree put it out. So many stars, twinkling, jeweled dots on a black canvas, even if I could only see a patch of it because of the tree-cover. I'd only ever seen pictures that looked like this, but it was different to really see that never-ending blackness spotted with light.
I remembered on my first night here how I'd looked up at the sky and hadn't been able to find a single familiar constellation. I looked now, straining my eyes to find a pattern I knew. The Big Dipper was probably the only one I could recognize, maybe Orion's Belt, but I didn't see any that looked remotely familiar.
I turned over on to my side and stared into the trees instead.
I was shaken awake the next morning by a dark, dirty face and a calloused hand. Groggily I gathered up my blanket, attempted and failed to fold the camp-roll correctly, and ate some of the cold meat from last night Trahern thrust into my hands.
No longer did I entertain thoughts of flies, dirt, or hygiene when I ate. In another place and another time, the thought of eating meat that had been speared on a stick in the ground all night would have repulsed me, but I ate it without comment, glad to have something in my stomach.
As we started walking, the cool morning air began to wake me up, and I posed a question to Trahern: "Trahern," I murmured softly, feeling ridiculously shy for some reason.
He turned his head back slightly but otherwise didn't respond.
"Where…?" I didn't know how to say 'going', or any other useful words right now. It was incredibly frustrating as I stomped along behind him thinking of all the useless words I knew. Comb, donkey, quill…
"Imladris," He said without looking at me.
"Im…la…dris," I sounded out, rolling the word on my tongue. It was easier than it sounded, and I repeated it several times. It felt vaguely familiar.
"Rivendell," he added.
"Rivendell." That one was even easier to say and even more familiar. Imladris. Rivendell. I wondered if they were the same place, or two different ones, and I wondered why I thought I'd heard them before.
I didn't know how to ask, and Trahern hardly seemed interesting in talking to me. I wanted to ask him why he was doing this, why he was helping me. I wanted to know who he was, how he spoke those languages (even if I'd forgotten his name, I hadn't forgotten that fact), and everything else that was bothering me. And I wanted to ask myself why the hell I hadn't learned from my previous mistake with those two bastards and stayed on my own.
I already knew the answer to that one though: because I was lost; because I had nowhere to go; because I was lonely.
The walk continued on in silence for most of the day, with only sporadic words about bathroom breaks (which was mortifying to ask for, but Trahern didn't look like he cared either way). I repeated the names of the places several times in a questioning way, but Trahern never said anything more about it. I tried to ask why he was in the forest and why he was helping me, but I wasn't sure if he didn't understand my question or was just faking ignorance.
As we walked the gentle slopes I had been heading down became steeper until there were almost steps cut into the earth in some places. A stone slab poked out of the earth and began to form a wall on our left as we moved forward, eventually blocking the mountains entirely from view.
It was perhaps a couple hours after lunch the ground became much steeper, and I figured we must have been descending into a valley. When I asked at lunch, Trahern said Rivendell was not far, and soon we would see it.
It was the middle of the afternoon when the ground flattened again and the trees pressed closer. That was when I began to hear whispers.
At first I thought it had to be the leaves rustling, or maybe birds, but as the sound continued to swell I realized it was indeed those same mysterious voices from the day before. I moved to catch up with Trahern who at first glance was as stoic as ever, and I feared it was hallucinating, before I realized his head was cocked to the side, the better to hear them.
I was about to ask him what the voices were when they all suddenly burst into song.
It might have been mocking, it could have been derogatory, it could have been about meatloaf for all I knew, but it sounded like it was about the most beautiful things in the world. I couldn't tell what language it was, though I guessed it was the one Trahern had spoken because the Ranger seemed to understand them if the frown on his face was anything to go by. Somehow he managed to look annoyed even as the voices broke into stunning harmony, and all I could think was how could you be upset listening to something to beautiful? I wondered if they were his people, briefly, but quickly decided that couldn't be. There was something…different about the voices. No one could sound that beautiful.
It was a short verse, and when the song ended I could feel a powerful disappointment well up inside me. I'd never heard anything so clear and alive before, and it was like all the colors in the forest had dimmed when the music stopped.
That was when I realized I'd stopped walking to listen. Trahern was standing about twenty feet away from me watching as I hurried to catch up. He looked vaguely annoyed and muttered something under his breath, but I wasn't paying attention.
Maybe I was crazy, but after seeing the Halflings and the dwarves, what if…?
No, that was crazy-talk, I told myself. Mythical creatures like elves and forest sprites didn't exist. Sure, I didn't have a rational explanation for how or why I was here, or where or what here was, but there's a point where you cross the line of reason and that thought was really toeing it.
"What is…? That…" I waved my arms at the trees, trying to ask what that was. I wanted to know who or what made such beautiful songs, why they were singing, what the song had been about, but I had no words for my questions. We continued on in silence, Trahern never turning back even as my eyes roved the area around us looking for the source.
Trahern didn't speak or even react when the whispering started up again a little later. More giggling followed and snatches of tune but nothing like before. Looking ahead, I could see the tree line disappear and the blue of the sky out beyond the last row of trees. It seemed we were coming to a hill or maybe a cliff, and the path turned aside to lead us down.
The giggling had all but stopped as we got closer to the tree line, but I could still hear voices talking, murmuring to each other, calling from the trees around us. I was so focused on listening to the voices that I jumped when a voice rang out, demanding and yet clear like a note of song. Trahern simply stopped and called out a short reply in another language.
Then there was a flurry of movement above us. The trees seemed to come alive, the leaves rustling and the branches swaying and the giggling started up again. I glanced around us warily but could see nothing, and I swear the laughter intensified at my useless actions.
Affronted at that thought, I instead focused on earnestly listening to such melodious, lighthearted, unnatural laughter. That was the word. Unnatural.
Just as I mouthed the word to myself, sensing the rightness of it, someone dropped from the trees just a little ahead of us, landing in complete silence.
He was tall, taller than Trahern, which meant a good foot taller than me. His hair was blond—blindingly golden might be more appropriate though than just plain blonde—and he had striking features even from a distance, though I was unable to make out any detail without my long-lost contacts.
He wore calm earthy colors of brown and green, the clothing cleanly cut and stitched together neatly in a distinct contrast to Trahern's and mine. There was a bow and quiver on his back, and I could not hear him pass over the soft grass and dirt of the forest floor. That registered somewhere in me, and I think my heart rate started to fly.
He moved towards us with such inhuman grace that I was nearly struck dumb. His body moved like it was one long line, elegant and smooth, flowing from step to step. I can't remember what I was thinking, my hands growing cold and my lips white, all I can recall from that first meeting was a strange preternatural sense of both awe and fear.
When he reached us his chin was equal with Trahern's eyes, and my eyes were on the middle of his chest before slipping up to his face. I rocked a bit on my feet then, suddenly feeling another rush of blood to the head, this one much stronger than before though. His face became a light with black-clouded edges, and I could feel a light tremor start along my spine and extend all the way down to my toes. I couldn't think as my vision refocused, still caught on his face.
I dared not call him handsome, for he had strange, exotic features, and the way they came together was so perfect it was painful. Though in all appearances a man, there was something terribly different about him. High cheeks bones in sharp relief, sensual lips, glowing white skin so smooth and even you couldn't see the pores, eyes ancient and wise, and yet a young body, lean and tall, great and terrible all at once…
It was… it was unnatural. So unnatural that I could feel myself recoiling, staring at him, and the first waves of an exceptional kind of terror rush through me. He was… inhuman.
I knew, somewhere in my mind, that I was going into shock, that my body was seizing up, but my whole vision was obscured by his unnaturalunnaturalunnatural features.