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Kevin's Tale

He stood at the entrance to the driveway, looking toward the house. The once neat flower borders were overgrown; leaves lay piled on the front porch; the windows were grimed. He felt a great sense of desolation, both because of what he saw, and also because of what he didn't—any sign or explanation for what had happened to his friends. They had no children or other family, so that the state would be auctioning off their property within a few days. He had come several times, after phone calls, emails, and even letters went unanswered.

After standing motionless for a while, he turned away and started up the path which circled the house and wound its way to a field of tall grass. The birch at its center was in full leaf, and he waded through the grass to stand in its light shade. Around him, the air was full of the chirping of crickets and sweet with the scent of wildflowers. This place had been Michael's outdoor art studio and Beth's place for music composition. They had visited it even in the depths of winter.

Beleg and the other portal guards watched the young Adan. They could see from his stance and the posture of his body that he was grieving. The Maiar among them also saw that one of Yavanna's students had come at last. She had told them to be watchful for him. She had also told them that he was one of those Eldandili whose affinity was only potential; he had little knowledge of the Histories.

Beleg deliberately stepped on dry leaves to alert the Adan to his presence, and Kevin Hanson looked toward the sound. The man who stood at the edge of the trees was tall—nearly seven feet if Kevin was any judge. He looked as if he was a medieval re-enactor—from the forest-green tunic and leggings and the supple leather boots to the long dark hair. Kevin stepped forward, indignant at the trespass—and froze. To say that the intruder was handsome was utterly inadequate. He was, quite honestly, the most beautiful person Kevin had ever seen. His skin fairly glowed with vitality; his eyes seemed filled with light. There was nothing effeminate in this beauty; it was virility incarnate, and looking into those deep eyes, as he did for an instant, Kevin Hanson was suddenly and primally afraid, as if one of the Norse gods or an angel was confronting him.

Beleg halted a few paces away and raised both hands palm outwards in a gesture of peace. "Hello, Kevin. I am no enemy, I assure you."

Kevin stammered, "Wh—who in the world are you—and h—how do you know my name?"

"I am glad it is you and that I got your name right. Michael told me about you."

"Michael? You know where he is? Please—tell me!"

"I can do better than that. I can take you to him if you like."

"Where?"

"Well, that is a bit hard to explain I am afraid, but he and Elizabeth and others are safe and well. They have not been abducted or harmed, nor will you be if you choose to come."

"You haven't said where, nor have you answered my question. Who are you—or maybe I should say—no, sorry."

"What am I? Well, I am an Elda, or as your people translate it, an Elf."

"Come again?"

"One of the people in the Histories, Kevin Hanson."

Kevin gave a short, bitter laugh. "Right. Sure you are. And I'm Goldilocks. Little Red Riding Hood lives just the other side of the hill. What do you take me for—an idiot?"

Beleg answered mildly, "No, simply unlearned, which will make it a bit hard for you if you decide to come with me, but anyone can learn if he sets his mind to it."

"Fairy tales? Look, I don't believe in such things, so knock it off. Where have you taken my friends?"

Calmly, Beleg replied, "To FaŰry, Kevin, despite your disbelief. Do you wish to go to them?"

"No way! You are trespassing here, and I guess I'd better…"

Beleg said quietly, "No, Michael gave us leave to build the portal here, but if you do not believe I am what I say I am, do you think the authorities will? I am who and what I say…"

"You haven't said who, just what!"

"Ah, forgive me. I am called Beleg C˙thalion."

"Right. And you want me to go with you to fairyland? I don't think so, buster! I'm not that gullible!"

Beleg laughed heartily. "Michael said you probably would not believe me, so he asked me to ask you if you have found the keys yet?"

"Keys? What keys?"

"He did not say—just keys. Something about a '47 Ford?"

Kevin's eyes widened, and he said, almost in a whisper," I'll be damned! But how did you know about that? You're not reading my…"

"I thought you did not believe me, Kevin Hanson. No, I am not engaging you in ˇsanwŰ, as that would be the height of discourtesy, since you do not know me well. I am simply relaying what my dear friend Michael asked me to ask you. I have no idea what he means by the question, but evidently you do."

Kevin stood still, gazing at the…no, he would not believe that this person was some kind of supernatural being.

After a moment, Beleg said, "Kevin, I have known Michael since he was a boy of ten years of age, for I lived in England then."

Astonished, Kevin said, "But you're no more than twenty yourself!"

Beleg laughed again. "A great deal older than that, my friend. Do you know about the cliff—the broken spine—all that?"

"I—I—know that Mike had an accident when he was fourteen. I know he almost broke his back in a fall and that a friend of the family—rescued him. Are you saying…?"

"I am. He was too frightened to let me finish the healing. He could not lie quietly, as he sensed the flow of power. I did not wish to terrify him—any more than I wish to frighten you."

"Flow of power? Look, Mr. Cu—uh—"

"Beleg. The other is a title rather than a surname."

"Okay, B—Beleg, are you saying you tried to heal Mike when he was fourteen."

"Yes."

"How do I know you aren't scamming me?"

"You do not. The only proof I can give you is with Michael and Elizabeth and the other Eldandili."

"The what?"

"Elf-friends, you would say."

"I'd say nothing of the sort! This is crazy!" His eyes flashing with anger, Kevin stepped toward his companion, who moved lightly aside and let him pass. As Kevin started down the hill, Beleg spoke from behind him, "I will be here at this time tomorrow, Kevin, but if you come with others, you will not find me."

Kevin turned and said over his shoulder, "Can make yourself invisible, can you, Elfie? You bet I'll bring the police."

"Inconspicuous, not invisible, and Michael spoke of you as a courteous man. It seems he was mistaken."

Kevin turned around to face the so-called elf, his face suffused with anger. "Look you! You trespass on Mike's land and have the gall to tell me that you have taken him off somewhere, and you expect politeness?"

Beleg responded equably, "You can easily solve this, Kevin. The portal is there."

Kevin grimaced and said in a sneering voice, "Yeh, right!"

He turned and strode down the hill. Beleg watched him go, then turned and resumed his duties.

Later that afternoon, Kevin led Sheriff McAllister and his deputy to the meadow. They did not find Kevin's "trespasser"—not a broken branch or signs of a camp anywhere in the surrounding woods. As darkness approached, the sheriff said, "Well, Mr. Hanson, I'm not saying I disbelieve you, but this guy must be some kind of survivalist if he can hide from us so well. Maybe I should bring the canine unit."

With a frustrated sigh, Kevin responded, "Good idea, sir."

The dogs found nothing—except rabbit sign and deer sign.

The third day, Kevin returned alone to the meadow. Once again, he stood by the tree—and waited. Sunset came, followed by a clear warm night, and he sat down with his back to the tree. Midnight; 2:00 a.m. 4:00 a.m. As the sky lightened, Kevin found Beleg sitting quietly beside him. He scrambled to his feet, terrified. Beleg also stood up and laid a hand briefly on the man's shoulder. "Easy, Kevin. I am sorry. I had gone for the night, as I had not rested for several days, but others were here to guard you."

"From what?"

"From aught of harm. I see that you are not aware of power usage as our friend Michael is, or you would have sensed the opening and closing of the portal. I did not materialize out of the air, my friend. So, will you believe me now, or at least consider it?"

"I—I don't—know. How can you expect me to believe you?"

"As I said, the question is easily answered. It is not a philosophical argument, Kevin. Michael and Elizabeth and others are beyond the portal, and I am sure any one of them will help. There is also a very wise friend of mine, another—Elda—who is skilled at introducing our people to the Edain—to humans."

"And if I go with you, I just disappear like Mike and Beth? No fear! I'm not going anywhere near this portal of yours."

"As you wish, Kevin. We will need to build anew somewhere else in any case, as the land is to be sold."

"And did you tell Mike and Beth that they wouldn't have a home when they get back, or are you planning to keep them for hundreds of years—like Sleeping Beauty or something?"

Beleg answered sadly, "Unfortunately, the Enemy's servant attacked the portal as they went through. We thought at first it was to kill the travelers, but we know now that it was to cause a time distortion. They have been in FaŰry longer than we intended."

Kevin snorted contemptuously. "Sounds like a lot of hooey to me. Well, nice meetin' you, I guess. I—"

Three things happened at once. Wood chips sprayed off the tree above Kevin's head, the crack of the distant rifle was heard, and Beleg flung himself to the ground, dragging Kevin down, with a fierce whisper of "Be still!"

After a moment, the Elda raised his head cautiously, peering into the trees. Finally, he said in a low voice, "Two of them—with distance weapons. My fellows are fanning out to surround them, though they are concealed. We have time to go through the portal while they deal with the attackers."

"If you think—"

"Do you wish to die? I will leave you if I must, but I would not do so, despite your insolence."

"Insolence! Why you—"

Beleg clamped his hand over Kevin's mouth. "Be silent!"

At that moment, there was a shriek, cut short, from the direction of the woods. Beleg said, "One down. The other is coming this way! Decide now, Kevin Hanson!"

"I—my God, I—"

Beleg leaped up, lifted Kevin into his arms, and raced across the field toward the opposite woods.

Kevin struggled wildly, trying to grasp a handful of Beleg's hair, but the Elda simply tightened his grip, pinioning his arms securely at his sides, saying, "I am not your enemy, Kevin Hanson—he is!"

Kevin saw the man with the rifle coming out of the trees—and then he saw the other—Elda leap out, draw and loose an arrow. The gunman staggered and fell, an arrow protruding from his neck. Kevin closed his eyes, bile rising in his throat. Beleg said gently, "There is no time to still you, Kevin. I am sorry, but the discomfort will be brief."

Then he said something in a flowing language, and the world went away in a rush of light and sound. Kevin screamed, and went on screaming, as they seemed to plunge into a blaze of heatless fire. His consciousness fled.

0-0-0

"Kev. It's me, Kev. Come on, wake up. There you go, Kev. It's all right. Here's the basin. No one's going to hurt you. That's it. Here, drink some water; that's all it is. Good. Do you know me, Kev? It's Mike."

The room came slowly into focus, though there seemed to be wisps of fire around its edges. Kevin stared at his friend. He looked healthy and robust, though concerned. "Mike. Where?"

"One thing at a time, Kev. You're safe now, though I hear you had a narrow shave. Oh, here's HÝr Finrod."

Kevin turned his head, and closed his eyes with a deep groan of "No! Not another one!"

Michael laughed. "Oh, he's on our side."

"What side is that? The lunatics?"

"Not likely. Sire, I see you brought your harp."

"It is one way to teach, Michael, and the least stressful."

Kevin opened his eyes to look at this—person again. The—Elda? Elf? smiled at him. He held the small harp in his hands—a lovely thing of wood and golden inlay. He sat down in a chair by the door, still smiling. "Do not fear me, Kevin. I know that all of this is—unexpected, but I assure you, you are among friends."

"Friends! Oh yeh! Friends who steal people away for years and years. Did you know they're selling your house at auction, Mike? Your house and everything in it, because you've been gone for three years! Three years! At first, we thought the two of you had been kidnapped, which wasn't far from the truth, was it, Mr. Elf? Kidnapped! Then we thought you'd been murdered, which, in a way, you have. Who knows how much longer you—"

Finrod spoke quietly, "It is as I told you, Michael. I am sorry for it."

Michael, shaken, replied, "I—understand, sire. You saved our lives, so—what's a house and—" He stopped, and put his head in his hands. Finrod placed the harp carefully on the floor, and went to him, laying a hand softly on his shoulder. Michael said thickly, "It is a war, sire. Things get lost in war, and people. It's going to be hard on Beth, though."

"I know, meldonya. I can promise nothing at this point, but—"

"I don't blame you, sire. I blame the Enemy! Well, shall I stay?"

"Yes. If he has any questions afterward, who better to explain things in plain terms?"

Michael sat down in the room's only other chair. Finrod resumed his, picked up the harp and began to play softly. Kevin looked at Michael, and saw tears on his face, but he had a still, determined look. He turned back toward Finrod, while the music flowed through the room like sunlight, warm and golden. He felt odd, as though things were beginning to unfocus again. With a loud shout, he flung himself off the bed on which he was lying. "No! You are not going to hypnotize me! No way!"

Michael spoke soothingly. "Kev, calm down. It isn't that at all. You felt something, did you?"

"Look, Mike. I don't know who these people are but—"

"If you listen, Kev, you will. It's all in the song. It isn't hypnotism; you're not going to be entranced. Just listen—and watch."

"No!"

Setting the harp aside again, Finrod spoke reasonably, "Very well, though it is quicker than reading The Histories. We do have an extensive library, Kevin. You are welcome to use it. I will go and let the two of you talk."

Michael said, "He is an Eldandil, sire?"

"Definitely. That he reacted to the olos so proves it, Michael. I will see you at the evening meal."

When the Elda had gone, Kevin sat down on the bed, shaking. Michael spoke quietly. "I felt like that when Beleg tried to heal me. I didn't understand what he was doing, nor what I was feeling. It wasn't painful—anything but, just weird, very weird! An olos is a work of art, like a painting or a sculpture, only the color and the shape and the texture are projected into the hearer's mind, Kev. I wish I could paint like that."

"You don't look crazy to me, Mike, and maybe that scares me more than if you did. You're wholly under the spell, or the illusion, or whatever it is. You think that guy and the other one are people out of mythology."

After a silence, Michael asked, "Kevin, has it really been three years?"

"Three years, four months and six days."

"And no trace of us was found?"

"None. It was like you left your house, expecting to come back the next day, and didn't."

"Which is exactly what happened. We were told that we need not worry about time, but evidently, the Enemy twisted things. His people nearly killed us when we came through—us, and HÝr Finrod, who was working the portal."

"Why on earth do you believe him?"

"Because he has shown himself to be trustworthy time and time again, Kev. He won't force you to do anything; he respects us. It is considered unthinkable to do so; it is, as we say, Morgothian."

"What?"

"It's all there, Kev. All in the Histories. When you've rested, I'll take you to the library. It will take time, though, several weeks or even months."

"You're trying to persuade me to—"

"No, I just want to experience it again. It's like a multidimensional moving picture, with sound and smell and touch and even taste. Ah well. I think I'd better go talk to Beth."

When Michael had gone, Kevin rose and went to the window. Outside, he could see what looked like an herb garden, and beyond the hedge which surrounded it—a forest. It was not the second growth conifer woods of Montana. The room had a door to the outside, and Kevin opened it and stepped out.

He was struck first by the stillness. Except for birds and the soft rush of wind, there was no sound. The air smelled of leaves and earth and the tang of herbs. He walked along a terrace. There were no guards, no signs of imprisonment—just what looked to be miles and miles of woodland. And what woods! All of the trees that he could see looked to be hundreds of years old, with branches starting at least fifty feet from the ground. They were in full leaf, so it must be high summer here.

Kevin walked forward, descending three broad stone steps onto the short grass of the garden. The beds of herbs fairly glowed with health in the sunlight. He followed a winding path which led, as he found, to a wooden seat beneath an arbor. A tall green-clad woman sat there. As Kevin came up, she rose and smiled at him—and he felt a jolt of—what? Delight? Awe? He did not know, but once again, he wanted to run. She did not move toward him, but her expression was one of welcoming warmth. Kevin stepped back, and assiduously avoided looking directly at the calm, beautiful face.

The woman said, in a low musical voice, "So we meet at last. I hear they won a prize. Well done."

"What? I'm—sorry. I don't—"

"The roses—at—what is it called? A fair? I hear you are a master gardener, which is not at all surprising, Kevin."

"I seem to be asking this a lot, but who—what—"

"And many seem to be telling you this. I am no enemy. The Eldar call me Yavanna."

Kevin shook his head, not so much in negation as in utter bewilderment. "I don't get it. I'm a logical person; I hate sci-fi and fantasy stuff, and I don't take drugs. I don't get it."

Smiling, Yavanna said, "Will you sit? Or may I walk with you?"

"I don't—I—"

"No one is going to coerce you, Kevin Hanson, nor attempt to alter your mind in your despite. Ah, here is CalimŰ."

Kevin turned and saw a child of about ten years of age, with long blond hair and the same gray eyes as the other—Eldas? He had seen. She held a basket which was full of long green leaves. When she saw the woman, her face broke into a delighted smile. "Aiya Heri Yavanna! So your student has come?"

"He has, dear one. This is Kevin. Kevin, this is HÝr Finrod's daughter, CalimŰ."

The girl set her basket down and came to him, holding out a somewhat grubby hand. Kevin looked at the hand, and the child laughed. "I am sorry. I have been gathering Athelas for Heri EstŰ."

Was that supposed to mean something? After a moment, seeing his utter confusion, CalimŰ laughed again, a warm laugh, totally without mockery. "I see. I am sorry. You have no idea what I meant. Have you met my father?"

"I—think so, if he's the one with the harp."

"Oh, did he play for you? Good. So you understand where you are?"

"I—I'm afraid not. I stopped him when I—that is—I felt…"

"Oh. But there is nothing to fear in an olos. You can not be held in it against your will. Well, I must bring these to the still room. Farewell, Heri Yavanna."

"For now, little one."

When the child had gone, Yavanna resumed her seat, patting the bench beside her. "I will not harm you, Kevin Hanson. Please sit down."

Kevin slowly walked forward and sat. Yavanna smiled at him, and folded her hands in her lap. After a moment, she asked, "So what do you think about climbing roses?"

"Which variety?"

Yavanna indicated the arbor with a graceful gesture of her head. Kevin looked up, and his eyes widened in delight. "They're lovely! I've never seen that particular genus."

"They need just the right amount of sun, and they are a bit temperamental as far as feeding goes. I can give you cuttings when you return home. They would probably do well along the south wall."

"You know my yard?"

"I have been there with you many times, my friend. The roses are especially fine."

"But I've never seen you!"

Yavanna smiled at him warmly. "I would have been surprised if you had, for I was not in hr÷a."

At Kevin's puzzled look, she laughed, and like CalimŰ's laughter, it held no mockery. "I recommend that you allow HÝr Finrod to continue his teaching olos. It will save time. As CalimŰ said, you can not be held in it without your willingness, and all here will gladly explain what it does not."

"I—I just don't know."

"Not all things need be quantified, Kevin. You love roses, do you not, and not just for their symmetry or color."

"Yes."

"They give you pleasure, as music or poetry does to others."

"That's true."

"So then, is that not an intangible experience of beauty?"

"I suppose, but it is a natural one. There's nothing mythical about a rose. You can touch it, smell it, get stuck by its thorns."

"And it is beautiful, whether you express that beauty as a poet or as a scientist, Kevin."

"Forgive me, ma'm, but what are you driving at?"

"That you need not fear what you do not understand at present, Kevin. I for one am glad you are wary, for it will make it harder for the Enemy to deceive you, but do not let caution become intransigence."

"Enemy? Who is this enemy?"

"To give you a name will mean nothing now, but be assured that the Enemy is no figment of the imagination, any more than I am. So then, will you allow the olos?"

"I don't know, but I will go look at the library."

"Good. Shall I show you, then?"

"Sure."

The room was large and sunny, with bookshelves lining two sides, several comfortable chairs, and a table in the center. As Kevin and Yavanna entered, he saw a gray-haired woman sitting at the table, a large silver-gray dog stretched out on the floor beside her. The woman's hands moved over what looked like braille in front of her. At the sound of their entrance, she turned toward the door. Her eyes were half-closed and whitish in appearance, but her smile was full of delight.

"Aiya," she said.

Yavanna replied, "Aiya SÚrmŰ."

The woman rose and inclined her head. "Heri Yavanna! How lovely! Is someone with you?"

Yavanna "Yes. This is Kevin Hanson, Michael's friend."

"Oh, he found him! Wonderful! I'm Ruth Farris, or SÚrmŰ as my friend CalimŰ calls me. Welcome."

Before he could answer, Yavanna said, "Will you show Kevin the library, SÚrmŰ? He is unacquainted with the Histories."

"Really? That was brave of you."

"What was?" Kevin asked.

"Coming without knowing where you were going."

"I didn't come voluntarily. I was brought, kicking and screaming I'm afraid. Some idiots with guns were after me—us."

"Guns? Was anyone hurt?"

Kevin answered grimly, "They were. I saw one shot—no, I'm sorry."

"But you're all right?"

"I haven't the faintest idea."

"Have you met HÝr Finrod?"

"Yes. And no, I didn't let him finish the—olos."

"I hear you. The first time he sent to me, it terrified the heck out of me, despite the subject."

"What did he send you, SÚrmŰ?"

"I Aldu, Heri Yavanna."

"Truly?"

"Well, you must admit, that's a pretty strong image. I'm just glad he didn't send the Song, or I might have fainted dead away. As it was, I shook for ten minutes."

Kevin said, "And you guys want me to submit myself to his playing?"

"Oh, it wasn't frightening in a bad way. Not at all. It was—like being in a cathedral, with a virtuoso organist playing with all the stops out and a full choir singing some choral masterpiece—that kind of fear."

"I—see—I think. What's I Aldu?"

Ruth laughed. "That will take a while to answer, but if you really want to know, the lady with you knows—indeed she does."

Yavanna said quietly, "No, I think I will let him come to that knowledge in a more roundabout way, SÚrmŰ, especially as he is of a Noldorin temperament."

With a grin, Ruth responded, "What? I would have thought, as he is your student, that he is more Sindarin or even Nandorin."

Kevin scowled. "I wish you guys wouldn't talk as if I'm not here."

"Sorry. When you get to know us better, you'll see we weren't insulting you," said Ruth.

Touching Ruth's shoulder briefly, Yavanna said, "I shall go now, SÚrmŰ. Kevin, when you grow easier with all this, we will talk again."

The lady went out, and Ruth said, "So, Kevin, along the wall by the door are the English texts, starting with The Redbook and ending with some commentaries over by the doors to the terrace. The other wall has the texts in—other languages. The braille section is in the next room, and there is a third room with the—well, where we have conferences. Any questions?"

"That's a lovely dog."

"He is, isn't he? His name's Isil, because of his color, and because his fur feels like what I imagine moonlight is like."

"Does he guide you?"

"He does. Well, if you will excuse me, I have to finish my homework. This herbal is not very well written, but I have to memorize the names of the vermifuges before I meet with my teacher later, so make yourself at home."

"You are studying herbology?"

"Among other things. Healing is my gift, just as growing things is yours, as I understand. Well, to work."

0-0-0

"This is ridiculous! Utterly unscientific! Insane! And the writing style is like something—nineteenth century, or worse!"

"What are you reading, Kevin?" asked Ruth, her hands stilling on the page of braille before her.

"The Music of the Something-or-other."

"Ainur."

"Whatever. This is ludicrous! There isn't any DARK LORD. The world didn't come out of a song! That's stupid!"

"Well, no one said it was like any music we have now."

"But you guys believe this twaddle? I mean, come on!"

"May I ask you something?"

"Sure, why not?"

"When you met the Lady Yavanna a bit ago, what was your reaction?"

"Huh?"

"Your reaction. What was it?"

"She's lovely! Gorgeous! Ravishingly beautiful—except I didn't feel attracted to her in that way."

"How did you feel drawn?"

"I felt—I don't know. Why do you ask?"

"Because, she is one of the Valar."

"Oh, please! She is too substantial to be some kind of—spirit sitting on a cloud playing a harp."

Ruth grinned. "I think her voice is her instrument, not the harp."

"Oh, come off it. She is a real person, not some kind of goddess out of myth."

"Exactly. When I met my teacher, Lady EstŰ, I felt as if I had known her all my life, which I have."

"No! I will not believe that gods and goddesses are wandering around in the real world. They are creations of primitive peoples who have not had the advantage of an enlightened education."

"Not gods, Kevin. Their power is derivative."

"Okay, but I don't believe it."

"How do you explain that you're in a different place than you were several hours ago?"

"I don't. It's a hallucination or something, a fabrication of my mind. Maybe the gunman shot me in the head and I'm in a coma."

"I'm not, and I hear your voice and smell supper cooking. I also feel this page in front of me, and know that I have to tell my teacher the names and properties of these herbs."

"I just don't believe it."

"But you do believe that Heri Yavanna is a 'real person'?"

"I—she seems so; in fact, she is the realest thing I've seen here, including you, I'm sorry to say."

Ruth laughed. "Well, that's a relief!"

"Why?"

"At least something seems real to you. So, if she is real, why not the rest of them? Why not the whole story?"

"Because scientific evidence shows that the world came out of an explosion of hydrogen gas and other elements billions and billions of years ago!"

"Well, as someone said, to say the stars are made of hydrogen just tells what they are made of, not what they are."

"Oh, you're hopelessly deluded!"

"No, I have hope, but it isn't based on what I can sense, Kevin, nor on 'scientific evidence'."

"On what, then?"

"Another kind of evidence, Kevin, about which it is very difficult to explain without sounding strange. I have felt—quite literally—the Marring. I have seen—with eyes and being—the Light of the Two Trees, or I Aldu as they are called in one of the Eldarin languages."

"All this doesn't prove anything. You could still be an illusion."

"Hmm. Well, when and if you start working with Heri Yavanna, I think you'll understand what I'm driving at. Speaking of which, I must go talk to my teacher. Come on, vanima Isil."

When Ruth had gone, accompanied by the dog, Kevin sat staring at the book in front of him for some time. Finally, with a grunt of disgust, he slammed it closed, replaced it on its shelf and walked out of the library's doors onto the terrace. He stood, looking at the woods, then, with a determined shake of the head, went down the stairs, across a space of short grass, and into the trees, following a path edged with stones. If there were roads in this place, he would follow them. Surely, one would lead him out of this lunatic asylum.

The afternoon light slanted through the branches, the air was cool and soft, and if he had been attentive, it would have been a more than pleasant walk; but he was not; he was angry-furious! These people were trying to trick him or brainwash him, and he would not succumb. He stormed along the quiet path, eyes straight ahead.

Beleg spoke quietly to one of those on guard with him, "Let HÝr Finrod know. I will follow him."

After a mile or so, the path wound its way up a small hill and out into a meadow, much like the field behind Mike's house. Was it the same field? No, there was no birch tree, only grass and summer wildflowers. He saw no trace of another path, had seen no other paths on his walk. He stood, still fuming, then stepped forward, a little more cautiously, into the nearly waist-high grass. He could hear water flowing among the trees on his right. Well, streams usually led somewhere. At least it would be something to follow. When he found it, the stream was broad and shallow. On this side, the bank was tree-grown, but on the other, there was a strip of sand along its edge. Carefully, he went downstream, looking for a place to cross and finally came to a small ford with rocks protruding from the water. He sat down and removed his socks and shoes, stuffing the socks in his pockets and tying his shoes around his neck. And then, he noticed the light. At first, he thought it was a reflection of the sun, but when he looked up, he saw that it had dipped below the trees. Looking down, he saw that the water itself was shining with a soft silvery glow like moonlight. He jerked his eyes away with renewed anger. "No, Kevin," he told himself firmly. "don't let yourself be fooled again. It is an illusion, nothing more."

He stood up, walked to the stream's edge and stepping gingerly from stone to stone, crossed the softly shimmering water. When he had reached the far bank, he sat down on the sand and looked back.

The sound was so faint that he was not sure he had heard, but as he listened more attentively, he was aware of—singing! A deep rich voice was singing just at the threshold of hearing. Kevin sprang up and ran to the edge of the trees. There, he could perceive only the faintest murmur, but it was still there. His heart raced, and he had an unreasonable sense of pursuit. "Stop it, Kevin! You are a rational person! Stop it!"

He put on his socks and shoes, and, keeping the stream in sight, he went on into the deepening twilight.

Beleg crossed the stream farther up, bowing slightly in acknowledgement of the Lord of Waters on the other side, then turned to follow his quarry. The man was heedless of HÝr Ulmo's call, or choosing to ignore it. He blundered along at the forest's edge, the set of his body fairly shouting to the following Elf of his fear, held back but palpable.

The evening drew on, and Kevin saw that, ahead of him, the trees came down to the water's edge. Half-reluctantly, he went that way, his body fairly tingling with apprehension. He came out onto a stretch of sand at a bend in the stream. Looking across, he saw that the woods on the other bank were just as dense, and that there was no beach. Downstream, it was the same. He must either go back or go into the trees. He looked up—and froze. Seldom had he seen a night sky without the glow of city lights. It stretched above him—deep blue and filled with stars. There was no moon as yet, but the light from the water at his feet made it possible for him to see.

"Kevin Hanson, listen to me."

The voice was so deep he seemed to feel it in his chest and belly. For a moment, Kevin did not move, then, terror overwhelming him, he turned and plunged into the trees, almost immediately crashing full tilt into one of them. He hissed with the pain of it, but went on as fast as he dared, until the inability to see his way stopped him. He leaned against a tree, breath coming in gasps, whispering, "Insane. I'm insane. Now I'm hearing voices in rivers! Pretty soon, I'll start believing in leprechauns! Calm down, idiot! Calm down! What's that?"

Beleg spoke softly just behind him. "Kevin, do not be alarmed, but do not move. You are right at the edge of the Fence."

Fence? A way out? Kevin leaped forward—and the world dissolved into light and sound. Beleg threw up his hands in exasperation as the Adan disappeared. Was the Man mad? Could he not listen to his fŰa?

Beleg turned and ran swiftly back to the Border Stream. "HÝr Ulmo, will you tell her?"

"I will, Beleg C˙thalion. Stay near the place at which he entered, for perhaps he will come out inadvertently."

Beleg bowed, and returned to watch.

No sky. No ground. Nothing but swirling, pulsing waves of color. He did not know if he was standing or lying down. He did not even know if he was moving or still. His body tingled, every hair erected, as if lightning was near. A deep soft chord of music went on and on, as if a huge orchestra or a pipe organ was playing a sustained note. He closed his eyes, and there was no difference in the light, as though it was inside him as well as outside. He knew he was breathing, for he could smell—the ocean, but other than that, he did not know what his bodily state was. The panic in him crested, then slowly diminished, lulled by the sound. He found himself watching the colors—sapphire, emerald, gold, silver, burgundy, flowing in seemingly random patterns through the background of white light. He began to drift into a kind of reverie—recalling all that had occurred in the last few days. If this was another manifestation of mental instability, at least it didn't seem to be chasing him. No, it was drawing him toward passivity! Instantly, he started speaking aloud. "My name is Kevin Hanson. I live at 3147 Palm Lane, Los Angeles, California. I am 36 years old. I am a cartographer, and I am a thoroughly logical being. This is a mental aberration, a state of delirium, nothing more. There are no Elves, no Valar, nothing that can not be measured and weighed. I will not give in to this—this fever-dream, or whatever it is."

Then he began setting himself mental math problems, starting with simple arithmetic and going on to algebraic equations, geometric proofs, problems in trigonometry and calculus. After that, it was maps—picturing and drawing them in his mind. After that, he named and catalogued all the genera and phyla of roses he could remember. He had not eaten for—a long time, but he welcomed the increasing pangs as a sign that he was alive. The growing thirst, though, became a torment, made worse by the smell of the sea. He tried to sing, but his throat was so parched that he could only croak. All the time, the colors swirled around and past him—and into him, rich and soft and deadly.

Yavanna stood at the edge of the Fence. With a sigh, she said, "His sßma is completely closed, I can not touch it at all."

Ruth, who stood beside her, asked, " How long can he live, Lady?"

"Weeks without food, but not so long without water."

"Oh, this is dreadful! I had no idea he would go!"

Yavanna laid a hand on Ruth's shoulder. "Be calm, SÚrmŰ. I shall endeavor to send to him again. Do you and the other Atani speak to Il˙vatar on his behalf."

Some of the things he saw were simply meaningless, shapes like blobs of light, squiggles of color. Some were grotesque, nightmarish, including long-armed, bow-legged forms which leered at him out of the palpable air around him. Some were lovely, softly scintillating pillars of flame, flower-like swirls, and once, briefly, two magnificent trees, tower-tall, one shining silver and the other gleaming gold,. He knew he cried, though his eyes were so dry that it was only the ugly, tearing sobs that let him know it.

Then came a time when he knew that he would surrender to the madness. Were Ruth and the others he had met right? Had he indeed entered into an altered state, another kind of reality? All his scientific training and his innate skepticism said no, but the continuous, quiet sound, like a prolonged tranquil chord at the end of a symphony began to work on him, lulling him away from fear. He resisted at first, refusing to go tamely into this—whatever it was, but there were long periods when he simply rested, still aware of his thirst, his cracked and bleeding lips, and his weariness, but only as a tale told about someone else. It was in one of these quiet periods when he felt the touch, like a hand laid softly on his right shoulder. He could not tell if he turned toward it, but it came again, more definite, more "real". No, it wasn't an external thing at all. It seemed to arise from some part of himself. He could barely respond, barely acknowledge the contact, but he did. There came a rustle, like wind in leaves, a fresh green scent, and then, he was lying on grass, beneath tall trees, his head in the lap of his—his teacher. He strove to speak, and she said, "Hush, beloved. Not yet. There is time for talking later. Here is EstŰ. She is a healer; do not fear her."

He saw a tall woman in silver-gray, who knelt beside him, and reaching out, laid one long slender hand on his cheek. He felt something like—cool mist flow into him, sweet and clean and infinitely tender, a whisper rather than a command, and slowly, he drifted into sleep.

They laid him in the Border Stream, and EstŰ roused him just enough so that he could accept water, a little at a time, without choking. When they judged that he could be moved without leaving his hr÷a, Beleg, who had watched for the time he was within the Fence, wrapped him in his cloak and carried him back to the house.

Dreaming, he was at home in his garden, his place of sanctuary. Roses scented the air, sunlight spilled like warm honey over the scene, and the resident mockingbird sat on the top of one of the palm trees that gave the street its name, singing lustily. A quiet, utterly ordinary happiness filled him. He set to work removing dead blossoms from one of the bushes, whistling Dvorak's Humoresque. Glancing toward the house, he saw—the Lady, standing like a sapling against the brick wall, smiling at him.

CalimŰ spoke softly from beside him. "He is awake, sellinya."

Ruth, who was standing on the other side of the bed on which he lay said, "Hi, Kevin."

Kevin whispered, "How long?"

Ruth replied, "Nearly a week. If you hadn't opened the Door, you would have died of thirst in there."

"Opened what door?"

Ruth smiled gently. "We'll talk about that later. Right now, just lie quietly while my healing partner and I examine you. Don't worry, we know what we're doing, though, to be honest, you're the first person other than each other we've had the chance to practice on."

Kevin said, "Is that supposed to reassure me?"

With a laugh, Ruth replied, "Well, CalimŰ doesn't get sick, so she's had more practice than I, but my gift is one of hearing the hr÷a's song, so I've gotten to know how it should sound."

"What Song?"

"Poor guy! All this mumbo-jumbo thrown at you. I promise, all shall be revealed. Okay?"

"I don't have a choice, do I?"

"Sure you do. The Lady EstŰ, our teacher, is right outside."

"We've met, I think."

"That's right, you have. So, shall we continue? It isn't painful, I promise."

"Oh sure. I've been everything else in the last few days—mad, thirsty, starving, why not a guinea pig?"

"Sounds reasonable. CalimŰ, are you ready?"

CalimŰ patted Kevin's cheek softly. "I am, sellinya."

They each took one of Kevin's hands, and were quiet, for almost twenty minutes. He nearly fell asleep again. Finally, they released him, and Ruth said, "Broth, for a couple more days, then soft grains, but nothing spicy or rich."

CalimŰ replied, "I agree, but I think he should have a little more of the cordial."

"Yes. I'll get it."

When Ruth had gone, Kevin asked, "Is it like pulse diagnosis, what you did?"

"Partially, but, as SÚrmŰ said, she has the ability to hear the body's song. My gift is to see the state of the fŰa, at least as it relates to health."

At his baffled look, CalimŰ laughed warmly. "I am sorry, Kevin. All this must seem utterly strange to you, but you will have help in understanding things, if you will accept it. Here is SÚrmŰ with your medicine."

Ruth came in, carrying a small covered cup, filled with a clear liquid, which she handed to CalimŰ. Then, sitting down beside Kevin, she slipped an arm beneath his shoulders and helped him to sit up, while CalimŰ uncovered the cup and held it to his lips. "Drink it all, Kevin."

The cordial had no taste, not even that of water and did not react with coolness or warmth on his tongue, but he felt gentle warmth beginning to move through him almost at once.

Placing the empty cup on a nearby table, CalimŰ said, "Very good. Now you may rest again."

He did, without dreaming this time, and when he woke, they fed him broth, a little at a time, helped him to relieve himself and left him to sleep again.

By the third day, he was able to sit up on his own, and Michael was allowed to visit him. When he came, Kevin said simply, "Tell me, Mike. I really don't get it."

Michael sat with him for more than an hour, telling him of his friendship with Beleg, the accident, Beleg's disclosure, and all that had followed. Kevin made no comment, and Michael said, giving him a compassionate look, "It's hard when foundations are shaken, Kev, I know. The world is wider than you thought, and deeper and higher too. It is also more dangerous, as there are real forces of evil in it, not just abstract ones or the misbehavings of people. There are also forces of good, and beyond all, the One. It's both scarier and more wonderful to realize that."

"But what does this have to do with me?"

"You have the potential to be an Elf-friend, Kev, and what that means is that the part of you which does not die, what the Eldar call the fŰa, is drawn to the Firstborn, who were here in Arda a long time before we were."

Kevin shook his head, with a look almost of despair. "This is so hard!"

Michael laid a hand sympathetically on his shoulder. "I bet it is. You're a scientist, not a poet or an artist, but look on it as an interesting anthropological investigation. If you do join us, you will be able to speak to other Eldandili—Elf-friends of a skeptical nature. We need skeptics as well as poets and artists, Kev. Oh, here is HÝr Finrod."

Smiling from the doorway, Finrod asked, "May I come in, Kevin?"

"Of course, sir. I guess I owe you an apology. I was very rude."

Finrod came and sat down on the bed. "With reason, Kevin. So, is Michael fleshing out the details?"

"Starting to, but I know there's a lot to learn and I—think—maybe—I should—"

He shivered deeply, but then looked directly at the Elda, "…listen to your song, sir."

Finrod smiled warmly. "Only if you wish, Kevin. Now that I know a little more of you, I think I was mistaken to send to you as quickly as I did, but now that you have experienced power, albeit in a rather unpleasant form, I think you might be more willing."

Michael broke in enthusiastically, "Kev, another anthropological, or as Ruth says, Eldarological case."

Standing up, Finrod said, "Excuse me for a moment."

Soon he returned with his harp, while Michael was making Kevin comfortable on the bed. "You might drift off, Kev. I wouldn't want you falling out of the chair."

Kevin looked warily at his friend. "So it is hypnotism after all."

"No, not really, more like a lucid dream. Here they all are." Kevin turned his head and saw Ruth, CalimŰ, Elizabeth and another man whom he had not yet met, each carrying a chair.

Ruth said, "Wouldn't miss HÝr Finrod's olos, Kevin. It's better than TV!"

Everyone laughed, including Finrod. Then he said quietly to Kevin, "You are as tense as a drawn bow. Would you rather I did not do this?"

"Yes, but do it anyway. I've got to get over this. As you said, I experienced power while in the—whatever it was, and now that I know it wasn't delirium, I'd better deal with it as best I can."

Finrod nodded. After a moment, he began to play softly, a mere whisper of delicate notes, a flickering of melody. Kevin shivered, feeling the sense of unfocused perception, of things half-seen. He glanced at the others faces, and saw the delight in them, the anticipation. Finrod sang, and a soft darkness flowed into the room, in which fear had no part at all. He heard crickets and smelled sweet grass and rich moist earth. He sensed the nearness of a body of water, wind stirring it into wavelets. Then, the sky above him filled with softly twinkling stars, and he saw, lying on the grass which covered the lakeside, beautiful forms of men and women, asleep, with smiles upon their dreaming faces. One of them stirred and opened his eyes, looking around him with wonder, then up at the sky. Sitting up, and raising his hands in delight, he shouted, "ElŰ!" And the other Eldar, for surely that is who they were, opened their eyes, saw the stars and cried aloud in joy.

It was like no dream he had ever had, for the images which flowed through his mind were crystalline, not blurred or random. He saw the coming of OromŰ, the Great Journey, the Trees which he had seen while in the Borderland. When, at last, Finrod ceased, sunset light suffused the sky beyond the window of the room. Kevin looked at the tear-wet faces of the other Eldandili, and was not ashamed of his own weeping. After several minutes, he said, with difficulty, "Thank you, sir. Thank you."

Finrod laid the harp down and came to him. Kevin sat up, and they looked at one another. "There is much of grief, as well as of joy in the tale of my people, Kevin, but as you are a man of learning, I deem it wise for you to study it in our lore, even—"he added with a twinkle in his gray eyes—"if the style of writing is worse than nineteenth century."

Kevin laughed a bit shakily, then took the Elda's proffered hand. "I will, sir, but I hope you won't mind a raft of questions."

"I welcome them. Come, my friends. I need to eat, and I imagine you do as well."

0-0-0


Lamplight spilled softly onto the polished wood of the table. All else was in shadow, as it was two hours after midnight. Kevin looked across at Finrod, his face set almost in an expression of pain.

"But I can't just throw reason away, sir. If there is a creator, as you say, don't you think he would have given us intelligence? Surely we're not just supposed to accept all this unquestioningly?"

"No indeed, meldonya; but let me ask you something. If you are scaling a sheer precipice, would you not desire a sound rope to anchor you to the rocks?"

"I would."

"How many times has medical theory changed in the past two centuries, Kevin? Your physicians used to believe that blood-letting relieved the body of dangerous humors. They disregarded the need for cleanliness in treating wounds, so that many died of the poison of infections. Now, they are convinced that tiny creatures called bacteria and viruses are the cause of disease, but this too may seem absurd in years to come. The ropes have been changed in mid-climb again and again."

"Well, sir, that seems to negate your argument that this being exists, as the same might be said about our understanding of the universe. As we gain more knowledge, old things seem ludicrous."

Finrod smiled. "That would be true, Kevin, if evidence of another kind were not available to us."

Kevin sighed explosively. "Well, we humans don't have your advantage of being able to converse with the angels, sir."

"I am not speaking of the Valar, Kevin, though, save for one, we have found them to be eminently truthful."

"Okay, I'll bite. What evidence?"

"Even your scientists do not discount the role of intuition or, as you call them, hunches in their investigations. Did not one of them come to an understanding of molecular structure through a dream?"

"The benzene ring. Yeh, but that could just have been an unconscious leap of knowledge."

Again Finrod smiled, and nodded.

"But—but—oh God!"

Kevin laid his head on the table. "So now you're saying that he sends dreams, I suppose."

"Yes, directly or through His servant Irmo."

Kevin lifted his head and brought his fist down on the table. "No! We're going in a circle!"

He sprang up and went to the window beside the outer door, staring out into the darkness. From behind him, Finrod asked quietly, "Do you wish me to take you back through the portal, meldonya?"

Kevin whirled, drawing a breath to answer hotly. Then, seeing the compassion on his companion's face, he stopped, his shoulders slumped and he came back to his chair and sat. "No, sir. It wouldn't help. I would just think it was all a dream. I don't know what to do. You all have been so kind to me and have not pressed me. When I asked to talk with you, I had it all worked out—all the arguments, but now I'm as much at a loss as I was before we started."

"I am listening, meldonya."

"Sir, the—Histories say that there was a long period of time without either sun or moon. That's impossible. The earth would freeze. They say that until the Downfall of N˙menor, the earth was like a disk. Gravitational observation shows that can't happen; the forces would tear the planet to bits! Your lore says the sun and moon were originally a blossom and a fruit of—the Trees! Spectrographic analysis shows that the sun is a ball of burning gas and the moon simply reflects its light!"

Kevin had risen again and was pacing the room, "And now, you want me to just throw all that out and accept these myths? I can't, sir! I simply can't!"

Finrod said calmly, "What is a myth, Kevin?"

"A tale, a story made up by pre-scientific people to explain why things are."

"That is partially correct."

"So?"

"A myth is also a way of bringing into the world of actual experience those things which are beyond explanation—of any kind, Kevin. In the case of the Histories, meldonya, whether verified by scientific experimentation or not, they are true. Wait, let me finish. I myself was there, in Aman, when the Trees were in flower. It is not a tale to me, but a clear memory."

Kevin had come to the table, the edge of which he gripped in white-knuckled hands. After a moment, he sank down into his chair and gazed at Finrod with a look almost of despair. The Elda regarded him quietly. After a while, Kevin said, "How can I do this? I don't know how to do this."

"No one has asked you to disregard knowledge gained through observation, Kevin. You have a clear and orderly mind. Yet some of your greatest scientists can hold both the light of the fŰa and the understanding of the hr÷a, both the glory of the Trees and the fire of Anar. For these lore-masters of the Atani, there is no contradiction, for they see in the orderly circling of the spheres the love and splendor of Il˙vatar, and they rejoice. I believe that you are one of these. Do not let Shadow cloud your vision. The Enemy ever desires to sow discord among the Children of Il˙vatar, and he makes knowledge something to be desired above all things, to the exclusion of estel. This my people have learned to our sorrow."


"Estel?"

"Trust in the One."

Kevin groaned and rubbed his temples. "I feel like I'm caught in the Fence again."

Finrod smiled. "Then ask your teacher to release you."

Kevin laughed shakily. "I've been avoiding her, and now I haven't seen her for weeks. She's probably furious with me."

"No, just giving you breathing space. Now, if I might counsel you, I would talk to her, for her experience is even more immediate than mine."

"No doubt, but I have no idea how to—uh—call."

"Ah, we have not spoken of ˇsanwŰ, have we? Well, I will request her to come. In the meanwhile, please go and rest. Both my daughter and SÚrmŰ are gravely concerned that you will fall ill again."

Kevin nodded. "I'm sorry, sir. I've kept you up all night."

"No matter. I do not require much sleep."

Kevin, interested in spite of himself, asked, "Really? How much do you sleep?"

"For us, it is a choice, Kevin, unless we have labored long. So then, shall I speak to Heri Yavanna?"

"Sure. Thank you, sir."

"It is well."

After lying for nearly three hours in the dark, his mind in turmoil, Kevin rose and went out onto the terrace outside his room. The air was cool and soft, and the sky to the east was lightening. He sat down on a bench and gazed upward, trying to calm his racing thoughts. Finally, he looked down—and found the Lady sitting quietly beside him. There was no doubt that it was she, for a soft glow surrounded her.

"Greetings, Kevin. I hear you wish to speak with me."

"I—I'm sorry. I've just not known what to say to you—other than thank you. I am in way over my head."

"No matter. Will you walk with me?"

Kevin nodded, and they rose and went down the steps, across the grass and into the woods. They followed the path to the hilltop meadow, but did not stop there. They went on down the hill, and into the woods on the other side. After a while, they came out of the beech woods which surrounded the house and into a forest of tall, straight trees of a kind which Kevin did not know. In the growing light, he saw that their bark was gray, almost silver in appearance, and the path was carpeted with leaves of a fallow gold. They came to an open glade of smaller trees of the same kind and stopped.

Yavanna turned to him and asked, "Do you know this species of trees, Kevin?"

"I would say that they're a kind of beech, but—"

"Like, but not the same. Observe the trunks—not divided. Observe the leaves, larger than the beech."

She lifted one of the leaves from the ground and handed it to him. He noticed that it was supple, as if it had only recently fallen, though by every other indication, it was still summer here.

"Observe the blossoms."

She plucked one from a young tree and laid it in his hand. It was like the blossom of the cherry, but it almost seemed to glow with golden light in his fingers. Kevin turned slowly and looked up at the Lady, who smiled gently.

"The Eldar call it MalinornŰ. It is native to Aman, but I planted it in N˙menor, and Tar-Aldarion took seeds to Gil-galad in Lindon. It did not flourish there, but the Eldarin king gave seeds to Galadriel, who planted them in Lothlˇrien, where, under her power, they throve."

Kevin closed his eyes briefly, his expression anguished.

"What troubles you, Kevin? Do you think that I would deceive you?"

"No!"

He was surprised at his own vehemence—surprised at his certainty of her veracity.

Yavanna smiled again, and laid a hand softly on his shoulder. "Your fŰa and your hr÷a are at war, my friend, but this need not be so. Can you not leave room for wonder, for mystery? How dull the world would be if all things were fully known! Though we Ainur were kindled before time, and though we sang the themes of Il˙vatar, we do not know the end of the symphony, Kevin, and it is a delight to us. So let it be with you. Observe, investigate, but do not seek knowledge for its own sake. Let the Design enfold you and unfold in you."

Kevin answered in a low voice, "It's hard, my Lady. I'm the skeptical type."

"So you are, but you also contain the seeds of trust, my friend, or you and I would not be in affinity. When you plant and nurture, there are times when you are lost in delight, are there not?"

"Y—yes."

"And hours when you lose count of time for wonder and admiration?"

"That's true."

"Though you may not have thought of those times as contemplation, they were, Kevin. You would not call them worship, but they were; yet what you worshipped was the orderliness or the symmetry, not the Giver of them. And yet, walking with you in your garden, I perceived the shoots of true adoration in you. Let them rise, Kevin, and let them turn toward the Light."

"How?"

"Not through your own efforts, nor mine. I am not your ruler, Kevin. That office belongs to Il˙vatar. Let Him show you the path."

"But I don't even know if He exists!"

"Did you not assert a moment ago that I would not deceive you?"

"I did!"

"Eru Űa. The One is."

Her voice was neither louder nor deeper, but the note of authority in it brought Kevin's eyes to her face. It was calm, and the eyes which looked at him were tranquil. After a moment, she smiled. "I will leave you now, Kevin. No one, not even He, will force you, my friend. Be at peace."

Then, to his astonishment, she bent and gently kissed his forehead, and was gone. For a moment, Kevin stared at the place where she had been. Bending, he touched it, and, though the ground was in shadow, it was warm. With a shake of the head, he walked on through the young trees, until he came to the edge of another, slightly larger glade, lit by the newly risen sun. Instead of grass or wildflowers, the glade was planted with wheat in ordered rows. Something about it tugged at his memory, so that he did not go forward. Over the past several months, though with difficulty and even loathing, he had read most of the Histories with care. After a few minutes, standing gazing at the young grain, he suddenly said, "Lembas! I thought only women were—but then, if they're right, I'm a Yavannildo too, aren't I?"

The path skirted the edge of the small field, and he followed it onward into another wood of malinornŰ trees, up a hill, and out into an ordinary meadow. There, at its edge, he lay down in the shade. After a few hours, he woke, with an aching head and a sore throat. He sat up and sneezed violently. "Right. Well, at least I know I'm not in the Undying Lands. People don't get sick there."

He sneezed again, got to his feet and made his way back to the house.

When he came to the door, CalimŰ opened it and smiled at him. "Here he is. Silly Kevin, come in."

Kevin rasped, "You sure?"

Ruth, who was coming down the hall said, "Uh-oh. Willow bark?"

Looking at Kevin solicitously, CalimŰ, answered, "And horehound. Kevin, to bed with you. We had better make up a lot of cough syrup, SÚrmŰ, just in case the other Atani catch it."

Kevin said, "Sorry."

"Who's blaming you?" Ruth replied. "Come on, Kev."

He went, and a few minutes later, CalimŰ brought him a steaming cup of willow bark tea mingled with strong mint and sweetened with honey. He drank it, when it had cooled sufficiently, then lay down and slept.

It was not a serious illness, and, after the first day, he felt well enough to sit up and read. When he asked, CalimŰ brought him There and Back Again, which he had avoided, thinking a children's tale would be poorly written and silly. As Elizabeth, Michael's wife, came with his lunch, she heard Kevin laughing. She knocked and entered, seeing him grinning. "Like it, Kevin?"

"It's delightful! Poor Bilbo!"

"Yeh. Talk about house guests from hell. HÝr Finrod made this. It's lovely soup!"

"I bet. Thank you. Has anyone else caught this crud?"

"Ruth has, so she gets to practice unlicensed medicine on herself. Enjoy your lunch. I'll be back in a bit."

After lunch, Kevin continued to read, and, near the end of the tale, he came to this passage:

"Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!" said Bilbo.

"Of course!" said Gandalf. "And why should not they prove true? Surely you don't disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!"

Kevin stared at the page for several minutes. Then, laying the book aside he said, "Okay, but you're going to have to help me; I have no idea how to walk this path—Il˙vatar."

With that, he lay down calmly and slept.

0-0-0

The first thing he noticed on waking was that he was content—not euphoric, not drunk with delight, just at ease. He lay looking at leaf shadows on the ceiling until he had to sit up to sneeze, which made him laugh. There had been no visions, no revelations in the night watches, just quiet sleep and a quiet waking. He rose, dressed and went to put There and Back Again in its place in the library. There he met Master Pengolodh, the resident scribe. He was sitting at the table, using a frame of metal grids and a punching stylus to write in braille.

"Good morning to you, Kevin. You are feeling better, then?"

"Much better, sir. Are we the only two up?"

"Well, you are the only Atan up."

"Figures. I'm a lark, sir, a morning person."

Pengolodh gave him a mischievous smile. "You do not look much like a lirulin, Kevin, but if you say so."

"Lirulin, eh. Another word for my memory bank. I'm afraid I'm not very good at languages; numbers, yes, words no."

"Ah well, we all have our skills. Did you enjoy the book?"

"I did, much to my surprise. Let's see. Which one of these tomes haven't I read? No. No. Hmm. Oh, here's some light reading; Morgoth's Ring. Didn't know he had one."

"Ahem."

"Sorry. Will I disturb your work if I sit here?"

"Not at all."

Kevin seated himself and began scanning the table of contents. "Laws and Customs Among the Eldar? Hmm. Sounds interesting."

"Yes, my student AElfwine composed that."

"AElfwine? As in Eriol?"

"The same."

"Well I'll be. No, I've already read the Silmarillion, and I don't think I can take any Annals this morning. What is Athra—uh?".

"A conversation."

"Oh, I think I can manage that. Okay, I'll shut up now."

For a while, the only sounds were the tap of Pengolodh's stylus and the occasional rustle of turning pages. Then the rustling stopped, and Pengolodh glanced up to see Kevin staring out the window with a bemused expression. "Are you well, Kevin?"

Kevin turned to him. "Yes, I'm fine . What a sad tale! That must have been a dreadful time in which to live."

"It was."

"You were there?"

"I lived in Gondolin, Kevin."

Kevin whistled softly. "Maybe I should just talk to you and dispense with all this."

"I would be glad to answer your questions, my friend."

"Being the persistent type, I'll finish these and then, if I really don't understand something--."

"Surely."

Kevin went back to reading and after a few minutes, he burst out laughing. "Well, why didn't he say so?"

"Why didn't who say what?"

"HÝr Finrod."

He pushed the book across the table, pointing to a passage:

Arda, or 'The Kingdom of Arda' (as being directly under the kingship of Eru's vice-gerent ManwŰ) is not easy to translate, since neither 'earth' nor 'world' are entirely suitable. Physically Arda was what we should call the Solar System. Presumably the Eldar could have had as much and as accurate information concerning this, its structure, origin, and its relation to the rest of Ea (the Universe) as they could comprehend. Probably those who were interested did acquire this knowledge. Not all the Eldar were interested in everything; most of them concentrated their attention on (or as they said 'were in love with') the Earth.
The traditions here referred to have come down from the Eldar of the First Age, through Elves who never were directly acquainted with the Valar, and through Men who received 'lore' from the Elves, but who had myths and cosmogonic legends, and astronomical guesses, of their own. There is, however, nothing in them that seriously conflicts with present human notions of the Solar System, and its size and position relative to the Universe. It must be remembered, however, that it does not necessarily follow that 'True Information' concerning Arda (such as the ancient Eldar might have received from the Valar) must agree with Men's present theories. Also, the Eldar (and the Valar) were not overwhelmed or even principally impressed by notions of size and distance. Their interest, certainly the interest of the Silmarillion and all related matter, may be termed 'dramatic'. Places or worlds were interesting or important because of what happened in them.

After reading the indicated passage, Pengolodh raised one eyebrow questioningly.

Kevin said, "It doesn't matter about the sun and moon and all that, according to this. It's what we do that matters."

"Surely, Kevin, unless you, my friend, are in control of celestial bodies."

Kevin laughed . "No, and I'm glad I'm not. So I should just—read these histories and not try to reconcile them with scientific theories?"

"Yes, but that does not mean unreason. It means reason and--."

"Estel."

"Yes."

Kevin sighed. "I'm willing, sir, though I haven't the vaguest idea how to cultivate estel."

"By desiring it."

"Easier said than done."

"Of course. Ah, I think there are others stirring. Shall we go and break our fast? Thought needs nourishment as well as flesh."

"I'm game, sir. Then I think I'll read about those laws and customs."

He did, and about many other things as well over the next few days. He also began to talk with the others in the house, a little awkwardly at first, about Il˙vatar. They were all quite forthcoming, each in his or her way. At last, one evening, as he sat with Michael and Elizabeth, he asked, "What do I do, guys?"

Michael responded quietly, "Believe that He exists and trust Him, Kevin."

Kevin said softly, "Eru Űa. That's what the lady said—and I felt the words in my bones."

For several minutes, he sat still, gazing at the fire. Finally, quietly, he said, "Yes—yes. There are still things that baffle me--."

Elizabeth said, "Naturally. Why did He allow the Marring, for example, and all that flowed from it? You don't suppose we know the answer to that, do you? But that's what 'the freedom of Eru' means. I, for one, would rather trust that there is goodness beyond and above all evil than to live in despair. You're not a puppet—none of us are. We are, as the Eldar say, the Eruhini, the Children of the One, and He hasn't abandoned us. It's one reason we're all here together."

Kevin nodded, his face thoughtful. "Well, this Child of Il˙vatar has a lot to learn, and I hope you will help me."

Michael said, "Of course—all of us will; but be open to Him, Kevin. He will guide you far better than we can."

Kevin smiled a little wryly. "I trust so. Good night."

With a smile, Michael replied, "Rest well, Kev."


Author's Note: Excerpts are from _the Hobbit_ and the notes to Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth in _Morgoth's Ring_.

All words are Quenya, unless otherwise stated.

Atan/Atani; human/humans.

Adan/Edain, the same in Sindarin.

Eldandil/Eldandili; Elf-friend/Elf-friends.

Elda/Eldar; Elf/Elves.

”sanwŰ; interchange of thought, telepathy.

Heru; lord.

HÝr; The same in Sindarin.

Meldonya; my friend.

Olos; dream, fair vision.

Aiya; hail, a formal greeting.

Heri; lady.

Hr÷a; body.

I Aldu; The Two Trees.

Vanima; beautiful, fair.

Isil; The Moon.

FŰa; spirit, soul.

Sßma; mind.

Sellinya; my sister.

Estel; hope, trust.

MalinornŰ; Mallorn.

Aman; the Blessed Realm.

Yavannildo; follower, or in this case, a student, of Yavanna.

Lirulin; skylark.

Anar; the Sun.
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