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Story Notes:
I used various reference sources for Sindarin names, including The Hesperides Project and The Grey Company Common to Elvish dictionary and phrase book. Geography is courtesy of maps of Middle Earth available within The Encyclopedia of Arda as well as RL maps.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Contents:

Prologue: “Is the Glass Completely Empty or is the Glass Completely Full?”

Chapter One: “Waving Hello”

Chapter Two: “Moving East”

Chapter Three: “Change of Plans”

Chapter Four: “Moving Apart”

Chapter Five: “Secrets Hidden and Secrets Revealed”

Chapter Six: “The Gateway”

Chapter Seven: “Lost Chances”

Epilogue: “Many Shores”
“WAVE GOODBYE”

Arafinte © 2009



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Contents:

Prologue: “Is the Glass Completely Empty or is the Glass Completely Full?”

Chapter One: “Waving Hello”

Chapter Two: “Moving East”

Chapter Three: “Change of Plans”

Chapter Four: “Moving Apart”

Chapter Five: “Secrets Hidden and Secrets Revealed”

Chapter Six: “The Gateway”

Chapter Seven: “Lost Chances”

Epilogue: “Many Shores”


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Prologue:

“Is the Glass Completely Empty or is the Glass Completely Full?”


Do you believe that everything is true? Everything? Say, for the instance of this writing, that everything Tolkien wrote is true just as he described it, that it is in fact, not fiction at all, but gospel truth. Do you believe this? Or, ……. do you believe that this very world we live in is fiction to the point of being completely untrue? Do you believe that this world does not exist? There is proof for the realizing that both cases are so. Do you believe that the universe is infinite? Imagine, just for the sake of this writing, that you are immortal. Also imagine if you will that you have a space ship that is very, very fast. Now imagine that you travel in your ship in a straight line away from Earth at very high speed, … say one million times the speed of light, and due to your immortality, you can do so forever. I will ask that for the time being you forget Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity so that the friends and loved ones you leave behind on Earth do not age much more rapidly than you do. Traveling in a straight line at one million times the speed of light, you eventually come to a star. There are no planets orbiting around this star and you travel on.

Eventually you do come to a star around which orbit some planets, … but none of them resemble Earth in any way. On you go. Remember, you are immortal and your ship is very fast. You go faster now, eventually coming to a star around which orbits a planet about the size of Earth but which has no atmosphere or water. Time to travel onwards again.

Because the Universe is infinite, eventually you come to a planet which has an atmosphere and water, and eventually to a planet which has air, water, and life. The life is just some algae, … not very interesting, … so you speed up your flight in a straight line. Now you come to a planet with air, water, and life SOMETHING like what you were used to back on Earth, although it is more different than similar. So, becoming very determined you put your foot to the floor in your spaceship and after many, many years of travel you finally come to a planet with life quite similar to Earth. It has taken a long time to get here, and you have traveled a very great distance, but you have found it. Congratulations! They will name something in your honor back home.

Travel on now, faster still, encountering not one, but many planets, some of which have life, and a few of which have life similar to Earth. Because the Universe is infinite, you must encounter these planets if you travel in a straight line. After what seems like an eternity, you come to a planet EXACTLY like Earth, with a me writing to a you, … an exact copy in every way. Because the Universe is infinite, there is not only this one exact copy of Earth, but an infinite number of them. Because the Universe is infinite, there are also an infinite number of variations of Earth, …….. and an infinite number or each of these variations. All this in a straight line.

Now think about it, ……. if there is all this infinity in a straight line, then there MUST be a world out here somewhere in this straight line EXACTLY as Tolkien described in his writings about Middle Earth. Of course, there are an infinite number of these Middle Earths, an infinite number of variations of Middle Earth, and an infinite number of each of these variations. All in a straight line. Because the Universe is infinite, not only do infinite numbers of infinite variations exist in a straight line, they exist EVERYWHERE, and because they exist everywhere, all infinity is full of them. If all infinity is full of an infinite number of infinite variations, then Middle Earth exists everywhere, ……. including right back on the Earth you left so long ago in your very fast spaceship. All this everywhere. It seems that you didn’t need to leave after all. So, if everything exists everywhere then it not only exists in the infinite but in the infinitesimal as well. Everything in every infinitesimal point.

Because everything exists in the infinite as well as in the infinitesimal, and because all possibilities are thus true, then there also exists everywhere the case that none of it exists at all. Emptiness in all the infinite Universe and in all the infinitesimal Universe. Not only are there no Middle Earths, there are no home Earths either, including the one you came from. Are you dreaming? WHO is dreaming? Oh, by the way, ……. because every possibility exists, (and doesn’t), then all possibilities exist, (or don’t), into the infinite past as well as into the infinite future. Everything everywhere all the time. Nothing anywhere ever. So, ……. due to the infinity of possibilities and the emptiness of those possibilities, everything and nothing exist in the
infinitesimally present point of NOW. Sorry, but it looks as if you won’t be getting something named in your honor after all.

Or will you?

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Chapter One:

“Waving Hello”


I had been keeping up with an old tradition that I have observed for many years of reading “The Lord Of The Rings” at Christmas time. I understand that many other folk observe this practice as well. I was within four chapters of finishing the last book when the power went out. Winter storms often accomplish that on the little island where I live. The rogue wave, however, was quite unusual.

As the water swept over and demolished my house I was surprised to find that my last thoughts were of Middle Earth, specifically, of wishing I could be there and help, of all people, Gollum. Poor creature! If only I could .............

My thoughts overcome by a gigantic wave of light, ....... and then ...........

Blackness.

It was cold and windy when I awoke, desolate brown grassland to the North and a vast dark green forest to the South. A small river flowed from the former into the latter. Next to this I had for some reason made my bed and in doing so exhibited poor choice because an intense biting dampness from the river hovered next to the ground, utterly soaking my short green robes.

Short green robes?

When the wave hit I had been wearing blue fleece pajamas.

Oh, yes, the wave.

Was I dead?

I did not feel dead. I just felt very cold and damp, ....... and hungry, ........ and ........... different. I felt like looking into a mirror. Standing and walking to a calm spot in the river I was mildly dismayed to find any smooth reflective surface obscured by mist. It was thicker here immediately above the water, the product of a temperature differential between cold air above warmer liquid. Then I chanced to glance down my chest towards my feet, still half awake, you understand. Still sleepy and groggy and not yet fully conscious.

Breasts! I had breasts! This would not have been at all unusual for someone who had expected to wake up as a woman, but I had been a man when the wave hit.

The wave .......

Was I dead?

No. I had already established that I felt otherwise. But now I was a woman. Let me here assure any male readers who have fantasized about what it might be like to exist as a member of the opposite sex that no amount of such fantasizing can adequately prepare one for the shock and absolute oddness of the first realization that one is suddenly female. Any proximity to consciousness that I had been previously approaching was now shattered by the overwhelming dizziness of shock. I fainted.

And for the second time in what seemed like only moments I was covered with water, and it was freezing. Jerked awake by the icy river I had just fallen into I dragged myself with all haste back onto the shore where I instantly set about dripping and shivering. The mind is so strange. Even in that state of being dangerously close to severe hypothermia the oddest thoughts can arise. I cautiously slid my right hand beneath my robe and felt my ....................

Oh, yes. One more item of note. As I raised my hand to scratch my ear I discovered that it was pointed.

I was a female and I was an elf.

My eyes were grey, my hair was jet black, and I was about five feet nine inches tall.

Not wanting to faint again, if for no other reason than falling into freezing water two times in five minutes was indicative of simple mindedness, I withdrew my hand and forced myself to think rationally. Well, sort of rationally. What my mind really did was quiver back and forth between possible plans of action to keep from freezing to death and the very impossible to neglect fact that I had somehow switched genders. As the immediacy of my physical peril began to win out over concerns related to my identity, I found myself walking briskly towards the shelter of the trees. I must get out of this wind. I was starting to shiver uncontrollably and pushed myself to run so as to generate more body heat. Very peculiar to run in this new body. Increased ratio of power below the waist making it easier to balance yet lowered ratio of strength above the waist making it more difficult to .............. run like a man.

The forest was fortunately fairly dry and I soon had the bright idea to make a fire. Searching my garments for a pocket in which would be a happy lighter or book of matches I was dismayed yet not surprised to find that I had neither devices with which to make fire or pockets. Good thing I had been a Boy Scout in my youth. I soon found a springy young branch of yew and then a splintered piece of some kind of cedar, dry as a bone. Some of the oaks I next encountered were adorned with beards of a moss that I recognized as good tinder. I quickly found a sharp stone with which I set to chiseling a small pocket in the piece of cedar. Next I removed the belt from my waist and tied it between the ends of the yew branch, bending it into a bow. Setting this aside I searched for a straight piece of dry conifer wood and soon found a suitable piece of pine. Lastly I notched a small chunk of green oak to act as a handle for the pine drill. I was shivering violently by now and knew that I must hurry.

I had to see if these materials would work. If they did, then I could easily gather more tinder, twigs, and then serious firewood. I twisted the belt of the bow around the pine drill and set it into the notch in the cedar below and the notch of the green oak above. I then placed a bunch of the dried moss next to the bottom of the bow and began vigorously spinning the drill by working the bow back and forth. In ten seconds the cedar began to smoke and in thirty seconds the moss burst into flame. It worked! Dashing back and forth from one tree to another I gathered firewood and rekindled my fire, this time building it high and hot.

As I sat naked next to the roaring flames, my clothes drying on branches above, I marveled at my new body. I appeared to be in my twenties, slender yet muscular, and rather beautiful. Before you wonder, I was indeed having a bit of trouble not becoming aroused by the sight of my own body. This was so weird! Only the dire necessity of avoiding succumbing to the bitter cold had deterred me from indulging in sexual fantasy of a most real nature. Now that I was dry and warm I let my mind explore what my body did not yet dare do, yet still, this was exciting. It was also strangely calming in a way I can only describe as dreamlike. I was not dreaming, however, and was acutely aware of this when the elf walked into my campsite.

At first I had tried to hide, but it quickly seemed ridiculous to do so. He had seen me and seen me up close. And he was smiling in a manner which made me feel less than comfortable. Damn! This just would not do! Donning my nearly dry garments I faced him and spoke, breaking the awkward silence I felt he had established by his unannounced presence. Better to keep him on the defensive, I thought.

“Who are you and what do you want?” I queried, instantly regretting the second part of my question.

He stared dumbfoundedly and replied in a language I could not quite make out. It sounded a bit like Welsh. Again he spoke. He was asking me a question and seemed to be doing so in a polite and respectful manner. Again I attempted to communicate with him and again was not understood. Then it hit me.

He was speaking Sindarin!

Knowing but a few words and phrases from the books written by Tolkien I recited hopefully, “Quel amrun”, (Good morning).

“Quel amrun!” he immediately replied, a broad smile gracing his angular face. “Saesa omentien lle”, (Pleasure meeting you) . Glad that I recognized his return greeting I somehow thought I realized in that brief instant what had happened. I was in Middle Earth. I was alive in Middle Earth and had somehow skipped past any memories of growing up here but instead retained all memories of my life in Canada. I had always believed in reincarnation but the manner in which this chain of events had unfolded was not exactly in keeping with those beliefs. Still, the obvious could not be denied.

Over the course of the next half hour it became abundantly clear that my Elvish and his English were about as likely to succeed in meaningful transfer of knowledge as a chimpanzee is likely to succeed in writing a novel. I then wasted a few seconds wondering if there were chimpanzees in this world. We did establish that his name was Nuryan and he was cousin or brother or something to Legolas. Yes, that Legolas. Nuryan’s uncle was Thranduil and I had awoken on the Northern border of Mirkwood. I had no idea what my name was so made one up on the spot. I would be called “Ithriel”, (meaning “Moon Garland”). Look, I had to make the best of this, right?

I followed Nuryan deep into the forest for a day, after which we eventually came to Thranduil’s halls beneath the Earth. Thranduil was able to read my mind but I could not read his. He explained to the throng which had gathered out of curiosity to see me that I was newly arrived in Middle Earth and had forgotten how to speak. Somehow I understood that it would have been imprudent to explain that I had really come from a place called North America and that just a day ago I had existed in a man’s body.

During my first night in the hospitality of the King of the Wood Elves I was given a small phial of glowing liquid to drink by a golden haired elf woman named Alpheth who was visiting from far away Lothlorien. If I understood correctly, Alpheth was a student of Galadriel, or apprentice, or some such thing. Within seconds of drinking the contents of the little phial I began to feel a pleasant dreamy warmth spreading throughout my mind and body. It felt like the soft ringing of a bell mixed with sunlight mixed with gurgling water flowing within my veins and thoughts. The elves who had gathered around smiled knowingly as Alpheth began to speak slowly and methodically, almost in a drone.

At first I could recognize only a smattering of her Sindarin and understood next to nothing of her meanings. This continued for what could have been five minutes or five hours, but eventually her speech seemed to be making a bit of sense. Thranduil stood off to one side, scratching his chin and smiling. He seemed to be waiting for something. Then it happened so suddenly that I could have screamed in surprise.

I understood every word Alpheth was speaking! She was reciting the entire Sindarin dictionary, if such a thing existed. But it was also more than that, for with each word spoken by that lovely golden haired lady there was a telepathic imprint of all it’s meanings and possible uses transmitted to my mind. I was learning their language! I was learning it all at incredible speed.

By the time the last of the sun’s rays had faded I was fluent enough in Elvish to be comfortable conversing with the many folk that had gathered to see the strange visitor from afar. I still made the occasional mistake, but I put that down more to my inherent confusion than to any fault of the miraculous teaching method. They had so many questions and I answered as best I could, telling them of my world and my previous life. When I mentioned the wave they would grow strangely silent and get a far off look in their eyes. When I would make a slight grammatical mistake or use the wrong word they would erupt with the most delightful laughter. For many days we thus conversed and then Thranduil spoke to me aside in a manner which was far less jovial than the party-like atmosphere that had sprung up around me.

Alpheth was to depart tomorrow for Lorien and I was to accompany her. It seemed that Galadriel had questions for me which she wished to ask directly. I suspected that Galadriel already knew much about me for I had observed Alpheth on several occasions staring into the distance as if in trance and soon after query me about something new. Each such question was prefaced by a brief explanation that “Lady Galadriel wishes me to ask of you .......”. Telepathy. I had read the accounts of mental exchange between Galadriel and members of the Company Of The Ring, and so should perhaps not have been surprised, but this more personal encounter with the phenomenon was slightly disconcerting. When dawn broke we left the Halls of the Woodland Elves, thanking King Thranduil for his gracious hospitality and each promising to return someday.

We would travel North around Mirkwood and then cross the Anduin near the Carrock. From there we would hasten South along the Western bank of the Great River and hopefully reach Lothlorien in less than a week. We carried with us few provisions for Alpheth promised that we would find much of what we needed along our path.

I had now grown mostly accustomed to existing in the body of a female. More cause for thoughts which distracted me away from tasks at hand was existence as an elf. If not fatally injured or broken by impossible grief this body would endure as long as the world lasted. Still having immediate memories of life as a man, but now being in a woman’s form, would under different circumstances likely have been cause for much self exploration of both an emotional and sexual nature, but the reality of practical immortality easily overwhelmed all such inward thoughts. I found myself constantly focusing outwards towards the world around me in a way I had never imagined. Every leaf, every twig, every bird song now had new vitality and import. The world appeared far more vivid and intense, far more vibrant. As we walked out of the forest into the cold barren lands to the North and turned West towards the Anduin, I thought I began to fathom how and why the Elves had been so inraptured with Middle Earth to have been able to teach trees to speak and create fantastic dwellings such as Caras Galadhon.

Alpheth continued to teach me as we strode, not language this time, but an assessment of current events. It soon became apparent to me that my knowledge gained from reading Tolkien in my last life would not allow me to foretell the future here. I had, in fact, surmised this to some degree when I had asked Thranduil about Legolas and was told that he had been living in Rivendell for nearly a year. This Middle Earth was not an exact image of that which I had read about. Was it one of an infinite number of variations? I settled it into my mind that it was and did not seek to pass on too much of what I had read from Tolkien to Alpheth. This she seemed to understand and no longer questioned me about my former existence.

We walked quickly and sometimes jogged. Day and night we travelled thus and in less than a two and a half days we reached the ford and crossed the Great River. Beorn was nowhere to be seen and I imagined him out foraging in the moonlight as any good bear might do. As yet another dawn approached we were well down the Western shore from the Ford of Carrock when we saw the orcs.

It was a small band of no more than twenty and they were traveling in the same direction as we were, but due to our greater speed we had overtaken them. Alpheth recommended that we outflank them to the West which would only cost us half a day at most. I put forth the idea of passing them by stealth when the moon sank below the horizon just before dawn, but she said it was too risky. Neither of us were armed for battle, only possessing knives for utility rather than fighting. I quickly consented to Alpheth’s wishes and we veered right towards the shoulder of the Misty Mountains, giving the orc party a wide berth. I only hoped we would not encounter more of them. We did not.

Our rate of travel here was not to be as fast as in the open lands to the North of Mirkwood but we still made good time. Three days later we finally reached the outer borders of Lothlorien and were there quickly greeted by elves of the Galadrim. Alpheth had been expected and had much to talk about with our escort as we progressed deeper into the enchanted wood. Not less than an hour from Caras Galadhon three elves of obvious nobility met us and bade us change course for the river to our left. At first Alpheth objected but then agreed when one of the noble elves whispered something in her ear that must have been both surprising and worrying. We turned East and ran for all we were worth, reaching the water in less than half an hour. There stood Celeborn next to a small boat and attended by two other elves dressed in very dark blue. They were male and appeared to be twins.

I was hastily introduced to Lord Celeborn and the two blue elves who proved to be none other than Elrohir and Eladin, brothers of Arwen Evenstar. They all had troubled looks upon their brows. Alpheth spoke privately with Celeborn for a moment and then bid me come forward. Celeborn then explained that Lorien was under assault by orcs from the South and that Galadriel was leading the defense. Although it was not a full out action by the forces of darkness, merely a probing attempt, it was deemed important enough to warrant direct involvement by the Queen of the Golden Wood herself. I would later learn from Alpheth that Galadriel was able to not only repulse the attack but by way of her magic keep the entire event cloaked from the Great Eye of Sauron. Better he did not know what lay within the forest.

Galadriel sent apologies that she would be unable to meet with me at this time but bade me undertake a mission or great importance, if, of course, I was willing. Once Celeborn told what was being asked of me I both froze with fear and warmed with the opportunity to fulfill the wishes of the Lady of Lorien. I accepted and gave my solemn word to succeed or die trying. What was I to do? I was to take one of the boats with Alpheth and make for the Falls of Rauros, cross to the Eastern shore of the lake, and catch up to Frodo and Samwise. Galadriel had foreseen Boromir’s internal conflict and subsequent demise yet had also foreseen something else which was not in the books I had read. Me.

Alpheth and I were to aid Frodo and Sam on their journey into Mordor and I in particular was to tend to Gollum. Galadriel had been expressly clear that he was to be treated with as much kindness as possible and once the Ring was destroyed that he be brought to Lorien, there to spend his final days under her healing hands. It had been learned, though I had no idea how, that Gollum possessed within his tortured mind a secret of great importance that would affect the recovery of all Middle Earth should the mission to destroy the Ring be successful.

Alpheth and I now quickly boarded the little boat, accompanied by one of the original elves who had escorted us into the forest. Pushing away from shore we waved a hasty farewell to Celeborn and the sons of Elrond. I hoped very much to meet them all again.


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Chapter Two:

“Moving East”


We did not drift but paddled for all we were worth. I found myself wishing that this boat were a canoe. It would have been faster and more suited to three paddlers. This boat was too wide and too slow and I worried that we would not reach the Eastern shore of the lake in time to intercept the two hobbits. Alpheth shared my concern and dug at the water even harder. All three of us had arms of lead by the time we finally beached the little boat and unloaded our meager gear. We had been given elven cloaks, rope, and several leafy packages of lembas along with a number of water skins. These skins were now empty as we would be able to fill them one last time before we departed the broken hills of Emyn Muil.

The elf who had accompanied us thus far now took leave and paddled the little boat back North against the current. It would be hard work for him to make Lorien in one day, which was his goal. Again I found myself wishing that boat had been a canoe.

Alpheth and I had missed Frodo and Sam but were not far behind for we soon found a few footprints still soft in a muddy patch of wooded trail. No mistaking hobbit feet for those of any other. A little further on we stared aghast at a third set of footprints joining in behind the Ringbearer and his companion. These prints were similar to hobbit feet yet narrower and with longer nail marks. It was certainly Gollum. I no longer depended on events unfolding exactly as they had in the books and felt the greatest sense of urgency in intercepting the hobbits before Gollum did. Alpheth concurred and we redoubled our efforts, quickening our pace to a full run. Just as we crested a stoney rise which gave us a brief view of the more desolate land ahead, I spotted Gollum loping along, half running, half cringing much as might an ape move when fearful and in a hurry. Ahead by perhaps no more than two hundred meters were two very tired looking hobbits. They were not moving fast at all. Gollum would be on them in minutes!

Running with all the strength that we could muster, Alpheth and I somehow managed to reach and tackle Gollum only seconds before he was about to pounce upon Frodo. Sam had fallen behind to pick a few herbs and this had appeared as Gollum’s opportunity. Frodo was surprised to see me tackle Gollum as Alpheth slipped a small net over his flaying arms. “Don’t worry, Frodo”, Alpheth cried out. “Galadriel has sent us to you.” Frodo heard and understood through Gollum’s pitiful screams as Samwise Gamgee ran up from behind, sword drawn, and demanding of everyone except Frodo himself who we were and what was our business here. Despite the severity of the situation, I could not help but laugh a little.

The net used to ensnare Gollum was specially made for the task and contained no fibers woven by elves. Rather it was a bit of altered fishing net that had probably been used by some menfolk up river. Alpheth cooed and whispered to Gollum in languages I did not understand and soon the poor creature began to abate his howling and thrashing and eventually fell nearly quiet, merely sobbing a little from time to time as he looked pitifully up at first one of us then the other. His sunken and bulging eyes were filled with fear and imploring, so desperate was he for release and avoidance of pain.

I explained our mission to Frodo and Sam who were most glad to have our company and assistance, though Sam did not lessen his suspicion of Gollum by so much as a hair. His distrust for this creature was pronounced and unhidden. Alpheth suggested that we make camp there for the night as it was close to the last fresh water we would find for a long while. As Sam and I fell to preparing supper, Alpheth and Frodo confronted Gollum.

Just as in the books, Gollum swore upon “The Precious” to not harm Frodo and help us get into Mordor. Unlike the books he also swore to obey Alpheth in every way, and should Alpheth not be around, to obey me in her stead. For our part we all agreed to call him Smeagol from now on and treat him kindly. Even Sam agreed to this after I told him of Galadriel’s instructions in complete detail. After Smeagol swore his oaths the net was removed and discarded. After supper, while Frodo and Sam slept, Alpheth and I stayed up talking over our plans. We would take up the journey once again in the morning and make for the ground between the Dead Marshes and Wetwang. Although Smeagol insisted that he knew a way through the Dead Marshes, Alpheth spoke of firmer ground slightly to the South. We would miss the Battle Plain of Dagorlad and head straight for Henneth Annūn, “The Window on the West”, there hoping to find a bit of respite before tackling the Mountains of Shadow and entrance into Mordor. I did not yet know of Alpheths’s plan for passing over those mountains, but I did know her need for haste. Celeborn had told her at our parting that Sauron was amassing his forces for an assault on Minas Tirith far more quickly than had first been imagined.

We set out before sunrise and picked our way through the sharp puzzle of rocks with help from both Smeagol’s nose and Alpheth’s memory. It seemed that she had come this way before a long time ago, though she did remark that the land was now much changed. In less than a day we were out of the razor-like maze and making our way through the mushy ground between the two great marshes, the Dead Marshes to our immediate North and the more expansive yet less cursed Wetwang to our South. The water was not fit to drink here and few birds stirred as we walked all day and part of the following night. When Alpheth finally allowed the hobbits to rest we had come nearly thirty miles into this bog where no orc or man would seek to hinder us. This was no place for anything that went upon two legs or even four. Great centipedes wound in and out of the mire and the odd small dark green snake slithered between tussocks of swamp grass on their way from one pool of festering water to another. We all felt extremely fortunate that no insects were around at this time of year. Even Smeagol seemed to hate places like this when mosquitoes abounded.

As the hobbits slept Alpheth sang softly some ancient and gentle song of this land before the coming of the sun and the moon. Elves once wandered here before it was a bog and sang to the stars of heaven. Her voice was incredibly beautiful and I was mesmerized into transcendent reverie as more time passed than I could measure. Dawn startled me back to reality as Smeagol tugged at my arm. “What’s it she sings about, Mistress Ithriel? What’s it she says?” As the song had been largely in Quenya, of which I understood very little, I let Alpheth explain. Smeagol had not slept but remained awake the whole night through, listening to her song and becoming as transfixed as I was. “When was it, .... the things you sings of?” asked Smeagol. Alpheth replied, “It was many thousands of years before you lived by the Great River and fished for your supper. The elves walked here and marveled at the beauty of this land as it was then.” A single tear rolled down his forlorn face and I imagined he might be remembering the brother he slew in order to possess the One Ring.

Sam prepared a meager yet nourishing breakfast without benefit of a fire and all of us save Smeagol partook. For him there was a small catfish he had gleaned from one of the rivulets that ran meandering through this tangle of pools and swamp land. He made slurping and grunting noises as he ate and I could see that this greatly distressed Sam who moved further away in disgust which he made little effort to hide. Smeagol laughed when he saw this. “Silly hobbits cook fish!” Then looking up at me with a rather sarcastic grin, “Do elveses cook fish, too?”

“Well”, I began, “one of my favorite dishes is made with raw fish. If I could find the correct ingredients I’d make it for you sometime.”

Alpheth shot me a look so startled that I at first suspected a great troll was bearing down on me from behind.

“You eat WHAT?!”, she asked with utter disbelief.

“It’s made up of a bit of raw fish rolled up in cooked rice and a particular type of seaweed. It’s called Sushi. It’s truly delicious.”

“You are a strange person indeed to like raw fish let alone admit to it”, she laughed.

Smeagol now had a completely childlike expression on his face. He stared at me in wonder for perhaps thirty seconds as not one of our party spoke and I felt that I had maybe made a mistake mentioning sushi. “Is is juicy?”, he asked in almost a whisper.

“Yes”, I replied, “it can be. I think you’d like it.”

And from there Sam, Frodo, Alpheth, and Smeagol began picking away at me for more details about sushi, to which I answered as best I could.

By mid morning we had covered another ten miles through the bog lands and then caught a glimpse through the scrubby trees of the mountains to our East. Mordor, land of darkness. Beyond the peaks a dark red glow under-lit the gathering storm clouds. We were really going in there. It startled and sickened me to accept this, yet this was our task, and mine was in particular to bring Smeagol back alive to Lorien. Stopping only briefly for a bite to eat we soon pressed on and made as good progress as could be expected over such difficult terrain. As we neared the Eastern reaches of this vast fen the rivulets were becoming broader and harder to cross. Wading was hindered by tangled roots and weeds which clawed at our feet and made it particularly difficult for Frodo and Sam. Alpheth and I, being much taller, had a less difficult time of it, but only Smeagol found such traverses easy. He actually seemed to enjoy half loping and half swimming forward through this labyrinth of water and undergrowth.

It was nearly nightfall when we at last saw dryer land ahead of us. We would spend a last night within the cover of Wetwang before dashing towards Henneth Annūn in the morning. It was doubtful we could cover that much ground in one day but we had to try. The land before us was more open and would offer little cover from prying eyes. We would also come closer to the River Anduin as it bent Eastwards towards Ithilien. Orcs and other forces of Sauron might be moving openly there by this time. If we did not make our goal by sunset we would be wise to press on through the night till we did.

That night Sam and Frodo fell quickly asleep. It had been a hard day of traveling for their short legs. Alpheth and I talked strategy for a while and then she fell into that state of trance that serves as the closest thing elves know to sleep. I was too anxious to do even that and stayed fully awake, listening to what few night birds dared call out in this troublesome murkiness. Smeagol approached and curled up close to my feet as I sat upon a small bump of tussock. He had just eaten a fish he had caught and seemed more peaceful than usual. Up until now he had never really stopped focusing on what dangled from Frodo’s neck. We all knew what that pull was. Even I felt it. I can only describe it as a sickening combination of loathing and longing suffused with horrible fear. Never had I been so repulsed by something and at the same time never had I so wanted to grasp at something so disgusting. It was morbid curiosity at it’s worst on the surface and darkest nightmare at the deepest. I was glad Smeagol was for a short while distracted by something long enough to enjoy a bit of peace. I soon learned what that something was.

My earlier descriptions of sushi had been on his mind all day, though he had said nothing. Now he spoke without looking directly at me. He talked as if to anyone who would listen in a manner that suggested play acting as much as serious conversation, yet his words were obviously meant for my ears alone. “Is there sushi where we are going, kind Mistress? Can we haves sushi when we gets to the mountains?”

I had to disappoint him by replying in the negative. “No, Smeagol. I will probably have to go to the sea to find the type of seaweed I need. Rice I can probably find in many places in Gondor. The other ingredients will be easy. I have already seen ginger since I have been here and fish is easy to find, isn’t it?” This last remark was intended to invoke mirth in the wretched creature and it did that in spades for Smeagol rolled over and beamed up at me with childlike enthusiasm and whispered loudly with great joy, “YES! Fish is easy for Smeagol to find! Smeagol can finds fishes everyyyyywhere!” I smiled back as he rolled over again and drifted into a fitful sleep. I soon moved off into trance and let the night do what it would with my thoughts.

In my mind I saw before us the jagged mountains we must cross and vast armies of orcs and men from the South in our way. I saw fear on the faces of my companions and horror upon the face of Alpheth. Lastly I saw fire bursting forth from Mount Doom as Frodo ran in terror from a fissure in it’s side, the Ring destroyed at last, but lava now pouring forth all around him. As the dim light of a cloudy morning shifted me from my deep I had a gut wrenching feeling that this day would not end well. We packed quickly and moved off. In minutes were at the final rivulet of Wetwang and soon across. Alpheth shot me a worried glance as we began to jog out over the dry ground ahead. Had she also seen something in her dream state which spelled misfortune?

All day we jogged and walked with great speed towards the Northern most border of Ithilien, now turning slightly South and skirting the edge of the desolate Battle Plain of Dagorlad. We were frequently in the open and during these times knew full well the danger of being spotted by servants of the Enemy. We had all joined in discussion of crossing this wasteland under cover of darkness, yet both Alpheth and Smeagol had refuted such an idea with tales of nameless things which might too easily spot us, and so we hurried now from sparse cover of bush to sparser cover of dusty boulder. Mostly we were exposed. Mostly we felt as if we were living on borrowed time. By nightfall we had put over forty miles behind us yet still had at least five to go. On we sped, the hobbits exhausted yet resolute. What marvelously tough little folk they were! It was still before midnight when we crossed the stream that led from Henneth Annūn and turned back to the Northeast and soon were close enough to the mountains of Ephel Dśath to reach out and touch them. Only Alpheth knew the way here. Not even Smeagol in his unhappy travels had come in this direction before. Just as my hope at finding the sanctuary we sought began to fade we heard the singing.

Men of the West greeted us first with drawn bows and then with friendly welcome as we were ushered into their secret lair. Smeagol was permitted to enter only if he consented to a blindfold, to which he initially objected with mad fury, but soon agreed to only with the gentlest and most skillful ministrations by Alpheth. As Smeagol’s blindfold was removed a tall man with long hair waved hello to Alpheth. She was known to this man and several of his brethren. His name was Faramir and he was a captain of the forces of Gondor to the South. All the men eyed Smeagol with suspicion but then he did the strangest thing. He waved back at Faramir as might one old friend wave hello to another in casual passing. He was mimicking that which he had just seen, of course, and these men found it funny enough to laugh out loud, but Smeagol had also meant some degree of sincerity with his gesture and to this Faramir acknowledged with a slight nod of his head. We were safe for the moment and could all relax. How wonderful it would be if we could relax more thoroughly when the task before us was complete.

**********************************************************************


Chapter Three:

“Change of Plans”


“Sauron has amassed two separate armies, one with an expeditionary force which he sent from Minas Morgul not five days ago to attack Minas Tirith, and the second a force ten times that size to completely overthrow and occupy all of Gondor. The first attack against Minas Tirith failed, but not by much. It was only by the last minute arrival of the Army of the Dead from Dunharrow that the Enemy was defeated. The soldiers of Gondor who remain, and those of Rohan who accompany them, are largely broken and weary. Sauron will soon unleash his next attack and Gondor cannot possibly stand against it.” Thus spoke Faramir to us and to his men, having just received news of these events from a lone courier sent North from Osgiliath to summon the last forces available to return to the White City.

Things were very much different in this world than in the books, I thought, as I shook my head in disbelief. Frodo was still the last best hope, but how to enter Mordor via the road by Cirith Ungol now? A dark army of tens of thousands would soon pass that way. Even the tunnels that ran through Shelob’s lair would not provide unnoticed passage for us at this point. Then Samwise Gamgee, simple gardener from the Shire, saw the solution before any of the rest of us did.

“Why can’t we go over the mountains right here above us and make straight for Mount Doom. Sauron’s forces are moving South and away, are they not?”

“Sam, you’re a genius!”, called out Frodo from accross the room where he stood next to Alpheth. Smeagol appeared to be slightly disappointed and I put this down to dashed plans of leading Frodo into Shelob’s web. Or perhaps it was the wall of jagged rock that Frodo had just suggested we climb up.

Faramir looked astonished at what Sam had just said and then he hushed the rapidly growing chatter among the men and addressed Frodo as if proclaiming doom. “The mountains behind us are nearly vertical in places and in others so jagged and sharp that to climb them would be impossible for any man, any elf, or any hobbit. This chain of mountains further South is still formidable, yet less so than here. I implore you to cross closer to Minas Morgul. You can climb there if you wish. At least you will have a chance.”

Frodo shook his head and pointed to the map of the Plain of Gorgoroth that lay upon a large wooden table in front of Faramir. Sam, Alpheth, and I joined him and looked at the map as Frodo spoke. “The Plain of Gorgoroth is emptying to the Southwest and the eye of Sauron is being drawn there. I can feel it. We can cross the mountains here. Sam and I brought with us elven rope from Lorien and Alpheth and Ithriel brought even more. Smeagol can climb absolutely anything. I have seen it. He can string the ropes ahead of us and we can climb up.”

“Yes, that’s it”, said Sam. “That’s what I was getting to. We can climb straight up and over in the last place Sauron would ever expect.”

The room was silent. Only the sound of rushing water nearby was audible.

Then, determined to contribute in the best way that I could, I raised my voice and offered yet more support for Sam’s plan. “I come from a place where it is not at all uncommon to scale rock faces as sheer as the one behind us. I know for a fact this can be done. I cannot climb as well as Smeagol, but I’ll wager I can climb better than any other person here.” I was shaking a bit with my boldness and could feel my face flushing. I was not bragging idly and really could climb rock very well, having spent many years enjoying the hobby back home in Canada. What a fantasy fulfilled if only I could somehow lay my hands on chocks, cams, and ascenders.

Alpheth looked at me with a smile. “There are surprises about you yet, Ithriel.”

I found myself suddenly conscious of the fact that I was now a woman. Under the urgency of our ordeal since leaving Mirkwood I had not been able to reflect on this much, strange as that may sound. It was almost like a dream now to realize that I was no longer who I used to be. There was no panic, no rejection of this form, and also no great self introspection either mental or physical. I was who I was and that was that. Then I looked at Alpheth again in gratitude for her support and felt a tinge of attraction I had not felt for a long time, ....... and it was oddly different now.

Thunder could not have shaken me more than this brief spark of emotion, for I instantly realized that I had feelings for Alpheth and that these feelings were not those of my former male self for a woman, but feelings of my new female self. So this is what it was to be a woman and feel attraction for another woman. No imaginings as a man could have prepared me for this moment, no fantasies, no dreams. Even the many past life regressions I had partaken in under hypnosis, some of them remembering lives as various women, was not sufficient to parallel what I was experiencing now. It was not a powerful feeling at all, but simple and soft and quiet. It was like breathing warm air on a spring day. It was like sighing at the sight of two birds circling each other in courtship.

I shook myself awake from this flash of emotion and returned my attention to the task at hand. How strange to think of something like that at a time like this. I glanced at Alpheth to see if she had noticed my distraction. She appeared not to have caught on. Good.

Everyone in the room once again fell to chattering about the plans that we had just made. Faramir would depart at first light and move as quickly as possible towards Osgiliath and there cross the Great River and make for Minas Tirith. A last defense against hopeless odds. Yet, with Frodo’s ascent this far North perhaps the Great Eye would not notice such audacity and not see that the Ring was so close to him, right under his nose in fact. It was Faramir once again who called order and addressed an issue that everyone else seemed to have overlooked, that of Smeagol’s cooperation. “Smeagol, will you guide these people over the mountains behind us? Will you remain loyal to your master?”

Smeagol was hunkered in a corner of the room eating a fish he had just plucked from the stream that ran close by. “Yes, yes. Smeagol guides hobbitses and nice elveses over the mountains. Smeagol can climb better than anyone!” His manner reflected both genuine pride at being so honored and the ever present sarcasm that was a basic part of his wretched personality. “Smeagol always helps. Smeagol always helps.” Faramir scowled at him and made an oath under his breath.

“If you truly wish to trust your fate to this creature, then so be it. If it were not for the integrity and wisdom of Lady Alpheth that I have so many times learned to rely on, I would regard this plan as sheer folly!” Faramir looked straight at Alpheth as he said this and she looked straight back at him. They obviously knew each other well. A molecule of jealousy arose like a bubble in my mind and vanished just as quickly. No time for such things. Think of what lies ahead.

The rest of the evening most of us slept. Only Alpheth and I and two Gondorian guards remained awake. Even Smeagol slept, his belly now being quite full of freshly caught fish. He still had scales on his face.

Before dawn we all rose and prepared for our various departures. Faramir gifted us with additional water skins which we knew we would need and also gave us some hard cheese and dried meats to sustain us on our climb. I managed to find several pieces of wood which I hoped would serve as climbing aids and folded these into my pack. Sam made the hard decisions to leave behind various cooking utensils that we knew would no longer be needed where we would soon be going. For him it was like leaving behind part of his past. One of Faramir’s men who had once been a cook took pity upon the hobbit and promised that if ever this horrible war was won, he would return here to Henneth Annūn, retrieve Sam’s cooking utensils and pots, and somehow send them to him. It was a promise of great kindness that served it’s purpose for it brought a smile of gratitude to Sam’s face, yet both Sam and the soldier tried unsuccessfully to look away from the unlikelihood that this promise would ever be fulfilled.

Soon it was time. Faramir summoned his men to form a long line and took the lead. With a wave back towards us he turned and began to run. At once all his men followed. As they rounded the first bend in the road and passed out of sight, we heard a loud “Fare thee well!” shouted in unison from the brave throats of those who now ran to what would probably be their last battle. Smeagol waved a frantic goodbye as the last man passed out of view. He was mocking, of course, but the rest of us paid it little notice. All except, Sam, that is. Sam eyed Smeagol as might a hawk eye another hawk.

We began our ascent by following Faramir’s advice and taking a short staircase carved into the rock that lead upwards to a lookout. From there we followed a stoney path to the actual face of the mountain and there stood for a moment looking upwards at what task lay ahead. The rock was almost black. Probably basalt, I thought, regular and strong enough, yet often smooth and difficult to gain a purchase on. This analysis soon proved correct as we at last began to climb, and within less that fifteen minutes we broke out the ropes. I instructed everyone how to tie themselves together and then took the lead, followed by Smeagol, then Frodo, Sam, and Alpheth last. It was not so difficult yet that Smeagol needed to go first and I wanted to teach the others some basics of climbing before we got into serious trouble. Always keeping three points of contact on the rock, never overreaching past the point of no return, and not looking down if it bothered you. Using leg muscles whenever possible to propel one’s weight upwards and relaxing as often as opportunity allowed, not wishing for muscles to remain tense any longer than was necessary.

I struck a fairly straight line upwards, veering to one side or the other only when holds were too sparse for the hobbits’ shorter reach. I would climb for perhaps twenty or thirty feet, set a piece of wood into a crack so that it could not fall loose, and then send the rope behind it. I would then call for the others to follow, each removing the blocks of wood and replacing them as they passed, with Alpheth removing them permanently as she brought up the rear. There were places, of course, where none of the several blocks fit, and here I was forced to ascend without placing safety stops for as much as seventy feet at a time. If one of us fell on such a leg we would likely all peel off and plunge to our doom. I did not mention this to anyone although I knew that Alpheth would understand the inherent danger in what we were doing. The hobbits seemed to just accept that the whole thing was dangerous yet they both took to it surprisingly well and I was most impressed at their attention to detail and focus on the tips I gave them. We climbed thusly for nearly two hours before reaching a narrow ledge upon which we rested and gazed out across the expanse to the West. Dark storm clouds roiled above us and I fretted that we would be caught on the rock face by a sudden deluge or wind and rain.

The next leg was at first no more easy nor was it any more difficult. The black basalt yielded sufficient holds to allow us another two hours of ascent before the rock became so smooth in places that I needed to constantly retrace my tracks for five or ten minutes while the others waited and I sought a different approach. At last we attained a broader ledge and rested for lunch. Despite the long journey ahead of us I insisted that everyone eat a hearty meal. Climbing burned a lot of calories and we would need all the strength our bodies could produce before this day was done. The rock above us now was far more difficult than that which we had just traversed. I looked out towards the Anduin, partially obscured by mist, and wondered if I would end my short life in this world on this high precipice or perhaps under the lash of some evil orc guard if our mission failed. Smeagol crawled up to me and whispered so as not to let the others hear.

“Will Smeagol go first now? Smeagol can climb anyyyyyything!”

“Yes”, my friend, “you shall go first after we have rested. You are indeed the best climber I have ever seen, and I have seen some great ones. You would be marveled at in my world.”

He beamed up at me with all the wonder of a child on Christmas morning catching the first glimpse of his stocking. I pitied him so and would do my level best to follow the instructions given me by Galadriel.

“Can Smeagol find fish? Smeagol cannot eats hobbitses food or elveses food.”

I had not the heart to tell him that there would be no fish up here and only cautioned him not to search far. We would leave again in half an hour. When it came down to it, I knew he would eat some of the dried meat we carried with us. I would not let him starve.

Twenty minutes later Smeagol was again at my side and in his mouth a tiny fish, still wriggling. In his left had were several more. These were perhaps only four inches long and no bigger around than my thumb. I stared in wonder as he held one of his catch out to me. “Ithriel likes nice fish?”

“Uh, ... no. No thank you, Smeagol, that is very kind of you, but I have eaten. You eat them.”

“Can Ithriel makes sooooshi?”

“No, Smeagol, I would need too many other things that we don’t have here.” I laughed a little at his innocence but was still more impressed that he had found fish up here on this mountainside. The hobbits appeared not to have noticed and Alpheth was busy inspecting the coils of rope. “Smeagol, can you show me where you found your fish?”

His smile was infectious despite his pitiful appearance. “Yes, yes, Smeagol will show the nice elf lady where he finds fishes. Come, follow me. Follow me.”

I quickly explained to the others that I would be right back and followed Smeagol along the ledge and around a corner. There the ledge narrowed to less than a foot and turned another corner where it broadened once more and then darted behind a tiny waterfall. Water! A last chance to fill our skins to the brim. I had not expected to see fresh water again for a long time. This then must be the source of the stream which flows into and through “The Window on the West”. Smeagol vanished behind the waterfall and I pursued. Dashing after Smeagol, I climbed a narrow stairway tunnel carved into the black rock which ended suddenly, to my utter astonishment, in a large room through which ran the sparkling stream as it leapt over the edge, producing the waterfall outside. This had been made not by orcs, not by men, but by elves. The architecture of the carving was unmistakeable. In the center of the room was a small pool perhaps ten feet across, the source of Smeagol’s fish. This pool was fed by a stream issuing forth from the far wall where the water sped out of a hole no bigger than a fist could fit through. A tiny fish swam back up against the current and vanished into the wall and so escaped the grasp of Smeagol who was now in the middle of the pool hungrily hunting for more food. Urging Smeagol to wait, I returned to the others and bade them bring all the gear and follow.

No sooner had we all arrived at the room in the rock than a sudden cloudburst sent forth hail and heavy rain. There would be no climbing in this deluge and we were all extremely grateful to have found such shelter. One and all we thanked Smeagol who puffed himself up so with grandeur that we all howled with laughter. He seemed to understand that we were making fun of him but also knew that we were truly grateful and meant him no harm. Could such a creature as this ever be able to relax and know true happiness again after being poisoned by the Ring for so long? I intended to find out. As the storm outside raged Alpheth set about exploring our new confines.

The room was actually three rooms, each joined by a small passageway of less height and width than a conventional doorway for an elf yet adequate enough to not necessitate bending as one passed. These passages were no more than thirty feet in length. Each of the three rooms, of which the one we were now in with the pool was the first, had one small window carved out onto the cliff face and set with squares and diamonds of glass in leaded cane. In the third room was a door around which were carvings in Quenya. Alpheth read these aloud to us in the dim light. “Here lies the last home of Corulin, the Eyes of the Queen, who looks upon Darkenss, who prays for Hope.”

“Who was she?” asked Frodo.

“I am not sure”, replied Alpheth, “She appears to have been stationed here a very long time ago to act as an observer for someone.”

“For Galadriel?” asked Frodo.

“No, I don’t think so. This language is very old and Galadriel never spoke of such a person living here. I think Corulin may have lived here during the First Age of even before, before Sauron became Morgoth’s lieutenant and established the realm of Mordor. There were once other darknesses here long before Sauron arrived.” Alpheth fell silent and looked to be a little drained from recalling that which she just spoke of.

“Can we go in there?”, asked Sam. “Is it a way through the mountains?”

Alpheth tried every spell and incantation she could think of in all of the many languages she spoke, but the door would not yield. Frodo and I looked for signs of a lock or handle but there was none. I even tried the riddle approach that I had read about in which Gandalf spoke “friend” and entered into Moria. After many minutes Alpheth stopped. “I don’t think this is a passage through the mountains, Sam. I think it’s Corulin’s tomb.” Alpheth spoke this almost as a whisper.

“Smeagol, NO!”, cried Frodo.

We all spun to look as Smeagol pushed at the center of the door with his dripping hand. It was not the push that worked the magic that now unfolded, it was the water on his hand from the pool. Without knowing it he had solved a puzzle it would have taken the rest of us ages to figure out. And, did we want this door to open at all?

Too late to stop Smeagol, we stared aghast as he entered. “Come hobbitses and elveses. It’s just another room, sillies. Come see the pretty glass things!”

Cautiously Alpheth entered, followed by myself. I bade the others wait.

This room was tiny, less than ten feet from side to side and not more than fifteen feet long. There were no other exits save the one we had just come through and no window. Only a little light from the other room made it’s way in here. The room contained at it’s center a circular structure which looked like a crypt with an ornately decorated lid. All around the edge of the crypt were tiny glass phials, seemingly empty. On the far wall hung a piece of cloth, perhaps a banner of some kind, it’s colors long ago faded and now impossible to see. Nothing else adorned this enclosure. The air was heavy and dry. This room had been sealed for a very long time, perhaps over seven thousand years if Alpheth’s theory was correct.

Sam poked his head through the door and remarked, “What are all those little bottles for?”

“I don’t know, Sam”, I replied. Alpheth concurred and we all exited the room and returned to the first room with the pool. Smeagol fell to hunting for fish again but they had all vanished into the hole in the rock from whence the stream issued. We had been unable to completely close the door to Corulin’s tomb, only succeeding in pulling it so that it was now ajar. It did not seem right to us to leave it open. Outside the storm raged with renewed ferocity and it soon became apparent that we would be forced to stay here at least until tomorrow. This did not sit well with any of us save Smeagol, who seemed more relaxed than at any time I had seen him. For over a day now he had not once showed interest in what hung from Frodo’s neck. In fact, Frodo himself appeared to have almost forgotten his burden, not clenching it at all as he sat there in the growing gloom.

As we sat in silence I tried to console myself with the fact that this rest would do us all good because the climb ahead of us would be truly difficult, especially on Frodo and Sam. We must get the Ring to Mount Doom before Sauron’s main army attacks Minas Tirith! We must press on in the morning no matter what the weather. I began to doubt the wisdom, let alone the possibility, of this plan, and I attempted to distract myself from these negative thoughts by imagining what Corulin had been like and what kind of life she knew in this lonely place. Had she been exposed to some terrible malice like the One Ring we now sought to destroy? Had living here under the nose of evil been a burden that scarred her soul the way the Ring scarred Smeagol? During these musings my mind eventually fell to the little glass phials surrounding her crypt.

And then an idea hit me!

I jumped up and ran back through the other two rooms and into the crypt. There I picked up one of the little phials which was less in line than the others, sticking out as it were and appearing to not have had room to join it’s brothers and sisters at their posts. I ran back out and through the next room. Behind me I heard a huge thud, turned around and ran back. Alpheth soon joined me as we stared in shock at the door to the tomb as it now lay tightly closed again. I had not pulled it shut in my haste. It must have closed on it’s own or by some spell.

“Why do you clutch that phial and why did you take it?” she asked.

“I’ll show you”, I answered, and made my back to the first room.

“Sam”, I asked as I roused him from the beginnings of sleep, “can you make us a little fire? You can use one of the pieces of wood I have been using to aid out climbing.”

“Uh, ... sure. I can make a little fire with one of those. I guess in here no one from outside could ever see. What do we need a fire for, least of all such a small one?”

“I’ll explain as we go along, Sam. If I’m right I may be able to help Frodo make his burden a bit lighter.” And with that I set to prying the glass stopper carefully from the phial as Sam got started with tinder and flint to kindle a fire big enough to boil a cup of tea yet little else. “Do you still have any of your pots left?” I asked Sam.

“Just one small one. All the others are down there at the bottom in that hidden place of the men.”

“Good”, I said. “One small pot is all I need.”

“What are you up to?”, queried Alpheth as she stood next to me. The heat of her body was delicious and for an instant I wished that I could embrace her. I relaxed my galloping mind and let such thoughts vanish back into the ether from whence they came. Again she had appeared not to notice.

As Sam’s fire leapt to life I began to explain my idea. The Ring not only made the wearer invisible, it also poisoned and corrupted the heart. In addition to that it prolonged life in a most unnatural way. I offered the examples of Bilbo and Smeagol as proof.

Into Sam’s small post I put some water from the pool and brought it to a boil. I then slowly lowered the now open glass phial into the cool water of the pool, being careful not to totally submerge it, thus keeping the inside quite dry.

“Frodo, if you would be so kind as to oblige me in a little experiment. Please take the Ring and dangle it from it’s chain right here”, and indicated a place between the little fire and the pool. Frodo complied, though somewhat reluctantly. Smeagol’s eyes were drawn to the Ring like a moth to the flame and both Alpheth and Sam moved themselves between him and his object of focus, still allowing him to see but blocking him from moving closer.

I now withdrew the cool phial from the pool and into it drizzled a few drops of boiling water from Sam’s tiny pot. Instantly the hot liquid emitted vapor as it struck the cool glass and thus the little bottle filled with mist. I now held it close to the Ring hanging from the chain in Frodo’s shaking hand.
There through the mist could be clearly seen tiny trails moving from the direction of the Ring. Little paths in the fog. All eyes stared in amazement.

“Now, Frodo, if you will hold the Ring between you thumb and forefinger. Don’t put it on! Just hold it. Do you understand?”

Frodo nodded and did as I asked. Immediately the tiny trails through the mist in the phial increased tenfold in number, then twentyfold, then thirty. “Alright, Frodo. You can put it away now. I know what I need to.”

I then briefly explained how certain poison metals from my world could be detected this way by holding them next to a glass container full of fog. The nature of these poison metals was called “radioactivity”. Particles flew off these metals and would leave tiny visible wakes through fog. The particles were too small themselves to be seen but the wakes through the fog were visible with the naked eye.

“So what good does this do us, knowing that the Ring can make little trails of fog in a bottle?” Sam’s question was a legitimate one and probably upon the minds of everyone in that room save me. Even Smeagol was intensely curious to know why I had done what I had just done.

I walked over to the window and smashed my fist through it. This drew gasps and confusion from all and a freighted shriek from Smeagol. I quickly apologized for startling them as I withdrew the lead cane from the opening, shaking out the last bits of glass. I poured out the water from Sam’s pot and put in the bits of lead. “They had held that window together for untold ages and now they will hopefully make a shield of sorts”, I explained as I stoked the fire and blew upon it to increase the heat. It wasn’t working. I could not get the fire hot enough with just wood as a fuel. Alpheth understood what I needed to do and bid me step away.

The golden haired elf raised her hands high above her head, spoke three long words in a tongue I did not even slightly recognize, and then brought her hands down like crashing hammers to within inches of the pot. There was a flash of blueish light and the lead inside the pot became molten. I stepped forward and fetched the pot from the flames, it’s sides now glowing red, and poured the hot metal within onto a flat rock next to the pool. I then set about beating it with a smooth stone and soon had formed a piece of crude lead foil about an eighth of an inch thick. When it cooled I trimmed it with my knife into a square about three inches on each side.

I now repeated the same experiment as before with the phial and the Ring. This time, as the trails through the fog became visible, I slipped the piece of lead between the Ring and the phial. Instantly the fog trails stopped. When Frodo held the Ring and the trails were frantic and many, a few particles slipped through the lead and made their presence known in the mist, but far fewer even than with the Ring not being held and no lead in the way.

Finally, I asked Frodo to wrap the Ring in the lead foil and once again hang it from his neck. The result was all I had hoped for.

“I can feel the added weight from the lead, ......... but the Ring itself feels less heavy. It’s hard to explain. It’s as if it is a bit further away now.” Frodo smiled nervously at me and then at Alpheth. I smiled back but Alpheth seemed quite agitated.

“Alpheth, what’s wrong?” I asked.

“Come with me!” she said and grabbed me by the arm. The contact did nothing to warm me and everything to chill me. We went outside into the howling rain so as not to be heard by the others. There she bent close to my ear and spoke words which will haunt me to the end of my days.

“If we do not destroy this ring before Sauron reaches Minas Tirith, then there will be many more ............. “ Her words trailed off in abject horror. “I now know what else Sauron seeks and must race with all my being to find it first and hide it till it can be safely destroyed. Please help me, Ithriel! Please help me do this if you can!”

I was bound to serve the quest set before me by Lady Galadriel and return Smeagol to Lothlorien after the Ring was destroyed. “How can I accompany you? How can I abandon Frodo, Sam, and ........ Smeagol?”

The color returned to Alpheth’s cheeks and she managed a smile. Sakes alive, she was beautiful! “You need not accompany me to help me”, she said. “To help me as only you can, ... you need to ....” A flash of lightening and a crack of thunder drowned out her last words, but I understood. In the sudden brilliance I gazed deep into her eyes and she deep into mine. She had known. She had known along along how I felt about her, probably long before I knew myself. How I prayed in that instant that we could be together in safety and comfort and not thrust into some terrible task such as the one we were now on! She read my thoughts and kissed me, not on the lips for I surely would have fainted, but on the cheek, and in that instant I knew the fork in the path that lay before us. She would leave now for Minas Tirith and I would continue into Mordor. Had Corulin done this once before?


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Chapter Four:

“Moving Apart”


The storm broke as dawn tried to make it’s presence known through the gathering gloom that crept over the mountains above us from the East. The hobbits and Smeagol were actually anxious to continue the climb and this surprised me a bit. Alpheth was nowhere to be seen and for a moment I feared she had slipped away without saying goodbye. Then, for some reason I cannot clearly explain, I felt that I should check the crypt room again. Sure enough, there she was. She had opened the door with a few drops of water from the pool and now stood inspecting the circular crypt again, this time with the aid of a small phial of light that I recognized as the gift Galadriel had given to Frodo when he departed Lothlorien. Alpheth took no notice of me at first but then invited me to come closer and look at the lid of the crypt and the writing upon it.

The lettering was in Quenya, just like the writing on the outside of the entryway into this tiny room. These letters, however, had not been visible until now when the light from the Phial of Galadriel shone upon them. The writing glowed mysteriously almost as if lit from within. “What does it say? Can you decipher it?” I asked these questions in a whisper, feeling it would be wrong to speak out loud in the tomb of this ancient guardian.

“I can easily translate what the words say, but to translate their true meaning is at this point beyond me. It may be a riddle or it may refer to something that is no longer part of this world. I just don’t know. Early this morning I had a vision of this room and the lettering on the lid of the crypt. I had no idea how to make the writing visible and simply asked to borrow Frodo’s phial because it is a convenient source of light. Clearly this writing was intended to be seen only in the light of the Star of Elendil, which the phial contains. If my theory is correct regarding the age of this place then Elendil would not have yet been set in the heavens with the Silmaril bound to his brow. The Silmarils would not even have been created by Feanor when this crypt was made. There is a mystery here. This writing is clearly intended to be visible only under that specific light, yet that specific light did not exist when this room was constructed.” Alpheth brushed her hair back as she said this, revealing a tiny silver ear ring I had not noticed before. It was a silver star with seven points inside a circle.

“The words written here are as follows”, said Alpheth, and as she now spoke them aloud she seemed to enter a state of distant reverie and I listened as if in a dream. “REST HERE AND PASS FROM THIS WORLD. DREAM HERE AND REMAIN FOREVER IN IT. AWAKEN HERE IN STARLIGHT AND THE GREAT JOURNEY WILL BEGIN AGAIN.”

There was no time to contemplate the meaning of these words further, at least not in this place. We had to be on our respective ways and each knew that time was of the essence. Alpheth had been able to discern one thing with certainty and that was how to close the door. She had tested this a few moments before I had arrived. One simply had to take one of the small glass phials from the room and the door would close a moment later. I was invited to try for myself and picked up one of the tiny bottles as we exited. Sure enough the door moved silently closed and so remained until the next person should approach and sprinkle water from the pool upon it.

We joined the others in the first room and made our final preparations to depart. I ached so at the thought of being separated from Alpheth but we each knew what we had to do and there was no stopping it. It suddenly occurred to me that she would have great difficulty descending the cliffs that we had climbed the day before. We could not spare enough rope if we wished to continue our ascent and she could not spare the rope if she wished to descend. I stood close to her so that the others might not hear and made these concerns known. It was then that I witnessed something both terrible and wonderful which will shake me in my memories whenever I recall it. She bent close to my ear and whispered, “I am about to trust in a magic that I have never tested. Galadriel gave me a special gift long ago and told me that one day I would know when to use it. Today is that day.” Her warm breath against my ear was almost more than I could stand and I was afraid that the others would notice how much I wanted to kiss her. Before I could correct my posture so as to appear less interested in this beautiful golden haired lady, and before any of us could speak in protest, she held forth in her hands a tiny blue feather. It glowed even in the light of day. Stepping to the edge of the cliff and holding the feather before her she stepped into the ether.

“Alpheth!”, I screamed, and rushed to catch her, but it was too late. Frodo and Sam had been standing further away but they too now bolted to the edge of the precipice, staring down in shock and amazement at Alpheth’s plummeting body. Smeagol shrank against the wall of the cliff and tried to look away, an expression of terrified despair upon his face. My heart rose to my throat and I felt that I could not breathe. Why? Why had she done this? And in that instant of frozen in fear I began to think about who this person really was. I’m sure you have heard it said, or perhaps felt it yourself, that one’s life flashes before one as one is about to die. Well now her life was flashing before me and I realized that she would not have done something to bring about her own destruction, but instead must have a plan. These thoughts were too quick in succession to comfort me, but what I saw next as I continued to stare down the face of the cliff relieved me in a way that I can only describe as glorious.

Alpheth was still falling, yet far more slowly than before. It actually appeared as if she was falling in slow motion, ..... and then, ..... in a manner that I must call truly miraculous, she began to move outwards from the cliff. More and more slowly she fell and further and further outward from the rock she moved. She was flying!

I cannot say how long this entire process took but I will guess here that it was no more than a minute from the time she stepped off the ledge to the time she came gently to rest upon the road far below. To say that we were dumbfounded as we looked down upon her would have been the greatest of understatements. Seeing our astonishment and noticing our lack of anguish, Smeagol crept to the edge and looked down. It was only then that Alpheth turned her gaze upward. Though the distance was great I somehow knew that she was smiling and I unconsciously smiled back. In the next instant she turned away and began to run like the wind, South along the road which would lead her to Minas Tirith. She appeared to glide as much as she appeared to run and in a few seconds she had disappeared around the corner. A small bend in the road was visible further on and to this I now devoted my attention. Sure enough, several seconds later she appeared there and then vanished beyond the next turn. She was gone, and my joy at realizing she was alive was greatly tempered by my sadness at realizing she was moving further away.

It’s funny how the mind can mix together thoughts so different from each other in times of great emotion. Although my heart ached like it had never ached before I was also fully aware of what now must be done and so turned my attention again to the seemingly impossible climb ahead of us. I gave the order to rope ourselves together and the others quickly complied. Smeagol took the lead and began moving straight up the rock face above us with his very unnatural gate, for which I was extremely thankful. I would have covered the same span of rock in about twenty minutes but he had just done it in less than one. He set a safety block and moved on, soon set a second, and then a third. Once he had secured himself in a good position to hold he signaled for us to follow. Frodo went next, followed by Sam, and I now took up the rear. It was doubtful that I could successfully catch one of the hobbits if they fell but my position at the end of the rope gave them a sense of security and moral support. In a situation such as this, when all hope seems so very far away, such securities, unrealistic as they may be, would seem to be as valuable as any solid stairway.

And thus we proceeded, seventy to one hundred feet at a time, until at midday we had reached the bottom of the last stretch of sheer cliff. Above that the rock began to slope slowly inwards, creating a positive angle of perhaps fifteen degrees. It would be much easier going from that point onwards, or so we hoped. We had ascended a vertical distance a perhaps three thousand feet above the valley floor. We stopped on a narrow ledge and rested while we ate from our provisions. In less than half an hour we were on our way again, up the last stretch of cliff face. The rock here was almost as smooth as glass and we marveled that Smeagol was able to scale it. His hands and feet seemed almost to stick to the featureless basalt as if coated with a glue. At one point Sam remarked under his breath that because Smeagol was so filthy his hands were sticky and that was how he was able to accomplish this. Sam immediately took back his comment and freely admitted that we would never have gotten this far but for the aid of this unhappy creature. We overcame this last obstacle of sheer cliff in a little over an hour and were soon sitting on the broadest ledge of our ascent so far, some thirty feet wide in places. Here we took a proper rest and consumed a bit more food than might have been prudent under our present system of rationing, yet I felt it was more important to reward our efforts to this point than to adhere to any kind of strictness.

We have been lucky so far in that and no strong winds had buffeted us as we ascended except for last night when we sheltered in the room with the pool. Above us now I could hear the screams of the air tearing through the jagged rocks and I knew that although the angle we would have to negotiate would be far easier, the weather we would have to contend with would be far worse. Advising the hobbits to put on warmer clothing with their elven cloaks on top, we moved upwards once more. This time I took the lead, and even though we were still roped together we could now walk more than climb as the slope continued to diminish, until at last it was no more than forty five degrees. The cold wind howled around us and bit into our faces with tiny pieces of grit which stung like fire. We squinted our lids to protect our eyes and eventually I called us to a halt so that I could address this growing problem of visibility. It was not exactly a sandstorm, but the blowing volcanic ash was making it increasingly difficult to see. From my pack I withdrew four pieces of wide silk ribbon, selected from among Faramir’s stores for just this purpose. With my knife I cut two narrow slits into each piece of cloth and showed the hobbits how to tie it over their eyes so that they could peer through the cracks and still be able to see where they were going. Smeagol steadfastly refused to don his piece of cloth until Frodo commanded him to do so, and once he determined that the cloth had not been made by elves he grew more calm cooperative. In front of us now lay perhaps a mile of jagged windswept chaos. Into this maelstrom of blowing ash we now walked.

The sky had become so dark that it was difficult to determine the time of day but I guessed it to be mid afternoon when we reached the divide, the crest of this mountain chain which marked Ithilien on the West and Mordor on the East. Hear the wind screeched around us with near hurricane force and I feared that if we had not been roped together the hobbits would have been blown right off the face of the mountain. I immediately ordered our descent, having to use sign language, as all verbal communication was now quite impossible in the presence of his roaring tempest. We were all quite relieved to find the slope on the Mordor side to be no more difficult than that which we had just traversed. The only difference here was that the rocks had been blasted smooth by the wind and were less jagged. I knew from accounts given me by both Faramir and Alpheth that further South these high winds were less common, but our need to cross the mountains here had outweighed any such considerations of inclement weather. Within two hours we had descended far enough so that the wind was now mostly above us. In another hour we were low enough so that the raging storm only troubled us with the occasional gust, and these were thankfully free of ash. The slope became increasingly steeper from this point on but never again turned into sheer cliff as I had feared it might. We remained roped together for safety’s sake but no longer found it necessary for one person to lower another. When true nightfall came we were all feeling exhausted yet we had come an even greater distance than I had hoped for and were now less than two miles from the level ground of the Plain of Gorgoroth.

Through the haze and the darkness we could all see that which we most feared, the great fiery eye of Sauron atop the Barad-dur and the red surges from the peak of Mount Doom. Tomorrow we would push forth across the inner fence of Mordor, the Morgai valley. Compared to the terrain we had just negotiated this would be easy. Beyond that lay mostly open ground punctuated mainly with pits and boulders and heaps of smoking slag. It was perhaps fifty miles from our present position to the slopes of the volcano and this distance I hoped to cover in less than two days. The air here was stinking with fumes of sulfur and rot and we all felt it difficult to breathe. This destroyed what little appetite we had yet I insisted that everyone eat something and drink water. As I have previously suspected, Smeagol ate a bit of the dried meat we had been given by the Men of the West. What I had not suspected was that he did not complain about this food in the least. His attention seemed more focused more upon our geographical goal than our present location and I would gladly take this distraction. Far better that our attention be spent on what lay ahead of us than on what hung from Frodo’s neck. I had feared that as we grew closer and closer to the mountain of fire the effect of the Ring would increase its influence over both Frodo and Smeagol. While this was true in some respects it was still less than I had expected. Frodo was agitated and fitful in his sleep, yet sleep he actually did. Smeagol also slept, though he frequently called out for “Precious”, pawing the air in front of him as if he was trying to catch hold of it. Sam seemed to sleep like a rock.

No light of morning came, only the sensation that a certain amount of time had passed and it was now no longer night. We all drank from our water skins but found it too difficult to eat anything, so putrid was the atmosphere around us. A greasy film had formed on our clothing and exposed skin, residue from the pollution all around us. It itched and burned. It was all we could do to keep from retching. We set off down the last slopes of the mountains and were soon picking our way through the narrow valley of gray ash and boulders. This we crossed quickly and without incident. Ahead of us now lay a vast expanse of choking dust, torn rocks, and festering pits of bubbling filth. Our eyes burned and our throats ached. We all experienced dizziness and shortness of breath. There seemed to be less oxygen here and I felt certain that much of what we were taking into our lungs was quite poisonous. Still, my main concern was not the air or the land we were passing through but who else might be here. By the end of the day we came to a great road which ran roughly North-South, linking the Black Gate to our left with the majority of Mordor to our right. We had traveled well and covered at least thirty miles. I now consulted the others and asked them if they wished to continue on or rest awhile before we crossed the road. We were currently in a good place to stop as we enjoyed cover from a group of large boulders which we now hid in the middle of. It would be difficult for anyone to spot us here from the ground or from above.

While Sam and Smeagol were in favor of resting a while, Frodo felt it was more important to press on. He was the Ringbearer and the decision was his and I was happy to see that the others accepted his judgment. I wish I could have been as glad, for I noticed in Frodo now the beginnings of madness. It was nothing very obvious, more small signs that his mind was moving away from that which we call sanity and approaching that which is far from it. He was twitching slightly and muttering softly to himself. I could see that Sam was very concerned for he kept offering Frodo some water or a bit of food and asking if there was anything he could do to help. To these offers Frodo would politely thank Sam but accept nothing, saying he was fine. I felt that Frodo was doing this more to ease Sam’s worries than to give a true account of his condition. Not wanting to discourage the momentum towards our goal, I gave the word for us to continue. The road was empty in both directions, yet there was obvious sign that many feet had passed this way not long ago. I went first by myself to the other side and then waited for a few minutes to determine if I had been spotted. I had not. Signaling the others to join me, we once more resumed our march towards the mountain of dread that lay before us. It was then that I noticed what I had feared most in Smeagol.

“Precious, we mustn’t let them do it. We must stop them, Precious.” He was wringing his hands and convulsing his chest as he said this over and over again. In between his words were interspersed that guttural sound which had resulted in his nickname, “Gollum”. I walked up beside him and tried to put my hand upon his shoulder to comfort him but he batted it away and growled at me like a rabid dog. “We must save the Precious! We must take the Precious away and keep it safe! We mustn’t let Him have it! They want to give it to HIM!” And with this last exclamation he turned and lunged towards Frodo. In the blink of an eye the point of Sam’s sword was at Smeagol’s throat as Frodo struggled to remove the fingers that clutched at his neck. Of all the places for this to happen this was the worst. We were out in the open and completely exposed. I feared that this commotion would draw the attention that we most wished to avoid. Stealthily approaching from behind I thrust my arms underneath the armpits of Smeagol and brought my hands up behind his neck and interlocked my fingers. Stepping backwards I pulled him away from Frodo and Sam and tried my best to comfort him back into calmness. The power of the Ring was at last too much for Smeagol to bear and his mind snapped. Try as I might I could not quiet him.

“Frodo, Sam, you must continue now as fast as you can and throw it into the fire. I cannot hold him and accompany you at the same time. I will do my best to restrain him and follow you as I can, but you must go on ahead or all will surely be lost.” I looked straight into their eyes as I said this and could see that they each understood, though they were most reluctant to do as I had instructed. With many miles ahead of them there was no time to lose. Through the haze and smoke of this foul land could be seen the red beam of light striking outward from the top of the Barad-dur, the fortress of Sauron. His attention was focused to the Southwest and away from us, and for a moment I tried to visualize his massive army moving over the pass at Cirith Ungol, down through the Morgul Vale, and across the river towards Minas Tirith. I said a prayer that Alpheth would be successful in reaching the White City before the army of darkness.

Frodo and Sam turned and ran in the direction of Mount Doom and I held onto the writhing Smeagol with every ounce of determination I had. His madness for the Ring head given him great strength and it was all I could do to keep him from slipping out of my grasp. With his heels he was kicking hard at my legs and knees and I knew that I could not long endure this assault. I had to find a way to restrain him and I had to find it quickly. Turning so that I was between him and the two departing hobbits, I let him go. Just as I had hoped, he spun around and tried to chase them, and in that instant I hit him square on the jaw with my right elbow. He slumped to the ground in unconsciousness and I quickly acted to bind him. Knowing that elven rope would burn him terribly I instead used the silk goggles that had protected us from the blowing ash. First I bound his hands behind his back and then his ankles. Lastly I tied his bound hands to his bound ankles and with the final piece of silk I gagged him. He began to stir.

“Smeagol, I am so sorry to have tied you up. I promise that I will untie you soon. I will not hurt you. I’m trying to help you. Please don’t struggle. Please let me help you.”

Through the silken gag he shrieked in terror as loudly as he could, over and over again, his eyes frantic with unnamable horror. His fear was overwhelming and his madness complete. No amount of soothing words from me were going to do any good. I picked him up like a sack of potatoes and slung him across my shoulder and began to walk after Frodo and Sam, who had by now moved out of sight. As they ran, I walked, and in so doing the distance between us increased. This was my intention. I had to trust now that in this world the outcome for the One Ring would be the same as in the world described by the books I had read. As I walked I prayed that Frodo would be successful and not give in to the madness himself. I prayed that Sam would be right there to help them in his hour of greatest need. As I had hoped, the direction of my travel seemed to somewhat decrease the struggles of the sad creature on my shoulder. If I had moved away from the Ring he would likely have struggled more viciously. I was now extremely grateful that no one had seen us and that the land in front of us appeared to be empty of any living souls. For hours and hours I walked in this manner and during this entire time Smeagol did not once cease his attempts to writhe loose and escape, but the silk was strong and I had tied the knots well. My arms and shoulders ached from carrying the wild thing.

Every once in a while I would catch far sight of Frodo and Sam as they crossed a bit of open ground. They were making good speed and I estimated that they would reach the mountain in less than four hours. If I continued at my pace I would catch up with them in perhaps seven. By then, of course, I was counting on the Ring being destroyed and there no longer being any danger of it falling into the hands of the Dark Lord. As my shoulders burned and the minutes melted away into hours and the hours passed with the agonizing slowness of centuries, I found myself thinking now and again of Alpheth. It did my heart good to allow her into my thoughts in this time of greatest struggle. How I wish she was here to either help carry Smeagol or help guide Frodo and Sam. But wishing for what was not was a waste of time and I knew this. Better to except what is and make the best of it. It was now probably night in parts of the world not overshadowed by this disgusting gloom. I prayed as I walked for this quest to succeed and all the lands of free peoples to enjoy peace once more. I thought of Galadriel in Lothlorien and of Thranduil in the Great Forest. I thought of the men of Gondor. My arms and legs burned like fire. My throat was parched and the pain in my eyes from the increasing fumes was screaming agony. I drove myself now with sheer will alone, for any strength of my body had now surely evaporated. One foot fell in front of the other like dumb clumps of mud. I could not feel them and for a moment found it funny that because of this I might trip and fall flat on my face with the struggling Smeagol on top of me. How strange some of the thoughts that arise under stress. Stranger still are some of the thoughts that arise when one is at that the very limit of holding on to final hope, that the last spark of all that is good that seems about to be snuffed out forever by infinite blackness.

And I did trip and fall forward flat on my face with the struggling Smeagol on top of me, but I did not fall because I had misplaced my feet. I fell because the ground shook so hard that I could no longer keep my balance. Struggling to rise and regain control of the poor creature who lay screaming through his gag, I turned my gaze for a moment towards the mountain. The foul gloom was lit with a blinding flash of crimson flame that shot forth from the summit straight towards the heavens, a hand from hell reaching desperately for the peace of the stars. The ascent of the flame slowed and began to fall back just as another flame erupted. The ground shook again and I fell to my knees. He had done it! Frodo had cast of the Ring into the fire and the explosions of the mountain where the death throes of the great evil passing into emptiness.

Smeagol grew suddenly quiet and then began to weep as might a child who has skinned its knee. “If I untie you will you not struggle anymore?”

He turned his eyes to look at me and in his hopeless gaze I saw that all the fight had left him. I quickly untied the knots that bound him and he still laid there as if chained and weighted. Lastly I removed the gag so that he might whimper freely. This he did in such a pitiful manner that I was moved to tears myself and I sat beside him and petted his clammy head as I hummed gently to soothe him. Eventually he fell into a far-off stare and his breathing became slow and very shallow. I was keenly aware at this point of what Galadriel had told me to do and I dared not tarry here any longer, feeling that he might wither completely and die before I could reach Lorien. The ground continued to shake as the mountain continued to belch forth fire and ash and I was glad that the prevailing winds were blowing away from us. As gently as I could I picked up Smeagol and began walking once more towards the mountain. My concern now was to find Frodo and Sam and then hopefully we could together exit this tortured land. I knew again that events here were in no way destined to unfold as they had in the book and so held little hope that the Eagles would suddenly appear and fly us to safety. Just as I thought this I looked up ahead of me to see for huge sets of wings approaching. There in the gentle clutches of one set of talons was Frodo Baggins and in another set of talons was Samwise Gamgee. They both appeared to be fine and were shouting joyously to me as I wept in glad thanks.

As the two eagles which carried Frodo and Sam circled above, the other two descended and landed in front of us. I understood that they would bear us westward over the mountains and slightly North and thence into Lorien. This was somehow communicated to me telepathically, I suppose, for no words had been spoken, yet I had understood perfectly. I knew that I must comply though I longed now to travel with Frodo and Sam to Minas Tirith to find Alpheth. Again the unmistakable feeling that I was being told to go to Lorien. And with that one eagle picked me up and the other clutched Smeagol, and we rose into the air and circled once with the Eagles who were carrying Frodo and Sam. They seemed to understand that we must part. Higher and higher we rose, all of us, the swiftness of our flight astonishing me. Eventually we broke through the boiling clouds of darkness which were slowly beginning to dissipate, increasing beams of brilliant sunlight shining through and making it at last to the scorched earth beneath. Frodo and Sam then moved off to the Southwest and Smeagol and I to the Northwest. Below I could see the route we had taken on foot, and as we eventually passed over Wetwang my heart leapt to see the Southern reaches of the Great Forest. I knew that not far beyond that lay the Great River, ... and on the far shore, ... blessed Lothlorien.

Below in the Southern tip of Mirkwood there was a column of black smoke rising from what I assumed to be Dol Guldur. Yet another difference between the unfolding of events in this world and those in the book, for I had assumed that Galadriel would not tear down those walls for several days yet. Throughout our entire journey in the air Smeagol had remained as limp as a wet rag. Now that we began to glide down towards Lorien he started to become agitated once again. I knew that he feared elves and hoped that his transition would soon become easy. As the two eagles set us down by the banks of the Celebrant and bade us farewell, I once again picked up the poor creature, who had once been so much like a hobbit, and carried him towards the band of elves who stood waiting for us with open arms. Smeagol was too weak to protest and only whimpered piteously as I whispered in his ear, “We are home now, my friend. At very long last you can be healed from the horrible wounds which have been inflicted upon you. Peace and happiness await you.”

He struggled to get down from my shoulder and I let him. Softly I took his hand in mine and walked forward towards the elves. His gait was now stiff and crippled as if every movement hurt. He tugged at my arm so as to pull me closer that he might speak in my ear. “Friend? You are my friend? It’s been so long since I have heard that word. What means friend?”


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Chapter Five:

“Secrets Hidden and Secrets Revealed”


Galadriel returned from the destruction of Dol Guldar the next day. Most of those who traveled with her were in the mood for rejoicing because of the destruction of the One Ring, but Galadriel herself was more reserved. Something was troubling her and she was keeping to herself for the time being. Finding me down by the river with a very weary Smeagol, she immediately set about doing her best to heal him in both body and heart.

The life energy was draining from him quickly and hour by hour one could see the long years catching up with him. What few long strands of hair had remained on his head a few days ago had now fallen out and the sallow skin which was stretched over his thin frame appeared more loose, as if his insides were shrinking. He no longer stood upright when he moved but crawled on his hands and knees in the most pitiful fashion one could imagine. With tenderness and love in her heart the Lady of the Golden Wood recited soft chants and songs in forgotten tongues while we both bathed him with waters from a tiny spring that burst forth from the damp earth there by the Great River’s edge. I later learned that this spring was fed from a holy place high in the Misty Mountains behind us and that this very water had been used to cure Gandalf from his wounds after he had battled the Balrog.

Within a few days a bit of strength seemed to return to Smeagol although his physical appearance continued to decline. He would stand upright on occasion but move very slowly as would an old, old man who was afraid of losing his balance. One of the elves made a short cane for him and for a little while he used it, but then it became lost in the underbrush. When I found it and returned it to him he denied that it had ever been his and refused to take it in his hand again. His short-term memory deteriorated more and more rapidly from that point on although his long-term memory actually seemed to improve. He spoke very little, but when he did speak it was usually of days long gone by, before he had found the Ring, and had still lived happily along the upper shores of the Anduin. One of the most heartbreaking stories I ever heard was when he recounted with eery detail how his brother Deagol had found the Ring and then he, Smeagol, had murdered him for it. This story ended in a flurry of tears and choking sounds and several of us who witnessed this felt that at that moment he was close to death, although Galadriel could see that he still had some time yet to be in this world.

One sunny afternoon while sitting next to him on a log looking out across the water I remembered my promise to him to make sushi. “Smeagol, my friend, would you still like to try sushi?” He had given up catching fish for himself and now relied on others to bring him his favorite food. He was eating less and less.

“Soooooshi?”, he whispered with a pale grin. “Yes, I would love to try soooooshi.” I did not catch it at first but Galadriel did. For the first time in more than five centuries Smeagol referred to himself in the first person singular rather than in third person plural. He said, “I”.

I quickly walked aside with Galadriel and explained my promise to him and my predicament that I needed ingredients which did not exist here in Lorien. She laughed aloud and put her hand upon my shoulder to comfort me. “I know exactly the seaweed you speak of and we have some of that here, although it is not yet in the form you require. This will be a small matter to correct. As for rice, we have many different kinds. Ginger also we have which can be quickly prepared in the way that is needed.” She laughed again and looked into my eyes and I quickly realized that she had known my thoughts on this matter for some time. How absolutely delightful this was and how continuously upsetting whenever it happened. I would gladly be upset in this way every day of my life should she wish it.

One of the elves caught a huge salmon in the river and another somehow transformed the seaweed into sheets of nori. Ginger was appropriately pickled and some long slices of cucumber prepared. A type of seasoned vinegar was brought forth that tasted remarkably like that which I had known back in my previous life. When all the ingredients were thus before me I set about making sushi there beneath the golden mallorn trees of Lothlorien. Somewhere along the way Smeagol had crept up beside me and was now watching with rapt attention as I worked. I asked him if he would like to help and he eagerly volunteered. Although he was now frail and weak, his fingers maintained a marvelous dexterity that most people would never know. He watched me create several rolls and then mimicked me with perfection, the only difference being that he did in a matter of seconds what had taken me nearly a minute. The elves looked on and laughed with joy. It was so good to see this poor victim of Sauron’s evil enjoying these happy moments in a place of safety and good will. We soon produced enough sushi so that everyone in attendance could enjoy several pieces. The pickled ginger was sent out in some small wooden bowls along with some small bottles of a salty brown liquid that tasted suspiciously like soy sauce. Just before my thoughts strayed to the one ingredient I had overlooked, Galadriel stepped forward with two small green leaves upon which were dollops of a bright green paste. How in this miraculous world had she known about wasabi? Seeing my amazement, she laughed again and all the elves laughed with her. Smeagol succumbed to the infectious mirth and laughed himself and grinned from ear to ear with not a trace of his previous sarcasm.

I offered the food first to Galadriel and Celeborn but they both insisted that Smeagol be served first. This meal was in his honor and when he realized this he began to cry with joy. As the sushi was placed in front of him he reverently reached for it with two shaking hands and took one piece to place upon the leaf that served as a plate. Galadriel softly suggested that he could take many more pieces, and with an innocently mischievous grin he complied, whispering all the time the word “sooooshi”. I was somewhat concerned that he would not like the wasabi but he took a small portion and put it on his plate just as I now did. Everyone else followed suit and then Smeagol took his first bite. He chewed cautiously and very, very slowly while we all observed as unobtrusively as we could. I held my breath. After what seems like ages he tipped his head back towards the sky and swallowed. Then, with a voice that was no longer husky and horse but now clear and sweet as a bell, he let forth a joyful ringing cry, “Sooooooooshi! It is so good! I love this so much! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Talk about success. This was success beyond measure.

In what seemed like an hour, but what was more likely a matter of only a few minutes, all the sushi was consumed. Without a word of encouragement or instruction, more salmon was then caught and more ingredients prepared and this time Smeagol and I and all of the elves present made enough sushi to feed the entire host of the Galadrim. We loaded the uncut rolls onto large trays and carried them through the forest to Caras Galadhon, and there we sat until it was all consumed. Smeagol ate until I feared he might burst and I pondered for a brief moment how he would have handled hot saki. As the gentle dimness of the evening closed in around us and the various peoples returned to their places of dwelling, Galadriel invited Smeagol to ascend the winding staircase up the giant mallorn tree which was her home. Since arriving in the Golden Wood he had stayed close to the river and had refused previous invitations to come here. Now he accepted her hospitality peacefully and exhibited the greatest respect, bowing as best he could with his tattered body. She took his hand in hers and I his other hand, and thus we stayed him as we ascended the winding stair. When we reached the flet near the top, Galadriel set a soft cushion upon the floor and invited Smeagol to sit. Here was the greatest Queen in all of Middle Earth inviting the most lowly of creatures to sit in her presence where all others dared only stand. Somehow realizing the great honor being afforded him here, he at first politely declined, but then seeing her smile, he melted onto the cushion and looked up at her with pleading eyes.

“I hurt so much now. I know I am dying. Thank you for helping me. Thank you.” As he choked to get these words out, I glanced over at Galadriel and saw a single tear roll down her cheek. She glided over to a small chest at the edge of the flet and withdrew from it a tiny blue glass phial no bigger than her little finger. Walking back over to Smeagol she handed it to him and bade him drink. “What is it?”, he asked with pure curiosity and not one shred of fear.

“It is water from a blessed spring in the Undying Lands and it will help to heal you of all the pain in your heart. I regret that I cannot heal the pain in your body. Your physical form is coming to an end but your spirit will live on, and I will do my best now to guide you so that your next existence will be a happy one.” As she spoke these words I had every confidence that she would succeed in doing what she had just said and that Smeagol would at last know true peace of mind.

She now prepared seven small candles and was about to begin a long chant when Smeagol interrupted her. “You are helping me so I will help you. I want to repay your kindness with kindness. All I have to offer is a secret and I hope that you will find it useful.” Even this great Queen could be surprised, for her eyes opened wide and she gazed upon the tiny person before her with absolute astonishment. She knelt on the floor beside him and motioned for all the rest of us to follow. As we sank down in silence, Smeagol began to recount what he had seen on the Great River one year before he collided with the Ring. There had been a mighty deluge up river and the level of the water where his people dwelt had risen quickly, too quickly for many of them to withdraw their possessions from the shore, and many things were swept away. In a few days the water subsided back to its normal level and his folk returned to inspect the changes that the torrent had made. While others busied themselves near the main part of their settlement, Smeagol and his brother Deagol had wandered North to a bend in the river where they had often played as children. The water had eroded a large part of the bank and several trees had toppled into the river and been swept away. There in the freshly exposed earth, but a few feet above the water line, was a shiny metal cylinder the size of his arm and sealed on both ends. He and his brother had wrested it from the mud and laid it upon the grass above. There they pried one of the ends off and tipped the cylinder upright so as to spill its contents upon the ground. It was a scroll of silvery metal-like parchment and upon it was written a language in beautiful flowing letters that sparkled with rainbow colors in the sunlight.

Carefully, so as not to disturb him from his state of mind, Galadriel asked if he could remember any of what he had seen written there. Alas, he could not. “Do you mind if I try something with you, Smeagol? I think I can help you to remember.” It was plain to see that he trusted her completely and he nodded his head respectfully in the affirmative. She now asked everyone to leave except me and Smeagol, and as soon as the night air around us had once again grown quiet she began to speak to him in the common tongue, yet in a very special way which I soon recognized. “Just listen to the sound of my voice, Smeagol, and let my words become your thoughts. As you listen to the sound of my voice you may notice that my words feel good to you and that you enjoy hearing them. Just let yourself relax now, down into a peaceful sleep. With each word you hear me speak you can feel yourself sinking further and further down into deep relaxing peace. The further you fall the better you feel. The better you feel the further you fall. That’s right, just let yourself go, drifting down like a feather into deep sleep.” She was hypnotizing him, and in a few minutes he was deep in trance, breathing slowly and deeply, still sitting upright but nodding forward. She placed her hand upon the back of his neck and spoke again, urging him to lay upon his side and sink even further down. As he leaned over to one side she guided his head softly to rest upon the cushion and laid a small blanket of shimmering green cloth over him to protect him from the slight growing chill. I marveled that cloth woven by the elves no longer burned him.

Continuing to talk to him with her soothing voice and magical manner, she began to explain to him that he could now clearly see what was on the silvery metal scroll that he had found so long ago. Watching his facial expressions carefully, she waited for the exact moment when his eyelids began to flutter, and in that instant she knew that he could clearly see the ancient writing in his mind. With the fingertips of both hands she gently caressed his temples while continuing to talk to him and bidding him to hold his gaze upon the parchment. After several minutes she withdrew her fingertips from his face and spoke to him more energetically, counting him up slowly from his trance until at last he was wide awake once more. “Did you like the way that felt?” With a wide grin he signaled that he did. Then Galadriel asked me to take my leave. She would stay with Smeagol throughout the night, chanting for him and preparing him for his final journey. I sensed that I would see him again in the morning and so did not wave goodbye, but as I descended the winding stairs I heard him call out to me yet another thank you for making him “soooooshi”.

Morning came bright and clear with happy bird song and sparkling dew upon the leaves and blades of grass. As I made my way back to the giant mallorn there were Galadriel and Celeborn holding each of Smeagol’s hands and guiding him gently in the direction of the river. I followed as did several of the other elves who had grown close to this hobbit of old. When we reached the water Celeborn picked up the frail creature and set him to rest upon a newly prepared bed of silky moss. Smeagol could barely move on his own now and I noticed that his breathing had become labored and shallow. I knelt close to him and looked into his tired eyes which were beginning to film over. “Smeagol, my friend it has been a pleasure knowing you and I hope that we meet again someday under happier circumstances. I’ll make you sushi, as much as you can eat.” I didn’t know what else to say and was close to tears as I spoke these words.

“Ithriel, thank you for saving me. Thank you for being my friend.” He was struggling with emotion even more than I was. With a voice that was almost a gasp, he pushed out a final phrase as Galadriel and I bent close. “I love you”, he said, and he did not breathe in again. Galadriel closed his eyes and Celeborn laid the little blanket from the evening before over him. I wept openly now and brushed the top of his head with my hand. “Go to your peace at last, my friend. No one deserved the burden that was placed upon you. You have earned your rest so enjoy it well. May we meet again.”

And so Smeagol the hobbit passed from this world into the next.

Galadriel, Celeborn, and I laid garlands of simbelmynė upon him where I am told it continues to bloom to this day.

As we walked away from the river Galadriel sensed my question before I spoke it. “The words on that ancient scroll that Smeagol and his brother saw were in a language of Valinor used only in sacred rituals. What was written was no ritual, however, but a warning.” Although shining with her usual golden radiance this Queen of the elves in Middle Earth was obviously troubled, and I wondered what warning she had seen in Smeagol’s mind. I would soon find out. I’d almost rather I had not.

I was to ride with all haste to Minas Tirith and there hand a written message to Alpheth, Gandalf, Aragorn, and Arwen. The message, of course, was Galadriel’s transcription of that ancient warning on the silvery parchment found so long ago upon the banks of the Great River. Curious how the water would hide things and then make them visible when the time was right. What force was at work here that could make things so?

I was given the swiftest horse in all Lothlorien and provisions for two days. My destination was nearly four hundred miles as the crow flies but nearly five hundred by the road that I must take. Even if I rode all through the night I would be lucky to make it in the time allotted. I have been told that time was of the utmost importance and that if three days came to pass it would be too late and great tragedy might result. Galadriel had foreseen something. No more was told to me and I accepted the task with the same trust that I had accepted the previous one. I rode due South across the fields and streams of that fair land, and by nightfall had nearly come upon the western section of Emyn Muil. I did not stop for more than a moment here and there as necessity dictated, and so rode on through the darkness, now veering slightly to the west to avoid the marshy lands that made up the Mouths of the Entwash. The full light of morning shone upon me as I finally reached that river which flowed from the dark depths of Fangorn Forest and swam across beside my horse. This was an amazing animal to be sure and was definitely blessed with powers far exceeding that of any earthly horse. He had run most of the previous day and throughout the night and appeared as fresh as when he had started. By noon I had reached the road that led into the White City and here urged my steed to let fly with everything he had. I was not disappointed, and in another two hours could see the high towers of Minas Tirith looming in front of me.

War had wrecked havoc upon this beautiful city and great portions of it lay broken and destroyed. As I slowed my pace and began to ascend the winding road to the upper portions of the city, I observed workers clearing rubble and salvaging what possessions they could from the ruin. As I at last rode out onto the top level of this once magnificent jewel of Gondor I saw standing by the White Tree several figures I recognized instantly as Aragorn and Arwen. Not far behind them stood Gandalf and Alpheth. I was so glad to see her but I almost dared not look into her eyes. As soon as I had dismounted and paid proper respects to the King and his bride to be I inquired about Frodo and Sam. Aragorn spoke with a measured pace, “They are fine and you can see them soon, ....... but first we have business of great importance.” Gandalf now stepped forward and held out his hand in greeting. It was so good to see him and he was just as I had imagined, tall, long white hair, and eyes that twinkled with a magic and a mirth that was quite indescribable. I withdrew the document handed me by Galadriel and offered it to the wizard.

“No”, he said, “what is written there must be read by the King.”

Aragorn took the parchment from me and unrolled it, staring for a long time at what was written thereon. Arwen looked over his shoulder and her eyes widened as she also read. Finally Gandalf was asked to read it as well and he shook his head in disgust as he did so, offering words of admonishment for fools who had long since ceased to exist. “Why is it that with all the beauty and the wonder available to us in this life that some of us seek nothing but destruction and despair?” Alpheth now came and stood by my side and took my hand secretly in hers. Though this was not a moment for romance, I felt so happy to be next to her once again that I am certain my joy was obvious to all the others there.

“Come”, said Aragorn. “We have little time if we wish success. We are fortunate that the moon will afford us a little while yet. With what is written here, I at last know where to find what Alpheth came here to seek.” He spun on his heels and led the way into the Great Hall and we followed, I with some trepidation, and Gandalf still muttering. Straight through the high stone passageways to the very back of the great structure. There was a doorway blocked by two guards who stood at attention, their hands upon the hilts of their swords and their shields at the ready. Aragorn bade them let us pass and was asked to provide the correct password which he immediately did. As the guards stepped aside we hurried onwards through a narrow hallway and eventually came to a round room with walls of faceted mirrors. Alpheth consulted the scroll from Galadriel once more and walked forward, slightly to the right, and placed her hand upon the glittering surface. “It is here”, she said. Arwen now produced an elaborate key which she slipped into a tiny lock in the wall and turned. We all had to push the heavy panel of wall open and so entered onto a winding staircase that led downwards into the mountainside. There had been torches set in brackets in the walls in the corridors we had just passed through, but here there was no light whatsoever and Gandalf illuminated the top of his staff that we might see. Down and down we walked for what seemed like many minutes until at last we came to a level floor and proceeded forward through a rough hewn tunnel carved long ago through the solid rock. After several hundred yards the tunnel came to an abrupt end where it’s construction seemed to have been terminated before completion.

Gandalf now withdrew from his robes a tiny stalk of wheat and brushed it against the stone in front of us, back and forth as if painting with it. As he did this he dimmed the light from his staff so that we might see the rock face began to change. At first the transformation was nearly imperceptible, but after a few moments I could clearly see the rock begin to morph and shimmer as if it were a mirage. All the while that Gandalf brushed the rock with the stalk of wheat he recited a slow chant in an ancient language that had not been spoken here for untold ages. Within a few more minutes the stone face in front of us had dissolved into a quivering grayness, like mist, and through this we passed, feeling an odd coldness that seeped into our bones. Aragorn could see my curiosity and whispered to me as we walked forward, “This tunnel is far older than Gondor or even Numenor. It was built during the First Age and few people ever knew of its existence. Even I did not know of it until Alpheth arrived several days ago, and none of us knew how to find it until we read what Galadriel had translated from Smeagol’s mind. It guards a secret so terrible the world must never know.” Arwen squeezed his hand as he said this and Gandalf continued to mutter as if becoming increasingly irritated with what we were about to do and why we would have to do it. In another five minutes we came to yet another dead-end and Gandalf once again produced a stalk of wheat, this one fresh and green, and began to brush the stone. Upon the previous barrier he had brushed back and forth horizontally and now he brushed up and down vertically, and the chant that he spoke was different. This chant seemed happy and almost a song of joy and I realized how hard that must have been for him, knowing how he felt about this task, because it was anything but happy. Once again the rock dissolved into a shimmering mist and we walked through into a large chamber with an arched roof.

To my horror, I saw the skeletons of several people scattered about the floor along with various debris that I imagined to be the equipment of wizards. Something awful had happened in this place and these people had died in agony and been unable to get out. I could feel my heart racing as we passed across this room to the far wall and stood before a door very similar to one I had seen not long ago. Around this door was writing in Quenya which Arwen quickly translated aloud. “PASS HERE ONLY THOSE WHO CAN DESTROY FOREVER WHAT LIES INSIDE. TO OPEN THIS DOOR AND FAIL IS TO FAIL LIFE ITSELF.” Gandalf now commented that by “life itself” this warning meant all life in Middle Earth. What could possibly be so terrible that every living thing in this world could be at risk from what lay beyond the door? I was curious to find out and I dreaded to find out, and as Gandalf began to try various incantations and methods of entry, including brushing the door with stalks of wheat, I almost regretted that I knew how to proceed. Alpheth remained silent and let me explain.

“Does anyone have any water with them?” I asked this in such a way that no one suspected I was interested in quenching my thirst. From beneath her robes Arwen withdrew a small flask of water and handed it to me, whereupon I uncorked at and poured a bit of water onto my hand. I then sprinkled it upon the door and it began to swing open. Gandalf looked at me with a wry grin and I knew that he would require an explanation before long. We now entered into a small room very similar to Corulin’s crypt chamber high above Henneth Annūn. There was no crypt in this chamber, however, merely a short stone table upon which there lay an iron chest approximately two feet long and one foot high and wide. I could feel the hair on the back of my neck begin to stand up and I had a feeling in my gut that was almost sickening.

“Do not touch this foul thing!”, cried Gandalf. He then bent close to the chest and increased the light from his staff so that he might read what was written upon the lock. He did not share with us what he read but we could all see from the countenance of his face that it was something truly horrible. I then spoke and explained as quickly as I could what I had seen in that tiny chamber above the Window on the West, what little I had learned about Corulin, and the description of her crypt. Lastly I recited aloud the words that had been written outside the door of that chamber and had been translated by Alpheth. “REST HERE AND PASS FROM THIS WORLD. DREAM HERE AND REMAIN FOREVER IN IT. AWAKEN HERE IN STARLIGHT AND THE GREAT JOURNEY WILL BEGIN AGAIN.” Then Alpheth spoke the same words aloud in their original tongue. Only Gandalf raised an eyebrow at this while both Aragorn and Arwen displayed on their faces that this language was unfamiliar to them.

“So”, said Gandalf, “you found that which the Five Wizards with all their knowledge could not. I am not sure what good this will do us now. Eventually we may indeed discover a connection between Corulin and what lies here upon this table, but now we must find a way to hide it.” He paused as if afraid to go on.

“What does lie here?”, I asked. “And, ... is it not hidden well enough already?”

“A piece of metal”, answered Gandalf. “A piece of metal from another world that has within it the power to destroy all life. It was hidden here long ago before this city was built.” The wizard then recounted in detail the story behind this iron chest.

“Long ago, before the first elves were summoned on the Great Journey to Valinor, some of them turned Eastward and wandered until they reached the furthest sea. It is said that there they built a great civilization which remained completely cut off from the rest of the elves of the world. They discovered great magic and thought it prudent to cloak their realm from prying eyes, and so avoided the gaze of the Valar and the summoning to attend the Undying Lands. Before the First Age began, before Feanor created the Silmarils, these elves of the East discovered how to travel between one world and another, and from that other world brought back an elemental metal which afforded them great power. At first they used this power for good and their kingdom flourished in its solitude, but then, as does all power, it slowly began to corrupt the minds of those who were too hungry for it. Some of these people wanted to return all of the metal to the world from whence it had come, and in fact much of it was returned, but one piece remained, and this brought about the ruin of that entire civilization. In a giant cataclysm of their own creation their entire land sank beneath the waves, and it is said that only a few escaped in ships and wandered in the only direction they could, Eastward, into the endless sea. That final piece of metal itself, so poisonous and so potentially evil, did not sink beneath the waves, however, nor did it escape upon the ships. It had been taken by the king of that land and placed atop the highest mountain in the region, and when the rest of that realm sank below the waves the mountaintop remained dry.” Gandalf paused again and looked each of us in the eyes before continuing. He was about to tell us something terrible indeed.

“By this time there were other elves who had been summoned to Valinor and had turned away from the journey and wandered throughout the far reaches of Middle Earth. One of these elves, whose name has long since been forgotten, found the piece of metal upon the mountain top, now a small island, and carried it with him Westward until he crossed the Misty Mountains and came to the realm known as Eregion. There he grew fatally ill and died as the full moon rose, not realizing that it was what he carried that had killed him. The great Ringsmith Celebrimbor found the piece of metal and began to discover its secrets. This was at the same time that he forged the Three Rings of the Elves. When Sauron came upon the scene Celebrimbor did not tell him about the special metal, and this was a very good thing indeed, or else it might have been used to forge the One Ring, ....... and the world as we now know it would not exist, but rather a continuous dark nightmare from which there would be no awakening. Sauron suspected that something was being hidden from him, however, and it was for this reason that he began to share what knowledge he had with Celebrimbor in hopes that he could discover the secret. Of course, this never happened, and Celebrimbor came to see Sauron for what he was. After Sauron departed Eregion for Mordor, Celebrimbor was able to discern the true threat that the metal from another world posed. He did not dare use this metal himself and he did not dare hide it in the area where he was. He also did not dare tell another living soul, and so set out to hide this thing himself. He would’ve destroyed it if he could, but he recognized that it could not be destroyed in this world, only in the world where it was created.”

“Before he could hide the metal the full moon rose again and he died. Celebrimbor’s assistant was a mortal man of great skill, a sorcerer in his own right, and it was now to him that the task fell to hide this deadly secret. He was friends with the king of this city and had heard rumor that a secret chamber existed beneath it, carved long ago by some forgotten race, long before this city was built. The king had no knowledge of this chamber and so let the sorcerer make use of whatever he could find. It was all done very secretly and the king had no idea what came with the sorcerer when he arrived. The sorcerer was not a bad person, but was careless in his handling of the metal. Not only that, but he had summoned to his side a number of apprentices who were equally careless. Curiosity got the better of them and their task of hiding this material strayed to the point where they began to experiment with it. While they tried to figure out what potential this metal held, the full moon once again rose high and they suddenly grew deathly ill and died in the chamber outside this room. The very safeguards that they had put in place to hide their laboratory would no longer allow them to escape, and they were trapped in here with the terrible poison. We must somehow find a way to destroy this evil substance lest it fall into the hands of darkness, and we must do it before the moon is full.”

Aragorn now raised his voice in question. “But Sauron has been utterly defeated. What evil force is there now in this world that could turn this metal into a weapon?”

Again Gandalf spoke. “There are my two former compatriots, the Blue Wizards who passed into the East, Alatar and Pallando. I fear they have learned of this substance and are making their way here as we speak. Galadriel has foreseen this and spoken to me in a dream. Long ago they were corrupted by Sauron and are now quite likely become very powerful indeed. Though they do not command great armies, they are skillful in black arts too evil to speak of. Worst of all, they are proficient in the smithing of rings of power. Should they obtain this material they would surely forge rings, one for each of them, far more destructive than the One Ring which Sauron created. Rings of power made of this metal could blacken all life in Middle Earth to a tortured cinder, yet still alive and writhing in unimaginable pain and screaming hopelessly for relief that would never come. We must find a new hiding place for this ...... abomination .......... and it must be done immediately!” He paused again and shook with something I would never have imagined in him, ... uncontrollable fear. “The thing is, I have no idea how to hide it from Alatar and Pallando. They can look deep into all places in Middle Earth, such is their power.” The danger was now apparent to all of us and suddenly I realized that chance had been afforded this world by my entrance into it.

“I believe I know how to shield people from the effects of this metal and I believe I know how to destroy it.” Once again Gandalf looked at me with a raised eyebrow and I knew he would later pick my brain for answers. I then explained how I had discovered that the One Ring had been radioactive and how I had fashioned a lead shield for it which aided Frodo in carrying it to its destruction. Lastly I spoke of my world and the horrible weapons that my people had created. I was certain now that the metal in this chest was a radioactive element or isotope that had been brought into this world from my world and somehow mixed with great magic from the ancient elves of the far East. Similarities between the tales of Atlantis and the tale of the downfall of the Eastern elves bubbled up in my mind as I spoke these words.

“We have plenty of lead in this city”, said Aragorn. “We can easily build a container to shield this poison.”

“Yes”, said Gandalf, “but only shield it when the moon is not full. This metal has been changed by ancient magic so that once a month it’s powers flourish and expand. No amount of lead will shield it then. But, ..... we might just be able to get it out of the city and back into Ithriel’s world before the Blue Wizards find it and before the moon rises. No one can be near this thing when the moon is full, of that I am sure.”

I then had to explain that in all honesty I had no idea how to return to my previous existence. For all I knew I had died in Canada and been reborn here in Middle Earth.

“There is a way”, said Alpheth, “but we must hurry.” I looked at her with begging curiosity. She seemed to know a great deal about me that I had never told her. I had always put this down to the same sort of High Elven telepathy that Galadriel frequently demonstrated. Was there something more at work here?

Aragorn and Arwen now hastened back to the city and began to oversee the rapid construction of a leaden cask which would house the radioactive material. When the casket was complete it would be brought here and the entire chest containing the deadly material put into it. Then where? Then what? Gandalf was certain that the Blue Wizards were less than a week away. It was Alpheth who now explained our last best hope. We listened and were astonished, everyone of us.

She told us who she really was and where she had really come from. She was many thousands of years old, perhaps almost as old as Galadriel herself. When the far Eastern realm of the great elves who had originally brought the radioactive metal from my world perished, a few had survived. Much of the skill they had learned had been taught to them by one of the Maia who had discovered them quite by accident. When they had destroyed themselves this Maia had shown the survivors in ships to a place of safety, a small island several weeks away to the Northeast. There these few people survived and flourished under the benevolent guidance of this powerful spirit, and it was on this island that Alpheth was born. Those that dwelt there realized the terrible mistake of trying to harness the power of the metal and had never sought to find it, although some suspected that the king had hidden it in safety. All would have been well for this tiny island community, but one day a great wave came and washed over the island, utterly destroying it and all its inhabitants except one, Alpheth, who had been out in a boat and so ridden above the destruction. She eventually made her way to the mainland and there traveled Westward for many years, until at last she wandered broken and battered into Lothlorien. Galadriel had taken her in and made her her closest friend and confidant.

Alpheth had always hoped and prayed that she would one day find the Maia again who had guided her people to safety, but she never did. Galadriel had told her that when the time was right the Maia would appear and until then Alpheth would surely benefit from the blessings of that great spirit. Such spirits never abandoned those whom they cared about but would sometimes change the method by which they worked.

Now Alpheth spoke of what she had just now realized. The Maia who had saved her people had been known then by the name “Diniel”, although now she realized that later the name “Corulin” had been hers. Corulin had somehow foreseen that one day that this metal would again be found and those who craved power would be corrupted by it. She had flown Westward when the tiny island nation had been destroyed by the great wave and settled in the cliffs high above Henneth Annūn, a name, by the way, that she had originated and had only been copied, first by the elves, and later by the men of Gondor. From time to time Corulin had taken in wandering elves with no home and cared for them. In return they had built her abode and created the room which contained the “crypt”. It was not a crypt at all, however, as Alpheth now realized when she recited again the words written in the stone above the door. “REST HERE AND PASS FROM THIS WORLD. DREAM HERE AND REMAIN FOREVER IN IT. AWAKEN HERE IN STARLIGHT AND THE GREAT JOURNEY WILL BEGIN AGAIN.” The round structure in the little room was not a tomb at all. It was a gateway.

Corulin had not died, she had passed out of Middle Earth into the world where the radioactive metal had originated. What had been her purpose in doing this we had yet to figure out, but Alpheth was now certain that she knew how to move the metal from this world back to mine. I was certain that once the metal was back in my world it could be destroyed utterly and forever. So, the task that now lay before us was to encase the poisonous metal in a lead shield so it would not kill us as we transported it to Corulin’s gateway nearly one hundred miles to the Northeast. Gandalf agreed that this was the best plan of action and felt that we actually had a chance to pull it off.


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Chapter Six:

“The Gateway”


In less than a day the lead casket was completed and carried back to the chamber deep in the mountainside. Gandalf and Aragorn lifted the heavy chest into the casket. The casket rested upon a four wheeled cart which made it much easier to move around. The entire affair including the cart must have weighed at least seven hundred pounds. It was easy to push this cart along the level hallways, but to muscle it up the stairs required the aid of many soldiers who were sworn to secrecy by Aragorn. Once out of the mountainside and into the light of day the entire cart was hoisted into a sturdy wagon drawn by twelve the strongest and fastest horses that could be found. These animals had been hand selected by Eomer himself and he guaranteed their attributes with his life. He would ride with us along with forty Rohirrim as an escort all the way to Henneth Annūn. Although the great enemy had now been defeated there were still many dark forces roaming here and there in disarray and it would not do to have this cargo fall into the wrong hands. Gandalf had also made arrangements for Gwahir and the Eagles to fly overhead.

With us we would carry great lengths of rope and pulleys. The Eagles could carry the rope aloft along with several of us who were familiar with Corulin’s dwelling. With the help of the Eagles we would rig a series of lines with which to pull aloft the heavy lead casket. The Rohirrim on their horses could supply the power below to make this happen. Even with all the help that we now had arranged I found myself wishing that Smeagol would be with us to assist. No one could climb the way he could.

Our entire entourage included fifty four men and elves. I was allowed to briefly visit with Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin. They would all be remaining here in the city. Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli, Alpheth, and several other elves from Lorien would come with the cargo. We set out early in the morning and rode hard to Osgiliath. All the bridges had been destroyed in the war but a makeshift barge was ready to carry us across in stages. Once upon the Eastern shore we drove Northward for several more hours and by early afternoon had reached our destination. The Eagles had kept a constant watch overhead and several of the elves and Rohirrim had ridden ahead as scouts. We were all relieved that no sign of enemy forces had been seen, either remnants of Sauron’s armies or the Blue Wizards.

For the rest of the afternoon we all labored with the rigging and by nightfall it was nearly complete. It would be too dangerous to lift the heavy weight in the darkness so we had no choice but to wait for daylight. There were two of Captain Faramir’s original company with us and they invited our entire throng into their secret chamber to rest and break bread. One of the Gondorians was the same who had inherited Sam’s cookware not long ago. He now packed it for the return journey to Minas Tirith. Sam would be absolutely delighted. We posted guards in every possible location though few of us slept. At one point in the middle of the night I went to Alpheth and asked her to walk with me outside under the starlight.

“I know that I must take this terrible material back into my world and destroy it, and I know this will be dangerous and fraught with peril. I would never wish to endanger your life yet I find myself so anguished at the thought of being parted from you again that I am both desperate and ashamed to be asking you now to come with me.” I was holding back tears as I said this, and when I looked at Alpheth I could see that she had failed as well in her attempt to keep from crying.

From behind watery eyes she spoke. “From the moment that this plan was decided upon it was in my heart to come with you. Just as you found this world strange and I helped instruct you in our ways, I’m sure you will help me to learn your ways once I’m in your world. I know you do not have any magic which can teach me your language as quickly as you learned mine, but I’m sure I’ll manage in time.” We stopped walking at this point and she turned to face me, placed her arms around my waist, and drew me close. There under the starlight that shone down upon Middle Earth, we kissed, and for a moment time stood still. Of all the bits and pieces of lives that I had recalled to this point, nothing equaled the poignancy of this experience. I no longer thought of myself as a woman who had recently been male and I no longer thought of myself as specifically an elf. I was a person. I was an entity in love. I had found someone to be happy with and she had found me and what more was there in this life or any other that could exceed the beauty of that? In the distance a nightingale burst into song, seemingly in harmony with our feelings. Would that this moment could have lasted longer, but duty called once again.

Gandalf had come looking for us. “We have to begin the ascent now. I have been receiving information from my colleague Radagast and have just now learned that the Blue Wizards are closer than we thought, perhaps less than a day from us. They are riding swift horses that have been enhanced by magic and do not tire. As we rested they have been riding through the night. If it was just one of them that we now faced I would not be so fearful, for alone they would be no match for me, but the two of them working in consort are extremely dangerous.”

Within minutes our entire party was awake and set to work once again. Gandalf made the tip of his staff glow so brightly that the entire mountainside was illuminated in it’s whiteness. The Eagles carried the final rope and tackle aloft along with Alpheth, Legolas, Gimli, two other elves, Aragorn, and myself. Gandalf would remain on the ground until the casket had been hauled all the way to Corulin’s chamber. With more than four hours of darkness remaining it was hard work even with Gandalf’s illumination to set the ropes and pulleys. As dawn finally broke we were ready. The casket was securely fastened in a sturdy sling and Eomer gave the command for the horses to begin pulling, gently at first, and then more quickly when we could see that the load was ascending smoothly. Within an hour the casket was to the first ledge and within another hour it was to the second. There were places along the way where we had to slow down and even stop in order to nudge the heavy object by hand around jagged outcroppings. Most of this work was performed by elves who hung from ropes alongside the main line. At last, by noon, we had succeeded in raising the casket to the wide ledge behind which was Corulin’s ancient abode. The four wheeled cart had been left behind. It was too wide for the narrow hallways here, let alone parts of the ledge, so we rolled the casket on dowels until we at last had it in front of the door to the gateway chamber. Back outside a small bird was behaving frantically at the entrance to the first room, and as Gandalf arrived on the ledge he learned from this messenger sent by Radagast that two Blue Wizards war less an hour away and seemed to be heading straight for us.

On the ground Eomer was now in charge and he immediately ordered all the ropes pulled down so as not to aid any enemy in climbing up. He then set his cavalry to form two lines of defense to our North. The wizards may come but they would not pass unchallenged or un-fought. Elves hid in the rocks and prepared their bows. Above, the Eagles circled in preparation for swooping attacks, their talons bristling.

Alpheth this time drew water from the pool in the outer room and sprinkled it upon the inner door, causing it to open. The casket was pushed inside and we prepared for the final stage of our mission. The lid to the gateway was easy to remove. There below was what appeared to be a well full nearly to the brim with sparkling water. There was an odd ringing sound coming from this liquid and we could all detect the faint smell of lilies. Gandalf took the bottom tip of his staff and very slowly touched the surface of the water. This produced nothing but the expected ripples, but when he withdrew his staff he stared in amazement at it, for the section of it that had been immersed in the water was now missing, as if cut clean away by a knife of impossible sharpness. If I was going to pass through this, if Alpheth was going to pass through this, our survival seemed now like a matter of faith, and I could have spoken for both of us in that moment by saying that our faith was somewhat challenged by doubt.

Gandalf now spoke solemnly and we all became quiet and listened intently. “I recommend that Ithriel pass through first, followed by the casket, and followed at last by Alpheth. Once you are through I will seal this gateway with a spell. If Alatar and Pallando make it into this room it will take them a great deal of time to break the spell and pass-through into your world. He looked straight at me as he said this. I cannot guarantee how much time you will have, but I feel it is safe to say at least three days. The task to find a way to destroy this deadly material within three days is your goal. May the blessings of the Star of Elendil be upon you.”

“What will happen to all of you?”, I asked. “What do you think will happen when the Blue Wizards arrive?”

“They are concerned only with the contents of this casket”, said Gandalf. “Once it is gone from this world they will try to pursue and will have little interest in us. In truth, I think we will be able to do little more than annoy them. As I have said before, when they work in consort with each other they are tremendously powerful.” This did not exactly give me confidence that my friends would survive, but I knew that they were capable of achieving great things in the face of seemingly impossible adversity.

Aragorn now spoke. “I will defend this gateway with my life and the Sword That Has Been Remade shall sing again if any enemy should come near. This room, this entire structure, is easily defensible, and no one, Wizard or man alike, will have an easy time making their way in here.” Legolas was at his side with his bow in hand. His eyes gleamed with pure ferocity at the thought of the battle to come. I pitied anyone who stood in the way of his arrows. Gimli braced his muscles and raised his gleaming axe. “Let them come, the fools! I will feed them a feast of steel they will not soon forget!”

Now it was time. Alpheth and I said our final farewells to our friends as the casket was shifted so that it was directly beside the round structure in the middle of the room. Heaving with all their might, and with the aid of a quick spell, Gandalf and Aragorn lifted it so that it rested upon the edge of the gateway, ..... and then I stepped up onto the edge myself. I closed my eyes for a moment and said a brief prayer for our success, .... then stepped forward over the glimmering liquid, and fell.

At first my thoughts were overcome by a gigantic wave of light ..... and then ......

Blackness.

It was like waking from a long dream and being a bit confused. There I was, sprawled on my back in the middle of a large field. Beside me was the lead casket. Once again I will remark at how strange the mind is and what odd thoughts will arise when one least expects them. I inspected my own body. I was still wearing the clothing of the elves given me in Lothlorien and I was still female. I touched my ears. I was still an elf. Interacting with people back here was going to be very interesting to say the least. I sat up and looked around. In the distance I could see a small town, and from the topography of the land and the architecture of the buildings, I discerned that I was somewhere in Saskatchewan or western Manitoba. I stood, ...... and then it hit me like a thunderbolt. Where was Alpheth?


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Chapter Seven:

“Lost Chances”


I wept for what seemed like hours. Try as I might, I could not find any sign of Alpheth.

I waited for a long time, hoping against the feeling in the pit of my stomach. Darkness crept across the prairie like a black sheet being drawn over a cool bed of sorrow as swallows chased the final insects of the day and then disappeared to their nests. I knew what I must do but had little idea how to do it, and I had far less ambition now that Alpheth was gone. What had happened to her? Had she been unable to enter the gateway or had she entered and gone elsewhere? Would I ever know?

The casket was far too heavy for me to move by myself. I figured that it was safe enough for the moment where it was as no one was likely to come out into the middle of this field so late at night. Checking my bearings against the stars overhead, I headed for the town, it’s lights glowing coldly in the way only electricity can accomplish. How I missed candles and torches and the soft light of the Feanorian lamps of Lothlorien. As I walked I formulated a plan, daft as it seemed.

Near the edge of the town was an old gas station that appeared to be long out of business. Beside it was an old pickup truck with one flat tire, a hand operated boom and winch attached to the bed. This could probably lift the casket, I guessed, but I had to fix that tire. No grass grew up around it and I figured that it had been in working order recently. The window was open so I entered, trying to be as quiet as possible, but being unable to keep the rusty door from creaking treacherously. Frantically I searched for the keys. None! I exited and probed the old gas station for tools with which to change the tire. The spare in the bed had looked worthy enough. No luck. Then, just as I was about to abandon this old truck and search for a vehicle elsewhere, I saw one of those pressurized cans of tire sealer and inflator laying half buried under some rags. I picked it up and shook it. It was full!

Returning to the truck, I opened the hood. Thankfully this did not creak the way the door had. All appeared well and a quick brush across the battery terminals with a piece of thin wire revealed that it still had charge. Now I checked the gas tank by rocking the truck with my shoulder. What luck! It appeared to be nearly at the top! I unscrewed the valve cap of the flat tire and shook the can of sealant vigorously for a minute. The tire was not completely flat and I hoped that the contents of the can would suffice to inflate it to working condition. As the pressurized chemical sped into the tire and the tire lifted, and the corner of the truck rose higher and higher, so too did my hopes begin to rise. I was about to hot wire and steal a truck but I actually felt optimistic about the whole thing. Not optimistic the way one would feel about being delivered from some terrible danger, but optimistic the way one would feel when about to dodge one more blow from the Sword of Damocles that loomed overhead.

Creaking the old door open once again, I bent underneath the dash board and ripped out the ends of the ignition wires. Splicing together the circuit that would allow the vehicle to remain running, I next brushed the starter wire across the ground and winced in agony as the noisy old beast coughed and roared to life. Not one hundred meters away was what looked like an inhabited house, although no lights were on. I climbed in and eased the gear shift into first. When I let the clutch out I could have screamed for joy as the truck lurched forward, and I could have screamed in anguish as it immediately stalled. Quickly I restarted it, and being more careful this time to not stall it, I drove as quietly as I could away from the lights of the town and out into the field to where the casket lay.

It took me nearly twenty minutes, but eventually I managed to pry the casket high enough with a crowbar to sling the cable from the hand winch around it. Cranking the winch with every ounce of strength I had, I watched apprehensively as it raised from the ground, higher and higher, until at last I was able to swing the boom so that it could be lowered into the bed of the truck. I had done it, although the strain was surely going to leave my back sore in the morning. As I drove West to where I had seen the moving lights that announced a road, I boldly congratulated myself on having come this far. Then I thought of Alpheth, and the sorrow was nearly overwhelming. Driving straight through the barbed wire fence at the edge of the highway I turned left and headed away from the town. No one had seen or heard me. It was a miracle.

In an hour I came upon a scraggly looking teenage boy with his thumb out, only when I stopped to let him in it proved to be a scraggly looking girl dressed as a boy. I found myself wondering if she would notice my odd clothes. I was wearing pale blue leggings tucked into soft deerskin boots with pointed toes and from the waist up was covered by a dark green tunic with wooden toggles. An intricate pattern of leaves and vines graced this tunic, and though the whole outfit would not have looked too far out of place for someone auditioning for a Shakespearean play, it was not exactly the sort of thing one wore while driving a 1959 Dodge Powerwagon down a Manitoba highway.

“Thanks, ma’am”, said the girl. “Didn’t think anyone would stop.” A long pause followed as I waited for her to get out the words I knew were hanging. “How far are you going?”

“All the way to the coast. You?” I inched out my reply past the fear that she would notice my clothes.

“Awww, that’s great! Can I ride with you all the way? I can help with the driving if you like. I have money for gas, too.” She had suddenly become animated, eager, and the solution to a definite problem, ... I had no money.

I introduced myself as “Sally” and explained that I had to take this old chest to a friend and had been in a play the night I left and had not had time to change my clothes, leaving even my wallet behind in haste. She immediately offered to buy me some clothes at the next truck stop. She was not rich, but seemingly well able to afford such generosity, and I gratefully accepted her kindness.

As I granted her permission to accompany me to British Columbia and thanked her heartily for offering to help with the gas, I learned that her name was “Grace”. How appropriate, I thought, as we plowed on through the night. The old Dodge was a thing of beauty and never complained as we crossed into Saskatchewan. We stopped occasionally for fuel and a bite to eat, all of it courtesy of Grace’s wallet, and I came to know her a bit. She was nineteen and sick to death of university. She had always wanted to travel and figured that a semester on the road would be more to her advantage, and so she had donned her grubbiest street clothes and headed West. Not once did she question me about my past. Was this respect or some sort of apprehension generated by my original attire? It felt oddly comfortable, and uncomfortable at the same time, to once again be wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, runners and a ball cap. The clothes of the elves had been so much more to my liking.

We drove in three or four hour shifts and soon crossed into Alberta as dawn broke behind us in a crescendo of brilliant red and orange. The old truck made easy work of the rolling hills and I felt that the mountains ahead would be of little challenge to this venerable chariot I had so stealthily liberated from it’s rightful owner. I dared not think what would happen if it was reported to the police and I was pulled over for anything. Best to dream of success and stay positive. At one rest stop Grace finally asked me where I originally hailed from, and not feeling it was in the least a lie, stated with confidence that I had been born in BC. She stared at me as if my head were on fire and I wondered why. What had I said that was unusual?

“Were you in stage make-up for that play?”, she asked, her stare persisting. “Those ears look awfully real.”

In shock I realized that I had brushed my hair back as we sat there chewing on sandwiches and drinking tea. I had been so careful up until now to keep my ears covered by my tresses, and before I could spit out another lie she reached up and touched my right ear with her index finger.

“It’s warm!”, she whispered frantically. “Your ears .............. your ears ......... what .................. what ...................” Her voice trailed off as I envisioned the sudden end to free gas and a sudden beginning to a lot of unwanted attention.

“Can we talk back in the truck?”, I pleaded, looking her straight in the eyes and praying with all my will that she would say yes. She did, and I could have kissed her out of gratitude at this chance to explain, though I had no idea how I was going to pull off a believable explanation. We finished our meal in silence and walked slowly back to the truck as if both afraid to resume our journey. It was my turn to drive but I did not start the engine. We sat quietly for a few minutes and then I spoke.

“Grace, what I am going to tell you will seem like a joke or perhaps like madness, but I assure you it is neither. I regret that I have lied to you and for that I apologize. I was once from BC, just as I said, but more recently, ............. recently as in this life, ........... I am from a place very far from here.” I stumbled now and did not know how to proceed. Fortunately, Grace made the next move.

“Are you an elf?” Her question could have easily been exchanged with “are you European?” for all the concern she placed behind it.

“Yes”, I replied. “And, ....... my name is not Sally, ... it’s Ithriel.”

“Did you steal this truck?” She shot the question at me like an arrow.

“Yes”, I said, “but I had no wish to. I was desperate. If at all possible I shall return it and somehow repay the owner for the trouble.” I was sweating and I’m sure she noticed.

I poured out a lot then, the wave that swept over my island, about being reborn as an elf North of Mirkwood, of meeting Alpheth, of being separated at the gateway, of needing to take this chest to the coast. I did not, however, divulge what was in the chest or that I had once been male. Grace listened as might a student at a lecture on ancient history. She questioned me here and there about the similarities and differences between the Middle Earth Tolkien had described and that which I professed to be from. She knew a great deal about the stories and I could not tell if she was playing along with what she thought was a game or if she really believed my theory about alternate universes. Then she said something which turned me inside out.

“Sally, ... I mean Ithriel, ..... I have had dreams my whole life of living in the world you describe, long before I read the books, and I have always wished there was a way I could really go there. Now I think it’s real and that I can. Will you take me with you? Please?” This last word trailed off in a mournful wail that nearly broke my heart. I felt the same yearning myself to return.

I asked her to promise that she would never tell a soul what I was about to explain to her, and upon receiving her word, I told her about all the rest of it, being a man not too long ago, about the two Blue Wizards and the radioactive metal which I must destroy, and about all that I had left behind. I told her that if I could, I would take her with me, but did not know how to get back myself. Finally, I told her of my plan and asked for her help, telling her in all honesty now of the possible dangers involved. If Gandalf’s predictions were correct, I could expect to have the Blue Wizards breathing down my neck in less than two days. Not only that, the next full moon was less than a week away. I dreaded what would happen if I failed.

Grace astonished me with her solemn vow to help me no matter what the cost to her wallet or to her well being. It seemed that I had met the one person in all the world who not only believed the fantastic story I had told, but was eager to become a part of it. I started the truck and moved back onto the highway. If we drove all day and all night we could see the Pacific before noon tomorrow. If only I could find the Admiral when I got there.

Many years ago I had become friends with a US Navy Admiral who had a summer home on the island where I lived. He had once been the captain of a US aircraft carrier before being promoted to a desk, a vessel he would easily have preferred to avoid. We had spent many evenings talking about various world events and he had once divulged something to me that at the time I felt might have been privileged and not meant for my ears. He had been tasked to help with the destruction of outdated nuclear weapons by taking fissile material to a secret location where it could be rendered inert. This was my goal, to approach this Admiral, now nearing retirement, and ask him if he would be so kind as to destroy a hundred or so pounds of a radioactive material so controversial that it’s existence in this world would be denied by all but a handful. I smiled wryly as I realized the audacity and sheer madness of this whole idea, but what else did I have to try? Was this all a dream? Would I soon awake to one of my cats licking my face and mewling to be let out?

The road ahead was bathed in bright sunlight, the kind that dispels all doubts regarding it’s reality. Grace sat next to me in the passenger seat and looked ahead with me, and in that moment I did not care what was real and what was not. I only cared about what I felt. I felt that I must complete this task. I felt desperate to find Alpheth. And I felt protective of this young girl who I had somehow roped into assisting me in this very dangerous work that would probably get us arrested, killed, or both. I pushed the old Power Wagon hard as the Rockies loomed ahead and then vanished into the background. Grace thrust us on through the Kootneys and I took over again as we headed down the long Fraser Valley towards the Pacific and ........ home .......... or what had been home so long ago. It seemed long ago at any rate. In actual time it had been less than a month.

In Hope we stopped at a department store and I bought a cell phone and long distance card. My old name and information still worked. Back on the road I text messaged the Admiral and told him simply that I would be in Vancouver in a few hours and would like to meet. I knew he would be there at this time, going back to the States for another stint in Washington, his next to last as I remember him telling me when we had dinner together not five weeks ago. Grace had wanted to stop to change the oil in the truck because it had smoked a bit when crossing the last mountain pass, but I would not hear of it. Time was of the essence. Perhaps Gandalf and company could hold off the assault by the Blue Wizards on the gateway for three full days and perhaps a little more, but to assume longer was foolish. To count on the three days was all I could do. What choice did I have? Driving as fast as we could get away with and not get stopped for speeding, I was thankful that the weather was good. Heavy rain or fog at this point would have slowed us to a crawl.

We met at the little restaurant near the airport, Grace going ahead and telling the Admiral that she had been hitch-hiking and I had picked her up and wanted to give him a little surprise when I walked in. Surprise? A heart attack was more like it once I convinced him it was really me in this new body. This man possessed one of the keenest minds I had ever met and we had frequently engaged in delightful conversations about alternate universes, so I knew that I at least stood a chance. Just get him to accept what I had to say about myself and then give him a few minutes to catch his breath before hitting him with the news about what was in the back of the truck. In a few moments Grace came out and told me to come in. The Admiral was happily curious, she said.

I walked right up to the table and sat down across from him. “Hello, Jake. How you been keeping? Ever get that email I sent you about the Stephen Hawking special on television last month?” I knew this would get his attention, and it did.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but I don’t believe we’ve ever met. I can guess who put you up to this. Very funny. Now where is he?” A wry grin spread across his weather beaten face and his eyes twinkled with delight. Grace sat down next to me.

“It’s me, Jake.” And with that I began, very methodically, very slowly, to explain that which was necessary to convince him that I was indeed me. It took a while. It would have taken less time, but Grace kept laughing at the most inappropriate moments. Eventually he did believe me and I let him have those few minutes to adjust to the shock before I gave him have a glimpse of my ears. When the color returned to his face I invited him to come outside to the parking lot to see what was in the back of the pickup.

After closing the chest and lead casket again, I let him have five minutes this time. Then I told him what I needed to do.

“Are you NUTS ?” he screamed so loudly that several people nearby took notice. He immediately lowered his voice and repeated the question in a whisper, though just as emphatically. From the look in my eyes he could see that I was either quite sane or quite seriously mad, I was not sure which myself. “Is that what I think it is?” he gasped.

“Yes”, I said. “It is. Stolen from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation years ago. What’s left of the only material of it’s kind ever created. You can understand why it must be destroyed. It makes uranium 235 look like skim milk by comparison.” I covered the casket with an old tarp and we went back inside. “It only emits gamma radiation in cycles and that cycle coincides with that of the moon. I know it sounds fantastic, but right now it is new moon and the material is safe. On a full moon it will kill anything near it in a matter of minutes. I was not always this way. It was altered far from here by someone who hoped to increase it’s potential as a peaceful power source, but unfortunately it also made the material lethal. The worst thing is that under certain circumstances, and when manipulated in a specific way, it can become a weapon more deadly than anything this world can imagine. Two people who know how to do this are on their way here to attempt that very thing and that is why this unholy thing has to be destroyed.” I was shaking as I said this. Grace was not laughing any more.

“You are asking me to smuggle dangerous radioactive material across an international border, material that went missing and is under investigation by every governmental agency on the planet, and somehow sneak it into Hanford and have it rendered inert? Is that all? No choir of angels or marching bands or anything?” His sarcasm was understandable. I had just asked him to do something which could land him in a federal penitentiary for the rest of his life, if he wasn’t shot first.

”The choir of angels would be a nice touch”, I wisecracked. He did not smile right away, but a few seconds later let go a brief chuckle.

“I need to make some calls”, he said. “Give me a few days.”

“We don’t have a few days. We need to do it now.” I looked him gravely in the eyes and could see that he understood.

“Any ideas?”, he quipped, as if expecting me to come up with a crazy plan for getting across the border.

“Sure”, I said, suddenly feeling inspired to be very crazy indeed. “We all three of us drive back East a ways and take the smallest border crossing we can find. We make it look as if we’re on a fishing trip. I’ll need a passport though.

“I’ll need one, too”, said Grace.

Jake started laughing and Grace joined in immediately, followed by myself a few seconds later. He retrieved his bags from the restaurant and we piled into Power Wagon, the most unlikely band of companions one could imagine; a girl, and elf, and a US Navy Admiral. Heading into the city we soon found someone Jake knew who did not wish to be identified, and who, for most of the money in his wallet and all that was left in Grace’s, produced two very realistic looking passports in less than half an hour. We were assured that they would clear US Customs and Immigration but we all had our doubts. Next we went into a sporting goods store and bought some cheap fishing poles and other angling gear, using Jake’s credit card this time. Heading East on the highway for an hour we crossed the border at Sumas without incident and rolled into the United States. Was I dreaming? We had only been asked the standard questions about where we lived and where we were going. Fortune was smiling on us, or so it seemed. As we made our way on back roads across Washington State towards the Columbia Valley, I began to have an uneasy feeling that something terrible was about to happen.

I felt it best to avoid the Interstate and so we crossed the Cascades on Route 20 and then dropped down towards Hanford on the smallest paved roads I could find. Jake assured us that once there he could get in, but not us and not the truck. He would do his best to convince the site superintendent to bring the chest inside the perimeter and then call on an old friend to take it to the “Dampener”, as the device was called which could supposedly render the fissile material inert. An hour away from our goal disaster struck.

They came out of the afternoon sky in two helicopters and attempted to land in the road right in front of us. Through the canopy of each aircraft I could see their faces, twisted and wrinkled and glaring with an inhuman ferocity that surely was driven by the sort of fear and hatred that only their dealings with Sauron could have instilled. They were Alatar and Pallando, the two Blue Wizards, and they were terrible to behold. I winced to think what they might have done to my friends back in Middle Earth and feared that some magic beyond anything this world could combat protected them now. I swerved the truck off the road and into the dry scrub brush. Pulling behind a clump of willows, I shouted at Jake and Grace to jump out and spin in the manual locking hubs to the four-wheel-drive on the front axle. Jumping back in, we headed on, trying our best to out maneuver the two choppers which kept lowering themselves in front of us. They weren’t shooting at us. Why?

Jake reached into his flight bag and produced a 45 which he aimed at the tail rotor of one of the helicopters and fired. The first round missed but the second found it’s mark, and wild vibrations soon forced the craft to land. Out jumped one of the Wizards who ran to the other chopper as it settled briefly to pick him up, and then ascended again to harry us as we sped on through the dust. Although Jake tried to bring down the second chopper as he had the first, he could not get a shot, and I knew I could not keep up this losing game of wolf and hare much longer. Sooner or later they would block our route in a manner which I could not circumvent. Why weren’t they shooting at us? If these two could commandeer two helicopters then why could they not also obtain guns? It was Grace who then made a very critical observation about the Wizards and Jake who made a very critical observation about our cargo.

Grace asked, “Why can’t they use some sort of powerful spell against us the way they could have in Middle Earth?”

Jake said, “If they hit the chest then the material might be compromised in a most unpleasant way.”

Both Grace and Jake were right, of course. The Wizards should be able to work terrible magic against us as Gandalf said they could, so why weren’t they? And, the reason we were not being shot at was because our cargo was too unstable to risk the sudden impact of a bullet. It would not explode if hit, but it would briefly heat in the small spot in which the bullet impacted and emit dangerous particles which apparently the Wizards were afraid of.

I jammed the transfer case into low range and shot the Dodge up a steep hillside. If I could crest the top I might be able to kick up enough dust on the way down to give them some trouble. Up and up the hillside the old truck climbed, clawing at the dry desert soil like a boat clawing the face of a great wave about to engulf it. As I neared the top all momentum began to drop away and I knew I was losing traction. Frantically I began to cut the wheels back and forth to the right and then the left in a last ditch effort to negate the effects of gravity and clear the crest. It was working. Just a few more feet. We were going to make it.

Suddenly the chopper landed square in our path and it’s skids collided with the front bumper of the truck. Our forward momentum was so slight at this point that we stopped instantly. Jake jumped out the door just as the two Wizards jumped out of the helicopter. Jake raised his 45 to shoot but the Wizards were faster, throwing long thin spears of silver metal at him, one piercing his right arm just above the elbow and the other pinning his left leg to the side of the truck. He belched a loud curse but could not free himself. I instinctively reached for my knife though I knew I would be no match for these two. They had forced their way past Gandalf, a hail of arrows, and a thicket of swords. What chance did I have? I was worried about Grace and wished in that instant before my doom that I had never picked her up. But it was Grace who acted next, and for her actions I will ever be supremely thankful.

Picking up a small stone from the ground beneath her feet, the young girl let fly straight at the face of the nearest Wizard. The stone struck him dead on the nose, and although it did not knock him down, it both stunned him and unleashed a torrent of blood. Instantly the other Wizard grabbed his nose as if he too had been struck. Grace saw it first and shouted, “They’re linked together! What hurts one hurts the other! And they can’t work magic here in this world!” Of course! Why had I not figured it out? I bent to pick a rock from the ground as Grace again did the same. Somehow we each instinctively knew which one to aim for. She took the one on the left and I took the one on the right.

The two stones hit the two foreheads of the two Wizards simultaneously and they crumpled to the ground like so much wet cloth. I ran to jump on top of the nearest and choke him to death while Grace grabbed the tire iron from the truck and raced towards the other. Suddenly Jake cried out, “Get my pistol!”

I lifted it from the dust at his feet and aimed at the nearest Wizard but I was too late. He was upon me before I could fire.

So strong his fingers around my throat. Like icy cable tightening with no mercy. I found the cold strange as I struggled not to lose consciousness and for a split second wondered how Grace was faring. Try as I might I could not break the grasp around my neck and from the sounds not far away I deduced that Grace was not having any better luck. Jake was swearing blue murder. It was almost over. I was fading. My vision was tunneling to blackness. I had failed. I had let everyone down. And then I heard that voice so smooth and soft and comforting that I put it down to my dying thoughts as the last life slipped from my body. It was Alpheth telling me to let go.

I had been holding on to the robes of the Wizard in an attempt to gain leverage against him and throw him to the ground. I guess that they had not heard of Judo because it didn’t work worth a damn. But somehow, in that briefest of moments before I lost consciousness, I heard Alpheth’s voice telling me to let go and felt that she did not mean to let go of life, but rather to let go of the Wizard’s robe. I complied and found myself falling slowly backwards as the loud report of a rifle broke the air. I landed on my back and heard the rifle fire again. “Get up!”, she said. “We don’t have much time till they recover!”

I stared up in amazement at Alpheth standing over me, rifle in hand, smiling down at me as only she could, but her face imparting in it’s countenance the utmost need for urgency.

I jumped up and hugged her for all I was worth as Grace ran up beside me. “Don’t tell me, let me guess ..... Alpheth?”

“Yes. At your service. Now we need to move!” And she actually pushed me away from my embrace. The blood from what should have been fatal head wounds to the two Wizards was no longer seeping out. It was seeping back in. Their wounds were somehow reversing. As I pulled the spears from a still screaming Jake, Alpheth sensed my curiosity and answered my unspoken question aloud. “Not all their magic left them when traveled to this world. If I was to shoot them again they would recover even more quickly. We must hasten now for all we are worth!”

Before I could ask how she had found us and gotten here I saw the dirt bike. Alpheth jumped on and kicked it to life while I helped Jake into the truck. The spears had been very small in diameter and his bleeding was not bad. Just for good measure I threw the two spears in the back as Grace got in beside Jake. Alpheth raised her rifle and quickly put several rounds into the tail of the chopper but then said to me, “They can find other means to follow us, be sure of that. As long as the metal in that chest exists, they will have great power in this or any world. They have somehow become linked to it and are now drawing from it’s energy. Once it is destroyed they will become purely mortal in this world and soon begin to age rapidly. They will not live long and will be of no danger to anyone ever again.”

I backed the truck down the hill and soon found the road again. Alpheth went ahead, somehow knowing the way. After about two miles she turned off the road and we once again picked our way through the scrub brush. A rabbit dashed for cover in front of us and I suddenly thought of Smeagol and how he had once told me of catching rabbits to eat. So odd the way the mind works. In half an hour the short cut became apparent as we returned to the road, having bypassed a long bend that would have cost us a great deal of time. Finally we could see it as we cleared a rise. There by the river before us lay the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. How on Earth was a bleeding Jake going to get himself in there through all that security, let alone get the casket inside? As usual, Alpheth had the answers.

She drove her bike right up to the outer guard booth and said something to the officer on duty while pointing back at us. I marveled at her beauty even now. Her dark blue elven leggings and darker blue cloak spoke of royalty and her every move told of elegance that more common folk would never know. Why did the guard not notice her clothes? What was going on? I pulled up to a stop and the guard came up to my window. “You need to drive in now. I’m going to let you in now.” His words were rather monotone and he seemed a bit dazed. I glanced at Alpheth and she only smiled for a second before motioning for me to continue. No identification check, no questions, and the same thing happened at the next two checkpoints. Alpheth spoke and the guards seemed to ..... become transfixed and a bit confused. I was going to have to talk to her about this.

Jake directed us to the building that housed the Dampener and again Alpheth worked her magic of voice so that we passed inside, this time wheeling the casket behind us on a large rolling dolly that Grace found in a side hallway. Into the very bowels of the huge facility we strode, a girl, a bleeding US Navy Admiral, and two elves, one clad in the raiments of Lothlorien and the other in blue jeans. If only Galadriel could see us now. (And then I wondered if perhaps she could.)

Alpheth spoke to the crew that ran the Dampener and they walked dreamily over to Jake who gave them instructions. The procedure was more simple than I had thought it would be. We just wheeled the casket, dolly and all, onto an elevator platform which then lowered it into the Dampener below. There was no warning siren and there were no blinking lights. A technician pushed a button and there was a momentary humming noise below us as I thought I could detect a bit of vibration coming up through the floor. “It’ll take about fifteen minutes”, said another technician. Just then I heard the screaming of the two Blue Wizards outside the doors which had thankfully been locked behind us.

“Let me handle this”, said Jake in a very matter-of-fact tone. And with that he strode over to the control panel next to the door that the Wizards were trying to pound their way through. The door was heavy steel plate but was being dented from the other side by something very forceful. Jake studied the control panel for a moment then selected a few buttons. Now the klaxon I had expected began to blare out it’s warning and a large red light above the door began to flash. Outside there were screams of agony as high pressure steam blasted into the two people who had an hour before speared the Admiral.

“It won’t stop them for long”, cried Alpheth. “They will find another way in.”

“What seems to be the problem?”, came a voice very much like Alpheth’s, with that accent that set her so slightly apart from all the other elves I had met. “Do those nasty little mongrels really think they can get in here?” The words came from a strikingly beautiful and very petite woman wearing a white lab coat. She walked up to the door behind through which we could still hear screaming, and spoke in a voice now like thunder. “HOT STEAM BECOME ICE! ICE FREEZE AND BIND YOU! MOVE NO MORE ALATAR. MOVE NO MORE PALLANDO.” The air quivered as she spoke and the walls shook. I thought I could see sparkles and flashes around the door. None of the technicians seemed to notice any of this. Below, the floor continued to vibrate softly as the minutes ticked by and no more screaming came from beyond the door. Finally, the technician who had initiated the Dampener told us it was over. The tiny dark haired woman in the white lab coat unlocked and flung open the door to reveal the two Blue Wizards frozen in a wispy coating of ice, yet rapidly decomposing, their skin folding up with wrinkles like the surface of milk that has reached a boil. They were collapsing in upon themselves as if they were deflating balloons. In less than a minute they were but husks of skin, appearing to have no substance inside whatsoever.

The little woman turned now to Alpheth and smiled. “I am so glad that you finally made it, Alpheth. I am Corulin, at your service. I have been waiting here for a very long time for you to arrive with this horrid poison. Now that it has been rendered forever harmless by this device of my design, this world and many others need never fear the evil that sought to use it to rule in cruelty and terror.” And then her voice dropped to a whisper. “Though there will no doubt be others who will choose the path of darkness.” She was almost too beautiful to look at. Even Alpheth seemed to be transfixed by her sparkling eyes and Grace was flushing as she stood stock still, staring at Corulin unabashedly. This was no ordinary woman and this was no elf. This was a very powerful Maia, despite what I would later learn about magic from Middle Earth being very different here. From inside her lithesome frame a radiance beamed forth, seeming to illuminate her skin, her words, her every movement.

And so it was done. My task was complete, although it had been largely accomplished by the hands of Alpheth and Corulin. We exited the facility the way we had come in, by hypnotizing the guards. Alpheth gave the dirt bike to the first guard at the gate. A present for his teenage son. We all piled into the 1959 Dodge Power Wagon, Jake and Grace in the back, and rolled peacefully down the Columbia Valley towards Portland. We had much to talk about and stopped frequently along the way to eat and rest. Corulin and Alpheth healed Jake as he slept and when he awoke he remembered nothing of any of what had transpired over the last day. We dropped him off at the Portland airport where he caught the first flight to Los Angeles and from there to Washington. I would probably never see him again. He would hear about the wave that hit my home and assume that I had been killed. He would not know me again as Ithriel.



**********************************************************************


Epilogue:

“Many Shores”


I learned from Alpheth that Gandalf, Aragorn, and all the others were alive and well. They had been overcome eventually by some sort of weapon that paralyzed them in place while the Blue Wizards passed through the gateway. Alpheth had tried at first to follow me but for reasons unknown could not. The gateway had closed just after I passed through and they could not open it again. Alpheth had anguished just as I had at out parting. Then, just as the Wizards managed to open and pass through the gateway, the spell that had bound everyone in place faded. Alpheth had been nearest to the gateway and jumped in before it shut. Corulin explained that the Wizards arrived far to the North and had far to travel in order to catch up with me, and had in fact followed only two days behind, not the three that Gandalf had hoped for. Alpheth had arrived on a small island far to the South and had hastened here by various means, not all of which had been entirely legal.

Speaking of legal, we determined who the owner of the Dodge Power Wagon was and sent him ten thousand dollars and a hearty apology. It turned out that he was an old miner who never knew it had gone missing. He had just gotten drunk one night and driven into that abandoned gas station by mistake. He stayed drunk for days, and by the time he figured out his truck was not where he was, he had received the ten thousand dollars by courier. He returned a letter to Grace, (who had done the honors of sending the letter to him), by telling her she was welcome to keep the truck. It always carried him into mischief he said. It had taken us into the mouth of doom and brought us out the other side. We kept it, completely refinished it, and have it still. We named it “The Swan” after the swan boats of the elves. Folks would hear us refer to our truck this way and scratch their heads, which never failed to bring soft smiles to our faces and chuckles to our conversations.

“What happened to us? We four; Alpheth, Corulin, Grace, and I all live together now on a marvelous little island not far from the one I used to live on, though at a much higher altitude that is safe from any rogue waves. My cats somehow survived the wave and have come back to me, and yes, they recognized me well enough, even though I am no longer the man I once was. Alpheth and I are still elves, yet we are aging now as does everyone else in this world. Except ....... Corulin, who appears to be immune to aging. Grace knows everything about us and shares our home and our lives as if she was a sister. At night, when the moon is full, all of us commune with Galadriel in our dreams.

Try as we might, we are unable to discover a way to return to Middle Earth, and Corulin, for all her vast wisdom, cannot explain how the material that we destroyed ever made it’s way out of this world in the first place. The ancient elves of her island home so long ago had perished with their secret. Just as well, she thought. Just as well. What is meant to be in a realm is meant to be, and all this mixing of one world into another was rather disturbing.

And then one evening Grace asked Corulin a question that raised smiles, eyebrows, and wonderment. “If Ithriel moved from this world to Middle Earth, and she and Alpheth and you moved from that world to this, then could there not be some force of nature at work in all worlds that binds them together so that passage is always possible?” She had pleased the three of us immensely with her prowess, had our Grace, our adopted daughter. And she continued, “Maybe .......... the ancient elves of the Eastern island did not create a means of travel at all, but merely discovered a means of travel that already existed naturally.”

Corulin winked at me. “Yes, dear, that is quite true. When I built the gateway above Henneth Annūn all I really did was tap into that which was already present. In one sense I built only decoration around it. Still, I cannot work much magic here and so cannot create what I did on that mountainside. But do not despair. There is always hope and one day the means to return to Middle Earth may become apparent. We know that deep in our hearts. I can feel it in each of you. The one key ingredient which is essential when traveling through any gateway is .... faith.”

“Belief that it is possible?”, said Grace.

“Not belief”, said Alpheth. “Faith. There is a difference.”

I reached for the keyboard on the laptop nearby and Googled one of my favorite authors. “Here it is”, I said. “From Aldous Huxley:”

“Give us this day out daily faith, but deliver us, dear God, from belief.”

Grace pondered this as Alpheth and Corulin now looked at the screen.

“Belief is so limited”, I said. “It is limited by the very things it defines. Faith, on the other hand, by definition includes critical analysis, and thus faith is bounded only by the imagination, and that is limitless. I do not simply believe in infinite worlds, I have faith in them. Do you?”

Grace, now twenty one, affirmed that she did. How very much I would love to take her to the place of her dreams, Middle Earth, to meet Galadriel and Celeborn, Thranduil, Gandalf, Aragorn and Arwen. Alpheth and Corulin closed the laptop and joined Grace and me by the fireplace. The dry fir crackled and popped as the orange flames licked upwards, beaming out the comfort and special heat that only a wood fire can. It was the place of my dreams, too. I ached to return and I knew that my feelings were shared by all in that room. Still, we were so happy where we were. Life was good if you lived it to it’s fullest and were lucky enough to find a place such as this. We called out little island “Tol Estel”, (Island of Hope), though the others who dwelt in this area called it by another name. Our friendship made us richer than all the royalty in all the world and we knew we were blessed. We had faith in ourselves and in each other.

And Alpheth and I had love. What prize greater? What treasure more precious? We were together at last, and Corulin, still able to see far, said that we would be so for ages to come.

In the morning Grace went down to the mailbox as she always did. It was a lazy ten minute walk down the hill and a slow fifteen minute walk back up. But today Grace did not walk back up the hill. She ran as fast as she could, waving excitedly. In her hand was a postcard. The picture on the front was of a bright star on a field of midnight blue. The back was light green and all around the edge was a delicate pattern of tiny silver leaves, and on the stamp was the image of a golden Mallorn Tree. The words written in flowing and elegant hand you can probably guess.

“REST HERE AND PASS FROM THIS WORLD. DREAM HERE AND REMAIN FOREVER IN IT. AWAKEN HERE IN STARLIGHT AND THE GREAT JOURNEY WILL BEGIN AGAIN.”



*** THE END ***
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