9: The Calm Before
~~~ Chapter 9: The Calm Before ~~~
This was like summer camp. Granted, Wes had never been to summer camp, but he’d read of it, begged his over-protective father to let him go. He wanted nothing more than to be with herds of children his own age running free and doing nothing but what they wanted for weeks on end. He wanted it so badly he spent hours imagining himself wandering woods and splashing in streams, playing cricket till dark with chums delighted to see him, eating his favorite foods until he got sick and smiled throughout it all.
Of course, Wesley never went to summer camp, because Wyndam-Pryces didn’t mingle with the common folk. His mother turned up her nose at the thought of all that low-class contamination. Besides, Wesley was too delicate, too precious to lose in some sort of freak punting accident, like what happened to his cousin Alberforth.
If only his father could see him now, Wes thought, pushing aside a delicate branch of new green leaves. This was his summer camp, finally, where he could wander the woods, swordplay with his new companions, and eat lusciously light elven fare until he passed out with satisfaction.
On further reflection, maybe it was more like a Watcher’s retreat, with better food and less backstabbing. They were all adults here, and as much as he relished the reprieve from reality, Wes knew that these woods were only a temporary safe haven. There was a real world out there, even if it wasn’t his real world, and there was something terrible brewing.
No one ever mentioned it except in oblique passing, but Wes was content to let it lie. There were enough secrets to rustle the leaves every which way he turned, and some of them were his own.
He reached down and snagged the water-skin at his waist, tilting it up for a drink. The liquid slid down his throat like slivers of moonlight, and he smiled.
“Hey, Wesley, wait up!”
The former watcher turned, smile still on his face at the sight of Merry and Pippin pushing through the underbrush behind him.
“Are you well?” he asked, handing over the water bag.
Pippin took a long drink and splashed his face. “Yah, I’m fine.”
Merry nodded his agreement, and said, “Short legs is all. Are we almost back yet?”
Wes pointed off to the right. “About ten more minutes’ walking.” The two hobbits nodded and started off in front of him.
Days ago, when it became obvious that the group was going to stay with the elves for a while, Wes began exploring his surroundings. For the most part, they left him to his own devices, though he wasn’t foolish enough to believe that the silent shadow following him around the Wood was anything other than Haldir making his presence less-than-known.
Eventually, bored with the endless talking and negotiating, the more gregarious of the hobbits began accompanying him. Pippin took the time to continue his education about the important things in life, like pipeweed and good ale, and Merry added bantering commentary that Wesley found invaluable.
Ever so slowly, they were making him one of their own, someone who could survive in the world of hobbits, if not men. Wesley figured that some things were universal. And when he was done with his ramble for the day, he often engaged Boromir in conversation about his beloved Gondor, the white city he’d mentioned when Wesley first learned to speak their language.
The man in question caught Wes’ eyes when the trio wandered into the copse the elves had ‘assigned’ to the rag-tag band when they first arrived. Boromir was in heated conversation with Aragorn off to one side, his fist raised and shaking in fury. But Aragorn seemed less than upset, a somewhat sad look on his face. He gripped Boromir’s shoulders gently, then more firmly when it appeared the man wasn’t listening. A good shake, then Boromir’s attention snapped back to the man in front of him.
From his place across the clearing, Wes found himself leaning closer, trying to decipher words from lip movement only. His attention was broken when Pippin suddenly appeared, thrusting his favorite axe in his face.
“Time for more sparring, Wesley? You promised to show us how you did that twirly, loop thingy.” The diminutive fellow was fairly vibrating with his trademark enthusiasm, and bounced a bit on his toes.
Wes glanced down to nod his assent, and when he looked back to the pair of men, Aragorn was shaking his head and Boromir’s shoulders were slumped dejectedly.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Wesley thought he was in heaven. There were so many books, so many scrolls, so much information at his fingertips—if he could just figure out how to access it. He stood in the doorway to Celeborn’s study and frowned, smoothing the edge of his elven tunic. The other members of the Fellowship, for that is what the elves called them, had much to discuss, it seemed. In the afternoon after the requisite replenishing packs, fighting technique polishing-up and weapon sharpening, they ensconced themselves with Galadriel to discuss whatever it was they discussed. Wesley didn’t mind the exclusion, however, when Haldir pointed his way back to the study.
The elf in question stood slightly behind him, as he had each afternoon, and Wesley could almost hear the frown forming on his face. Each afternoon, they stood like this, Wesley picking up a scroll, staring at it, then putting it down with frustration. Today was going to be different, thought Wesley, swiveling to face his guard. Haldir stepped back, surprised at the deviation from routine.
The watcher smiled grimly, scooping up one of the scrolls. “I will learn to read these.” Haldir blinked impassively back. “You will help me.”
Now the elf arched and eyebrow, crossing his arms loosely over his chest. “What makes you think that?”
“Because you’re still here. You could just drop me off and leave, but for whatever reason, you think it’s amusing to see me struggle.” Wesley wasn’t annoyed, not really, but he’d spent too many hours attempting to figure out why Haldir still watched over him. It could easily have been assigned to someone with less status, or given up completely, when it was apparent he was no threat. But yet, each day, Haldir accompanied him to the study, stoically watching him wrestle with the strange text.
Now Haldir smiled thinly. “Indeed.”
Unrolling the scroll, Wesley spread it out on the table. “Is this written in the language we are speaking?” He smoothed the parchment and traced the letters with his fingers. There was something missing, something he couldn’t account for. Even before, when faced with languages he didn’t know, he’d been able to coax something out to begin with. But now? Well, he blamed it on the near death experiences and overtaxing his resources.
Still, if Haldir could help, that would make all the difference. The elf’s smile widened into a smirk. “No.”
“Ah. Now we’re getting somewhere. Is it written in your native language?”
The eyebrow went up. “It is called Sindarin.” Haldir loosened his arms, giving off an air of distinct amusement. Wesley wondered if he’d been waiting for just this occurrence to see what Wesley was made of. It had a perverse logic he supposed, given what he’d observed of Haldir’s personality.
Wes smiled back, showing teeth. “So, we’re making progress. If I am to stay in this world, I need to understand it. To understand it I need to read. Most of these scrolls are written in this language. Some with more runic forms, some with a bit more blocky text that looks to be phonetic, but most are like this. Celeborn would not grant me access here if there wasn’t something I was supposed to learn.”
Haldir nodded slowly, running his fingers loosely over his ever present bow. Wes wondered whether he would turn and leave, having sufficiently confused the stranger, but the elf took a deep breath and added, “That is a correct assumption.”
“So, what does it say?”
And now Haldir grinned in earnest, a far cry from the Pissy Elf that Wes had labeled him only a short time ago. A ray of light was finally breaking through, and Wesley was going to milk it for all it was worth.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Whatever reservations Haldir had about the stranger were assuaged, and curiosity won out over the desire to hold Wesley at arms length. This new person in their midst was intriguing, a puzzle or riddle, and Haldir wanted to see what he knew, how he learned. It was possible that he could be of aid in the coming war. Elves wished to hold themselves apart from the conflict, but this Wesley was a man, a member of the people fighting for survival on the basest level. He may not know it now, but his fate was tied to that of the race of Men.
Haldir was not an elf apart, not like his brethren. The warden of the Golden Wood had always known he would stay on these shores, no matter that other elves would leave and sail away. He was the caretaker of these wonderful rolling hills, and even if their glory faded when Galadriel and her family departed, he would remain, constantly vigilant over his beloved forest.
And so he found himself considerably more interested in the fates of those doomed men who wished to save humanity from the spreading dark. If they fell, and all the elves abandoned Middle Earth, he’d still remain, left with only his memories in the burning nightmare his world would become.
In the illuminated study, Wesley was eagerly pouring over the latest batch of scrolls. When Haldir had pointed out a few key translations to Common Tongue, as well as a written reference for the first tongue Wesley had learned to speak in Middle Earth, Wesley became like a man on fire. He scribbled notes in that strange language he was born with, muttering things under his breath in both Common Tongue and something he called ‘English’, even humming strange tunes when something particularly interesting came about.
It was fascinating to watch. Elves were a people of peaceful contemplation, fighters when necessary, true, but in these dying days, they were much more inclined to think of time gone by. Wesley was different. There was an immediacy to him, though he knew not what he was searching for, and it was addictive.
Haldir watched the way his hands moved over the vellum and plaques, the paper and scrolls, and felt privy to a very personal act. This man was living in the act of learning, becoming more alive by the day. When he had first arrived, he moved like a man in a dream, cut off from physical perception.
That was changed now in the furious transcriptions, the calls for more papers, something to write with. Haldir remained by the door, observing all, but interacting little.
Occasionally, he wondered why none of the rest of the Fellowship captured his attention this way. Boromir was certainly an interesting subject, radiating despair and confusion. The other elf and dwarf weren’t worth consideration. Aragorn, of course, was a friend and there was much common history. The little people were amusing in their own way, though Haldir made an effort to steer clear of Frodo. The taint of evil hissed over his skin like vapor when he got too close.
A question startled him out of his reverie. “They’re leaving, aren’t they?”
“Pardon?” The elf walked forward to lean on the table.
Wesley had a slightly distracted air, but he rubbed his eyes and said again, “My companions are leaving soon, are they not?”
Haldir sighed, “Yes.”
“And I am not going with them.”
Silence for a moment, then the scratching of a stylus. “I thought as much. If I were to accompany them, then Celeborn would never have allowed me here. I would have been involved in the preparations.”
“Yes.” Haldir wished the man didn’t sound so hollow when he spoke.
“I suppose I shouldn’t care. I suppose it was unreasonable to expect to carry on. After all, I don’t know what they protect, what they fight for.” He spread his hands flat on the table. “It shouldn’t hurt, you know? And I don’t even know why I’m talking to you. But it does. I had a chance to start over, and I’m being shelved. Is that the right word, shelved?”
Haldir nodded, surprised at the turn the conversation was taking.
“I mean no disrespect to my hosts, but I think I’m ready to…Never mind.” Wesley laughed a shallow laugh. “Nothing changes, does it Haldir? After all, you’re immortal. Life goes on, the same song over and over.”
When the man fell silent, Haldir rubbed his chin with slender fingers. A puzzle indeed. A man ripped from his own world, by all accounts in was a rather violent episode. Yet instead of trying to get home, he aided his new companions, no questions asked. When prevented from aiding them further, not even knowing the cause but trusting them to be on the side of good, he became upset.
What he would give to instill such passion in his kind.
The elf murmured, “Is it so horrible here with us?”
The brunette frowned, scooting his stool back. “No. But I am a Man, not one of you. I can remain here, watching you exist in frozen perfection until the day I die. Or I could leave the borders of these woods and make my own way. But everyone knows I would not do well, so here I remain.”
Haldir took a chair across from Wesley, sliding into it with untamed grace. “You are not a prisoner.”
“Nor am I welcome to leave. Forgive me, but finding out that my companions are to depart has … distressed me.” He snorted. “Though, given the theme of my life, I should not be surprised.”
Haldir arched an eyebrow, frowning.
When Wesley saw he wasn’t getting anywhere, he grabbed a stack of scrolls, and waved them about. With each stroke, he erected the walls surrounding him again, breaking the fragile lines of communication so recently established. A few deep breaths and his irises melted into the clearest blue Haldir had ever seen in one of the race of men. Wes smiled sadly, “Well, at least I have this. There’s much comfort to be found in learning.”
He pulled out one parchment in particular, unfurling the edges. “So, I’ve been reading something interesting, something about a creature named Sauron. Care to answer some questions?”
~~~To Be Continued~~~