5: Again These Childish Games
~~~Chapter 5: Again These Childhood Games~~~
When the blindfold was removed, and Wesley saw the world around him, he felt as if he was in the light for the first time in years. He turned his face to the golden wood and smiled… the stunning, innocent smile of a small child out to play for the afternoon, far from the concerns of real life.
The golden trees of this magical forest reminded Wesley of imaginary lands he frequented in his youth. The bright boughs and glittering leaves were a haven from the all too harsh world he lived in even then. He’d spent hours running around the family manor, both inside and outside, playing at pirates and wild Indians, pretending to be Robin Hood or one of his Merry Men. In those dark and dreary afternoons, his worlds would be lit with magical lights, bathed in a golden sunshine so far removed from the typical English winter. To see these wonders now, after the long dark of Moria and the not quite so literal dark of Los Angeles, brought tears to his eyes and he felt something binding his heart begin to crack. It wasn’t a large crack, or one that anyone else would notice, but as the grouchy elf, Haldir, announced their arrival at Caras Galadon, Wesley’s heart swelled with unbidden memories and he was not unhappy.
Not unhappy, of course, being a relative term. This was such a shock to his system, and he gathered those of his companions, after the fright of the Dwarven tomb, that he was sure that none of them were capable of truly understanding what they saw. Perhaps Strider, or who the not-so-friendly elf called Aragorn, was not affected, but the watcher couldn’t fathom how any of them were still standing upright.
They were worlds away from the previous morning, stumbling out of the cavernous gloom onto the boulders and sharp rocks beside a partially hidden entrance to the mine. That entrance seemed, to Wesley, to be as much of a portal to another world as whatever had allowed the water monster to snatch him away-- though infinitely more pleasant. If all adventures in dimension hopping were as pleasant as the dash out of Moria, Wes was pretty sure there’d be many more takers. Bright sunshine aside, Gandalf’s death weighed heavily on all, and Wesley had resorted to physically carrying Pippin when it became clear that he was not capable of moving himself to safety.
Boromir had done the same briefly with Merry when Strider had ordered them all to press on, but it was the fey young hobbit that had taken Gandalf’s death the worst, or at least as badly as Frodo. Wesley was all too familiar with taking the blame for other’s deaths and downfalls, and tried to spare Pippin what pain he could. But in the end, they all knew how fruitless it would be.
Watching the tears streak down the little Took’s cheeks onto his pea coat as they trotted along, Wes remembered his own tears in the park all those months ago. Bleeding sorrow and sadness with blood alike onto the dewy grass, he wondered what would have happened if he’d been found by friends instead of a homeless man that robbed him even as he called for an ambulance. Would it really have made any difference? He wasn’t sure, but he wasn’t about to leave his tutor to the same self destructive fate.
In the stunning brightness of their arrival in this temporary haven, Wesley paid no more real attention to his escort. Haldir, and his guard, had met them, rudely in Wes’s opinion, soon after they entered the wood the previous day. Wesley hadn’t taken Gimli’s warning of a great sorceress particularly seriously at first, since the woods had no feel of evil about them. There was great age, yes, and a power that rippled through the air like twists of filigree clouds, but no darkness. Perhaps he should have listened, for the elves that met them there were less than congenial.
There were arrows, and arguments, and general bad will, but none of it had really made an impression on the wandering stranger. His thoughts lay other places, and the harsh words of a few unfamiliar elves weren’t anything he was particularly concerned with, especially not elves that obviously knew Strider of the Many Names. There was some discussion in the language Wesley decided was the tongue of the elves as Haldir and his company was familiar with it, but like the Dwarf, Wes wished more of it were spoken such that he could understand.
One comment said by the lead elf gave Wesley pause. He’d said in a voice laced with disgust and not a small amount of fear, that they brought great evil with them. For one terrifying moment, Wes wondered if his past deeds were somehow branded onto his forehead, labeling him as someone doomed to share Judas Iscariot’s fate in Lucifer’s maw, as Lilah had insinuated. But it was directed at the sad hobbit, Frodo, and Wes wondered again what was so special that he was guarded with such ferocity and tenderness.
In the end, it made little impact, as he’d talked softly to Pippin and his small companions throughout the flight and night. Ignoring the looks and unspoken, unconscious accusations, Wesley tried to distract the miserable and uncomfortable hobbits. Thinking back on it all, he wasn’t sure what he’d talked about, other than it was probably more about his father than he’d ever mentioned to anyone before. In a mix of broken Common Tongue and English, Wes had reminisced very quietly about his first tree house, so very different than the platform, or flet, high up in the trees where they had spent the night.
Orcs were nocturnal and everyone had been worried that the beasts would find them there and attack again. Perhaps they would have, but the elves had kept them well hidden. And so Wesley spoke of his home, his first home. The manor with broad leafed oaks that stretched wise and old over the bridle paths… the same oaks he’d hidden in, desperate for any reprieve from his oh-so-loving father-- the father that used cruelty like a tangible tool, the father that ensured that Wesley would never have any children of his own. For how could you raise a proper son if all you remembered was the pain and humiliation that drove you as far as your young legs could carry you? And later, it was the swift hooves of the fastest horses he could find. The fleet footed bearers of good will, the only reasons he stayed sane until leaving for the academy; he wished to find some horses here, though he’d seen no mention of them. And throughout his ramblings, Pippin had sat, shocked and trembling, at the edge of his vision, hanging onto every word as if was the only thing keeping him from tumbling down to the forest floor far below.
Flicking his glance to his side, Wes saw the wide eyed awe he was sure was evident on his own face reflected on the smooth planes of Pippin's pale visage, and he had hope. Hope not only for Pippin’s eventual recovery from guilt and fear, but just perhaps, his own.
The sun was setting as they wound their way through trees ancient and old, and light ran streaming through the living wood. Wes’s eyes darted this way and that, imagining those times he’d dreamed of a world such as this, the trees havens of secrecy and solidity. He sighed and breathed deep the sweet scented air. A faint smell of old leaves, life beginning anew, mingled with the sun drenched aroma of warm foliage, and the cool damp breeze of coming dusk. By the time they climbed the intricate stairs from the base of one massive tree towards the maze of flets and passageways high above, the sun was completely gone.
The only light was from some sort of sconce in set into nooks in the tree bark, and a peculiar glow that illuminated the arches of stunning complexity that seemed to designate living spaces for human sized creatures in the boughs.
All too soon, they were led to a broad expanse that resembled a stage, set to the base of a luminous stairway. The March Warden, or so Haldir appeared to be known by, stood off to one side indicating that the Fellowship and Wesley were to remain at the foot of the stairs.
The light from above, from the top of the stairs, became so bright that Wesley turned his head and squinted. He could vaguely see a pair of elves descending, a woman and a man, both quite blond, and both radiating that strange otherworldy elven energy that permeated the wood. These must be the Celeborn and Galariel that Haldir had spoken of from the ridge.
They were beautiful, as all elves are, but they also held something else around them like mantles. Perhaps it was age, perhaps it was magic, but whatever it was so overwhelmed Wesley that he took an involuntary step back. He shook his head to clear it, missing whatever the male elf said about secrecy.
Then She spoke. The tones of Her voice rippled over him like waves on a seashore and he stood, momentarily transfixed, and could no more have moved than flown from this perch. The light that flowed down with them faded, and left behind an aura of radiance that clung to her like a cloak. The blonde of her hair glimmered and shimmered, and the light of her eyes spoke volumes of time long past.
She spoke softly, “Yes, there are nine here, but not I think, Celeborn, the nine we expected. A stranger among you, found in dark times, yet one who was invaluable when the world made its presence know.” She turned to Wesley then, studying him. “Welcome to our world, Traveler. I am Galadriel, and this is my wood, Lothlorien.”
Wesley inclined his head in a short bow. “Wesley Wyndam-Price, madam.”
She narrowed her eyes at the unfamiliar term, but nodded in response. “I am afraid we have some matters to discuss with your companions that would not interest you. Perhaps you would enjoy freshening up.”
“I’d like to freshen up, but does she ask us? No…” Sam whapped the back of Pippin’s head and weakly smiled an apology.
“All in good time, Master Took. Haldir, will you escort Master Wyndam-Price to the guest quarters?” Galadriel effortlessly waved one perfect hand to another stairwell and smiled gracefully.
The watcher knew a dismissal when he heard one, and he did not doubt that whatever they were to discuss dwelled on the secret weight that bowed down even the staunchest shoulders of the company. He nodded to Boromir, acknowledging his piercing glance, and turned to face his guide. The elf Wes had been calling Pissy Elf in his mind looked as if he’d like nothing more to refuse, but swallowed his irritation and brusquely waved Wesley after him. Pippin sent him one last mournful glance before turning to face the Lady once again.
The stairs wound back towards the ground, and Haldir made no attempt at conversation. He continued to glare disdainfully in Wes’s direction, but Wes paid him no mind. It was obvious that Haldir was not fond of outsiders, particularly those that endangered the safety of his people. Wesley probably qualified both as an unknown threat and a general annoyance, and it didn’t seem as if elf had any interest in becoming familiar with the tall mortal man.
Haldir’s attempt at intimidation did little to ruffle the watcher’s confidence, however, and he internally debated telling him off. Unfortunately, Wes wasn’t sure ‘I’ve faced down Almost-Angelus, dated Lilah the Evil Lawyer incarnate, and kept Justine in my closet with a bucket for three months. You aren’t even close to unnerving me’ would come out the way he wanted it to. With his luck, he’d end up saying, ‘I ate your mother’s furry worm boat’ or something equally as undignified. So he settled with returning the glare in stony silence.
All glares were forgotten in an instant-- the instant Wes caught sight of one thing he’d despaired of ever seeing in this brave new world. A steaming bath in a large, silver handled tub waited at the side of a mostly closed off, grass covered room. Next to it was a pile of softly hued clothes. Wesley could have wept with glee.