Interviews With a Woodelf

A Very Old Hymn

I never should have handed in that short story. The discussion class liked it alright, and so did the professor, though they told me that I didn't spend enough time developing the characters and the description a bit heavy handed. My professor must have put the story into the database that they use to spot cheating students. That's the only way I can think of that would possibly lead Grim-voice, Lab-coat, and various minions to us.

It was about a month after I handed in the story. David had gotten comfortable (his injuries were disappearing phenomenally quickly), and I was getting ready for finals. The day before it happened, I was taking a break from roasting my brain over "British Literature of the 19th century, Wordsworth and the Romantics", and David was waiting for meat to thaw. He sat down beside me on the couch and said, "I had an odd dream last night."

I didn't answer for a moment, brain too cooked to quite understand the implication. "What, like a premonition? I thought you always dream about your parents in Valinor."

He shrugged. "No, it wasn't about the future. It was about a close friend that I had in the past."

"Really? What was he like?"

He leaned back on the sofa, covering he eyes, as though to picture it more clearly in his mind. "Remember when I said that some of us tried to integrate ourselves in Gondorian society? He was one of them. He was very young, only a few centuries old. He made some human friends and left us to join them. About two hundred years later, he came back. His friends were all dead, and so were their grandchildren. None of us really understood his sorrow, myself included."

"You mean you understand it now?"

He shook his head. "I worked hard to be detached because of his experiences. Yet somehow, I have found that separating oneself from human's mortality to be impossible while living among them. Anyhow, in my dream, he sang an old song composed by the Sindar who fought Morgoth. I, myself have sung it myself many times, but I never understood it completely until he sang it again, in my dream."

I dutifully sat up and crossed my legs like it was story-time. "Well, go on!"

"You've only heard Elven singing on the video tapes, haven't you?" he said. "It's much different in person. Much louder. Are you sure your neighbors wouldn't mind?"

"They'll get over it," I said, waving him on.

"It's a prayer, of sorts. The first line is a call to the Belain; so it starts really loud." I nodded and continued waving him on.

He straightened his back, closed his eyes, and just about started screaming. It wasn't actually much louder than a really obnoxious party; but the sound seemed to echo inside me. He sang without vibrato, and the vowels were nasally, very different from the sound we in the western world are brought up thinking beautiful, and more like "Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares". It brought out an emotion that I've never felt before, and it's as close to a religious experience as I've ever come.

I've never felt a need to communicate with God. Never. My life, until now, has been that boring. The song, though I couldn't understand it, was a desperate cry to God by someone who had lost everything. Someone who was tired of fighting and whose happy memories felt like a mere fantasy. By the second verse I was sobbing. All of my puny responsibilities felt exhaustingly heavy and cruel. In the last verse, another new emotion came to me. A wish to be separate from the world and its weight, by whatever means. The last line was sung softly, with lots of rapid, clear notes, like a calligrapher drawing flourishes on his name. This was the reward: a comfortable, restful place. Heaven, in my Judeo-Christian trained mind was the first thing I could think of.

I was shaking and blubbering, and I think at least three different fluids were leaking from my face. The microwave dinged to let us know the meat was done thawing. David hopped up and scurried to the kitchen to work on dinner, while I washed my face. We didn't say anything for a long time.

The two of us sat down at the counter, which doubles as my kitchen table. "So, this song, it was by someone who is suicidal, right?"

He dropped his fork. "No. And yes. I guess it is suicidal from a human perspective. But we have the option of being reborn with all of our memories, so it's not death in the mortal sense. It's about someone who wants to go to Mandos."

"Mandos," I repeated. "It sounds a lot like the first word of the song. The loudest word."

"That would be because that is the first word, just in a different language. Bannos is the Sindarin version of Mandos."

"What about 'Hîr'? Who is he?"

David laughed. "That's just a title. It means 'lord'. Do you want me to write it down for you?"

"Yesplease," I muttered into my plate.

This is the song. It looks much shorter than it felt.

Bannos hîr i firn!
Tolo a thollo
Vân charn hen am mbar.
Hîr i thŷr a thûl!
Tolo a dogo
Edhel o thrach maug.
Ídhron i veth
Adh îdh vronadui.

He included a rough translation below:

Mandos, Lord of the Dead!

Come and take

This wounded spirit home.

Lord of Eagles and Wind!

Come and lead

An Elf from a cruel curse.

I desire the end

And lasting peace.

The next night, I was woken up by someone knocking on the door. David hid on the floor balcony behind my neighbor's plants while I hurried to the door. I pulled it open to a gun at eye-level. I just kinda froze up; I couldn't breathe or move.

The gun was real. They had black ski masks on their faces along with all black jump suits, covering every inch of visible skin with something. The one with his gun in my face pushed me into the room and whispered, "Sit down and shuddup. This is the police!" It was Grim-voice.

My mouth worked before my mind. "No you're not!"

They ignored me. "Where's David? We know he's here." A cold gun barrel touched my neck, and not a single intelligible word came from my tongue for the thirty seconds it took to get them bored enough to start ransacking my apartment.

Suddenly Grim-voice put a hand over my mouth. Minion#3 stopped yanking things out of the closet and hissed to Lab-coat to quiet down. Then I heard it too. Old rusty metal moaned and creaked under someone's weight. Everyone rushed to the balcony, dragging me along too. He was attempting to climb down to my downstairs neighbors' balcony, but the railing was old, and falling apart as he dangled from it. He tried to swing-jump on the balcony, but the rusty remnants broke at the wrong end of the swing, sending him hurtling into the street dozens of feet below.

My downstairs neighbor angrily stormed onto her balcony to yell at those noisy college students above her, and saw the lot of us peering over the broken banister at David's twisted, motionless body. She vanished back into her apartment, and quickly the street below was a sea of red, white, and blue lights. I was too shaken up to be much use, and Grimvoice's gang was too stunned to put up a fight. The reason they had gone to such extremes was dead.

The police swept through my little apartment with the fury of a hurricane, leaving little undisturbed. For a while, I think that they thought I was in on it somehow. Eventually, the Grimvoice gang was tried and convicted of many crimes – the tapes that David collected at my apartment being the main evidence. The FBI didn't find the secret facility they used to trap and torture David until last year, when the world was paying attention to more important things. I think it's finally safe to share this little section of my diary with the world.

I don't think David is dead. He's on life support, and he hasn't woken up in a decade, but someday he might wake up again. We watched the movies as they came out on DVD together in the coma ward. The Elves seem so much more magical, so much less fragile in the movies – battle-hardened but never battle-scarred. They're lofty, but not lonely in their separation. I'm sure he's amused by them. I wish he'd wake up and tell me his opinion.

I Veth –The End

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