If Wishes Were Elves, Even Fangirls Would Dance

Part the Fifth


The Passage of the Not-Nearly-Dead-Enough Marshes


(the Elvish Way With All Good Bugs)

Lorien

"Bring me a shrubbery." Nightcrawler muttered.

"What?" Legolas said, still staring at the sky. Overhead a distant skein of birds sailed with the wind, his eyes following it.

"Monty Python and the Holy Grail." Nightcrawler said. "The Knights Who Say Ni. The heroes were required to bring them a shrubbery."

"Ah yes." Legolas said, eyes still on the sky.

I shot Liz a worried glance, even though I couldn't tell for sure if the distant birds were gulls. Sea-longing I mouthed silently.

She slowed and fell in beside me. "Gulls will be the least of our problems, I think."

We were plodging along a sort of trail in a soggy landscape, spikey with some kind of waist-high, user-unfriendly marsh grass. Yes, plodging. It was the word Liz invented the second hour of swatting ineffectually at the clouds of mosquitoes surrounding us, and occasionally sinking up to our knees in mystery goo.

None of the vaunted Elvish Way With All Good Beasts seemed to apply to the half a dozen kinds of bloodsucking mosquitoes, equal number of blood-sucking flies, and several kinds of ticks we'd discovered so far. Nightcrawler's sulpherous bamf cloud dispersed them for awhile, then they'd return in even greater numbers. His blackleather X-suit protected him...everywhere except his face, and tail, which lashed in wide arcs at the swamp air force.

"Ow!" Liz said.

"Ach, sorry about the tail." Nightcrawler said.

Tas looked even more annoyed, thick mane hanging in her face in an effort to ward off the flying hordes, at least her X-suit protected the rest of her. Liz and I were melting in our jeans and parkas, but at least the bugs could only attack us from the neck up. Liz had suggested Tas manifest us some X-suits and mosquito netting but Tas had given away as much of her own bulk as she could, at least until she had a few days to rest up and pig out. Legolas seemed to ignore the cloud of bloodsuckers around his head, though he had let his hair loose and falling over his eyes. Ahead of us stalked an Dragonkin tracker, seemingly undaunted by the overexuberant marsh life, and totally unaware of the wailing gulls overhead.

If you remember, when last we left our heroes, in their normal everyday world, it was December 23rd. And it had been a very long night and day, with no sleep and not enough time for breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, lunch, tea, dinner, supper, or midnight snack. A lot of things had happened since then, and nobody had slept. Not that that mattered to some people in the party; Legolas, as in The Book, still stepped as lightly as ever. So did Tas. And even Nightcrawler looked like he could run the whole 1200 mile Iditarod.

Bloody elves.

The Dragonkin had let us rest awhile, but they used no tools, and built no shelters, and didn't have things like soft, fuzzy blankets. They didn't even make campfires. Anyway, we had been on the top of a mountain, there were no trees, therefore no wood, to make a fire with. We had finally convinced them to send a few Dragonkin down the mountain, below the treeline, for some firewood, and Legolas and Tas had produced a fire out of the very thin air of the mountain. The Dragonkin had produced something raw and bloody, which Liz and Legolas had impaled on sticks and cooked over the fire. After seeing the shade of green I turned, remembering I was a vegetarian, and noting that we had nothing to carry water in (nor did the Dragonkin) Tas had teleported back to the brig in the quarry for supplies; warm clothes, lembas and miruvor. And then we'd piled up in a nice warm huddle on Dragonkin Mountain. Very nice when that included two of our favorite elves. The Grandmothers' lembas and miruvor was welcome, but I was beginning to feel like Sam in Emyn Muil; lembas bread...more lembas bread...yet more lembas bread. I was all ready for that huge Christmas pigout. Sans turkey, of course.

"Christmas, holycrap." Liz said. "It must be New Year's Eve by now."

"Ja, of next year." Kurt said.

"Change and growth is not in all things and places alike..." said Legolas, in uncanny resemblance to his lines, somewhere on the Anduin, in The Book.

"Time doesn't flow the same here as in our world." Tas said.

"Soooo, we're gonna come back in, what, 2210, just in time for Captain Kirk to break the rules of time travel again and bring us back home?" Liz said.

"And the Doctor to come along and fix things..."

"Or tangle it up some more."

"They're fictional." Tas said. She cast a glance at Legolas and Nightcrawler.

Kurt's tail snapped out and pinged an overly large bloodsucker off Legolas' left ear, not even touching the point. "Are you sure?"

"This place is kind of like a back eddy in a whitewater river." Tas clapped a hand on Liz's back, smashing a giant bloodsucking fly. "Bran probably hasn't even got Barbie back to the Grandmothers' yet. At least," she said, eyes fixed on something beyond the sight of Mortal Men, "that's how it usually works in pocket dimensions like this."


We had traveled down the mountain that morning, now the sun was glaring over a vast expanse of freshwater marsh, somewhere at the mountain's feet. Little birds sang from hidden places in the reeds. Herons and egrets stalked the shallows, spearing fish. A flotilla of something ducklike dabbled, butts skyward, after underwater plants. A wobbly skein of something that Legolas identified as cormorants drifted by overhead. The ubiquitous gulls wailed in the distance, just as they had on the Anduin, when Legolas heard them in the dark. In the Book. Despite the cloud of bloodsuckers buzzing in his ears, and the wheeling wailing gulls, he stared around him with wide-eyed wonder, pointing excitedly to grey amorphous blobs in the distance and describing every stripe, splot and feather. Crocodile Hunter Liz, who owned every field guide in existence, tried to identify them, between smashing more bloodsucking bugs.

Tried to identify...there were a lot that were unfamiliar to her, a lot I suspected were only to be found in Peterson's Field Guide to Alternate Timelines and Universes.

Something big roared in the marsh, entirely too close for comfort. And we were still weaponless. The Dragonkin had made it clear we must complete our mission without them.

Yeah, the mission. Bring me a shrubbery. I swatted at the mosquito cloud trying to fly up my nostrils.
Ahead of us the Dragonkin stopped. "I cannot go closer." she said, and pointed to a trail leading up through thickening grass, a low shrubby zone, and on to a distant treeline. In the space between the marsh and the trees, shrubs wove in and out of patches of open grass. I could see some sort of grazing creatures there. The Dragonkin spoke, "It is beasts like those Ashnarii wants. Once there were many here, now there are few. Through the Gate you will find more."

I gave her a hard look. Probably you ate them all, I thought.

Her mouth opened in what I hoped was an Dragonkin grin, "No, we did not." The Dragonkin had been unable, or unwilling, to describe the creatures we were being sent to round up. All we knew was that Dragonkin make much better hunters than cowboys. Their endangered species problem could only be solved by someone who wasn't an Dragonkin.

Legolas came up beside me and peered out over the land.

"Elo!" he breathed.

"Was? Was?" Kurt said, squinting.

"Horses?" Liz squinted too, "Why didn't you just say so?" she said to the Dragonkin.

The creatures moved, and they seemed a bit long-necked for horses. And they weren't grazing after all, they were browsing, reaching up into the taller shrubbery for leaves. "Antelope of some kind," I said uncertainly. It was hard to tell how far away they were, but it didn't look that far. They loomed among the shrubbery like grey boulders.

"No. Indricotheres." Legolas said quite clearly.

Everyone except the Dragonkin turned to stare at him in surprise.

"He watched a lot of Animal Planet." Liz explained to Nightcrawler.

"Aha." Nightcrawler said, wide-eyed.

I stared at the grey backs moving through the shrubbery, and readjusted my sense of perspective; those weren't shrubs, those were full grown trees. "Oligocene era." I added, "Seven meters tall, fifteen tons. About the size of eight rhinos, with a neck sort of like a giraffe. And it was Discovery Channel."

"Too big to be Dragonkin prey." Tas said.

"Very little here is prey." the Dragonkin scout said. "This...backeddy...is a refuge. The creatures here come to us from Elsewhen."

Nightcrawler was still giving Legolas a look of astonishment. "Aha."

"It might be better," said Legolas, his fingers twitching on a non-existent bow, "if we do not also encounter the hyaenodon."

"My knowledge of the Oligocene seems to be a bit spotty." Nightcrawler said.

"Picture a warg the size of a rhino." I told him.

"Oh...wunderbar."



The Dragonkin hummed, a deep note like something Treebeard would sing. The air before us shimmered, warped, and tuned itself in to someplace else. Behind us, the river and its marsh wound away toward the mountains, we stood high and dry on gently rolling slopes, and beyond, in that Otherplace the land stretched out; clumps of deciduous trees, scrubby shrubs, and low, grassy weedy looking stuff. At least it looked too dry to have more bloodsucking bugs. We stepped through, the Dragonkin didn't. "I will be here when you return. If you return." The Dragonkin scout grinned a toothy grin.

"We'll be back." Legolas intoned, he gave her a short, cool, unreadable look.

"Wait how do we..." I said.

The Gate shimmered closed behind us.

"Oh that's heartening." Nightcrawler said. His eyes went to Tas.

As if she had read his thought she said, "This is a Gate, I'm not a Gatesinger." She nodded at the patch of thin air the Dragonkin was now on the other side of, "She is." She started walking. At the moment, the direction didn't seem to matter.

"I thought you could just teleport back home." I said.

"From Dragonkin-world, yeah; it's like a backeddy in the time stream. But this place is a Gateworld; it could be the past, another branch on the tree of possibilities, or a whole other planet. The only way in and out is that Gate, or ones like it."

"Waitaminute, we're trusting an Dragonkin to let us back out of here? It'd be a real easy way to lose an inconvenient group of annoying people, leave us stuck in the Oligocene."

"They have been, in our experience, folk of their word." Tas said.

"I believe you are right." Nightcrawler said. He glanced at Legolas.

Legolas cocked a non-commital eyebrow and stalked toward the horizon.

"I hope so." I said, mostly to myself.

Legolas swung up into a lone tree, climbed to the top with the ease of a lemur, and scanned the horizon. He came down like Nightcrawler on a trapeze.

"Well?" Tas said.

He shook his head, turned and started jogging toward the nearest clump of trees.

Liz stared after him for about three seconds, then laughed, "We'll be back." she said, in perfect imitation of his earlier line. "Come on!" she began jogging after him. "Or we'll lose the Elfinator."

Tas blurred, shifted and knelt on one equine knee.

"You know, I ride bareback about as well as I climb." I said. "And swim."

She snorted and flicked an ear. I climbed on, clinging to her mane. She started off in a smooth long-legged walk, it quickened, shifted slightly, and sped up. In a moment we were beside Legolas and Liz. Liz looked over at us and did a double-take, "I didn't know she could single-foot."

"What?"

"Running walk, like a Tennessee Walker. No, more like a Paso Fino, she's small, her gait is quicker."

"Well at least I'm not falling on my ass."

Below me Tas' steady four-beat gait hiccupped as she threw in a fifth beat. I sloshed hard aport and grabbed mane. She snorted, it sounded like a laugh.

Somewhere behind me I heard the distinct bamf of imploding air, a moment later there was a flash of faint red in the distance.

A few minutes later Nightcrawler returned, looking like the Crocodile Hunter after too many poisonous snakes and giant spiders. "I think I found your hyaenadons."

The land ran flat as a shield of Rohan, as far as we...or even Legolas...could see. You would think something as big as an indricothere would be easy to find; by mid-day we had seen their relatives, the sloth-like chalicotheres, stretching three meters tall to browse on trees, intelodonts (two meter tall pigs with a brain the size of an orange), a few bear dogs, tiny primitive horses, uncountable birds and more hyaenodons. Nary an indricothere in sight. And we needed several of them, a whole herd, in fact, if the Dragonkin wanted a viable breeding population.

Most of the wildlife had ignored us, so far, except for the bear dogs who had followed us briefly, out of curiosity, and the small creatures that would one day be horses, with whom Legolas had a lengthy conversation. The Sindarin Elf walked, with long light strides, or jogged, an easy trot like a greyhound's gait, Liz pasted to his side, not breathing any harder than him.

Bloody Elves.

Legolas stared around himself in wonder, pointing out new creatures the Discovery Channel animators had not brought to life, and describing them to Liz or me, if they were too far for us to see clearly.

Kurt's eyes too were taking in the wonders, and potential dangers, of this strange world, though he had been in many stranger.

I noticed that when something roared in the bush, both of them moved like lightning to defensive positions around us, and Legolas' hands went to a non-existent bow.



lephae-a-tolodh: Legolas

I came down from the tree, "I see many creatures, but none of the ones we are looking for. But the land is broken, and scrubby, I need a good hill."

"I can arrange that." Kurtvagner said.

"There are no hills within many hours travel. The land stretches like a battered shield unto the horizon."

Kurtvagner grinned, a lightning bolt of white in a thunderdark face. He held out a hand, "Ever been skydiving?"

"They don't have X-jets in Middle-earth." Lorien began.

"Giant eagles..." Liz said.

I did not hear the rest of it, for Liz's words were swallowed by a flash of sunset color, a great stench, and a loud bamf.

I blinked and wind roared in my ears, wind sweeping up against my belly, I looked into the broad grin of Kurtvagner, gripping my arms. We sprawled on the wind like the wings of an eagle. I looked down and my words were lost on the wind. It took my breath and sang in my ears. The whole world lay spread out below like the patterened rugs of my father's halls. Kurtvagner shouted something but his words blew away on the wind. He shifted his body slightly, like the twitch of a hawk's feather.

Bamf.

And we were flying up.

"Look for them, look for them now!" he shouted.

I looked down, the great strange land of the distant past stretched below us and curved away over the edge of the round world. I could see the tiny figures of Liz and Lorien and Tas, her horse shape broken and hard to see because of her hide's patches of red and white. I could see the long-clawed chalicotheres browsing a hundred yards away, and a league beyond that. A hunt; the great beasts like wargs, chasing down a grazer I did not know the name of. A river, and the long-legged boars, taller than the horses of Rohan, coming to drink. A long limlug, thrashing out of the river to catch a boar in its mighty jaws, crocodile, Liz called them. And to the east, some ten leagues away, the grey boulder shapes of our quarry; the indricotheres.

"There!" I shouted to Kurtvagner, and nodded my head in their direction.

He nodded, and I saw that the wind had nearly stilled. The wind stopped, silenced. We hung on the still air like a dream, faint sounds drifting up from the distant land. Something roared, directly below.
"Now would be a good time to go." he said.

Bamf.

And we appeared in the air a few feet from the ground. He let go my arms, flipped and landed like my brother coming down from a tree. I landed beside him, and could not stop smiling.

"Did you see them?" Liz asked.

"That way, little more than ten leagues." I pointed.

"Wow," Lorien said, "You didn't even need a barf bag."



Lorien

Something crashed in the bush, entirely too close for an exploration team which had no large automatic weaponry. Legolas spun, reaching for his non-existant bow.

"Why didn't they let you bring our weapons?" Liz said to Tas.

"This is a test, this is only a test, for the next sixty hours this station will run large toothy hungry animals past you and you will have only your superior brain power to deal with it." I said.

"I think," said Liz, "that here, brawn is better than brains."

"Would that I had at least a knife. Then I could make a bow."

We all turned to look at Legolas as if he had just said something exceedingly profound.

"Well, duh," I said to Liz's astonished look, "you think Weta Workshop gave him all the bows he ever used?"

"You can make a bow?" Liz asked.

"Duh." I repeated. "How old is he? You think he just sat around Mirkwood singing tra-la-la-lally come down to the valley?"

"That was Rivendell." Liz said.

"What?"

"Rivendell, in the Hobbit, that's where they sang that stupid song."

"I knew that."

Legolas ignored both of us and stood, listening into the bush. "We should go." he said quietly. And frowned up at the nearest tree, its branches crooked and twisty, and definitely not conducive to bowmaking.

Tas swished her tail, turned and started off. Something coughed in the shrubbery behind us. Tas shifted into her quick paso gait, Legolas reached down, scooped something off the ground, and jogged lightly behind us, peering back. Nightcrawler ran just ahead...on his toes, I noticed, eyes scanning the bush, tail twitching like a cat under a bird feeder.

Tas' ear flicked, as if she had heard something, she stretched her legs and paced faster. I lurched, and something pinched me in the thigh. "Ow. Whoa." I said without thinking. Tas slid to a halt, haunches under her, turned her head, peering at me with one pale blue horse eye. She flicked an annoyed and questioning ear.

"Whatever's following us probably would go for the big juicy horse steak first." Kurt observed.

I wriggled a hand into my jeans pocket and withdrew the thing that had bit me. I held it out as if I'd just discovered that I'd been carrying the One Ring the whole time.

"Hey Legolas," I said, "What was that you were saying about a knife?"



The sun was going down like sixties tie-dye, we huddled around a campfire, one much bigger than any I remembered. Eyes glowed out of the dark bush, eyes too far apart and too high off the ground to give me that happy Disney Safari feeling. Liz sat, back to the fire, whittling, with my pocket knife, at a great, straight stick as tall as herself; a new bo. Legolas sat near her, braiding a string for the finished longbow laid carefully by his side. The donor of the horsehair for the string sat, in her normal form, on the other side of the fire, binding feathers onto arrow shafts with more horsehair. The shafts' sharp ends had been hardened in the fire; Legolas knew how to chip stone arrowheads, but didn't have the extra time. The feathers had been coaxed from a few dozen birds that afternoon; even in this strange Oligocene world the Elvish Way With All Good Beasts seemed to work.

Still, we weren't going to trust totally to that when it came to Hyaenodon and Friends.

I downed a few Keebler Elves; the Grandmothers' lembas, and curled up as close to the fire as I could without roasting. Legolas claimed first watch and Tas and Nightcrawler curled up in their own parts of the fire circle. Half asleep, I felt something twitch against my head, and realized it was Nightcrawler's tail, comfortingly close.

I drifted into dream; a lot of it seemed to involve an Elf or two, wearing somewhat less than the ones around our fire. He held out a hand, "Lorien, my love..."

Something screeched overhead, the Elf spun, reaching for his bow, there was the thling! of a loosed bowstring, and a startled shout from Liz.

I jumped up, foggy-brained, knocked part of the fire over, stomped out my smouldering boot and found Liz hanging onto Legolas' arm.

"Holycrap!" she was saying, "That could be one of our ancestors!"

"What?" I said, peering muggily at the tree. A chorus of screeches was fading into the distance.

Legolas was managing to look surprised and annoyed all at once.

"Something moved in the tree, he shot at it. It was some kind of monkeys, or lemurs or something. They're gone now."

The tree was a huge dark shadow above us. It still looked like anything could be about to drop on our heads and devour us.

"Ancestors?" Legolas said. "Does this word have another meaning I am unaware of?"

"Monkeys, primates. We're primates." Liz said, "And this world seems to be our past, so one of those little guys could maybe be the ancestor of somebody like, oh, Albert Einstein, or Ghandhi or Orli or Tolkien or us or something. If we kill one, a couple million years from now, it'll be somebody else starring as you in some other movie."

Legolas looked up at the tree, looked at Liz, and me, "Mankind is descended from little furry things with tails?" He eyed Kurt. "Oh."

"People in general are descended from little furry things with tails." Liz said.

"I thought he saw this on Discovery..." Kurt began.

"He missed the Australopithecus episode." Liz said.

"The Eldar were awakened by the waters of Cuivienen, under the stars, before the Sun was born!" Legolas said, "It was Araw the Hunter who first found us! The past of the Edain is hidden from us, not even the very wise know for sure. But..." he looked at Kurt again. And frowned, "The Sun is shining here so..."

"Looks kinda' dark to me." Liz quipped.

"Was shining. Shines. Sila. So the Eldar must walk some part of this world. And your folk too."

"Nope. We're still little furry things. If this is our past, not just some weird side branch in the Time Stream, and it sure looks like it. And the closest things to humanoid here are those little furry things in the trees you just shot at!"

"That cannot be!"

"Yeah it is. You said the past of the Edain is hidden from you. Well, a bunch of anthropologists like the Leakeys dug up a bunch of fossils, like Lucy, and mostly figured out where we came from; those little furry guys." Liz said. "You probably did too, and Dwarves and Hobbits and everybody else. All those stories are just poetic stuff people make up until they have science, and fossils and the Leakey family."

Legolas crossed his arms, "Poetry yes, but it is True; inspiration of the Valar."

"Inspiration, yeah, but Truth and Fact can be very different things." Tas said.

"Perhaps," Kurt said carefully to Legolas, "the Creator had a different method in your world. Or perhaps he did awaken your folk at Cuivienen, but it involved many years and lots of little furry things."

"She." I said.

Kurt cocked an eyebrow at me.

"OK," I said, "they."

Legolas looked up at the dark, starless sky, lit only hours ago by bright sun, "It would be good to find some of my folk in this strange place."

"Furry guys." Liz repeated. "Maybe you just shot at Finrod's great-great-great-great-great grandfather."
Legolas looked kind of appalled. Whether it was the thought of nearly doing in a legend's ancestor, or the whole idea of Elves evolving from things with tails, I wasn't sure. "Uhboy." Liz said, "Screwit, I'm goin' to bed. Just don't shoot any more monkeys. I don't want to get back home and find out you killed the zillion times great grandfather of Johnny Depp." She curled up and was snoring within a minute.

Tas shrugged and went to her own side of the fire.

"Maybe, as Liz said, this is not even your past, but another strange branch in the time stream." Legolas said to me.

"Maybe it's a whole other tree." I yawned.

"Perhaps," Kurt agreed, He turned to Legolas, "Tell me the Cuivienen story, the way you heard it in Mirkwood. I have read some of those tales in our books, but it would be best to hear it from one who lived in that land."

I settled between them; being in the middle of a conversation between my two favorite Elves was better than trying to resurrect my vanished dream. The night noises returned, Elbereth's stars stayed veiled behind a cloud layer; one that reflected no distant city lights. Legolas told his tale, as he had heard it from his father's fathers. Then he told another. Something tiny scuttled in the underbrush, something else shrieked in the distance and was cut short. Legolas glanced at it, but did not move his hand to his bow, lying beside him, and his voice did not falter. I fell asleep to the sound of him and Kurt discussing comparative religion, dinosaurs, dragons and time theories, with Nightcrawler's tail looped comfortingly close against my hair.




The Ride of the Indricothirrim

Paraceratherium transouralicum, INDRICOTHERIUM pervum; closest modern relatives; rhinos, tapirs and horses. The largest land mammals ever. Males were 4.5m at the shoulder, (over 7m counting the giraffish neck) and weighed 15 tonnes.

They would not fit in your barn.

Lorien

"Holycrap." Liz said, "I'd hate to clean that stall."

We stood staring up...and up and up...at a lone male, browsing on something that looked like Treebeard's grandfather. Despite the rough rhino-like skin, and the blocky head like a tapir, or a rhino, there was something graceful, horselike about him; with his long neck and long birch tree legs. He flicked a leaf-shaped ear...probably the size of a satellite dish...and nipped off some greenery with the delicate care of Pumpkin taking a carrot from my hand. He had given a cursory sniff in our direction, found us to be beneath his notice and gone back to browsing. Legolas leaned against the bole of the same tree, trying to understand the indricothere's thought, and having bits of leaf and twig flurry down on him. Liz sat beside him, back against the same tree, lost in a kind of elvish zen. Tas stood, in Elf-form, between us and the rest of the wildnerness, earth and sky eyes moving from Legolas to the shrieks and rustlings in the bush.

Nightcrawler watched Legolas, fascinated. "There was a woman in our circus who could whisper horses. The wildest, most ruined creatures would come to her."

"Maybe she was one of them." I nodded at Legolas.

"Or maybe," Nightcrawler said, "she was like Liz."

Yeah really, Liz who's got an Elf teaching her to talk to extinct mammals, while I felt rather like Pippin at Isengard; small rag-tag dangling behind the Mighty. Tired rag-tag who would be glad to stop dangling and lie down.

"Have another elf." Tas handed me one of the Grandmothers' Keebler cookies. I'd lost track of how many I'd eaten, but the sun had been low in the east when we found the lone male, and it was high and warm now.

I sprawled out again on my parka, "This could take awhile. Maybe we could just leave him here, pick him up in 20 million years or so."

"Ach, ja! Immortals." Kurt exclaimed. "If we went back to our own time right now, he'd still be there!"

Tas yawned, "Maybe not, maybe he'd have to wait for Captain Piccard to pick him up in the Enterprise."

"What?" I said.

"You still don't know where we are, do you?" Kurt said.

"Yup." Tas said, "Could be the other side of the universe for all I know. There were no stars last night to mark our position by."

"Well, it looks like all the pictures I've ever seen of the Oligocene." I said. "And some of those creatures were straight out of museum exhibits; except they were the wrong colors."

"No, I think your museum exhibits were the wrong colors." Tas said.

"Fossils don't leave a color record." Kurt grinned, a flash of star-white in night-sky blue. "You don't have a camera hiding in your other pocket do you, Lorien?"

I rummaged in my pooka parka. It had more pockets than anything I'd ever seen, and I'd stuffed a lot of stuff in there before throwing the icky pink coat on that fire back in the First Age. My hand closed on something small and rectangular. I pulled it out and stared at it.

"Hey Nighty." I tossed it to him.

He stared at it in disbelief. "A digital camera!"

"I always have it in my coat pocket when I go to the barn. To get pics of the horses and stuff."

He poked at it for a minute. "You've got a lot of storage space left here."

"That would shake up the scientific world." I said.

Nightcrawler shook his head. "They'd just think it was Photoshop." But he flipped it on and stalked toward the indricothere.

I lay back, eyes closed, warm sun beating on my face. In the daylight, it was a beautiful world. Green. Peaceful. Elvish. There had been ample, unpolluted streams in our path, an amazing variety of wildlife to observe. And now to photograph. I thought of the kick-butt school project I could do when I got back. The sky was clear of jet trails, the horizon clear of buildings or towers. There was no sound of distant engines, only the chatter of unseen birds, the distant musical call of something bigger.

And the sudden roar of something very large about three feet away. I scrambled to my feet, dragging my pooka parka with me; a scrambled set of images, like fast editing cuts in a movie battle scene, assaulted my senses;

...a large set of teeth, backed by a furry body the size of a truck barreling at me...

...the thunder of a herd's worth of feet on the ground...

...Tas planting Liz's bo like a pike on the ground, the other end pointing at the chest of another oncoming set of teeth...

...three arrows appearing like magic in the throat of the first warg...

...the whole thing falling, rolling in a cloud of ripped vegetation and dust to come up against the bole of a tree...

...the tree hadn't been there before, and there were three others like it...

...and they were moving...

...a tree-trunk coming down on a warg...

...the smell of brimstone, and a sudden gout of blood...

...another warg falling a few yards away, without a head...

...a warg doing a fine acrobatic flip, and Tas' warrior yell...

...the fwish fwish fwish of arrows passing entirely too near my ears...

Silence. Dust settling. The satisfied snort of a horse, only much louder, and from far too high above my head. Nightcrawler crouching, teeth bared, his X-suit and blue velvet skin splashed with red gore. Legolas pulling an arrow out of a fallen mound of fur chest high. Tas in wolf shape, trotting a circle, nose to the wind, returning, melting back into her elf-shape.

"All's clear." she said.

I blinked. Five great bodies, striped and splotched like sun and shadow lay scattered about the indricothere's tree. The indrik lowered a head the size of a refrigerator and nosed Legolas in the back. Just like Beowabbit. I stared up at four legs the size and shape and color of tree trunks. "Wow."

"Pretty cool, huh?" came Liz's voice from somewhere far above my head.

I looked up.

She was grinning at me from the indrik's withers, fifteen feet up.

Legolas knelt beside one of the huge striped mounds of fur. On his fair elvish face there was great sadness. "Hyaenodon." His softly accented voice made the word sound Elvish. "They were not evil, only hungry. The indricothere was too large for easy prey, but we were not. And they did not know what sort of creatures we were." He looked up at Liz, "I hope I have not killed someone's ancestor."

"Hyaenodons became extinct. They're nobody's ancestors." I told him.

He ran a finger along a broken, sunlit stripe, "Ai...such fantastic creatures, given time, I might have understood them."

"Well, at least we seem to have got our first indrik." I said.

Nightcrawler turned to me, startled. "Indrik? That is the name of a fantastich beast from Russian myth. Piotr told me about it once." His face softened, almost sad.

Peter, Colossus. A close friend long-gone. "What did it look like?" I asked. "The indrik."

"I believe it was something like a unicorn." His eyes traveled up the indrik's tree-trunk leg to Liz, perched like a sparrow on its withers. "Though not so tall." He blinked as if remembering something, reached into his X-suit and withdrew my camera. He looked at it and smiled. "Still in one piece."

"You have a camera?" came Liz's amazed voice from above my head.

Nightcrawler handed it to me. I raised it and shot up at Liz on her immense mount. "Dana'll love this one."

"Here." Nightcrawler said, reaching for it. I handed it back.

Bamf.

The indrik snorted and leaped sideways with a speed nothing that big should have been able to achieve.

Bamf. Nightcrawler hung in midair just long enough to get a great shot of Liz rearing magnificently like Gandalf on Shadowfax.

Only on a much bigger scale.



Ten minutes later Legolas had calmed the indrik down, Nightcrawler had apologized abjectly for the hundredth time, and Liz had broken several of Seabiscuit's racetrack records.

"This is going to be a problem." Liz called down from her perch on the indrik's withers. "We can't have Nightcrawler bamfless, and we can't have our indriks randomly running rampant across the Oligocene."

"Well, what would you do with Loda?" I yelled up at her.

"This critter's a lot smarter than Loda." she yelled back.

"Anything," said Legolas, "is smarter than Loda."

"We should start with a little bitty bamf...waaaaaay over there, maybe. Then let him get closer and closer until the indrik is OK with it. Have Legolas talk to him the whole time. He listens to me, sort of, but the Elf is better." She wrinkled her face in thought. "We could use the bamf, you know, to drive the herd or to scare away predators."

"I don't think it scared those hyaenodons much." I said.

"You missed the other half dozen that ran away after Kurt teleported the head off the first one..."

He was brushing ineffectively at the gloop covering his X-suit. It looked a whole lot like drying blood. He looked up, caught my dismayed expression and gave me an apologetic look. "Ja, I think we should find a nice stream somewhere." He called up to Liz. "You see anything from up there?"

"The other half dozen..." I looked nervously toward the clumps of trees in our path. "Wunderbar."


Kurt found his stream, small enough to not contain the crocodiles Legolas had seen devouring the pigs the size of Rohan warhorses. One of the many advantages of the X-suit, pooka-made or otherwise, was that it was a lot easier to clean than Nightcrawler's fur. Legolas knelt by the stream, upstream of Nightcrawler's bath, staring into water clearer than the Caribbean, and coaxing fish into his hands. Tas paced the perimeter of our temporary camp, nose to the wind. Liz practiced getting the indrik to lower his head to the ground with her on it, the only way she could mount the enormous thing.

"Hey Tas, can you learn to shapeshift into anything this big?" Liz called down.

She gave Liz one eloquently cocked eyebrow. "What for?"

Liz shrugged, "I had a vision of you running Godzilla-like through the next big school dance, terrorizing the Barbies."

Tas snorted. "I can terrorize them in this shape. With a slight change of costume." she blurred, reformed, and the X-suit was replaced by an evening dress like falling water.

"Whoa!" Liz said.

I just stood there, my mouth open like a big fish.

Kurt looked up, made a small strangled noise, and said, very quietly, "Legolaaaaaass..."

Legolas kept his eyes on his fish, "Shhh, not now."

Tas grinned at Kurt's astonished look. "I can have their boyfriends groveling, and them whimpering in defeat."

"Yeah, really!" Liz said.

"Can you give us lessons?" I asked.

Tas shifted back into her X-suit, but not without a great conspiratory grin.

"If we run out of your Keebler Elves, we know how we can get second breakfast." Kurt said to Legolas.

Legolas answered without taking his eyes from the fish he'd just cradled, then let go, "That would not be...fael."

"Fael?" Kurt said. His native accent added subtle shading to the Sindarin word.

"Ai..." Legolas called, "Lorien, what is the word in your tongue?"

I came over to the stream's edge, watched the fish in the current, waving like a flag. "Fair. Fair minded. Just."

"I see." Kurt said. "Yes, of course. But how can you hunt creatures you can talk to? I remember great hunts in Mirkwood, from reading The Hobbit."

Yeah, Elves ought to be vegetarians. I wondered why they weren't.

"It is the way of things. Like your hyaenodons. Not all creatures can eat grass." Legolas stepped up the bank and coiled his lean form onto the grass; he made me think of a cheetah, waiting for an antelope to wander by. He stayed silent for a minute. For two. Then, "In my father's halls there are great..." he frowned and looked at me, making shapes in the air with his hands. "Pictures..."

"Weavings?"

"Yes."

"Tapestries." I said.

"Stories are woven into them. Pennas."

"Histories."

"If every thread were the same color, they would not speak, breathe, live. This world, yours, theirs," he gestured at Liz and me, "all are like those tapestries, woven of many colored threads."

"Diversity." Kurt said, "That is something I understand well."



The bamfproofing of the indrik went well. Within twenty minutes the indrik allowed Kurt to bamf right onto his back, and soon, the lot of us were heading into the east, swaying gently fifteen feet above the ground. I was not surprised to find that something that big didn't trot or gallop, but, rather like an elephant, ambled in a smooth running walk; a super-giant-economy sized version of Tas' paso gait.

"Our indrik needs a name." Liz said.

"What's the Sindarin word for mountain?" Kurt asked.

"Aegas." I said. "That's mountain peak. Tunn is hill."

"Roch is horse. He's kind of a horse. Well, in the same family. Sort of." Liz said.

"Draug-dagnir. Wargbane." I suggested.

"They are not wargs." Legolas said.

"Tolog is trusty." I said.

"And torog is troll." Legolas added.

"Beleg, beleg means great, mighty." Liz said, "I wonder if Beleg Cuthalion would be amused by having an extinct mammal named after him?"

"Probably not," I said.

"He is the color of treeshadow." Legolas said. "Dair."

"Daer also means great, " I said. The two words sounded much the same.

"Daeroch." Nightcrawler said, making the ch exceedingly German, as if he were hacking up a hairball.

"Gesundheit." Tas said. Then snorted, guffawed, and nearly fell off the indrik's back.

It took me a minute to realize it was because Nightcrawler's tail had found its way to a very ticklish spot on her anatomy.



Western art, and old movies, are full of picturesque cowboys on picturesque cowponies moseying across picturesque miles of picturesque prairie, or sagebrush desert or windcarved natural monument laden landscapes.

What you don't see, in those old paintings and movies is the choking dust, the stiff muscles, the saddle sores. The fact that there is no air conditioning, no reclining seat, and no VCR in the ceiling. And no drive-thru big enough for an indricothere. We had moseyed, on our oversized cowpony, for hours; we had seen more picturesque landscape and picturesque creatures than any museum or paleontologist could imagine. It would make one helluva school report.

"Liebes, wake up, you are sliding off."

"Are we there yet?" I mumbled at the Indricothirrim in general. Gentle hands hauled me back to something like vertical. I blinked in the lowering sunlight. Ahead of me, a Rider rose, and ran up Daer's neck, with the grace of a cat going up a tree. He stopped and stood, balanced on the poll, the high part behind the indrik's ears, as if he were standing on the bowsprit of a ship.

"Not so very far, Lorien." Legolas said. "We should make camp near the herd. You can rest, I will make their acquaintance."

"We will make their acquaintance." Liz corrected, standing on Daer's withers as if on a snowboard.

"What will they think of Daer?" I asked. He was a young male. If the indrik herd was like a horse herd, it would be centered around an old mare, the real leader, but would have a strong stallion in attendance. One who would drive out all other males. If they were more like an elephant herd, they would be matriarchal; an older female and her kin. Any males would just be wandering through, there would be no herd bull.

"I don't know." Legolas said.

The sun was low on the horizon when I felt something change in the running walk of the indrik. Ahead of me, over Tas' shoulder, I could see Daer's head raise, the big ears prick. I heard a snort. Daer's pace quickened.

Legolas, perched on the indrik's neck, spoke to him. He slowed, then stopped, twitching his ears like Pumpkin when I asked her to trot over cavallettis and she really wanted to eat grass. He let out a disgusted snort, and lowered his head. Liz slid down it, with Legolas. Tas simply vanished from in front of me with a faint phoomph. Then the world turned into the first hill of a rollercoaster as Nightcrawler put his arms around me and bamfed.

The world came back into focus, and Daer was sliding off into the dark in that leggy running walk of his, head held high and ears eager.

"Looks like a kid at his first strip show." Tas said.

Nightcrawler shot her a startled look.

"Ah, I'd better follow him." Legolas trotted off into the gathering dark, bow slung over his back.

"I really hope there isn't a herd stallion." Liz said. "Things could get messy."

"He's young, inexperienced." Tas said. "Things are gonna get messy either way. Those girls will put him in his place."

"You're saying Hormone Boy is going to have his butt kicked by the mares?" Liz said.

"Just like the Zit Prince at a school dance."

"Ohboy." Liz said, and trotted off into the dark after Legolas.

Tas began to circle, picking up stray bits of wood. We followed, not knowing what else to do, and soon had a cheery fire...a large cheery fire...one capable of scaring off even the odd hyaenodon...blazing merrily. We broke out something like supper; there seemed to be no end to the Keebler Elves, though Tas had a bit of something beef jerkyish, Dragonkin leftovers, no doubt. From not nearly far enough away came sudden bellows, snorts, grunts, the odd scream.

"Lorien, your boot..." Tas proffered.

I looked down, the one I hadn't singed before was smouldering. Ok, so I was a little too close to the fire. I backed up and stomped it out. "Do you think they need help?"

Tas shook her head.

"Think there will be any indriks left to drive back to Dragonkinworld in the morning?"

Tas shrugged. A particularly loud bellow assailed our ears. Nightcrawler stood, and moved in the direction of the noise. Tas caught his tail and pulled him back to the fire. "What we don't need is the whole herd stampeding from a misplaced bamf."

He disentangled his tail from her grip. He looked worried. Like Legolas when he lost track of Gimli at Helm's Deep.

"He's OK. I can feel it." Tas said softly. "He's got it all under control."

Something roared, something crashed. Kurt jumped. There were more bellows.

"I don't think I want to see it when it gets out of control." I said.



lephae-a-neder: Legolas

I followed Daeroch into the twilight. Liz caught up to me quickly.

"You should rest." I said to her.

"I've got the rest of my life to sleep. How many times will I get a chance to learn about the behavior of an extinct mammal? From the Prince of Mirkwood, no less."

It was good that the shadows were long, so she could not read my face. I could feel her admiration; the weight of it might have been borne by one like Finrod, or Gil-Galad, one of the great Noldorin kings of old, but not by the youngest son of Thranduil of Mirkwood.

"You have already learned much." I told her. "Few of the Edain that I have met have such understanding of creatures other than themselves."

"You think?" she said hopefully.

"I know."

Her face glowed with a great smile. The words tumbled out like a clear stream over polished stones. "I want to train horses. The kind nobody else wants to. The kind everybody else gives up on. No, wait, maybe I really want to train people. Train them like you taught me, to really hear what their horses are saying."

"That will be hard. Maybe impossible. Most of the Edain do not listen."

"Maybe I can change that. Anyway, some of the Edain in your world learned; the Rangers, Aragorn, others like that."

Her eyes were bright in the twilight, full of stars. Full of life, full of the future. Full of the changefulness of mortal things.

"Ow." she said suddenly, tripping over an unseen rock.

Full of the night-blindness of mortal Men.

"Damn. Wish I could see in the dark like Nightcrawler." she said.

A sudden bellow sounded just over our heads. I spun, an arrow trained on a vague shadow in the trees. "Ja, me too."

The shadow moved, and it was one of the herd Daeroch had spotted. They were scattered through the sparse trees, some browsing on high branches, some standing in companionable groups, some dozing. We moved forward, through the brush, counting them. There were young ones; calves? foals? I did not know what to call them. They looked a bit like roch, horses, and a bit like andabon, oliphaunts from far Harad. Elbereth kindled her stars, but I did not have time to study them, to see if we were in a familiar land, or if the stars were strange, for Daeroch charged into the herd with all the grace of...

...of a certain woodland prince, at a very important festival, a festival attended by many lovely young ladies, some from other realms. A woodland prince who was no longer a child, but who had not gained very much wisdom, at least where young ladies were concerned.

The indricotheres milled about, snorting and squealing, snaking their long necks, feinting bites, stomping their tree-trunk legs. Daeroch reared and arched his neck, strutted, paced to and fro, chased, was chased, nibbled, was bitten in return. Dust rose, trees fell. There was little Liz and I could do in such a melee, but watch and learn.

At last, one of the herd came forth; larger she was than Daeroch, and older and wiser. She pinned her ears and snaked her neck and chased him into the bush. He returned, circled, strutting a bit less proudly than before. She chased him again, and this time bit him square on the haunches. He shrank, like a small boy scolded by a queen, paced off and stood in the shadows, alone. The Queen snorted and returned to her herd.

We went to Daeroch, comforted him, rubbing his face, longer than a Noldorin warshield.

"I know just how you feel." Liz said. He let loose a great snort in reply.

"Yes, so do I." I agreed.

She looked up at me in surprise, and disbelief, "How could you? You've never had a single moment of geekiness in your whole immense life."

"Geekiness? You mean doing something that looked foolish? Or unwise..."

"Geeky dorky klutzy frompy just not Black Widow or Princess Leia cool. You know, wrong hair, wrong clothes, wrong car, Wal-Mart instead of the Gap."

"Wal-Mart? Why is Wal Mart not cool?"

"It'd take too long to explain." Her face explained much, but I could feel much more; wistful she was, with a trace of anger, but not at anything within reach.

"Ah. But I have." I told her.

"Have what?"

"Had a moment of geekiness. Or two."

"Like when?" She plainly did not believe it, yet her face looked hopeful.

"There was a festival, long ago. Folk came from kingdoms far beyond the eaves of Eryn Lasgalen, the Wood of the Green Leaves. Many were the fair ladies who filled my father's feasting hall, and many were the young Elin who had eyes for them. At the last such festival I had been but a boy. Now I was feeling my...gweth. I do not know what it is in your tongue."

Liz made a wry, understanding face. She pointed at Daeroch, a tall shadow standing sleepy eyed above us. "Anything like him?"

"Ah...yes." It was good that the darkness hid the flush of my cheeks. "The ladies were like the flowers of the forest, many and varied; clad in the blues of the sky and the distant mountains, the greens of spring and deep summer, the russets and reds of leaf-fall. Dark hair and golden, a few silver as snow. Eyes like Elbereth's stars. Skin like..."

"Ok, ok, I get the picture. Gorgeous Elf-women. Liv Tyler, Daughter of Aerosmith, times a zillion." She gave me an annoyed frown.

"Ahhh." Perhaps I was still not very wise when it came to young women, "Ah. Not at all like Daughter of Aerosmith. And beauty is, well...Daeroch is beautiful. The trees are beautiful. The stars." I considered her face for a moment, but did not say what I was thinking. "Beauty has many forms."

She softened a little. "OK, OK, go on."

"There was one. One who stood out from the others as a silver mare stands out from a herd of earth colored chestnuts and bays."

"Yeah, but you're the Fairy Tale Prince. You could have anybody."

"Fairy tale?"

"Like the Little Mermaid."

"Fairy...fair folk...another word your people have for mine...yet there were no Elves in the Little Mermaid. And you have said fairy tale before, as if it is something inferior."

"Those Disney movies are just remakes of the old fairy tales, stuff they tell to little kids. And the old ones didn't always have Elves in them either. Sometimes they are kind of ...I dunno...dumb. But sometimes they're like...uh. Umm." Her words stopped like a butter barrel hung up in a tangle of roots on the riverbank.

"Yes?"

"Uh. Like Galadriel said; history turned legend turned myth. Or something like that."

"Galadriel? Is this from The Book?"

"From the movie."

"Oh. Why am I a fairy tale prince?"

"I dunno, because you were lucky enough to have an Elvenking for a dad? Anyway, the point is, you could have anybody you wanted."

"Why? What makes you say that?"

"BECAUSE!" She said, as if explaining to a very dense child. She did not say the rest of what she was thinking, but her thinking was very loud; 'Because you are beautiful.'

I had felt the weight of her admiration. Now I felt the weight of something else; what I had felt for the beautiful maiden of the Galadhrim at the festival; aniron.

"Ah." I stared at the dark ground. I stared at the stars. Unfamiliar stars after all. Neither ground nor stars held any answers.

Liz curled into a dark ball, arms wrapped around knees, a few feet away; her heart and her thoughts suddenly closed. At last she said, "Well, what about the rest of this story, huh?"

"Ah." I turned to face her, and settled closer. "It was a bit like your festival of Thanksgiving. Only your folk can travel far and fast in your cars; your festival had the briefness of mortal things. The folk who came to Mirkwood that month had traveled slow and far, perhaps for weeks, or longer. They meant to stay..."

"And party hearty, like in the Hobbit."

"Oh?"

"I can't tell you. It hasn't happened yet. Just be nice to the Dwarves. When it does."

"Dwarves?"

"Yeah. Dwarves. One of them is the father of somebody important. Go on..."

"The father...? Very well. There were hunts, and feasts, and news exchanged. Gifts and music and dancing."

"Wine?"

"Of course. How did you know..."

She smiled knowingly, as if she held a great secret. "And very soon the chief of the guards had no keys..."

"What?"

Her face straightened itself. "Ahem. Yeah, go on."

"Is that from the story too?"

She smiled, like a cat who has found the cream.

"Ai." It was very strange, and annoying, when everyone seemed to know what would happen except oneself. "My teachers had worked very hard to teach me new songs and dances, to learn to tell the ancient sagas, and great poems."

"Why do I think they weren't very successful?"

"You read my thoughts too well."

"Nah, just your face."

"No, it is more than that. It's much like the way you can tell what Daer is thinking."

"Oh." She looked at the ground, suddenly embarrassed.

"No, it's a good thing, a gift. I wish I had been better at it then. I wish I had paid more attention to the songs and dances and poetry. To the instruction I was receiving on the making and repair of clothing and gear."

"You learned to make your own clothes?"

"You seem surprised. But there would be many times; traveling alone in other lands for instance, when the Ladies Sewing Circle would not be available."

"So, what were you doing, all this time, instead of doing your homework?"

"Several times other students skilled in tracking had found me in the woods, and returned me, reluctantly to my lessons. The sunlight through the leaves, the songs of the birds, the smell of rain-damp earth, were more appealing than sitting in a stone chamber fixing a tunic. Or repeating a dance as many times as there are hairs on a cat."

"So, did you see any of the giant spiders?"

"I do not remember telling you about those. Are they in the book too?"

"Yeah, they are. I always wanted to see those."

"So did I. That was one of the reasons I wandered far from my father's halls. But when the guests began arriving, there was little time for such wanderings. There were the duties of the King's family to attend to. Guests must be put in comfortable rooms, fed. The household staff must be led in making sure all was in order: firewood, water, clean linens. There were dinners that grew with each day, till we removed them to the forest outside the halls. The halls were really only a sort of fortress anyway, a place to go in danger, or ill weather. A place to store things. Many of our people lived much of the year in the forest."

"In tree-flets, like the Galadhrim?"

"Some. Many used bright tents, pavilions of weatherproof cloth, and there were many times one could simply sleep under the light of the stars filtering down through the leaves. It was on one of the first days of feasting in the halls that I saw the lady with the silver hair. Her presence left me with no tongue to say a single line of a poem, to sing a single note of a song. I shrank behind my brothers and felt..."

"Like a total geek?"

"Yes."

"Wow. Whoda' thunk it?" Her smile held humor and sympathy.

"Fires sprang up and torches were lit in great circles of trees under the stars. There were tales of ages past, tales I had never heard, and some I had heard a thousand times."

"You know, when I say a thousand times, it's kind of an exaggeration. When you say it, I think you really mean it."

I stopped, startled into silence for a moment. "Yes." There were songs I had sung, dances I had done, paths trod a thousand times. More. But for a mortal woman, that would be more than a lifetime of experience. "Ai...many of the stories were ones I had heard since childhood. Others were new, brought to us by the travelers. But I had no ears for the tales, my ears and eyes were on the lady of the silver hair. I tried to think how to get her attention."

"Just walk up and say hi, FaerieTale Prince. Duh."

"I could not."

She studied my face and nodded in sympathy, "Yeah, really. Been there, done that, got the cellphone directory totally lacking in male phone numbers."

"At last my brother dragged me into her presence. She smiled like one of the Valar. Her voice was like the first song of birds in the spring, her..."

"Yeah, yeah, I get the picture. What did you do?"

"I studied the forest floor. The path of a bug, the growth pattern of a certain moss under my feet. The faint trace of the track of a fox."

"Brilliant. What did she do?"

"Smiled politely at me and talked to my brother. Danced with a cousin. Flirted with several others. For the rest of the night she did not even notice my existence."

Liz peered at me in the starlight, "I see you finding a way to get her to notice your existence."

"Ah, yes."

"I see it being very messy."

"Yes. I..."

Her eyes widened in surprise, "Spiders. It involved giant spiders..."

"I...yes...well I had spent a lot of time in the woods, following them, learning their ways. I thought I could...well...a few spiders dropping in on our feast, repelled by a brave and daring young prince. That would have got her attention."

"I see you hadn't learned enough about giant spiders."

"Apparently not."

"Oooooh. I can just picture it."

"No. It's worse."

She laughed. "And your father says, 'You are grounded till the end of time as we know it!'"

"Very nearly. And the lessons on sewing that I had neglected; let us say that my repair of my feasting clothes, in particular my pants, did not hold up to the spider onslaught."

"Somehow I don't think that impressed her." She was still laughing. Harder.

"Ai..." It had happened long ago in the way Men look at things, but in my memory it was bright and clear and painfully sharp-edged. "When we finally unwrapped her from the spider silk she turned and went straight home, without even waiting for my father's tailor to make her a new gown."

"Ow." Liz laughed, "I can just see Miss Elf Universe pulling wads of spider goo out of her perfect hair! Whoooo!" She laughed again and looked at my face. And her laugh faded. "Oh." She said. "It wasn't very funny for you at the time, I guess. No. Well, did you ever see her again?"

"No."

"Then there's somebody else, better. Somewhere. Somewhen."

"Yes. That's what my friend Gilien said."

"Who?"

"A girl of the Sylvan folk who often accompanied me on my treks through the woods."

"Oh?"

"No, it's not like that."

"Why not?"

"It's just...it's not, that's all. Besides, now there is another who loves her."

"Oh." She looked at the ground, tried to look disappointed and failed.

Around us the herd had grown quiet as night deepened. Daeroch stood behind us, a great grey slumbering boulder. "They are resting now." I said. "I think nothing will happen among them for awhile. In the morning we could try to get them moving toward the Gate."

Liz nodded, yawned. "Yeah."

"Rest." I suggested.

"And miss all the excitement?"

"I'll wake you if anything happens."

"Promise."

"My word is my promise."

"Do you ever sleep?"

"Yes. But not the way you do."

"Do you really sleep with your eyes open?"

"Is that in The Book too?"

"Yeah." She yawned again. "You know dolphins sleep with half their brains awake. If they slept like we do, they'd forget to breathe and drown. So they sort of drift, with the breathing part awake. weird, huh?"

"Ah. I didn't know that. I hope to meet them someday."

"Huh?" she said sleepily, drooping over her knees.


"Dolphins."

She sat up suddenly, "Dolphins!"

"What?"

"Ahhh, nothing!"

"What!"

"Dolphins, seagulls, ohcrap."

"What are you talking about?"

On her fair face there was great distress. "...gulls..."

"The..."

"...quarry. The seagulls..."

"...I had never met them before..."

"...you saw them! You didn't just see them either..."

"...they sail wonderfully on the wind..."

"...your eyeballs were glued to them!"

"...and their voices are beautiful..."

"...and on the ones in the marsh too!"

"...they speak to me of..."

"...the sea!" Liz wailed.

"What?"

Her words poured out like a spring flood on the Forest River. "...and we can't just send you back to Middle-earth, because then you'll just sail west and never go on the quest with..." she stopped. "With everybody you're supposed to go on the Quest with!"

I fell silent as her, staring at her in the dark, trying to comprehend her mighty distress and failing. At last I asked, "What has that got to do with seagulls?"

"The Sea-longing. You see the gulls, hear them, in the dark even, and wham, you're waxing poetic over western sunsets and building a ship."

"That's preposterous."

"Well it was in The Book."

"The Book? You are speaking of the future. A possible future. The Sea-longing lies buried in the hearts of all my kindred, or so it is said, and there are those of our folk, and others, such as the ones we know in Imladris, who have answered the Call, and sailed west out of the World. But when and where... and if... it is answered is something only the Valar can tell. And except for this journey, I have never traveled far from Mirkwood. I have lived in joy under those great trees, known peace among the beeches and elms and oaks of that mighty and tangled wood. I have no wish to leave it."

"Oh." She studied my face closely, "Really?"

"Yes."

Her worry shifted to relief, then to hope. "So the gulls at the quarry didn't, well, waken any urge to stick a cutlass in your belt and set your sails?"

"No. They were new to me, so I watched them closely, if that's what you mean. Come fair maiden of the Edain! Flag your tail and laugh as your wolf-friend Kodi would do. If that is the path the Story must take, we will find that Path again and set things right!"

She nodded, and lumped her parka into a sort of pillow. The night was chill for her kind, and we were far from the fire. I moved next to her and drew her up on my knee, tucking her parka around her. For a moment she was startled, then she curled against me like a kitten. The stars in their strange patterns circled across the sky, and I sang to them. A song I had sung a thousand times. One my people had sung for ages before me.

It occurred to me that if she was right about the little furry things with tails, it was the first time that song had ever been heard here.

Who are you?

No one important.

The tall female stretched her neck and raised her head as high as it would go. Insignificant speck, I could crush you into dust without a thought.

I know. I know your power, your wisdom. I am no threat to your young ones.

What sort of strange creature are you? The great head tilted, regarding me with first one brown eye, then the other. Then it dove out of the sky, swooped to within a hand'sbreadth of my chest and sniffed; a great whoosh of air, I nearly expected to see flames shoot out, like one of the dragons in the old tales. Behind me Liz let out an exclamation of terror and delight. Ahead of us the sky glowed with the first purples and reds of dawn.

I am one of the Firstborn, I wanted to tell her, but it seemed a foolish thing to say to this mighty beast, living in a world which would not see any sort of two-legged people for ages which even my folk would count as long.

We're lost.

Liz's voice was clear as if she had spoken, but not only to me, to the great herd matriarch towering over us as well.

Ok, well really, he's lost. And it's my fault. It's too long to explain, but the only way we can get him home is to get some of your friends here to go with us through the Gate to this really cool place with lots to eat; good shady trees, nice streams, and, oh yeah, no hyaenodons.

"Perhaps we should have taken a bit longer with the explanation..." I suggested.

"If we left it up to the Elves, we'd be here till those fuzzy guys evolved into something else."

"Hmph."

The Matriarch sniffed at Liz, then raised her head back into her tree as if we had never been.

"Well, that was useful." Liz said.

"Indeed." I studied the Matriarch, nipping off a bushel of leaves at a time. I thought of the Onodrim in the songs of my people; gigantic, old and wise. And likely just as unconcerned with the doings of Elves and Men. "Come." I said to Liz, "Let us speak to the others." We set out through the open spaces between the trees, powdery with dirt and low-growing plants ground into dust by the indriks tree-bole legs.

"Whoa, watch out for the..."

Squelch.

"...road apples. Although they look a lot more like beetles."

"You are thinking of those funny little round cars." I said, rubbing my boot on the bent and broken meadow plants. "These...road apples are much the same size."

"Yeah. I thought it'd be cool to take an indrik home, but think of the stall cleaning."

"They are wild things. With their own minds. Not bred to the service of Man or Elf." We made our way to another few indriks browsing among the trees. They tilted their heads and looked down at us, then went back to browsing. Liz reached into a pocket and pulled out some of the Grandmothers' waybread. She handed me half.

We wandered among them, and watched them browse, converse with one another, feed their youngest; the sun rose over the edge of the round world, the sky brightened from deep red to a blaze of fire, to brilliant blue. We sipped from our water bottles, and tried to talk to others in the herd. Some were curious, especially the young ones. Most thought we were strange; too small to be truly dangerous, but annoying, like large insects, or the little furry things that sometimes threw things at them from the trees. Long ago I had learned from my father, and from many patient horses, to listen twice as much as I talked. Liz, for all her short years was of the same mind. But as we watched and listened, they went on browsing, with barely a glance to acknowledge our presence. Or they snorted, like thunder, in warning if we came too close. Some stamped their tree-bole legs, or even swung haunches the size of fortress gates toward us.

Go away little bugs.

Liz and I retreated to a fallen tree; one that bore the marks of indrik teeth, one whose exposed roots spoke of hungry indriks pushing it over to reach the succulent upper leaves. We sat, watching a very young one nurse, while two older ones capered like foals.

"You know, those people on Animal Planet and stuff, the ones who follow elephant herds and write books about them, they do this for years..."

"...they follow the herds till they are accepted. I have ridden after wild horses with the Eotheod, and they do much the same. But it takes time. And even wild horses are not really wild. Their grandfathers were fed, and stabled, and protected from predators by people, and they remember this. The indriks do not. It will take a long time maybe..."

"...even for an Elf?"

I was silent for awhile. Too long a while for Liz it seemed.

"Legolas?"

"Hmmm. Not so long for me, maybe. But for you..."

Every head within sight suddenly turned, ears and eyes fixed on a small cloud of dust headed our way. Lorien and the others came to a halt a hundred strides away.

Not getting very far, are we? Tas strode over to us.

Go ahead. I told her. Try your own luck. Perhaps you will do better, they are horse relatives. You know horses well enough to become one.

She looked up at them, Daer was easy enough. But he is young, curious. He hopes we can help him with his girlfriend problem. These grandmothers will not be so easy to convince. Ah, I see you've already discovered this.

Hmph.

"What?" Lorien said, coming up behind Tas. "Will you two talk out loud already!"

I turned to her in surprise. "Sorry, mellon nin, I did not mean to leave you out of the conversation."

She shrugged, "It's ok." She came and sat by my feet, "Do you do that much at home? Talk without speaking, I mean."

"Sometimes. Yes."

Her voice was soft, tinged with sadness."You miss them."

"Yes."

"Well," Tas said, striding toward the nearest indricothere, "Guess I'll try my luck."



The sun rose and sailed across the sky, and Tas had no better luck than Liz and I had.. We sat in the shade of the trees, or wandered among the indriks, trying with no more success to speak to the great beasts. We learned much of their lives, their thought, their favorite leaves, the things that annoyed them; furry things in trees who threw things, bloodsucking bugs, predators that made wargs seem weak. But none of us came nearer to convincing them to follow us, no matter how beautifully we described the place we wanted to take them to.

The day turned white hot, the dust rose as the indriks began to move. I turned to Liz, "They are heading for..."

"...water." Liz said.

"They are moving fast." Kurtvagner observed. "We're going to need our bus. I just hope they don't try to wreck it."



Lorien

We swayed through the bush on Daer's broad back, Legolas once more perched on his head like a sailor on a bowsprit. We followed at a safe distance, one the females seemed to think appropriate for a young male, one unsuitable as a suitor for their daughters. This time the stream was a much bigger one. Legolas told us it was the one where he'd seen the Gators of Doom. The indriks found a broad area with a low bank, and gravel and rock, not mud. The water was shallow here, and crocless; the crocs seemed to like it better upstream in the deep pools. We filled our water bottles and the Elves, and Liz, who was practically one of them by now, spent a fruitless afternoon trying to talk sense into the world's biggest land-walking grandmothers. Snorkeling with blue whales and speaking like Dory would have been easier.

The sun sailed down the far side of the sky, and the shadows lengthened. Legolas stood on the bank, silent and thoughtful as a young tree on a windless night. He stared at the sinking sun, his lithe shape magnificently silhouetted against an ever more colorful sky. I came up beside him, snapping pictures as I went.

"You cannot stay here forever." he said softly. "But I can stay as long as we need. Ahad, cuil, haran inath in Edain."

A month, a life, a hundred years of Men. I stared at him open-mouthed. "What? You can't either! The Dragonkin won't let us through without the indriks."

"They won't give you the spell without the indriks. You can go back." He smiled, "Tas will see to it, there is little that can stop her once she decides to do something. And you can take Daeroch. Tell them there are more coming. I will bring the rest. Eventually."

"That's absolutely out of the question!"

He turned to me, regarding me with those bottomless sea-grey eyes.

"No way. Uh uh. Avam! Nein. Forget it."

He opened his mouth.

"Forget it! We're the Indricothirrim. The Fellowship of the Prehistoric Mammal."

"You may have noticed, though water is plentiful, we have a limited amount of waybread."

"So shoot something. We'll eat it."

"You're a vegetarian. Anyway, it could be somebody's ancestor."

"Ok, so we'll all go vegetarian. If we can figure out what's safe to eat here. Anyway. We''ll think of something. Even if we have to rope them all or...something."

He gave me a wry look, one eyebrow cocked and loaded. "Where are you going to get the rope?"



The sun shot a few last blasts of amber and magenta into the high clouds. I found Legolas kneeling in the growing dusk, singing something low and mournful, like Pippin's song in Return of the King.

Legolas had indeed shot something. Something not mammalian, just in case it might be somebody's ancestor.

"What are you doing?" I asked, when he fell silent.

"It is a song to the spirit of the creature, for giving its life so we may continue ours. And to Araw the Hunter, for teaching us The Way."

"Ah." I said.

He looked up at me, his eyes dark and unreadable. "You think it strange..."

"No, the prayer thing makes sense. Traditional Native American people do something like that. It''s just..." it was alive. It was something you could probably talk to. Like I wish I could.

"The plants you eat are no less alive. No less part of Eru's creation."

"Ah." Yeah. These are the people who woke up trees and taught them to talk.

"I did not mean to make it sound as if your way is wrong." he said.

"Well, I guess your way isn't either. After all, it was a Vala who taught your people."

He smiled and picked up the lizardy looking thing, nearly half as long as he was tall. He headed for the fire someone had already started. "I don't suppose you want some of this?" he said to me.

I made a face. "Hardly."

"Don't worry. Tas has been looking for something for you. I just hope it isn't the ancestor of your strawberries, or brussel sprouts."

"If it is, I hope it's brussel sprouts."



Tas had collected enough edible vegetables for a good veggie stew. None of them were anything I'd seen in a supermarket or garden, but there was apparently some sort of Elvish talent for discerning whether something was edible or poisonous. There was a decided lack of dinnerware though, so, like Tom Hanks character in CastAway, we had to reinvent fire, and the cooking pot. Not too hard since many of our Fellowship had been around in that chunk of history... or one like it. Eventually we had a nice veggie stew and the mystery critter roasting on a stick.

I was almost hungry enough to eat it.

"I think we should just use Nightcrawler's bamf to spook them into moving where we want, drive them to the Gate that way." Liz said through a mouthful. "Like a big cattle drive."

"Probably with stampedes and all." Tas said. "Legolas had the best idea. Leave the Elves here long enough to convince them to go on their own."

The Elves being her and Legolas. "But..."

"We'd probably end up back at the quarry about five minutes after you guys." Tas said. "Even if we were here for a century."

"You don't know that." I said.

She shrugged.

"Try it Nighty, see if the bamf works on the others." I said.

He hunched across the fire from me, only his glowing eyes visible in the shadows, like one of the predators just beyond the safe circle of the firelight. "There is something not quite...fael...about that. Frightening them into doing our bidding."

"Liz?" I said. She was hunched next to Legolas, staring into the fire, motionless, like the Elf sleeping with his eyes open.

"Liz?"

"Huh? Oh...yeah Mrs. Smeed, I got stuck in traffic, in the Oligocene. Tas, you're not at all sure how time flows between this world and ours, are you?"

"You don't even know where we actually are." I said.

"The stars are not the same." Legolas suggested.

"They change positions every two thousand years or so," I said, "The creatures we're seeing are from at least twenty-five million years ago. The stars are unrecognizeable."

"They're the same in our world as in Middle-earth, aren't they?" Liz asked.

"Yes." Legolas said.

"And in the X-Universe?" I said to Kurt.

"Ja." Kurt said.

"It could still be some weird alternate universe thingie, not the past." Liz said.

"Could be." Tas said. She ripped off another piece of Mystery Critter and wolfed it down.

"Wonder, if it is, if they become extinct here too." Liz said.

I sat up straight. "Whoa."

"Yeah." Liz said, smiling as if she'd read my thought.

"Too bad they can't get a case of the Sea-Longing and sail west, straight through our Gate." The Gate that actually did lie several leagues to the west at this point. "I mean, They're not going to be here forever..."

"Just another few million years, that's all." Kurt said.

"One year, or a million. It means nothing to them." It was Legolas who had spoken, softly, his eyes focused on something in, or beyond the fire before him.

"Yeah." Liz said, an idea dawned on her face, "Their time sense is kinda' like horses...or Elves." She glanced at Tas for confirmation, Tas gave her a faint knowing smile through her mouthful of Mystery Critter. "The ever-present now..."

"...another ripple in the Stream of Time, ever repeated." Legolas said.

"What happens," I suggested, "if we tell them that, if they stay here, they'll be extinct tomorrow?"



Into the West

But Arod, the horse of Rohan, refused the way, and he stood sweating and trembling in a fear that was grievious to see. Then Legolas laid his hands on his eyes and sang some words that went soft in the gloom, until he suffered himself to be led, and Legolas passed in.

Lorien

The words were soft, like wind whisper, but all across the great dusty landscape grey heads the size of refrigerators reared above their trees, leaf-shaped ears flicked forward, listening. It was an ancient song, and my knowledge of Elvish couldn't encompass all the words. But words weren't necessary. As it had, when Finrod sang to the first Men, the song went beyond words, to pictures in the mind, to feelings in the heart. It had the pull of gull voices in the dark, of distant white shores. It held the ache of a world changed, one that no longer had room for such great and mighty creatures. They listened, flicked their great and mighty ears and went back to browsing, to pulling down whole trees, to nursing their young, to chasing off predators, to head-butting contests between young males.

But the Song did not falter. The Song did not stop. The Song went on and on, and round and round. Like the Native songs at the Thanksgiving dinner. Or the ones they sang at the sundances I'd been to. The song that goes on and on, round and round. Soon I knew the rhythm and the notes and the words. And my own voice joined without me asking it to; floating over Legolas' like gulls over the deep notes of the sea. The great heads turned toward us once more, then away, then toward us more often. Skeins of birds flew overhead, circled and flew by again. The twittering song of small birds in the bush warbled in harmony. A distant booming call punctuated the song like drums. There was no Time, no Thirst, no Hunger. There was only the Song going round and round. We sang the sun across the sky, and down to the edge of the round round world.

And the Matriarch came. She slid up to us in great silent running strides, halted, haunches under her, like Beo about to do a pirouette: poised to run in any direction...over us, or away. She stared down at us, a huge tower of dark against a blood-red sky. Legolas did not look up, and the song continued, like wind in the grass. My voice swirled, danced with his; gulls and surf. I felt, rather than saw the shadow beside me, then Liz was standing at the Matriarch's feet, looking up. The great head dipped, the great dark eyes fixed on Liz, then on Legolas and me, as if she was telling us something. Something only Elves could hear.

She turned and was gone into the dark. The song trailed off into the sounds of rustling in the bush, nightwind, insects, a distant scream.

I stood, breathless, unable to say a single word. Someone handed me a water bottle, Kurt. I swallowed the water like I'd never had any before. I couldn't remember having any all day, just being in the spell of the Song. I stared into the dark bush. Empty. Silent.

Kurt edged forward, staring into the dark. Then he turned to us, his teeth and eyes a pale predatory gleam in the dark. "They're coming."

They materialized out of the dark bush, moving mountains shaking the earth like a distant quake. The whole herd it seemed was there, gliding in their ground-covering running walk. I felt a hand on my shoulder, "Mae carnen! Lorien."

I looked up into Legolas' starlit eyes, "Wha...who me?"

"Yes. I did not do it alone."

"Move!" Tas said. And the closest mountains were on us. She caught my hand and... Phoomph!
We were at Daeroch's feet, Tas looked up at him, as if saying something to him silently, and he lowered his head. She pulled me up onto him, and slid us down to his withers. A bamf behind me and we were moving through the dark.

"What about Liz, Legolas?"

"We have to keep Daeroch out of their way." Tas said. "They'll have to catch their own bus."



enephae: Legolas

I had not yet met the Onodrim, or the great war-andabon of Harad. I had never seen the Huorns walk, or faced the wrath of balrog or troll; so these great mountains moving through the dark filled me with wonder and...

Liz reached for my hand, gave it a solid squeeze, the reassuring touch of a swordsister. "You feel like I do." she said softly.

Like standing before a towering sea, one no seawall could stop, one no ship could ride. Daeroch was young, a mere pup. These were the hounds who could bring down the mightiest stag. "Noro!"I said and drew Liz with me. We leapt from the Matriarch's path, letting her pass like a great wave in the dark. We fell in behind her, knowing she would clear a path we could follow even without moon or stars. There were stars this night, and a slice of moon. They turned the grey-green things that grew near the ground to silver. Dust rose like mist. The bush fell silent as the herd rumbled by. I saw the glint of eyes in the dark, predators who other times would wait for a young straggler, or one too weak to go on. Tonight they saw Power too great for them to touch, and turned and fled from our path.

We ran through the night, through rising dust, the footfalls of the indriks like deep drumbeats, like the roar of the Forest River before it is seen through the trees. They knew the way from my song. From our song; the Song Lorien and I had made, for it took the voices of both kindreds, of Eldar and Edain, to speak to these mighty beasts. Daeroch ran ahead, for he was light and swift, and the three on his back slowed him not at all. Liz and I plunged through dust and dark and plain and stream on foot. Our eyes stung with the dust, and our throats were choked with it, even though we ran as far to the side of the herd as we could. At last a small indrik slowed and paced alongside us. She looked down at us with curiosity, as she had before, hours ago, under the sun. She was young, half the size of the Matriarch, even smaller than Daeroch, but her back was well above the choking dust.

Come little bugs, and her thought was full of laughter and sunlight, if you stay there, my big clumsy brother will step on you. Then I'll never hear your pretty song again.

The young indrik lowered her head and we swung up onto her withers. She skipped, like a playful foal and Liz laughed.

Watch, I can outrun that big lump. And she slid past her brother, head held high. And so we moved on through the night, part of a great flowing river of immense life, one not even the hordes of Mordor could have stopped.



Lorien

"This may be a dumb time to ask this," I looked back, I could hear the rumble of the herd behind us, like the huge wave that sank Numenor, "but how do we get our Dragonkin buddy to open the Gate?"

"Ja," Kurt said, "the indriks will be as easy to turn around as the X-Jet at top speed."

"If Legolas and Liz can turn them at all, which is doubtful!" The herd rumble was more than sound now, it filled the air, flowed through the ground. Daeroch halted as if in answer to an unspoken command, he fidgeted, shifting from foot to foot, ears twitching.

Tas slid off Daeroch's back, landed in a crouch and ran. Rocks, trees, bunches of spikey plants shining silver in the moonlight. It all looked alike. Maybe she could remember the name of the individual rock that had guarded the Gate, or knew the scent of that particular piece of soil. I hoped so anyway. "If you're looking for the opportune moment," she shouted away from us into thin air, "this would be it!"

I crouched on Daeroch's withers, Kurt a reassuring warmth behind me. And just behind him, the ever-louder avalanche rumble of the herd.

I turned and stared into the dark; navy sky, darker shapes of looming trees, pale groundcover, all a blotchy blur. "Kurt; Legolas and Liz...?"

I felt cool air swirl around me as he stood, then vaulted over me and ran up Daer's neck, light and sure as Legolas. His smile flashed pale in the dark, "They caught a ride." The smile vanished."Ach, mist." He turned to Tas, his voice had an edge to it, "About that Gate..."

"I'm working on it!" She snapped. "Dragonkin ESP 101 was not one of my best subjects!" She stood, tight as a drawn bow, yellow and white hair turned to a mass of silver under the moon and stars.

"Whatthehell are you doing, having a coffee break?!" She shouted at the night.

The ground under us was definitely trembling, it felt the way I imagined the sand of a beach would feel right before the tsunami hit.

Kurt ran back down Daeroch's neck, took up his place behind me. The indrik half turned, ears twitching, coiled on his haunches. Kurt's hands closed around my waist. "Hang on liebes, we may have to just get out of the way."

And we'll never be able to round them up again. I could see them now behind us, silver moondust with dark mountain shapes looming in it.

Daeroch snorted, scuttled sideways, and I looked over his ears.

The air in front of us shimmered, shifted, and tuned itself into someplace else. The Dragonkin scout stood in the middle of our path, chewing on something recently deceased. Her eyes widened as she stared up at the bulk of Daeroch towering before her. Her eyes moved past him, to the dark behind us and widened even farther. Tas stepped through the Gate, grabbed the carcass and flung it away. "Bad time for a coffee break." she snapped. She grabbed the Dragonkin and vanished out of our path with a faint phoomph.

That left the Greenhorn of Doom, me, in charge of one fidgety oversized cowpony. If he spooked, or turned aside from the Gate, the others might too. Especially if Nightcrawler had to 'port me out of the way. I could feel his hands tighten on my waist. No that would spook them all. I thought of Pumpkin, of all Legolas and Liz had taught me of the Elvish Way With All Good Beasts; "Come on Daeroch!" I shifted my weight, tightened my legs and and dug my heels into his shoulders. "Noro! Noro lim!" He straightened and shot forward, gliding through the Gate with only a passing snort. Behind us the herd came on like thunder, like a great sea wave, like the River Isen breaking the walls at Isengard, and poured through the Gate.



Once more, we stood on the shore of the quarry, and Jon, Bran, Ian, Doc, Zan, Monica and the Sun hadn't moved noticeably since we'd left, days ago.

"Le abdollen. You're late." Bran's eyes scanned Tas' disheveled X-Suit, matted mudded hair, and assorted scrapes. His expression changed subtly; more amusement than sympathy. "You look terrible," he said in Legolas' Two Towers voice.

"Eat my swamp-goo encrusted shorts, Bird-boy." She gave his cheek an affectionate pat; one that made him sway and left a smear of goo along one perfect Elvish cheekbone.

Jon raised a questioning eyebrow.

Liz stepped forward, her words running together like the hoofbeats of a galloping horse. "Foundthe Dragonkin climbed downamountain trekkedacrossthe NotNearlyDeadEnoughMarshes withgiant bloodsuckingbugs wentthroughaGate contributedtotheextinctionofthehyaenodon trainedanindricothere roundedupseveralmore drovethembackthroughtheGateintoDragonkinworld and hereweare."

Jon raised both eyebrows.

"Oh yeah, and we got the spell."

Monica looked shocked, distraught and royally peeved all in about two and a half seconds. "Noooooo!" she wailed.

Yeah, really. Mission accomplished. We got the spell. It was locked in Legolas' head...and mine. It was a song, and we were the two singers. We had the Dragonkin feathers, and the location of the Gate. We could open that Gate now and send the Prince of Mirkwood back to his kingdom, and Nightcrawler back to the X-Men.

I felt just like I had the day after Return of the King premiered. It was done, it was complete. The Ring was destroyed. The Shire was saved. The Elves had sailed into the west.

It was over.

I stared at the little brig, still rocking gently in the turquoise waters of the quarry; the familiar deck and rigging where we'd stood beside our heroes and swashed and buckled and kicked Monica's butt so long ago. The stinging in my eyes wasn't from the wind.

Doc glanced at his wrist, up at the ragtag band of hearty adventurers before him, and back at his wrist. His face registered something like disbelief. "Five minutes and thirty-eight seconds."

It wasn't possible for Jon's eyebrows to go up any farther but they did. "So the Dragonkinworld is what we thought, a pocket dimension, a sort of backeddy in the Stream of Time."

"Useful information for Gatesingers." Bran said.

We told them the whole tale as we headed back to the quarry's dive shop to collect Kodi and Shenzi. We had a lot of useful information for the Gatesingers... and everyone else, stuff they had only guessed at concerning the Dragonkin. And a Gateworld they had never been to; the one that looked just like the Oligocene. Zan dismantled his brig, but not before I'd taken some shots of it on the little digital camera that had traveled through several worlds. Bran flew off under his own wingpower, and returned with the Ravin' Maniac, and vanished again with Monica safely stowed within. Zan's fine freight sled returned to its component branches and duct tape, and was recycled in a brief campfire. Tas 'ported, then returned to the quarry with the Windrider, and by early evening, we stood on the porch of the Grandmothers' farmhouse at Hawk Circle again.

Delphi opened the door, smiling her hugely impossible marsupial smile. "You're just in time for supper dears, come in." Her bright eyes flicked over the familiar forms of me and Liz, Legolas behind us, Ian, Tas, Doc, Jon, and two very hungry dogs. Behind her in the warm glow of the kitchen Bran gave us a conspiratorial smile. As he had promised, he hadn't told them a thing.

Yet.

Delphi's eyes fell on the one member of our Fellowship she had not yet met. Nightcrawler.

Her mouth fell open and her eyes widened like a five year old's on Christmas morning. "Oh my!" She giggled and jumped up and down like a little kid meeting her favorite hero, then shouted back into the house, "Cora! Aura! Come quick! You're not going to believe this!"

We sat around the Grandmothers' table, full of food and candlelight and talk. When we asked where Monica was, they would only reply, 'somewhere safe'. Delphi sat by Kurt, her tail, at odd moments, twining with his. Cora and Aura had brought a stack of X-Men comics, which he gleefully signed. We told our tale, our words piling over each other like exuberant puppies. Kodi and Shenzi yawned under the table, wolfing down the odd tidbit sneaked under the tablecloth.

I noticed the one who gave them the most was Legolas.

We sang the Gatesong for the Gatesingers, so they would know it too, for it would take more than one of us to open it. And it could only be opened at a certain place. And at a certain time. With the Dragonkin feathers Ashnarii had given us in thanks for the fine herd that would grace her lands for centuries to come. Some of those feathers had come from her juvenile delinquents, and one had come from her own crest.

The Gate was on an island in the middle of the Great River, our river, the Susquehanna. Just a big rock, really, not even big enough to park an SUV on. Native American people had known it long ago, and had marked it with their pictographs. The only way there was in a small, sea-worthy boat. And now, in December, the water would be cold and rough, or frozen.

Just as well we didn't have to think about it until spring.


Dances With Elves


(Journey...and Johnny and Aerosmith and whatever...in the Dark)

enephae-a-min: Legolas

Legolas moved through the last of his knife form, hands and body flowing with the grace of a dancing cat. Gimli leaned on the ship's rail, no longer afraid of the roll and pitch of the deck, or the spray that leapt like a rose-tinted fountain before him. The sun vanished over the western edge of the known world, and Elbereth kindled her stars again.

"I think I can see..." Gimli began, squinting into the west.

Legolas came to stand beside him, laid a gentle hand on his shoulder and shook his head. "There are still days of travel left, mellon nin."

"Oh." Gimli sighed. Then turned and looked up at the tall Elf. "When the Dark Lord was defeated, there was still a great deal of story left to tell." Gimli said hopefully.

Legolas smiled, "My tale is not over yet."


They had a great Yule celebration that night. The bank barn to the west of Hawk Circle was weathered black by rain and years. It was not so old as a Dwarf delving, nor Elven halls, but it was ancient to these folk. Great timbers framed a vast space, dark stone formed the ends, and hand-hewn planks formed the other walls. The roof was covered with slate so well-crafted that it might have been hewn by Dwarves. Once the lowest level, protected by the earth itself, would have housed cattle and horses. The great space above would have kept enough hay and straw for a year. The center aisle would have kept carriages and wagons safe from weather. Now it stood empty.

Except for the dragon.

She was not one of the great evil worms of Morgoth's realm, or the fire-spewing gold-hoarding Smaug. She was of an ancient race, wise as the Valar themselves. Akin to their kind. Her scales shown like moonlit night sky, and her eyes were vast pools of memory. When she took on human form, she was a dark haired woman of small stature, dark almond eyes, golden skin...

And enough strength barehanded, to stop Smaug in his tracks. It was she I had heard roar many nights before when we entered Hawk Circle for the first time.


She and the others had strung endless garlands of greens throughout the great hall that was usually hers. The garlands were lit with tiny lights like stars, they glittered with gold and silver and red and purple and deep blue, ribbons and bells and balls. A live tree stood at the end of the barn by a great hearth, roots in a sleeping ball wrapped in burlap. Tannenbaum, Kurtvagner called it. It nearly bowed under the weight of the gleaming treasures on its branches. A table was spread with enough food to feed an army of starving Dwarves. And around the tree were stacked boxes in fantastic colors and patterns, holding gifts for all. A raised platform stood at one end, near the tree, and upon it musicians played all manner of wonderful music, the likes of which I had heard only on their radio, or CDs.



The Elves of Hawk Circle and the Elf-friends arrived in a variety of finery such as has never been seen anywhere in Middle-earth since the wedding of the King. There were the Three Grandmothers, and Charlie Durgin the Dwarf and ,many of his kin, including his daughter, Earla, come from a long study abroad. Dana and even Shenzi and Kodi, scanning the buffet table for treats. There were other Edain who volunteered with the Earth Life Foundation, ones who knew the true nature of the place.


Kurtvagner wanted Zan to place an illusion on him, so he could blend in with the others, but they told him many children, and no few adults, would rather meet the Incredible Nightcrawler in his true form.
In my own kingdom I would have known what to wear to such an important event, but here I was at a loss. It was Bran who shapeshifted a fine tunic and boots, like the ones a certain actor had worn in the film of our tale, the way Tas had made Morathradon's leathers.

And Tas saw to it that the young ladies were not left out in the bargain bin.

They came through the door with Tas between them.

The three women warriors that I had fought alongside, that had risked their lives for me, that would strike fear into the heart of any Dragonkin of Mordor or Yrch County...were replaced by something...

...indescribable.


Lorien

We caught sight of Legolas kneeling by the tree, examining one of the glass ornaments. Tas' hand was tight on my shoulder, or I might have turned tail and fled like Cinderella at midnight. The night-sky blue dress fit as only Tas could make it fit, but the last time I'd worn heels was to a funeral.

"The mantra is what?" Tas said in my ear.

"I am a hottie." I said, doing my best to smile.

She nodded, and swung her hips a bit more than necessary. Liz wobbled and nearly tripped over her spikey shoes.

"Yeah, hottie." Liz said grimly. "At least I'm not wearing a corset."

"Warp speed, girls." Tas beamed. Then she corrected herself, "Women." She eyed the Elf at the far end of the hall. Her teeth showed a little, like Shenzi calculating the potential direction and velocity of a squirrel in her yard. She looked terrifyingly awesome; something like finely wrought golden chainmail flowed over every perfect curve, ending in a sweep of mail so fine it moved like a sea wave. Our own dresses were the same material; pooka mail Liz called it. Liz looked pretty awesome too.

No, really awesome. Once you got her out of her barn boots, she looked like she could have the latest cover model slash impossible actress brainfart for breakfast.

Just above us came the familiar sound of imploding air, and a waft of sulpherous scent. Nightcrawler swan-dived out of mid-air to land soundlessly in front of us. He was clad in close-fitting breeches and boots, and the kind of loose-sleeved white shirt that works for pirates and gypsies and romantic swashbuckling heroes. One gold earring flashed on one pointy blue ear, and a red, fur-trimmed Santa hat hid half his indigo curls. He bowed, flashed a huge smile and said, "Ladies, you look fantastich!" He kissed each of our hands, complimenting us in three more languages.

Tas smiled, almost demurely, cupped his cheek in her hand and kissed him.

And kissed him and kissed him...

His golden eyes went wide but his tail wound itself around her waist, the end twitching in delight.

Liz just stood there blushing, her leaf-green dress pouring over her like liquid spring sunlight. "Gawd I feel stupid." she said.

"You look fantastich. Nighty said so."

"Yeah, I'm gonna look fantastich when I fall on my..."

"What is The Mantra?"

"Ja, I am a hottie." Liz didn't quite look like she actually believed it.

Legolas had stood up and was now staring at us across the room, his mouth open in astonishment. A moment later he was moving across the room, that tunic the color of live water flowing with every move. He stood before us, bowing with the grace of a prince, but no swan-dives. He met my eyes, then his swept down the length of my dress and back up. He left eyetracks on Liz as well. Maybe a few more.

His face composed itself, but he found no words to say for a whole thirty seconds. At last he did find words, and it was a whole poem in Sindarin, directed at both of us.

All three of us.

All two of us. I lifted my eyes from Legolas' just long enough to see Tas sashaying off to the buffet table. Oh great, leave the Geek Patrol on its own. We're doomed.

No, leaving us to our princes. I'd have to find a way to thank her later.



enephae-a tad: Legolas

At the far end of the hall musicians struck up a merry tune. I caught Lorien's hand and swept her onto the floor. She was round and cheerful as any Hobbit, but she could dance like Luthien. I fell into the rhythm of one of the old dances of Mirkwood, and she followed, laughing and stepping as light as butterflies, despite the odd shoes she was wearing. Behind us, Morathradon, the one called Kurtvagner, swept Liz into the dance, she wobbled on her own peculiar shoes, then kicked them off and spun in mad circles with the blue Elf, the Luinda.


Lorien

The music changed from bawdy sea-songs, to merry Yule tunes, to haunting Celtic airs; the kind of mix you'd find on the street of a Renaissance Faire...with a little Johnny Cash and Garth Brooks and Journey and Aerosmith and Yes and classic Beatles thrown in, just to keep things interesting. I could feel the sweat starting on my face, and hoped Tas was right about the makeup being waterproof. If Elves sweat, they don't do it dancing, Legolas looked cool as a cat.

Tas cut in on a few of the slowish ones, pulling Legolas close as a saddle on a horse. He didn't seem to mind too much, matching her every step and sway. A few other women, including all three grandmothers Elf-napped him for some of the other songs. Bran swept by and whirled me off into one dance, wild as a flight in a hurricane. I caught sight of Zan and a group of kids going all YouTube viral video at one end of the room, a little one in a wheelchair being spun in circles by one of the others. A tall Native American looking guy, white spots at his temples blending into a knee-length black braid, stood by a somewhat larger wheelchair containing a bare-chested twenty-something blond guy whose bottom half was clad in something that looked exactly like a swordfish's tail.

It took me a minute to realize it probably wasn't a costume.

And there was something eerily familiar about the white streaks in the big guy's hair. It took another minute to realize they reminded me of orca eyespots.


Jon... Aiwei son of whatever... looked as awesome as King Thingol himself. He was slow-dancing with a lean, outdoorsy thirty-something woman, his girlfriend the rehabber. Give the guy credit for taste; she didn't look a bit like a Barbie or Brittany. She was beautiful the way a hawk was, all earth and sky and sharp edges. Doc was enthroned by the hearth with three younger Dwarves, and a lot of beer. Two of those were women, and they did not have beards. Kurt had escaped the admiring crowd of kids (who had cornered him almost instantly upon his arrival) and was doing a completely indescribable dance with Liz, then one of the E.L.F. volunteers, then with Delphi.

Two dancers with tails has to be seen to be believed.

Then a couple of the kids kidnapped him again and and I heard the sounds of bamfing and laughter in the rafters high above us.

I caught sight of Legolas with the YouTube crowd, gesturing broadly as if telling a story. Ian stood nearby, telling the same tale in American Sign Language. The band went into overdrive, and Delphi waltzed over and caught Legolas' hand, wrapping her tail around his waist. So he couldn't escape, I guess. He finally did escape, dragging me away from the buffet table. I glanced over my shoulder just in time to see Dana dancing with the tall guy that reminded me of an orca.

I wondered if any of the Grandmothers' relatives could shapeshift into anything that big. Oh wait, Dragon Woman... so... yeah. Hmmmm.

Another haunting Celtic air started up, and I stood still. The only guy I'd ever slow-danced with was some dorky twelve-year old in dance lessons. Legolas cocked his head, eyebrows a question mark, and held out a hand.

Ulp. Uhhhhhhhh. Well...Yeah. OK. Why not.

Because you are not a hottie and you will look like a total dork.

As if on cue, Tas swept by, "Hottie." she stage-whispered.

I did the scariest thing I'd done yet on this adventure. I took his hand.

He drew me close, then swept me into the kind of slow graceful swan-moves Great Disney Moments are made of. The themes from Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella and half a dozen others went reeling through my head all at once. I reached out a mental foot and kicked over the boombox with the Disney soundtracks...

...misty Celtic flute music washed over me. It sounded a lot like the Rohan part of the soundtrack from Two Towers. Wait...it was the Rohan music...



enephae-a-nel: Legolas

The music shifted, and Kurtvagner appeared before me, with Liz in tow. He bowed and asked if he could dance with my lady.

My lady? No, mellon nin, you have been dancing with my lady. But I would not see Lorien of the Gentle Heart left standing by the buffet table. And besides, she dances beautifully.

"And what does my lady wish?" I said to Lorien.

"Ah...ah..." Was all she would say.


Lorien

I am a hottie.
I am a hottie.
I am a hottie.
I am a hottie.
I am a hottie.

So you've been dancing for the last hour...intermittently...with the Prince of Mirkwood. Why in Middle-earth is the Blue Elf making you incapable of ordinary sensible speech?


enephae-a-canad: Legolas

She stood for several breaths, unable to answer either of us. I have seen this before. I have even felt it, in the presence of a woman I thought beautiful. One I thought myself unworthy of.


Lorien

...because the Blue Elf is the one you really love.



enephae-ar-leben: Legolas

"I took Liz's hand and we circled onto the floor. We flew like hawks on the wind, like butterflies in still air. It was like the dance in the nightwood, when she was learning the use of the knives, only this dance was full of joy, of life, of sun and rain and wind and warm earth. Her lithe form glittered with the color of sunlight through spring leaves. Her hair was the color of deer, of treeskin, of sparrow's wings." Legolas fell silent, gazing off into the dark distance where the light of Valinor shown far away, at the end of the Straight Road.

Gimli said nothing. He understood.


Lorien

Kurt took my hand in his and as if for the first time I noticed his hands were no bigger than Legolas' or any other man. Just two extra-large fingers instead of four. Chiseled, strong, perfect for an acrobat. Gentle enough to caress a lady's...

Gaaaahhh! What am I thinking!

If he saw the blush, he didn't show it. He swirled me into the dance, as graceful in the two dimensions of the flat dance floor as he was in the three dimensions of the trapeze or the Danger Room. The sweeping sleeves of the pirate shirt hid the clean-chiseled muscles of his arms, but I could feel them. A triangle of well-muscled blue velvet showed through the deeply open neck of the pirate shirt. And I could feel his shoulders under my hands, muscled without unnecessary bulk. The breeches did nothing to hide his tiny little hips, and um...

...nevermind. Spandex. A privilege, not a right. And he definitely had the privilege.

Oh... mein... Gott...

I focused on his tail, which had not been stepped on once so far this evening, despite the fair crowd in the barn. It swept through the other dancers, making graceful curves and exclamation points, accenting every move of his own dance.

Our dance.

Damn he was good. A lot of people noticed. He was kind of hard to not notice; a blue fuzzy guy with a tail in pirate boots and an elf hat. Even though he stood out no more among the odd E.L.F. crowd than he did among the X-Men, I think the eyes of every woman in the place were noticing him. The ones who weren't noticing Legolas at the time. We whirled by them, Legolas and Liz, and the two Elves exchanged knowing smiles.

Mein Gott he was cute when he smiled.

The sleeve of the pirate shirt slipped and I could feel the velvet texture of his arm. Warm and hard and soft all at once. I wondered what the rest of him felt like and if all of it was fuzzy...

I did not just think that!

We talked, and his accent tickled all the way down to my toes. Yeah, that's something you could listen to all night long, curled up next to him completely stark...

A hand touched my cheek. He smiled down at me, "You're blushing."

I am such a geek. No, wait, I am a hottie, I am a hottie, I am a hottie. I made myself look at Kurt's face instead of the floor. He was still smiling, totally unaware that I had just pictured him stark nekkid. And the smile on his face wasn't a you're a geek smile, it was sympathetic, gentle.Ummm." I felt my face grow hotter. Yeah, I am a hottie. I was so glad he wasn't a telepath.

"Ach, times like this I wish I had Jeanie's talents."

Jean Grey, X-Men telepath. "No you don't!"

He chuckled, we spun around the far side of the floor. The music changed its beat and he downshifted flawlessly into a slow dance. Some guys at school made slowdancing look like a porno movie. Hot as he was, Kurt was the perfect gentleman. He made it look like Swan Lake, and feel like...

Oh.

Mein.

Gott.


enephae-ar-leneg: Legolas

At last Legolas spoke again. Softly, hesitantly, like a deer stepping out into a moonlight clearing. Gimli stood like a rock, afraid to break the spell.

"The eyes of Elizabeth held the swift light of mortal things. And suddenly I understood the choice of Luthien. Why she would love a mortal of the Edain. We danced to the edge of the crowd, and into the shadows under the starlit garlands of green. I drew her close, framed her bright face with my hands and kissed her."


Lorien

I know I looked just like a big bass, standing there with my mouth open. The last notes of the slow dance song faded, and musicians exchanged places on stage. I wouldn't have noticed that except for the big fat silence it caused.

Kurt swung around and followed my gaze. "Achja." he sighed. When his eyes met mine again his face had a gentle sympathetic look, like an older brother whose sister's just been dumped at the dance. Somewhere on the other end of the barn a new band started up another song. Kurt held out a hand. "Do you want to talk? Or dance."

I stared at the floor, then at his hand, then at the floor again. You know, the kissing thing wasn't bothering me as much as it should have. A month ago I would have gone over there with a big battleaxe or something, except I had no idea how to wield one.

Nope. It was fine. Just fine. I just wanted one of my own. A kiss I mean, not a battleaxe.

Preferably in blue velvet. I caught Kurt's hand and pulled him out on the floor. From the stage came the familiar sounds of one of my Dad's favorite songs from back in the Pleistocene; Safety Dance, from Men Without Hats.

"Ahhh we can dance if we want to, we can leave your friends behind cause your friends don't dance and if they don't dance, well they're no friends of mine..."

I looked up and Bran was on stage singing, in perfect imitation of the original record.

Kurt's face registered startlement, then laughter. And I realized what Bran was really singing:

Ahhh, we can bamf if we want to, we can leave your friends behind,
Cause your friends don't bamf and if they don't bamf
Well they're no friends of mine
I say, we can go where we want to, a place they will never find
and we can act like we come from out of this world
leave the real one far behind

we can bamf, we can bamf
everything's under control
we can bamf, we can bamf
doin' it through the walls
we can bamf, we can bamf
everybody stand on your hands
we can bamf, we can bamf
everybody's takin' the chance

is it safe to bamf?
yeah it's safe to bamf!
where's it safe to bamf?
you can see to bamf!
So it's safe to bamf!
Everybody bamf!

We can bamf where we want to, the night is young and so am I
and we can flip real neat from our hands to our feet
and surprise 'em when we learn to fly.
we can be acrobats if we want to, and we can learn to be
in sporadic nomadic erratic kinetic
gravitational liberty

we can bamf, we can bamf
everything's under control
we can bamf, we can bamf
doin' it through the walls
we can bamf, we can bamf
everybody stand on your hands
we can bamf, we can bamf
everybody's takin' the chance

is it safe to bamf?
yeah it's safe to bamf!
where's it safe to bamf?
you can see to bamf!
So it's safe to bamf!
Everybody bamf!

we can bamf if we want to, we got all your life and mine
as long as we use it never gonna lose it
everything'll work out fine

we can bamf, we can bamf
everything's under control
we can bamf, we can bamf
doin' it through the walls
we can bamf, we can bamf
everybody stand on your hands
we can bamf, we can bamf
everybody's takin' the chance

is it safe to bamf?
yeah it's safe to bamf!
where's it safe to bamf?
you can see to bamf!
So it's safe to bamf!
Everybody bamf!

And we bamfed. Into the rafters, onto the stage, onto the outside roof, back to the dance floor. I reeled, laughing hysterically, tripped over my spikey heels and fell.

He caught me as if it was take forty-two of a well-planned Hollywood stunt. I stared up into his face, nothing but sunlit eyes glowing out of the shadows. Warm breath, warm arms, hard muscle around me, holding me. My laugh faded.

Visions of Harlequin Romance covers came to mind. I gave them a mental kick into the hearth by the great Tannenbaum. He had way more class than that. I stared up into his face, wishing it was a little closer.

He stood me on my feet, and backed up a step.

Three of the kids came by, one doing wheelies with the kid in the wheelchair. Mini-Xavier reached out and grabbed Nighty's tail, he spun and caught her up in his arms and bamfed, to hysterical giggles from the others.

Verdammte mist.

I slumped into a chair by the buffet, eying up the double-death chocolate brownies. No, not even a whole dozen of them was enough comfort food right now.



enephae-ar-odog: Legolas

Legolas perched on the ship's rail, swaying with the rise and fall of the sea, quiet now under the stars.

Gimli drained his tankard, leaning comfortably against the bottom of the same rail. "A lass with a broken heart. Now what would a true gentleman do in such a case?"

"Ai...I saw it. I felt it, and it was grevious to behold."


Lorien

I looked up to see Mountain Woman Lizard handing me a brownie. Double death chocolate. The kind with the peanut butter icing of doom.

"No, thanks." I said glumly.

"What?" she followed my eyes to where Kurt was tossing one of the smaller kids, spinning and giggling like a tiny aerialist. Legolas stood not far from him, watching. "Oh. Uh." She looked down at the floor. I've never seen her quite that shade of embarrassment before.

"It's ok." I blorted. "You two...I mean...well...you're so much alike and all..."

"We do have to send them back." She said. "It's not like it'll go anywhere or anything."

"Yeah."

She watched Legolas as he picked up one of the taller kids and flipped him to Kurt. "Really sucks big fat river rocks if only one of us gets to kiss'em."


enephae-a-tolodh: Legolas

"Kurt, mellon nin."

He set the last child down, and turned towards me.

"You have been a great swordbrother these last few days, and your gifts make you stand tall among the Eldar, but you are as dense as any of the Edain."

"Was?"

I nodded toward the two young women standing by the buffet.

"Did I miss something?"

"A young lady who cares deeply for you, even though she knows she must let you return to your own world."

"Achja." he said softly. "Which is why I spent most of the evening dancing with her. That, and the fact that she is a great dancer. And a charming, intelligent girl."

"She wishes more than a dance."

"She is seventeen!" On his face was an expression of shock and dismay.

"And your point is?" I said.

"Seventeen." his hand made a hard line in the air as if dividing a continent. "Adult."

"Edain. You place so much weight on the counting of years."

"Ja! It's kind of important..." he turned as Tas swept up behind him, caught his arm and came to stand between us.

"Boys," she said, shaking her head. She placed a hand in the center of each of our chests. "I have known many 'Edain'... humans." She tapped Kurt's chest. Then mine, and it was like the love-tap of a Dwarf's battleaxe. "I fell in love with a man of the Lakota... " she turned to Kurtvagner, "...long ago in your reckoning. In that tribe, and many others around the world, girls were married before they reached two decades. Legolas is from a similar place. Time has no meaning there. Girls like Liz and Lorien would be adults, married, with kids even. Even among the Eldar such girls might be already married. I'm sure you understand this, for the Roma who raised you have similar customs."

"That was another time, another place." Kurt straightened, eye to eye with me, and the sunglow of his eyes was hard to look into.

"You are dense." Tas said to him. She reached out and cupped his cheek in her hand, turning his head toward her. She studied his eyes for a long moment, then smiled, "Legolas is no less a gentleman than you, mein freund. It was only a kiss. But a real one. And that's what Lorien wants too."

Sadness touched the face of the Luinda, "Ahhh, she is still only a girl, I can't..."


Lorien

"Hey, the party's not over yet. The band's gonna go all night, the way it looks. Or maybe you guys need to hibernate after that little scuffle yesterday."

I looked up to find Zan grinning at me, one sleeve of a pirate shirt much like Kurt's rolled up, and a hand juggling three brownies at once. His bright red hair fell around the edges of his face making him look a bit like an Anime hero's sidekick. Behind him Dana drifted by, signing to the tall guy she'd been dancing with before, the blond merrow in the wheelchair was flipping something from the buffet table to Shenzi. Legolas and Kurt had vanished somewhere.

"Bring on the daleks and zombies." Liz said, tossing something to Kodi. "We're just getting warmed up."

"Mmmm hm." Zan said through a couple of brownies. His sea-grey eyes studied mine, and suddenly he was more Elrond than cute sidekick. He started humming something, it sounded familiar, like I'd heard it in a Disney movie. Yeah, The Little Mermaid.

Go on and kiss the girl.

"Gawd, are you all psychic?" I blorted. I could feel my face going red as a cooked lobster.

"Psychotic maybe." Liz said. She leaned forward, and her face looked like Tas', contemplating squirrels.

Zan backed up a step and stuffed another brownie in his mouth. "Yrff phrblmmf if one ff clfffrr."

"What?" Liz grabbed the last brownie out of his hand and sat it back on the table.

He swallowed with Liz glaring at him, one hand between him and the next brownie. "Your problem, " he said, more clearly this time, "is one of culture. Elves pay no attention to age, and apparently pointy-eared blue fuzzy German mutant Roman Catholic acrobats with tails do...even when they're raised in a circus by Gypsies. You're seventeen, he isn't, 'nuff said."

Oh God. I buried my face in my hands. Did they all know?

"Ow, Mr. Sensitivity." Liz said, "Maybe you could get a job as a tabloid psychic. Or your own infomercial. Yeah, replace Miss Cleo."

He grinned at me, wide and wicked. "Nah. I got a better idea."


The lower half of the great bank barn had been changed from stables to a spacious apartment. Local stone lined the walls and the floor. The original huge hand-hewn beams soared across the ceiling. There was a bathroom with a hottub bigger than some backyard pools. I stood, staring in the mirror and couldn't believe what I saw.

"Many things I can command the mirror to reveal, and to some I can show what they desire to see. but the Mirror will also show things unbidden, and those are often stranger and more profitable than things which we wish to behold." It was Zan who had spoken, and the words were those of the White Lady of Lorien to Frodo at the Mirror of Galadriel.

The woman staring back at me had my brown, frizzy hair, but now it was streaked with sunlight, and fell in something like a longer version of Kurt's indigo curls. She was older, twenty-five, maybe. And leaner, though nowhere near the anorexia of the latest cover model brainfart. She was more voluptuous than Tas' hard-muscled form, or Liz's whippet-thin grace.

But damn she looked fine!

"That is not me." I said, and the illusion wavered.

Zan raised a hand and gestured, as if he was adjusting a TV. The image wavered back into focus. "It is you. The one you'll become. If you stay on this path. If you believe."

"How do you know?" The illusion wobbled again.

"Hey, cut that out, you're screwin' with my style here." he made another adjustment. "I just know, OK? It's an Elf thing."

"I am a hottie." Liz said.

I stared back into the mirror. Squinted at the strange woman squinting back at me. "You think it'll work?"

"I am a hottie I am a hottie I am a hottie I am a hottie." Liz repeated the Mantra of Tas.

"Do I turn into a pumpkin at midnight or what?"

"No." Zan gave me a huge pirate grin. The kind you usually see right before all hell breaks loose.

Liz poked at me. "Feels real enough."

"It is real. Not like that image inducer thingie Nightcrawler has. More like the Holodeck on the Enterprise. Energy and matter...oh, nevermind. It's real OK?"

"What if he thinks it's really stupid..."

Zan caught my shoulders and shoved me out the door toward the stairs.

"Remember the Mantra." Liz said.


enephae-a-neder: Legolas

I turned to see our ladies walk through the far door, into the starlit glow of the great hall. Liz moving with the grace of a swift greyhound, one hand pressing her reluctant friend forward.

"Elo!"

"Was?"

I believe our expressions matched, for Kurtvagner could see better in the dim light than I, though I could see farther. We both saw the great change that had come over Lorien the Fair.

"For this is what your folk would call magic, I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem also to use the same word of the deceits of the Enemy." Kurt whispered the words of Galadriel from the great tale.

"It is no deceit, mellon nin, but a reflection of what will be." I told him.

"Did you not say that you wished to see Elf-magic?" Zan said from behind his shoulder.


Lorien

I stood in the starry shadows under the garlands by the door. A million light years away the hearth glowed on the next set of musicians, and a lone flute wailed like a lost nightbird. Something with strings joined it, danced around it. Not Celtic, not New-Age, something wholly original. Elvish. I turned to say something to Liz, but she was gone. So was Zan. And I couldn't see Legolas anywhere.

No, wait, he was up by the stage, with Bran and the rest of the Elves, coiled around an odd instrument with strings. Liz sat by him, close and cozy. The YouTube crew was piled around the edges of the low stage on beanbags, some of the smaller ones already snoozing. Three of them were piled on the tall guy with the orca eyespot hair. One of them was wearing Kurt's elf hat. Jon perched on a tall stool, flute in his hands, Tas held a boran with a running horse painted on the drum head. The merrow in the wheelchair was singing in a voice no human could match. Half a dozen Elves I didn't recognize by name were weaving their own melodies into the nightbird wail of Jons flute, and the sea-song of the blond with the swordfish tail.

"Lorien?" The voice was soft and accented and tinged with more than a little surprise.

I turned and the shadows behind me were empty of anything but the twinkling lights of the garland. Then the shadows moved, and two of the lights resolved into eyes. "Ack!"

"Sorry my lady, I forget sometimes how well I vanish." Kurt stepped out into the light and held out a hand. He stared at my face, then his eyes left tracks up and down my night-blue dress. His mouth was still open in surprise.

"Ah." I said. "Erk." And nothing more intelligent would emerge. "Elf magic." I said at last.

"Unglaublich! Incredible." He said it in about five more languages, including Sindarin.

I went as red as Zan's hair. "It's ummm...well...it's how I'll look...I mean..how I'll be...eventually." Ohmygawd I amsuchadork.

The look of surprise melted into a gentle smile. "It is how your spirit will shine through one day. Like the beauty of a coral reef shining through clear water."

The lone flute cried like gulls in the dark, the strings sounded like rain on a summer night.

He nodded toward the stage, "Did you not say you wished to see Elf-magic?"

I smiled through the tightness in my throat. "Galadriel."

"It's Elvish music." He said. "I think they have something special planned."

"Yeah. Wow. Elvish music and Christmas Eve. Better than Santa, huh?"

"Yes."

A few people moved onto the floor in a slow, stately dance, but most sat and watched. A mist crept up from the floor, and wafted to the walls.

The walls vanished.

The mist fell back, and became snow. Rolling leagues of snow, but without the bone-deep cold. Against a midnight sky impossibly full of stars, great mountains rose, flanks sprinkled with fir forest. In the other direction, a great bay opened up. Far out in its waters something surfaced, blew a great gout of mist against the dark sky. Somewhere a wolf howled, then another. Shenzi and Kodi answered from their places by the musicians. The great hearth was now a bonfire, the Tannenbaum sparkling like night sky beside it. The wolfsong wove itself into the nightbird melody, arctic wind moaned beneath it like a great woodwind instrument. The not-so-distant sea thundered under it. A great white bear paused in its wanderings on the edge of the ice pack and stood, entranced.

On the edge of the world, the sky flickered into life. Into a thousand colors. Curtains of light danced across the horizon. Faint lightnings flickered and shifted in the invisible wind from the sun. The light spread out searching fingers, blazed like flame, and danced over our heads. Light blazing through the long dark night of winter.

Kurt was still holding out one beautiful, strong hand. I took it and we danced under the shifting aurora, gliding across the glittering snow as light as Elves.

It was not like the other dances. This was Elvish music. Time ceased to have any meaning. It was a moment, a heartbeat, a single breath. It was the whole Fourth Age. It was Beren and Luthien in the woods of Doriath. It was her father Thingol meeting Melian the Maia and standing entranced by her eyes while acorns grew into trees around them and fell back into the soil. He held me close and I could feel the lean, hard lines of his chest and arms. The compact power of his hips against mine. The gentle caress of his tail, the velvet texture of his skin. The warmth of his breath, the beat of his great heart.

The string music swept away like wind, and only the flute remained, singing like a nightingale, like Tinuviel. A flight of something small and winged and bright in the dark swept by, lifting my hair with their breeze. The flute whispered now, like a faraway dream. I looked up into eyes that held the light of the sun, even in the dark.

And he kissed me. A real one.



Do Not Open Till Yule: Fourth Age

odophae: Legolas

Legolas stretched, and poured Gimli another mug, "The Gifting was not the solemn affair of Galadriel's land, it was more like the descriptions I have heard of Bilbo's great eleventy-first birthday. I cannot begin to describe the wonderful things that appeared when the bright-colored paper had been ripped from the boxes! Children shrieked with joy, older folk laughed as if they were children again. Liz and Lorien, and even Dana were like my brothers at their earliest Yules. I had found things for them at the Mall, but they seemed to like the things I had made the best. They gave me many fine things that I could carry back with me to Mirkwood, things that would not seem out of place there."

Gimli saw Legolas' eyes go misty grey, like soft rain, he cleared his throat, cocked a questioning eyebrow.

"The gifts are long gone, gone the way of mortal things." His eyes brightened, "But there was a box, a carved chest, with twining vines, running horses..."

"Dogs that look like wolves?"

"Yes."

"The one in your cabin!" Gimli said. "And those great strange beasts carved on the sides must be your indriks."

"Yes."

"Well, it has not gone the way of mortal things!"

"No. Spells were woven about it, to hold it till this time, till this particular Yule. The first one we will see in Eressea."

A broad smile found its way through Gimli's beard. He leaned forward.

The Elf's eyes narrowed sternly, "You'll have to wait."

"Hmmmph."

"One other thing was given to me, and to Kurtvagner. The blond man in the chair with wheels..."

"The strange one with the fish's tail?"

"One of the sea-folk, Morgan was his name. And the tall one, with white streaks in his dark hair. Another of the sea-folk. Like Kurtvagner, or Aragorn, he had many names..."

"One will do, I think."

"Shaughnessy, then. His favorite at the time. They came to us, the sea-folk, and gave us each long narrow boxes. Kurt's contained his lost cutlasses. Mine contained my knives, the ones Dana had gifted me with.

Shaughnessy smiled and spoke to me with his hands, like this," and Legolas' long strong hands wove patterns in the air, like a dance, like the play of dolphins in the bow wave of the ship, " he told me, 'I found these for you, you may yet have need of them.'"

"You never did describe these knives well." Gimli said, "They must have been fine work for the fish-man and the other...what was he?"

"Whale. The graceful black and white ones, the largest of the dolphins we have seen. The ones whose females have mooncurved fins, and the males great fins like swords."

" Well, they must have been fine knives for them to have dived to the bottom of that dark smelly place."

"They are the ones you saw me wield earlier."

"The ones you have carried all this time?"

Legolas nodded.

"But they were made by Men, for that...what did you call it...?"

"Movie, yes. But they were not made by Men."

"Not made by..."

"Some of my folk had found an island in that world nearly as fair as the one we are headed for."

"Island?"

"On the far side of the world. A land that held flightless, furry birds, mountains as great as Caradhras, great kauri trees like mallorns, and a living dinosaur with three eyes."

Gimli gave him a disbelieving look, "Three eyes?"

"And it had once held eagles as great as Gwaihir!"

Gimli's face held blatant disbelief.

"Well, nearly as great."

"Furry birds. With no wings."

Legolas nodded, smiling. "Kiwis. And they smell very bad. And there is an excellent fruit with the same name, it's furry too. It is a beautiful place, all the wonders of Middle-earth packed into a bit of land in the midst of the Great Sea. A bit of land not much bigger than the Shire. It was there that they filmed our tale."

"Our tale? The tale of the Ring?"

"Yes."

"Ah, it's a sad thing you could not bring this...movie thing...back with you."

Legolas' smile grew, "Ah yes, for many of our folk were in it."

Gimli leaned forward, studying the fair Elvish face he had come to know so well. "There is more you are not telling me."

Legolas practically beamed. "Indeed."


Thunderbird Island


Lorien

to the sea, to the sea, the white gulls are crying
na aear, na aear, myl lain nallol
the wind is blowing, the white foam is flying
i sul ribiel, a i falf los reviol

The Sun stood poised on the equinox, day and night in perfect balance. The Great River had broken winter's hold, ice and trees uprooted washing down over the rocks, and the dams, to the Bay beyond, and to the Sea. Birds flew up the highway of the River, stopping at the many tree cloaked islands, sheltering in the quiet shallows behind them, finding food for their spring journeys. Song of finch and sparrow and warbler filled the air. The gulls wheeled and wailed south, and went to hang out on the sandy beaches of the Atlantic Ocean.

west, west away, the round sun is falling
na annun hae, ias annor dannol
grey ship, grey ship, do you hear them calling
cair vith, cair vith, lastal hain canel

The tree-lined lane of the Conestoga flowed still as dark glass toward the river. A mist of spring's first green leaves filled the space between the silver grey tree boles. The air and the sky were silver, the water like melted ice, the air warm around the edges, with the promise of new life, and another summer.

the voices of my people, who have gone on before me
lammath in-gwaithen, i gwennin no nin
I will leave, I will leave, the forests that bore me
gwannathon, gwannathon, taur i onnant nin

Dark water drifted under the hulls of seven boats; long, narrow sea-worthy kayaks in a Crayola box of colors, and one canoe, heavily loaded. Most of the 'yaks held one paddler, with a double bladed paddle, but two kayaks were of the type Bran cheerfully called divorce boats; with space for two paddlers. Paddlers who needed a great deal of harmony and patience to stay in rhythm and keep the boat on course.


I was in one of the divorce boats, a big, broad beamed yellow sit-on-top-of kayak, and my PFD and drybag were yellow too. Like Tom Bombadil's boots. No, more like yum-yum yellow, the color sharks find very attractive.

'So we can find you when you fall out of the boat'. Legolas had said.

Bloody Elves.

I was so going to miss them.


He was ahead of me, keeping perfect rhythm with Liz in a long kayak like a white knife blade. Bran, Tas, Jon, and Zan moved their own bright boats down the glassy water, with efficient birdwing strokes of their paddles. Ian piloted the battered canoe, paddling it from the stern with a long kayak paddle. Doc waved at us from the shore, then went back to his fire. Apparently he was no happier on the water than Gimli had ever been.

In the seat behind me was Nightcrawler, red PFD, blue velvet skin against the yellow boat made a bright crayon splash of color in this silver somber day.

"Tail up, lielbling! Your stroke is improving!"

It wasn't really, I still looked like a drunken pirate centipede.

We drifted like a dream under the trees, down the glassy still water. The sky opened up ahead of us, and great towers loomed; the supports for a railroad bridge. The bridge itself leapt like a spiderwork version of the Bridge of Kazad-dum far over our heads. I looked up and a lone spraggle of green raised its head above the spiderwork; a tree growing out of the track. We floated by the concrete feet of the bridge, and Bran turned his boat broadside to us. He pointed downstream, "Follow me, watch the currents. The river's up, so a lot of the rocks are buried under four feet of water. But the current's going to be a little squirrely now." He turned and looked at me, "Ready?"



No not at all. Not for the river. And not for what lay beyond.

for our days are ending, our years failing
an midui orath vin, a dennin inath vin
I will pass the wide waters' lonely sailing
trevidithon aear land erui ciriel

The white knife of Legolas' boat slid out into the current and cut downstream. Above us, to the north, and not very far, rose the wall of the Safe Harbor Dam 'If the siren sounds, you have a few minutes at most to get off the water, or behind one of the islands,' Bran had told us. 'Then the water comes through.' It would not be the great tsunami I had pictured, but it would be fast, and dangerous if you were in the middle of the river. I wriggled in my borrowed wetsuit, at least I wouldn't die of hypothermia before somebody hauled me out of the cold water. Probably somewhere in the Chesapeake Bay far to the south.

The bow of our boat turned south, toward the bay, and the sea beyond. The swift current caught it and pulled us into the river. I felt the boat swing as Kurt stroked hard aport. "Port, liebes, pull hard, we must straighten the boat." I leaned into it, the broad boat wobbled, and my hips did a hula dance to stay with it, I weebled, and caught a crab; the paddle skewing hard and dragging me down. "Easy Lorien, it's not about strength, it's about finesse," came the softly accented voice behind me, as Kurt steadied the boat with an acrobat's skill. I turned the paddle, brought it back to horizontal in the air before me and took a breath.

"Couldn't we just have taken the helicopter?"

"No."

I knew that of course. Small as the rock was, Bran could have landed on it anyway, but it would have damaged the ancient petroglyphs. And the Gate itself would damage the helicopter. The only way there was low-tech.

Boats, why did it have to be boats. We could have used the teleporters, after all, we had two of them, but noooooo. We didn't use them. And nobody would give me a good reason why.

long are the waves on the last shore falling
falvath enain bo mathedfalas dannol

Squirrely was an understatement. The currents swirled, washed back on themselves, whirled and roared up from unseen obstacles below us. The 'yak knifed forward, then twisted, bow skewing port while the stern yawed starboard. I struggled to stay in rhythm with Kurt, splashing on one side, then the other. Digging in, catching another crab. The boat tilted, water splashed up over the sprayskirt, my neoprene-gloved hands were soaking.

"Isn't this great!" Kurt said from behind me.

Oh yeah, just wonderful.

"I wish we could paddle more of the river today. I'll have to check out this place when I get home. See if it's the same in my world. Look over there!"


Something leggy in varied shades of Elvish greys lifted from a snag near one of the islands we were headed for. "Great Blue Heron." I said.

Kurt smiled, "Look there!" He stuck one blade of his paddle in the water, holding the boat on its course, "I believe that's a cormorant!"


A dark shape skittered along the water's surface, flopping its wings in great effort until it got airborne. "Yeah. Yeah! It is!"

He grinned like a kid, lifted his paddle and stroked the boat forward. I turned, dipped my own paddle. Gradually the rocking of the 'yak made sense, like Pumpkin's rolling back at a walk, or her bumpity bumpity trot. Gradually the paddle stopped twisting in my hands, and the water stopped trying to grab it and pull me in. I could see the birdwing flash of Kurt's paddle just at the edge of my sight, and I could hear the faint splash of it. Gradually I matched it, and it was like the dance with Kurt. Like snowboarding with Legolas, sailing down the mountain like birds on the wind.

sweet are the voices in the Lost Isle calling
lammath vilui vi Tol Gwannen cannen


At last we came into the lee of several large tree-cloaked islands. We drifted by the shore of one while Bran stood in his cockpit and stared downstream.

"Well?" Tas said.

An expression of uncertainty crossed Bran's face.

"Bird Boy's lost the rock." Tas said.

"It was right..." he pointed uncertainly down the river.

We all knew approximately where it was. Somewhere not far below the dam in the middle of the river. There were maps, of course, and archaeological tomes and websites devoted to the rock, and others like it. Our Fellowship of the 'Yak had a rough map, and a vague idea that there were birds carved on the rock. Certainly the Elves had a much clearer idea of where it lay. Certainly our Gatesingers had been there before.

Bran seemed quite uncertain of precisely where it lay. Nor did he offer to take to the air to find it faster. Just as well, I did not want faster. There were a lot of rocks in this part of the river. And the visibility was none too great; even an Elf... or raven... could see little farther than a human in the mist that turned the very air to mithril.

Legolas had drifted out farther into the stream, now he too stood, feet firm in the bottom of his cockpit, the narrow boat not even tilting in the current beginning to sweep him downstream. "There. It's there. I see something like a bird carved into the stone."

I could see a vague dark hump in the silver haze where water met sky.

Bran folded himself back into his cockpit, snapped his sprayskirt back around the coaming, and paddled out into the middle of the river. We drifted out of the lee of the island back into the current, pointing our noses downstream, following Legolas and Liz's white boat. The tree-covered islands sailed by, and rocks with no more than a bush or two clinging to them. A skein of geese flew over, bound for nesting grounds farther north. Something bigger and broadwinged sailed out at the edge of mortal sight.

It rose out of the middle of the river, one lone grey rock. We drew up to its northern end, where one sprawly bush clung to the bow of the rock. Bran eased his boat up against the rock, broadside, unsnapped his sprayskirt and reached under his knees. His hand reappeared with something that looked exactly like a large scrub brush. He leaned over and began scrubbing at the rock near the water's edge.

"What is he doing?" It didn't look like anything that had anything to do with the Gatesong spell. In fact, there was something incredibly incongruous about an Elf with a scrub brush.

"Algae." Kurt said.

"What?"

"Water, rocks, silt. Algae. It would be a shame to have you paddle so far so well, and have you slip on a patch of river slime, fall in and float down to the Bay."

Well, maybe I'd get lucky like Aragorn in that Two Towers scene, and float down the river dreaming about my True Love.

Bran cleared a path through the winter's worth of silt and slime, leapt lightly up on the rock and lifted his boat to a safe place.

The white boat slid up to the rock, Legolas steadied it with his paddle braced against rock and boat. Liz leapt out with the lightness of an Elf, she climbed soundlessly up the rock in her wetsuit boots and stared down at her feet, "Leggy, is this the bird you saw?"

He came over and stared down, I came up behind them." Uh oh."

Legolas gave me a sharp, surprised look, "Uh oh?"

The bird in question sprawled across several feet of the grey rock, carefully incised nearly an inch deep...


...with a steel chisel, sometime in the sixties. It was a huge dove, with some kind of random flower in its beak, and a few carved graffiti signatures around it.

"Uh oh?" Legolas repeated, "Yes, this is what I saw from back there." He waved upriver.

"Somehow I don't think that's thousands of years old." Liz said. She glanced up at Bran, he shrugged and said nothing.

"Ai, I am sorry." Legolas said.

I'm cold. I thought. And hungry. And there was a lot of river to search, to find the real rock. The other boats floated at the bow of the rock, everyone in them looking up at us expectantly. Bran retreated to the downstream end and began humming a soft song, something that sounded like the grey silver day. He stared downriver, but if he saw any rock more likely than the one we were standing on he didn't say.

Well, we had to find the real rock, and it had to be today, because after today, the Gate would not open again for a long time. I squinted down the river into the silver distance, wishing for elf-sight.

With some tiny little part of me still wishing we wouldn't find the real gaterock.

No, we couldn't keep them, not for another year. Not for another minute. If we had to look at every rock in the river today, we would. We would find the gaterock, and we would send our heroes home. Anyway, we had two Elves, standing on the highest point of land for some distance. "Legolas, Bran, see anything?" I asked. Both were now peering downriver. Both shook their heads.

"Well," I said, "I guess we should get back in the boats and keep looking."

Out in the silver sky over the river, at the edge of mortal sight, something appeared. A streak of dark color growing larger. It sailed up the river against the wind, and now I could see its strongly beating wings. Broad wings. White head. Broad white tail.

"The eagles are coming." Liz said, just like in The Book.

I looked and they were coming, two adult bald eagles, beating up the river. They soared over us and wheeled off into the silver air.

"Look down." Liz said.

I did and blinked.

A faint shape sprawled across the rock at my feet. A scratch, a scar left by river ice.

A scar with wings. I knelt and looked at it closer, ran a light finger over it. "That's a thunderbird." I said.



Legolas knelt and ran a light hand across it, then stood abruptly. "Here's another!"

"And another!" Liz nearly shouted.

Bran turned from his place at the stern end of the rock and flashed us a pirate smile. He didn't stop humming.

The others came onto the rock now, lifting their kayaks out of the water, to perch them on the bow of the rock, far from the petroglyphs, for there was no safe place to anchor them in the current, except for the small bush, where the laden canoe remained tied.

The rock was full of the 'glyphs, when you knew where to look. They were old, and worn by time. A flashlight beaming straight across them, or the rising sun, would throw them into stark, shadowed relief, but on this day of hazy, diffused light, they had remained almost invisible. A damp sponge wiped across them darkened the rock, leaving the pale petroglyph gleaming. There were thunderbirds; stylized eagles with outstretched wings and long legs, like Men. There were strange people with long ears, or horns.

"Wolverine, in his old X-costume." Liz said, grinning.

Kurt laughed. "And there's an X. Like our logo."

"The thunderbirds could be phoenixes, too," Liz said.


There were others, some so faint they almost weren't there. And far to the river left side of the rock, a crouching character, with pointed ears and a long tail.

I wiped it with the sponge to make it clearer.



"Hey Nighty, look." Liz said, "It's you."

He knelt and peered at it, and grinned back, "But where is Legolas?"

"Here, he's the one with the bow." Liz said pointing.

Bran knelt beside us, running his fingers lightly over the 'glyphs, as if he could feel far more than any of us mere mortals could see with our eyes.

"Only I hear the stones lament them: deep they delved us, fair they wrought us, high they builded us; but they are gone. They are gone. They sought the havens long ago."

Bran looked up at me.

"Legolas; The Ring Goes South. You knew this was the right rock all along." I said.

"The Peace Dove marks it as Big Indian Rock. Those with elf-eyes can see that far downriver," he said. "But you needed to find it out for yourself."

Tas came to the shallow hole in the center of the rock, and drew from a small drybag a bundle of sage. She lit it; "For the folk who carved these long ago." and began another song.



odophae-a-min: Legolas

"But Legolas, there were three months between the Yule feast and the journey across the river to the Gate Rock. There were only two months between the time of your arrival in Lizard's woods, and the time of Yule, and much happened in those two months! Surely you did not dance and feast and stare at the stars for three months, or lie on the beach and drink rum."

The dark haired Elf smiled, "No. There were still many things do do in their Middle-earth, and many wonders to see. Even if I would not remember them until now. There were films, and books and museums. A great building the size of a fortress of Kings; its floors all of water and its walls of glass. It held fish and other things that lived in the seas. There were menageries of strange animals from far lands. And gatherings of musicians," here he winced in memory of the experience, "where they played strange music far too loudly. And we traveled across the land itself. To the far north woods, where I at last encountered a fisher. To the south, and the Great Bay, where we sailed on a real ship, much like the one that brought us here." He paused and his eyes took on that glaze, that look Gimli had come to think of as Elvensight, where he seemed to be seeing something far beyond the vision of Men or Dwarves or any other mortal beings. "Much happened." he said at last. And smiled, and said no more of it.



Lorien

The sun stayed hidden, but the silver grey day brightened to glowing ithildin, like the metal that marked the doors of Moria. We laid out the spell components, and sang the Song; Bran and Jon, the Gatesingers, Legolas who had sung thousands of songs in his long years under the trees of Mirkwood, and me.

Little old mortalchick me. What was it Tolkien had said in Appendix F? Their voices had more melodies than any mortal voice that now is heard. He was so right. Years of music and voice lessons hadn't prepared me for this. Singing the indricothere song with Legolas was like summer rain. This was a hurricane. That had been blue sky, this was the whole rainbow. That was one horse in a collected canter. This was a whole freakin' galloping herd of wild mustangs.


Ok, ok, I know, shut up Lorien and get on with the tale.

We could not see the sun move across the sky, and Elves, and Liz dislike watches intensely. We stood in a loose circle around the edges of the rock. The ithildin sky shifted to mithril, to silver, to pewter. The river flowed on, time flowed on. The song flowed on. Geese came up the river, rowing the air with swift wingbeats, singing their own haunting melody. A heron flew overhead, let out a hoarse 'groank!' and veered off. Turkey vultures danced on tilted wings.


And absolutely nothing happened.

I began to wonder if the Dragonkin had given us the wrong bloody spell. Or none at all.

The pewter sky began to shift down the greyscale to iron.

A lone young eagle, clad all in brown flew out of the grey darkening sky and circled us. Once, twice, three times.

A bubble of air in the middle of our circle shimmered and tuned itself into somewhere else.

The Song fell silent. I could hear the running river, the distant cry of gulls and geese.

The bubble of Elsewhere in front of us contained grass, trees, a fat book dropped casually as if someone had just been reading it moments ago, and a path. At the end of it was a familiar sight.
"That's the X-Mansion." Liz whispered.

"Ja." The Incredible Nightcrawler said softly. He smiled, "There's my book, just where I left it!"

"What book?" I said.

He grinned, "The one with the Alan Lee Illustrations."

Ian held out the big red drybag which contained our Yule presents to Kurt. He hefted it with ease, looking uncannily like one of Santa's helpers. He embraced each of us in turn, then stood before me. "What's the mantra?"

"I am a hottie." I almost got the words out straight past the big fat lump in my throat.

"Right, liebling." he bent and gave me one more real kiss, then turned and vanished down the road to Xavier's.

"Next verse." Bran said.


The bubble stayed, shimmering in the center of the rock. Legolas came forth and peeled off his light wetsuit, under it was something he could wear between our bubble and his bath in Mirkwood. Something that wouldn't look out of place in Middle-earth.

We sang and I could feel the power thundering through the ancient stone from the bones of the earth, from the flowing river, from the distant sea. Xavier's blurred, shifted, melted. The greens of the woods behind the mansion wavered, and became woods.

The Song stopped.


For a moment I thought we'd screwed it up somehow. The woods were still there. But the book and the path were gone. And the trees were darker, more tangled. Old. Older than anything in Penn's woods. Older than anything I'd ever seen. Trees you could drive a truck through, if a Dwarf made a hole through the center of one. Draped with vine and cloaked with moss. They marched into the green distance, into dark olive shadow. A dapple of orange sun found its way to the forest floor, a floor deep in drifted leaves, tangled with fallen branches. Something scrambled in the low branches, letting loose a shower of leaves and twigs. I caught a glimpse of something dark leaping lightly to the next tree; one of Mirkwood's famous black squirrels.

I turned at a slight sound, and saw Ian and Tas with the great carved chest that Ian had stowed in the canoe. There was a drybag too, like Kurt's, full of the things we were sending back to Mirkwood with Legolas. Things that would not seem out of place there. Things that would not raise too many questions. Or change the history of Middle-earth.

The rest we had stowed in the chest. A chest that would be opened one day, but not in Middle-earth.
Legolas stood before Jon... Aiwei son of whoever... a silent exchange passed between their eyes, and they embraced like swordbrothers.

Then we stepped into the bubble. All of us save one Gatesinger, Jon. The trees rose overhead rainforest tall. The last lowering sun of the day glinted through the leaves. Green leaves, Eryn Lasgalen, that's what it would be called again one day, far in the future, when the Dark was finally driven back forever.

"Is this the right place?" someone asked. I turned and it was Ian.

Legolas' eyes searched the tangled canopy, traveled across the mossy tree boles. He knelt and scooped something off the ground. A smile broke on his face like rising sun. "We are but a short walk from my father's halls. Look, there is the pool where I bathed. And there are my things."

A pile of clothes, a Mirkwood bow, and quiver, and a few other things lay on the rocks by a pool, a clear stream burbled down over mossy rocks, small plants grew out of cracks and crevices, bright flowers punctuating the dark rock. A little bird darted and dived among the eddies of that stream, a small whiskered face peered out at us and vanished. Among the tangle of greenery something snorted and thundered off. Last summer I would have jumped out of my skin at that, but I had now traveled enough with the woodland prince to know it was only a deer.

Legolas turned suddenly, "Hear that?"

Through the birdsong, splashing water and scrambling of squirrels came distant voices, laughter, someone began a song. Not a misty morning Elvish sort of song, something a bit rowdy.

Legolas' smile broadened, "Gilien. Ah, she said she would come looking for me in the morning!" His eyes widened in mild alarm, he looked up, and I realized the light was growing, not diminishing. The sun was rising, not setting as I'd thought. He listened a moment more.

"We know where we are then," Bran said, "But when are we?"

"I have not been gone long, only since last night. No one has moved my things. And I can tell by Gilien's song, and the shape of the moss and the song of the birds. We should hurry, or Gilien will find us. And be full of questions."

"They'll probably be full of questions anyway when they see this." Ian unrolled the bright yellow drybag's lip and pulled out the green woven bag within.

Tas stood by the big chest. "And you'll have answers."

The distant song drew closer, the sparkling light through the trees grew brighter. Legolas went to each of our Fellowship, embracing them, and dropping something into each hand. He paused in front of me, smiled that bright sweet smile he had given Frodo, when he was blond, and Orlando Bloom. He cupped my hand in his, and when the warmth of his fine-chiseled hand withdrew, there was one perfect acorn. "Green leaves, from Eryn Lasgalen." He framed my face with his hands for a moment and I looked into eyes that were tree-shadow and rain, sky and sea and forest river. He said no words, but I heard them in my heart.

I have looked the last upon that which is fairest. Why did I come on this Quest? Torment in the dark was the danger that I feared, and it did not hold me back. But I would not have come, had I known the danger of light and joy. Now I have taken my worst wound in this parting.

Nay, nay. For such is the way of it, to find and to lose, as it seems to those whose boat is on the running stream...but I count you blessed...and me...and the memory shall remain ever clear and unstained in your heart, and shall neither fade nor grow stale.

He kissed me then, gently, turned and stood facing Liz. And kissed her and held her. It was a moment, for the distant voices were near now, though Liz would tell me later it was all of the whole Fourth Age. He stepped back and Ian came to stand before him. He reached out and the familiar green light danced around his hands, playing over Legolas' face like spring leaflight. Legolas blinked, closed his eyes and collapsed into Ian's arms. Ian lowered him gently to the ground.

I knew he'd wake in a few minutes. He'd have a woven bag with things that he might have brought from his own halls, and the chest, woven about with spells that would hold it until a far Yule in another place. And he'd have memories; two girls of the Edain, lost in his realm, and set on the right course again.

The voices were close now, the sun was up, dancing through the bright green leaves of Mirkwood.
"Come." Tas said.

Liz stood, rooted, eyes like Sam's at the Grey Havens. Like Gimli's, taking his leave of Galadriel.


"Now little sister." Tas melted, shifted and I reached for her mane and swung up. I grabbed Liz's shoulder, shook it. She blinked and swung up behind me. Tas wheeled and melted into the woods, as we heard a happy exclamation, and a burst of Elvish laughter behind us.



in Eressea, which no Man can discover

vi Tol Ereb i Edain u-gennir

where the leaves fall not, land of my people forever

ias lais u-dhannar, dor en-gwaith nin an-uir

I stood on the rock again, the river and sky fading to Elvencloak grey, the river flowing ever on, down to the sea...na aear, na aear. Behind me came the faint rattle of boats being lowered into the water. Lizard stood beside me, staring downriver. The fog had lifted, for I could just make out the distant shapes of shoreline, even though it was more than a little blurry. Somewhere, just out of sight, I heard the cry of gulls in the dusk.

"Go in Peace. I will not say do not weep, for not all tears are an evil."

Gandalf's words at the Grey Havens. I turned to find the one who had spoken them; Bran. The swashbuckling pirate was gone; his face had that gentle smile Legolas had, when he was blond and Orlando Bloom. And when he wasn't. I looked into eyes that were tree-shadow and rain, sky and sea and forest river. He said no more words, but I heard them in my heart.

Welcome to the Fellowship, mellon nin.

They floated just off the bow of Thunderbird Island; pale-haired Jon, with a quiet, welcoming smile; Tas, holding her boat utterly still in the swiftest part of the current; green-eyed Ian, ready to help me with the great bloody yellow divorce boat; flame-haired Zan, grinning broadly, ready for the next adventure. Liz and Bran climbed into their boats with that uncanny grace of Elves and wolves and cats and flowing water drifted out into the current. At last I got into the cockpit of the yellow 'yak, and nobody even had to rescue me out of the cold dark river. I set my paddle and the Elves turned upriver, into the gloaming, away from the sea.


na aear, na aear, myl lain nallol
i sul ribiel, a i falf los reviol
na annun hae, ias annor dannol
cair vith, cair vith, lastal hain canel
lammath in-gwaithen, i gwennin no nin
gwannathon, gwannathon, taur i onnant nin
an midui orath vin, a dennin inath vin
trevidithon aear land erui ciriel
falvath enain bo mathedfalas dannol
lammath vilui vi Tol Gwannen cannen
vi Tol Ereb i Edain u-gennir
ias lais u-dhannar, dor en-gwaith nin an-uir



And in the Darkroom Bind Them


odophae-a tad: Legolas

The great Yule log flamed, sparks drifting into the evening sky, becoming one with Elbereth's stars, just peeking through the warm late light. The gulls wheeled and wailed overhead, dancing out into the darkening sky. The gentle boom of surf falling on white shores sounded like a drumbeat in the dark. Gimli sprawled in the most comfortable chair he had ever known, bare feet wriggling with delight into warm sand...sand that still seemed to be moving with the roll and sway of a ship's deck, or perhaps it was simply due to the mug in his hand, the fourth one he had drained tonight.


"What did you call this?" he asked Legolas.

"Rum." the tall Elf answered, and sprawled back on the sand, counting the emerging stars. Around him other fires blazed, voices murmured, mixed with the surf, the wail of the gulls. Song rose on the air, the distant voice of a flute harmonized with the sound of surf and sandpiper and seagull.



"Ah. Your folk certainly know how to throw a party. I remember my father telling the tale of his journey with Bilbo, all those years ago, through Mirkwood. Ah yes, it was called Mirkwood then, and they got lost."

"Mmmm, a whole lot of Dwarves, blundering about loose in the woods. As competent and skillful as Elves lost in a mine."

"Indeed. He told me how they finally saw your feasting fires gleaming through the trees, like a beacon of hope. Like that...what is it?" He pointed down the beach to a great tower, light beaming out of it in steady, rhythmic flashes.


"Lighthouse."

"...there on the strand. He said it was a magnificent party. I didn't believe him of course. I thought he was just exaggerating. I guess he wasn't."

"Mmmm."

"Legolas."

"Mmm?"

"It's Yule, is it not?"

"Ah." The Elf was silent again, staring dreamily up at the sky over Eressea.

"How much rum have you had?"

"Ahhhhh."

"I seem to remember another bit of my father's adventure in your halls; how Bilbo got the keys."

"Eh?"

"The keys. To let the Dwarves out of your father's dungeons."

"Dungeons?" A look of mock hurt crossed the fair face of the Elf. "They were our finest rooms!"

"And firmly locked."

"Only till Thorin's companions decided to tell why they continued to crash our party... besides, Bilbo let them out before we found out why they were wandering about the woods, harassing the spiders, frightening the deer." he smiled at the memory, then chuckled. "Clever Hobbit."

Gimli chuckled too, deep and resonant, "Yes, he was. A fine and proper 'burglar'!" He went silent and thoughtful as a standing stone, then spoke again, "There was an Elvish butler named Galion, I believe. And some wine. Some very potent wine."

"Dorwinion wine. A particularly heady vintage of those great gardens to the south of our lands." Legolas' eyes went misty with the memory.

"And there was the Chief of the Guards, who was not named, but who very soon had no keys." Gimli's eyes gleamed with humor from under his bushy brows.

"Well, it would not have done to send up inferior wine to the King's table. It had to be tasted."

Gimli grinned at his old friend, "Chief of the Guards. The sort of position a King might give to his youngest son on a time."

Legolas sat up abruptly, "What makes you say that!?"

"Bilbo, at the Council. He recognized you."

"Ahh."

"I wondered about something else. What were you and Merry and Pippin doing with Elrond's piepan in the herb garden?"

"A game they had invented. Or so I thought. Lizard and Lorien called it frisbee."

"Can you show it to me?"

Legolas studied the Dwarf, ensconced in his chair like a King on a throne. "You said you wanted to sit motionless on solid ground for...what was it? Weeks?"

"I'm not that old yet!"

"No, mellon nin, I guess you are not."

"It's Yule." the Dwarf hinted.

Legolas glanced at the fire, "No need for another log yet." He lay back on the warm sand.

"Legolas. I was not thinking of the fire."

"Hmmmm?" The Elf's eyes traveled down the beach to where a number of lovely ladies were laughing around another fire.

"I was not thinking of them either."

"You are getting positively Elvish in your old age. Soon I won't even have to speak out loud."

"I am not. I have just traveled with you enough to know what you are thinking. You are thinking that I am thinking of nothing beyond the virtues of Elvish women."

Legolas raised an eloquent eyebrow.

"Well, one of them did mention she would like to...oh...nevermind."

Legolas smiled, the smile grew.

"Yule." Gimli prompted, clearing his throat.

"What about it?" Legolas said from his place, flattened on the sand.

"The great bloody box!" the Dwarf snapped. "You said it could be opened on Yule!"

"Ahhh." Legolas sat up, shook the sand out of his hair. "Yes, the box." He flowed to his feet, cast a smile at his old friend and vanished into the dark.

"Elves. How they ever got associated with Yule, and presents in that far country, I'll never know." The Dwarf sat back with a sigh. They had been here for a few days, and if Legolas had run on Elvish time in Middle-earth, it was worse now. In the timelessness of this place, he could spend an entire morning on breakfast. A day on song. A whole night staring at the stars.

Elves. He'd probably be back with the box by next Yule.

Elves. A whole country full of them. It was terrifying, amazing and wonderful, all at once. Legolas had honored him with the voyage, as a friend, as a swordbrother, as one who had weathered the same storms, as the last of the Fellowship in Middle-earth. Others here had honored him as Member of the Fellowship, as Companion and Guardian of the Ringbearer. As Lockbearer, the one who Galadriel herself had honored so long ago in another world. And as one who had helped rebuild Minas Tirith; that great city of the Edain, the people in whose blood and stone and trees and tales flowed the last shreds of memory, of knowledge, of the beauty of the Eldar.

Well, enough ceremony already. It was time to kick back on the beach. Drink another rum. Stare at Elbereth's stars glinting through the swaying palms. Gimli listened to the song coming from the next fire. The soft voices from just beyond the breakers. He stared up at the wheeling stars among the treeshadow. Like the lights on that tree Legolas had described, what was it? Tannenbaum. Yes, that was it. What a good idea. Gimli wondered if there was some way to make those little lights, and what would power them.

And that thing he slid on the snow with...what was that? Ah yes, the snowboard. There were mountains here, or so the Lady Caranfin had said. Somewhere there was snow, and if a certain Dwarf was too old for such silliness, there were Elves who would delight in sliding down a mountain at what was it? Warp ten. That would be worth watching. Maybe they would have contests, do some of the tricks Legolas remembered seeing. How did he describe that thing they used...half a tube...tunnel...pipe, that was it, half-pipe.

He was still deep in musings about many of the strange things Legolas had told him of the world of Lizard and Lorien when shadows appeared on the other side of the fire. Legolas and one other Elf were there, with the great box slung between them. They lowered it to the sand, by the blanket spread by the fire. "Hannon le, Voronwe." said Legolas.


Gimli didn't catch the soft words said by the other. He smiled and nodded to the Dwarf, almost a bow, then wandered down the beach, walking as lightly on the deep sand as Legolas had on the snows of Caradhras.

"Tolo." Legolas said softly, "Come."

Gimli heaved himself out of his comfortable throne and stumped barefoot as a Hobbit through the soft warm sand. He knelt by the great chest...with a bit less speed and a few more aches than he would ever admit to. Legolas touched part of the carving on the side, and Gimli heard a distinct click.

The lid swung open.

Gimli leaned over it, wondering what would be within; treasure? Gold? Jewels? No, in his travels with the Elf he had found far more beautiful things than the bright things dug from the earth; three hairs from the most beautiful woman in any world, the smile of a friend, the laughter of a Hobbit, the warmth of sun. Solid land underfoot.

He peered inside. "Books?" he asked.The box seemed to be filled with them. On top was one large thick book; Legolas drew it forth and opened it. His face broke into a great grin.

Gimli poked at a picture, small, but so real it might have moved. "That is you! But what are those strange clothes you are wearing? And...wait...is that the snowboard you were telling me about?"

"Yes." Legolas said laughing. "There is Lizard, and Lorien. This is one of the books we made of the pictures from Lorien's camera."

Gimli scanned several of the other pictures on the two pages before him, "Lorien seems to be on the ground a lot."

Legolas' smile softened. He flipped to another page. "Here, this one is better."

"Ahhhh." Gimli studied the picture, "What was that phrase they used? Ah yes. How do you say you are a hottie in your tongue?"

Legolas gave him a startled look.

"What?"

Legolas studied the bearded face of his friend closely.

"Well?" Gimli said.

"Noooooo no no no no. Celeborn would not be amused."

"Hmmmph. I was not going to use it in his presence. And anyway, I was thinking of another lady..."

"Yule." Legolas said abruptly, and flipped through more of the great book; sled dogs and galloping horses, tall ships and trees, indricotheres and Dragonkin, the wonders of Wal-Mart. Two lovely young ladies as different as Elf and Dwarf. And a blue Elf with a tail.

"Is this your Nightcrawler?" Gimli asked.

"Yes, that is Kurtvagner." Legolas set the photo album in Gimli's lap and reached back into the chest. He pulled out a handful of thin, brightly colored books. The cover of one held something that looked like a ship with a hero swinging through the rigging wielding a sword. The hero was blue and had a tail, though he looked a little different from the man in the photos. "These are his tales." Legolas pulled out the rest, a great pile of the thin, colorful books, and laid them carefully on the blanket. "These are the ones from Nazgul Barbie's house! All of them! And that is a great gift!"

"Can you read their tongue?"

"Yes. Yes! I remember it now." He paged gleefully through one of the copies, his grin growing ever wider.

"There's enough there for days and days of stories. Weeks. Months." Gimli frowned thoughtfully.

"There is that young Elf I met yesterday...he draws...hmmmm. And he has a friend who tells stories. Hmmmm."

Legolas smiled in understanding, "There are always more stories to tell." He looked into the depths of the chest.

"What else, what else?" Gimli leaned forward, peering into the chest.

Legolas drew forth a carved box, "Doc made this. Lizard and Lorien's idea." He held out his hands, the box balanced in it, as if it held a treasure as great as Galadriel's locks. "Especially for you." he said.
Gimli stared, surprised, "Me?"

"They liked you too."

"Me?" Gimli repeated.

"They knew of you from the tale, of course."

He took the box, opened it with barely contained excitement. He held up a strange device, one eyebrow cocked quizzically. "What is this?"

Legolas smiled, "Wal-Mart holds many treasures. That is a carving tool." He dug further into the box. "Here are the attachements that go on it, like the different kinds of knives you usually use. You plug this..." he held up a long black cord, "into an electrical..."

"Wait." Gimli frowned at the contraption, "You spoke of Mother Bell once. The power of ee-lick-tricity. How are you going to power this? There is no Vala named Mother Bell here!"

"This," Legolas pulled something else out of the great chest, something like a window, patterned in blue, "is a solar panel. The whole thing is powered by a battery which is recharged by sunlight."

"What? What magic is this? Magic of the Edain?"

"No, of the Dwarves. Something Doc put together, though the Edain have things like it. It's just that his is even better."

Gimli beamed with pride, "Hah!" he chuckled. "Hah hah!" He beamed and turned the strange device, like a fat handled knife over in his hands.

"It is much faster than knives." Legolas added.


Gimli's face had begun to get that dreamy look that meant he was thinking of a new project. Of several. Many.

"Ahem. Yule." Legolas reached back into the chest, and pulled out a great thick book. He flipped it open and smiled, this time with an ache to it, a smile full of joy and sorrow all at once.

"What?" Gimli said leaning closer.

"Our tale." Legolas said softly. He turned the pages and pictures flashed by.

Gimli set a finger down, stopping the turning pages at one of the pictures. "That is Strider. And you. And me. Well, it does not look exactly like us, but it must be."

"Yes."

Gimli stroked a finger across the page, "I feel no paint."

"It is as I told you. They have a way of making many copies, all alike. But the original pictures were in paint. Watercolor, on paper. Done by a Man, one of the Edain, but one who must have had an Elfheart, Alanlee."

"His name even sounds a bit Elvish." Gimli agreed.

"Here is more," Legolas dug into the chest and pulled out a strange small flat chest. He clicked it open and Gimli could not make out what it was supposed to be. It opened like the halves of a clam, one half having a sort of dark window. There were other little boxes that seemed to go with it. Legolas poked at it.

"Perhaps this book tells you something about it." Gimli suggested as something small fell out of it.
Legolas picked up the book and studied it. "Ah, yes. The instruction manual. What was it Dana used to say?" He dropped his brows and his voice took on a serious tone, "Real Men don't need instructions. Just a bigger hammer."

Gimli studied it closely, "It seems to be powered by more of your eelicktrissity."

"Yes. Maybe you can figure out how it works. Show some of our craftsmen how to make more. There seem to be spare parts here." Legolas reached back into the box and pulled out a flat square bit of shiny color. He played with it for a moment and opened it. And popped a circle of silver out of it.

Gimli's eyes widened, for rainbows danced across the surface of the silver circle. "This is one of your rainbows...what did you call them? Letters, they give everything names that are only letters...ooooohhh. DVD! That was it!"

"Yes." Legolas studied the Dwarvish contraption before him.

Gimli thrust the small book under his nose again. "I have left my hammer at the beachouse, so you should probably read this."

Legolas took it, scowled at it, poked at a few buttons on the surface of the box thing with the window; a little tray slid forth from it. Legolas laid one of the round rainbow disks on it and it was obediently swallowed. He poked a few more buttons and...

"Ohhhhh." Gimli breathed. Life and color and movement danced across the window. It was like looking through a window into another world.

Legolas stared at it, then broke into a great huge grin. Quietly, breathlessly he said, "This is our tale too! The one Liz and Lorien told me about."

"The movie?"

"Yes!"

"Hah hah hah!" Gimli laughed in delight.

Legolas flicked through the menu, as he had eons ago in another world, with other movies.

"There are more of these DVDs in here. A lot more." Gimli said, peering into the chest. He pulled out a few, "Here is Kurtvagner again."

"Yes, there were some movies of the adventures of his team. Favorites of Lorien."

Gimli waved another one under Legolas' nose.

"That's the pirate one, very good." Legolas pointed with some pride to one of the people on the cover, "This one here is me. Well, he is in this other movie, in our tale."

Gimli frowned at the cover, "He doesn't look at all like you." He grinned mischievously, "He's much better looking."

"Hah hah, very funny."

Gimli seemed to think so, for he was laughing very loudly.

"Here, look, this one is you." Legolas poked at something on the windowbox and the picture froze on a short stout Dwarvish fellow.

"It is not."

"It is!"

"I am not that short."

"You are."

"I have a much better nose..."

"No, it is the same."

"His eyes are too squinty, the Lady Caranfin likened my eyes to the glint of obsidian, to the shine of..."
Legolas' face showed startlement, and the wish to know more. Far more.

"Nevermind." Gimli said, settling back and crossing his arms like a fortress gate.

Legolas' face broke into a knowing smile.

"Well, are we going to watch it or not?"

"Yes, mellon nin, but tonight? It is very long. For a Dwarf, at least. And perhaps you have other things you would like to attend to?"

"I'm not going anywhere, and you have all the time in the world. And we can invite the others, can we not?"

"Yes, of course."

"Well then, what are we waiting for."


And so it came to pass that on nights when the stars of Elbereth glittered out of sky as velvet and black as the dark of a Dwarf delving, when the wind came fresh off the Great Sea, out of the east, as the gulls wheeled and wailed overhead, and the surf boomed like a great drum, the Elves of Eressea would gather around the storytelling fire, and bank it down to embers, then the last of the Fellowship would come forth to tell their great tale, while the trees swayed in the wind from the sea, and the sandpipers called from the edges of...

"Legolas..."

"What?"

"Would you just hit the play button already?"



~~ tele ~~

But our back is to legends and we are coming home, said Bilbo. (The Hobbit)




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