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Printed from https://www.Writing.Com/view/1093236
Rated: E · Campfire Creative · Fiction · Action/Adventure · #1093236
Scholars find musical clues drawing them together to solve literary puzzles
[Introduction] Group Founder request
I have been giving group members two weeks to make an addition, once alerted to add. Automated notice is sent when it is your turn. I also send a secondary email. When no action or contact happens, I move on to the next author on the list, utilizing the SKIP feature.

         Here’s the setup:
Your character is enrolled in college. A college-level course on music lyrics and literature is on your schedule. Please improvise a mindset for this student before reading my first entry into the Campfire Creative. (ex., is the course “filler” or a focus of the student’s major?) Everyone in the class will have heard some rumor about the professor's oddities. You students may have a bit of chatty disclosure before the professor even steps into class on this first meeting. Nothing will prepare you for the field trips! Read the first entry. Then all subsequent entries. Write your reaction to carry the story forward.

Be ready for an adventure! And to keep everyone engaged, Try to make your addition(s) timely! (You can initiate a skip too anytime you need to). I have set the minimum effort for individual entries to 500 characters; no upper limit. Stretch those creative muscles!

Characters (in order of appearance) to date

Professor Ants Beren — Intrigue, even he can't place from when, drives him
Sam Richards — on a football scholarship; trapped in a Literature/Music course
Leo — an English major
Genna — filled with "the song of her life"
August Evander III — Prof. Beren's protege
Jessica — jaded from the pressure of graduate studies classes
Mink Lorimer — fears she'll be found out to be an imposter among English majors
Dove — crafter and bard; commuting part-time student
Stella Shannon — deeply in tune with Tolkien lore
four - ten various other students enrolled
Sam's on-campus flirtation, Regina...
Ants Beren's confidant at City Museum, Pridellen Vaugh
and her nephew, Samuel Vaugh — young reasearch assistant to Prof. Beren

I am also noting here for continuity that the timeframe of entry 33 has us just one week and a day into the the class run, Tuesday, 6:00pm (aprox.)

I do throw curve balls – but don’t be afraid…I just want you think on your feet and to imagine with confidence. Just remember to write without heavily editing yourself.

Remember to visit your home away from home ~ "Tolkien on Writing.com [E]
Beautiful sig
How many years?, came the first thought.
Something in the surroundings quickly brought energy to the body. There were smells of Spring battling for dominence against Winter's still icy grip. Water ran joyfully nearby, yet it's gurgle did not course freely yet above the last stubborn frames of ice along an unseen creekbed's shore. And there was more to be heard. The rush at the senses was all brightness and clamour in the mind. Darkness still enveloped him. He was tangled in what seemed like an overabundance of cloak or heavy linen sheets. The ground was warm where he lay in a tight ball, but coldness surrounded him. He was sensing more with each passing moment, but clarity of thought was harder to bring under control.

The urgency to arise and settle into HERE pushed forward. The slight form moved cautiously -- testing muscles and joints. He was bundled, and it gave him a feeling like the coverings, Was it clothing? were helping him masquerade as a man of stature; the man he remembered being. Memory spoke authoritatively from within that he was strong and vibrant, not elderly and feeble.

On a day like today, seasons of the minds's slumbering and waking were vastly overpowering Professor Beren's actual internal clock. The extended nap spent under the spell of the West Garden's ancient oak might tickle the hearts of young charges he'd already won over in sessions past. But today was First Meeting, and his first speculative course authorized by Balliol administration was in jepordy if he didn't make it to the classroom on time and someone complained!

The superlative and mundane finally crashed down on the aging man's consciousness. "I'm not having the "worthy" argument again!" he muttered. It may have seemed a trivial addition to the ancient university's catalogue to some, Dean Wycolmb foremost, but he really did have more at stake than a few students' idle routines being rewarded. Some of the need for justification was dropped as more than enough students, even some curious Graduate fellows gave intent to enroll.

The Professor gathered together his satchel of ever-present reading material. Although the leather stretched and bulged to contain it all, in this, he moved in a practiced and easy way. Carrying his load seemed more second nature to him than moving his own limbs to-and-fro to ascend easy slopes present everywhere on the school grounds. In his sometimes slipping mind, the adventure that lay ahead had a larger purpose and scope than a small exploratory class entitled, Literature from Music.
          Sam glanced again at his watch. Come on, let's go. Where is the old goat? he thought irritably. He looked at the other students around him, and rolled his eyes. What am I doing here? I don't belong with these freaks.

          He glanced around the classroom, watching dust motes sliding through the long beams coming from the high windows. There were more empty seats than filled ones, and the students in the filled ones didn't look a bit like his buddies on the team. No one else seemed to mind that it was five after, but the old prof had yet to make his fabled appearance. Rumor had it that the guy was a real fruitcake.

          Two girls in the row next to him were in a heated discussion over the relative value of ethnic folk music as a cultural marker. Yeah, that one kept me up all night thinking about it, Sam sneered to himself. A tall slender man, long legs folded like a spider's into the too-small desk, was scribbling notes on a piece of manuscript paper. The guy behind him had his nose in a book big enough to be the phone directory. Three more books of equal size were stacked next to him. All in Latin. Jeez.

          "Isn't it exciting? Professor Beren finally won them over and got this class approved. I've waited years for this!" The man next to Sam gave him a wide, toothy grin.

         Oh, God! What have I gotten myself into? "Uh...yeah. It's great," Sam muttered, then pretended to be looking for something in his backpack. The guy didn't go away.

         "So what's your specialty?", asked the grinning man.

          "Specialty?" asked Sam.

          "Yeah, you know, like renaissance madrigals, or African fertility chants, or are you a classical linguist perhaps?" The guy obviously thought he was being pretty funny, if his widening grin was any indicator.

          "Yeah, well...uh, well... I'm not really into music...or literature. I needed an English credit to stay on the team, and they say this guy is an easy grader. I mean, I can live with a term of sleeping through recordings." Sam watched a look of befuddlement cross the man's face. The guy didn't seem to know what to make of him. Mercifully, he suddenly caught sight of another guy two rows over and turned his grin in that direction. Saved by another nerd.

          Come on, let's get this over with.
A Non-Existent User
Leo tried as hard as he could to drown out the chatter among the other students by the music playing in his head. It was a song he had heard years ago, and it never eluded his memory. Going into this course, he made it a goal to ask the Professor about the lyrics and what they meant.

Even though he was actually an English major, music had always been an integral part of his life, and he always incorporated some lyrical qualities into the poetry he jotted down in his journal.

Leo casually glanced over at the girl in the fuzzy sweater in the front row, wondering what her situation was. She looked like a music major, but he wasn't sure. He considered writing her a poem sometime.

So where is this guy? Leo wondered what the Professor looked like, as he never remembered seeing him around campus. Though his reputation preceeded him, the mystery of the Professor and his oddities was something that all his classmates enjoyed.
A Non-Existent User


         Genna's thoughts whirled recklessly through her mind. . . and oh, what a mind her's was. The music played there always, and the words. If she could just put the two together. . . The words always lead the way, she had come to think of them as her memory, her thoughts. Close beside the words her music walked. A discordant duet, the waltz of her heart, danced in her head.

         Now, as she sat there waiting for her class to begin, she began to have second thoughts. Would it have been a better decision to have skipped this class? Would her heart stand still while the song of her life was pulled from it?
Suddenly, a weighty metal-on-metal sound jarred the whole class' attention to the door. In the hallway, an abrupt, though softly voiced curse was emitted from a unseen person. An audio-visual cart with a plastic covered player of some type filled the open doorframe. Wretched caster wheels on the overly tall metal cart were stubbornly wedged along raised tracks in the brass-plated threshold.

The students craned their necks to see how the new arrival was going to proceed. Some already knew this had to be a delivery only, and not signaling the arrival of Professor Beren, as others were deducing. The music majors, and others in the know about Professor Beren's peculiarities were aware of the man's fussy avoidance of technology. He deigned to its use for mass communication, particularly when relating many examples for music history. He was not known to disallow its use by students. It basically appeared to most that he never touched the stuff. Graduate students and adjunct professors got routinely assigned to carry out the handling of electronics in any of the courses which Professor Beren was still allowed. There was the natural tendency for the secondary unasked question to quietly percolate - "Why would the College superiors put up with it? And did it number his days as an instructor in a venerable, yet moving with the times college?"

Some headway was made with the device having been rocked back and forth a bit while many sat and watched. An arm was thrust past the cart's upper edge and waved urgently into the room. A deep, but curt voiced made the hand signal's intent clear.

"Eh, you, Sweatshirt! Give a hand?" The gorilla like arm stretched forward and down, with the outstreched pointer finger jabbing the air toward Sam.

Sam was looking toward the door, and considered, for a half moment, blowing off the guy's request. Yet, suddenly, even with gloom in the hallway beyond, Sam caught sight of the otherwise unseen man's eye. It's deeply brown thoughtfulness was intent on him. Sam felt impelled to move; almost as quickly as taking an order from the team coach.

Within another minute, what had become jammed almost completely in the doorframe, was now rolling freely into the room. Sam triumphantly pushed it to the front of the classroom, then turned back to his seat.

The man who had arrived with the equipment was striding forward and holding out his hand to Sam's. But Sam was agape and pointing toward his - prime choice, fourth back and clear shot to the door - seat. A small gush of students had entered once the obstruction was cleared from the classroom's door, and Sam's seat, along with most of the others toward the back were now occupied.

The dark-eyed, dark-haired man held a slightly puzzled look on his face while determining the weightiness of Sam's distressed look. He easily adjusted his approach, claping Sam on the shoulder and turning him back toward the front - to a seat in the front row.

"No book bag to hold your place, man? That's okay, you can be the Assistant's assistant."

Before easing Sam into a chair one away from the window, he slid his hand forward again in gratitude. "I do thank you for coming forward to help."

Sam felt a little embarassed, because he still felt vaguely controlled in this larger man's shadow. He was confused by a wave of acceptance that already had him taking the offered hand, almost hearing the word "brother" in the unspoken exchange. After they no longer had eye contact, Sam pushed that feeling down and stared out the window despite unequivocal thoughts to slug this guy.

Thus, Sam was the only student - lost in his own thoughts for a moment - that missed the entrance of Professor Beren.

"Aug- Mr. Evander! Are you trying to keep me and all my students from geting into class on time? Shame on you!"

The elder man moved with swiftness to drop his pack at the sizable desk and chair facing the students. He absently smoothed back his shoulder-length white hair and held a theatrical pose in introducing his assistant.

"Gentlemen, Ladies, this buffoon would be Aug-"

The properly straightened (and considerably tall in that manner) young man shot Professor Beren a sniper look.

"Now, I wasn't going to- going to say..!"

"Og?" Genna inserted playfully.

"...Auggie," Beren let slip. "But see...now you've made me say it, and I was going to be quite formal and introduce you as August Evander III. Once promising Music Theory major. Now pursuing Graduate studies in the area of...of.... What is it now?"

"Political Science, Professor." August deadpanned.

"Oh, yes, right. Don't know what the fool for, but that's it." Professor Beren slowed and softened a little, taking in the classroom of faces for the first time. "Doesn't keep him from being here at my side, helping to bring out your appreciation of Music and Literature."

August picked up before the newfound silence hung too long. "And, this, as you may or may not know, is Professor Ants Beren."

Professor Beren shakes off the urge to give a slight bow, as there is no response fron Evander's introduction. Instead he pushes forward.

"I'm sure," he begins, "because you already know plenty about me, we should spend some time getting to know a little something about you." I will want to know what you read. Not for your studies. I've already taken the time to research that in profiling each of you. What do you read for enjoyment? You shouldn't have to think that one over, just give it with your name. But do think if any of your preferred music tells you its story. And if you know what I mean by that, please share...."

An aside from August comes quickly, soft but audible: "You're going to talk with them first, then medicate with the music?"

Genna muffles a giggle, but the exchange gets Sam's attention.
A Non-Existent User
         Somehow, nervous wasn't the word for the feeling that was seeking to overwhelm her at this moment, but in that split second when her feet would normally have carried her toward the exit, Genna's mind began to listen to a song from the album Budokan. The soothing melody of Knocking on Heaven's Door stopped the involuntary twitch of her hair-trigger foot.

         Indecision sped throughout her veins. Should she tell the class who she really read, or about the music she listened to? Yes, she thought, the professor did seem to be a kind man. Her mind at ease, Genna returned to the classroom.

         Jessica watched with amusement as the various classmates traipsed on tiptoe--figuratively--around the professor. In any other class, she would have placed them as freshman, with their nerves, but here? Here, the acts seemed expected.
         The guy to her left two rows up sat scribbling in a notebook. A writer? she scoffed. Please. Writing is very 20th century. Jessica could remember when she'd played at literature in middle school, but now that time seemed too far away.
         She was glad she'd chosen to sit toward the back, where most seats sat unfilled. It wasn't that she disliked music--please--but she hated to seem...what was the word?...eager. So many of the others did--even Evander, whom the professor had ridiculed, seemed eager to please him. She hoped it wasn't the case, because his political mind was a terrible thing to waste.
Professor Beren nodded sparodically as one student after another described their leisure-time reading. It was easy to spot the English majors in the class, they sat calmly, expressons of mild interest playing across their cherubic faces. As each claimed his impressive bibliography, taking in such greats as Mirrabelle Johnson; the lectures of Pippin; Francis Heggley; and the nobel-prize winning, Laferty Learner, all Mink could think about was the best-selling children's series she'd been reading since Christmas.

The first three books had been made into films, and she'd queued for hours to see the matinee of the latest one, just yesterday. How could she add the name of W. R. Jolking to this parade of intellectual giants? She tried to comfort herself with the fact that some universities were offering courses on the use of punctuation in text messaging, and the life and times of TV chef, Larry the Pig, but somehow Professor Beren did'nt look like he'd even know about such modern developments in higher education. Soon all faces would be turned to her, and she would have to admit to being an imposter, with no more right to be taking this class than...than... her eyes fell upon the student who'd helped Evander with the media cart. Him, she thought. She had no more right to be there than him.

This is a course about music and literature, she suddenly remembered. Maybe she could come up with something really cool from the music world. She thought about her favorite band, Matted Mirkin, and shook her head. No, none of their songs even had discernable lyrics. Then it hit her; she'd make something up, that would fox them. No one would admit they didn't know what she was talking about - it was a perfect plan.

It was her turn. She stood up and cleared her throat.

"My name is Mink Lorrimer and I've been listening to The Circular Bicycle by Dogs' Tails and reading some papers on the use of the nose harp in the jungles of Sumatra by eminent anthropologist Dr. Mark Fisher. I also enjoy the novels of Nikolai Grovsky, who's much underrated in my opinion." As she sat down again, she felt a rush of excitement. No one challenged her. Even Professor Beren seemed to nod sagely and jot something down on the pad before him. Only that boy who helped with the cart seemed to allow a puzzled crease to cloud his brow, but Mink didn't care a fig about his opinion. She'd jumped the first hurdle, and the relief was delicious.
          Professor Beren kept an impassive look on his face, but inwardly cringed. No one. Not one with even a glimmer of promise. Why did I even bother? I won't find what I'm looking for among these academic pettifoggers.

          He wiped nonexistant smudges from his glasses to cover his growing impulse to scowl. Another student sat down. Only two more remained, including the Neanderthal who sat in the back seat. Heaven help me. How will I endure this term? The next student sat down. Only the muscled athlete was left. The entire class turned to stare at him.

         "Uh... I, uh, don't have much time for reading anything other than required stuff, if you know what I mean," mumbled Sam as he stood before them, sure now that he had made a big mistake.

         "Surely, Mr.....," Beren consulted the class roster before him, "...Mr. Richards, you have read something for pleasure in your lifetime, before the love of the game took over?"

         Sam bristled at the implied insult. Like athletes don't think. Like I have no mind, for Crissakes! "Well, Professor, I've been living out in the real world for a long time, not buried in a book. But yes, I DID used to read... when I was a kid. Nothing worthy of the present company, I'm sure," he added with a sneer, "but if you want to know, I used Sci Fi and fantasy as an escape from life. I about lived in Tolkien's Middle Earth when I was in Junior High. Taught myself the languages, wrote in runes, made up music for the poems, that sort of thing."

         A couple students snickered and one rolled his eyes.

         Sam sat down in the old desk with a creaking thump. That's it. I'm going to the registrar as soon as this class is over- no way am I going to sit through this for a whole term.

         Professor Beren felt his heart catch. Could it be? Could this be the one he had looked for for so long? This brooding hulk of muscle and sweat?

         "Interesting, Mr. Richards. You have named the master himself, who, alas, did not leave a musical legacy to accompany his work, so we will not be able to touch his literature this term. Unless you care to share some of your... uh... musical adaptations?"

         No way, Codger, am I going to humiliate myself here with the old guitar. He looked down at his desk while Professor Beren waited a moment for a response. Getting none, a small smile touched the edges of the professor's old eyes as he turned to the board.

         I stand corrected. This will, indeed, be a VERY interesting term....
Mr. Evander takes the professor's unspoken cue and settles into a rogue seat shoved against the wall. In any other professor's class, he might distract himself with reading, but he simply settles in to watch Professor Beren and his charges in their initial interactions. His dark wavy hair partly cloaks the occasional play of amusement on his face. His black-brown eyes shadow the students who already "tipped their hands" in the introductions.

His impassive stance weakens a bit as he acknowledges Jessica glancing his way. With a dip of his eyes and an abrupt swing of his neck, the professor's assistant slyly guides her admiring attention forward to the professor's pedantry.

"Now, as each of you understands the fundamental basis of music and literature...As I pray there are no wayward Freshmen among us? Beren slightly inclines his head back toward the class, but quickly turns back to the board. "However, let me add, should any of you upper classmen know of a Balliolite who is a prodigy in Music, English Literature or Anthropology, I do allow enrollment by invitation to exceptional researchers, regardless of scholastic stature."

Sam, still brooding from his perceived humilation in the introductory sparring moments before, takes note of one of his teammates shifting to the seat adjacent to him. The linebacker makes a chummy gesture in Sam's direction, but Sam is in no mood to decode its specific intent right now. Sam only half-listens to the professor while his own doubts brief him on possible schedule rearrangements.

"Music," Professor Beren scratches at the chalkboard with a too short nub of chalk. A few skitish students jar. "Sorry, rather unmusical of me." He continues - "Music and Literature have long travelled mankind's path. But Music has the longer history as our ancestors' way of passing on personal histories."

Leo hears the professor's proposed theory and ponders it within the music hall of his own mind.

"Now, I could have titled the course, 'Music from Literature', but then I'm afraid we would be limited to the mere homage of well-read singer songwriters or those areas of English Literature in which poetic form has been aptly hung throughout a fictional environ, like Professor Tolkien's Middle Earth. Believe it or not, I find that to be too limited a focus for students of your breadth." Professor Beren turns back to his students to see if he's holding them effectively.

August can't help but admire Professor Beren. Even having watched him open a number of succesive sessions, August still holds a clear memory of being drawn under the wise man's wing with similarly simple words, in a timeframe that now feels not so long ago.

As though linked to the thoughts and wavering emotionality of the professor, August also turns his eye-contact on the semi-filled class. As if he could consciously bequeath the respect he has built for the professor onto these new students, August scans, half-intent, half-pleading for sure signs of eyes-front on the Professor's next intonement. There's a musical tone of Truth with a budding melody of Goodness that echoes in August's mind as he follows the eyes of the Professor to the crown of the sandy-haired Sam Richards, looking studious, but eyes downward.

The first proposed assignment should be a shocker for our Sam," Aug can't help but think. And an interesting one for that sly Mink," he concludes.
         Dove was late as usual. Rather than living on campus, she lived an hour's commute away on a horse ranch. One of the mares had escaped her stall this morning, so instead of being early for this new class, she could tell they had already begun.

         Manipulating her everpresent lute, she dragged the rolling bookbag crammed with fantasy novels and her laptop computer over the threshold. To some she probably looked like a frustrated faerie, dressed in a loose dress with petal points that accented all the right parts, covered with a hand-woven shawl she'd obtained at a Mystic Notions stall several years ago.

         For she was a busker and a bard, loving to sing and perform old music. The influx of lovers of Tolkien, Lewis and others had made the fairs more fun and profitable of late. Her feet bore the laced-up suede boots so many of the Rennies wore out in the mundane world, just for fun. Her mass of blonde hair was fastened back with a type of laced boot as well. She'd been creating hair items all summer and had joined this one class on-campus on a whim.

         She could not afford to go to all the classes, nor had she any desire to. She taught riding classes at three stables in the city, one of them close to the school.

         She looked over at the man sitting against the wall grinning. He looked like one of the Rennies as well, with his dark wavy hair and impish look. Hoping that the others hadn't noticed her and knowing they had, she trundled on over to one of the seats close to the door, and sat down.

         Professor Beren looked at her with a shockingly sudden gaze. She sat down and waited for the person closest to her to turn, handing her a little note. It said, "Intro, what do you READ?" She'd only barely finished reading the note when the attention turned to her.

         She spoke up with her bard's voice, rising from her chair, since she was the center of attention anyway. "I am Dove. I don't know many of you, since I don't attend the college, but I was drawn to take this class. I love reading the classics, just finished a jumbled series of Tolstoy and Dickens, but my bookbag is filled with fantasy novels." She reached down and pulled one out, When the Bough Breaks, by Mercedes Lackey and Holly Isle. Oh, and I play the lute and write my own songs." She smiled as she looked around the class, not recognizing one face, knowing that she could at least keep herself and everyone else amused.

Sitting down in her seat, she pulled out a notebook and a purple inked pen formed from carved balsa in the shape of a wizard dressed in purple robes and a tall hat. Turning to the first page, she waited.
         As usual, Stella was left out. She was accustomed to being left out of many things - life, in general, so she reminded herself. And this class was looking to be no exception. The absent-minded Professor (she snickered to herself at her own joke) even passed her over for the "Hello-My-Name-Is" portion of the class. Gods, how she hated that, having to introduce herself as if she was in some twelve-step alkie-hall.

         Stella didn't resemble the students in the lecture hall, and that was just fine with her. Stella's hair was matted, almost greasy, pasted close to her head rather like a monk's cowl; if it had been tended properly, like the few times that Stella had done, it would hav e had a rich, sable sheen, almost a life of its own. Her eyes were bright grey, almost silver, which if she knew it (though it would have mortified) caught the attention of not a few boys. The overall impression Stella gave was of beauty in self-exile, or penance.

         Stella had seated herself in a strategic place: far back in the hall, so as not to attract attention, but in such a place that she could observe everyone there. And at the very least, no one would see her with Her Book. She had placed it just so on the desktop, that she could read it without anyone seeing her. Because Her Book was special; Her Book was a treasure beyond price. And even though she would have commited atrocities to prevent anyone from seeing it, Stella thought that a Music and Literature course might not be a bad place to have Her Book with her, instead of its usual box under lock in her room.

         Her Book was a gift, handed to her from years ago by her grandmother. The nature of Her Book would have made it special by any curator, bookseller, or fantasy fanatic; but to Stella, Her Book was a link to the past, and just maybe the link to more things as well. For Her Book was an ageing copy of Tolkien's, "The Return Of The King", an authographed first-edition, made to her grandmother in the Professor's own hand. Stella always wondered about her Gran, who was proud to say she was a contemporary of the Professor in his Oxford days, and this was how Her Book came to be written upon in the spindly script of The Professor. But the old man got her name wrong. Stella's grandmother was named Elaine, but the dedication read in part, "To Elenna, with hope."

          Elaine/Elenna. Stella pondered this switching for years, until she delved deeper into the Tolkein world. Gran her was a devotee of The Professor; as a girl, they both learned little phrases in Elvish, a secret code that they shared. And in her reading, Stella learned another secret, that Tolkien shared with Gran. because in Elvish, Elenna meant "Land of the Star", one of the names of the island of Numenor. And Hope, in that language, was "Estel" - too close to Stella for coincidence.

         Stella had kept Her Book close to her through every class and course in English Lit and the arts, looking for clues and hints as to what Teh Professor might have meant, with the cryptic hints. But this class, Music and Lit, must have been one of those wild-goose chases. Professor Beren, for all his reputation, was no Tolkien. And didn't he even just mention he thought Tolkien "too limited"? Between jocks, nerds, and the little drama queen that just breezed in late, this was going to be just another filler course, a dijointed part of her search for answers.

         Already dismissing the existence of the others, Stella's fingers caressed a page of Her Book, opening to the chapter that told the tale of Aragorn and Arwen. And Stella's grey eyes, without her knowing, twinkled once more as the words danced and swam in her mind and her imagination.


         Jessica admired the late arrivee as she made her way in. True bravery, letting oneself come late to Professor Beren's class. Though, from the looks of Dove, none of that had even crossed her mind.

         As Jessica continued to scan the room, she noticed another girl reading a rather large volume--dear Lord, was that Tolkien? Grow up!--as the Professor rambled on. Even the others' book choices had been more interesting: at least those offered a bit of insight into their lives.

         Of course, as long as Jessica didn't have to go into her own book choices.

         "Hey." Jessica looked up. "Hey," the boy repeated. "Do you have another pen? Mine ran out."

         Ignoring the impulse to roll her eyes, Jessica dug into her messenger bag for a pen. Assessing the chances of regaining the pen at the end of the class to be, well, nil, she offered him blue. She hated blue ink.

         "Thanks."

         She offered him some wordless acknowledgement--what was it he had offered as reading material again?--and leaned away. The last thing she wanted was Evander seeing her into someone else. How else could she save him?
"What do I want from you?" Professor Beren was now facing the class, his eyes seemed to drill into each one of them.

Mink blinked. She felt the hairs on the back of her neck prickle with excitement, as she felt the professor's eyes catch her in their clear-blue gaze. "I want to start at the beginning. Which is a very good place to start." he said. Surely not doh, ray, me thought Mink. That would be too funny; to see the old man and his gauche assistant jumping up and down the platform steps, singing songs from the 'Sound of Music'.

"My challenge to you is to find the earliest piece of literature you can. For the purposes of this assignment I am excluding the Old Testament. Besides there are much more ancient texts available for those who would search. I don't expect you to come up with the original manuscripts, that would be unreasonable. No, I want you to find translations or modern imprints of ancient works. The culture and the language is irrelevent, but English translations will be required. When you have found your text, examine it for rhythm, rhyme and lyricism." The class murmered its apprehension at the prospect of the assignment. When did Tolkien live? thought some, not knowing if he was more ancient than the Old Testament or not. Professor Beren smiled almost mischievously, "Some of you will have quite a journey of discovery before you." he added, as if he guessed just how ignorant many of them were.

"I want you to find some way of setting what you find to music. Sam, you should find this simplicity itself, with your experience from Junior High." Beren winked at the sportsman, and noted the slight blush rising from the square jaw.

"Be prepared to perform your composition in front of the class at our next meeting, which will be next Monday, after lunch, in the Egyptian Room of the City Museum. Any questions? Good. Now, if you wouldn't mind, Mr. Evander." Beren sat down in the polished wheel-backed armchair, and folded his arms, awaiting the finale.

Evander performed a stooping scurry to the audio-visual cart, and pressed a button. The room was filled with the sound of hissing, then a single flute poured pure notes into the fug of warm breath and cheap scent. The notes seemed to cut through the dullness like detergent on an oily puddle. The clarity chased apathy to the far corners of the room, and the students felt as though they were being dazzled by a bright light. They listened entranced, as the sequence of notes became more rapid and intricate. Then a female voice, as pure as the flute, sang these words,

"He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
All nature, all formations,
All creatures exist in and with one another,
They will be resolved again into their own roots.

For the nature of matter is resolved into the roots of its own nature alone.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

Mink felt her ears hearing and each word seemed to carry it's meaning deep into her mind. Like ants carrying forage, the notes bore the words in an insistent stream.

When the music stopped, she almost gasped with relief. Not because the song was unpleasant, but the intensity of it seemed like an elastic cord, which rebounded when it ceased. Then she noticed Beren was gone. She hadn't closed her eyes, but somehow she'd missed the departure of the old man. Only August Evander remained at the front of the room, and he was busily pushing the trolly towards the door.

No one rose to help him.

A Non-Existent User
As the class ended, Sam rose from his chair and sauntered to the door barely noticing his classmates.

He thought to himself, This is bullshit, but I've never let anything beat me and I'm not going to start now. I'll just think of this class as some big ass linebacker out to smash my head in and I'll get to him first.

As Sam left the building and headed for territory he was more suited to, he felt his spirits lift. He knew this class would be a challenge for him, but he decided not to drop out. He needed the hours and he needed to make a good grade.

As he walked passed one of the women's dorms, Sam’s eye caught sight of Regina sitting under a tree on an old picnic table. The rush of seeing her caused the events of class to fade from his mind. Now that’s what I’m talking about, he thought.

Regina was an English major and a fine specimen of human femininity – tall and thin with shoulder length dark hair and deeply inviting brown eyes. Sam was quite taken with her. As he sat down beside her to talk, the big burley fellow became tame as a kitten. They talked for a long time as Sam gazed intently into her eyes. Finally, it dawned on him that Regina might be the answer to his little dilemma. She might be able to give him the inspiration and help he needed to successfully navigate the shark infested waters of Professor Beren's class.

**************************************
          Stella felt the familiar sense of dismay wash over her. She closed her grey eyes, face pale. Stand in front of a class-- again. Why did they always have to do that? What possible educational merit could there be in performing, puppets jerked by the random impulses of a teacher's hands. What would she do?

         Stella had to admit that the assignment itself was intriguing- earliest literature, set to the music of one's own life? If only she could let herself go and open the locked rooms of her heart. They don't know the meaning of early, she thought, a smile softening her pale features. And as far as the music for it... A glow swirled in her eyes as she let herself slip into the melody. Earliest literature... earliest.. No- I couldn't risk it. They would never understand... it would be dangerous to even hint at it...

         Stella brushed the lank hair out of her eyes. She glanced at the students around her, some scowling, others clustered in small animated groups, a couple looking shell-shocked. No one had noticed her panic. No one had heard the yearning rise in her, to let herself be, just for a moment.

         Can I hide it? Make reality look like something they could fit into their narrow view of history? Write eternal music in mortal language? Would they hear only myth if I really speak truth? Could I risk it, for just one finite moment of respite? Stella felt the music within her pushing against the carefully constructed walls she had built around it. So long, to hold in the torrents of power. So weary. The foundation of her resolve cracked.

I'll do it, she thought. I'll find a way...

Professor Beren had reached the weekend and his eagerly anticipated check-in with his dear friend, Pridellen Vaugh, special collections curator at City Museum. He tapped his fingers impatiently at the volunteer counter after a modestly confused college freshman had gone AWOL from her post, more than ten minutes. The wary girl had resisted for a long several minutes before leaving to fetch her supervisor's boss at the professor's insistence.

At least one hundred yards distant from his position, Ants Beren heard the reverberation of a heavy door he knew was the employees-only door exiting the education department wing. He craned for an early spotting of the "ol' girl." He smiled outwardly at thinking such a mischievious thought. The sharp-witted Ms. Vaugh, for some, was a fixture more recognizable in the building's halls than the hallmark prehistoric Tyranosaurus skeleton reconstruct in the foyer. Her height, at 4'9" was lower than most anticipated, yet her stature was never in question when she eyed you.

He heard, just as suddenly, an accusation made in her pleasant tone, "Ants? What ARE you smiling about?!"

He threw his step forward at a quick pace to meet up with her before she had crossed too much more ground. She halted before him, but didn't disappoint or tease further, simply opening her arms for a friendly embrace.

---

August Evander confirmed with the only archival assistant present on the basement level of South Library the limited Saturday hours. Though not an actual arranged meeting, today Aug had tailed Sam Richards. Seeing the Professor's hopeful anticipation of this student's efforts, August felt obligated to note, or even help along Sam's first assignment's progress.

August's own trust in what several new, dedicated researchers might bring to Professor Beren's life was invested as well. When he spied Sam wearing headphones at a listening station, he chanced moving in close. There, only steps from Sam's lounging back, Aug recognized Led Zeppelin's 1975 Physical Graphitti album cover. There was then mixed emotion kicking up in August Evander the Third. This punk pigskin grunt was either hiding something of the depth of his knowledge, or was falling into wide doorways of insight purely by accident. August still couldn't be sure which it was. He decided that he'd have to tip his own hand to determine Mr. Richards' intent. The grad student moved forward into Sam's view and clouded any admiration that might be displayed on his face. He suddenly and ceremoniously quoted from the song, Kashmir: "Oh, let the sun beat down upon my face/stars to fill my dream/I am a traveler of both time and space/to be where I have been."
The oldest piece of literature, Dove thought. She would just have to sit down and think about that. Later. From the classroom, she made her way across campus to the old Agricultural College buildings and sauntered through the barn, speaking to horses, cows, dogs, students and instructors; pausing at some places to touch a nose or caress an arching neck when equine greetings were returned with gentle whickerings.

"Hey, Dove, I didn't realize you were a student here this semester," a large voice preceded a burly man who came up behind her.

"Oh, hi, Carroll. I don't know if one class qualifies as being a student." She dropped her things and hugged the huge man briefly. "I'm taking a single class from Professor Beren on Music and Literature. It will give me a chance to think about something other than horses and Rennies." The Renaissance Festivals, the performers and their attendant masses took up much of Carroll's time as well as hers. He was a mud-wrestler and an expert in melee. In addition, he handled the horses which were used in the joust and other activities.

Carroll smiled. "I have never known a moment when you weren't thinking, Lassie."

"I'd better be on my way," she said and moved out to her crew cab pickup, which was parked beside the paddocks on the East side. Since she had a couple of hours before the first riding class, she stopped at a small City Park to eat the lunch she'd packed.

She mused aloud, "Oldest writing. Oldest literature. Pictographs and Stonehenge, the Bhagavad Gita and the Vedas."

Taking her lute from its case, she strummed and sang the melody Berens had played for them.
"He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
All nature, all formations,
All creatures exist in and with one another,
They will be resolved again into their own roots.

For the nature of matter is resolved into the roots of its own nature alone.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear."


Now, what could any of that mean in regards to literature? She'd just have to think about it.

Throughout the weekend, while minding the Mystic Notions booth at a fair, she considered the meaning of the little verse. One thing was clear, the class would not be boring. She was not sure she had seen even one classmate who would be open to studying together, but then, they hadn't seen her perform! She giggled, grabbed her lute at the end of her shift and made her way to one of the open stages to join with others in song and dance.
The day of Professor Beren’s “recital” arrived, on schedule at the City Museum. The Egyptian room began to fill with student/performers, some with guitar and recorder, as if for a Renfaire; one girl had a set of bongos; Dove, almost on time this time, had her lute in one hand, her bag around her other shoulder; Sam’s guitar rested in a case by his side.

Professor Beren himself arrived early, and greeted each student with his airy politeness, asking briefly, and in an undertone meant only for them, what sort of performance they planned. Prof. Beren hid his part pleasure, and part disappointment, behind his vague replies. As he had mentioned last week, some of the students did indeed, have quite a journey in front of them. A scraping and dragging sound suddenly echoed in the room, as the door banged aside. A young woman was wrestling something into the class, and Prof. Beren scooted over to help. Holding the door open courteously, he was quite surprised at the sight.

The girl heaved a military-surplus kit bag into the room, along with a short staff not quite reaching her shoulders; an odd rattling sound could be heard with each bump. The kit bag was stretched in odd ways, betraying the fact that the contents were odd-shaped and bulky. But the bag’s shape and contents were nothing compared to the young woman carrying it. It was Stella.

Stella’s hair was totally different, in the fact that it was clean. But not just clean, it was transformed. Gone was the damp lankiness of the first meeting; washed, tended to and properly set, Stella’s hair was a cascade of glistening obsidian blackness, so dark it showed off indigo highlights. Stella was also dressed as differently from the first class as could be. Boots of supple brown leather accented a wool skirt that brushed the tops of the boots. A dressmaker’s shirt, clean as snow and blazing bright against her hair, only served to bring out a wrap of green wool around her midriff. Whispers filled the room, as the students’ reactions rippled as a stone might ripple a pond. All eyes were on her, as Stella shifted the kit bag near the large open area that the Professor had designated would be the performance place.

Professor Beren was also taken aback by Stella’s appearance; even more so, since he saw the effect up close. Stella’s silver eyes glowed against the raven wildness of her hair. The professor reached to lift the bag for her; Stella stooped to stand it up properly. As she stood, she whipped her hair around her shoulder with a deft movement, and Beren felt his eyes go wide; Stella’s ear was now exposed, thin and tapered, the smallest hint of a point at the tip. Tentatively, Beren decided to say something.

“Findesselya vanya” [Your hair looks beautiful], Beren said. Stella’s eyes went brighter, her lips parted in a slight gasp.

“Hannon le, Istuion – pedich Edhlellen?” [Thank you, Professor – you speak Elven?], she whispered in reply.

“Tancave, edhelwen – Tellin na thaed,” [Certainly, Elf-girl – let me help you], Beren said, as he lifted the bag and took the staff from her – it rattled loudly, like a tinkling of water. “This is an Amazon rain stick, isn’t it?”

“Yes, I need it for my, well, homework”, Stella said. “You did say, find the oldest literature.”

Beren thought a moment, then his own eyes went wide in turn, as he realized, “Yes, I most certainly did. Well. If memory serves, Stella, you’re not up first, so let me place these here for you”, he said as he placed her bag near a vacant chair. Students watched her, and they heard the strange words Stella and the Professor shared – Irish or Welsh, some said, no it must be something else…

The performance began. The students sat in a semi-circle of chairs, the performer in the center. The bongo girl recited Beowulf to a rhythmic drumming. Several other students sang of Arthur and Tristan; the Song of Roland echoed in the room from a high-voiced boy; one freshman boy, quite talented, sang a song from Persia about Iskander and the invasion of that land. Then, the Professor announced it was Stella’s turn, and all eyes in the room were on her as she slowly dragged the kit bag out to the open, sat down and produced a bodhran, a bag of marbles, a second bag of rice, and set the rain stick to the side. Stella cleared her throat, wishing for a glass of water.

“Um, well”, she began, “today, I wanted to sing to you about water. Think about how many songs and stories there are, that mention waters, and rain, and the sea. Every piece of literature flows and overflows with it, and every expression you hear has some water involved.

“If you think back, farther than you’ve ever thought before, water itself is music”, Stella said as she placed the bodhran on the skirt between her knees, and reaching down to the bags, poured a handful of rice into the instrument.

“You can hear, in the watersn, the echoes of the oldest music on Earth”, Stella said softly, as the rice rolled on the drum head beneath her fingers, and the rain stick hissed, the sounds reaching all ears to recall rain on the leaves, or raindrops on bare stone, or the soft falling of snow in the silence of winter.

“Indeed, the first sound ever heard, was the booming of the surf, the boundary between earth and sea”, Stella’s voice intoned, as the marbles now rolled in a tide around the circuit of the drum, the rice and the marbles combining to bring images of the tides. The class was under a spell; unlike the fidgeting and disinterest of the first students, no one spoke, and no one moved, as Stella wove a blanket of sound on the loom of her voice, rising once more in that unknown tongue:

Edro gur lin, i Anor hilol,
Tiro na i ninniach, i ninniach vannui,
Estannen Sirion, Gaerwing i glos,
Aiglos i Helca. Ulmo linnon le,
Im nenna, im nenna, im nenna…


[Open your heart, the Sun is shining,
Behold the rainbow, the lovely rainbow!
I am called River, Sea-spray, and Ice,
Snow and Glacier. Ulmo, I sing to thee,
I am the waters, I am the waters, I am the waters….]

The surf from the drum subsided. The rain from the staff passed by. Stella’s voice stilled. And not a sound broke the stillness. Her eyes scanned the class, and met each staring student, and though most looked away from those silver eyes, there were some who met hers. Jessica looked astounded. Dove had eyes that were wide and startling, as if she had seen a ghost. Sam never once took his eyes off Stella, even form the moment she entered the room. And Professor Beren himself sat silently, hands folded on his lap, his lips parted in a slight smile, a single shiny streak under one eye. Stella, watching him, saw him mouth the words, meant only for her:

“Hannon le.”





Being of a political disposition, Jessica had no trouble making her determination on the oldest literature available to the modern world: Sun Tzu's The Art of War. This guide to battle--and, Jessica would argue, to life as a whole--was easily the oldest true "book" she'd ever encountered. Besides, all she'd have to do would be drag out the set of essays she'd written when she'd studied Sun Tzu in her Ancient Politics class freshman year.

But music...music. That would be difficult. In high school she'd dated an Academic Decathlon participant who knew bunches about China, but she personally knew next to nothing about their humanities at all, much less music. Did the world of Sun Tzu celebrate music, hold it in esteem? Or was it quaint to their culture, never nearly as important as the world of government, of winning battles?

Jessica wanted to bring The Art of War--she wanted to remind August Evander of what he'd given up. She spent several hours in her other classes considering what music to match it to, but more often than searching to solve the problem she imagined the look on Evander's face as he would undoubtedly turn back to the truths of politics he used to love.

Jessica considered many options, but in the end, all she brought with her to the museum was a simple wooden flute and the Chinese myth of the "foundation tone." She was shocked as she took her seat in the hall: other students had brought projects so much more involved than hers was.

She spied Evander sitting off to the side, watching appreciatively as one by one students presented: Celtic, Medieval, even Middle Eastern. Fools, Jessica thought. That isn't very old at all.

But when a stranger with a military tote took her turn, Jessica was shocked. Speaking to the Professor in some strange and ethereal tongue, telling of water and rain, she brought the assignment to some level more real than the others had.

Almost out of reflex, Jessica looked up to see Evander. He almost appeared as though he had nodded off in the corner there, not quite so enthralled as, for example, Beren, who was watching intently, perhaps even singing along from time to time. Jessica felt suddenly embarassed by her own project. She shoved the folder of song further out of sight under her chair, folded her arms across her chest. Who could compare to something like that?
          Sam shook himself out of a daze, like a dream scattered by a shake of the head. Where had he gone while that melody washed him in its current? It echoed in the core of his being, something familiar and other. Already its rise and fall was fading back into a closed part of him- how could he bear to lose it? His thoughts reached out to capture one last fleeting note. Somehow a tear- a tear!- dropped down his cheek. He lowered his head and feigned scratching his nose.

         By the time Sam raised his head, Professor Beren had turned to the next student, gesturing for her to come forward. Stella was silently packing away her things at the side of the room. Eyes on her, Sam began to rise.

         "I think it best you stay seated, Mr. Richards," the Professor said sharply. Sam sank back into his seat. Stella turned toward him, and gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head. Sorrow was waiting in the shadows of her eyes. She, too, had a tear glimmering on her cheek.

         What was that about?, Sam wondered. He didn't know the girl- had never seen her before taking this class. He sure as Hell didn't know what she was singing about or why it made him cry. But he did know that something was pulling him toward her. Even after she took her seat somewhere behind him, Sam could feel the heat of her presence — like sun through closed eyelids. Like something remembered and lost.
         Pridellen Vaugh settled her slight body in a minor lean against Professor Beren's shoulder as she located an open seat beside him. She was quite practiced in entering her museum's halls soundlessly as needed. She liked to think that her old friend was too intent on grading his students to give a pleasant acknowledgement of her arrival. But unfortunately, the lady was far too observant to allow the romantic notion air to breathe. Professor Beren's hands were folded in his lap, empty of any note-taking elements. Thus, in this interlude between performances, she must have focused mindlessly on the slight tremors of his hands. Suddenly, his eyes were drawn to the single-pointedness of her stare, and he slowly drew his eyes up to look at her and redirect her attention.

         Only slightly embarassed, she pushed her concerns for her friend out of sight; his creased temples drew up a smile from the depths of his eyes. This healed the matter.

         Evander kicked to life as more of the male students came to have their performances, in turn. He offered a hand in set up that had been conspicuously absent during the female students' offerings so far in the afternoon. He hadn't turned un-gentlemanly, nor straight-out avoided any requests, but he stayed aside and lurked silently in his chair, as if on a mission. His intuitions about Sam Richards' capabilities were greatly strengthened when he'd "happened upon" Sam in the library when he'd blended research time and relaxation. Evander listened to Sam's thoughts and frustrations about this performance piece, and he'd offered Sam a strong, leading piece of advice: "You don't need to say it, play it, or sing it, let those who have ears, hear."

         Sam, at this moment, miserably thought for himself, "I'd feel much better just failing on my own." He could see just a few rows away, how intent Evander seemed as Sam's time closed in.

         Pridellen waited until the end of the flutist's performance to whisper a query into Ant's Beren's ear as he sat.

         "Ant's? Do you know about Auggie's behind-the-scenes addition to the next student's offering? He came to ask my permission...."

         He masked a giant range of emotions, but a quizzical, slightly disapproving frown did appear, has he looked to her for explanation. Barely had the previous student sat, with a creak from the folding chair, when lights to the hall dimmed. The pop of some electrical device jacking in jarred everyone's teeth, but the music that flowed out from house speakers immediately following that experience, topped that. It wasn't mesmerizing like the melody of water which Stella had conjured. Professor Beren might have stood and attempted to object, if he thought he could be heard at all.

         The sound was modern music, some 70's rock, then a guitar solo with amazing complexity to the riff. Simultaneously, musical notes and full librettos were flashed upon a screen in reverse registration — white notes on a black background. Characters turned to more ancient symbols, comparisons of musical notes with tablets of cuniform. The music swelled less and less. The beat became dependent on drumming, then that too was replaced by tolling. That, in turn, was replaced by heavy chimes. Greater sounds of nature were added to the soundtrack until one might imagine being immersed in a forest alive with the chittering of monkeys and festooned with caucuses of birds.

         Wind rushing through an immense valley suddenly overpowered all other sound. This too played out to a quiet rustling then faded completely. The projection screen stopped displaying also. In that darkened moment, Sam Richards stepped out, front and center. He held a special metal bowl and its mallet counterpart. A resonant ringing was sent outward by the signing bowl. He made the swift hand movement three times in succession. The sound was both beautiful and immense.

         "I have carried you to the place of Shangri-La. The memory of this does not come from a time or a place. It is in the chanting of monks, and in the lyrics of Led Zepplin. The oldest music and the oldest story is fantasy."
Dove was enchanted by the performances given by her classmates. They really had, to a person, attempted to present something! Some had gone far beyond that something to touch her senses with joy and energy. The elven girl (how could she be anything else?) had startled her from the reverie of final preparation for her own solo performance.

At the end of the weekend, on the way home from the fair, only a few hours earlier than the class, she had reviewed discussions with other Rennies about earliest song. The opinions varied, but she kept returning to a young man who dressed all in black and was convinced that the earliest music came from whales and crickets. The earliest literature, being unwritten inactuality in his mind, was written on the waves by the whale song and on the air by the song of insects.

She actually made it to class only a few minutes late, accompanied by her cascade of gear, dressed in her Renaissance bard outfit - tall soft leathern boots, a long full midnight blue velvet skirt, a cobalt blue and forest green woven blouse and a deep green caped cloak. A leaf-shaped brooch carved from serpentine and set in gold closed the cloak in the front.

After Sam's multi-media performance, hers was simple, but she could not imagine a better introduction to it. She stood holding her lute in the center of the performance area and bowed her head. From the instrument, she drew the sounds of whale song and insects as deftly as possible. Then she added her voice with sound at first, then added words, chanted carefully, to them.

"Indeed, literature is written on our hearts. The fantasy, the joy, the sights and sounds of the past flow forth on the current of water and wind.

The song of the whale is a literature of its own, one we are wont to understand, but find irresistably tied to our own knowledge of the spheres.

The song of the cricket and his insect brethren, the same, a language our minds canna ken, but our hearts absorb and reflect.

The literature of man is the life of each of us. We write our story on the world through the creativity within us. Our story flows onto the collective consciousness, as ink from pen to page.

The first written story was the first event, the Creation. Written not on paper or stone, but on our very beings.


Dove returned to her seat and settled back to see what came next.
One by one, the performers carried on until the last one sat down, finished, with a sigh of relief. The three performances that stole the day - Sam's, Dove's, and Stella's - overpowered every other student, subtlely or with the force of imagery. At the last sound of scraping chairs, Professor Beren rose, and stood before the group.

"On behalf of us all", he began, "I'd like to thank each and every one of you, for sharing with us your talent, your attempts, and your sincere desire to contribute. I would like each of you, to please log into the University website tomorrow, where you will find your performance's grade, and comments from me. I do beg your indulgence, however - my two-fingered typing skills reqire some indulgence in patience. It most likely will be a few hours before I get everything assembled. Thank you all, for coming, and I shall expect each of you on Monday."

With that, the Professor left the room, accompanied by August and Pridellen. One by one, the students began to file out. Sam, however, hovered for a moment, until he saw Stella manhandling her kit bag out the door. Stepping over to her, he made to grab the handle of the bag, and lift it for her, his hand brushing hers for just an instant. Stella looked up at the unwelcome contact, until she saw who it was; her eyes flashed silver-bright at recognition.

"Nai im na thaed?" [May I help you?] Sam asked.

Stella's eyes did not change. Ceni, im govannen pedich le Edhellen! Man eneth lin? [Again, I meet a speaker of Elvish! What's your name?]

Sam smiled. "I'm Sam Richards. But, I never heard your name. I never even saw you in class, until now."

Stella, dropped her eyes from his. "I stayed in the back until today. There was no more use in hiding." She looked up at him again. "I'm Stella. Stella Shannon. You made an amazing music, just now. Thank you - hannon le," she said, mixing English and the now-familiar Elven-tongue.

Both Sam and Stella smiled, as Sam heaved the kit bag and his guitar out the door and out onto the street near the museum. Sam noticed that, on contrast to his shoes flapping on the stone steps and marble floors, Stella's footsteps barely whispered; it was like walking next to a ghost. Or walking next to a dream, the thought came unbidden to his mind.

"How did you get here, with this load?" Sam asked. "I drove, and my car's just over here, can I..."

"I walked", Stella said, "and if you're offering, it's okay, but thank you for the offer. I'm not that far away."

"Oh, okay", Sam said, a little deflated. He had been feeling a flutter in his chest, like something waking up and stirring, when those silver eyes met his. He didn't like it, but he also wanted to feel it again, and watch what grew. Stella began walking away, the bag slung over one shoulder, the rain stick bumping along like a walking stick, her skirt swaying with each step.

"Hey!" Sam called out, and saw those eyes as Stella turned back to look at him. Man lu vin achenitham? {When will I see you again?}

Stella's eyes flashed again, this time with a grin that make the flutter in his chest rise again. "Man lu ceni govaded? [When is our next class?] And she turned the corner, and he was out of sight.

Stella began walking faster, a quick pace that made her breath come in puffs. Anything to get away from that guy. Sam. What was it about him, that made her nervous? He had to have recognized it, the song, the words — of COURSE he recognized the words, he just spoke to you! Did he know? What did he see? What did he feel?

These thoughts occupied her mind, and her heart, all weekend, until she logged into the campus website, checked the page for Professor Beren's class, and sure enough, there were the names of every student, with a link beside the name saying, "Click here For Grade." Stella did so, and the following message popped up:

"STELLA:

Please do me the courtesy of visiting me, to discuss your grade and your assignment personally. I should like you to appear at the Faculty Lounge at 5:00 PM, and please bring only, an open mind.

Gil silen na lu govaded,
[A star shall shine upon our meeting],

PROF. BEREN"

Little could Stella have known that, at that precise moment, Dove and Sam also saw the exact same message...
         “Hey.”
         Jessica smiled up at Evander, watching him dump his change into the coffee bar’s tip jar. “You’re August Evander, right? From Professor—”
          “Beren. Yes.”
         He offered only the most cursory of tight-lipped smiles, saying nothing more. Jessica was undeterred. After giving the barista her own overly complicated order — vanilla latte, skim milk, Splenda instead of sugar — she took the debit card receipt and sweetly asked of him, “Might I borrow a pen?”
          “Oh, I — sure.” He pulled one from his pants pocket. Jessica took it gingerly and slowly signed her name on the receipt, taking extra care for the perfect dot over the i. By the time she looked back up Evander and his styrofoam coffee cup had already begun moving again.
          “Your pen?” questioned Jessica.
          “Keep it.” Evander disappeared out the door.

         No, no, no. Jessica hurried down the boulevard, coffee gone cold in her hand. She didn’t even like coffee — never would have set foot in the shop, much less wasted five bucks and twenty minutes, if she hadn’t spotted Evander heading in. He was alone, he was preoccupied and meandering, and she had found following him on the coffee pretense irresistible.
         But now? Now it was all ruined. The afternoon of conversation she’d imagined evaporated the second those coffee bar door had closed behind him.
         Jessica threw the full cup in a dumpster and stomped away.

         She spent most of the afternoon in the library, alone. Pushing away thoughts of Professor Beren’s class, she instead read a few chapters out of an ancient behavioral psychology textbook that frequently referenced the 1960 presidential election as recent news. When she returned it with minor disgust to the shelves, she panned over the groups congregating nearby: a couple poring over an art history primer, a freshman girl feverishly studying statistics, and there by the window, Evander.
         Would it be any use trying to speak with him again? Sighing, Jessica trudged over.
          “Hello,” Evander said cautiously.
          “Hello again,” she replied, carefully sliding her text back into its place on the shelf. At the silence, she said finally, “The psychology of voting behavior.”
         He raised an eyebrow, momentarily intrigued. “You’re a poli sci concentration, aren’t you?”
          “Guilty.” Jessica had to concentrate to keep her voice even — now that the ice was broken she couldn’t waste the opportunity. “I’m sorry, you probably don’t—”
          “No, no.” Jessica noticed him eyeing the other books in her bag. “Tom Friedman,” he commented, “is brilliant.”
         She smiled, sliding an errant hand over the zipper. “I didn’t think you literary types much cared for politics,” she said carefully, wanting to allure without making it obvious. She knew his major, anyway. “If you do, though,” she whispered, “I have his newer piece in Foreign Affairs magazine on—”
         It was the sort of offer that she almost knew would work, the kind that no self-respecting poli sci major, even Jessica herself, would ever be able to refuse. But Evander barely blinked.          “Why are you in Professor Beren’s class?”
         Jessica, taken aback, raised a worried eyebrow. “What?”
         “Music and literature, well, it doesn’t seem to be your thing.” He eyed her suspiciously.          “I remember you from last year’s public policy debates. You don’t care about music, or Beren, or any of it. So why are you in it?”
         She thought of a thousand things to say, all of them lies. It was too soon to tell him that she had come to save him, to bring him back from the temptation of going back to music theory, his original concentration. “That’s a very forward question.”
         “It is.”
         In détente, they stood for several moments, both too proud to waver. Jessica wondered to herself how long it would last — under normal circumstances, she wouldn’t allow herself to falter, but maybe now, maybe this project, would require something a little different.
         Finally she said, “Why are you the TA?”
         “What?”
         He should have expected it, Jessica mused. “It’s as valid a question as yours, don’t you think? I mean, I could have just been placed in the class as a last ditch for my degree. You work for him. That has to be—”
         “Unusual,” he finished.
         “Yes,” she breathed, regaining her composure. “Unusual.”
         “And I’m not a music major, or literature, or theory,” he added in as an afterthought.
         Though she had already known, she said only, “Then it’s even more unusual.”
         “He isn’t really that bad, you know.” Evander turned away from her, glancing down an aisle of textbooks. “The stories are mostly true, but he isn’t…” The man shook his head. “He’s a good professor, a really good professor, eccentricities or no.”
         “I don’t think you can—”
         But before Jessica could say much else the girl sitting at the computer terminal to their left abruptly stood and turned to them. Jessica recognized her as the one who had done a Renaissance piece, one that she’d rolled her eyes at, for the class. Turning to Evander, she whispered, “Isn't that—”
         “Hey,” the girl—Dove—said. “You guys are—did you get something to go see Professor Beren?”
         Jessica raised a disinterested eyebrow but dropped the affectation as soon as she noticed Evander glancing her way. “I can’t say I’ve checked it yet,” she replied, lilting her voice.
         “He’s all right?” Evander asked.
         “I don’t know. It didn’t say anything like that. Just that he—” She glanced warily at Evander, seemingly remembering for the first time that he was a TA and not just another student.          “You don’t know anything about this? He was so specific: the faculty lounge at five o’clock.”
         Evander concentrated on Jessica, hearing but not acknowledging Dove’s summary of the message. “That’s strange, even for Beren.”
         “It’s quarter to five,” Dove said, mostly to herself. “I guess I’m going down.”
         Jessica watched her walk away, her hair swinging as she hurried away. When she had disappeared down the staircase, Jessica asked, “He didn’t say anything to you?”
         “No,” Evander said. “But maybe I’ll just go down.”
         No, Jessica thought, you can’t keep spending so much time with him. “Maybe I’ll go with you.”
         Evander shrugged. “Another open mind,” he muttered. Jessica had no way of knowing that such words gave him away as a liar—he knew exactly what was going on.
A Non-Existent User

         Genna felt ill at ease. Her first performance before an audience had not been the song of her heart, that one song that would carry with it the power to make the crickets sing, nor the sweetness that would slowly open the flower buds on a redbud tree. Yes, her performance had left the much more noticable taste of embarrassment lingering in her mouth. She knew, even as her cheeks tingled anew, that tomorrow the sun would once more kiss the lips of the meadows bringing with her the possibility of redemption.
         In just a few minutes more she would meet Professor Beren. How she hoped she would do much better in the next assignment. . .
          Sam sat at the cluttered desk in his room as shadows stretched long fingers across the bare wood floor. He stared at a book before him, but never registered a word. Why was he so anxious? Why couldn't he concentrate? He glanced at the clock.

          Something immense hovered an the edges of his mind, poised like a storm about to explode over a mountain peak. Stella's music woke it- a nameless longing that kept calling from that great height; only with a melody bent and meandering and changing from hers. So familiar... so close....

         "This is bullshit!" he muttered, pushing his chair away and stalking to the door, slamming his way out into the evening.

         Dove and Stella met on the stairs leading to Beren's office corridor. Neither said anything, nor seemed surprised to see the other. "Well, of course she'd be called in," Dove thought. "But why me?" Rounding the corner at the top of the stairs, Dove slammed crashing into Sam, scattering the books she was carrying. He was standing still and silent, as if chained to the ground. Hitting him was like hitting a rock- solid, immovable. She muttered her apologies as she scrambled for the books. He just watched, not saying a word.

          The moment stretched out and wrapped around each of them. It whispered something compelling. Sam and Dove turned as one to Stella. Her eyes were embers burning like her song into their hearts.

          "Well, then, I guess it's time for us to go in," Dove whispered. Sam nodded his head, then reached for the door knob.
Sam muffled the curse which escaped his lips when his sweaty palms slid ineffectually across the knob. He then yelped in surprise when August Evander suddenly appeared, and stormed through the door in a practiced fashion. For those who had never seen beyond that door, clear sightlines emerged now as it hung open. Despite the prominent signage declaring the gothic stone entryway as proscenium to faculty offices, the solid wood door opened into an abbreviated hallway. Past only four alternating doorways in that narrow hall, another stair landing could be seen. Half a floor up, a solarium-abutted loft allowed light into a lower-level antechamber, where a blocked open door was visible from a particular angle. Only August moved forward in habit, knowing that that cubby hole was the door to Ants Beren’s assigned office.

The measured trot of August’s Doc Martens on the stairs brought forth Professor Beren and one other figure from the shadowed corner. He mused upward at the gathering of students hanging back at the iron rail of the landing. Professor Beren shouted up to them.

“Clinging to their average day…Faces along the bar….” The student beside him forestalled their conversation, and those now slowly descending the stairs stopped to look at him blankly. “Hmmm, none of you are carrying a minor in English, I suppose?” Professor Beren stated with some sarcasm. “Good. No irritating correction — I know that I’ve misquoted Auden before.”

Evander double-timed it the remaining distance to Beren, hoping to sequester a brief word before the rest closed the distance. Beren looked a bit startled to have Evander imposing on this moment so urgently.

“Excuse me, Samuel, my time seems to get eaten up so by the Graduate students!”

Beren had just a moment to congenially point the way back up the stairway for him. Samuel’s sensitive hazel eyes shot downward as August Evander swept past him. And before August had closed his hand about Professor Beren’s upper arm brusquely, Samuel imagined he heard Beren’s vocal objection, “Mr. Evander, you are out of line!” Yet, when he looked about, clamoring up the stairs, he saw no one else in the room reacting. It appeared Evander was already choreographing his and Beren’s friendly turning toward the other gathered students.

Sam, Dove, and Jessica all were processing this odd meeting in the University catacombs very much the same. Perhaps if they knew each other better, that recognition would be frightening.

Jessica tried to catch Evander’s eye. He seemed relieved in some way. If he’d return some show of interest, it might confirm her hope that he’d finished dealing with the Professor’s demands on him.

Stella might have been held under the spell, except that she was equal to an English major, without that being her declared speciality. The reference to W.H. Auden’s poem, “September 1, 1939,” might have been beyond her young memory, if it’s stanzas had not recently been recirculated in the wake of the September 11th attacks on America. She could only focus on the stanza Beren had begun:

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.


---

Genna met the scurrying form of Samuel on the stairs leading away from the faculty offices corridor. “Excuse me,” Genna queried, indicting the young man’s watch arm.

“Five-ten.” He shyly replied.

“Oh my God, I’m late, on top of everything else!”
Dove smiled as she left the classroom. It was so rare to find a class that involved magic. Her life was a magical place to live because of the horses, who could raise her to a place of freedom and joy above the earth.

She crossed the campus and loaded her gear into her pickup truck. Then, still dressed as a bard in the colors of a woodland evening, she returned to the horse barn.

Entering the dark warm refuge of the huge building, she walked down the aisles, giving nose scratches and making complimentary comments to her animal friends. At a large box stall separated from the others, she opened a tack box. A bag of carrots lay in the top of the box and she took out one. Then, grabbing a brush and a towel, she entered the stall of Miridin, the Andalusian stallion she sometimes rode in dressage competitions.

"Miridin, you are a wonder to me." A horse much like Miridin had been used as the Elvensteed in the movie of the Lord of the Rings, and he looked the part with his long mane and tail, his flowing muscles and huge dark brown eyes, sparked with intelligence.

Brushing him was unnecessary, his coat shone through the dust motes that hung in the tips of the silvery white hairs. She brushed lightly across him, following strokes with the cloth, until he shone. Then she clipped a rope to his halter and led him out into the hallway.

Out in the sunshine, she sat on the railing, watching him dart and run playfully around the round ring, dancing like a sprite in a rainbow of falling water. Magic. Lyrical. The beat of the hooves and the snorting of the huge equine lungs filled her spirit. She went back through the performances and was thrilled again at the fact that she had been allowed to share in those moments.

After rolling in the sand, Miridin came over to her and nickered. She climbed carefully off the rail and put her arms around him. What a gentle and excellent stallion he was.

She didn't have anything else to do this afternoon. The riding classes were to be part of a riding competition on the weekend. This afternoon, the students' preparation for the next horse show was guided by a representative of the sponsoring horse club and didn't involve her. With the afternoon free, she returned to the library to check the grade she had received from Beren. Eagerness took her skipping up the steps and through the throngs of students to a campus computer terminal. She noticed Jessica and Evander from class, but they were deeply involved in conversation.

She logged in and found the message:

"DOVE:

Please do me the courtesy of visiting me, to discuss your grade and your assignment personally. I should like you to appear at the Faculty Lounge at 5:00 PM, and please bring only, an open mind.

Gil silen na lu govaded,
[A star shall shine upon our meeting],

PROF. BEREN"

She turned to the other two from her class and briefly commented to them about the message, but Jessica brushed it off, seeming vastly more interested in the conversation they were involved in. Evander seemed much more interested in Jessica than she, as well, for his eyes concentrated only on the other girl as he made some comment about it being strange even for Beren.

She hadn't thought it was that strange, she was just surprised to be called to his office today. A knot of confusion rolled in beside her tingling sensation of joy from being favored with a moment with the instructor.

There was something about him...

Hurrying out of the library, she stopped by the check out desk and picked up an armload of books she had reserved several days before. She had come back on campus with only a small wallet of cards and her keys secreted away in one of the folds of her clothing. Carrying books was something she rarely did, preferring sachels and her rolling bookbag to awkward armloads of 'stuff'.

She rounded the corner and smashed into Sam, who was standing like a block of stone in the center of the hall. Her books went flying, falling scattered on the floor around him. As she knelt to gather them back into a stack, she muttered an apology and was surprised that he didn't move to help or even step aside to allow her to get the book leaning against his shin.

Standing uncertainly, she backed away from him and looked around. "Well, then, I guess it's time for us to go in," Dove whispered. Sam nodded his head, then reached for the door knob.

Evander, from the library, arrived with the girl Jessica. The group seemed scattered and uncertain and Dove went into observation mode. She began observing dynamics and allowed herself to be swept along in the flow of students, staying close to the Elven girl. The males in this group seemed to be given to drama, but that was the way of the artistic and talented men in the Renaissance circuit as well.

Clutching her books to her, she wondered what would happen next.
Stella watched as Professor Beren looked around at the group of students who assembled at last, in the catacombs of the faculty hall, looking like he was taking mental notes of everyone there. So had she, honestly, and was re-evaluating her impressions of each one there, since the labeling process she went through at the first meeting.

She recognized Dove, the bardic songstress. Earlier, she may have thought of her as a drama queen, making a late entrance to everything so as to focus attention on her. But now, she was, in Stella’s eyes, deserving of the attention. Her skill at song crafting was superb, and perhaps, with all of her time with the re-enactors and the Renfaires, maybe of all of them, she might be supportive.

And, there was Jessica. She seemed to Stella to be bitter and cynical, but her own performance, though not on the levels of Dove or Sam, or (with modesty) her own, there was talent, and vision with her, as well.

Sam. Not a jock. Not a brainless hunk of suet. He spoke Sindarin with proper style, not just some Tolkien fan who strung random words together out of the Trilogy. And his music! It soared, even through the harsh guitar of the modern age – in Stella’s mind, the image came of orcs performing a ballet. But when she looked at him, really looked…

Genna, now what of her? Her piece was uninteresting, until one or two notes struck home – a chord of such deep magic and magnificence. That must be why she was here – why ANY of them were here. Did they all get the same message from Beren, or variations in kind?

Stella shook out of her reverie, as she heard Beren’s voice calling from the landing below. “Well, well! You’ve all consented to come, excellent! Please if you might; come down here, so that we might not need to shout at each other, eh?”

Stella and the others descended the stair to the landing, and stood in a close semi-circle centered on Beren and Aug, who stood beside the professor. Stella noted that each of the assembly had their casual glances on one person in particular: Jessica kept glancing at Evander; Genna kept looking at Beren, as did Evander; each time she glanced at Sam, he would quickly avert his eyes, as if guilty on being caught; and Dove could be seen looking sidelong at Stella, herself.

“Excellent”, Beren said again in a sort of introduction. “Now then, each of you is bursting with curiosity, I imagine, as to the agenda of this little meeting of ours. Now, my asking you here to discuss your grades was not merely a pretense at invitation, oh no. It was because, each of you – each and every one of you – displayed with your performances, not simply talent at music, though you each have it, oh my goodness, yes”, he said, nodding in turn to Dove and Sam, “but rather a certain – attribute that I have been observing in several students each term, an attribute that allows you, whether you are aware of it or not, to see things as they are not; or maybe, as they should be.” Beren’s eyes met Genna and Jessica in turn, and lingered upon Stella at this last comment.

“At any rate, here is my intent”, Beren continued. “You five here, I am glad to announce, received the highest marks of any of your classmates; this does not, however, exclude you from further participation in the class. You have, in fact, demonstrated to me, and my good friend Aug, that you have the capability to conduct more serious study, and this is my proposal…”

“I would invite you five to join me”, Beren pronounced, “in a research project that I have been involved in for quite some time. Talented and gifted students, for terms in and out of the years, have assisted me in the research involved, and this group here around you is the latest to show promise worthy of the attempt. Now, if you decline my offer, this will in no way impact you in any way – course load, grades, anything. But, if you accept”, Beren leaned forward, his voice dropping, meeting each pair of eyes in turn, “I can assure you there will be course work the likes of which you have never seen before, a journey of academic discovery, there and back again. And maybe thou shalt find the answers, maybe even thou shalt find them. Now, does anyone decline?”

A frantic moment of silence followed. Stella felt rooted to the spot. That last statement was a direct quote from Tolkien, phrased from Elvish into English – had it been a message from Beren to her? A request, a reminder of what he knew, and a hint of what was to come? How could she refuse? What might she find out? And how shall she answer? That was simple – if Beren quoted Tolkien, so would Stella. She chose a phrase out of Her Book that always stirred her heart with a thrill, though she didn’t know why.

“Professor”, Stella said, “as I have begun, so shall I go on. Let one reject your counsel, whose long labors bear fruit at last. Let other choose as they will.”




         The exchange was rather haunting. Though neither Jessica nor Evander had ever given Lord of the Rings more than a cursory pop culture perusal, both understood the significance of Stella’s reply. Jessica glanced warily over at Evander, hoping he could offer some clue as to the nature of Beren’s research, but he looked back with a stare equally perplexed. The others – Dove, Genna, Sam – fixed their attention on Beren, and one by one each nodded with bewildered agreement, mumbling some quiet sort of accord.

It had come to Evander, still standing beside the professor. Beren was now watching him expectantly, no doubt hoping he would have a line to match the dignity of Stella’s. For a fleeting moment Jessica wondered if he would say anything about her – after all, she had just followed him down here from the library, and her plan for saving Evander had never included an eccentric’s research project. Certainly the others were wondering why she had come, why she had answered the call, why she had gotten an invitation in the first place. The glint in Stella’s eye made Jessica wonder if the girl knew she had never received one at all. She sighed, a release of breath barely audible, and lay her intent gaze on the floor.

Suddenly Jessica felt Beren’s stare turn to her, and she reflexively glanced back at Evander. He met her eyes, nodded slightly, and said, “We shall. It is not our part here to take thought only for a season.”

Jessica eyed him cautiously, wondering what had possessed him to answer for them both. Perhaps he thought she would otherwise decline? Perhaps it was his subtle reference to his bringing her here? After a moment Beren’s jovial voice broke the resounding silence. “How I agree!” Stella gazed intently at the professor, clearly most eager to begin; she seemed to have the most Tolkien references to her name, and she would no doubt be apt to any research project.

“If we might…?” Beren gestured toward a large bookcase on the wall opposite, and everyone followed as he made his way toward it. Stella strode out front, second behind only Evander; Dove and Genna followed closely, and Sam meandered his way slowly but respectably behind the girls. With another sigh, this one purposely less audible, Jessica stepped forward.

The group gathered around the bookcase and watched Professor Beren climb a rickety ladder to access a top shelf. Stella breathed in sharply as he pulled down a massive volume that looked as though it had been untouched for many years, the words J.R.R. Tolkien etched in the side. With the right glint of light the words faintly gleamed. Beren climbed back down and gingerly laid the volume before them, positively grinning from the surprise of it all. Stella’s hand hung in the air as though she almost feared the reality of the book. “This is…?”

“This is,” he finished, “one of the greatest finds in the history of Tolkien – nay, in the recent history of literature itself. My esteemed colleague Pridellen Vaugh and I encountered this legend many moons ago, but we have not even begun to decipher its mysteries.”

“So this is, what, a first edition?” Genna asked.

Dove and Sam watched Beren carefully for an answer. Jessica might have asked the same question herself if she weren’t so quieted by the atmosphere. Beren’s eyes flicked one by one to each member of the group, and when he came to Stella, he asked, “What was Tolkien’s first work?”

The Hobbit,” she answered instantly, “published 1937.”

Sam raised an eyebrow and made to say something, but he quickly thought better of it and pursed his lips. Beren hadn’t noticed, but Evander had. “Sam?” he prodded.

“Well,” Sam mumbled, “there was the, uh, Songs for the Philologists, right?”

“Of course! 1936!” Stella grinned broadly, not at all affronted by Sam’s knowledge. He smiled back at her rather sheepishly. “But there are only a few copies in existence – Professor, are you saying you have a copy? That would be…”

“I fear I have not yet encountered that rarest book of legend,” Beren said, a shadow across his face. “But what I do have – this volume here,” he said, sweeping a hand across the table, “is possibly even more monumental.” Jessica craned her neck in an attempt to see the book’s cover, but Beren had skillfully shielded it from prying eyes. Not even Evander seemed to know the tome’s identity. “I simply assure you that the deeds that we shall do shall be the matter of song until the last days of Arda.” For a long moment Beren smiled widely as he surveyed the students before him, and when the sharpest of these moments had passed he took a seat. “Shall we begin?”
          Stella felt her heartbeat slow in that eternal moment of recognition- like standing in starbright darkness and entering the music. Beren had failed to cover the title of the book fast enough to shield her sharp eyes from the words singing there, so long just memory and dream. Begin? What is beginning when one walks outside the confines of time? The better question is- how shall we continue...?

          Sam felt the confusion wrap around his heart and squeeze with a hard hand. This is crazy! These people are lunatics! I don’t belong here... I don’t even know what they are talking about. I... But even as he let the thoughts begin to ground him to familiar, safe reality, he knew he was kidding himself. Every synapse was snapping with recognition, reaching toward... what? Something so profoundly elemental that he couldn’t give it words. Just a melody that had always always been there in the back of his mind.... Turning instinctively to Stella, he said, “Show me. I’ve forgotten so much.”

          She smiled softly and took his hand. “Come.”

          The rest of the group silently followed, migrating around the scarred table and taking scraping, shuffling seats. Beren gently pushed the book into the center of the silent group. Dust motes danced in the sunlight streaming through the smudged glass of a high window. Elvish script glowed in gold across the cover leather.

          “Some of you know what this book is.” His eyes took Stella’s and rested there. The moment stretched on, until he sighed and shook his head. “The rest will understand soon enough. Our task is to open these words before... well, before it is too late. “ He laughed mirthlessly. “Late! What a useless adjective in the face of eternity! I meant, rather, before our time here is ended and we move on to... well, the next thing.”

          “So, “ he boomed suddenly quite brisk and businesslike, “We begin.” He gently opened the book to a spot marked by a frayed red ribbon, and shoved the heavy book across the table in front of Stella. “Perhaps you can catch some of us up to where we left off?”

         Stella’s eyes widened in surprise. “Left off! Surely we can’t cover that much ground! There is too water over that fall.”

          “Indeed! And yet, “ mumbled Beren, looking at the curious, confused faces around him. “It is necessary. “ Laughing, “They have forgotten so much!”

         With a sigh, the dark-haired girl touched the page, her lips moving soundlessly as she traced the words. Raising her bright eyes, she surprised them with tears. “Silence is the color of our exile. We squandered the Grace given and lost the bright Vision. We heard but did not heed, loving the created more than Creator, twisting the Song into our own image. In our folly, we cast away the Music, and now we sing our regret forevermore. We have fallen, broken, and the rocks of our longing crush our hearts.

         Dove heard the others speaking in Elvish, as many of the Rennies did. An aching place in her heart even understood the meaning. She had never until this moment felt drawn to learn to communicate with others in the tongue recorded by Tolkien. The invitation from Beren was to join in a research project. This was actually what she knew she was reaching for when scanning the course offerings in the college's catalogue. Something Different. Challenging. Clarifying.

         Tolkien -- the book in Professor Beren's hand was by a master of Middle Earth, who lived in the world of magic and music. Often, when she sat in nature sketching images or creating songs, she felt those other beings and magics moved closer to her own crude representations.

         However, in the way Miridin was a magnificent horse, fully himself, not an Elvensteed, not a Pegasus, even though he graciously consented to wear his winged costume on special occasions. The stallion was exquisitely himself. Enthusiastic in the breeding paddock, beautifully responsive under saddle in the dressage ring, a perfect gentleman in public exhibition classes for the Andalusian breed.

         Dove was simply who she was and she loved every moment of her day and night as an opportunity to experience life. She lived in a little house on the horse ranch belonging to the Renaissance Fair's horse master. The home had once been the residence of a Celtic lady, who came over from 'the old Country' to be with her family years ago. It had a magical air and Dove felt honored to be allowed to live there and to help with the horses.

Even though Carroll’s father and grandfather had been employed by the family, Dove was a
recent addition to the working stables and ranch. She lived the life of a Rennie on
weekends and often weekdays, as well. Traditional designs and clothes saturated her
life.

As she watched the others, she felt drawn to offer something to each of them. Would she
be snubbed for being so forward? Did she care if she was? It was clear she didn’t know
them very well, yet, but she knew of two things she carried with her that would be
perfect. In the folds of her skirt and in the myriad of pockets, she always had handmade
items scavenged at fairs which came along for the ride. Gifts were like that. They
begged to be created, traded for or purchased, then begged to be given to the person they
were made for. Shameless.

A special hairpiece she had designed to hold the energy of the sea would be a nice
gesture for Stella.. The barrette was made of soft leather, with a thin rod of metal
holding a tiny blue crystal ball at its tip to hold the barrette in the hair. From the
leather hung ribbons with little treasures on them, but the largest treasure hung in a
pouch suspended on a tri-woven silken cord in the center. Within it was an ocarina, tiny
but playable, nonetheless. It was exquisitely formed of very thinly worked clay,
protected by the hard leather pouch, similar to one used to protect a blade. The brush
strokes of white and blue on the tiny instrument represented wind-swept waves. Orcas
played above and below the waves, some of their black spots coinciding with the air holes
for the instrument.

Dove reached her hand into her pocket and closed her hand around it. Moving closer to
Stella, she placed the ocarina/hairpiece into the lady’s hand and smiled, feeling
suddenly shy. The tiny ocarina had used her to move it to its proper owner.

A finely Sgian Dubh was nestled in a scabbard in another pocket. It had a black hilt
with a dragon carved in it. It got in the way as she reached for the gift she had
thought of for Professor Beren. She closed her hand about it, brought it out, quickly
slipped it in Sam’s pocket and reached back for the gift she was looking for with her
fingertips.

Many more things filled her pockets, but only one would be gifted for now. A small
wooden flute made by her friend Jason. Carved on it was an intricate Celtic knot pattern
of vines, with one tiny green snake crawling through it. She waited for the right moment,
then slipped the flute into Professor Beren’s pocket.

She stood listening attentively, feeling the pleasure of being part of the group. As
Stella spoke, Dove was caught up in the emotions that flashed between the group’s
participants. Stella looked surprised and almost sounded overwhelmed when she said,
“They have forgotten so much.”

Cryptic. Encrypted with deeply hidden meaning. Buried. Interred. The longing she
spoke of in the next sentences was Dove’s desire, as well.

Dove smiled softly and the light of the smile spread through her with a vibrant warmth.
The room swirled away to nothingness, for subtly, the lie of individual consciousness was being replaced by the Word, the Names, and the Song. The denial of all matter was encompassing this hastily forged fellowship. Two among them were clinging to the illusion of Reason. No person or power, however, would presently make note. It could not be called defiance nor error. In truth, all of them remained free, even as personal boundaries and concepts of time dissolved.

Evander's grip was being achieved in masked anger. He had some experience to ground himself. What might appear as nonchalance was his own conscious wall to distance his mind from the magic of the Elvish speech. Yet, the group willingness had its own power over the dynamics he was struggling to accept or deny. He initially tried to deny his own agreement to participate. But his word was part of The Word, his very honor bound up in the consent he had spoken long ago. The one concession that he could give himself easily was in seeing that August Evander, III really hadn't changed much. It was something he could either consider a triumph of will or a failure of the cause. He knew that he wouldn't know the answer unless he let himself go once again.

Beren was already way ahead of the students, but as there was no present moment to be in, he had no connection or thought towards their welfare. They would fare only as well as each was supplied in Truth. The only physical mold he gave to the singular thought expressing through him in the now was, "I live."

Jessica was intently aware of Evander's non-responsiveness in opposition to her darting eyes and anxiousness. She theorized that Evander, logically-minded as he was, had to have been made a straight-forward proposal when he agreed to aid the Professor. She was sure a good deal more was explained in the time Evander had made himself available to attend to Professor Beren's studies beginning a couple years ago. She could not tell if everyone was in some sort of trance, while she remained outside such effects, or if the truth actually proved the opposite. For she felt so unsure of herself, that she couldn't know that reality itself was shifting. She suddenly found an guiding archetype presenting itself for her psyche to meld onto her consciousness — it was Strength — but it was probably the most uncommon level of strength she had ever conceived possible for herself. And in truth, it became her deepest knowing in an instant. Any prior form was unknown.

"Evander." Even as his first acceptance of physical and mental form took place in the light of Middle Earth, the mantle of Ranger did not overwrite this conscious wish to retain that which he wanted to remain. "Aug-" he couldn't quite remember something of himself, so he stuck with that one touchstone, "Evander." And in the same moment, he challenged himself to bury that Name deep within, and not speak it. In this second life, he wondered how long he'd keep this secret, or if it were at all possible to keep so simple a secret from the Maiar.

Someone was here with him on the edge of Mirkwood. He'd hoped the disorientation would not stay with him long. How much older he felt in this moment. And already he felt the weakness mixed with near-immortal power in being once again in the form of a Man. The weakness showed all too easily in his words. Easily, wearily slipped out was this portion, "I feel old...."

His companion, walking slowly with a greatly illuminated stave top held up before them both, chuckled, "Yet not lost on this path, I assume?" The companion turned his head to glance back at the one who was apparently to be leading the way.

Evander could not see his companion's face. Particularly with the large round brim of such a tall dark hat. He could see eerie tufts of hair catching the glow of the staff. Full recognition was to be long in coming, and wistfully, Evander hoped for others to be found on this path, and soon. He wondered, if any of the other students, newly transported, would face harder orientation.

Gandalf gaped for a moment at the lad not having a quick retort, but then recalled, that this one often became lost in thought. He settled on a comforting affirmation to tie up the conversation for the moment.

"Ranger, I dare guess that you can track a butterfly in the dark. It's no matter."
A Non-Existent User



          In her heart the vision of the dream that could consume all dreams walked through her veins at last. Genna shuddered and clenched her teeth against the chill of the open pathways of dream truth that sought to overwhelm her.

          "Ah," she whispered to herself, "from among these wonders that presently trickle through my vision I must choose the one truth."

         Dare I move from upon this stone where I now behold these visions? Ever so slowly she began to feel the pace of her heart diminishing till before her eyes she could see only two dancing visions, each one beckoning her to enter into their truth.

          Two forests stood before her. On her right a forest so dark only the drip of water upon living wood issued forth from its depths. A voice called to her from The Shining forest on her left. "Minamahal kong anak na babae. . . it is upon the Old Forest Road your eyes will see me."

          Genna hesitated no longer. Clutching her wooden flute tightly in her left hand, she stepped into the midst of the forest she could only call The Shining.

          Sam felt a dizzying vertigo swirling through his head. He threw his arms out in panic as he fell heavily to the ground. Ground? Not the scuffed wooden flooring of a high room on campus? It was moist, rich humus, wet enough to soak through his jeans immediately. He scrambled unsteadily to his feet and closed his eyes while he waited for the world to quit spinning. When he opened his eyes, he almost fell again.

          The floor wasn’t the only thing that was different. It was like waking up from a dream- the old, dusty room the dream- into a reality that touched every sense. Dim light filtered in streams through high foliage. Dark, mossy tree trunks, amazing in girth, were pillars in the green darkness. Water dripped from above. Everything smelled of wet mouldering leaves. He could taste the air.

          Sam shook his head. The vertigo was gone, but the forest remained. So real. “How did you do that...?” he asked, turning to his right, where he last watched Stella open the old book.

          But she wasn’t there. An old bearded man in a large hat stood watching him, a small smile touching the corners of his bearded lips and spilling into his eyes. Next to him stood Evander... but a different Evander- that same haughty, mocking stance, but older somehow- there was a touch of grey in his rather disheveled hair, and the lines around his eyes did not look like laugh lines. In panic, Sam spun around, looking for the rest of the group.

          They stood, or sprawled, behind him in various postures of confusion, and in some cases, abject fear. Stella, alone, stood calm and collected. No one spoke for a long reaching moment.

          “Well met,” pronounced the old man, smiling more broadly as he surveyed the group. “Well met, indeed! I’m heartened to see you all managed that part quite well. Shall we be on our way, then?”


Dove had been caught off guard by the change of place and the sensation of absence of the pressure of time. She had only felt that funny absence thing a few times in the past, mostly when seated in nature watching a horse graze slowly and moving her awareness to 'become' a horse. Horses don't feel the pressure of time. As a matter of fact, they seem to care about time only as it relates to humans -- feeding, coming out for a lesson or a walk, whatever.

Dove felt released from the responsibility of time, since after a moment she realized she could not do a blamed thing about getting back to her normal routine at the moment. She did not have enough information. She ignored the part of her that demanded she scream out and fight for that information as well as the part of her which wanted to fly away -- to run and hide. She centered on the part of her that looked with childlike interest on the elven lady, the wizard Gandalf and the others around her. She took in a quiet, solemn breath, rose to her feet, and waited.
You know the day destroys the night
Night divides the day...


Samuel Vaugh allowed time to tick away unnoticed with his ears shrouded by studio-quality headphones, immersed in the repeating Doors track. There was nothing in this music that was intoxicating of itself. The mind of the listener craved direction. Samuel wanted to simply allow his mind to wander, but the straining force of Jim Morrison’s voice was instead a catalyst; Samuel Vaughn wanted to voyage through time and space. Samuel keep focusing back in time on the odd power struggle in the exchange between Beren and Evander, just a short hour ago, which he was sure that he, alone, had witnessed. He thought that he could have stood up to the menacing grad student, at least questioned his brusque demeanor. Maybe he should have at least asked the Professor if everything was alright. A test of courage?, Samuel thought; Beren could have put his assistant up to it.. However, he’d stayed silent. If that was the test, then he had failed.

Break on through to the other side
Break on through to the other side
Break on through…Break on…Break on…


For all that Professor Beren had offered as young Samuel’s mentor, Samuel still felt distanced from the studies Beren obviously felt most strongly about, yet carried on in solitude. There was some power Beren had command over. It was the illimitable power like one perceived from a rock star performing live. Samuel’s heart was brooding over this. His rejection was building from the interpretation that his mentor rarely included him in any voyage of discovery. He couldn’t be resentful if the older man had never gauged his interest in the ideas of parallel living by way of the word or song; but he had done just that. But now, the disclosures he had received directly from the professor felt worse than a painfully long tease.

In their few in-depth discussions, the professor had always stressed to Samuel that there were personal keys to the power of written, spoken, or harmonically vocalized words. Whole worlds open to the attuned mind, Beren echoed in Samuel’s consciousness. The acceptances of lyrical importance and denials of outward influences did not change this young man’s concept of himself. Despite the loving support of his aunt, Pridellen, and the academic guidance of this good friend of hers, Professor Beren, Samuel felt greatly displaced. This afternoon, witnessing the gathering of the Professor’s select core of Literature students had both shifted Samuel’s confidence and fractured an already skewed self-concept. If he was going to get what he wanted, he’d need to break through; he would need to speak for himself. Still, he felt weak, so wormlike in comparison to the mesomorphic Sam, haughty Evander, the proud Stella, even the pretty latecomer that he’d encountered as he’d raced away from Beren’s faculty niche.

Samuel made the resolution to gain any advantage over the Professor’s newly formed fellowship. Yet, in the solitary darkness , it was still unclear with whom he could conspire to gain this power.

We chased our pleasures here
Dug our treasures there
But can you still recall
The time we cried
Break on through to the other side


---

A song stretched on forever within the scope of the bright Elven forest. Many believed that only the long-lived Numenorean dared venture where Elven song was within earshot. The latest arrival knew nothing of this, so her mind was open to any possibility. On the wind, and from the very source of light in each tree leaf, Genna was privy to more then one song, and the voices grew in volume and hope

Silence is joy compared to mortality mixed with tears Elven.
The Simaril regained; the given hand and lost heart of Man —
The Love remained in many Ages of song, passed on by children

A Non-Existent User

         A cricket sang to her as she stepped onto the ancient road, and in its fiddle she beheld a song.

         I bring the morning violets
         to Red Clover,
         violets silver
         with the dew of darkness.


         I wonder why I have came to this point alone? Genna's mind raced as quickly as her heart. Where am I? Where are the others? The forest stretched its arms close around her as she walked. Leaves of aspen whispered. Genna, Genna. Where art thou bound?

         In her heart the song of a moment ago renewed itself.

         I take the sage of trembling leaves
         to soothe the lodge fire's spitit. . .


         The voice was hers, but her lips did not move. Who is this who sings my song so beautifully? Who is this who captures the spirit of my heart with my own words?

         Genna shivered.

         Beneath a gnarled and weeping red oak tree she paused for a moment to listen. It was at that moment she heard the voice. A voice so sweet, a voice so rare, a voice containing love came floating through the air.

         "Little one, ikaw ba talaga?"

         Oh, how Genna's heart quivered as it spoke her words. "Nasaan kayo aking ama?"

         Clutched tightly in the veins of the red oak tree, his heart beat slowly. How many years had it been thus? Countless days of sorrow, no voice could he hear. . . Days of sameness, waiting, only waiting for the song of a fair maiden true.
         The group stood in silence, every eye locked on the old man before them. Moisture dripped in a quiet beat that accompanied their racing hearts, pulling them down into steadiness once more. The moment hung there, searching for words.

         The old man finally moved, breaking the spell. He glanced fleetingly over the group, counting silently. "They are not all here. You were to bring six."

         Beren frowned as he, too, surveyed the group. "Genna. Where is she?” He turned sharply to Evander as if he expected him to produce Genna out of thin air. “Where is she?"

         Evander spun around, clearly distraught and frantically looking for the errant girl. "I... I don't understand. She was with us... now she's not." He scowled at Beren, "It's not my fault."

         The old man laughed, a sound out of place in the whole fantastic sequence. "Put away the sword of your anger, Master Evander! Your companion wanders by her own will. No one holds you accounatble for her." That said with a pointed look into Beren's angry eyes.

         ”Be assured, none of you are prisoners here. It is your own heart that brought you on this journey, your own will that controls your fate. Though it just happens to coincide with mine!" He laughed again. "So... will you stay with me a while?"

         "But who are you?” Evander said. The others stared at him. Could he not see?

         Again the old man laughed. “Ah, ever the analytical one. You must know, not simply trust what your eyes plainly show you. Alright, Master Evander, I shall declare myself. Yes, I am Gandalf. I have been singing of this moment through many ages; I have been waiting for your entrance for a very long time.” He laughed again, his mirth such a sharp contrast to the silence of the group and the murky darkness of the forest.

         “Nice trick, but you can just put us back where we belong,” exclaimed Sam. His initial disorientation wearing off, Sam felt panic welling up within him. As usual, he attempted to use bravado to mask his fear. It wasn’t convincing anyone. Dove alone grinned in delight at the old man’s words. Most of the rest wore their fear like a cloak wrapped tight.

         Beren cleared his throat noisily and put his hand on Sam’s shoulder. His gruff voice was a familiar comfort. “This is all too real, my young friend, as you will learn only too soon. Your presence here is no accident. Forgive me for not preparing you more adequately for the journey, but I suspect no explanation would have sufficed. And now,” he turned to Gandalf with a small smile of his own, “Shall we be on our way? We must find Genna before the light fails us.”

         “Genna must find her own way, my old friend.” Gandalf’s eyes lost their mirth. “We cannot leave our own path.”
Lost. But could Genna consider that thought a blessing rather than a curse? Genna’s choice was before her. And she almost needn’t question. A far off memory of human life was falling away. The living ghost seemed to shine forth from the leaves of everything in the glade, but most of all from the red oak. She felt only blessing, gracious thoughts from the red oak. This seemed, instead of strange or disorienting, a very healing moment in her life. And for once, she was not self-conscious or condemning. The music of her life was not being sucked away. Instead, she knew herself to be in a magical place, and in the presence of something older yet more glorious than any Sunday school lesson could describe elementally. She walked toward the tree, her arm outstretched expectantly, as if reaching for the doorknob of her childhood home.

---

Although Beren had just settled Sam’s panic, hearing Gandalf’s proclamation caused him immediate regret. So, one of their company needed to remain separated from the rest. He squashed a sudden leap of bravado, which felt like a dry memory, to track down the wayward girl, wherever that might be. . He allowed in, yet pushed aside an intuition that someone would care for the girl. Professor Beren steeled his sad gaze on Gandalf for a beat. He wanted the wizard to see that his attempt at comfort was less than satisfactory.

The wizard’s eyebrows scrunched and his eyelids momentarily lowered. Gandalf spoke measured truth rather than wistful hope next. “There is a power growing that perhaps only the Very Old Ones ever fully understood. There is, however, hope, through what you have professed, which serves not only the balance of Middle Earth, but your own. I have not met ‘Genna’ as she presents herself in your world, but if you were confident in her, then she has the wits to serve her purpose in this fellowship, even alone and unguarded.”

Even though Gandalf’s words were newly spoken, there was something Evander knew in himself, which suddenly clarified the level of sacrifice that might be required of anyone of them.

---

Samuel Vaugh chuckled as he confirmed a final piece of his Music and Literature ultimate theory. Soon, he would have the complete framework for his thesis. While enrolled as an undergrad, he was under the wing of select faculty, and a likely candidate for concurrent Graduate Studies in a particular literary expertise. Perhaps only his guardian, Pridellen Vaugh, was aware of his savant-level understanding of a broad timeline of musical arrangements and lyrics. He wrote out some notes about The Fray’s How to Save a Life, plus he mentally took note of the irony.

As he begins to raise his voice
You lower yours and grant him one last choice
Drive until you lose the road
Or break with the ones you've followed…


Samuel seamlessly made a connection and zipped through several tracks on his player.

Break on through to the other side
Break on through to the other side
Break on through…Break on…Break on…


Through the tutoring of Beren in early non-European literature, Samuel was introduced to some of the earliest codices. He privately considered his study of Paleography minor to his appreciation of Musicology. At this very moment, he pushed the realization of his deep desires from wishing-level to useable power of the musical words he’d culled.

Strength overwrote any of his humanly perceived weakness, and falling through darkness, the transported Samuel Vaugh found himself at the shadowed edge of greater Fangorn near the end of twilight.
A Non-Existent User


          Genna's heart hurt in her chest. Her lips seemed cold to the touch of her breath. Her eyes watered. Gathering herself, she continued toward the red oak tree, if tree it was.

          Beat, beat, beat. . . the forest seemed to call her name. Genna, Genna, Genna, Genna. Take out yonder willow flute and play for me the song I sing.

                    I color the sky
                    on the buffalo hide
                    with cedar berries blue.
                    I cry my song
                    to the wind of the willow
                    close by where the redbuds grow.


          The melody was so sweet in her heart and her toes begged her to dance through the remaining red oak leaves and kiss the tree. The flute placed itself upon her lips and she began to play.

          The air itself began to whistle with her through the leaves of the red oak. The horse moved so swiftly that at first thought she imagined she had not seen it. Oh, but she had. Her left eye had alit upon it as her right eye had cheated to coax the final note from her flute. A magnificient creature the color of creamed coffee except for the tiny white spots all across the rump. . . She had even heard it neigh in harmony with her flute. Just as quickly, and holding on to her fluttering heart as tightly, it had vanished. And, she thought, she could have sworn that had been a rider on its back.
Stella had felt the tug and pull and vertigo, just as the others had done. But to her, all the motion and nausea meant nothing – there was nothing in her eyes and mind and her very soul, save the words swimming before here eyes. Words in fluent Sindarin and Quenya, constructed with perfect grammar and diction, the likes of which she had only seen in a few treasured glimpses of The Professor’s own hand. The structure of the Elven-tongue ran through her consciousness like the perfectly constructed music of Mozart, filling her with a sense of completed joy, as a signpost would rise from the road she walked upon. And toward that signpost, she traveled, her head held high in awe, her eyes full of the silver flash she longed for so much.

Stella perceived she was walking along a path, a narrow walkway among stars and darkness, no breeze to ruffle the way, no sound to disturb her but the music of the words. Slowly, she traversed the starlit path, walking steadily and sure, no trace of confusion or dismay about her, so long as the Elven-tongue sang to her. Her hands caressed the barrette that Dove had presented her – the feel of the object was natural and soothing; absentmindedly, she brought it to her head, and secured it to her hair, no longer wild and untamed, but raven-dark and feather soft and straight; her ears were exposed by the barrette’s presence, the hinted tips visible to any. Her attire, the same boots and dressmaker’s shirt as from the performance, now included forest-green tights and a brown miniskirt, the green scarf around her exposed midriff once more. She walked on; soon she came upon a small portal, growing as she neared, seeming as a passage through thick woods from a forest, to a golden clearing beyond. She walked the path without hurry, and found herself exiting the woods behind her, and stepping out into a place that she could never, ever have allowed herself to believe was possible.

Stella pivoted slowly on the spot, her eyes silver-bright and wide in wonder; her mouth an open silent gasp; her voice caught in her throat. She stood in a valley, bathed in sunlight in the afternoon. To the east lay a mighty dark wood, endless lines of trees twisted onto one another, fighting for the light. Before her a mighty river wound in its course, stretching off to the north in great winding paths, and then on to the south beyond sight. To the west, there rose two forests, separated by a smaller cousin of the great river behind her; the wood to the south was also twisted and hoary like the other, but an altogether different air emanated from it; the one to the north, unlike any forest she had ever known, rose golden yellow and silver in its turn, awash with light.

As she turned, Stella became aware of the others at last. In a loose group stood familiar people: Professor Beren, and Evander, and Sam, whom she did not recognize, though saw him standing by Evander before the “journey”; Jessica was there, as well, and Dove, both girls looking confused; Sam Richards, “her” Sam; and a figure in grey, tall, a pointed hat, and a flowing beard.

No.

This is impossible.

This place does NOT exist. And yet –
Stella breathed in the air, and could taste the difference. She could hear the waters of the nearby rivers. She could feel the beating heart of the far-off woods, the dark one across the river; the gloomy one nearby, not corrupt, but not wholesome; and the golden wood to the north. Her thoughts kept repeating, “Can it be?” But as the sensations came to her, that thought changed, subtly, to “May it be.”

The grey-cloaked old man walked nearer, halting a few paces apart, and gazed at Stella with eyes of deep brown, and nodded to her, a soft smile creasing his face. Stella worked her throat to find words, barely able to swallow. “What has happened to us, to me?”

“I think you already know, maiden”, the grey man replied. “Give it voice.” And Stella spoke, once more in a tongue that seemed as easy to her as breathing.

“Amar nin prestar aen! Ai, lin u-gern – han mathon, han noston. Nar u-i vethed, u no cirar!

(My world has changed! See, it’s not old – I feel it, I can smell it. The story’s not ended, it’s not too late!)

“No, daughter of the ages, the story never ended”, the grey man said. “Too many have forgotten so much, as the race of Men marched down the long years. But there are some, in whom the stories run as true as the blood runs in the heart. And now, I think you know have your answer. What would you ask, of me?”

“Man eneth lin?” Stella asked.

The grey man beamed. “Estannen enaith nethwen. Nan Nogothrim, im Tharkun. Nan harad, Incanus; nan Forod, Gandalf; nan go Eldar, Mithrandir.”

(I have many names, young woman. To the Dwarves, I am “old man”. In the South, “North-spy”; to the north, “Wand-elf”; and among the Elves, “The Grey Wanderer”.)

“But, what of you?” he asked of Stella. “What name shall I call you, stranger in this world, but not so? For do you not feel the virtue of the world, in your own being, your very blood, as it calls unto you? What is your name, child of the Firstborn?”

Stella’s tongue would not work; she was speechless in the presence of this legend out of all the stories she had ever heard. The true stories – they were all true! Middle-Earth really did exist – does exist. Gran, The Professor, they were all right. Stella began to weep, sinking to her knees, burying her face in her hands, her shoulders wracking with sobs – but as soon as the tears came, they left, like rain on the leaves, leaving sunlight in its wake, washed clean and wholesome. She looked up at the grey man – Mithrandir – with eyes of silver, shining with tears, but also with a light that no one there had ever seen. A light that spoke of purpose, and fulfillment, the light of joy.

“Le estan nin, heru nin. U-estan Stella. Estar nin Eldariel!”

(You have named me, my lord. I am not Stella. Call me Elf-Daughter!”)


          The rest of the little band stood, confused and silent, as this interchange went on. Beren alone seemed to understand the strange words. His eyes glinted with... was it hope? He broke into the charged silence that followed Stella's pronouncement.

          "I think, perhaps, we should stick with 'Stella' for now, my dear. There are enough other things to which they must adjust."

          "Wise words, as usual, my friend!," laughed the old man. "Keep it simple for simple minds. You may call me Gandalf," he said with a smile, glancing at the rest of the stunned band. "...and, yes, Mr. Richards...," as Sam opened his mouth, "...that is THE Gandalf. Surely that isn't so hard for you to believe? You've walked with me in your dreams for many years." He laughed again.

          "Look, I don't know what's going on here, or how you're doing this, but I don't like it!" Sam said angrily.

          "I'm doing this by keeping both feet firmly in the reality of time. Something you could learn, if you ever opened your mind. I've been trying to teach you for ever so long. You are stubborn, Mr. Richards," Gandalf glared at him sternly; "And have wasted too much of my time already." Turning to the rest he said, "Well.... will you believe what your eyes... nay, your bodies... are telling you, or shall I send you back into the oblivion of your little lives?"

          "I'll stay, Sir!" proclaimed Dove, with a mix of wonder and adoration. Her delight was a tangible light on her face.

          Gandalf looked at the others. Stella and Beren watched them, waiting. Evander and Jessica mutely nodded at the old man. Sam continued to smoulder as he watched the rest meekly walk into the illusion. Yet he had to admit a curiosity- tinged with a strange compulsion- about what the old man would do next. "Well, Gandalf ," he said with exaggerated emphasis; "Seems like you have your team neatly picked. I'll play your game for a while. Just keep in mind- I'm not taken in by your tricks."

          "Of course not! You are much too level-headed to actually believe any of this nonsense!" There was a dangerous gleam in Gandalf's twinkling eyes. "But come- we linger too long, and this place is neither comfortable nor wholesome once the sun goes down. We must hurry if we are to get to shelter before then!" With that he spun about and began striding down the path, into the gathering gloom.

          The others looked at each other, then dashed off after his deceptively quick steps. Sam hesitated in his place, watching their scurrying forms. Then, heaving a heavy martyred sigh, he followed them.

Dove sighed a deep happy sigh as she heard Gandalf confirm that he was indeed Gandalf. She had loved him forever, it seemed to her. Her parents loved the old wizard and made him a part of their home. There was a staff her father had carved with leaves, elven characters and the face of this very wizard. She wished she had that staff with her now!

She had come here quite unprepared, although she always had her lute over her shoulder in its soft case. She was absolutely enchanted by her surroundings. The greens were greener. The music of nature sang around her, layers and layers of living going on at the same time. She had stepped back into the imagination of her childhood, where she had walked with Bilbo and Gandalf and the dwarfs on their long journey and painted and drawn pictures of the things she saw there.

Her parents had spent long hours reading her the books, in the evenings before the fire, while she took crayon, watercolor and brush to paper, bringing out colors and fantastical scenes from the stories.

And here was Gandalf. Himself. In the flesh. She gazed into his eyes with a knowing smile and thought to him, "I have always loved you, Mithrandir. Thank you." Then she just enjoyed listening to the world as the emotions of the others bounced around her, auras flaring and cooling and flaring again, before the wizard turned to lead them quickly away.

"I'll stay, Sir!" was all she had said, but those words made her giggle inside. It was a joke between her and Carroll that if she ever didn't show up one day, she had found a way to Middle Earth.

And so she had. She hurried past the others and fell into step with the wizard.






A comforting breeze on the new day stopped its forward movement as soon as it closed in upon this clearing. Something of importance was being viewed on the motionless silvery liquid of Galadriel’s viewing basin. The tall beauty, sensing more than the visual aspects of the vision, meditated on what she had glimpsed. It was due to long-lived Elven insight, not just access to a ritual way of viewing vistas far from the boundaries of Lothlórien which had focused her understanding of this current image in the standing water. Yet, there was a deeper story than a flash of observation provided. Her knowledge of and conscious connection to ancient Valar life, however, made it a simple puzzle to discern.

The light-spreckled grass growing over the barrows of the midlands held the magic of life energy. Gandalf had explained patiently to generations of Hobbiton’s youth the very mechanics of life, not just of Middle Earth, but of the unified whole of Creation existing down within a single blade of grass. Samwise Gamgee twirled a piece of grass between his fingers, admiring its hearty construction. Standing nearby, Frodo Baggins wore a face of weightiness and looked anxiously toward the horizon as dusk moved into place.

If Queen Galadriel of the Wood could discern the very heart of these Hobbits, she would detect his secret longing for a familiar hole. She might also not be surprised to note that their newest companion, was a person of some importance, at least to her granddaughter, and possibly to these simple folk and the race of Men. She knew from Frodo’s anxious scan that the “Ranger,” like the evening star, was scouting beyond the Hobbit’s view in the failing light, but was near enough to appear and rescue him from imminent harm. And that she also kept watch over the watcher. A Numenorean and distant kinsman that might yet earn his birthright as well as her own granddaughter’s heart, required watching over. This scene of two young hobbit masters suddenly taking up an appearance in the Lady of Lórien’s mirror was not happenstance. This was a glimpse of the Ring-bearer.

---

Samuel Vaugh awoke to himself easily, and retaining all his knowledge. Intimately aware of his starting place and this destination, some power had willed him a place of active conspiracy. It was as a person he had not willed himself to be, yet in the place of power as a conspirator, it felt right. He had last been studying the pieces of codex and modern lyrics which he had believed meant a greater something in combination. And now, at the side of Saruman, he watched the revelation of not one but several glimpses into the future turns of Middle Earth’s Third Age as the wizard Saruman shakily removed his hand from King Theoden’s captured palantir.
Niayght deeviayaydes ththe dayay...

The warbled, slow recant of a single Doors lyric in a failing battery-powered device was all that Pridellen Vaugh found in the abandoned dorm room of her nephew. Something in the enigma of his disappearance brought her immediate thoughts to her own emotional bond to her friend, and Samuel's mentor, Professor Beren. He had a way of blinking out from academia and reappearing just when needed, it seemed. He was of an older set at the University, the kind of tenured knock-about that hardly anyone questioned when sabaticals occured too frequently or unannounced. There were preparations for Fall classes already taking place. The water installation nearby the entrance to the museum was under repair. Pridellen missed its calming tones also, particularly now, as she swiftly made her way back to her office.

There was more to be heard. The fact that Samuel had notes from the earliest musical codices scattered about at his desk, reminded her that Professor Beren had a specific goal for his current studies which bound at least the three of them together, and in ways which Samuel might have not yet been made aware of. She knew there might be more than a clue locked away in her own cabinet at the museum. And yet, she had to push down the air of panic which she could feel begin to rise within her.

There was a time when she practiced meditation, and it seemed like such a long time ago now. But reclaiming her past success in the controlled discovery of her own mind was not needed as much as accepting her own courage to step out as the woman she knew herself to be now.

Her logic fell into step like clockwork. She was not required to fight anyone's will but her own. If retrieving Samuel and Ants was at all hers to do, then it wouldn't take her heart long to demand action.

The last conversation, months ago, with Ants Beren she remembered was just outside the door of her museum office following the mid-January Music and Literature performances. Ants was both vibrantly agitated and sullenly distant as he mixed genuine gratitude for the use of the museum's common areas and backpedaled on his consideration of Pridellen's own spoken concern over his health. He was struck by something emotional in one or more of those performances, and it was clearly still on his mind as he spoke a jumble of emotive and final-sounding declarations about his own university career.

"I hope to profess through teaching, and simply existing in the world...all the patterns of Creation. Have I not presented the most convivial personality to the Administration this term to keep my ideas afloat? It's quite a good thing too. I've now made myself and perhaps made a path for the work of others to be memorable for a little while longer. Which, I'm sure you'll agree, Prid, my dear, creation, these performances -- the true ones -- which rang true in the deepest essence...." he looked at her. "They always source from the deepest well of Love."

What you may appreciate, that I've given dead languages life in the remembering. Your Samuel has that capacity beyond me in the way it travels through melody and tone. He who can control that mechanism, will have access to a future power unknown, unseen for Ages."
          Saruman shook off his unsteadiness, and, suddenly aware of Samuel’s silent stare, angrily pushed him aside. “Fool! What are you waiting for? There is work to be done!” Saruman thrust a dark cloth over the still glowing orb and stalked out of the chamber, slamming the heavy door behind him.
          Work? Yes, there was much to do. His master had a Plan, and he, Samuel, was his most faithful steward. Here in this place he was important, no minion of dotards, chained to small minds. Samuel paused as he felt the pull of his brief glimpse of the palantir. Perhaps he, too, could find its news useful to his own part in the plan.
          He edged toward the shrouded orb, drawn yet repulsed. His hand stopped over the cloth. He furtively glanced over his shoulder at the door where Saruman had exited. Then he pulled the cloth aside and let it drop to the floor. The globe reposed , dark once more. Samuel could see his hands reflected on its glossy surface as he hesitated. He swallowed his fear and grasped the palantir with a bravado he did not feel. The globe was cold and dead. But ancient heat swelled almost immediately from within it, consuming Samuel’s will as a fire. His hands were no longer his own. The fiery eye became his whole universe.

          Gandalf paused in his determined stride. The others stopped short, all keeping a distance wrought of awe and fear. Something disturbed the quiet music that pulsed through his mind, always a part of him. He closed his eyes as if weary, and listened for long slow beats, stepping out of time into the vast expanse of reality beyond time. With a sigh, he opened sad eyes, and looked at Beren. “The plot thickens, my friend. We must hurry.”
          The next stage of their journey was a blur for most of the group. Gandalf set a fearsome pace. No one had breath for chatting, nor the inclination. Something about the place required silence. Few of them, save Sam & Dove, were physically used to any sort of extended physical activity. Soon all were breathless and sweating, despite the cool moist shade of the forest path they followed. The trail followed a winding, climbing route through increasingly hilly terrain. Ridges began to grow on either side, rocky outcroppings poking between mossy trunks of gigantic trees. There was a musty smell of rotting leaves. Trickles of water fell from the heights like broken glass over shelves of stone, into a building stream that journeyed down into the narrow valley below them.
          Beren struggled on, but fell further and further behind. At last he stopped and leaned his head against a tree. Sam, bringing up the rear, saw Beren sink to the ground, and wipe his forehead with the huge handkerchief that always peeked out of his vest pocket.
          “Hey! Wait up! Can’t you see he’s done in?” Sam shouted angrily to the group just disappearing around the next turn.
          Gandalf hurried back and knelt in concern before the old man. “I’m sorry, my friend. I know this is a lot to ask of you. Drink this, then you can take my arm for a bit.” He handed Beren a leather-bound flask.
          The old man drank with eyes closed, then looked up, smiling. “You always know how to fix things, don’t you?”
          “If only that were true! “ Gandalf laughed without mirth, looking up at the sky fading through the leafy roof. “I’m afraid we will not reach our resting place until after dark.” His gaze passed over the huddled group around them. “You must stay close behind my lead. Sam, I’ll leave you at the rear to catch stragglers- you did well, by the way. Now, away we go.” Grasping Beren by the hand, he pulled him to his feet, then led the small band on down the trail into the dwindling light.
          Sam said nothing, but felt the hardness he was carrying soften a little under the words of praise.


         Dawn felt the elemental energies surging into her body from the atmosphere around her. The sounds, the scents, the sights - the emotions thrilled through her - Middle Earth. Really. Middle Earth. Complete with Gandalf.
         Some mornings when she rode horseback alone through the wooded areas close to the University, she could almost feel the magic her imagination told her was the places Middle Earth stuck through into the world where she lived. Movements in the brush could be hobbits stepping back to let the galumphing human pass. Misty patches could be spirits and fairy circles.
         This day all that was a memory and the reality was the leaves heavy with life and magic hanging from the huge trees; the wizard in his tall hat, looking for all the world like the drawings of him she had shoved into a bulky folder as they accumulated from her pen and ink, pastel and oil attempts at art.
         As she walked the forest path in the wake of the wizard, she found herself entering the special space she went to when she created songs or prepared for a riding competition. Her legs were willing to carry her forward over the uneven ground at absolutely any pace the wizard set, merely to keep him in her sight. She smiled inside, feeling the joy well up once more.
         Something deep and definitely unwhimsical was also going on around her. She knew this from the set of the wizard's features and the look on Sam's place, combined with the words, "we must hurry" and later the sense of urgency shoving them down the path as Beren willed himself to stay up with the others.
         Dawn was simply there, willing to help, but mostly watching and waiting until her part in this fellowship was revealed.
"Grima? What took you so long to arrive..." an impatient, booming voice commanded from across the stone floor.

Samuel found himself being addressed by Saruman in the tower, Orthanc. Samuel beat down a scowl, this seemed beneath him. The position of co-conspirator would have to do for now. The study, which Samuel admitted consciously that he and Professor Beren had fashioned together, was more than memorizing the pieces of codex he'd been directed to use. In combination, Samuel's eidetic recall of modern lyrical forms had allowed him to develop a kind of psychic skeleton key for passing through to an alternate Age. This seemed to Samuel, an immensely powerful position to command, but how could it even be framed for the average modern mind? This went beyond the stale academic inquiry. But what did it matter? There was so much that could be accomplished in this, somehow. Slowly, Samuel noted that his recall of the University's time and place was receding into a singular and distant speck in his unconscious, while Middle Earth gushed forth to fill his mental chambers. But, rather than lose his own personality and special talents to a mere characterization, Samuel realized he had clarity to speak his own story. And in his "take over" his focus was on the person that was his natural adversary, should they come to meet in this world, which he expected they must. Professor Beren would soon bow to Samuel's new-found power.
         As gloom ate the surrounding trees, the fellowship felt a weight of dread settle on their hearts. They clustered close on the heels of the hurrying wizard, his own haste feeding their concern. The last dim light disappeared. Beren stumbled over a root and fell headlong onto the path. "Wait!" called Sam.

         Gandalf rushed back and took the old man by the hand. "I'm sorry, my friend, but we cannot tarry." He looked at Sam. "I need your strength right now. This forest is perilous after dark. We MUST reach our destination quickly!"

         "Where are you taking us, My Lord?" asked Stella. "How far must we go? This man cannot keep up such a pace much longer."

         Gandalf looked somber. "It is a sanctuary about an hour's march from here. You all must help him, even if it means carrying him." The wizard turned and resumed his headlong rush down the path. "Keep up with me!" came his call as he disappeared into the darkness ahead.

         The next hour seemed to stretch for an eternity, as the little band pulled and pushed Beren along. In the end, Sam had to heft the stocky little man onto his back and stagger, sweating, after the grey figure ahead. "Weight training, nothing," he muttered, cursing the day he signed up for that dratted music class.

         The exertion of their travel made them forget about the wizard's warnings. So it took them by surprise when keening began from the darkness. It began as a low moaning that was at first hidden by the sound of their ragged breathing, but the pitch gradually raised into a modulating, chant-like cry that raised every hair on their necks. "Run!" bellowed Gandalf. With that, the air exploded in a whirl of dark wings, swirling around them. Sharp talons pulled at their hair, and teeth sank into their shoulders and arms. They ran, arms flailing, into the chaos. Evander fell, disappearing under the thrashing whirring wings. Dove screamed.

         Suddenly a bright flash of light illumined the entire scene- Gandalf stood there with his staff blazing. There was a brief glimpse of glittering eyes, wrinkled black skin, and clawed wings, then the creatures scattered. Gandalf grabbed Dove with one hand and Evander with the other and dragged them to a gigantic gnarly tree. He knocked it with his staff. The others gaped as a crack opened in it. "In with you! Now! Before they return!"

         The whirring keen began again. The frightened travellers rushed into the tree. Sam staggered up, Beren a dead weight on his back. He threw himself into the opening. It shut behind him with a crack. The sudden silence was broken only by Dove's sobs.
Sanctuary. The word sounded good, but Dove wondered what they needed sanctuary from. She saw Sam heft the professor onto his back and was glad an individual with such physical power accompanied them.

Then Dove was startled by the sudden attack; her senses inundated, overloaded, shocked. The stench from the dark flapping wings was noxious and she held her breath instinctively, just to ward off the scent. Suddenly, pain from hair pulled out by the roots wrenched a scream from her throat and teeth sinking into her shoulder caught her off guard. Until the moment she felt the teeth, she thought she was under attack by some strange bird.

Gandalf's hand grabbed hers and she struggled to maintain her footing as she was jerked clumsily along behind the wizard. She was aware of Evander and the others and then saw the opening in the trunk. Awkwardly, she scrambled up and over ancient roots, trying to avoid what appeared to be thick ferns and mushrooms growing from marshy ground.

A strange sound - thick with emotion and deep sadness - surrounded her, creeping into her ears. The air inside the tree was warmer than the air they had just left, the smell of deep woodlands hung about her as she struggled to control the urge to scream again. She reached out to steady herself against the wall of the cavernous space as Sam and Beren almost fell through the opening. The opening slammed shut with a deafening crack, then all was still save distraught inconsolable childlike weeping.

As she felt her shoulder where the deepest wound wept blood, she realized the sobs were her own. Swallowing, she sought to capture the moment inside her for later examination, then pulled out a tiny ocarina. Soothing herself to performance mode, she released music into the air. First hesitantly and then building to a soft sure power, the music poured from her heart into the air. All could be well. All was well.

The shaken band turned as one toward Dove, wonder replacing the stark terror of a moment ago. Gandalf's staff emitted a soft glow, enough to see each scratched and bleeding face. The melody Dove played was a cool hand on fevered brow, water to parched lips. Each one felt tension drain away. But it was that tension that kept them erect and moving; now each member felt their legs buckle. Evander slid down the rough interior wall. The others followed suit. Dumping the professor from his aching back, Sam slumped beside Beren's inert form, and wiped his eyes with his arm. He closed them for a moment, just to let the music wash away his fear. The notes finally faded away, leaving an echo more in their hearts than in the warm space

"What WERE those things?" asked Jessica, wincing as she clutched her bleeding shoulder. Her words broke the magic of Dove's tune, and they all felt fear crash down once more. Gandalf sat with his head bowed, grey hair shadowing his lined face. The company waited.

"Foul carrion beasts," he finally muttered. "Yet another mockery of what was created with beauty. They are called Lathbrid- just one more servant of evil. Be grateful we were so close to this shelter- they can clean you to the bone within a matter of minutes. When they attack in such numbers, there is no overcoming them."

The frightened companions looked at each other.

"So what now? We obviously can't go back out there? Sam looked at the old man with challenge in his eyes.

A twinkle flickered in Gandalf's eyes and a smile twitched at the corners of his mouth. "What's the matter, Sam? You did fine, dodging through your opponent's line. What did you think all that training back in school was for? Football?"

The bit of levity wasn't enough to lighten the mood. They all waited in silence.

With a sigh, Gandalf looked around their sanctuary. Strange fungus clung from the deeply fissured walls. A smell of old wood and older leaf rot clung close. The air, though warm, was thick and not quite wholesome. He pointed toward a shadowed crack in the back wall. "I wouldn't have brought you here if I was bringing you into a trap. There is a stairway over there. This is a portal to the kingdom of a friend of mine. She will give us refuge, and help us on our mission."

"Mission? Maybe you could enlighten us as to what exactly that is?" Sam growled.





Pridellen Vaughn sensed that the deep meditative state she desired was eluding her again. Probably it was due to the effort -- just the fact that she desired it. Locating Samuel's source files for the codex, and keeping the music files playing in an endless loop was part of the puzzle. However, she knew her nephew's young, brilliant mind rarely needed the crutch of conspicuous notes, or drawn out lists which most did. This left her concerned that the musical pieces she had might have been reorderd by a single shuffle command on the device. Perhaps Samuel had chanced upon the order; how could she know that what she was listening to would recreate what transported him away?

She admitted to herself that most of the files didn't appeal. Some were modern beyond her ability to easily identify them. Others ancient, simple, monotonous, or just noisy, seemed to fit together not at all. Yet this brought her memory back to the presentation in the museum assisted by Mr. Evander. The evocation was backwards from thoroughly modern rock ballad to the holistic singing bowl chimes. And the vibration of the final tones was lasting. The final thought, which was truly more an emotional connection than line of logic, hoping the energy of that memory was in some way healing her friend, Ants Beren, right now.

---

At the top of the winding stair which was part root and part rock, the company seeking Sanctuary, shielded their eyes from blinding daylight as they emerged, one by one.

Pridellen stood in a massive white stone archway, the wind blowing her mousy and wheat-toned hair free and wild. Her vantage point was from a chamber off a tower. She turned around, and could see a minor crowd of horsemen guard in the courtyard below. It had taken making a connection through the heart and remembered sound to achieve the apparent travel to her new location.

From the edge of a small orchard to the east of the Riddermark, Queen Eowen saw the company approaching and in need. She intuitively knew that the time had come for her place in this Fellowship. A mission sourced in the well of Love. She saw Gandalf the Gray approach, yet robed in white, but it was not time for childish questions. Her heart went out immediately to a body being carried by the others behind him.

© Copyright 2006 Walkinbird, Lobelia is truly blessed, xx-xx, xx-xx, Lorien, Mavis Moog, SilverValkyre loves YOU!, The Knight Has Found Romance, Pensive, (known as GROUP).
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