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Green Grove, Chapter 8

By: Mary A
Beta: Malinornë
Disclaimer: I dare anyone to sue me over this one.
Timeline: Now
Summary: A young woman wakes up in a strange place after a car accident.

Before Krystle stepped foot out of Herman's store, she was prepared to see the little town of Green Grove in broad daylight at last. At this time of day, it would have to be more viewable than when she and Stacey had been creeping about the wooden sidewalks before dawn. On the other hand, considering the scanty way she was dressed, she hoped that the village streets were still sleepy, and empty.

Inwardly calculating the distance between the town and the clinic, she figured that not too many people would notice her and Stacey, before they crossed the bridge. She pulled the blanket she still wore a bit more tightly around herself, not an easy task with Chip's leash in hand, and a cast on her other arm, before she exited Herman's chintzy store in anger.

Also, she expected some more blinding sunlight, and the blinking pain, which would at least feel warm. Instead she walked out directly into a cool glade of extremely tall trees, perhaps the largest she had ever seen. They were redwood trees, not the firs she had been told grew here, and that she remembered seeing.

The redwoods grew so close together that their canopy made a green-tinged misty atmosphere of constant shade. The damp smell of mulch and wet timber filled her nostrils. Enormous ferns grew at the feet of the trees and everything else was covered with moss. The unexpected forest was unearthly, yet familiar; she had visited parks along the coast where redwoods still grew.

Here and there, a random golden finger of light stabbed down into a hazy clearing, revealing other sorts of plants and bushes that could only grow in just such a sunny spot. Silence filled the air, except for the occasional drip of water, the sound of the river chuckling to itself, and the chirping sounds of small birds. Chips sneezed loudly a few times, as if her nose was as unprepared for the change in their world as all of Krystle's senses had been.

A single clear thought filled her head; 'This is the forest primeval'. From where such an idea came, she did not know, and all she could do was stare about her.

What happened to Green Grove? There were none of the normal sounds of a town nearby, as Krystle tried to reason out how the tunnel could have led them between the forest and the buildings. But how did they end up back inside of the same store they had been in front of last night? Unless there was more than one way out?

Head spinning, she turned around and headed back into Middle Earth Art and Collectibles, in an effort to restore her basic sense of reality, but the building she had just stepped out of was gone. Even the door, or an opening where the door should have been, was now set inside the enormous trunk of a towering redwood. There was no longer a door-knob, or window glass, just a cut out opening, and a yawning dark hole.

The wooden sidewalk was still there, although it was more a winding trail than a regular walkway for businesses. The street was gone, and the rest of Green Grove was missing, too.

"Herman?" After one short peek into the hole where the missing store's door should have been, Krystle had closed her eyes. Resolutely, she refused to open them until she got some answers. "This is Middle-earth? The real place? Like in the movies?"

"No, Krystle, Middle-earth is not like in the movies," he replied. She jumped a little when he spoke, she could tell that he was very close to her, right at her elbow, but she had not heard him move closer. In her current state, his silent ways were even more unnerving.

"But these trees," she opened her eyes and gave the forest one more close inspection before continuing, "these are redwoods, not mallorns, right?"

"Yes, you are right," said Herman. "These are not mellyrn," he added, gently correcting her. "Those were a unique species of tree in all of old Middle-earth, as these trees are to the new Middle-earth."

"New Middle-earth?"

"As fans of the Professor's work, you must already know that all of the races in Middle-earth, who lived past the fourth age, protected all of the trees, and with as much care as you worldly mortals care for each other's children." Herman smiled up at the redwoods as if they were friends. "For years, the trees that are hidden here have remained safe under our protection. These are the last of the great giants, the mighty Sequoia, older than the oldest, and filled with the wisdom of ages."

"Do you talk to them?" asked Stacey. She had been silent since they had stepped out of the store and had gawked about her at the forest in awe, totally ready to be in another world and happy to be there. "And do they talk back to you?"

"Of course."

"What do they say?"

"It is closer to say that these trees sing," said Herman, "although at times they sigh, rather than talk. They sing of how happy they are to be here, safe, but they mourn the loss of their larger family, especially the first born in other regions further north, and nearer the ocean."

Herman explained how these great trees were once the only kind of tree that grew in this part of the world, long before man walked among them, and they knew each other by name. Their kind spread up and down the Pacific coastline and inland to the mountains. Stacey, enthralled up to that point, wrinkled her forehead in doubt.

"But, how could they talk to other trees so far away?"

"The wind," said Herman. "Without the wind, the trees would have no voice. They love a big storm for it allows them to roar, and be heard for many miles. They send messages along from tree to tree, or they would, if so many were not missing in between."

"Hirdaur?" It was an unfamiliar voice that came from somewhere near them, but from above. Chips let out a soft whine and stared upwards. Krystle and Stacey craned their necks to see up into the tree that the dog was pointing her nose at, and they saw another man peeking out at them.

Unlike Herman, he had dark hair, and it fell to his elbows. He laughed when he realized he had been spotted and jumped down to the forest floor, landing gently on his feet, like a cat. He came no closer, however, and stood still, smiling and silent.

"Will you ladies please excuse me?" Herman waited until both Krystle and Stacey nodded 'yes', both still a bit too stunned by the strange man's appearance to speak, before leaving them. Chips, who had sat at Krystle's feet, stood up to follow, until tugged back into a sitting position.

"Stay here, silly pooch," whispered Krystle. "You are supposed to be protecting me." Chips licked her hand, apologetically, but still whined and stared longingly in Herman's direction.

This long-haired man that had jumped out of the tree was not dressed like Herman; instead he wore a dull green tunic that reached to his thighs, and what appeared to be skin-tight leather pants, or else he had green-colored flesh. He wore soft moccasins and he reminded Krystle of a Native American Indian brave, only he was missing war paint and a feather tucked into his glossy dark hair.

While the two men spoke, Stacey sidled up to Krystle and Chips, with a smug grin on her face.

"I was right, I was right," she said in a sing-song voice, but quietly, as if she had too much respect for her surroundings to be overly irritating. "Aren't you glad now that you followed me down the hole, at least?"

"I'm still not sure," answered Krystle honestly, while she watched Herman talk to the handsome stranger. She changed her mind about him and decided that he was costumed as Robin Hood, or one of his Merry Men. Maybe this was a troupe of actors, who lived in trees, and they put on live performances.

There was, of course, another glaringly obvious answer to who, or what, the stranger was. But Krystle was not ready to consider it seriously, not until she had exhausted all other reasonable explanations. Stacey did not have the same concerns.

"Do you think that guy Herman is talking with is an elf?" she asked. "Because I do."

"An elf? Really? You think so?" Krystle glanced back over at the men and cocked her head sideways to see past Herman, as if she had to take a closer look at the stranger before she would commit to anything. They were still talking.

"Well, yeah," answered Stacey. "I mean, he is dressed like one and all, what else could he be? I wonder what they are talking about."

Krystle could not hear them and she hoped they were not planning anything funny. For security, she crouched down next to Chips, who was not acting in the least bit concerned about their new surroundings, or oddly dressed strangers that hopped out of trees.

Hugging the dog with her good arm, Krystle gazed up at the trees again, at last accepting them for what they were, and tried to come to terms with how she felt. One thing she did not feel was 'at home'. In fact, she felt out of place, clumsy, and hungry for paved streets, concrete sidewalks, buildings, anything else man-made, instead of green growing things, to lay her eyes on.

If Middle-earth, or New Middle-earth, was only a bunch of old, drippy trees, then she wondered if the trouble they were both surely in would be worth it, when they finally returned to the real world. Would Stacey's parents not press charges against her even if, or especially if, they told the complete truth about where they had been?

'We were just hanging out in an enchanted forest with a guy named Herman who talks to trees and his weird tree-climbing friend.' The thought made her slap her hand to her face, she wanted to go home. The dark-haired stranger left suddenly, melting into the shadows, and Herman returned to them.

"Herman, er, Hirdaur?" Krystle stood again, but kept Chip close to her.

"What is it? Please forgive the interruption," he said. "And you can still call me Herman."

"Yes, whatever your name is, as much as I would love to stay here and explore this... nice place, we really can't stay." Krystle would have added, 'especially dressed like this,' but as there were not crowds of people staring at her, she no longer had that for an excuse. Instead she said, "Stacey must get back to the clinic, her parents have to be waking up by now. You can't tell me they won't be worried about her disappearing."

"Do you trust me now, Krystle?" That strange glow was in his eyes again, only this time it did not frighten her. She shrugged, confused.

"Honestly? I, well, it is hard to say how I feel about you, or about being here. I wasn't expecting anything like this to happen, see?"

"If you believe nothing else I have said, or will say, believe this." He took her by the shoulders, his fingers not gripping, as if to steady her, and he smiled so sweetly that she had no choice but to smile back at him, but she did not agree to anything. He continued, "You have nothing to worry about now, your time is standing still there for you."

"What does that mean?" Normally, she would have shook off his hands, but they felt good there on her shoulders. As long as he was touching her, he felt more real to her, somehow, and that was reassuring.

"No matter what happens here now," he explained, "or no matter how long we stay here, when we do return, it will be at the same time in your world as we left it."

"I have to believe you, I think."

"Good, Krystle, you will have a much more enjoyable time if you do." He turned to Stacey. "Are you enjoying Middle-earth, nurse?"

For a while, ever since she had crouched down next to Chips, Krystle had slowly noticed something odd, not alarming, but mystifying in its own way. Ever since Herman had performed his Rekei treatment on her, back at the cabin, which seemed to have taken place hours ago, the pain from her car accident injuries had been relieved and tolerable, until now.

Unaccountably, she felt normal, or better than normal. Except for the overall eeriness she was experiencing, ever since leaving the store and stepping out into the trees, she felt exceptionally well. Her broken arm felt fine, her left side too, and her head did not hurt anymore. She touched each place, trying to be sly about it, but Herman noticed.

"Are you alright?" he asked. "Did the pain come back?"

His eyes were dark with worry, and Krystle felt embarrassed at being discovered touching herself. For some reason, she did not want to admit anything out loud yet, and she had to grope for something to say.

"No, really, I feel... well, I feel really embarrassed, you know? Running around like this, in this ridiculous hospital nightgown and with this dopey blanket over me."

"I see." Herman said. "That is easily dealt with, I do believe that I may have just the right thing for you both." He quickly ducked back into the hollowed out tree trunk, where his store should have been, and came back out with a cloak in each hand. They were of some type of iridescent fabric that changed hues when seen in different lights or from different angles.

"What else do you have in there?" Stacey's eyes lit up at the sight of the cloaks he bore and she bounced eagerly while he draped one over her shoulders, after shaking it out dramatically and making it flare in a circle before he placed on her. "Do you have any Galadhrim warrior bows in there, too?"

"There is no need for warrior weapons here," Herman said, chuckling. "Now please hold still." With his signature patience, he was finally able to attach the cloak around the spirited teenager's throat, all the while continuing to speak. "We do not have to defend this realm from an enemy, we have to protect it from greed and irresponsible behavior, and those attributes fit many different sorts of people, both good and evil."

"Oh, I love it!" Stacey squealed while she twisted back and forth to make the cloak spread out and twirl from side to side. Even in the gloomy light of the shady forest, the effect was enchanting as the fabric changed from soft gray to a hazy green in undulating waves.

"Be careful," Krystle warned. "You don't want to fall down any more holes."

Krystle stood still for Herman as he draped the other shimmering cloak over her, and pretended she had never heard Stacey mention how 'hot' he was. It was difficult to remember why she did not trust him when he was this close to her. Once the cloak was in place, she let the blanket drop off of her shoulders beneath it, and the feel of the glimmering fabric on her bare arms was just as delicious as the way it looked.

"Thank you, Her... Hirdaur," she said, relieved to be so well and beautifully covered.

The origins of such a name as Hirdaur eluded her, although it did sound possibly like it was Nordic, or perhaps Russian, or it could be Finnish, but she could never have explained why she thought that way. He could be from Texas, for all she knew. His light hair and dusky blue eyes seemed suited to such a name, however, and she felt more comfortable saying it now.

"These are elf cloaks," accused Stacey, a bit breathless. She had slipped a little on the wooden walkway, and then caught herself before falling, by putting down her bandaged foot. "Herman," she asked, "was that guy who you were talking to an elf?"

"Let me tell you about my friend..." he began, but got no further before being interrupted.

"Hey!" cried Stacey. "My foot doesn't hurt anymore. Neither do my hands." To prove it, she stomped her bandaged foot on the ground a few times, and waggled her fingers. "Is that normal?"

"Yes, of course, is to be expected," answered Herman. He turned his slate-colored eyes on Krystle. "Your pain is gone, too, yes?"

"You're right," sighed Krystle, wondering why she thought she had to keep it a secret. "I feel fine, better than fine. I don't even feel tired anymore."

"Did you put something in our muffins?" Stacey was busily unwrapping her hands. The burns had been on the backs of them, not severe, but the skin had been singed enough to warrant keeping them clean and dry. They were completely healed. "Was there some kind of magic in the water, maybe? Wait, that doesn't explain my foot."

"No, Stacey, there was no medicine in the water or the muffins, beyond the natural kind of healing properties that always exists in simple, good things."

"Then what's happened to us?" Krystle asked.

"Brace yourself," said Herman. "You are in a tale, now, you might say that you are fictional in character."

"Hirdaur, this is a real place, whether you want to call it New Middle-earth, or Green Grove, or," Krystle paused and made 'quote marks' with her fingers, "'The Hidden Valley of the Lost Giants', this is still a real place, right?"

"Middle-earth is not merely a place, Krystle. The closest I can come to helping you comprehend what I mean is to ask you to both think of this forest you see as part of a tale, a much larger tale, and we that live here know that we exist within that reality."

"We do?" Stacey was wide-eyed with wonder. "We are?" She had abandoned her crutches and was squatting down next to Chips. "Guess what, doggy?" she asked the animal. "You are living in a fairytale now."

"In a way, Stacey, you are correct." Herman knelt to join her next to Chips. "The three of you, however, are only visitors here, and your physical side-effects are temporary, I am sad to say. In truth, when I said 'we', I was referring to those of us who see this place as the true reality."

He stood and faced Krystle, before adding, almost sorrowfully, "We view your world as a temporary condition."

To be continued in Chapter 9

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Posted: October 5, 2006

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"Long live Thranduil, great Elf-king of Greenwood!"