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Green Grove, Chapter 9

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.

"We are a temporary condition?" Krystle gasped out. Even though Herman had said a lot of crazy, or silly, things today, this last, about being considered a 'temporary condition', was scary to hear. And yet, this time she believed him, and it did not feel good. It was easier to cope with him on the other side of the tunnel, when she thought he was crazy, or a possible murderer, but what was she supposed to think now?

Stacey, on the other hand, did not appear to have heard his last comment. She was too busy examining her borrowed cloak, and stood still, holding each edge out at arms length, which made her look like a large flying squirrel. Then she hugged herself, wrapping the gray fabric around her body with a dramatic flourish, and resembled a sleek gray bat.

"Hey! I have wings!" Stacey exclaimed, as if she had read Krystle's thoughts. "If I'm fictional now, can I fly or anything?" Without waiting for a reply, she stood on a nearby fallen, rotten log, 'flapped' her cloak furiously, and shouted, "Up, up, and away!" as she jumped off and into the air to test her theory.

Luckily, she did not land on anything harder than the forest floor, which was cushioned with what must have been centuries-old layers of redwood needles. "Rats," she grumbled, tangled in her wings.

Herman laughed and shook his head at Stacey as he bent to help her stand. Chips seemed to think it was a neat trick, and licked at her face to be helpful.

"You are still a mortal maid," Herman told her, as he lifted her to her feet, brushed her cloak free of the clinging debris, and shooed Chips away. "Even fictional mortals do not often master the ability to defy gravity."

Krystle, however, was not amused by Stacey's antics. To her, the forest seemed gloomier, all of a sudden, and darker, as if all of the sunny spots had disappeared. Maybe a cloud cover had moved over them.

The shady trees that loomed directly overhead, ancient and yet frozen in time, seemed to close in on her, and take her breath away. Was it going to rain now, on top of everything else? What had ever made her believe that traveling through portals to visit Middle-earth would be fun?

"Who is that over there?" Stacey pointed to a small group of people, men and women, who seemed to have appeared out of thin air, and now stood silent and watchful nearby. They were uniformly tall and slender, their faces were passive and yet their eyes were bright and merry. Their clothes were quaint; the women wore long skirts, the men wore long blouses over leggings, with leather vests.

Herman's friend, the one who had jumped down out of the tree earlier, was with them. Chips barked at them, but in a friendly way. It was as if they were group of young Californians that had walked out of a Renaissance fair, only less flashy. They stood politely, regarding her with twinkling eyes, and the sky seemed a little more bright around them.

Something shifted, either inside of her, or around her, or maybe both at the same time, but Krystle was no longer reminded of a group of possible costumed play-actors; instead she felt as if she were the one on display and they were the audience. She was happy for the cloak that covered her skimpy clothes and wished she knew what her hair looked like. Nervously, she smoothed it behind her ears and hoped for the best. One thing she found comforting was that more than a few of them were bare-footed, too, just like she was.

Herman's friend waved at Krystle and Stacey, and then disappeared into the gaping hole in the same gigantic redwood that had once been a store called Middle Earth Collectibles. The others followed him inside. To Krystle, at least, the dreary forest seemed to grow gloomier, somehow, after the last silent figure disappeared from view.

"Look," said Stacey, as if no one else, besides her, was even paying attention. "All those people are going in the tree."

"That is my morning tour group," explained Herman. "My friend will be guiding them today, they love to visit Tolkien's garden at this time of year. Business will be good."

"That is what you were talking about in the tunnel," remarked Krystle, as a few remaining cobwebs were cleared from her overwrought mind. "When you said how they would love the way everything was overgrown back at the cabin, and messy?"

"They would not call it messy, they would call it natural, and free."

"Of course they would!" Stacey sputtered out, as if to think otherwise was outrageous, and she flapped her cloak 'wings' for emphasis. "They are elves, right? I know it, I'm right." She lifted her chin as if to challenge Herman or Krystle, which made the hood of her cloak slip off, and shouted, "Hey!" when a large drop of water from the tree overhead landed on her forehead, and dribbled down the tip of her nose.

It could not have hurt, but Stacey acted as if she had been shot, grabbing her forehead dramatically and staggering backwards. More drops were falling, still not as fast as a regular rain shower, but enough to indicate it was probably raining hard above the green protective canopy made by the redwoods. Herman laughed and held his hands out as if he welcomed the raindrops. Krystle lifted the hood of her own cloak farther over her head and groaned a little. She hated getting wet.

"What is it?" Herman, in his peculiar silent and swift way, had moved next to her. "Is there something wrong?" Krystle was surprised that he even noticed her state of mind. For a moment, she was tempted to blame the weather, but she could not. His dark slate eyes held her for a moment and she felt as if she could have said anything, anything at all, and he would have understood.

"When you said we were a temporary condition, were you saying that the people in my world are all going to die?" In her mind, she had been holding off grim visions of global destruction and death that was going to befall mankind. What if she was supposed to do something to stop it? Maybe she had been brought here, by forces larger than herself, to learn this very thing? Who would listen to her? Who would believe? Why her?

"Everybody does die, Krystle," said Stacey, no longer a flying rodent, now she was a philosopher. To Herman, she added, "Except for the elves, isn't that what you meant?"

"In a way, you are right, nurse," Herman answered. "All things that are alive in the world, either within this one or in yours, are..." he paused, as if seeking for just the right word. "Let us say 'impermanent'. Even these trees," he gestured around him at the redwoods, "which are among the oldest living creatures in either world, will someday be gone. They endure, but not forever. Currently, the mortals of your world are among the youngest species, and yet they stand on the threshold of their ultimate doom..."

"Doom!" Krystle cried out again, interrupting him, and not in the least reassured. "Now you're saying we're doomed? Why did I ever come to this gloomy place?" The idea of being the 'protectress of the earth' clamored in her heart.

"Krystle," said Herman. He reached out and touched her hand, just a gentle brush from his fingertips, but it calmed her. His smile was gone and he spoke more patiently than he had before, "please do not be afraid. In this instance, I used the word 'doom' to mean the natural course of events that will inevitably happen. Perhaps I should have said 'destiny'. In any event, I am sure we have a misunderstanding."

"But you said doom," Krystle pointed out. "All day long you kept saying things that didn't make sense, but then they did, or they came true. And it scares me now, to think about being a temporary condition that is doomed."

"When I said doom, I meant the still uncertain future as it is bound to happen," he said, so sincerely that she almost felt silly for having panicked. Until she thought about it.

"That doesn't make any sense at all."

"You also said that everything that's alive is impermanent," contributed Stacey."But aren't the elves immortal?"

"Oh dear, I see that our conversation is leading us all into a maze." Herman drew them directly under the branches of the large redwood, which the tour group had disappeared into, to avoid the rain. "Let me try to explain it to you this way," he continued. "Humans are no more doomed to die than anything else that is alive, but humans are not my concern. I foresee no immediate disastrous occurrence in store for mankind. You are safe, here and there. Only here, you are in a tale that is larger than yourself. Stop worrying for a moment, and smell the air around you. Listen to the trees."

The waterlogged upper branches were being increasingly buffeted by wind and were shedding water faster now. The trees were swaying slightly. There must be a rising storm in their tops, and Krystle could hear the trees 'speaking' in their rustling way that did seem to rise and fall as if it were caused by the voices of a group of whispering people. The air smelled different as it grew wetter all around them, earthy and rich and damp.

"These magnificent trees are now a part of a new tale, one that is told by firelight as well as electric light." Herman smiled. "Whether written in a story, or a poem, or a song, they will live forever, or for as long as their tale is told."

"What tale is that?" Stacey asked, her voice an awed whisper. "Does it have a name?"

"Not one name, really," answered Herman. "But it is surely a tale that you have both heard told before you came here today." His voice grew deeper, and dreamy. "We are now in a tale of the great ancient redwoods that once covered the land along the Pacific Ocean for many leagues, and that tale will be told long after the last of their kind are gone. The tale will grow larger then, of how big they were, how they loved the fog and damp, how they housed many diverse creatures, and as long as their tale is told, then we will be here, in the tale, to preserve them."

Above their heads, a gust of wind whipped collected water off of the redwood branches in scattered showers. The whispering murmurs that Krystle heard had a damp sound. And for a moment, she thought she could hear the trees talking, or at least she could tell that they were speaking some kind of language, to one another. It was the same way she thought birds spoke to each other when they sang; maybe there were no words, exactly, but some type of message was being passed along.

"Why are there no mallorn trees here?" asked Stacey. "Like in the movie?"

"In old Middle-earth, without the elves to preserve them, the mellyrn did not even survive long in Lorien. After the elves sailed West, the mellyrn eventually withered and died."

Although Krystle listened to Herman, or Hirdaur, or whoever he was, but she was starting to like him more as Hirdaur, as he was explaining about the mellyrn to Stacey, she did so with only half an ear. All around her, now that she fancied that she could hear them speaking, she realized, or felt, that the trees were having a regular conversation.

The sounds the wind made among their needled branches rose and fell in a circular motion through the trees that surrounded them. The roaring sound would start near where they stood and then travel through the trees before seeming to come back around each time. The entire forest was in motion now, where as before it had been too still.

"We who live inside the domain of our tale," Hirdaur was saying, "stand outside of your time, and terms such as mortal or immortal are not as important to us. We preserve what is valuable." Krystle had no idea what he was referring to, she had been paying more attention to the redwoods speaking to one another, and she tuned out again from him and Stacey. It was almost as if she felt compelled to listen to the trees, and to try and understand them.

She wished it was sunny again, because the forest had almost looked pretty then, but the wind-driven sounds were fascinating to her. Why had she never noticed the language of trees before today, or paid attention? Of course, she told herself, with another sigh of inner relief, these redwoods were in a tale, and were more like fairy tale characters. They would have to be different, somehow, than normal trees in the real world.

Chips happily tagged along beside Stacey now as she tried out her pain-free feet on the wooden walkway, her crutches long forgotten and discarded. Krystle was happy for that, as the forest was beginning to be quite wet now, from the rain. The boards of the sidewalk were damp and probably slippery for crutching.

Even close to the base of the trees, the rain kept finding its way down. The ceaselessly dripping weather prodded her and Krystle finally got up the nerve to enter into the tree, which used to be a store. The hollowed out area inside of the massive trunk was as large inside as the building had been, except that it was rounded. Another opening on the opposite wall led right back out into the forest. There was an identical wooden walkway, just outside that other door. She drew closer to the opening until she could see out of it, the forest was not as thick out this opening, and the clouds were breaking up.

Hirdaur and Stacey joined her there; the latter was noisily impressed with how 'huge' the hollowed out part of the tree was inside. Krystle waited until they were next to her, looking out the other side of the tree, and then she pointed to the walkway outside.

"Where does that sidewalk go to?" There seemed to be less redwoods out this doorway, and more firs, it was more like the forest that she had seen the night before.

"The walkway leads to a bridge," Hirdaur pointed in the direction the clinic would be in, if Green Grove still existed and the tree they stood inside of was still a store. "If you cross over that bridge, you will return to your world."

"All we have to do to get back is cross the river?" Krystle nearly collapsed with relief to hear it. She was closer to home than she had imagined. A weight lifted from her, the last weight it seemed, and she felt her spirits lifting.

"It's a magical bridge, isn't it?" asked Stacey. "I said it was. I don't think Krystle believed me, but I knew it was."

"You were right, Stacey," said Krystle, smiling at her teenage companion for the first time in hours. "I should have listened to you, but I think I remember feeling something, too." It seemed days ago now, when they had crossed that bridge and she had to check the stars to make sure she was still in the real world.

"Was that a magic river?" Stacey asked. "Or is the bridge magical?"

"Neither," said Hirdaur, clearly sorry to have to say it. He added, "The bridge out that door is not exactly the same bridge that the two of you crossed to get into the village this morning, it is more a mythical type of bridge. There is only one way in and one way out, the tunnel brings you here, and the bridge takes you back to Green Grove."

"That seems complicated," said Stacey.

"The best tales often are," he pointed out. Krystle left them to work it out, she no longer cared for explanations, and went back to the first door.

"What if we follow the sidewalk back out the other way? Back into the Middle-earth forest." Krystle pointed back out at the wooden walkway that disappeared into the redwoods that were in the tale. Hirdaur was next to her.

"That way leads to my home," he said, and the idea, or possibly just the way he said it, sent a thrill through her that she tried to pass off as a chill from the breeze that blew into the doorway. He added, "Would you like to see it?" She could not blame the breeze a second time and she bit her lip before answering him.

Before she had seen how close her possible escape route was, Krystle probably would have said 'no' immediately, without thinking. Now she felt differently, she felt almost giddy. There was no reason to rush back the clinic, if everything that Hirdaur had said about time standing still on the other side was true.

If they really were in some kind of fictional tale, and she had no more reasons left to doubt Hirdaur, then Stacey's parents were still sleeping. The nurses at the clinic were probably very happy to have Krystle and the teenager out of their hair. If they were not in a tale, and this strange man had managed to trick them into believing it, they were probably no worse off coming home hours later than right now. Jail would still be jail, no matter how late they were to return.

"How far away do you live?"

"Not far, and I think you will like it better than the dripping forest. It is warm there, and dry, and Chips is more than welcome. Would you like to go there now?"

"I do!" shouted Stacey, out the door and running ahead as usual, Chips in hot pursuit. Hirdaur called after her to stay on the walkway and wait for him when she reached the first clearing. There was no way to tell if she heard him, but he did not seem alarmed. Then he offered Krystle his elbow courteously and she slipped her hand around his arm before she could think about it. They followed Stacey into the forest.

After learning that she probably had not felt anything magical when she crossed the bridge, and after blurting out that she thought she had, Krystle was not so eager to say anything else ridiculous. But the trees were nearly in an uproar now, she felt, or sensed, or heard.

"Are the trees talking to each other right now?" she asked. "Or is it just my imagination running away with me?"

"It is not your imagination," said Hirdaur. "They are speaking."

"What do they say?" The walkway was easier to follow than she had feared. It led through the drippy forest in a nearly straight line, only curving to avoid a tree trunk here and there.

"At first, they were lamenting that you were not happy being here." He spoke with a wistful tone, and Krystle was brought up short to realize that the trees had been observing her, and had noticed her mood. "It was making them feel sad that you did not enjoy being in their forest."

"Their forest is okay," she admitted, and she smiled up at the waving wet branches to show she had no hard feelings. Now that she knew she was not being foolish by thinking that the trees were speaking, she found herself almost eager to make amends. "It's this wet weather that I don't like"

"The wet weather is what keeps these trees alive and green," he explained. "They would not understand your discomfort because they revel in the dampness."

"What are they saying now?"

"Now they are happier that you are finally listening to them." Hirdaur stopped and they both stood still. He smiled down at her, his eyes had that sparkling light she had seen earlier, and added, "They think you have a beautiful smile, and so do I."

To be concluded in Chapter 10

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Posted: November 25, 2006

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