A/N: This chapter has been edited and re-edited and had all sorts of things changed – which is partly why it's taken so long to come out!
I hope I've answered everyone's reviews. My sincerest apologies if you haven't received a reply to your comment, either here if you've reviewed anonymously or by PM.
I hope everyone has had a lovely year so far!
Guest review replies
Vanime: Some very nice theories there! And you never know if Maglor or other Elves will show up. :D Hugs to you too, and thank you for your review.
earthdragon: It's a relief to hear that Fiona hasn't gone Mary Sue! I've written so many LotR Sue parodies that I feel it would be a travesty to end up writing a real Sue! Narweth is quite a piece of work, and like many people with issues, she hasn't really been taught much about how to be nice and is always on the defence to avoid getting hurt. The other Elves haven't entered the story at this point, so you'll have to keep reading to find out! Thank you very much for reviewing. 😊
Inconnu: Fiona has a lot to learn, that's for sure! Tuvan throat singing is funny to listen to but also pretty cool when you think about it – I mean, how do they do that?! I'm very happy that you like my Elves – they're fun to write and it's nice that people like to read about their adventures. A very belated merry Christmas and happy new year to you too!
Guest: I have never before attempted to eat a fic, myself. I'm glad that you enjoyed it to the extent that ingesting it felt like a good idea. :P
ADedicatedReader: Thanks for the info! Yeah, FFN doesn't like external links – I shall be doing some googling when I get the chance. I used to be quite up-to-date on a lot of details of Tolkien lore and I'm pretty sure most of the stuff I have is accurate – that said, this fic is a little AU as it is so if there are minor inaccuracies I will just beg pardon of the Great Lord of Oxford and hope he doesn't roll too hard in his grave. :P Thank you so much for your encouragement and recommendation!
Guest: I'm sure we'll see a lot more about all the Elves' musical preferences in time! Andreth and Aegnor are interesting, definitely. Have you checked out the Silmarillion fanfic archives? I'm sure I've seen a couple (heh) floating around!
Glorfindel didn't even bother hiding his laughter from Wainwright as they closed the door on the professor's shocked face. He'd be furious, but what was he going to do about it? His buyers were Elves, and they were Elves who had found out where he lived and had the means to break into his house to deliver payment. That suitcase with the money was sitting around on his bed with all his underwear lying around.
Lindir, for his part, couldn't contain himself much better. As soon as they had walked far enough to turn down a corridor, he started to chuckle. "That Wainwright character was full of himself, wasn't he?"
Fiona put a finger under her nose like a moustache. "'I am a tree, with big branches and deep roots.'"
Lindir actually laughed, properly, and the sound sent shivers of delight down her spine. He seemed young in that moment, eyes twinkling with merriment. It was contagious. She laughed with him, not caring that they were attracting stares.
Serious one moment, playful the next. It was just like Lindir. Sometimes it was like they had been friends for years.
It occurred to Fiona in a brief moment of sobriety that maybe she never would really know any of the Elves. Not fully.
Lindir's voice knocked her out of her thoughts, along with a flying bundle. Fumbling, she managed to save it. When she had snatched a breath, she cautiously held the package out in front of her.
She stared up at Lindir. "Are you sure you trust me with these?"
"One hundred percent, King's Daughter."
"Remind me again why we even have these."
"Because they contain vital clues as to where our seeing stone is," replied Lindir patiently. "And they're possibly the only lead we have."
"Right. And you're putting them in my hands."
Lindir looked back at her mildly, not answering.
"But what if I lose the lot?"
"Stick them in your coat pocket. The only way you'll lose them is if someone frisks you." Lindir flashed her another winning grin.
Glorfindel was ludicrous. As they made their way back through the sprawling campus of Oxford he chortled embarrassingly loudly, his energy restored, their mission accomplished. His thoughts were so plain on his face she could nearly hear them. No more negotiating, no more sitting still, no more being mocked by a moustachioed black-market criminal. No more boredom. Life was sweet again.
The long hair and inexplicable glow really turned heads. Female heads, especially. Weirdly, Fiona had gotten used to it, after seeing so much of the Elves over the course of the time she had spent with them. Not a few girls ran their eyes over Glorfindel's tall figure or Lindir's leanly muscled arms. Fiona received querying and jealous looks equally. Lindir, for his part, appeared not to notice. Thankfully.
Glorfindel, on the other hand, was enjoying the attention far too much. He smiled and winked and said hello and soon giggles and even a bold whistle followed them down old arched corridors and through the courtyards. Lindir rolled his eyes, good-naturedly.
Fiona had hardly noticed the time – but when she swiped her phone to check, it was already mid-afternoon. The sun in the Oxfordshire autumn set earlier than in summertime Melbourne on the other side of the world, bringing evening swiftly on its heels.
"I think it's about time to look for somewhere to stuff these glorious faces of ours," announced Glorfindel. "Any preferences?"
"Something weird," said Fiona immediately. "Something I've never tried before."
"How about a place that blends Spanish tapas and Turkish cuisine to create a unique fusion where the Mediterranean meets the Middle East?" asked Glorfindel.
Lindir shot Glorfindel a look. "You definitely haven't Googled that."
Fiona quickly did some Googling of her own and found a place that, indeed, fused this odd combination of cuisines together. Beneath her coat her stomach gurgled a suggestion, as usual, and they settled on Glorfindel's idea.
Though the walk from where they were on the Oxford campus to the restaurant was not a long one, the traffic on the roads and footpaths swelled quickly. University students crowded in clumps, spilling into the bars and cafes that squeezed themselves onto old streets and between old buildings. It was slow going. Fiona's stomach was decidedly impatient after their ordeal with the professor. Every time they found themselves stuck behind a gaggle of young people meandering around she had to remind herself to breathe.
It's only food, Fiona. Relax or you'll end up carting around biscuit tins like Lindir.
But impatience slowly gave way to curiosity and a tinge of excitement. Her breath fogged the night air. Here she was, in Oxford, on the other side of the world from where she grew up, in a city full of culture and quirks and in the company of real live Elves. And she herself descended from a line of kings and proud queens. Lúthien's Line. Aragorn's Line. It was like it all hit her at once again. When she gave a little skip Lindir patted her arm.
Glorfindel's odd suggestion for dinner presented itself at last in an inconspicuous fashion, but when they entered Fiona's jaw nearly dropped. Lit dimly only by candles, or by lights that shone from fixtures that were shaped like pointed bulbs, the place was full of cushions and low couches. Every wall had a tapestry of some sort, and beginning to crowd beneath arches in the walls were more students, slamming back drinks and talking excitedly over the top of one another.
And it was warm, which was a nice relief after the cold walk from campus. Plus, the air was suffused with spices – once you got away from the bar, where the smell of alcohol and overzealously-applied Lynx was a bit stronger.
"Fancy, but not enough to keep the undergrads away," mused Fiona as she, Lindir and Glorfindel edged their way into a corner where a comfortable couch awaited them. Fiona plopped down with a sigh. And then let out a loud squeak, nearly disappearing as she sank into pile of soft dark cushions.
Lindir laughed as she held out her hands and flailed, and he moved a few of the cushions onto the floor at their feet before taking her hands to pull her upright. "Better?"
"I could sleep in that," sighed Fiona wistfully. "But not until I've tried whatever Spanish and Turkish tapas is meant to taste like. Where's Erestor?"
Glorfindel shrugged, reaching for a menu. Clearly not too concerned by the absence of his friend, who was, incidentally, their driver. "Probably snobbing it up in some Oxford hotel. He'll come round and get us when we're ready to go."
"Where in the seven hells are the desserts on this menu?" Lindir wanted to know, flipping it over.
Fiona was already zoning out, staring at the glass tumbler in front of her. It was a thing of beauty, rimmed with dark red glass beading, and crosshatched with green and red glass all the way around. When some sort of wine materialised in it moments later she picked it up cautiously.
"I'm always worried I'll break stuff like this," she said to Lindir.
"What's the wine like?" Lindir asked.
Fiona peered hesitantly into the cup. Thanks to one or two bad hangovers, the fact that she couldn't drink much before starting to lose her balance, and seeing Mackenzie off her face one too many times, she usually stayed away from alcohol. The last wine she and her dad had tried had tasted like weird vinegar with chicken salt in it. Fiona still wasn't sure that it hadn't been. Dean had laughed at her, though he squinted and grimaced his whole way through the rest of his glass as he finished it.
Thinking about her dad stabbed her with the sudden feeling of missing him, terribly, and she had to shake her head.
"No idea. Here goes." Fiona took a cautious sip. And was surprised. "This is actually pretty good!" She downed the rest of it in a few gulps.
From there Fiona had no idea what her input into the tapas ordering was, but in no time chickpeas and harissa, miniature folded Spanish omlettes, Moroccan lamb ddskewers drowning in rich tomato paprika sauce, chillis, tagines and dips made their way onto the table. Fiona, savouring her relaxation after that surprisingly nice wine, announced her intention to chow down the lot.
"And that includes the table. And when I get really fat, you'll have to roll me past the bar and out the door. And then I won't fit in the car and I'll probably cry."
"And I think that's enough wine for you," finished Lindir, moving her fancy Turkish tumbler away from her. "And definitely enough wine for you," he added, directing the comment at Glorfindel.
The tall, blond Elf scoffed. "I can hold my liquor far better than you, young Elfling. I can outdrink both you and Erestor, as has been tried and proven repeatedly over the course of several thousands of years." He paused and then stood up uncomfortably. "That said, I think I need the loo."
Fiona watched him go, feeling a smile spread over her face. She hadn't felt this chilled out in weeks, certainly not since coming to old Middle-Earth. The feeling suffused her chest, spread warmth into her cheeks.
Fiona turned to Lindir. His face was strikingly handsome in the candlelight. All angled cheekbones and soft eyes. It very nearly took her breath away. "Can I tell you something?"
"You certainly can, King's Heir."
"When you deposited Mackenzie on my couch I thought you were pretty." The less wine-addled part of Fiona kicked in at that moment, enough to heat her face with embarrassment, already warm from the indoor heat and the wine. And trust tipsy Fiona to use a word like deposited.
"Did you?" Lindir sounded amused. He loaded his plate with some delicious looking creamy chicken concoction and some chickpeas and dip.
Trying to numb her mortification, Fiona made a swipe for her Turkish glass. When she tipped it back, a few tiny drops dissolved onto her tongue. She shook it, puzzled. "I think my wine's gone."
"I'm afraid so. I probably shouldn't offer, but would you like some more? I can order it."
"Glorfindel will drink it all and I won't get any." Why had she told Lindir that he was pretty? The Turkish wine was far too good.
"Do you want to know what I thought when I first saw you?" Lindir asked suddenly.
" 'That girl's PJs are dope' ?"
Lindir smirked. "Obviously." His smile faded. "I thought, Aragorn."
"Aragorn?" Fiona fumbled the serving spoon with clumsy fingers and giggled. The suggestion was so ludicrous that even if Fiona hadn't had a drop to drink she still would have found it funny. "Aragorn had red hair?"
"No, but he did have the same serious eyes. Compassion. Intelligence."
"You could tell all that just by looking at me?"
Lindir tried some of the creamy chicken and made a noise. "This is amazing." He dumped some onto Fiona's plate and waved at it enthusiastically.
Fiona swirled some of the chicken around the sauce before trying it and it felt like she'd just eaten a Zen garden. Or something. It was very, very good.
"You know what else?"
The buzz of noise at the bar, hurrying footsteps from the staff, laughter and shouts from the tables around them, nearly drowned out the next quiet comment from the Elf beside her.
"I thought you were pretty, too."
Fiona's spoon went clattering to her plate just as Glorfindel rematerialized.
"The loo," was Glorfindel's opening line, "has toilet paper printed with Turkish designs. I will demand of Elrond that we stock some in the castle."
Fiona's head was too fuzzy from the wine to think clearly. It was too late to ask Lindir to repeat what she thought she had just heard.
A minute or two later and Fiona felt all the peace of a moment ago begin to turn into sleep. She was aware of Glorfindel calling someone - presumably Elrond - to let him know that they had successfully relieved the professor of the letters. This he did in Elvish, but she didn't need to understand a word to know that they were talking about. While Glorfindel went to the counter to pay, Lindir had to help her to her feet out of the pile of soft cushions. Because if they were hard enough to sit in, they were worse trying to climb out of. Fiona glanced over her shoulder wistfully. They really would be nice to sleep on right about now.
Outside, the air was still, but a chill lay over it that swept right through her bones after the warmth inside. She found herself burrowing close to Lindir, who put an arm around her and gave her shoulder a squeeze.
"You smell like the rain," she said with a smile, not particularly caring anymore what came out of her mouth. She felt Lindir's inhale and his smile against the top of her head.
"Thank you, assuming that was a compliment."
Glorfindel had been walking slightly ahead of them, and now he bounded back. "There's a nice old library on campus I thought we could pop into on the way back. It's open 24 hours. I thought our resident history nerd would be pleased to inspect it."
Fiona nodded enthusiastically, tried to keep her eyes open. She might be slightly inebriated, but she wasn't going to pass up the chance to see a real library at Oxford.
Lindir raised an eyebrow at Glorfindel. "That would have taken some prior arrangement. Are you sucking up to the King's Daughter?"
"I don't know. Is it working?" Glorfindel gave a mock wince at Fiona.
Brow furrowed, Fiona glanced between them. "Do you mean you can't just check out the libraries around here whenever you want?"
Both Elves shook their heads. They all kept walking as Lindir spoke. He hadn't moved his arm, and she snuggled into it. "No. Every college has its own library – lots of them historical – and only members of that college can poke into its library. Outsiders, including students from other colleges, and researchers, have to arrange appointments."
"And that," chimed in Glorfindel, "is where being on the board of a rich organisation that funds history research at Oxford comes in handy."
Fiona's heart welled with sudden emotion.
"That's…really nice of you." Fiona's gratitude sounded lame, even to her ears at the moment. Neither of the Eldar with her seemed to mind her constant ineptitude when it came to expressing her thanks. And full of thanks she always was. Full of doubt and insecurities. Always trailing behind like a puppy dog. Her stomach sank, the Zen draining away.
Strangely, the person who came to mind at that moment was Narweth. Surly, opinionated Narweth, back in remote Wales, once known as part of Beleriand. The one who tried to take a stand against Fiona because she thought her weak. The one Fiona stood up against precisely to prove her wrong.
And then there was Elrond. Her grandfather was Elrond Half-Elven himself, and he had spoken to her. It is up to you – only you – to believe in yourself.
Fiona squared her shoulders, held her head up. No more feeling sorry for herself. She wasn't going to apologise any more. Especially not to herself. She didn't know what she was doing? Fine. She felt too young and dumb next to these Elves? Of course she did.
Own it, Fiona.
"Thank you for everything," she said, firmly. Whether either of her Elven companions noticed her resolve was a mystery, but one which didn't matter. Maybe her lack of concern at the moment was the wine, she thought with a slight smile, but something told her differently.
Fiona Lockwood from that moment decided that she was a different person. Even if she did so under the influence.
After seeing an old mediaeval library built by Elves in New Imladris, Fiona was afraid for a second she might not appreciate an old mediaeval library built by Mortal Men. Just the opposite was true – when Fiona and her Elven escort entered, Fiona felt herself thrilled anew by the beautiful wooden shelves with the pointed designs flying over the corners.
There were few people. An older man doing some shelving. A woman in a bright purple skirt suit and glasses. One student slumped over a table, fast asleep with his head on an open textbook.
Fiona turned around, which meant Lindir's arm was no longer around her. That was disappointing, but then, there was a whole old library to explore.
"Can I…" She pointed.
"Of course!" Glorfindel headed off towards one of the shelves. "We can stay for as long as you like, by the way. Just come find one of us when you'd like to go."
Fiona practically skipped off to the rows of shelves nearest to her. In Ye Olde Mediaeval-style writing, each section was labelled with things like, "Science of the High Middle Ages," "Mythology," "Paranormal."
Ooh. Paranormal? Yes, please.
It would have been naïve to assume that an old leather-bound book full of vampire tales written in old English would just fall off the shelf and into her lap, but Fiona couldn't help hoping it would happen just the same.
Fiona removed her coat and dumped it next to her in a heap on the floor. Hands on hips, she stared up at the section in front of her, and removed a heavy, faded red tome. She sank to the floor with it in her hands.
It turned out to have been published in the mid-1700s, and as she flicked through she found details of all kinds of purported supernatural occurrences over the past three hundred years. Accompanying some of the stories were woodcuts from the early Renaissance, or later illustrations from the Georgian era.
"And it was rumoured that the vicar aforementioned was possessed by a great and terrible spirit, for each night he was seen leaving the chapel with eyes that darted frightfully and grew red."
"Yet none could find the lady ere dawn. When she returned she was pale as one dead, though she yet walked. Where she before was merry, she was now silent, and spoke but rarely. And where before she feasted upon sweetmeats and delicacies, she would now eat nothing but the raw brains of sheep and kine."
"At last a worthy Mrs. P of Chester testified to the sighting of a wolf-man before the village elders, but she disappeared that very night without a trace, and for many moons no man had courage to speak upon the subject."
"The poor man swore until he fell into a dead faint that she was the last one he had seen alive in the hamlet, the wingéd lady, when all else had fallen to the sickness…"
Fiona's eyes widened. Wingéd lady. La Dame Ailée. The lady who was seen during times of war or illness. The one who was seen right before entire small villages began drinking blood. The last time she was seen was during World War II, and before that, World War I. When the lost seeing stone awoke, according to the Kent letters. Narweth seemed to think this woman, whoever she was, had been searching for the palantír, and Erestor had even managed to track her down.
Whoever or whatever La Dame Ailée was, she was no mere omen or ghost. She was real flesh and blood. Glorfindel had hinted that something had happened, something that had given Erestor cause to try and kill her, but that she had done a runner.
Her heart beat faster as she turned back a frail page. And then hesitated. Should she even be reading this? They had been dogged since leaving Melbourne. There was that guy Lindir chased down, right at the beginning, outside her house. The guy who had followed Erestor around the airport in Singapore. The group of vampires who'd started that car chase in Wales. Wainwright, of course, who had tried to kill her. She was outside the safe boundaries of Elrond's enchantment over Welsh Lindon. Who was to say that they hadn't been tailed to Oxford, that someone wasn't watching what they were doing, even now?
She would feel a lot safer handling this potentially dangerous material if one of the Elves were with her.
"Lin—" What should she call him when they were in public? What was his Mortal name again? She cleared her throat and tried again. "Lindsay!" she whispered.
She grimaced. Rolled the name around her mouth. The name felt strange.
Dammit, where was he?
With a frustrated sigh, Fiona carefully replaced the old book onto the shelf and stepped into a narrow side-aisle. She had only passed a few shelves before a feeling washed over her. Cold and dreadful. And emanating, she somehow knew, from a fixed point behind the shelf in front of her.
Drawn by some force, Fiona tiptoed behind the shelf and peered through the books. The scent of vellum and wood and old paper seemed unnaturally heightened by the fear crawling beneath her skin.
There was a man there, unremarkable-seeming at first, if a little tall. Except for the fact that his stillness as he stood before the books was not natural. Like he was standing, but dead. Not a single finger twitched. It was intensely disturbing.
Slowly, inhumanly, he half-turned his head. Not quite hidden by the white collar was a wound. Two of them, small punctures in the neck, dark with half-congealed blood.
For one long, horrible moment, Fiona's heart stopped.
And then it began to pound in her chest. Slowly, then rapidly. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump thump thumpthumpthumpthump-
His nostrils flared.
Could he…smell her?
Slowly, Fiona backed away. She held a hand in front of her face. It shook, leaf-like, as though her bones were being rattled like a tree in a bitter wind.
Fiona's instincts screamed, as they had the first time she'd seen a vampire, to run. But this was no place for running. He could already sense her, apparently, and he'd certainly hear her if she went bolting.
No. She'd have to be careful, and quiet. And leave now, before her breathing became too hard to control. Get back outside, where other people were.
Fiona knew nothing about being stealthy, but she did her best. She moved behind the shelves, masking her footfalls by stepping on tiptoes. She'd never had to do this at the uni library at home. Her head was full to bursting. Relief overwhelmed her with trembling knees when the door came in sight.
She glanced behind her. No one there.
Fiona breathed out.
She'd left her coat on the floor.
The coat with the Kent letters inside.
Fiona's fist flew to her mouth. She bit down so hard that she felt as though her teeth would sink right through her flesh.
She swallowed. Dread made her stomach drop.
She was going to have to go back there and get it.