Away from Home (part 2)
In a sense, the weekend is over. About half an hour ago Jon dropped me off at the station - right now I'm sat on a train which is speeding me home. To my family. Normality. Except I have the feeling that nothing is going to be "normal" again - not in the sense of "the same as before".
I left off writing my diary just as Jon and I met up with the others. I'd better continue before I forget the details. In a way, I sense the details aren't what is important. Or at least, in needing to record them, preserve them, I am not quite getting the point of what happened. Where I have been. But I am still me (and not Jon) and feel the need to record-for-posterity. To work-things-out-by-writing-them-down.
Let's see - where did I get to? Jon and I had just arrived at the "settlement" and met Lodge and Rose. That was strange. I've already written how at first, before actually meeting them, I'd felt .jealous when Jon told me there were four other people staying so close to our cottage (hah! see how I divide and appropriate - other people, our Cottage ...)
But all that disintegrated when I met Forge and Rose. Shifted. Forge with his huge, multicoloured jumper and ready smile. Rose's quiet nobility.
And, of course, I realised immediately that they Belonged there, in the Valley. I was going to say "they were made to live in the Valley", but that's wrong, surely? In a sense we are all - ylfe and men - made to live in the Valley - in the sense that the Valley is a taste of what the world was / can be like, without the darkness and pain.
But, of course, the Valley isn't "just like that" - an inanimate stage for man and Elf to strut, to mime upon. It is this way because of the millennium-old symbiotic (is that the word?) relationship between the Valley and those - almost exclusively Elves/Ylfe - who have worked to channel the Valley's energy towards its own (and their own) preservation, enrichment and unfolding.
As such it is, perhaps, an Ylfic vision of what the world was / can be. One, certainly, into which we can occasionally venture (will I be invited back? Already I yearn to return, yet without Jon - or Richard? - I know I would never find the Road). But one in which we are ultimately Other.
Strange to suddenly find myself the visitor, the special guest, when so short a time before it was the other way round. Here (in the "Outside world") it is Jon, and Kai and Ellen and the others ("others" again!) who are - well, Other!
How many are there? In the past few months I have met ... Kai, Ellen, Jon, Forge and Rose. Then there are Kai and Ellen's parents who were at the Green Festival ... that's seven. Sounds a lot - like I'm surrounded by Elves, doesn't it? It does make you think, though.
What about the other folk here, on the train with me? What about him, or her, over there ..? How would I know? Do they look different (from "us")? Yes, of course - but in what ways?
That's really difficult, because I don't think there's anything physical, like pointy ears (they would be Vulcans, obviously), or little wings (Balrogs ..!) Unless it's their eyes.
It's more a case of quality. Jon, now ... after this weekend I guess I know him more than the others (why do I feel he probably knows more about me than I do about him?) He is - well, Jon. Yes, that's a part of it. They are just - themselves. Wholly. Not like us, most of the time. They know, 110%, who (what) they are, and that gives them a .centredness. Strength. Yes.
There is also context. I met K & E at the Green Festival (Beneath the Trees): Forge and Rose in the Valley ... Both very Special places - and Special in (to me) similar ways. I've been back to the little clearing in the park. Most of the magic of that day had gone - just a mild "lingering Specialness".
So, do you meet them in such places - or, is it the presence of the Ylfe that gives the place its Special nature?
"Special Nature"? - hmm, that's good! Nature enhanced. Yes - I think I am getting close. K & E said they travel the country, visiting the various festivals and fairs. Maybe what I sensed at the Green Fair wasn't just because they were there (at that moment). Maybe it was because they had been there before.
So, the Valley is the way it is (the Nature so much more powerfully Special) because They have been there - well, essentially forever. Since Lindiriel awoke the Music in the Chamber of Singing Light ("so the story goes"!)
But, that gives a new twist to their "tour" of the festival sites. They are not just there for the music, or to meet people, or just to have a good time (or even to sell excellent home baked bread!) They are there to continue their work.
This has taken me a long way from what I was trying to do - record the events of the weekend. Okay.
Forge and Jon disappeared almost straight away. Rose was tending the fire. We didn't say anything for a bit. I still felt - unsure and I think she knew that and was giving me space. I watched her - a woman I would have ordinarily put in her late 40s, dressed in a black dress and finely embroidered waistcoat. Her long dark hair clipped up behind her head. No shoes on her feet. I watched her arrange the logs drying around the edge of the fire. I have never been any good with real fires but she performed the tasks with easy, economic grace.
Moving a blackened pot that had been simmering in the embers she looked up at me and asked what I was feeling. Not how, what.
It's not easy to answer a question like that (though it's one I used to "test myself with" on occasion). I don't remember exactly what I said but I was as honest as I could be. I realise now it wasn't so much that she wanted to know how I felt - it was a lesson: teaching me and allowing me to open up to what I felt inside and to the Moment.
I told her I felt .awkward. That I wasn't sure how to act. That - just when I'd begun to feel "at home" in the Valley - I suddenly felt on the Outside again. Because she and Forge clearly Belonged in ways I never could.
But, as I spoke and realised the fact, I also said that I was very happy to have met her because I wanted to know more about the Valley and her people.
Those two words brought me up short. Like when you are in town and you see someone and you know (you know) you know them, maybe from the office. Only you are gripped by the possibility that, in fact, you are wrong. That, if you walk over and say Hi! you'll discover it isn't who you thought and you'll feel really, really stupid.
So, although I knew Rose was Ylfe, like Jon, like Kai and Ellen: although I had talked (well, emailed) with K&E about the - incredible - fact that they are, in reality, modern day Elves. And more remarkable still (if that's possible!) that they are Tolkienian Elves. Elves who trace their lineage and history to the same sources JRRT used in translating / writing his "fantasy" tales. Despite all that, I was suddenly terrified I'd gotten it wrong. That K&E and Jon were, after all, just human after all. A bit "odd", certainly. Otherthan. But human.
I hesitated. Rose waited for me to go on. I looked round the clearing. The huts. The loom, pots and daily accoutrements. I was looking for clues. A sign.
And then it came - on her waistcoat Rose wore a silver brooch. Not like the single leaf brooches that Kai and Ellen wore. Rose's was circular: a mature tree and a swirl that could (could only?) be a wave. The Forest and the Sea.
These silver brooches are some sort of clan badge.
I looked into Rose's eyes and I saw she could tell - not exactly what I was thinking (there was nothing intrusive about it) but that I had seen the brooch. Made the connection.
"You know what we are, Martin". Not at question.
"Yes," I think I said. "You are Elves".
She smiled then. And in her eyes there was something like Ages of knowing-who-she-was-in-a-world-that-didn't. A pride and a gentle, lingering sadness.
At that moment, Forge and Jon came back, as it they had been waiting in the wings for me to realise my Truth. Maybe they were!
Then Jon and Forge suggested a walk down by the river, so the three of us set off. Rose stayed behind. Maybe her Task was done, I don't know. Anyway, as we walked I realised I felt happier - even! - than I had earlier, before we met Rose and Forge. I felt like I'd passed some sort of test. I'd pretty much forgotten about the other two people, Rose and Forge's "guests". They weren't Elves. Maybe I wouldn't even get to meet them. I could live with that. It is fair to say I wasn't ready for what happened next.
When we got to the river I walked down to the bank. On the opposite side there were trees almost down to the water but on our side there was a wide belt of short grass, broken here and there by huge slabs of stone glowing pink and (almost) red in the sunlight. It was peaceful, standing there. Yes, the whole Valley is peaceful, but (I can see it now) in different ways in different places.
After maybe five minutes Forge said, "Come with me. There is someone I think you will be happy to meet again". It was the first time he had really spoken to me, apart from our initial greeting.
Forge looks older than any of the other Ylfe I've met and that includes K&E's father and mother. Not old, but .weathered. Partly, I guess, it's his silver hair but I think there's something more ancient about his whole demeanour. I asked Jon about him on the way back. He said Forge has lived in the Valley for a really long time (whatever that means, but I got the impression it was a matter of ancient Tale even for Jon).
As I followed Forge along the river bank I guess I felt more than a bit daunted by his words - were they another Test (of course!) Who did he mean? Jon had told me the other two were human - hadn't he? For a moment I thought it might be Kai and Ellen (and my heart leapt!) but then as we went past a large outcrop of rock I saw two figures crouched down at the water's edge.
It was such a - shock - seeing Richard. And yet, in a way, no surprise at all. Rationalise that! To see him at all - anywhere - would have been a shock. How many years since I saw him last? How many more since we first met?
Always my teacher, my guru (a role I put on him, I can see that now) I had outgrown him. Maybe. Maybe we just needed a few years on different Paths, so that we could meet up again now.
When he looked up at me, everything telescoped. Forge, Jon, Richard's companion, the whole Valley slipped out of focus leaving just R, crouched there by the stream.
I walked over and we started talking. As though the intervening years hadn't existed. As though we'd last spoken weeks, not years ago. As if we weren't in a mythical valley, in the Company of Elves (Cosner should make that movie! - oh, no, it's "Dances With Wolves", isn't it, not "Company of Wolves" ... hmmm ... Dances With Elves ... a neat name. But that came later!)
We didn't talk about the past. Richard didn't ask what I'd been up to and I didn't ask him. It seemed enough to be there. To Be. There.
He showed me what he was watching - dragonflies zooming about the bank. I would have missed them. He was ever good at that. Showing me what I would otherwise have missed. Dragonflies. Plants. Beetles. People.
The child just sat on the grass beside Richard as we talked. He didn't say anything and seemed content to watch the water. I didn't ask Richard who he was. If it was important, I would find out. I found out (so it must have been important!) when Richard turned to the boy.
"Arthur, this is Martin." The child turned his blond head to me and smiled. "Martin," I heard Richard say somewhere a long way away. "This is Arthur. My son."
All my life has been a lesson, a study, in not-being- surprised. A natural talent, patiently nurtured. Even so, my now-focus shimmered. The child implied When? How? Who? But I didn't ask. Even now I don't know who Arthur's mother is. Or where. It might be important.
We must have spent a couple of hours there on the riverbank, the three of us. Forge and Jon had gone off - presumably back to the little camp. That's where we met up with them again later. It was starting to get dark by then. Dusk. Simple words like dusk (and dawn) take on new meaning in the Valley. No, rather they recover their original, their true, meaning.
The food was already prepared. Hot broth in earthenware bowls. It seemed to be mainly potato - maybe with onion. And herbs. Herbs too in the flat bread cakes. Butter in a fine silver dish. Fresh fruit. The others had a pale drink (?wine, ?mead) but Richard didn't partake so I didn't either. Water was good enough! The ?wine smelled nice, though. Maybe I should have tried some.
I was quiet while we ate. Arthur related the story of what he and Richard had found / discovered during the day. They'd been exploring across on the other side of the river. He got really excited, telling us how they'd seen the fish leaping in the pool below the rainbow waterfall (the one Jon and I saw in the distance - weird to think that we might have bumped into them on their way back ...) Forge asked questions. He seemed pleased at the boy's interest and excitement. Richard was sat next to Rose, prodding at the fire and occasionally adding to what Arthur was saying. Jon didn't seem to be listening (though he probably was!) and concentrated on his food.
And me? I was happy, to be there with my friends - new and newly refound.
I was about to write "After the meal ..." but it didn't really end as such. In fact, I don't think Jon ever stopped eating all night! But as it got darker the mood sort of changed. Arthur had finished telling his adventures and was sat on the ground beside Richard. The talk now was ...
That's as far as I got this morning on the train. Appalling thought after writing so much - 24 pages since I started writing Friday's entry on the station, waiting for Jon to show - I've still only taken the weekend through to Saturday night. That's about a page an hour! I think I can abbreviate my account of yesterday (Sunday) but I do want to write some more about Saturday night.
I think Arthur fell asleep where he was lying. For a while there was just good talk. Then, the conversation sort of dried up naturally and I realised the others - Jon, Rose and Richard - were all looking at Forge. Waiting for him to speak.
He was sat there very still, staring into the fire. I wondered (it sounds silly now) if maybe he was telling a telepathic story that everyone could hear except me! Then, without warning and without looking up from the flames, he began his Story.
A Tale from the Elder Days when Elrond was Master of the Homely House and Lord of the Valley of Singing Waves. In that time came a man unbidden to that land, slipping the mazed enchantments and the watchful eyes of those who guarded the secret ways.
Jon must have fetched his drum from somewhere because I suddenly realised he was playing. Not loudly - more like a counterpoint to the rhythm of Forge's voice.
It was getting really dark now and I found myself caught up in the Tale. And the thrumming sound of Jon's drum seemed to be coming from the ground itself.
Long Moan walked the Hidden Valley seeking what he would the length and breadth of that land: all its secret places. Yet none stayed him. But at last he set out alone from that land and went south through the foothills of the mountains, following the doom that was laid upon him. Then Moan turned to the east and bent his efforts to the Mountains' bitter heights.
As I listened, to Forge's voice and the drum-beats which sounded now like the heartbeat of the Valley itself, I was with Moan as he offered himself up to his Quest.
He reached at last a sheer crevasse a dozen feet across. And beyond the fall naught but a blank wall of stone. There was no way across or around and Moan thought that his vision had at the end led him astray, to die perhaps on this bleak mountain. For the weather turned wild and cold and snow and fell voices were in the air.
Forge's voice stopped and for a while (how long?) Jon's drum-beats carried the Tale. Maybe I closed my eyes. Anyway, I was standing with Moan on that perilous ledge, the wind and snow whipping about us. He was close to despair - he could not turn back and deny his Quest, yet surely his life would end here if he attempted the impossible jump.
The drumming seemed to pulse around me and now I was Moan, desperate resolution crystallising in my mind. I watched my feet stepping me backwards until I could no longer see the edge of the abyss and the opposite wall itself was lost in a flurry of white. The drum stopped short and at the same moment Forge's voice began again. I watched as my - Moan's - feet began to carry me - him - in a measured run towards the deadly drop. The hopeless goal.
Summoning all his strength and casting from him his few belongings Moan leapt - and the Leap of Moan became famous in song. For with his fingertips he clasped the ledge and after resting on the sheer wall began to climb. High above there was a narrow gap no more than three feet wide, which led to a high stair of glittering crystal steps.
And that was the story of Moan! I have remembered more of it that I thought - though I don't think I have told it very well. There was a deep silence around the fire when Forge finished (the kind of silence you only get, maybe, sat around a fire with good friends) - then they all turned to me. It was my turn!
My mind went blank - I didn't know any stories! Certainly none like the Tale we had just heard. But as I looked helplessly around the group - Richard, Forge, Rose, Jon - I saw only Friends. The panic left me, but I still couldn't think of anything!
It was Richard who helped me out. He asked me to tell them about me, to tell my story. How I came to be there. That didn't sound so bad so I started ...
I began with discovering the tarot ... advertising in Prediction magazine ... Alice and the Tresco manuscript ... trying to get Life, Leaf & Stone published ... joining the Tolkien Society and writing for Amon Hen and MERP ... starting MeRS ... then meeting Kai and Ellen .. working with them on the article about Tolkien meeting the Ylfe (Elves!) ... right up to where Jon invited me for this trip.
It was weird. All this stuff is, when you step back from it, incredible. Literally. Yet there I was, telling the story in a place that (and to people who) proved it was true. When I'd finished I expected some questions but no, there was just the same thoughtful silence they had given to Forge. (The next day, though, Richard asked me a lot of questions. He isn't really into Tolkien as such).
The evening continued. Rose sang a long, sad ballad. I didn't understand the words but it carried me away on another little "journey" while it lasted.
The it was Jon's turn. I expected him to play something on the drum but instead he produced a tiny set of silver pipes and played a merry tune! It certainly lightened the mood after Rose's sad song.
At some point in the evening Rose and Jon lit a number of lamps - mostly oil lamps I think, others lit by candles. They were set all around the clearing. Some hung in the branches. Beyond the lamplight it was dark and overhead the sky was jet black with just (just!) the incredible array of stars that had so amazed me the night before when we first arrived.
I remember thinking "I've only been here one day!" - because sat there it all felt so much like Home.
But at last, home or not, it was time for bed. Richard invited me to share the hut with him and Arthur (who had fallen asleep - Richard had to carry him to bed). In fact, there weren't any beds, just blankets on a thick mattress of some coarse material but I fell asleep almost straight away and slept as soundly as I had the night before.
When I woke up I was all alone in the hut. I could hear voices outside, though. I lay there a while - until the smell of breakfast got too much for me! Richard, Forge and Arthur were sat at a trestle table. Bread and butter. A hot grain cereal of some sort (Elven porridge!) with cream. I helped myself and ate, listening to the conversation without feeling the need to join in.
This account is going to go on forever if I don't speed it up a bit! Richard and Arthur went with me back to the Cottage so I could get changed. We talked - mostly about him, though he asked me more about my Story too, especially about Kai and Ellen.
Now, it seems obvious, but Richard has always had something of the "air" of the Valley about him - a "nature-centred Otherness". I'm still not 100% sure how he came to the Valley but he "fits in" there - probably a lot better than I do.
We also talked quite a lot about Tolkien. I think the first thing Richard does this week is go out and buy a copy of Lord of the Rings! It seems strange to me, who have "come to" the Ylfe and this Valley through Lord of the Rings etc, that Richard can be so .immersed in it all without knowing much about Tolkien's works.
Once I'd got changed we walked down to meet Jon and the others further down the river. We got there first and sat on the rocks to wait for them, our legs dangling above the rushing water. No dragonflies but Richard still found lots of "nature" to point out to me. From where we were sat, looking back upstream we couldn't see anything of the Cottage or Forge and Rose's clearing but suddenly there the three of them were, striding out of the trees towards us.
Richard had said Forge was taking us to see the lake that filled most of the lower valley but I wasn't prepared for just how huge it is! It's supposed to be about eight miles long and the narrowness of the Valley walls make it seem wider than it actually is. The water itself was very still but I think it's pretty deep. It felt deep - both in metres and in meaning.
Forge led us to where the River flowed into the lake, over a wide tumbling ledge maybe four feet high. We all stood there a few minutes in silence. I didn't - don't - know exactly what was happening but I think Forge, Jon and Rose were concentrating together, "tuning themselves in" - or maybe invoking "Elven magic" in some way.
Richard and Arthur were standing still and silent too, but I don't think they were - participating. After a few minutes I found my mind was wandering. I remember staring at the white rushing water as it fell down the broken face of the waterfall.
Then Forge threw open his arms and cried something out loud. So loud and suddenly it gave me a shock. It even disturbed some ducks out on the lake! Without another word, Forge began clambering down the side of the waterfall. He reached into the water and took out two rough-shaped pieces of (what looked like - I'm no geologist!) rock crystal - white quartz maybe. He replaced them with two more he must have brought with him.
Later I asked Forge about it. He just looked at me with those deep, deep grey eyes and didn't answer (unless the look was all the answer I should have needed). But Rose took pity on me. She said it was part of Forge's job (actually, she said "wyrd" - I think it means something like "fate" ...) The crystals help the flow of energy in the water and "ward" the lake. I don't pretend to understand! The stones he placed in the water had been "recharged" in another (much bigger - Rose said huge) waterfall high up in the Valley.
Anyway, we spent the rest of the day by the lake then headed back. Jon and I returned to the Cottage to pick up our things. We all ate together again, with Forge and Rose. It was starting to get dark again when we set off.
I thought I'd hate leaving - and right now there is a deep ache in me when I think of the events and experiences of the weekend. But when it came to saying our goodbyes - to the Valley as much as to Rose and Forge - it just seemed right. The right thing to do at that moment of time. That, really (IMHO!) is what the Valley is all about, recognising, accepting (and doing) the right thing at each moment of time.
Richard and Arthur were leaving too and the four of us said goodbye to Forge and Rose. Our paths out of the Valley went together for most of the way but they struck off in a different direction before we got back to the car. How long before I see them again? Maybe for the Green Festival?
It was weird, seeing the little yellow mini parked up beneath the trees beside the white gate. The first "machine" I'd seen since we left it and headed up the hill (very) early Friday night / Saturday morning.
Not a lot to write about the journey back. Narrow country lanes in the dark. Starlight gradually giving way to the cloud-glow of city and town ("light-polution" - never realised what the fuss was all about until then). Readjusting. Thinking.
We talked a bit but I never asked Jon the things I most wanted to know. Would I ever be able to visit the Valley again? How had Richard and Arthur found their way there, and this weekend? Was it all planned? (By whom?) How much of it all was chance (as men say)?
But maybe the fact I didn't ask the questions shows I am learning ... It would be nice to think so.