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Akallabeth in August
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Thus it was that great mariners among them would still search the empty seas, hoping to come upon the Isle of Meneltarma, and there to see a vision of things that were. But they found it not.

The Wrong Way to the Indies by Fireworks

"The greatest discoveries... have always been those that forced us to rethink our beliefs about the universe and our place in it."

-Robert L. Park

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Lenardil stared hard at the page, lips pursed, eyes mostly unseeing by now. He needed not read what he had written all those months ago, for he knew it by heart. They all did, all of them who had been of the expedition, yet none had dared state it aloud for fear, or was it astonishment? As they were making port, home after such a long absence, the Captain had called him to his cabin, had given him the awful news--a sentence.

"People will eventually find out, through your map," the Captain had said. Then, in an almost apologetic whisper, "That being the case, there is little point in my divulging it before then."

Coward! Lenardil had thought. So, it fell to him to uncover the truth, though he was no more than a map-maker. How was he supposed to break it out to all those still hopeful? How?

The gentle, but confident tap at the door recalled him to the present. Was it time for his tea already? His mother insisted that he had tea at the same time every afternoon, for it had been his father's tradition. He had always complied, for he hated to upset her, though he also hated tea. But, by the tap, it was not his mother at the door today. A small smile tugged at his mouth.

Rising from the chair, he called, "Come in," and proceeded to clear some room on his desk for the tray, and a chair. He truly could use the company.

Neliel--Maendis, as he secretly called her these days--came in carrying a tray loaded with food, but the smile he was so fond of had a hint of worry to it. It brightened only slightly when their eyes met.

He rose when she walked in, and remained standing as he watched her go about the contents of the tray with the unnatural grace that so fascinated him. If her family could only see what he saw, they would not be so hurtful. Her father had desperately wanted a son and when, one after the other, only daughters were born, he simply stopped caring. When her turn came, she was simply given the name Neliel. No dreams for the future, no hopes. Nobody noticed her wit, her charm, her quick tongue and remarkable intelligence. As he watched her cut the cheese and bread, peel some fruit for him, pour the water onto the cup and, instead of the awful tea, squeeze lemon and add honey, just exactly how he liked it, he could not help but feel a little grateful that the ones who had despised her had drawn her to him, for she would undoubtedly be elsewhere, otherwise.

When she had done, she placed all four dishes in front of him, and only then looked up, smile brightening when she caught his amused expression.

"Why do you insist on doing this for me?" he asked. "My mother invites you over because she enjoys your company."

"And because I can read Quënya with a tolerable accent, but no matter. I do it because you are my friend, and because I like being your savior."

He must have seemed rather taken aback, for she burst into laughter, a cascade of delightful sounds that made him bold, and wistful.

"From the tea," she added, more soberly, when he failed to say a word. "Will you not sit down to eat?"

"Only if you will join me."

It was her turn to be taken aback, but she recovered more quickly than he and sat, only to rise shortly afterwards.

"You had better turn this off," she said, grabbing a rag and removing the pot where he had the onion skins boiling from the fire. "You are going to get too dark a brown if you leave this sitting on the fire any longer. And you should consider working on the carnations next."

"You mean the place stinks."

"To put it mildly," she said, sat back, and primly unfolded a napkin onto her lap.

Lenardil sat, watched her break a piece of bread and begin to eat it in small, dainty bites. He cut her a slice of cheese and offered it to her, then a slice of peach, three berries. When he offered her a sliver of a nectarine, she did not take it, but looked up at him with a worried expression on her face, eyes narrowed slightly on him, the bite to her lip pronounced into a pout.

"You are not going to eat?"

He shook his head, slowly.

"Not hungry?"

"Is that why Mother sent you today? She thought you might tempt me into eating?"

"I had to try," she said, leaning forward on the table to look more closely at him. "You waste your days here looking at your notes and have not made a single map since you returned over three months ago, wasting time on redesigns when you know that the King awaits the new discoveries. You do not eat, do not sleep, do not talk to us. The other women have noticed their men have turned... well..."


She looked down at her hands, stained now from helping him mix his inks. "Dead," she said, a tentative, frightened whisper. "As if they had died alive." She stopped, waiting for him to speak.

"My, it sounds as if you were concerned over me," was all he managed to say.

"Because I am!" Then, taking his hand as it toyed with the nectarine peel, she held onto it, looked pleadingly up at him. "Lenardil, will you not tell me what the matter is? I may be able to help."

"Women always have the notion that they can help."

That pricked her, like he knew it would.

"It is in your notebook," she said, effectively alarming him.

"Would you take it without my permission?"

Their gazes strove with each other's for many long, horrible moments, until she finally lowered her eyed and gave him a small shake of the head.

"It will have to come out, Lenardil, sooner or later. If you have to put it in your map, I will likely see it..."

But he was still thinking of something else and, unable to guess at the answer, asked, "If you knew it is in my notebook, why have you not tried to read it?"

It took her much longer than he thought she needed to give her answer and, when she did, she stammered through it, her face flushed, eyes looking at the pattern of the desk's wood.

"I could not bear your anger, nor the loss of your trust, if I were to look..." she said. He heard, "I care about you."

And that decided him.

"Neliel. Would you be my savior now?

She looked up, worried. Opening his notebook to the right page, he pushed it to her, watched her take it with trembling hands, begin to read. He knew when she got to it by the gasp, the way she clung so tightly to the notebook, how she would not look at him.

"The world is round," he said, with more emotion than he had hoped to show after having so many months to absorb the fact. "The way is forever shut."

"Are you sure, Lenardil? Is it--is it certain now?"

He gave a bitter laugh. "No Meneltarma. No Eressëa. We truly are exiled, Neliel. And I am supposed to tell the world about it."

She sought for his hand again, held it tightly.

"Your mother?"

He took a deep breath. "It will crush her. For all these years after the accident, she has held on to the hope that perhaps he glimpsed the light and came, at last, to Avallónë. How can I tell her differently? Would she let go of all joy now?"

Neliel thought about it, long and hard, as she absently stroked the back of his hand.

"Maybe there is still a way that we cannot glimpse."

"Neliel, I am a man of science, of proofs, of facts! When I tell you that there is no way--"

"The Elves still sail West."

"And they are Elves!"

"Exactly. The way was always shut for us, even in Númenor."

That, he had not expected, from her. "Do you mean to tell me that you were not hopeful we would find the road?"

"I hoped it would not be found in your time."


Something in her eyes softened; she looked away and let go of his hand. "You do not like to sadden people. That way, at least, you could have kept looking."

That was so ridiculous that it made him laugh. "And live an illusion?"

"Some illusions make people happy."

"Yes, like my illusion that I would some day find my father if I kept sailing farther and farther. No more."

"What do you mean?" she asked, almost spilling the cup by her sudden movement.

"It is about time that we all began accepting the truth of many things."

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The problem of it did not limit itself to the purely metaphysical, nor religious, nor even to the sentimental, though they all were conflicted and grew heavy in his heart.

Mayhap some people still hoped to escape death by knowing there was still a way to the Ancient West--not he. That way of thinking was what had put them in their current position from the start. But he had liked the thought of it, the hope that came with the knowledge that, in the world, they were not utterly forsaken. Many notions would have to be redefined now, and he hated to be the cause for such hassle. He hated to kill his Mother's hopes, to feed fire to Neliel's fear, for every day he caught her watching him with a troubled expression on her face.

In those days, she practically lived there with them, helping him get the leather ready, get his inks the exact shade that would show on the material, making softer brushes to replace his bristled ones, and helping him solve the worst problem of all: how to make such a map? How to represent a round world on a flat surface?

They managed to devise the proper projection after many nights of calculations and frustration. There were no impediments, now.

He began to draw.

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After the unveiling, and the hysteria that ensued, they found themselves atop a tree, looking at the stars while hiding amid the leaves.

"That did not go so badly," Neliel said, plucking a flower from a nearby branch.

"Considering that we have just changed the world... I thought people would be having fits of despondency and despair."

"They may yet. I think that they will simply, adapt."

Lenardil thought about it, gave a twist at a cluster of leaves. "Mother seems to have taken it well. She simply would not believe it."

"Do not blame yourself. She is only doing what helps her cope. Many others will do the same. So will we."

"And what is that?" he asked, so low that he had trouble hearing himself above the cicadas.

"I, for one, think it need not be tragedy, being alone. It does not mean the Valar cannot see, nor that the One will forsake. It is still his world. This having to go blindly for a while might be a blessing in disguise."

"Ever the optimist."

"It helps me cope," she said; then, with a small sigh, "I am glad that it is over."

Lenardil settled more firmly on his branch, found Eärendil, a beacon in the night sky. "I think it has just begun."

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"...Men knew that the world was indeed made round, and yet the Eldar were permitted still to depart and to come to the Ancient West and to Avallónë, if they would. Therefore the loremasters of Men said that a Straight Road must still be, for those who were permitted to find it...

"And tales and rumours arose along the shores of the sea concerning mariners and men forlorn upon the water who, by some fate or grace or favour of the Valar, had entered in upon the Straight Way and seen the face of the world sink below them, and so had come to the lamplit quays of Avallónë, or verily to the last beaches on the margin of Aman, and there had looked upon the White Mountain, dreadful and beautiful, before they died." (Akallabêth, The Silmarillion, J. R. R. Tolkien)

~the end
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Maendis: skilled maiden

Neliel: third daughter

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