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FOREWORD


(For discussion of the fundamental problem that Tolkien had with his mythology, see the Commentary at the bottom of my previous post,The Book of Lost Tales, Remade)

ARHELED

Book 1

“Every story has a beginning, yet every beginning is different; for every story is different.” said the voice in the darkness.

The sleeping boy stirred and turned over but did not waken.

“To begin, one must have a knowing. To know, one must have seeing. And so few of you can really see.”

The boy’s eyes remained half shut as sleepers’ will, so that the objects of the room melded with his dreams and flowed into fantastic and ponderous meanings. And still the voice in the darkness wandered through his dreams, and through a thousand confused worlds the boy still heard him speak.

“They grope in the darkness and think that they are seeing, and wander in a fog of their own constant thinking. The shape, the form, the nature of reality. Is the world as it seems? Does it run on ancient laws that are rigidly obeyed? Was it always as it now is?”

The boy stared in his sleeping vision at the ominous shape of the window and the summer night outside it. Stars began to gleam in it, first one and then another and then the dark was bright with silver lights. He watched, enchanted even in slumber, and the stars stood and laughed at him as he stood beside the water, strange cold merry laughter that pricked him like chill breezes, their silver figures hard and prickly with rays, dancing on the mirror-like surface as though the lake were made of glass.

“They say that all is relative.” the voice said from the air and out of the tree at his side. The solid island seemed to waver, as if its’ very nature was shifting. “They say the world has always been like this, dead and shifting and bereft of all magic. What was it in truth, Forest?”

And even in his dreaming state confusion came upon him.

“The beginning is known. The ending is known, for we walk onward toward it and it is nigh beneath our feet. But it is not known of the transition.”

The boy wanted to speak but his throat refused to work.

“The roads that walk the heavens, and the roads that go to earth. The world that once was is as far from the world that is, as the stars are far from the land from which men see them.”

The boy tossed and turned. The room was hot, smothering. The shapes of real things began to shed their portentous meanings, slipping down to resume their normal proportion.

“Beginnings never begin.” the voice said distantly as it slid down into the dreams he was leaving. “They merely continue.”


PRELUDE



The stars looked down on Winsted.

They spread over the deep blue of the ancient dome, hard and clear and white, walking up the heavens overhead. The orange dullness of the streetlights met the ancient blue at the hem of the trees and produced a weird, black region where was no light at all.

And still the stars looked down on Winsted, and the little town reposed in the horseshoe-shaped valley, blissfully unaware of the scrutiny. The storefronts were lit, even the ones like the antique shops that were closed, a single wall of close-built store buildings divided by narrow alleys and bared stairs, stores on the bottom and apartments above. Restaurants glowed and the big white sign above the old-fashioned cinema halfway down Main St shed a comforting light on the people exiting the purple-lit doors. In blue neon letters atop the sign GILSON’S announced its’ name to Winsted. The 7:00 movie was over and there was a whole night’s worth of other things to see and enjoy, and the couples and young people and lone middle-aged men headed up the street to the dim bars. Neon signs in red and blue announced their wares, the two colors in such proximity giving an eerie impression of purple. None of the walkers looked up so much as once at the ancient places overhead, but then it was doubtful they would have seen much, anyway. The lampposts along Main St were shedding a white auroa from their globe-shaped lamps, and the glare of moving white from passing cars blended with the orange higher up. The world seemed to end at the rooftops, and Winsted glittered under its’ canopy of manufactured light and bustled on, as always.

Tall and silent above the streetlights St. Joseph’s rose, the front illumined by a single lamp facing backward on a streetlight pole, but the pinnacles of peak and chimney and great steeple soared into darkness, hardly to be seen. The fields below in the river flats were flooded white: a late baseball game was winding down, and parents hollered and bats cracked, and above them was only a roof of ink: no star could see into that glare. The cemetery on its’ queer hill behind the park was invisible, asleep under its’ scattered pines.

Behind the close-set wall of nightlit shops the little city was settling down. The rising banks of house-lights on either wall of the valley were dimming as lights were turned off. The horseshoe valley swept in a square curve, horns facing north, Mad River and Main Street following the curve. Where the valley turned east after the first bend, it opened into a broad level a half-mile wide, known once as The Flat but now just the inner city. There apartment windows glowed in high old houses, and people dark as the dusk around them clustered upon the steps and porches of ancient tenements. Higher up the houses grew more pleasing, the yards were tended and trees grew in them, the green overlaid by the dull orange of the sad lamps. Up the skirts of the climbing hills the houses rose, street above street, row of orange above row of orange. Black and quiet above them rose the hills, unhaunted by lights save for the climbing threads of streetlights along major roads.

Above the town the ancient lake lay mirror-calm, free at last of the boats that beset it by day, that filled it with waves like a small but unquiet sea. Long and winding, it twisted through the tops of the hills like a floor of black crystal, the reflection from the houses gleaming like gems far down inside. And the stars gleamed above them, and the stars looked down on Winsted, and brightest of all they looked down upon that lake. It felt as if other eyes than the stars were gazing on that lake, watching it, eyes older than the trees or even than the hills beneath the trees. But the night was empty, and darkness walked where the lights of men did not fall, and the darkness was silent.

Chapter ONE

FIVE FOR THE FIVE CHURCHES




“Honey! Forest, honey, aren’t you up yet?” his mom called up the stairs.

Forest squeezed his eyes shut and a tear smarted in one. He told himself it was just the sand—why do they call it sand, he wondered, when mostly it’s yellow goo?—but he knew that wasn’t the answer. He had never felt such keen pain as when he had woken up and knew he had left his dreams again. The very thought stung another tear, and he let it fall as he closed his eyes: nobody could see it, anyway. Maybe if he dropped off right now he could find them again; the images still glowed and swam distinctly in his mind. But even as he did so he knew it was too late: the burning images faded, meshing and dying into a blended fading glow. He sighed and got heavily out of bed.

Wind hissed in the leaves of the big oak outside his window, and rain pattered on the outer wall. Sitting down at the little desk Dad had made some years ago (but Dad was gone, Dad had left, and just thinking of him hurt more than leaving dreams), Forest grabbed crayons and a pen and began to draw; outlining only, he would paint over this later.

Drawing did things to him, he’d noticed. When he was feeling miserable, or lonely, all he had to do was sit down and draw, and soon he would forget everything else, lost in a realm of outlines and wax streaks and colors. He was still scribbling in the leaves of the tree he’d begun two days ago, when his mom came up the stairs.

“Forest, for heaven’s sake, you’re supposed to be at the bus stop in twenty minutes and you’re not even dressed! C’mon, honey, put your pens away. It’s not good for you to be spending so much time drawing.”

Forest allowed himself to be hustled into the bathroom—with the right clothes, this time—but not before burying the Tree under his bed. Even Mom couldn’t be allowed to see that. She’d never see it right. Forest wasn’t sure how, but he knew. He didn’t say anything to her.

The Tree, like a laurel but with white bark…not bark, not like other trees, but like solid white wood….

“Are you okay, darling?” his mom said to him. Forest gave her a short attempt at a smile; even that was an effort. He liked to remain inside his own thoughts. It was hard to say much or chatter like his mom did; sometimes he envied her that. Not always. The smile reassured his mom that yes, he was alive and yes, he knew that the outside world existed, and she didn’t push him.

Forest clicked the hook-and-eye shut on the bathroom door and got dressed, always a process not unfraught with peril, for sometimes it happened. This time it came when he was looking for the toothpaste, and he sat down on the edge of the tub and became motionless, aside from the flash and glow of his eyes.

Silver spilling from the undersides of every leaf, their oversides as dark as laurel. Smooth blossom-stems unbudding from the shining twig, flowers like trumpet-shaped roses that blazed as bright as stars…

Mom pounded on the door, breaking the sudden gleam of memory. Forest dropped the vision and saw it dissolve into mist and nothingness as he watched dumbly. Shoving his fists into his eyes he sobbed for half a minute—softly, for he didn’t want to be heard. Pulling himself back to dull reality, he realized from how cold he was that he had been sitting on bare metal in his underwear for far too long a time. He dressed reluctantly: these were school clothes and felt like a prison uniform. Mom had tried to buy bright colors like the latest styles had, knowing Forest ordinarily liked colors.

“No.” he had said decisively when Mom had wanted him to try them on.

“Blue jeans and red turtleneck go great with your brown hair, honey! I know you like bright colors…”

“Not for school.” He had picked out a faded pair of black jeans: almost grey, they were, and with it a dull brown shirt with a single band of grey and white across the chest.

“You’ll look so—so—pale! Mom had exclaimed. “Like a rock in the woods or something!” but he refused to change his mind and she bought them anyway. He didn’t know how to explain it to her, but in these colors he was safe. He had felt horribly exposed last year when wearing the more colorful outfit she’d bought for him then. Almost….targeted. As if he could be seen more easily by something, or someone, whom he did not want to be seen by. Even at St. Anthony’s school he had felt this: thank heaven for school uniforms which made everyone look the same.

He popped the hook and hurried downstairs. Mom had oatmeal waiting, had even added grape juice and maple syrup, though not of course as much as it needed in order to be even halfway palatable. He paused in the process of wolfing down the gorgeous gooey mess, gravely considering his mother as she bustled around packing his books. She had such strange pale-gold hair—he would need at least three pencils to produce the right shade—and her sharp pleasant face underneath it seemed to fit perfectly. She had pale blue eyes, just like his although his were brown, but there wasn’t—he frowned, fumbling for the right word. He could form things well enough in his head, but somehow when he said them they came out weird. There wasn’t—they were glittery on top, but there wasn’t—anything underneath, they had a skin of smartness and thought, and down below it was empty. Mom couldn’t understand things sometimes, he remembered. She would listen to what he said and then say something so banally beneath what he’d been saying he had to shut his mouth hard to keep it from dropping. You learned not to explain things to her.

“Forest, come on, finish eating! What are you staring off into space for?” Mom had noticed his regard.

A half-smile twitched across his lips. “You look so pretty today.”

Mom actually went a little pink and giggled, and Forest felt secretly pleased; something he’d said actually coming across was an unfamiliar experience. “You’re such a flatterer.” she said affectionately and came over and kissed him. Forest squirmed away as usual, but half-heartedly. “Too bad your father doesn’t think so.”

Dad. He’d been there too, beneath the Tree, and his sword glowed red as he swore upon it…or had it been Dad at all?

He stood, up where the drive off the little island met the shore road, wishing miserably that he was still in St. Anthony’s. But he was 15 now and graduated from it last year, and after that it was all high school, at least for another year.

“Can I drop out when I’m 16?” he’d said recently.

“Forest, I really don’t see how you’re going to get a real job if you don’t have an education. You don’t want to have to dig ditches for your living, do you?”

What if I like digging ditches, the retort sprang into his head, but he failed to open his mouth in time and the words trickled away as they always did, leaving him oddly satisfied as if they had actually been spoken. Imaginary debates were always so much better than saying things out loud. That way you got the satisfaction of triumph with none of the risk of retaliation, a triumph sweetened by the fact that the other person thought he’d won, and you knew better. With the other kids this was often his only defense.

Mom pounded on the door, breaking the sudden gleam of memory. Forest dropped the vision and saw it dissolve into mist and nothingness as he watched dumbly. Shoving his fists into his eyes he sobbed for half a minute—softly, for he didn’t want to be heard. Pulling himself back to dull reality, he realized from how cold he was that he had been sitting on bare metal in his underwear for far too long a time. He dressed reluctantly: these were school clothes and felt like a prison uniform. Mom had tried to buy bright colors like the latest styles had, knowing Forest ordinarily liked colors.

“No.” he had said decisively when Mom had wanted him to try them on.

“Blue jeans and red turtleneck go great with your brown hair, honey! I know you like bright colors…”

“Not for school.” He had picked out a faded pair of black jeans: almost grey, they were, and with it a dull brown shirt with a single band of grey and white across the chest.

“You’ll look so—so—pale! Mom had exclaimed. “Like a rock in the woods or something!” but he refused to change his mind and she bought them anyway. He didn’t know how to explain it to her, but in these colors he was safe. He had felt horribly exposed last year when wearing the more colorful outfit she’d bought for him then. Almost….targeted. As if he could be seen more easily by something, or someone, whom he did not want to be seen by. Even at St. Anthony’s school he had felt this: thank heaven for school uniforms which made everyone look the same.

He popped the hook and hurried downstairs. Mom had oatmeal waiting, had even added grape juice and maple syrup, though not of course as much as it needed in order to be even halfway palatable. He paused in the process of wolfing down the gorgeous gooey mess, gravely considering his mother as she bustled around packing his books. She had such strange pale-gold hair—he would need at least three pencils to produce the right shade—and her sharp pleasant face underneath it seemed to fit perfectly. She had pale blue eyes, just like his although his were brown, but there wasn’t—he frowned, fumbling for the right word. He could form things well enough in his head, but somehow when he said them they came out weird. There wasn’t—they were glittery on top, but there wasn’t—anything underneath, they had a skin of smartness and thought, and down below it was empty. Mom couldn’t understand things sometimes, he remembered. She would listen to what he said and then say something so banally beneath what he’d been saying he had to shut his mouth hard to keep it from dropping. You learned not to explain things to her.

“Forest, come on, finish eating! What are you staring off into space for?” Mom had noticed his regard.

A half-smile twitched across his lips. “You look so pretty today.”

Mom actually went a little pink and giggled, and Forest felt secretly pleased; something he’d said actually coming across was an unfamiliar experience. “You’re such a flatterer.” she said affectionately and came over and kissed him. Forest squirmed away as usual, but half-heartedly. “Too bad your father doesn’t think so.”

Dad. He’d been there too, beneath the Tree, and his sword glowed red as he swore upon it…or had it been Dad at all?

He stood, up where the drive off the little island met the shore road, wishing miserably that he was still in St. Anthony’s. But he was 15 now and graduated from it last year, and after that it was all high school, at least for another year.

“Can I drop out when I’m 16?” he’d said recently.

“Forest, I really don’t see how you’re going to get a real job if you don’t have an education. You don’t want to have to dig ditches for your living, do you?”

What if I like digging ditches, the retort sprang into his head, but he failed to open his mouth in time and the words trickled away as they always did, leaving him oddly satisfied as if they had actually been spoken. Imaginary debates were always so much better than saying things out loud. That way you got the satisfaction of triumph with none of the risk of retaliation, a triumph sweetened by the fact that the other person thought he’d won, and you knew better. With the other kids this was often his only defense.

Delilah came up almost arm-in-arm with Julian, as usual, and they were giggling over something or other. Julian, buxom and golden-haired with pretty features, spared a glance and a “Hi, Forest” before animatedly going off again on how some guy or other had asked somebody else out. Delilah, who was taller and less plump, had a sly and almost brash beauty about her face with it’s shortish brown hair. She was saying, “(OMG)! (OMG)! That is so freakin’ awesome! So he just did it—like that?”

“Yeah, just like ‘Hey, you wanna go swimming at night?’ and she’s like ‘DUH! Of course I do!’ and he says ‘In the nude?’ “

“Ooooh!” Delilah said. Forest thought she looked like she was about to eat something, hungry and gloating. He turned his eyes away and let his thoughts slip elsewhere. “So, did they go and, you know?”

Light flowing….dew so bright it seemed almost like light liquefied…no, it was liquid, light was dripping from flower and from leaf, silver and white, hot as steam or fire, light was sap and sap was light….

“That’s it!” said Forest. It was so odd to hear him say anything that both girls instantly stopped talking and stared at him.

“What’s it?” said Julian.

“The deaf-mute speaks! The lame jump! The dead walk again!” Delilah mock-gasped, in a way that most people found rather fetching.

“What’s it, Forest?” Julian persisted.

“It’s IT it, of course!” Delilah crowed.

“Shut up, I want to hear what IT is.”

“Light evaporated.” said Forest. His plaintive, sad face was unchanged but the absent brown eyes gleamed with sudden discovery.

“Oh.” said Julian.

“Well, you had to ask!” Delilah sputtered, before exploding into laughter. Forest said nothing; it was doubtful he even heard them.

Light began as liquid, but dissipated into energy, was what he had wanted to say. He didn’t care whether he had said it or not. It didn’t matter if it was real, either, it was just so beautiful an image. He smiled secretly as he saw light falling as rain, or collecting as dew, great lakes of it, lakes edged with brilliant plants and borders of silver and wrought gold, like giant vats….

“I thought he might have had something important to say.” Julian was defending herself.

“Light evaporates! Oh my f-- (God’s name insulted) ! That’s gonna make history!” And Delilah went off again.

The bus came about then. Julian and Delilah completely forgot about Forest and minced delicately on board, making sure their tight jeans showed every curve to advantage. There were boys inside. Forest followed, looking a little disgusted. Nobody noticed him; they were so busy greeting and being rude to the two girls, who gave tit for tat as they sat down, making sure they picked a seat where they could sit together and still have boys on every side.

Forest sat down in a seat on the left-hand side of the bus. He could see better from there; the first few days he had been so confused and nervous he hadn’t had a chance to notice things much. The bus was more than half full, and by the time they rounded First Bay at the northern head of the lake and descended Lake St, it was completely full. One boy had sat next to Forest, but he was too occupied in chattering to a boy across the aisle to even register Forest’s existence.

They went up the road that ran past the library, and Forest looked longingly at the stonework of his church as they passed near it; the odd hammer-like decorations in the top story of the steeple lingered longest. The bus drove up Wetmore Av heading east, then turned left and went up Williams, a shady boulevard of handsome townhouses. Gilbert High crowned the rise at the end of the street, long and slab-like, at least four stories high and made of brick and glass, only somewhat obscured by the remains of this year’s leaves. A steep lawn fronted the school under old maples near the road. Atop this fields had been delved out of the hill, and a snakelike drive descended from the teachers’ parking lot. The bus did not climb this; it turned to the right, where a long slanting street came down seemingly out of the woods, and entered the best part of the whole ride.

This was why Forest was sitting on the left. On that side a valley dropped between street and school, and twenty feet below ran a hurrying rocky brook. Across the brook huge walls of ancient masonry rose, sometimes almost twenty feet, lining the brook. A bridge of stone sprang across in a lovely round arch, carrying what had once been the old entrance to the Gilbert School of many years ago, when its’ namesake was still alive; but on the other side was only the high unilock wall under the new turnaround. Green bushy hemlocks enclosed the back street on the right, and under them the land rose steeply. Then the street hooked back on itself, a parking lot for student cars opening off the elbow and filling the head of the valley, and the street rose to a loop turnaround before the doors of Gilbert High.

The bus stopped with the usual scream of brakes. Everyone stood up, milling more or less forward to dribble out of the doors and into the outside air. It smelled like frost up here. Forest went with the crowd, alone in a land of strange and frightening aliens, invisible to all. No one noticed him. Groups were clumping about on the broad sidewalk entrance, flanked by its’ low yews, and others were streaming in through the glass doors. Inside the echo of hubbubing teen voices filled the air, and Forest noticed again the odd smell that was distinctly Gilbert: sort of a mix of Crayola and locker room and girls’ perfume.

Recess came at last. Forest headed through the churning crowds with a dexterity natural to him, slipping between people and around them. He was used to everyone’s eyes sliding right past and over him as if he didn’t exist; he was so nondescript and ordinary no one noticed him. He got to the door and headed around the back, where he could be alone.

The slope of Spencer Hill came down to meet the back wing of the school building. Dark white pines arched over a narrow strip of open flat lawn between slope and brick wall, an asphalt walk running almost under the eaves. It was an eerie, isolated place, with forest on the left and empty wall on the right. Forest heard voices: others were apparently using this avenue. He rounded a corner with caution. A bunch of bigger and tougher-looking seniors were hanging out, and the taste of cigarette smoke mingled with a nasty underflavor of pot. Forest did not look right at them, walking by as softly as he could. One or two of the bigger boys glanced over at him, then off at the trees, and up at the sky, as if he was only part of the background. Relieved that one theory of his was right, Forest headed on.

The avenue of green sloped sharply down as the building ended, and Forest emerged on the bus drive near the front entrance. A few couples, dark girls with legs like sticks in their thin jeans and empty-faced boys, were wandering about and trying to keep warm. A chill October wind sent yellow and brown leaves scuttering down the pavement. Forest walked around the elbow curve and along the strip of lawn beside the road, above the brook.

It was a very lovely place. The clear-brown water chunnered over round stones. Tall yellow maples still clung to the rags of their brief glory. A huge wall of blue-grey stones rose across the brook, and above it was a rusty low chain-link fence, and the grey unilock wall, and the steep weedy bank above it, half-concealed by young pines. None of the kids seemed to care about this place, or even know it existed; was he the only boy in Winsted who noticed things like this, in the hollows and holes of the cityside landscape? The stones of the wall were gigantic, great bars and slabs.

He came to the old stone bridge. A round arch of cut granite blocks spanned the stream, and a causeway walled by masonry crossed upon it, only to be blocked by the unilock wall and its’ grey rough precast concrete blocks. Old posts with holes in them marked a rail fence that was no longer there. The top of the bridge was bare earth with a few stones sticking out. Past it the great wall reached a corner, and several huge blocks had slipped in the distant past, leaving a cave-like gap in the wall. The masonry above it hung suspended, unwilling to fall.

Forest climbed down to the stream. It filled the entire arch, but it was shallow and enough rocks stuck out of it for him to find his way right under the arch. The water shouted and echoed around him. He had to stoop, for his stepping-stones did not extend beneath the crown of the arch. That was how he came to see the letters in the stone. He hopped to another rock and teetered before gaining his balance. It was scratched, but scratched neatly and quite deep, and it had been done long ago from the moss staining the letters dark.

On Temple Fell, on Temple Fell,

let all who enter enter well!

(As it seems impossible to load large blocks of text on this @#$% page, further text will be added only if interest is expressed. )

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