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My Parting Gift

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Bournemouth, England
2nd September, 1973 of the Sixth Age

He awoke from a fitful sleep to find an old friend at the foot of his bed. With great effort he pulled himself into a sitting position, though he did not really need to see the tall, dark-haired figure standing there. He knew the face perfectly. It had never changed in all the years he had known him. Or, indeed, in the past six ages of the world.

‘Hello, John,’ said Maglor.

‘Elen sila lumenn’ omen—’ he coughed—‘omentielvo, Makalaurë,’ he replied, his voice hoarse from sickness and disuse.

‘A greeting truer tonight than most nights,’ remarked Maglor in English, looking wistfully at the evening star shining through the window. His face might have been ageless, but his voice was old—the voice of someone who had learned an old tongue when it was young, and heard all its long, slow growth with his own ears. When John had been younger, his linguist’s brain had hung on every syllable, teasing a thousand years of linguistic history from the elf’s accent. Now he only listened. Besides being academically fascinating, Maglor’s voice was beautiful.

A memory occurred to him, and he smiled. ‘Do you remember the first time I heard your tongue?’ he asked.

‘You were dying of trench-fever, beyond the reach of mortal medicine,’ Maglor answered, ‘and so I saved you with another art. You awoke, and caught the last words of my song.’

‘And being an insufferable academic, I couldn’t leave you alone until I’d teased every last detail out of you.’ He laughed. It hurt.

‘I had not told anyone my true story in...oh, six hundred years or so. Few are those who would believe me in this Age. It felt good to tell the truth again.’

‘I believed you.’

‘So you did,’ said Maglor. ‘And many now believe you in turn. Or believe in you, at least. For me, that is enough.’

‘I did not finish,’ John said, thinking of the unfinished Silmarillion that existed in typewritten pages and notebooks scattered throughout his house. ‘And now I am dying once more—beyond even Elvish medicine this time, I’m afraid.’

‘Not totally,’ said Maglor. ‘Perhaps you are lost to Middle-earth. But long ago I earned my pardon from the Powers, and my ship into the West. I will not take it, but it is mine to give to whom I will, as Lady Arwen did to Frodo.’

‘You would give it to me,’ said John, understanding.

‘Yes,’ said Maglor. ‘Let it be my parting gift.’

‘I cannot take such a gift, least of all from you,’ answered John. ‘You have surely earned it more than I. You are a hero of the Elder Days—and sinner though you be, so are we all. I am not even a Ring-bearer. I am only a mad professor with an inexplicable fondness for fairy-stories.’

‘You have told the old stories anew in this Age,’ said Maglor, ‘and that is worth as much to me as all the heroic deeds of which they tell. Besides, my errand will keep me in Middle-earth for a while yet.’ He looked again at Eärendil’s star shining through the window.

‘I’ve told them as fiction,’ he protested. ‘The Lord of the Rings is a novel, if a more popular one than I anticipated. The Hobbit is a novel—for children. The Silmarillion is...well, a novel too, I suppose, though not one that anyone will ever want to read, even if Christopher does finish it.’

‘Yet the wise will know them to be True,’ said Maglor, ‘a quality that even the few accurate histories of these times often lack. You have spent your life dreaming of forgotten heroes. Go and meet them, in good health and youthful vigour once more, for a little while ere you pass on. Or,’ he added in a low voice, as if conveying forbidden secrets, ‘don’t pass on. For all the talk about how even the Valar can’t take away the Gift of Men, nothing is ever said of postponing it indefinitely. If I can believe the reports I hear, Master Bilbo—whom you take after in more than a few ways, I daresay—hasn’t taken it yet! He’s a little Elf now, for all intents and purposes, as I suppose always seemed to be his heart’s desire.’

‘I can’t deny I’d like very much to meet my heroes—insofar as they’re my heroes at all,’ John replied. ‘But I am not one of them—not an Elf, nor do I want to be. I am a mortal Man, and my Saviour has prepared me for stranger and more wonderful things than Valinor. Besides, I fear I have suffered a wound even the Powers can’t heal, and there’s only one person I really want to see again anyway.’

‘Of course.’

‘If I were to beg favours from the Valar, at this late hour, all I would ask for is the grace of Númenor, to die without pain or fear. If they’re even watching—’

‘They’re watching,’ said Maglor. ‘All of them. I can feel their eyes upon us, such as I have not felt in a very long time. Can you not feel it also?’

John supposed that if he let the barriers around his mind fall, he could feel a distant but loving gaze falling upon him. Slowly, his pain faded, until at last he was left only with a great weariness, and he wanted only to sleep forever.

‘O Queen who kindled star on star,’ he said weakly, ‘white-robed from heaven gazing far—’

‘An utterly florid translation of that hymn,’ commented Maglor, smiling, ‘but it works. Is the pain better?’

‘Much better.’

‘I’m glad,’ said Maglor. ‘Namárië, Elendil.’ Farewell, Elf-friend.


He closed his eyes.