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Bart: The First Part
I hope you enjoy my modern take on Middle Earth!
Bart the elf was tired. More than tired; exhausted, catatonic, zonked. More than once he entertained the thought of leaving his deskwork for someone else and walking out the front doors of his workplace, never to return. Of course, that was a hopeless fancy. Yet, he couldn’t tear his gaze from the view outside the floor to ceiling windows. Mirkwood City, named for that old forest which was now creeping up on its borders, sprawled out in front of him, burning a thousand shades of white in the sunlight. Elves scurried like ants over the vast grid of side streets and avenues as the metro trains circled around on elevated tracks. Mirkwood City was the last city of the elves, most of them having left for the Undying Lands during the Fourth Age. It was still the only place where the elves felt they could carry on the legacy of their race in relative peace as man industrialized the rest of the world. From his high perch on the 115th story of Elven Technologies’ South Tower, Bart could make out brown patches of deforested land along the west end of the forest. He was reminded of the stories he’d read about the wood elves, about night banquets and hunting parties and noble lords. But those were also hopeless fancies. With no small effort, he returned to his work.
Four more days like that followed, with little variation. After a poor night’s sleep, Bart endured the long hours at his desk that seemed to never end, until they did. Then, if his schedule allowed, he exercised at the community center before returning home, where he ordered food, did more work and went to sleep at around eleven. When the five day work week ended, Bart slept until the sun was high in the sky and light traffic could be heard on the thoroughfare. Following a prolonged period of lolling in the sunlight, he got up out of bed and set the kitchen singing with bacon and eggs cooking. While he ate, he would watch the morning news or read. He loved to read, especially the old histories of Middle Earth, and would spend hours buried in the Lord of the Rings or the Silmarillion. But the weekends were also for his friend.
Every Saturday at two they would meet at their favorite fód diner and eat a light lunch. Today was no different. She was waiting for him at their usual table in outdoor seating. She gave him that smile; sweet, with the perfect touch of shyness. To his embarrassment, Bart felt his ears burn a little.
“Hello Bart.” She stressed the “B” in his name so that it came out sounding funny.
“That’s my name, Molly.”
Molly was tittering, but quickly recovered. “How was your first day?”
“It was work. It’s like solitary confinement.”
She grinned in spite of herself.
“No--really. Your movement is restricted to this ten by nothing box, the only difference is you push papers all day.” Molly gave him a thoughtful look, which Bart took as a sign of doubt. “I know--it’s what I wanted. Past tense,” he quipped.
Her expression was unchanged. She was a good listener, and Bart did his best not to stare. She was beautiful in the fair, elven way. Dark brown hair, almost black, framed pale blue eyes set in an oval face. Her lips were always slightly parted, seemingly ready to—
“You don’t have to explain.” She put her hand lightly on his and rose from her seat. “Lunch can wait. Let’s go for a walk.” And walk they did.
The sun was at its zenith, tempered by a cool autumn breeze.
Molly closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. “Narquelieë.”
“Narquelieë,” Bart echoed.
All around them helicopter seeds spun to the ground, and great masses of leaves were blown thither and hither. The air had an unmistakable holiday feeling, which may have had something to do with the fact that elves out en masse buying gifts for the Autumn Feast in the various shops lining the main avenues. The buildings, tall beyond reckoning, were glowing. Every structure in Mirkwood City was powered by solar energy, not through solar panels, but through a metal ingrained in the walls. The metal, called Mithril by the elves, was half the weight and triple the strength of steel. For millennia, it had been overproduced during the Great Wars, then quickly fell out of use with the dissolution of the Great Houses. By the time the Information Age began, whole mines of Mithril remained untapped, and the metal had little use except as wire fencing and art for the rich. Until only recently had scientists discovered that Mithril could convert sunlight into a form of energy, and with a little bit of development they were able turn it into a cheap power source. It wasn't long after that Mithril powered nearly everything in Mirkwood City. Bart's place of employment was responsible for synthesizing Mithril with magnetic levitation to create a special fleet of metro trains that could reach speeds of up to 800 miles per hour without ever having to refuel, slashing travel times across Middle Earth and making the prospect of leaving Mirkwood all the more tantalizing in the same breath. Just overhead, one such train shot past on elevated tracks before disappearing around the corner of a building.
“Bart?” Molly awoke him from his thoughts.
“Sorry, I was just thinking…”
Bart darted a glance at the elevated track, half-expecting the train to reappear. “I’m not sure. I just feel… stuck? Trapped? Inhibited? Pick your adjective.”
“I—I don’t know.”
“You want to leave Mirkwood?”
“I’ve never really put it to words...” Bart trailed off, unsure. “I’ve barely worked a week, I don’t want a vacation,” he said finally; “ There’s nothing preventing me from leaving Mirkwood, I guess the problem is I already know what I’ll see. I want to go someplace I can’t find on a map or a trip itinerary. Like the Undying Lands.”
Spoken aloud, the words had an uncanny effect on Bart. The Undying Lands had been shrouded in mystery ever since the last of the fellowship sailed there from Mithlond near the end of the Fourth Age. For millennia, Mithlond had served as a way station between the Undying Lands and Middle Earth, but over the course of the fifth age, documentation of the port city— including its ship logs, manifests, and public records—was completely destroyed along with the city itself by rising sea levels and the attendant storms and floods. Now all that remained were vague histories, and an inherited memory, passed down by word of mouth by generations of elves whose lives grew shorter and shorter until they ceased to be immortal. Needless to say, it was a source of discomfort for many elves, who were all too familiar with the stories of friends and relatives who had chartered a boat to take them to that fabled land, never to return.
Noticing the troubled look that had come into Molly’s face, Bart tried for humor. “Comeon, you don’t think it could be a fun walkabout? Getting lost at sea?”
At a loss for words, Molly took his hand and quickened her pace. “There’s the Park,” she said.
The Park was one of the most popular destinations in Mirkwood City, and beautiful; Mallorn trees bordered a wide green lawn lush with gardens. Elves milled about, alone, or in pairs, filling the air with indistinct chatter. The trees had smooth, grey-silver bark, and were crowned with boughs of golden leaves. Bart picked off a leaf, and was lost in how such a thing could ever exist. He put the delicate golden thing in a hankerchief, and slid it in his pants pocket. Molly slapped his hand.
“You’re not supposed to do that,” she said with mock disapproval.
“I know,” Bart replied.
“Then why do you still have it in your pocket?”
Bart didn’t seem to hear, or at least pretended not to. “You know,” he began; “ there are only a few acres of these trees left in Lothlorien, and that number is falling every year. It’s a miracle that we have some in our park. They say it’s beautiful this time of year, Lothlorien. All the leaves will be turning golden.” He suddenly grew quiet. “Wish I could visit.”
“There you go again.”
“I’m sorry.” Bart gave a breathy laugh. “Funny how these thoughts start coming to me my first week of work.”
“Buyers remorse?” Molly asked.
“Something like that.”
After finding an unoccupied bench, they both sat in pleasant silence for a while before he spoke again.
“What if we ran away?”
“We could,” Bart reasoned; “At least for a little while, we would go during the Autumn Feast, everyone has work off that week. It wouldn't be suspicious, everyone is going on holiday.”
“I don’t know,” Molly said uncertainly; “I have a feeling it would be more than just a week.”
“I mean, isn’t that sort of the point?” He asked ingenuously. “Wherever the road takes us. And there’s enough time until then for me to scrape up enough money for the trip. For both of us,”
Molly was unreadable.
“Look, I know you and I have responsibilities, but if anyone is sacrificing anything it’s me. I could lose my job for this. But this is my destiny. Mirkwood has nothing for me. And I… I love you.”
Bart felt his heart beat like a mallet against his chest.
Molly was nonplussed.
“I…,” she darted a glance at her watch, wrung her hands, then stood up, taking great pains to avoid his gaze. “I have to go.”
“Molly...,” Bart pleaded.
“Give work a couple more weeks,” she said, voice tremulous.
Bart could only stare in disbelief as she hustled across the street and disappeared into the growing crowd of elves.