“I'm sorry, but Mister Williams is still in surgery. It will likely be well past visiting hours before he's transferred to a hospital room. You should go home and sleep for a bit before coming back. Visiting hours begin at eight.”
The nurse looked sympathetically at Subira and walked away towards the desk. Subira clenched her fists. Unless she broke into the operating room, there was nothing she could do further to protect Maglor. One late-night car crash resulting in a compound fracture of his left tibia and the existence of Elves in Middle-earth could be revealed-- if she didn't remove him from medical care.
One night. But Kate and she could still take precautions.
She left the hospital, calling her wife on her phone as she walked into the garage. “It's bad. At the least, we need to water his plants. At worst…”
“I'll have coffee ready by the time you get home and we can start the phone tree then.”
By the time she pulled into her assigned space in the underground parking garage, Subira was focused. Once in her apartment, she kissed her wife and grabbed the spare key to Maglor's apartment. “We should take care of his apartment first.”
Kate raised a blond eyebrow but nodded. They walked down the hall to his apartment. Kate immediately went to the fridge to deal with leftovers while Subira headed for Maglor's studio. He'd transformed it into his composing den, choosing instead to make what should have been the living room his bedroom. Until they'd moved in, he never entertained visitors.
She flicked on the light and glanced around before heading to the bookcase where he stored his music. He kept two journals there, one a work in progress and the other full. She pulled out both thick books and then the music notebook next to them, sliding the bookend down to hide the empty space. She put the journals down to flip the pages of the notebook. Only the first three had notes on them, but it was enough for her to take it. Unlike the music notebooks near his desk that he used for his job, this was his personal one.
She picked up the journals and returned to the kitchen. Kate had finished going through the fridge and had begun packing a small duffle bag with clothing. It was the work of minutes before Maglor's apartment was safe for mortals to search. On a whim, Subira packed a drawstring bag with a couple of books that had bookmarks in them and some other odds and ends. At the very least, it would be something for him to do while he recovered.
Once back in their own apartment, Subira sat down at the wooden kitchen table and looked around. Kate had plants everywhere, mingled with Subira's own artwork. There were a handful of framed pictures, all of landscapes, all of places they had been to over the decades, not that anyone would realize that. The only picture they had of themselves was their wedding nearly thirty years ago, in Subira's home village in Kenya. It was one of a dozen villages of the Elves in Africa. And they, plus the others scattered around the world, needed to be warned.
She met Kate's eyes. “Ready?”
Kate nodded and picked up her own phone. They each had people to call: Kate in North and South America and Australia and Subira in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Subira dialed her brother's number. “Maglor's in the hospital,” she said after greeting him. “We can't get him out until the afternoon at the earliest, most likely the day after.”
“Shit. I'll pass on the alert.” He paused. “Be careful, sis. If they find him, they'll come after you next.”
“I know. Love you.”
“Love you, too.”
After three more phone calls, none of them any easier, she put the phone down on the table with a sigh. Kate spent a couple more minutes talking in Irish and then hung up herself. “That's that.”
“We should pack.”
Kate nodded and shoved her chair back. Like Maglor, they had few truly personal items: the wedding photograph, a painting of Subira's, a book Kate had traveled with as long as Subira had known her, and the journal they wrote to each other in. What was the hardest part for them was leaving behind the plants. Maybe there would be the opportunity to ask a neighbor to water them if they had to flee. After those were safely stowed along with clothes and toiletries in two small suitcases, they curled up together and went to sleep.
On the way to the hospital the next morning, Kate stopped at an ATM. They both withdrew the maximum limit, not knowing when or if they'd have the opportunity to draw more. They stuck most of it in their respective suitcases.
Once at the hospital, Kate asked at the front desk where Michael Williams' room was. Subira leaned against the elevator wall and tried not to tap her fingers against the railing as they rode to the fourth floor. It would be far more likely in a hospital for his rapid healing to gain unwanted attention-- nor did it bode well for how bad the injury was.
They opened the door to his room and stepped inside. The lights were off and he was sound asleep, an oxygen tube under his nose and some of his head shaved and covered with bandages. His left leg had an external fixation frame on it and there was an IV running into his right arm. “Shit,” Kate muttered.
It was enough for him to wake. He blinked at them and smiled a little before dropping back to sleep. Subira raised her eyebrows. How badly was he hurt?
Kate stayed in the room while Subira went to the nursing station to ask. A doctor showed up a few minutes later and escorted her to a small consultation room. “Your friend is remarkably resilient. He has a linear skull fracture that doesn't require treatment, but his leg--”
She nodded. “How long will he be in the hospital?”
The doctor sighed. “It's impossible to determine. If he continues doing well, it should only be a few days.”
She nodded and thanked the doctor. Kate met her outside Maglor's room and they left the hospital together. She reported that he hadn't woken up again, but that the nurse had told her there were no cognitive problems at this point and that them showing up now would be a worrying sign.
Both of them knew it was unlikely. “Tomorrow morning, then,” Subira said as she pulled up in front of the office where Kate worked on sustainability concerns for a tech start-up. It would be enough time for him to heal in an environment where he could be monitored just in case and hopefully not enough time for anyone to notice how fast his leg was healing.
Kate nodded. “I'll see you at five.”
Subira drove to her favorite coffee shop after Kate shut the door. She pulled out her laptop to work on a website a mom-and-pop shop had hired her to create and ended up staring into the middle distance instead. Too many variables were in play now.
Variables that worked against them, for when they showed up at the hospital the next morning-- after have been assured when they've visited the previous evening that “Michael” was doing great; Maglor himself was in a decent mood though tired-- he was nowhere to be found in the hospital system. The receptionist told them he'd been discharged.
Kate had to grab Subira's arm to stop her from racing up the stairs to the ward. They took the elevator instead, having a whispered discussion in Old Sindarin about their plan. Subira took the lead, Kate following her with her arms folded. The nurse behind the desk took one look at them and paled. “What happened?” Subira said, an edge to her voice. “The receptionist said he was discharged. Did he check himself out?”
The nurse shook her head, still pale. “A group of government agents came through. They said that he was a threat to national security and needed to be moved to a secure facility.”
Subira widened her eyes despite her desire to glare. “He's what? He's a smalltime composer, not… not some radical.”
Kate put a hand on her shoulder. “Subira, let's go home. You're his emergency contact; they'll want to talk to you.”
The nurse said in a small voice, “I'm sorry.”
Subira said, “It's not your fault.”
Once in their car, Subira headed right for their coffee shop. Kate took the opportunity to phone everyone they'd called a night ago to order the evacuations. No one could risk being caught in the villages if Maglor was forced to give up any information.
They took the time in the coffee shop to use the restroom and to order their favorite drinks one last time. After they finished them, they left their smartphones on the table next to their mugs. They couldn't risk being tracked by them, not when their task now was to rescue Maglor.
Maglor woke to a windowless room filled with fluorescent light. A quick glance around showed it was otherwise similar to a hospital room, save for the two white men in suits watching him. One sat next to him; the other stood at the foot of his bed. The seated one said, “What are you?”
What? He glanced at the IV dripping into him and then back at the men, both of whom had deliberately blank faces. He was in no pain, but even an opioid would not make him confess that.
“How many Elves are there?”
Truth serum. He'd thought that was impossible to create.
Simple, truthful, and infuriating. If he was forced to tell them everything, he would make them take it piece by unwilling piece.
“Do all Elves heal like you?”
“Yes.” He tried to sit up and couldn't, only then realizing the heaviness was not the multitude of blankets on him but rather a series of soft restraints. “How long have I been here?”
“About a day,” the standing man said. “We sedated you in order to ensure you would not further harm yourself in an escape attempt.”
Maglor snorted. As if it would be easy to escape with a broken leg-- despite the frame having vanished sometime between being forcibly sedated in the hospital room and awakening here, though he now had a split on.
“Why do you call yourselves Elves?” the standing man said, crossing his arms.
“It is the English word.”
“As opposed to what?”
Maglor smirked. “Any language you care to choose.”
The standing man rolled his eyes. The seated one said, “What do you call yourselves?”
Both men grew momentarily still and the seated one said, “Like Tolkien's Elves? Why do you call yourselves that?”
“Tolkien got the word from me.”
The men exchanged glances and the standing one said, “Your name?”
“Kanafinwë Makalaurë Fëanorian. Also known as Maglor.”
“Shit,” the seated man said. “Right.” He took a deep breath and composed himself. Maglor took it as a petty victory he'd been able to do that much. “How much of Tolkien's works are fact?”
“Most, though I cannot verify the nitpicky details. Are they even relevant?”
“No,” the standing man said. “How many Elves are on Earth now?”
“Under ten thousand, over two thousand.”
“Can you tell us where the Elves live?”
Maglor clenched his jaw, fighting the urge to talk, to confess. The men waited patiently until he finally blurted out the damning, “Yes.”
After that, the standing man left to get an atlas-- they apparently weren't stupid enough to let him have access to even a guarded tablet-- and it was a fight of hours to gain the location of every single village, the likely cities other Elves were in, that there were tens of thousands of buildings and lands the Quendi owned that Maglor could barely begin to list, confirmed that Subira and Kate were other Elves and he had no idea where they were, that it was likely the Elves would have vanished from those villages, and-- when two men in scrubs entered the room-- about Elven healing.
Maglor hoped Subira and Kate had put into action the Elves' emergency plan. If the men weren't asking him about the couple because they were likewise captured and the men wanted to confirm what the couple was saying. Asking would gain him no information: they wanted him uncertain. And it was clear that experiments were coming.
After the men left, a woman in a white coat entered the room. She smiled at him. “Hello. How are you feeling?”
Maglor glared at her and didn't answer, the serum finally having worn off.
She sighed. “I just need to know if you are in pain.”
“No. Though I would prefer to not have to ask for a bed pan.”
She nodded. “Crutches will be given to you.” She sat down in the vacated seat. “Now, we know you had no symptoms of internal injuries from your car accident. We want to be sure there are none before we allow you to have food by mouth again rather than IV nutrition. The easiest way to do this is to swallow a pillcam. It's a painless procedure.”
Maglor raised an eyebrow. He was sure that test wasn't standard procedure. Apparently the experimenting had begun. “And the other way?”
“Laparoscopic exploratory surgery.”
He winced. “Pillcam.”
“I thought you'd say that.” She leaned back. “We know this is difficult for you. We will try not to hurt you unnecessarily; we're not monsters. But you bring a great benefit to humanity and we cannot ignore it. Your cooperation will be appreciated.”
“Cooperating with what, exactly?”
“We'll start easy-- vision and hearing tests, full-body CT and MRI scans, some blood work, and then we'll move to more invasive procedures. You will be given anesthesia if needed, either local or general depending on the procedure.”
“I have no informed consent, do I?”
She shook her head. “I'm sorry. You're too valuable to be allowed to refuse.”
Maglor closed his eyes. They would be kind at first, but they would slowly lose that as they realized exactly what he could survive. “Please leave.”
She at least gave him that: she left without another word. His peace only lasted minutes before someone pushing a cart with a squeaky wheel entered the room. Maglor opened his eyes in order to watch them set up the first test.
The pillcam setup was annoying, but not-- as promised-- painful. The blood draws were more so. After a quiet afternoon where he spent much of his time flat on his back and looking up at the acoustic tile ceiling, he'd decided two things: after he was sure his leg had healed, he would leave and that he would never go back among the Elves.
There were only five Noldor left and he was the only Amanyar. There were a couple hundred Sindar and Silvan and the rest were Avari, most of whom lived outside of Europe and North American. After the true knowledge of Elves had faded, after Gondor and Rohan and Mordor and the rest had vanished into prehistory, the rest of the Quendi still on Middle-earth had been rather more welcoming than Maglor had thought they would be. He'd spent millennia traveling Asia and Africa with them, only occasionally returning to Europe. Yet now he'd betrayed them and they would no longer accept him. They would be forced to flee their homes, their homelands, become refugees-- even Aman would not know what to make of the Elves who had spent so long in Middle-earth. The last voyage to Aman that he knew of had been from Spain in 1492.
Aman, though: the mortals had been just as interested. He had warned them not to attempt to travel there. They had not scoffed, but nor had they seemed to listen. If he was the cause of another attempted invasion… He was already an Exile. What would the Valar do to him? Would they put him into the Timeless Void with Morgoth? And that disregarding entirely what would happen to Middle-earth…
What would the Valar do? They'd already laid down their governance once, to the utter ruin of Númenor and all of its people. Would they step aside to allow Eru to destroy the entire world this time, despite all the innocents? Or would the Straight Road simply not allow the mortals entrance?
He fell asleep shortly after the pillcam equipment was removed, and he didn't know if it was because a nurse gave him more pain medicine-- which he doubted he needed-- or a sedative. He woke up when breakfast (a bowl of oatmeal and hot tea) was set down on the bedside table. The aide simply raised the bed, released one of the restraints on Maglor's arm, and left the room.
Maglor shook his head, released all of the restraints, and ate. After he finished, he carefully stood, balancing on one leg, and took three hops across the room using the IV poll as a support, before the door opened and the aide entered again, this time carrying a crutch. They looked at each other and Maglor bit back a smile as the man handed it to him. It made the rest of the trip to the toilet much easier.
After only a few minutes of sitting on the bed with his left leg stretched out, he was taken to the imaging facility in a wheelchair. Rather ridiculously from his perspective, he was not blindfolded. He saw very little of the facility, not enough to orient him, though he did spot an emergency exit door at the end of the hallway his room was on.
The CT scan did not take long, though the IV contrast made him feel oddly warm. While waiting for the MRI scanner to be free, Maglor was taken to a clearly makeshift soundproof cubicle, where he had to push a button each time he heard a tone. It was both deeply boring and something he had to pay attention to.
After he finished that and a vision test (which didn't have anything near to actually testing Elven vision, a fact he failed to mention to anyone), he was returned to his room, whereupon his brace was removed. The doctor he'd talked to yesterday informed him that the CT scan had shown both his skull fracture and his leg had healed completely. But he had no time to even plan an escape because he was taken immediately back to the imaging facility, this time for an MRI.
He suspected he shocked the technician when he fell asleep despite the noise. After all, there was nothing for him to do and if he moved too often, he wouldn't put it past the scientists to sedate him in order to get the images they wanted. Afterward, the IV was removed from his arm and a gauze bandage put on instead. That would make escaping less painful. But rather than being pushed back to his room, he was brought to another room, smaller, with a set of bright lights hanging over the bed and a large syringe next to a couple of thick needles on an instrument tray.
The doctor looked at him. “Our scans are useful for comparison purposes to humans. But we need biopsies as well.”
“You have no choice in the matter. We went over this last evening, Maglor.”
He stared at her and then thought about the well-built men in the hallway, all seemingly having things to do there but probably as camouflage. And if he needed to be restrained for this, it would make restraints more likely overnight. Maglor stood up and lay on the bed as directed. A nurse moved his hospital gown out of his way and partly covered him with another cloth, leaving the right iliac crest of his pelvic bone bare.
“We're going to give you a local anesthetic, though you may still feel some pain. Or, if you prefer, we could give you a general anesthetic. A bone marrow aspiration and biopsy will allow us to examine and culture your stem cells.”
“Local.” It would at least allow him to know they weren't secretly doing other tests on him without his knowledge.
Maglor closed his eyes and breathed deeply, focusing on the song he had begun to write before his accident and abduction, rather than the strange sensation of the aspiration. He had survived worse: the burn after the Silmaril, for one. It was mere minutes later that he was allowed to flip onto his back. About half an hour later, he was taken back to his room and left alone with dinner, the first thing he'd eaten since his meager breakfast.
Not that dinner was much better, given it was some applesauce and what appeared to be chicken noodle soup that had gone through a blender.
A nurse checked on him midway through the evening, interrupting his repetitious thoughts about the consequences of betraying the Elves and the history the mortals had forgotten. She suggested that it was best he get ready for bed, which he did. Not that it was difficult when it was a sponge bath-- due to a lack of a shower stall-- and brushing his teeth. After she left, Maglor moved to the chair and listened to the noise in the hallway as it dropped off and then almost silent as the hours ticked by.
Finally, as near as he could tell, it was after midnight, when he hoped there would be few people in the halls. Time to leave. He warmed up his voice, as quietly as he could manage. He had not often needed to do this particular feat and had the time to spare to do it properly.
Once warmed up, he began singing at a level that mortals standing by the door wouldn't even be able to hear. When the building's shudders began, Maglor grinned and raised his voice. A door in the hallway slammed open and Maglor slipped to his door, listening to the panic and then the alarm went off. He winced at the piercing sound, opened his door, and stepped into the hallway. No one paid attention to him, so he slipped into a storage room, changed out of his hospital gown into a set of scrubs, though he had to contend with nonskid socks on his feet instead of shoes, and made his way to the emergency exit, singing under his breath all the while.
It was no effort at all to slip to the edge of the parking lot and then over the fence and into the trees after he stopped singing. Once out of sight, none of the mortals would be able to find him: he moved silently. And the trees liked him; one pine brushed against his face as he carefully pushed the branch away. They would hide him as best as they could.
Of course, that was when he literally ran into Subira. Both of them jumped back and Maglor had a sense of the trees laughing at them. From the way Kate glanced at the pine, she felt it, too. Subira just shook her head, ignoring the by-play. “Are you injured?”
Maglor snarled. “Not badly enough to prevent walking away from here. Please tell me you brought shoes.”
“Hiking boots and actual clothes,” she said, sliding a duffel bag off her shoulder. “Change and we'll get out of here.”
They walked around him and the pine to watch for any mortal who could stumble onto them, accidentally or purposefully. He changed out of the scrubs, careful of the bandage on the biopsy site, and into his own clothes. Once he tied the boots, he said, “I'm ready.”
“Leaving the pile of clothes?”
Maglor grinned viciously at Subira. “Let them wonder what happened to me. They should have known to release me the minute they made me say my name.”
Subira and Kate exchanged a glance and they took the lead through the moonlit forest.
Subira and Kate waited until they reached the car to ask Maglor about further injuries. They knew that anything that would have limited their retreat he would have treated as soon as it was safe. But there was no hiding the way his right hand kept pressing against one spot on his lower back.
He sighed and looked over her shoulder at the brightening sky. “I am not badly injured. They had little opportunity to hurt me--”
“But they did,” Kate said.
Subira said, “What did they do?”
“Blood work, CT and MRI scans, and a bone marrow biopsy.”
Subira crossed her arms. “Do we need to check the bandage?”
Maglor sighed and turned around. “I certainly can't see it.”
Subira pulled his waistband out and glanced at the white square. “There's no blood.”
“Good. Can we go?”
“Yes,” Kate said, pulling open the back door. “You can ride in the front for a while.”
He pushed the seat all the way back to accommodate his long legs and Subira got in the driver's seat. She waited until everyone buckled up before starting the car. “We're heading to the Gray Shells. It's a three day drive.”
“You can't take me there.”
“Whyever not,” Kate asked. “It's our contingency location.”
He shook his head and looked out the window. Let him sit in silence, then. He'd answer her wife eventually.
They stopped twice for food, which Maglor was oddly restrained about eating until he'd explained they'd had him on a full liquid diet. Late in the afternoon, Maglor finally said, “I am the Betrayer. I ruined everyone's lives; I put them at risk of worse things; I revealed Aman's existence.”
Kate glanced over, as she was driving. “Maglor, why did we have the contingency plans in place?”
“So that if this happened, we could run.”
“If it happened to anyone. People may blame you if they're assholes, but this was not something you deliberately set out to do.”
“I know when I will be unwelcome. Drive me to safety and leave me behind. I cannot risk you more.”
“More?” Subira said.
He flinched. “They know you're Elves.”
“We thought they would figure it out,” Kate said quietly.
Subira said, “How did they learn about Aman and about us?”
Maglor turned his head to look at the passing wheat fields. “They had a truth serum. They learned who and what I was in the first five minutes.”
Subira snorted. “No wonder you thought they knew enough to know they shouldn't hold you. Were they aware you're a murderer?”
“The questioners were familiar with Tolkien's books.”
“Then they're idiots. How did you escape?”
He twisted to look at her, wearing a smirk. “Music, how else?” He slumped back in his seat. “No one died.”
“Are you upset about that?” Kate asked cautiously.
“No,” Maglor whispered. “They were monsters, but… No.”
“How did they treat you,” Subira said.
“Apart from the experiments, well. They made sure I was healed from the car accident first.” He sighed. “They gave me false choices in an effort to grant me an illusion of control. I had to do the biopsy, but I could choose whether I wanted local or general anesthetic.”
“Shit,” Kate muttered. “Monsters is right. That's not a false choice; that's making you actively complicit in your own torture.” She glanced in the rearview mirror. “Did they implant anything?”
“Not that I'm aware of.”
Subira frowned. If they'd had truth serum despite the impossibility, could they have miniaturized a tracking device? Or were they arrogant enough to assume they could control Maglor? Or would they have done it after they were sure they didn't need more MRI scans? “Have you seen anyone following us?”
“No,” Kate said. “But that doesn't mean much. If we stop for the night…”
“We can drive through,” Maglor said. “I am capable of driving; my hip does not hurt and this is not the first time I've been tortured.”
“Done,” Subira said. “We'll switch after we buy some dinner.”
Despite his desire to drive, his general demeanor was still too quiet. He wasn't even singing along to the radio. It took until they reached the cottage compound Gray Shells that the local Quendi owned (but did not live in) for him to speak again about things that weren't food or switching drivers. “I cannot stay here. I cannot return to Aman. Nor can I move in with whoever remains.”
“No one is,” Kate said quietly. “We agreed it was too risky now.”
“Do you truly want to spend the rest of your life living alone in the wilderness? The government has your face; you'll be on a watch list.”
“I can't go to Aman! How can I? I betrayed the Quendi! I betrayed Aman. Mortals know. And you know what happened the last time mortals were not satisfied: they invaded. They'll invade again.”
“They can't,” Subira said. “The Straight Road--”
“The Dúnedain claimed that rare mortals ended up on it.”
“Did Glorfindel ever confirm that?”
He stared at her. “No. But I never talked to him. I only know what I heard secondhand.”
“All right,” Kate said. “You said rare. An invasion fleet is not exactly small or subtle. The Valar control the Straight Road. Don't you think they'd stop the invasion before it could even begin?”
“How many times have you sailed west and not ended up on it?” Subira said. “More times than you can count.”
“Then what makes you think that I'll be able to sail West now? There has never been any sign from the Valar that they have ended my exile.”
He stormed off to the rocky shore without waiting for an answer. Kate and Subira exchanged looks. Neither one of them had an answer for him. Kate eventually said, “Do you think he'll stay here tonight?”
“If for nothing else than a chance to sleep in a comfortable bed.” Sunset was in an hour; none of them had slept well in the car. It would take until morning-- if not later in the day-- for the rest of the within-travel-distance Quendi to arrive and pack their ship. They would see what happened then.
Maglor sat on the worn, gray bench watching the Quendi load the last of their belongings onto the ship. His own bag was at his feet, despite the overt welcome several of the Quendi had offered him.
His reasons for refusing had not changed.
Subira's boots crunched on the gravel as she sat down next to him. “Are you sure?”
Maglor looked south over her head at the military helicopter hovering several miles down the coast. He wondered if the pilots knew the Elves could clearly see them. “We were followed here. Whether they implanted a tracker or followed your car somehow, they're coming.”
“You're willing to surrender yourself or be a decoy for the rest of us to escape?”
He shook his head. “I won't deliberately turn myself in. I'll be fine in the woods.”
She snorted. “Only if you forget about heat sensors and night vision and other such things. Maglor, you are worth far more than to be an experiment. Furthermore, why would they go after you when a much richer treasure is within reach? You they could find by expanding only slightly more effort after they've captured us.”
Maglor stared out to sea, watching the noon sunlight flicker off the waves. “I cannot risk boarding. If my presence ensures the Straight Road cannot be entered, I will have doomed nearly two hundred Quendi to torture.”
She folded her hands in her lap. “If we can enter it--”
“We cannot know that.” The cry of an eagle high above interrupted him and he spared a moment to glare at it. “Subira, you and your wife have been joys in my life. I will miss you greatly. But I cannot risk you nor anyone else. I am a Kinslayer, an Exile, and the Betrayer. Let me have this one last attempt to save the Elves. Please.”
She shook her head once, a tear leaving a wet track down her dark skin. “Maglor…”
The eagle cried again, behind them and much lower to the ground, and then flew directly above their heads. Its talons nearly caught what remained of Maglor's hair. He stared at the eagle as it flew due west over the sea and then vanished into thin air.
“Well,” Maglor said and stood, grabbing the strap of his duffel bag as he did. He gestured at the path leading down to the ship and let Subira precede him.