"Just as my fellow classmates know all too well, the horrors of the chicken tender addiction in the cafeteria is a memory we will carry for years to come." The president of the student government couldn't suppress the grin as the crowd of graduates laughed. "It is a minuscule detail in our time here, but we can honestly say that there have been many fond memories shared in that space. That is what I want you to reflect on. Our futures are unclear and the very idea of the real world is terrifying, but you know what? You - each one of you - can do it. Whether you came just out of high school or have been in the workforce most of your life, you took the first leap into a new future when you applied to this school..."
The congregation seated under the bright sunlight shivered as a crisp breeze blew by, shifting their dark robes. The fall foliage of the environment provided a serene backdrop for the occasion. Despite the passing breeze, the weather could not have been more suitable for the college graduation ceremony.
Tucked within the crown of soon-to-be alumni sat a young woman cradling the mounted diploma within her hands. Looking down from the speaker currently on stage, she flipped open the padded case.
'Burgess College…Burgess, Virginia…This certifies that Ithilwen Haldiriel, upon recommendation of the Faculty and by the authority of the Board of Education is awarded this Bachelor in Fine Arts Diploma…Given at Burgess, Virginia, this twenty fifth day of October, 2013.'
She smiled to herself in satisfaction. Four years of hard work had led to this moment. She knew her mother and sister were sitting among the guests. If it were not for their encouragement, she might not have enrolled at all.
"Will the students please rise?" the student government president requested. A shuffle of feet and chairs shifting led him to pause briefly. "As the Student President of Burgess College, and on behalf of the faculty and staff, I am proud to announce the Burgess Class of 2013! Congratulations guys, we did it!" Applause broke out as soon as he finished, and a mass of black mortarboards took their traditional flight through the air.
"Oh my baby graduated!" Morwen cooed, pulling her daughter into a tight hug and squeezing the girl for all it was worth. "I am so proud of you!" Being held so tightly, Ithilwen could only make squeaking noises in response.
"And with honors too!" came another voice that Ithilwen recognized as her adopted sibling, Fiona. Fiona was wearing a simple dress and wedges, her strawberry blond hair pulled back with a clip. Once released from the iron clad grasp, Ithilwen looked at her mother. She was wearing an elegant dress that Ithilwen thought resembled some of the garments that she wore before the 'accident'.
"I wish your adar was here," her mother said, "He would be so proud to have seen you walk across that stage."
Ithilwen grew sad, as did the other two at the mention of the absent father, but she continued to smile at her mother. "I know," she said.
"Well, I've got the entire ceremony on video, and Mom got pictures too, so when he does show up, he can still see you walk!" Fiona assured her. Ithilwen smiled more at this, as the trio took some final pictures around the campus before making their way to their car to leave. A celebratory graduation lunch was in order, and Ithilwen's stomach refused to let itself go unacknowledged any longer.
The topic of Ithilwen's father was always a touchy subject, whether in public or private conversation between the three. In public, some assumed that he had become a "deadbeat" and walked out on the girls' mother when Ithilwen was very young. Morwen would say that he was simply "serving the country" when inquired, and would produce letters he had written her.
The truth was, Ithilwen and Morwen were not native to the state of Virginia, nor the country. It would only take one look at their pointed ears to see that neither were from this world at all. They were originally from Middle Earth, in the elven community of Lothlorien. Her father did serve their land, that part was true; as a young elleth she remembered hearing tales of his patrols along the borders. The letters her naneth would show friends were translated and forged from the originals she had on her person from when they had begun courting. Burgess was a small town that knew the ins and outs of its occupants lives almost exclusively, and it did not take its residents long to see that some of their newest residents were very different. It became a town secret through the generations, one that would be taken to the grave. But as fascinating as the idea of elves living amongst them, none dared to inquire further into the 'accident' that led them to this world in the first place.
Ithilwen had been but a small elleth, and she had very little memory of the accident, but it was fresh within her mother's memory. They were traveling through the woods on a journey to Rivendell from Lothlorien. Her mother cradled the young babe in her arm as she guided the horse along the path when she felt the crackle of energy permeate the air. The horse halted in its steps when it picked up on this disturbance, and in a flash, her mother was on the ground holding Ithilwen, their packs discarded when the horse reared back and tossed them. The horse, spooked by the change in the air, took off. Hindered by the presence of her small child and the packs, her mother searched frantically for her weapons as she felt a presence move in closer to their location. As she grabbed her sword to defend the two of them, she turned in time to witness a bright green light engulf the area…all evidence of their existence removed from the path.
When news reached Lothlorien of their disappearance, search parties were sent from both kingdoms to scour the last known locations for any signs or clues, only to return empty handed in defeat. This continued for years, but all searches were in vain. It was only the admission from the wizard Mithrandir that gave the people hope of their missing kin's survival.
Morwen had an inkling of a guess as to why they were attacked, still more than anyone involved in the search did back in Middle Earth. The woman knew that that bright green light was a sign of magic, but her knowledge of magic of that caliber lay with the only two wizards that she was familiar with. She highly doubted that Mithrandir would cast a spell to send her and Ithilwen away to another realm, so her mind set the blame to Saruman. This puzzled her, because she thought that the other white wizard was on the side of good… No matter now, though. She and Ithilwen were stuck in this realm until someone back in Middle Earth could find a spell to reach them and bring them back home.
Years, even centuries passed with no sign of returning, but she never gave up hope. She often dreamt of returning to Lothlorien with Ithilwen and resuming her life as it was meant to be. Each day she would wake up, realize that she was not there, but continue to rise each morning and go through the day as if she belonged among these people. It was all that they could do.
In Middle Earth, a smaller congregation was formed for a less happy occasion. The small golden ring, the topic of the gathering, which sat on the center pedestal, was an ominous sign of unrest within their world. A verbal battle had already taken place within the group about what was to be done with the cursed object. It had taken the Halfling to settle the argument and volunteer to return the ring to its place of forging and destroy it once and for all.
The Lord of Rivendell looked at the odd assortment of Men, Dwarf, Elf, Wizard, and Hobbits that had stepped forward to assist the Ringbearer. "Nine companions…" he murmured, then raised his voice, "…So be it. You shall be the Fellowship of the Ring."
"Great. Where are we going?"
To say that apprehension fell upon the Council at those words would be an understatement.