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A stranger Among us, or, Here and Back Again.

Chapter 1: A Stranger Among us, or, Here and Back Again

by Ottis413

A Stranger Among Us.
Here and Back Again.

Category: AU (?)
Characters: Elrond, Sir Peter Tennant, and a Cameo by J. R. R. Tolkien.

Adapted from a story by Clark Ashton Smith.
By Ottis413 and Shell68. Plot bunny adopted from JaneDoe. (ME character in our world)
Special thanks to GhettoElleth

Queens College, Oxford, England, spring 1933

Had a survivor from the Lost Civilization of Troy appeared in our midst, it would have seemed no more an oddity in our modern city than did the arrival of the man who called himself Elton Smith.

We are a society that thinks mainly in words and are often dependent upon them for the clarification of our ideas, but the adjectives which would fitly describe Smith, I believe, are non-existent in our vocabulary. Perhaps they could be found only in some subtle, complex and refined language, such as might be developed through long generations of culture and civilization. Perhaps one much older and wiser than our own.

Even at our first chance meeting I was greatly struck, if not startled, by the man's personality. Perhaps what drew my attention more than all else, was that I found it impossible to assign him to any known ethnic stock. It is my theory that no human being is so individual that he does not possess obvious ear-marks, which place him immediately among one of the races of mankind. I pride myself on a sedulously cultivated gift for analyzing off-hand, the nationality and racial affiliations of any given person.

But Smith baffled me, his pallor, his long, fine hair and clear-cut lineaments were, in a general sense, indicative of Caucasian origin. Yet I could not find the distinguishing features of the North American, European or Asiatic races. Also, I could not have told his age, he seemed young when one considered the smoothness of his face, and yet there was a hint of something incalculably old in his expression.

His garb was modish and well-tailored, with nothing in the least unusual or eccentric about it. In this, as in all other things, he gave always the subtle impression of desiring to avoid notice. He was a little over average height and of strangely delicate build. His features, considered by themselves, were almost effeminate, apart from the great brow of unwrinkled ivory, which resembled that which we see in the portraits of Edgar Allan Poe.

The short, deeply curved lips, and the queer exotic molding of the sensitive nostrils all seemed to bespeak the possession of more highly developed senses than are normal to mankind. His eyes were very large and luminous, and did not flinch, but his ears always remained hidden under his unusually long hair. I had occasion to observe his hands too, which were quite remarkable in their extreme fineness, flexibility and vigor. They were the hands of an accomplished surgeon or a famous artist.

The man's habitual expression was wholly enigmatic. No one could have read his mind, and this not from any lack of mobility or expressiveness in the features themself, but rather, I felt sure, from the unknown character of his ideas and motivations. About him there was an aura of remote, recondite knowledge, of profound wisdom and aesthetic refinement. Assuredly he was a mystery from all angles, and any one who has studied History as I have, is almost inevitably a lover of mysteries. I made up my mind to learn all that I could concerning him.

I had seen Mr. Smith a number of times, on the streets and in libraries and museums in and around Oxford, before the beginning of our actual acquaintance. Indeed, the frequency of our meetings in the multitudinous babel of the Universities was so phenomenal that I soon decided that he must have lodgings near mine, and was perhaps engaged in similar studies. I made inquiries regarding him from librarians and curators. But, alas, learned nothing more than his name and the fact that he had been reading the works of Einstein, as well as many books in biology, chemistry, and history.

It seemed the motives which prompted his visits to the Natural History and other museums were seemingly of a general nature. But evidently he was seeking to familiarize himself with certain branches of modern science as well as history and archaeology. Being myself a student of Language and History, both ancient and modern, and having given nearly a decade of collegiate and post-graduate effort to the subjects, found my curiosity touched with fraternal interest when I learned of Smith's studies.

Others than myself, I found, had been struck by the man's appearance, but no one really knew anything about him. He was extremely taciturn, volunteering no information whatever regarding himself, though impeccably polite in all his dealings with others. Apparently he desired to avoid making friends or acquaintances, a far-from-difficult procedure in any large city. Yet oddly enough I did not find it hard to know him, which, as I later learned, was due to the fact that Smith had somehow conceived an interest in me and also was well aware of my interests.

I came upon him one May afternoon as he was standing in the Natural History Museum before a case containing artifacts from the early iron age. To all appearance, he was deeply absorbed. I had made up my mind to address him on some pretext or another, when suddenly he forestalled me.

"Has it ever occurred to you, Mr. Tennant," he said in a grave, finely modulated voice, "how many civilizations have been irretrievably lost, how many have been buried by deluge, glacial action and geological cataclysm, as well as profound social upheavals with their subsequent reversions to savagery?

"And have you ever thought that present-day England will in time be as fragmentary and fabulous as Troy or Rome are to you now? That archaeologists may delve in its ruins, beneath sevenfold increments of later cities, and find a few rusting mechanisms of disputed use, potteries of doubtful date, and inscriptions which no one can decipher?

"I assure you, this is not only probable but almost certain.

"You speak as if you had some inside information on the subject," I replied half-jestingly.

Smith gave me a quick, inscrutable glance.

"I am interested in all such things," he said. "And by the same token, Mr. Tennant, I believe you are something of a speculative thinker yourself, along similar lines. I have read your little thesis on Revisionist History. Your idea, that the accounts of ancient historians, as well as many modern ones, were written to please their Kings, Religious leaders and the peoples of the time, appeals to me. I feel safe in saying that the idea is quite accurate.

I was surprised that he knew my name, but obviously he had made inquiries similar to mine. Also, of course, I was pleased by his familiarity with my treatise that was generally looked upon as being rather uncertain, not to say fantastic, in its theories.

The ice being thus broken, the growth of our acquaintance was rapid. Smith came to my home and classroom many times. I in turn was admitted to his own modest lodgings, which as I had surmised were only a few blocks away from mine, and on the same street.

After a score of meetings, and the development of a quasi-friendship, I found myself as fundamentally ignorant concerning Smith as I had been at first. I do not know why he liked me, perhaps it was the universal need of a friend, inescapable at all times and in all places. But somehow the half-affectionate air which he soon adopted toward me did not make it any easier to ask the personal questions that seethed within me.

As I came to know him more, I was overcome by a sense of impossible seniority on his part. It was a feeling that he must be older, and intellectually more evolved than myself, in a fashion that could not be measured by knowledge alone. Strangely, since such a feeling has been unique in my experience, I felt almost like a child before him, and grew to regard him with the awe that a youth might perceive in an elder who is seemingly omniscient.

The furnishings of his rooms were as noncommittal as the man himself. There was nothing to seize upon that indicated his nationality or antecedents. However, I saw at once that he was a linguist, for I noted books in at least four modern languages as well as Latin. One, which he told me he had just finished reading, was a recent and voluminous German work on the origin and psychology of faerie tales.

"Are you really interested in this subject?" I ventured to ask. "There is, it seems to me, little useful knowledge in such stories."

"I agree with you," he rejoined. "One hears of special knowledge or lessons passed down through such tales, but little materializes on investigation, perhaps something has been lost over the years. I had hoped to find links to a more remote past in studying this branch of literature, tho I doubt if there is much of substance to be learned from it."

I was struck by the tone of intellectual impersonality which he maintained in all our discussions, no matter what the subject. His range of information was obviously vast, and he gave an impression of boundless reserves. However, there were certain avenues of science, generally looked upon as important, to which he seemed to have given only a somewhat cursory and negligent attention.

I gathered that he did not think much of current medicine and surgery, and he startled me more than once by pronouncements concerning religion and philosophy that were widely at variance with Christian ideas. Somehow, at most times he made me feel that he was discreetly curbing the full expression of his thoughts. He spoke of Einstein with respect and seemed to regard him as one of the original thinkers of this age, mentioning more than once, and with great approval his theories concerning time and space.

Smith showed a tactful interest in my own studies, but somehow I felt that he looked upon them as being rather elementary. Once in an unguarded manner, he spoke of the Trojan war and the subsequent fall of Troy as if he had witnessed the event himself. He explained the reference, when I questioned him, as a rhetorical flight of imagination in which he had lost himself for the moment.

Late spring and early summer passed, and the mystery which had drawn me to Smith was still unsolved. I did indeed learn from a casual remark that he was a native of Europe, which failed to render his ethnic distinction any the less baffling.

Much as I had grown to admire and even revere him, Mr. Smith was to me the most incomprehensible and alien being on earth. I sensed in him a thousand differences of thought and emotion, as well as a world of unfamiliar knowledge which for some reason he was trying to withhold from my apprehension.

One day, toward the end of the summer, he said to me:

"I must leave England before long, Mr. Tennant."

I was startled, since hitherto he had made no reference to leaving or to the duration of his stay.

"You are returning home, perhaps? I hope it will at least be possible for us to keep in touch with each other."

He gave me a long, unreadable glance.

"Yes, I am going home. But, odd as it may seem to you, there will be no possibility of future communication between us. We part for all time, and for this reason I feel I should give you a respectable farewell and a short explanation of myself, and not just vanish without a trace, or in a puff of smoke, as it were." A brief smile touched his lips with that statement, but he did not elaborate.

My curiosity seethed anew at his words. Yet somehow I was still unable to ask the questions that arose to my lips.

"If you offer to explain yourself," I said, "I shall be glad to listen no matter the length of your story."

"Yes, it is an explanation," he rejoined gravely. "But before I start, I would prefer to know that you will keep an open mind. Perhaps, when you hear my story, you will not care to accept it. And perhaps you will think me insane or delusional.

For once, my inquisitiveness was stronger than my respect.

"Do you come from Mars or Saturn, then ?" I asked.

He smiled. "No, I am a native of Earth. I sensed your natural curiosity concerning me from the first time we met, and that to leave without an explanation would be, perhaps, unwise."

He paused a moment. "The mystery that has troubled you will be somewhat explained when I tell you that I am not a man, and not even of your era, but was borne in a period far in the past, or what you might think of as the past. My real name is Elrond, I have assumed the vaguely analogous one of Elton Smith, as well as the speech and garb of your people, for reasons which will be fairly obvious.

"At present I shall explain the reason for my visit to England. It would require a long discourse to even offer you an adequate description of the land from whence I came, suffice to say it is beautiful, some might even consider it a Heaven. But, it is not without problems, and I will speak merely of this aspect.

"The peoples of my home are immortal, and was menaced with gradual stagnation through the long ages by simple boredom, so we begun developing the ability to travel the universe using only our minds. In this way we seek to restore in some degree the balance of our nature, knowledge is now urgently desired of other races and times. Through this knowledge we seek to gain greater understanding of the universe around us as well as our own hearts, and to become fully as one with nature.

"This age, the first great mechanistic era of man, is very fascinating to us, and less understood even than certain earlier periods. Mainly because of the all-engulfing savagery to which man is reverting at its beginning. You yourself can attest to this, having studied the so-called 'War to end all wars', which took place only some fourteen years ago. Some of the teachers here at Oxford fought in that war, a Professor Tolkien for one, whom I have also become quite fond of.

"The events at the beginning of this age does not bode well for your future, since the misuse of machinery was one of the main causes of that war. And there remains a widespread and foolish belief, accepted even now by many scientists, that your people can prevent such wars from happening again by building weapons of such ferocity as to make war, as they say, 'unthinkable'.

"Your crude, cumbrous machines and buildings are not unimpressive in their way, and your science is not without a few inklings of true nature of the universe. But obviously you know even less regarding the mysterious patterns of your own thoughts than we do of ours.

"I have lived for countless ages, and have seen the strength and wisdom of men grow to glorious heights and wane to unspeakable cruelty and folly. Life is truly a wheel as some describe it even today. I see a time approaching once more when the power to destroy all will again be in the hands of a few men, who may or may not have the wisdom to understand the consequences of their decisions.

"Now to become personal. Peter, you and Tolkien are the only friends I have cared to make in this place. Your minds are not restrained by convention, and are in some respects beyond this age. Tolkien's is somehow linked to a glorious past, and shines with a light I thought gone from this world, and your mind is open to the future, great deeds await you. And though everything I have said, taken at face value, is unquestionably beyond belief, I ask you to consider well the things I have told you. Do not dismiss them later as mere 'fancy', or perhaps a dream.

I could not reply for a moment. I was awed, astonished, bewildered even to stupefaction by the remarkable statements that my friend had just told me. His words were no less than miraculous, yet somehow they were not incredible. I did not doubt his veracity for an instant. After all, it was the only logical explanation of everything that had puzzled me about Elton Smith.

"Of course I believe you," I cried, overcome and dazzled by the strange foresight which he offered me.

There were a hundred obvious questions that I wanted to ask Smith. Anticipating certain of these, he said; "Don't misunderstand my statements, Peter, I cannot see your future, only some things that might be. The future is always in motion, and can be changed by anyone, even the smallest and most timid among us.

"A friend of mine once said," he continued, "Even the very wise cannot see all ends." "and I have came in time to appreciate the truth in that statement. As for 'what' I am, Professor Tolkien is working on a series of books, which he believes to be fictional. Read those and perhaps some of the things you wish to know about me may be revealed.

Elrond fell silent after this last statement, and stared into the distance for a few short moments. He then arose and bade me farewell, and was gone so quickly that I couldn't honestly state as too which direction he went upon leaving my home.

Three days later, finding myself with some spare time on my hands, I made the short trip to Pembroke college and attended one of professor Tolkien's lectures. I had fully intended to arrange a meeting with him afterward to inquire after Mr. Elton Smith, but found myself strangely unwilling to do so when the opportunity arose.

It has now been over two months since Elrond's departure, and I have decided that I will never tell anyone about my time with him. I have also decided to try my hand at public service. But for now I have been elected a fellowship here at Queens Collage, and I will await the opportunity to put some of the insight provided to me by Elrond to good use.

I write this down for my decedents to do with as they see fit, and I feel confident that they will be here to read it after my demise, hopefully many, many years from now. As for the present, I anxiously await the publication of Prof. Tolkien's works of 'fiction' with a great sense of wonder and curiosity.

I wish he would hurry up!

Peter Tennant, Oxford, Nov.1933

This paper was found in an original first edition of J. R. R. Tolkin's 'The Hobbit', published in 1937, having once been part of the personal library of Sir Peter Tennant, 1910-1996.

A/N: This is a work of fiction, Sir Peter Tennant was a real person, as was J. R. R. Tolkien and Clark Ashton Smith. All three of which probably rolled over in their graves as I wrote this.
Come on guys, it was all in fun........