Title: Elf-Writing, Part 2
Theme: Potluck (originally September 22)
Elements: "I never thought I should see the day come that ____________."
Author's Notes: Trees, and books, do not normally last this long, and for all I know term at Oxford did not start shortly around or after September 22 in 1929. But in this universe all these things were true as they're necessary for the Story (and all its effects) to occur.
Summary: The destruction of a tree brings new life to an old family mystery.
Word Count: 649
2. September 22, A.D. 1929“I never thought I should see the day come that you set off on your own,” his mother said, a little misty-eyed, as she held his hat out for him.
“Heavens, Mum! It’s only Oxford.”
“Only Oxford. Listen to you! If I didn’t know any better I’d say that University was giving you airs already!”
“I can’t have any ‘airs,’ Mother. Not when I’m on scholarship.”
“Well, I’m very proud of you, son, nevertheless, and I hope that’s all the airs you’ll ever need. And so’s your dad, and don’t you go around forgetting it! Now go and make sure you don’t miss your train!”
He kissed his mother on the cheek, took up his bags, and left his home fondly behind. She worried too much about him, he thought with a smile. The train wasn’t due to leave for another two hours, and it was not even an hour’s walk to the station. He decided to take one last turn through his favourite haunts and see how much damage the storm last night had done.
He gasped in horror when he saw the beech-tree, his own favourite, the one with the elf-writing on it. It had long been dead, but never quite rotten, and had housed many a woodland creature over the years. At last it had fallen, struck by lightning and split in two—like in Jane Eyre, he thought idly.
He did not know where the writing came from, only that it was very old. And his father had shown him a scrap of paper once—no, parchment—from many years ago, with elf-writing on it. But no one else had ever heard of it or seen it before. His grandfather once took it to some scholar who immediately dismissed it as an old fabrication, at best some sort of monk’s secret demonic code. But the elf-writing had been passed down through his family from father to son, since before the Reformation, so he personally ruled monks out as a possibility.
He hoped that a degree would give him some sort of idea.
The oddest thing about the beech-tree was that his family had moved here but fifty years ago, and the faded scars were much, much older than that. So someone else must have known this secret code, long years ago. He recognised the writing as soon as he saw it.
The mark on the old, gnarled root was gone now, though, since the trunk had fallen right on it. The wood was old and did not show the normal rawness of a fresh wound.
He put his hand on it and looked closer at the tree’s grave. There, nestled in the middle of the split, was something—a bit of stiff brown leather. He bent over, pushed a stray curl from his eyes, lifted it by the corner—and found, beneath it, a page. Carefully he leaved through, and discovered, unfaded, page after page of elf-writing! He thought of dashing back home again, but Father would surely take it and Mother would chide him for dawdling. He slipped it inside one of his bags and told himself he would look at it later. Somehow the death of the tree did not seem so bad if it would give him another clue to his mystery.
But University was very taxing, and he did not have much time to muse over the strange letters. They felt like a long-lost memory, and the more he searched for them the harder they became. But if he put them aside they remained there, elusive as ever.
So it was that, in a fit of despair, he retraced the very first line of characters on an otherwise blank exam paper, so that at least he could turn in something—even if it was utter nonsense.
But nonsense to one person can be inspiration to another.
All I can remember about the start of The Hobbit is sitting correcting School Certificate papers in the everlasting weariness of that annual task forced on impecunious academics with children. On a blank leaf I scrawled: ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’ I did not and do not know why…
From Tolkien's letter #163 to W.H. Auden