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Shoutbox

Spiced Wine
10/21/17 09:44 pm
Have a wonderful time, Narya :)
Narya
10/21/17 11:46 am
Hello fellow Tolkien-lovers. I'm heading stateside for a couple of weeks so probably won't be online much. Take care, all - may the muses be generous!
Spiced Wine
10/20/17 04:40 pm
Happy Friday, everyone :)
Ysilme
10/19/17 01:18 pm
with all my lovely elves created there. *g* But it looks as I really should give it a go soon, and keep a lookout for the new one. :)
Ysilme
10/19/17 01:18 pm
Interesting news about the new game. I've bought Shadow of Mordor some time ago, but never really played it so far; I'm not playing often and when I do, I'm still stuck at Skyrim
Ysilme
10/19/17 01:17 pm
Belated Happy Birthday, Cheekybeak!
ziggy
10/18/17 01:11 am
Happy Birthday Cheekybeak- hope you liked your gift:)
Narya
10/16/17 07:36 pm
Belated happy birthday, cheeky!
Naledi
10/16/17 02:30 pm
Belated happy birthday, Cheeky! I'm glad you had a good day :)
cheekybeak
10/16/17 09:54 am
Thanks Alquien. I had a great day!
Shout Archive


Many Are My Names by Narya

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Story notes:
Warning: massive Second Chance spoilers. In fact, if you haven't read Second Chance then I doubt this will make sense.

Hopefully this will tie up a few loose ends left by the main story. It doesn't answer absolutely everything and not everything is answered absolutely, so it should still leave space for readers to draw their own conclusions...
“It smells empty.”

Derry shook his head. “You come out with the weirdest things.” He dodged the elbow Anna aimed at his ribs. “How can a school smell empty?”

“I’m not sure.” Anna hooked her thumb through the belt loop on her jeans and stared at the noticeboards, bare but peppered with pin holes. “I suppose people bring smells with them.”

“Ugh!”

“I don’t mean that! Alright, yes, there’s sweat and perfume and all the obvious stuff, but normally you can smell the kitchen staff frying onions, and the oil paints from the art room, and if you go down the science corridor there’s that weird chemistry lab smell.”

“Smoke, sulphur, fish tanks.”

“Exactly. At the moment, with everyone on summer break, it smells…”

“Empty,” agreed Derry. “Alright, I’ll give you that one - although not everyone’s away,” he added with a grin.

“Nope. Do you think Proust ever leaves this place?”

Derry shrugged. “Who knows?” He slid an arm around her waist, suddenly serious. “Whatever he says, promise you won’t panic?”

“Why would I panic? My form tutor is a reincarnated wizard. I’ve spent close on a year watching someone else’s life while I sleep. My sister -” She swallowed the grief that flared in her throat. “My sister died and was transported into a world from a book, where she came back as a horse. What can he possibly say or do that would top that?”

“I don’t know. Come over all wizardy on us. Send fireworks bouncing round the staff room.”

Anna laughed, her grief easing away like an iced bruise. “Can you ride a horse and wield a sword like Orvyn? No, if he’s like us then he won’t be able to do that stuff any more. I think we’re safe from fireworks.”

They found Proust up a stepladder in their old form room, trying to prise staples out of the display boards.

“Every year,” he muttered to himself, “every year I say I’m going to use blu-tack or tape instead, and every year without fail I spend the summer pulling staples from my walls. Fool of a man!” At this he chuckled. “A born fool. Well, this year…”

“Let me guess,” said Derry, stepping into the room and smiling. “This year will be different.”

“Derry!” Mr. Proust beamed. “And Miss Murphy too. I might have known you two would turn up at some point.” He clambered down from the stepladder, folded his arms and surveyed them critically. “You’re both looking well.”

“Thanks, sir. You too.”

Proust chuckled. “I look much as I always look, Miss Murphy.” He glanced at Derry, who had wandered across to his old desk, and raised a questioning eyebrow. Anna responded with a thumbs-up.

He’s fine - or at least doing better.

The old man wasn’t daft, Anna had to hand that to him; a direct question to Derry about his health would have sent her friend into a sulk, and Proust knew it.

Her form tutor nodded, smiling, as if he’d read her mind. “And Louisa, and Nathalie? I trust they’re well?”

“I trust so too,” laughed Anna. “We’ve barely seen them, they’ve been with Jason and Spats all summer.”

“Ah, that’s the way of it, is it? Well, well, you have all grown up this year -”

“Sir, do you know why he’s called Spats?” asked Derry suddenly.

“I’m afraid I can’t help you there, Mr. Allerton; I’ve wondered the same thing myself on many occasions.”

Looking disappointed, Derry returned his attention to his desk, running his finger around the inkwell. “I’ll miss this room. Hey, sir, who’s taking our form next year?”

“That would be me.”

“You? Brilliant!”

Anna tilted her head. “You never take sixth form.”

“I thought I’d like a change this year. Change does everyone good.”

“Is it because of us?”

“Fond as I am of you two, I do not make career decisions based solely on your whereabouts.” He put down the staple remover and seated himself on the stepladder. “Although I admit it will be convenient, being able to keep an eye on you.”

“Just one eye, sir?” Derry’s tone was sharp, but the corners of his mouth curled knowingly.

Mr. Proust’s eyes crinkled, and he gave a slow nod. “Two when I can spare them, Mr. Allerton.”

Derry’s smile became a grin.

“Now,” said Proust, “I imagine you haven’t come to discuss next term’s administration issues - what can I do for you?”

“Well…” Anna shot a quizzical glance at Derry, unsure what his last question had been about. “We aren’t stalking you or anything; we were passing and saw your car -”

“We just wanted to ask you a few questions, sir.” Derry grabbed a chair, spun it around and straddled it. Anna perched herself on a unit of drawers. “You did promise us - er - ‘extra lessons’.”

“I did indeed.” Proust spread his hands. “Well, ask away. The rest of the corridor’s empty, as far as I know - though it might be as well to close the door.”

Anna kicked it shut, then fiddled with the ends of her hair, not sure how to proceed. She imagined how it might go - a bright smile, a confident “So, sir, you were Gandalf?” - and giggled nervously. She couldn’t say that or anything like it; suddenly she wasn’t even sure about Proust’s identity. She hadn’t been there when Proust had revealed his knowledge of Middle-earth, or given that tenuous hint - what if Derry had it all wrong?

By the looks of things Derry was feeling less confident too. He glanced at her and raised an eyebrow; she shrugged.

“You aren’t sure where to begin,” Proust said gently.

“Sorry, sir.” Anna left her perch and went to sit beside Derry. “It’s just that there’s so much to ask about. And it all sounds a bit mad.”

“It’s a while since we spoke,” said Proust, his eyes on Derry. “I assure you, Mr. Allerton, you did not dream those conversations.”

“It isn’t that.” Derry ran a hand through his hair, baring his scar. “It’s just I - we - can’t see how…”

“How what?”

“How any of it!”

Proust laughed. “Very well; allow me to start you off. Middle-earth is no fiction.”

“You said that after the Maths exam.” Derry leaned forwards. “You said all Tolkien’s notes were a ruse or something.”

“No.” Proust held up a finger. “I said it is possible that they were. I admit that I find his knowledge of those days...perplexing.”

“Those days?” A fly buzzed against the windowpane, and the noise sent irritated prickles along Anna’s forearms. “Do you mean…?” She stopped, a ball of fear swelling in her throat. The idea was too enormous, it couldn’t be -

“Yes. ‘Those days’ - not ‘that world.’ It is part of your history, though none remember it now.”

Anna wrapped her arms around her stomach, feeling as though her insides might escape.

“Did you ever meet him, sir?” asked Derry. “Tolkien, I mean.”

He doesn’t look bothered by it. She looked at Derry, wondering if he had guessed something of the kind already.

“Sadly not.” Proust stared out of the window and over the fields. “He was dead before I returned.”

Anna frowned, doing some quick mental calculations. Proust had to be almost sixty, and Tolkien had died in the nineteen-seventies...that didn’t add up…

“So you don’t have any idea how he knew it all?”

“I have theories, no more.”

A terrible thought suddenly struck her. “Sir, is this a joke? I mean, I don’t know why you’d…” A second, even more worse possibility occurred. “Is it a trap? Have people heard us talking about his - I don’t know, our parents, we haven’t always been quiet - and they think we’re mad, and you’re trying to catch us at it, so they can pack us off to some quack psychiatrist - I’m sorry, I’m so sorry to ask you, you’ve always been so nice, but how do we know you aren’t making it up?” She remembered Derry accusing her of that exact thing when she’d told him about Beomia. “I’m sorry,” she said again.

“Anna. Look at me. You too, Derry.”

And she looked. And she saw.

Proust’s plump, balding outline began to fade, and around him a silvery light hung in the air. The light brightened and Proust dimmed, until the light was all there was - and power, a warm, heavy touch on her mind, around her, pushing and pulling like a magnet attracting metal, and she closed her eyes and gave herself up to it, because the light was so bright it burned. She rushed with the Power through a clean new world, a diamond still ocean, past two trees - the trees, pure, terrifying - and wept with it as darkness came and war took the land. Blood spumed over mountains, spattering snow and staining the sky - then came a song, and a fading, and grey. She saw a path on which a silver figure walked alone, sometimes turning to look back but never stopping for long, always going forwards...and then the Power withdrew, and with it went the fresh elemental land of stone and river, starlight and sun, wine and spell and blood. Tendrils of reality crept back and took hold. Odd things, cold things. The smell of cleaning fluids. The cars rushing past the end of the playground. The taste of the chalk in the air. She opened her eyes and the light dissolved, and her Maths teacher sat at its centre.

“Will you believe it now?” he asked.

She opened her mouth to answer and a choked sob escaped. Derry took hold of her hand. He had turned pale; she guessed she looked as bad.

“Yes.” She swallowed. “I’m sorry.”

Proust waved his hand. “It is not a natural thing to believe.”

They sat quietly for a while, breathing and remembering.

“You aren’t like us, then, are you?” she said eventually. “It isn’t that you’ve come back with his memories, or his soul. You are him. Always were.”

“About whom are you speaking, Miss Murphy?”

“Don’t worry, he did this to me,” muttered Derry. “He just wants you to say it without being told.”

“Gandalf.” She remembered another name, older, truer. “Olórin.” Her breath shuddered through her. “Aren’t you?”

The man she knew as Mr. Proust inclined his head.

“Oh, God.”

“Now that I certainly am not,” he smiled.

“But - but how? And why?” She leaned back into the plastic chair. “You’re a Maths teacher!”

“A fine subject and a noble profession,” returned Proust, drawing himself up. “As to your questions, the answers are one and the same. My brothers and I are sent back into the world every so often, to do what good we may.”

“You mean Radagast and Saruman are here too?” asked Derry, glancing out of the window as though he expected to see them strolling across the playground.

“Not Curunír,” said Proust softly. “He turned from our path many Ages ago, and at the end was barred from returning. Our good Professor recorded that accurately.”

Anna remembered the passage in the books, a great Power brought low by ambition, greed and a worm’s knife, and a broken spirit turning to the West and being denied. Proust’s plump face suddenly seemed not middle-aged but ageless, and his friendly warmth seemed chilled and saddened. She reached out to touch him but thought better of it - he was a teacher. She had to think of him that way, no matter what else he was.

“Radagast, then?” pressed Derry.

Proust smiled. “I believe that Aiwendil is currently to be found in the Amazon rainforest.”

That sounds about right. She licked her lips, which were suddenly sore and dry. “Sir...sorry,” she added. “What should we call you now?”

“ ‘Sir’ or ‘Mr. Proust’ will be fine, as usual. What is it, Miss Murphy?”

“I don’t understand - does all this mean you sent the visions?”

“No. Your dreams of your sister had nothing to do with me; such things are beyond my power.” He settled back and gazed at them both, a strange expression on his face. “My task is to give help where I can. I saw two troubled young people and nudged you together, hoping that you would come to care for and support one another. That was the extent of my involvement.”

Anna laughed a little. “You were playing matchmaker, then.”

“I wouldn’t put it quite like that.” He folded his arms. “And speaking of Isabel, I don’t suppose you have any theories there?”

Anna’s stomach flip-flopped.

“Forgive me, I shouldn’t have mentioned -”

“No. No, it’s alright.” She began plaiting an escaped strand of hair. “I told Derry a while ago - she was never exactly gentle with the horses. The opposite, even. I always thought she pushed them too hard, but…” She shrugged. “What do I know? I wasn’t the prizewinning rider.”

Proust nodded, making a thoughtful sucking noise with his teeth. Anna wondered if he was wishing for a pipe to suck instead. “You may be right. There have been tales of reincarnation throughout the Ages, and it is often thought that each new form is related to how the last life was lived.”

“Karma,” said Anna, remembering her Religion and Philosophy coursework.

“Something like that,” agreed Proust. “Of course, we cannot know - not for certain.”

Derry, who had watched Anna closely through this exchange, reached out and squeezed her hand. She smiled at him.

I’m OK, she mouthed.

He nodded. “Why does nobody remember, sir? I mean, we do and you do, but why does nobody else know about the War of the Ring and so on, except from reading the books and seeing the films? If it was part of history, why aren’t there records or anything?”

“The world broke and changed,” said Proust. “Most perished, and much was lost.”

He was wearing his ageless look again, Anna noted; his twinkling eyes had dulled and seemed to look on something far away and forgotten. She gave Derry’s hand a gentle shake. “Come on - time we were going.” She had intended to ask more, but the shaking of her knees and the buzzing of her brain told her that there was only so much information she could take at once - and perhaps too there was a limit to Proust’s ability to dwell on something that clearly pained him.

Derry didn’t argue. “Yeah, my Mum will want to know where we’ve got to.” He held out a hand to Proust, who took it and shook it with a smile, but sad lines remained around his eyes. “Thanks for that, sir. It...it helped. A lot.”

“No trouble, dear boy, no trouble at all.”

Liar. “Yeah, thanks sir.”

“If you have any more questions -”

“We’ll keep an eye out for your car outside school,” Anna smiled.

“Yes - yes, certainly.”

“See you on results day,” grinned Derry, and Anna groaned.

“Did you have to bring that up? I was quite happy pretending it doesn’t exist…”

“I don’t know what you’re moaning about, you’ll have done brilliantly!” He slipped his arm around her shoulders, and she flicked him in the ribs. “Ow!”

“Serves you right!”

“For what?”

Proust chuckled. “Ah, I do enjoy being a teacher...come now, you two, don’t squabble.”

“Right you are, sir.”

They were halfway through the door when Anna sensed Derry hesitating; she turned round, and saw him bite his lip, thinking.

“Sir?”

“Yes, my boy?”

“You said you had theories about Tolkien. Who do you think he was?”

Proust shrugged. “My guess is as good as yours, Derry.”

“I bet he was Bilbo.” His eyes suddenly lit up, and a grin spread across his face. “Sir, are there still Hobbits around?”

At that Proust laughed. “I cannot tell you everything.” He looked thrilled that Derry had asked, though, and Anna was willing to bet that he knew the answer.

If any race could survive the world breaking and changing Age after Age, it’d be Hobbits.

Proust’s gaze met hers then, and he winked. Although he smiled, a cool trickle of nerves crept down her back, as though someone had cracked an egg on her head.

He can read my mind, I’d swear it...

“Keep your eyes open,” Proust told them as Derry gave her a puzzled look. “There’s no telling what you might notice if you have the wit to see.”
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