I heard the sound of a horse on the drive. It sounded like a heavy workhorse, so I thought it was the delivery of some piece of furniture. The Elves are excellent workmen, but they can take forever to finish a job.
Opening the door, I was startled, “Mother!” I said, as I grabbed her, hugging so hard she could barely breathe.
I stepped back and looked her over, she looked good, aglow with health. Her dress was simple, a plain cloak over a simple dress of green, girt with a dark green sash. She wore no jewelry other than her ring, and gold clips for the two plaits of her hair. Her feet were bare.
“You have come at the perfect time. I was just setting out tea.”
“I would like that,” she said, following me into the kitchen. “Your kitchen is beautiful. I love the windows that look onto the garden.”
“What have you have been doing?” I asked as I set to making the tea. “We were worried after you left Lórien.”
“Sitting, meditating was not what I needed, so I left.”
“I wish you had told us where you were.”
“I went for a walk, a very long walk, I knew not where I was going.”
“Irmo would not say where you were, only that you had left. I was sure there was some dispute between you.”
“Did he say it was the ring?”
“I pressed him, he said nothing, but I guessed as much.”
“We argued about it. He said I should be rid of it. I refused.”
“Do you blame him?”
“No. Do you blame me?”
“How can I?” I said, placing the tea tray on the table.
“It is part of me now. I paid a high price for this bauble; it is my war souvenir, and wound of honor. It is the symbol of my victory. I am here, wearing my ring. Sauron is vanquished.”
“If it means that much to you, you should keep it; it was dearly bought. Elrond still wears his. The last time he was here, Mithrandir had his,” I said, pouring out the tea.
Mother sipped at the tea, and looked out the window for a while as if she was far away, “In time, I came to the house of Yavanna and Aulë. There I found healing, first in the forge, pounding out my anger and pain, later in the garden, nurturing life and beauty, rather than seeking vengeance, and directing war.”
“Without your effort, all might have been lost. Do not be too harsh on yourself, you did that which needed to be done, and the world is better for it.”
“But it has been a hard road, and the scars are deep.”
“Well, I am glad your path has brought you here. I have missed you.”
“And I you, but I needed to find healing before I was fit company.”
“You know you would have been welcome here, whatever your condition.”
“I knew that, but you had your own burdens. Enough about me, I wish to hear the tale of your time here.”
“Not much to tell. When I arrived, people from Lórien met me at the slip. I spent a long time there just doing nothing. Just being there was the healing I needed. After a time, I was ready to leave.”
“You are healed?”
“Yes, as much as I ever will be. We both have our scars; mine are part of what makes me me. I can live with them.”
“What did you do after you left Lórien?”
“This little house was available, and I moved into it. I spent my days making it a home for my family, a waste of time.”
“It is a beautiful home. Your efforts were not in vain.”
“An empty home is a waste, but the work has kept me busy. Time flows without notice here. It seems that I was doing this or that when I looked up, and five hundred years passed and you are returned.”
“Now, you tell me what happened in Middle-earth, why my father and children did not return, and why my husband grieves so.”
“Has he not spoken, not told you the tale?”
“Only in bits and pieces, the pain is so clear to see that I do not press him, allowing him to chose his time, yet my heart yearns for the truth.”
“Your father and sons are a vexation. They have abandoned us so they can go hunting and fishing, or so they say.” She took a sip of tea, and looked out the window.
“Can they not do that here? They would choose game over their family and Valinor?”
“The unsaid truth is what they are hunting; Orcs I fear.”
“Why? Did they not get enough of war? Are they sick, do they love war for its own sake?”
“No, they are settling scores. Revenge for you, and for all the others, and they feel a sense of duty, that it is their place to stay and provide what Elves remain with leadership.”
“Do they no longer speak the truth? Why the story about hunting and fishing?”
“I think they do not want us to worry, or to demand that they return.”
“I raised my boys to speak the truth, whatever the consequences. And what of father, when did he start lying? I am not sure which is worse, their forsaking us, or lying about the reasons.”
“Do not be too angry with them, they are doing what they think right.”
“I am angry with them. I have that right, I am their mother, and it pains me to see them make mistakes. I fear this one will be the death of them.”
“They are stubborn and arrogant, like your father.”
“Did you not reason with them?”
“They are beyond reason, their honor overrides their good sense.”
“Is there a chance we will ever see them again?”
“I think yes. They have survived many battles, I expect them to survive this folly.”
“When should I look for them?”
“When the last ship sails.”
We both sat silently for a long time, sipping tea, looking to the garden, rather than each other.
I broke the silence, “Tell me of this man who stole my girl’s heart. Is he worthy? Will he make her happy?”
“She is happy, in fact she glows with it. I have never seen her so.”
“It is good that one member of the family is pleased. I will have to settle for that.”
“I know it rankles you, but in the end, her heart is hers to give.”
“I would have preferred that she give it to one of our own. That would at least give me hope of seeing my grandchildren.”
“He is a very good man. One of the best I have ever seen, and more like an Elf than any I have met.”
“It seems the height of ingratitude to me, to be raised in our house, and to repay us by stealing our daughter. Is that your definition of a good man?”
“That is Elrond’s view, though I would think he of all people should know better, given the history of his house. I was hoping you would understand. You did not actually marry an Elf yourself.”
“It is a hard thing, to have her stolen from me. She was the joy of my life.”
“Love cannot be stolen, only given. She is kin, not a possession.
“I know you are right. Understanding may come in time, but the hurt is real, and it does not go away for hearing the tale; but you know that as well, she was yours as much as mine.”
“She will always be yours. Her last words to me were a message to you. That she will always love you, and is sorry for the hurt she has caused, but this is her destiny, and she must follow her heart.”
I had no more words, only tears, and the comfort of my own mother’s arms. After a while, I sat back down needing a change of subject, “Let us speak of pleasant things. What are you doing now? Why are you driving a wagon?”
“The wagon is my home; in it I travel and enjoy the world. I go where I will, and stay as long as I please.”
“What do you eat? Where do you sleep?”
“There is food all around, the land is a bounty if you know where the look. I sleep under the stars if it isn’t raining. I have returned to nature. I am a wild thing, free of care.”
“That is it? That is all you do?”
“All? I do what is important. That which I put off while I saved the world, and tried to become its queen. I swim in ponds, walk on grass, smell flowers, climb trees, and watch the bees as they work.”
“It must suit you, you look good.”
“It does. My better part is shining bright again.”
“I can see it, you glow with happiness.”
“I do one other thing, which brings me to why I am here. I will be back in a moment.”
In a few minutes, she returned carrying two packages wrapped in bright paper, and tied with string. “Yavanna suggested that I take up painting again,” she said, leaning one of the two parcels against the wall. “I had forgotten how much I loved it.”
She handed me the other and explained, “You never did get to see Arwen’s wedding. She was beautiful. It was beautiful. A royal wedding like only Men are capable of. Elven weddings lack the grandiosity. Men roll in the tasteless excess of the moment. It was emotional, I cried, we all cried. You would have loved it.”
“I thought we were going speak of pleasant things. Why bring this up again?”
“How could Arwen’s wedding be unpleasant? Anyway, I am presenting you with your birthday present. Have the good manners not to interrupt me.”
“I must have lost track, is it my birthday?”
“I have no idea, but I have missed so many, I am hoping this will make up for it.”
I tore open the package like a greedy child. It was a framed painting. There was Arwen standing next to a man, they were dressed for a wedding. She looked as beautiful as I had ever seen her. She was beaming with happiness. The man beside her looked the perfect Númenórean King. His strength and wisdom shone through the painting. At last, I see my son in law.
Tears began to form in my eyes again, I could not hold them back. I sat there weeping, staring at the painting. After a while I said, “Thank you. I will treasure this forever.”
“You are welcome, but I am not finished,” she said, stooping to pick up the other parcel.
This I opened more slowly, almost afraid of what I would find.
“It is beautiful, you have captured us perfectly,” I said, looking at the second portrait. It was my family, the five of us, posed in a garden.
“Your family will live in my memory forever. You were a great wife and mother. You created a great family. I am giving a fragment of that memory to you, for those moments when you doubt yourself.”
“I have no words to thank you.”
“You need not say a thing. Just know this, I am more proud of you, my daughter, than anything else I have created in my life. I hope you can be as proud of your own children, and accept them as they are.”
* * *
I sit alone, looking at the paintings on the wall, and I am thankful for my mother. Not for her art, but for her wisdom. When I think back on it, that was my birthday, or more correctly, my re-birthday. The day I began to understand. She always did give the best gifts.