Part III: Dangerous Creatures
Dangerous, indeed. Those who stir the waters are ever dangerous.
Dangerous, as I sat on the shore of our cove, watching her dance on a large flat rock spattered with many colors, on which I often lay sunning myself after a swim. Dancing in the moonlight, as I played a crude little drum I had fashioned, moving slowly at first, with arms and hands that traced stories of long ages past, of innocent drifting and quiet worship, with a body that moved as a curl of smoke from a still smoldering fire, feet that barely touched surface as they trod ageless paths on one small stone, rising to the toes, whirling about as the drumming grew more and more urgent, with a shimmering audacity, shaking her small hips at me, waving her filmy garment seductively, eyes full of merry mischief, hair fanning all about her like a scarf of bright mystery, the flowers in it flying all around. If she thought me silly for loving to see her with flowers in her hair, she did not say, only smiled with good-natured mockery as I twined them into her locks. I was scarcely aware of my own drumming, did not know if the music I heard came from within me or from without, I only knew that I heard it, and kept time with the rhythms of my own soul.
Dangerous, as we climbed the walkways of my “castle,” and it seemed as though I had never seen it before as we explored the chambers and nooks and tunnels and the vast caverns beneath. Dangerous, as we climbed to heights that even I had never ventured, and stood at the very top, where we discovered an eagle’s nest, and were able to see nearly the entire island, glittering and undulating and rustling below, city towers in the far-off hazy distance, green and silver mountain peaks over which the great birds soared, bodies of water that mimicked the blueness of the infinite dome above. And when we found the top of the highest waterfall, and she climbed to the rock arch over it and stood, a hundred or so feet above the cove, and made a most spectacular dive into the water, just before telling me playfully, shouting above the roar of the waters, “Don’t you try this!”—as if I had no better sense. Then disappearing into the impossibly blue pool below, probably to tease me into thinking she had disappeared entirely…then creeping up suddenly behind me and laughing at my consternation.
And standing beside the vine as I first tucked one of the great blue flowers into her hair, then catching a butterfly for her observation. There were a great many butterflies about the cove, some of them the size of small birds, of colors and patterns that could still make me gasp. And they were easy to capture; you didn't even have to try, just stand there and will one to come to you, and it would perch on your finger as though basking in your admiration for a few moments before you let it go.
“Would you like to ride the back of a dolphin?” she asked me one day as we sat on the cliffside watching a few of the creatures frolicking in the sunny distance. “I think you actually tried to do so that day?”
“You can call one here?” After all I had seen of her, it was not hard to believe. Just days before we had come upon a whale that had been beached and could not get back into the waters. It lay wheezing on the white sand, a wet and shiny black mound large enough for Anemone and me to make a home inside. I was puzzled as to how it had gotten upon the beach, and why it did not go back, that anything so huge could be so helpless, and she said it would die if it did not get back into the sea. I was filled with pity and sadness, knowing I could do nothing for it, and I could only stroke its mammoth flank. She stood looking at me with a bemused expression. Why should I feel this for a sea-creature, she must have been thinking.
“Perhaps,” I suggested, “I could run into the village and fetch some Elves. If enough of them came, we could all push it together.”
“It will be dead before you get back,” she pointed out. “The village is at least four miles away.”
“Can you not push it yourself?” I asked. “You are an immortal, after all, and strong.”
“Not that strong,” she said with a hint of a smile. “We should just go and leave it be. There are plenty of whales out there, after all.”
“But…” I was puzzled at her simple pragmatism, and at a loss to explain to her how forlorn the huge creature looked. I could see the difference, more fully between her kind and the Elves, who were more human than humans, I often thought. But Anemone’s folk were a far different sort. Pity and love and grief were not part of their being, at least, inasmuch as it was for ours. I was tempted to think they were the link between people and animals; their emotions were of the simplest sort, and dreams and memory scarcely entered into it. That would not have explained their magical properties, however. I had heard very few tales of faery-folk when I was growing up, and she was the first such I had ever encountered.
She looked at the whale, then walked over to its tail and stepped up carefully onto it, until she was standing atop of it. Then she knelt and laid her hands on it and began speaking very softly to it. I could understand none of the language she used, but soon I realized she was singing to it. Hope rose in me; perhaps it would listen to her and somehow find the strength to return to the water. On an impulse I touched my pendant and held it, breathing a silent prayer to the Lord of the Waters as I felt the strange small power that the gem so often emanated when I held it, then heard my voice join in the soft singing. If nothing else, we could sing it to rest, and it would die among friends.
Then, after what seemed like an hour or more, I suddenly felt the sand beginning to shift beneath my feet. I moved quickly away, for it was indeed moving, the whale with it. I said things like “Go, do not die,” and other bits of foolishness, to further urge it into the water. Anemone slid off its back and hopped down beside me, and we both pushed with all our strength, still urging it on, until a vast wave rose and I had to run to avoid being swept into the sea along with the whale. I felt small hands holding me firmly as the cold water washed over me, pushing me into a tree that I could grab onto with both arms.
So, when she asked me if I wanted to ride on the back of a dolphin, what could I say but yes, of course? She told me to get behind her and wrap my arms about her waist, then as I held on, she bent her knees, told me to take a deep, deep breath, and plunged in.
And I found myself straddling a dolphin’s back. We moved at a speed that took my breath away, riding each mounting wave that came our way, then sluicing downward as I yelled with mingled fright and exhilaration. Seemingly I had no weight to her; she leaped above the water as though there were nothing more than a limpet clinging to her back. I heard her ask me if I wanted to go under the waves and I said yes, taking another deep breath. I don’t know how far down we went, but I could see miracles in the cold and silent chamber. Things waving spiny arms at me, corals and polyps and sea-urchins, sponges and nudibranchs and enormous clams, and yes, sea-anemones, dozens of them, red and green and yellow, like a dream-field of eerie and perilous flowers, in their mute and fatal snaky dance.
And if we encountered anything dangerous to us, she was able to emit a kind of power that frightened it off. Such she did when we came upon a strange thing near the surface, large and flat and black with a long, long tapering tail. I felt her hot vibration beneath me until the thing swam away and let us be. I had long ago been advised by Gandalf and others not to venture too far out into the sea, to keep to the beach or the safety of my cove.
But then we came upon something that made me suck in my breath in terror, something huge with black flailing suckered arms, and I frantically indicated to her that I wished to go back as quickly as possible. She emitted that warm power again but I think my fear deflected it and the creature did not move away, so she finally turned and streaked through the water until we were above, and did not stop until we were on land and she had assumed human form once more.
I felt embarrassed as I huddled on the beach trembling and gasping. When I recovered my bearings somewhat, I explained to her about the water-monster I had encountered long ago, although it was much bigger and had many more arms and it had grabbed me in a horrible, icy, sucking grip. It was a while before I could calm myself enough to even speak. She listened in silence, then shook her head.
“Had you so little faith in my power to keep you from harm?” she said, with a sad and gentle reproachfulness. I noted that her hair did not even look wet. "For all you have seen it more than once?"
“Fear drives out faith,” I explained to her. “You know nothing of fear, I suppose, so you do not understand.”
“There are many things I have yet to understand,” she said, kneeling beside me and pushing my sopping hair from my face. “So, now you do not wish to go back into the sea anymore?”
“Well, yes, I do, but…not now. Maybe later.” I ducked my head. How foolish and pathetic I must have sounded and looked.
“Do all mortals fear death so?” she asked me as she helped me out of my wet things and picked up the blanket we had brought with us to sit on. “You say you believe in a life after, and yet you are in terror of the end.”
“I think it is the pain of it we fear,” I said with a faint smile. “That is another thing you do not know about, I suppose—pain.”
“True enough. At least, not bodily pain. Why is it given to humans to suffer?”
“Because one cannot feel pity if one cannot feel pain.” I had been told this, but had figured it for myself even before that. “Although that is scant consolation when one is in the throes of suffering. I know all about that.”
“But if there were no pain, there would be no need of pity,” she pointed out.
“Perhaps so. And yet there is something profoundly beautiful about the emotion of compassion that I could not explain to you. Any more than I could explain color to a blind person.” Perhaps that was not a tactful way to put it, but it seemed accurate.
“I don’t know about that,” she said thoughtfully, not looking put-out at all. “When you stood beside the beached whale, there was something so beautiful about you that I could not have explained to myself. I wanted to know about it, but I suppose I could not…unless I were to become mortal.”
“You would know about many things,” I said. “Pain, illness, dreams, illusions, hope, despair…some very wonderful and some terrible beyond imagining. It is staggering to me to think I could give you all that, myself, if you would consent to it. I feel I should not even offer it.”
“Do you want me to have a human soul?” she asked me suddenly.
“Do you want one?” I should have answered her question first, I knew; it was not my way to answer questions with questions. “If you had one, the powers you possess would leave you. You would become a weak mortal like myself, subject to illness and fear and dark memory, and to suffering you never could have imagined. But you would know joy and beauty and wonder and compassion and courage also. For where the lights are brightest, the shadows are deepest. And…” I smiled a little—“you would have a reflection.”
She laughed. “Then I would know what I look like. That would be a wonder indeed. Although I should know already from your description of me.”
“Perhaps you would become intolerably vain,” I laughed also.
"That hasn't happened to you," she pointed out, "and you are very beautiful, I think. Perhaps more so than I am."
"I think not," I laughed, then sobered. “There are untold risks. But you would know the greatest thing of all…love.”
“I know it not now?” she said, probably meaning to tease, but with a note of sadness.
I leaned forward and kissed her lips, twining my fingers in her hair. “I’m never quite sure,” I admitted. “I think you feel it to some extent, and yet not…”
“As you do,” she said. “There, you need not try to spare my feelings. I have seen how beloved you are by all, and have been filled with wonder. I know it is your deeds that have made you so, but I think your smallness and fragility only make them love you the greater. They seem enamored of your mortality, and determined to hold onto you as long as they can, knowing your time is brief, and they seem wounded by that. One does not see that with creatures. The small and weak among them are eliminated, and that seems right somehow. But love is perilous, as well? Surely.”
“It is,” I said. “It is like walking on a rope. On one side of you lies complete bliss, on the other, unimaginable grief. You walk the rope and take the chance of falling one way or the other, and there is no surety that you will not tumble into the fire at any moment, for seemingly no reason, through no fault of your own even. And if you fall into the other side, you know untold happiness and it makes you mighty even in your helplessness. But there is no surety that anyone will ever find that.”
“And you could give me all that,” she said looking at me in a strange and childlike wonderment. “And you call me dangerous. Seems you are the dangerous one, after all, my friend, for all the Elves call you a savior. Because of you, their powers diminished and they had to leave their land.”
“No, this is their true home, and they are happy here. It is hard to explain. Still….”
“You would make me human like yourself. But you fear to make me suffer,” she said.
“Exactly,” I said.
“Because of your fabled compassion,” she said.
“And you could no longer be a dolphin,” I said, “nor frighten off dangerous creatures, nor leap from waterfalls, nor invoke waves to carry beached whales back into the sea, and your people would regard you with scorn and disbelief, perhaps. Your beauty would diminish and disappear with age, and…”
“And you would love me no longer?” She raised her eyebrows.
“Of course I would love you,” I said touching her cheek with my fingertips. “In the eyes of love, you are eternally beautiful, no matter how you appear to the eyes of others. And I will not always look like this, either.”
She took my hand, the maimed one, in both hers, and studied it a long moment. I felt a profound ache inside, such as I had not felt since I arrived here. Then she pressed it against her cheek.
“I want to be as you,” she said finally, in the softest voice I had ever heard.