Part V: Sand-castle
I dreaded her leaving, the thought of facing all that time without her, and yes, of course, the fear that she would indeed change her mind. Perhaps she had more feeling for her children than she let on, and they would talk her out of what she was about to do. Perhaps she would meet her former lover and…
I wondered if Gandalf and the Elves thought she had deserted me, after the third month of her absence. I tried not to go among them more than I must, not wishing to see looks of pity on their faces. But I could not avoid them altogether.
I even thought of asking Lord Elrond if she would come back. He might be able to tell me. But I lacked the nerve. If the answer were no, I did not think I could endure it.
Nothing for it: I had a garden to tend to, no time to sit around moping and wondering and watching the Sea for her return. There was the grape harvest coming up. Many Elves came to help, as they always did. It was the way of the land for those who did not farm to come and help those who did. In fact, some of them told me to relax and let them do all the work, but I was having none of that. I liked the feeling of picking the bunches tenderly from the vines and holding them in my hand for a few moments before laying them in the basket, feeling their soft weight in my palm and knowing they were the literal fruit of my labors. After the harvest we’d have a big wine-making and then a huge celebration, after which I would somehow end up in bed with purple feet and a throbbing head.
I decided to fix up the house in preparation for my bride. Its simplicity suited me fine, but I wanted something more for her. For starters, I wanted a larger bed. I gave my instructions to an Elf who had carpentry and wood-carving skills, and he turned out a bed of wonders, of a beautiful dark polished wood carved in a manner reminiscent of sea-life, the posts high and curling, the middle of the headboard carved in the image of a sea-maiden holding a large shell. It was then I got ideas to decorate with the sea-shells I had. I had a huge number of them, mostly gifts from Elf-children. I’d learned that they had seen me gathering clam-shells to make fertilizer and supposed I was a shell-fancier, so they spent many hours and went long distances picking up pretty shells for me and bringing them in bags and baskets. An Elf-lad had brought me a kind of shell which could be blown like a horn, and had instructed me how to do so—it was harder than it looked, but I acquired the knack with a little practice. I had rows upon rows of the shells on shelves, using Bilbo’s room to accommodate them after he passed, and lining the guest-room with them as well, and I’m sure some of the adult Elves must have laughed about my “collection.” I would throw none out, but I really had not room for all. So perhaps I could put them to practical use now.
So I put in flower-beds and lined them with shells, and paved the garden-paths with some of the smoother ones. I had a gazebo made and inlaid with bits of pearly nacre in patterns I contrived myself, surprising myself with my artistry. Elflings brought me beautiful polished and curious stones that I used for paving. My house soon blossomed into a thing of wonders, indeed.
And another young Elf brought a small bag of pearls to be fashioned into a necklace for her. He had dived for them himself.
Lady Celebrían embroidered a magnificent coverlet for the marriage-bed, blue and silver and gold and many shades in-between.
I truly learned the meaning of danger then.
Nights I often spent in my old way sitting on the beach until sleep began to overtake me, after which I would plod back to the cottage and fall into bed. I kept the star-glass Lady Galadriel had given me long ago, sitting in the window at night to provide a soft light. When Anemone asked me about it the first time, I joked that I needed it to see my way to the privy in case nature called during the night. But in truth, I did not like the darkness without a light at all. Horrid things no longer haunted me, but I still needed that bit of soft brightness in the dark reaches of the night.
When four months had gone by and she still had not returned, I began to wonder if I really had been deserted. I lay in my bed one night—the new one not having been brought in yet—looking at my star-glass in the darkness and wondering just what I would do if she did not come back. Well, I did not wonder long; I had a good idea of what I would do. I knew what that would do to Gandalf and some of the others, but there it was…I could not face the rest of my days, even in paradise, without her. I only hoped for complete oblivion rather than an afterlife bereft of her company.
I could not sleep, so I rose and pulled on my breeches and shirt; then, on an impulse I took the phial from the window and carried it out with me down the path to my usual place on the beach. The stars were so thick they fairly overlapped each other, as I lay on my back on the soft white sand looking up at them. The glass I held balanced on my stomach, absently tapping on it with a finger. I remembered one day when an Elf-lad built a castle for me here on this spot, quite a magnificent one, down to the smallest detail. I told him he had built it awfully close to the tide, which would level it in one lap, and he said he knew that. I wished hard that there was a way to preserve it, but I could not hope to move it without it all falling in, and no wall I could possibly form around it would protect it.
I don’t know why I happened to think of that sand-castle just then.
I felt like the only person awake in the entire world.
Finally I sat up, absently brushing sand away from the back of my head, and looked down at the glass, murmuring the words to make it light. If this truly was a light for me when all other lights went out, perhaps…it could tell me something. Or show me.
I gazed, through tears, at the soft glimmer that started at the heart of the crystal phial, then grew into a star of strength, faintly blue at the center and raying out silvery and then purest white. Without speaking aloud, I willed it to give me a sign, tell me something, anything. Show me what lay before me, tell me what I should do.
I would come back to stay. But I shan’t change my mind.
I have children already. What need I with more?
I shall wear it as a pledge that I shall return to you….
Please come back soon, I whispered pitifully against the soft roar of the tide. I tried to make our house beautiful for you. I tried to make the path easy for your feet. Do not become mortal if you do not wish it, just come back, for a day, an hour, a week. Just don’t leave me here all alone….
And then I became aware of a very soft music, just above the murmur of the waves. It seemed to be coming from the glass itself. I held it to my ear. A faint thrumming, in low tones, then warm middle notes, uncertain at first, but growing into a discernable thread of sound, and finally, high twinkling chimes, shyly sounding one by one, then coming brisk and confident like rising fireflies on a late spring hill.
It sings somehow. It is filled with your being....
I am beginning to understand what fear is.
I want to be as you.
The light rose until it surrounded me in its embrace, and the music rose as a fountain washing me in rainbows and pearls and lucent dust. And I felt, rather than heard, a footstep behind me, and a voice that spoke as the very breath of the moon.
“Well Frodo, are you just going to sit there playing with a perfume-bottle all night, or are you going to stand up and kiss your betrothed?”