Part VIII: Lessons in Mortality
“I see you are having a hard time tearing yourself away from that mirror,” I remarked one morning with a smile.
She stood gazing into the bedroom glass in guileless wonderment, marveling at the way the image that looked back at her repeated her every movement and expression. She lifted a finger to touch a long lock of hair, at first slowly, then she lowered her hand and repeated the gesture more quickly, then very rapidly as if to see if she could “beat” her reflection to it, for all the world like a child “playing mirror” with a friend. I was nearly as fascinated as she, as though I were rediscovering for myself the experience of seeing my reflection for the first time.
After a quick lunch we went for a swim in the cove. It was a hot day and the sun seemed to fill the entire sky. I had to restrain Anemone from diving in, for I knew I would have to teach her to swim with the breathing techniques of a mortal rather than a water-sprite who could breathe submerged. She discovered quickly how cold the water really was, withdrawing her foot with a squeal as soon as she dipped it in. Teaching her was easier than I anticipated, however, for she had a quick mind, and took to the water naturally and grew accustomed to the temperature in no time.
“Why am I so rough all of a sudden?” she asked holding up an arm for my inspection, showing goose-bumps on the fair skin. “Will it stay so?” She told me I looked even better wet, and asked if I thought she did too. I looked at her all drenched in crystal, her long eyelashes beaded with diamond drops shining with rainbow colors in the sunlight, her skin golden above the water and silver underneath, her eyes taking on flecks of blue and green and silver from the water and the trees around…and I solemnly told her I wasn’t sure, I would have to think about it. She laughed and dipped under and spurted a mouthful of water right in my face!
And later we practiced a few of the arts of conjugal love on the silky sand beneath the willows that drooped curtains of green-gold lace all around us and tickled our backs.
“Do you suppose Gandalf and Ríannor will carry on like we do when they are wed?” she asked me in lazy wonder as we lay side by side like mating fish on the multi-colored rock, watching the reflections that shifted like a dream-tapestry in variegated greens in the water below us, dragon-flies skittering over the surface, small fishes flickering beneath.
I laughed: “I don’t even want to try to imagine. It’s like picturing what my parents might have been doing behind closed doors. I’d rather not think of it.” Dreamily I traced the point of her ear with a fingertip. It seemed to send a thrill of delight over her.
“It makes such a difference when you can feel physical pleasure, yes?” she said. “Our folk regarded mating as something to be performed for procreation only, and the pleasuring, such as it was, was only incidental. I had never supposed it could exist for its own sake. Of course I always enjoyed being with you, but that was because of your company, and I liked the thought of pleasuring you. But this way is so much better, there’s simply no comparison.”
“Yes, it’s much better when you can feel it too,” I said. “I am afraid it would have grown frustrating for me, being the only one who could feel it. It would be like having you bring me delicious food without being able to taste it yourself.”
“Females in the Shire don’t talk the way I do, do they?” she said. I chuckled.
“Not to my knowledge. I was never around them so much except when I was a boy, and they talked mainly of children or household affairs. If they ever talked of…conjugal matters, I did not hear it.”
“How do you think they would take me in the Shire?” she asked yawning a little.
“The males would fall in love with you and the...females would die of envy, I’m sure,” I said quickly…but I knew I couldn’t really fool her with half-joking assurances. I looked at her and said, “They didn’t think so highly of me either, really. I was considered rather--odd.”
“But those who loved you, loved you with a vengeance,” she pointed out.
“Yes…and I never felt as though I deserved it,” I said.
“Truly? Why not? If you don’t deserve it, who does?”
“Well…I never felt I was all they thought I was. That they were giving me credit I had not earned.”
“You have flaws.” She looked at me with mock reproach, shaking her head. “How silly those folks are. All you did was save the world, after all. But we must face the sad, sad truth of the matter: you have flaws. And they never knew it. Shameful! You could have told them you had flaws, at least!” She picked up a handful of sand and dribbled it into my hair.
I had to laugh. She rolled over on her back, arching her bosom, dusted with the white sand, then she took my hand and placed beneath her left breast.
“My chest is jumping,” she said. “I’ve a heartbeat now, yes?”
“Yes,” I said kissing the base of her throat where a pulse throbbed. “It’s beating there too….” I kissed her temple where a vein leapt ever so slightly…. “And there…” I kissed her wrist. “And there….”
“I have heartbeats in many places,” she said.
“Yes…” Her body seemed full of drums, drums in the deep….
But I am afraid we lingered far too long, and hours later, she had a most painful sunburn. I felt horrible, for I should have warned her, and I had not even given the matter a thought. The burn was quite severe, and she could not put on any clothes. When her eyes filled with tears, so did my own.
“I know you think I’m horrid,” she said sniffling as she tried to sit on the bed, her skin a deep red, “but it hurts so badly. Almost like when I became mortal, but that was only for a few seconds. That’s what it felt like, as though I had been set on fire. This feels like afterwards….”
“I am the horrid one. I am just so sorry,” I said sniffling also, then suddenly went to the cupboard where our medicinal supplies were kept. Rummaging around, I found a large jar of ointment that Lord Elrond had concocted for burns and brought it to her. “Let me put this on you. It works really well.”
“I loved the sun, and it betrayed me,” she murmured. “I suppose it is angry with me. Because I’ve a new idol.”
My heart reproached me cruelly as she winced and cried out at my touch. I dabbed it on her as lightly as I could, as though I were brushing it onto the wings of a butterfly. She stood still and allowed it, wiping tears away with her fingers, but soon I could feel her relax.
“That is much better,” she said. “This is what is meant by medicine?”
“Yes. And the best kind—Elvish.”
“It works fast. And it smells wonderful. What is in it?”
“I’m not sure. A plant called athelas, for one. And one called aloe. And probably others as well. But there is something more, that mortals cannot grow or concoct, something only Elves can do to give it its true virtue.”
She sat down on the edge of the bed, after pushing back the coverlet. “I feel much better now,” she said, “in fact, it feels better than when I am not burnt. Perhaps I could use it when I’m not hurting?”
“I doubt it would have any effect then.” I could tell she really did feel better. But my heart was still smiting me. I should have been looking after her better, and I had been totally remiss.
She looked across at her reflection. “So I am blushing all over now,” she said smiling mischievously. “Is it lovely on me?”
“Do not even try to make me laugh,” I said with a little snort. “I feel just terrible. I truly should have known better, because I sunburn so easily myself.”
“Perhaps I can make you feel better after a while,” she grinned. “Look, you are burnt also. Let me put some of that stuff on you.”
“Only a little." It did hurt, but I would bear it as punishment, and we needed to save the ointment for her, who needed it much more. "I was not even aware until you spoke of it. We should save it for when the effect wears off.”
Later I put more balm on her, then soaked a soft linen sheet in cold water and laid it over her as she rested face down on the bed. Her head hurt, she said, and her stomach felt funny, as though her lunch did not want to stay in it. I made her a special tea that she said worked wonders, although it tasted awful.
“So this is what pain is like,” she mused as she handed me the empty cup. “And mortals go through such as a matter of course?”
“Yes. Such is being fully human. And there is no surety you won’t suffer it again, and even worse things, whether through your own doing or no. You…would not go back now? Now that you know how it is?”
She looked down at the cup, glanced about the room, at her reflection, and finally at me, a long, long moment, then touched my cheek.
“Absolutely not,” she said.
By nightfall her pain was gone, although it was two days until her skin turned to normal color. Eventually it turned a beautiful bronze tan, and her hair acquired streaks of bright gold. It seemed she and the sun had forgiven each other.
One afternoon I woke from a late nap to find her side of the bed empty. I called her name, supposing her to be in the kitchen preparing supper, but she did not answer. I pulled on some clothes and went outdoors, calling for her, then, supposing perhaps she’d gone out to visit with Ríannor, I started back inside to get supper started, then a speck of gold caught my eye. And I saw her sitting on the beach alone.
I hesitated, then started down the path. Something told me all was not right with her.
I suppose I still had the fear in the back of my mind that she missed her old life sometimes.
She didn’t turn when I approached. When I crossed in front of her I saw she was weeping silently.
“It’s my children,” she said when I entreated her to tell me what was wrong. “I have feelings for them now and they are gone, gone. If only I could just see them now and then. That would be enough.” She wiped her eyes and nose with the hem of her short gown.
I sank down in total dismay and put my arm around her. Now what had I done? I had made her mortal and so had given her a heartache no balm could heal. Here was something I could do nothing about.
Or could I?
She laid her head on my shoulder and I stroked her hair, then took her hand and guided it to the pendant that hung at her bosom. I kept my hand over hers and her tears fell on it and were warm. The sun was sinking into the waves and I could see the Evenstar peeping through the streaks of color on the horizon. After a few minutes I felt a faint vibration of the jewel’s power through the flesh and bones of her hand. And heard the beginnings of music.
I could see that she heard it too.
As darkness spread over the skies I stood up, then reached my hand down to her. “Come,” I said, “I want to try something. Go to the cove and untie the boat, and I will meet you there.”
I sprinted back to the cottage and returned to the cove with the star-glass in my hand. Anemone had untied the boat from the tree to which it was tethered.
“What have you there?” She looked at me askance as I revealed the phial.
“You will see.” I smiled as I assisted her into the boat. She allowed me to do the rowing. I rowed out to the mouth of the cove and down the shore, to the big flat rock where I had first seen her…it seemed not so long ago. Then I got out and pushed the boat up on the shore, and helped her out and we climbed up onto the rock. I stood at the very edge, looking out at the Evenstar which was very bright indeed now, and I began to sing softly as I waved my hand over the star-glass to make it glow. Then, after I had finished the hymn I slowly began to remove the crystal stopper.
“What are you doing?” I heard Anemone ask. I held a finger to my lips. The glass felt very warm in my hand. Then I tipped it over the waves and dribbled the luminous water into the sea.
The waves began to glitter as if star-dust had been sprinkled onto them, and soft music hummed at my feet. The light spread and spread until it seemed as though the sea were burning with silver-blue flames. I watched entranced until I felt Anemone’s hand take mine. Then I said, “Let’s go back now.” We rowed back and returned to the cottage, ate supper, spent the evening in our usual fashion, and went to bed.
The next morning we took breakfast on the terrace as we always did, and we were halfway through when I heard the sound of what was unmistakably a giggle. I looked all about but could see no one. I thought at first perhaps it was an Elf-child slipping about, playing a prank, but children were not allowed to come here uninvited, so I thought that unlikely. Then I looked at Anemone and saw her face all aglow. She was looking out on the garden and then I heard a tinkling music as she sprang up and dashed out to where a tiny maiden with silvery hair stood behind a jasmine-bush. In a moment she had caught the little faery-like creature by the hands and was dancing all around the lawn with her, and I saw two more peeping out shyly behind a rose-tree—these were twins as I could see. I smiled and waved to them but I think they did not see me. A blue-green light shone in their silvery hair as the sun found them out and Anemone ran to them and embraced them, and two more which were evidently male appeared, then another female with hair like hers, until it seemed that all the stars from the western sky had come down to dance on our lawn together in the morning light.