Part V: Poetic License
I woke to find a beautiful vase on my desk. It was pure white with a glaze like snow and a graceful design of gold curls and ripples on the neck, and as I looked closer, an etching of gold roses. Bilbo gazed at it in wonder.
“Now where did that come from?” he said. I just smiled to myself.
Tilwen brought our breakfast out to us on the terrace. She was very young, not much older than I was, surely. She was small for an Elf, her hair a pale copper, glossy and silky and fine, her skin a shell-like pink and white, eyes silver-grey with a tinge of green. She had that compelling fragile grace that very young Elf-maidens have—in fact she was the first such I had seen up close. She was getting married soon and was in a constant flutter.
“What do you think?” she said as she set out the dishes from the tray. “That strange…lady…was wearing a green dress!”
“Ríannor?” I said, my eyebrows popping upward.
“The very one. Help us! Well, it was dark green, and she still scarcely has two words to say to me, but still. A green dress! I think Lady Celebrían has been trying to convince her that that black thing spooks you, or something. I guess she finally got the message, and high time. In very truth, it spooks me too.”
“And me,” Bilbo agreed. “Witchy it looks. She’d be a mighty fair lady if she’d wear something that didn’t make her look like she lives off in a cave somewhere. And maybe put a little meat on the bones.”
I thought of the gold roses on the vase, and the number on her wrist.
Later Bilbo excused himself to the privy and I was left sitting alone on the terrace. I thought of the previous night, and as if I had conjured her just by thinking of her, there she was in front of me, emerging from the adjoining room.
“Iorhael,” she lost no time with greetings, “come with me, please. I wish to show you something.”
I rose in slow wonder. Her dress was a dark green indeed—it would have looked black in a dim light, but it was a start, and the color looked well on her.
“I…I’m not supposed to walk far by myself,” I stammered as she extended a hand to me.
“It is not far at all,” she said. There was a strangely husky quality to her voice, as though she had not used it in years. “The old one may come too, if you wish.”
“I’ll come,” I said, still cautious, telling myself, well, what could it possibly be? Nothing dangerous, surely. “By the way, the vase is very beautiful.”
“I have always loved golden flowers,” she replied just above a whisper.
“So have I,” I said.
We passed through the red velvet curtains, through a room filled mostly with books and a few artifacts and ornaments—this was the library, of course. She led me through the door and into the hallway and through another door and up the stairway. I wanted to ask where we were going, I rather hoped not to her bedroom, but reminded myself that she wouldn’t have said Bilbo might come if it were anything amiss. The idea was just slightly ludicrous anyway, now wasn’t it? But, what did she want to show me?
She took a key from her pocket and opened a door in the hallway. Why a key? I wondered, my heart fluttering a bit. We stepped into a small room lined with shelves, but there were no books on them. Instead, the light from the large eastern window revealed that they were covered with works of pottery: vases, bowls, ewers, cups, candle-sticks…dozens and dozens of them. A potter’s-wheel stood to one side. This must be her work-room, I thought inanely. The things were all starkly different from the vase she had given me. That one had been beautiful and ornamental, but these--they were strange in a way that was hard to explain. It was no lot of pretty crockery; it was art. But not like any art I had ever seen before. It was disturbing, that was the word. There was a large round shape with several necks coming up from it of different sizes, some twisted, some rigid, some drooping as if in despair. There was a huge vase painted with eyes—that was all, just eyes, all over it. There was a very, very tall white shape, that looked too much like a tower for my comfort, and yes, there were windows in it, pointed ones, stark black inside, points on top. I had to avert my eyes from that one. There were some more conventional shapes, but painted with things I could not recognize, things that had come out of dark places in the soul. Some appeared to have come out of my own dreams, and I shuddered and clutched at her hand as though she were my mother. Her expression was inscrutable, almost blank, as though she were trying to take herself away from something, and I thought perhaps this was how she dealt with what they had done to her in the prisons—taking her mind away to an unreachable place, removed from the pain and terror and degradation.
There was no denying that this was magnificent work, and I was torn between wanting to go out of the room as quick as possible and stand there and examine each piece closely. I had an idea why she was resisting her treatment now, and was sure she was doing so unconsciously. To be erased would reduce her artistry, somehow, perhaps, and she might become merely a designer of pretty knick-knacks. I doubted that; her talent was undeniable, but the fear must have been there. There were probably other reasons as well. Perhaps, like me, she saw forgetfulness as the ultimate surrender to the enemy who had butchered her son, corrupted her husband and seduced her too. No doubt she was a very strong-willed woman, and defiance had been a way of life for her.
I laid my other hand over hers, wondering how I could persuade her to give in, that it was the right thing for her and all others concerned, that her “punishment” was over and now she must step away and accept the final purgation. I felt that perhaps I had made a start, with the flowers…how had I known to give her the golden ones? The idea that with all she had been through, and all she had done, she loved golden flowers, was unspeakably poignant to me. I thought of the beauty and joy that could be hers; she could have light, dimension, shape, motion, voice. Perhaps the green dress was a step in that direction. I could not hope to do it all for her, but I could do my part when the opportunity came. Yes, I could do that much, perhaps. If I had learned anything, it was that.
“You have seen enough?” she said finally. I nodded and we left the room and she locked the door behind her.
“Why do you lock it?” I asked her. “No one would break in.”
“Sometimes,” she said, “you wish some places to remain hidden.”
“Oh. Yes, of course.”
“I have not thanked you,” she said matter-of-factly. “It was inexcusable of me.”
“Yet I do excuse it,” I said with a little smile. She looked down at me with the closest thing to a facial expression I had seen from her yet.
We went back downstairs. No one was about except Gandalf and Bilbo. They looked at me questioningly as I came into the room. I told them about what I had just seen.
“Are you all right, Frodo?” Gandalf asked me. “You look a little shaken.”
“I’m shaken, but I’m all right.” I didn’t know what else to say.
“Are you sure?” Bilbo said. “She better not be showing you things that are going to throw you all out of kilter, now. I won’t have it. That woman is having an effect on you, and I don’t think it’s a good one. You were brought here to recover, not to get right back where you started in the first place, and I won’t stand for her undoing all the good things they’ve worked in you. I know she’s been through some horrid things I can’t even half imagine and I do sympathize, but you come first with me, my lad, and I think you’d do better to stay away from her, that’s what I think.”
I shrugged. Perhaps he was right. But then again, my old stubborn streak was starting to come into play. What did they think I was made of, glass?
“I tell you, I’m all right,” I insisted with some impatience. “Let’s go out to the terrace, shall we.”
We went outside and I told about the “erasing” procedure and what I had been told of Lady Ríannor’s past. They listened to me thoughtfully, agreeing that it was the best thing for her and puzzling as to why she wasn’t taking to the treatment. Bilbo speculated that she had lived such a long time, she had accumulated entirely too much memory to be erased overnight. He said it by way of a small joke, but I thought perhaps he had a good point. Gandalf agreed with me that the green dress was a start, and said to Bilbo that maybe it was time to stop treating me as such a delicate invalid child all the time; I wouldn’t be here now if I were so fragile as that, after all. I heartily agreed, although to be truthful I did feel a bit brittle at the moment.
After luncheon, Tilwen came and cleared our table, and it did my heart good to look at her, she was such a dazzling contrast to Ríannor. Instead of the usual simple light grey dress she wore around the house, she wore a filmy pale sea-green one with a round neckline embroidered with silver leaves, and a linked silver belt. So cheerful and fresh and lovely did she look that I felt the heaviness inside me disappear. She piled our used dishes on a big tray, but instead of carrying it back inside, she set it on the table and looked steadily at me for a moment.
“Iorhael,” she said, “um…I have a little favor to ask of you.”
I saw Gandalf and Bilbo lift their eyebrows.
“Shall we go?” Bilbo said politely.
“Oh no no no. You may hear if you’d like. But we can go into the library if you want. It’s a fitting place for what I wish to ask.”
“What is it?” I asked. She pinked a little, and looked lovelier than ever.
“Well…” she sat and looked at her hands, folding them demurely in her lap, “I have heard that you are a very fine poet. This is true?”
“Well…” I blushed also. “I’ve only ever written one poem that was any good, and I think I really don’t like it so well any more.”
“Oh but you have a way of…of putting things that is so, I don’t know,” she said. “You use words wonderfully well, I think. Anyway, you know I’m to be married soon? And what I would like to ask is, if it doesn’t seem too presumptuous…if you could compose an ode extolling the manifold virtues and beauties of my beloved? I should love to read it to him on the day of our wedding, during the ceremony and all. Of course I would give you all the credit for it, I wouldn’t dream of passing it off as my own. He is a great war hero, and I think it would be such a fitting tribute? What do you think?”
I didn’t dare look at Gandalf or Bilbo then. I felt, rather than saw them both turn their backs very quickly.
“Um…” I thought, if they were laughing at me, I could tell her that Bilbo was the real poet, and she should ask him instead. “Well, it is a great honor to be asked, my Lady, but you see…I’ve never met your betrothed. I’ve no idea what he’s like.”
“Well, of course I will introduce you!” she burst into a peal of silvery laughter. “I would scarcely expect you to work just from my description of him, which would hardly be objective, to say the very least. Once you meet my Galendur, I’m sure the right words would come to you in a veritable shower of inspiration.”
At this, Gandalf cleared his throat and rose from his chair. “Bilbo,” he said, “shall we go have a smoke and let these two young folks discuss their project without us old codgers hanging about?”
“I think that’s the best idea I’ve heard all day,” Bilbo said emphatically. I tightened my lips and glared at him, but he pretended not to notice. They smiled with roguish charm at Tilwen and excused themselves, and went to sit on the bench by the fountain and take out their pipes, no doubt having a huge laugh at my expense. I drew a deep breath.
“Umm…” I cleared my throat also. “Lady Tilwen…once more I thank you for this honor. But the idea of writing an…ode…to—really, I should think you could do it better yourself, being so much, well, closer to him and all. To be truthful, the thought of extolling the beauties and virtues of a male Elf is, well, somewhat embarrassing.”
“I do write a bit of verse now and then,” she looked very serious, “but it’s rather silly girlish stuff, and would not begin to do him justice. I would so love to have something truly heroic, especially composed by the Savior of Middle-earth—that is how they refer to you, you know. I know he would be just, well, overwhelmed, and would know that what he went through himself has not been all in vain. Won’t you consider it?”
I was the one who was overwhelmed. “Well,” I hedged, “it seems I can only write well when I am in a bad way. When I’m quite on top of things, I’m afraid I only write silly drivel, too.”
“Let me introduce him to you,” she said, reaching across the table and laying her hand over my good one. “Once you see his manifold qualities, you could decide then?”
“Manifold,” I couldn’t help but smile. “You like that word, do you?”
“One of my favorites,” she said radiantly. “I could give you a list of my favorite words, if you’d like. I have a good many of them. There’s ‘beleaguered’ and ‘resplendent’ and ‘happenstance’ and ‘resigned’…and, and lots of others.”
“I used to like ‘abominable’,” I admitted and she giggled.
“I like that one too,” she said, “although I suppose it wouldn’t do for the Ode.”
“There aren’t many words that rhyme with it, either,” I said. “All I can think of are ‘abdominal’ which would scarcely do, and ‘phenomenal’ which doesn’t exactly rhyme but it’s close, and…”
“Oh, that one would be perfect!” she exclaimed giving my fingers a little squeeze. “Maybe ‘abominable’ could go in there somehow. Let me see…. ‘He smote the Enemy fully abominable/Then stood in the clear light of triumph phenomenal’…. Well, that’s not very good, but it’s the idea, you know?”
“Yes.” Call me a fool, but I could think of no way to get out of this gracefully. Perhaps I could pull it off, who knows? I could do it to please her, at least. Surely Bilbo knew all manner of bardic songs I could use as a model. “Well…I shall do my best. Perhaps you could just describe your lover for me? I could…”
“Oh but you must meet him,” she cried, clasping her hands together soulfully. “Any feeble efforts of mine would be but the palest shadow of his full true wonder. I’ll try to bring him here tomorrow, and then you will see exactly what I mean. But I must get back now. The Ladies will surely wonder what I’m up to.”
Well. I had done it now. I could only hope that her groom-to-be was really as inspiring as she claimed!
“Soooo, this is the Savior of Middle-earth,” Galendur carelessly pushed a strand of fair hair behind one ear, in which a small gold ring sparkled, and blinked down at me in indulgent amusement. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, although you are cert--erm, I mean, glad to make your acquaintance—what’s the name again?”
He looked to his beloved, rather than to me, cocking one reddish eyebrow in a manner he had no doubt found long ago had a devastating effect on the fair sex. He sported a tunic of crimson embroidered with gold and jewels over a snowy shirt with billowing ruffled sleeves, cut deeply in the throat, a black velvet cloak lined with gold silk and held with ruby clasps connected by a thick gold chain. A gemmed dagger was dramatically thrust into his gold belt. His fine leather boots had toes that looked sharply pointed enough to render the dagger superfluous, and heels so polished I could see my face in them.
“Iorhael,” Tilwen prompted him, and I could hardly help but wonder what his reaction would have been if she had given him my hobbit-name. She beamed at me over his broad shoulder. Gandalf and Bilbo stood a ways behind me. I could just imagine their expressions at the moment.
“Iorhael. Of course. You must excuse me, I’m atrocious with names. Heard a few too many of ’em in my time, I fear. Anyway, my betrothed has spoken highly of you. And I always say, if she speaks well of someone, there must be some good in ’im, that’s what I always say.” He chuckled at his own joke, which, somehow, I just did not find terribly amusing. I forced a half-smile for Tilwen’s sake. She giggled in obvious delight at her swain’s wit. He glanced down at my feet for the umpteenth time. I was tempted to ask him if he wanted to draw a picture of them. That would have gone over wonderfully with Bilbo.
I took a deep breath. “Well, you, likewise, appear to measure up to her esteem of you,” I said blandly, feeling like the crown prince of liars.
My main satisfaction, as the lovers took their leave, came when the peacock flew down from a tree with an angry squawk and pecked Galendur on the back of his knee, which produced quite a yelp. I rewarded the bird with the remainder of my tea-cake, then took several deep breaths as though I were about to plunge into cold, deep water, and sat down heavily on my padded chair. I wondered that it didn’t collapse under me.
“Condescending jackass,” Bilbo said between clenched teeth. “What can that sweet young thing possibly see in him? Other than his chiseled cheekbones, bulging biceps, washboard belly, and steel-blue orbs…say, you better write all those down. You could describe all his beauties thusly.”
“I’m glad you noticed, because I missed them entirely,” I said morosely. “‘Steel-blue orbs’?”
“Eyes,” Bilbo said. “But when writing heroic verse, you must call them orbs.”
“Now you know what the bards have to put up with,” Gandalf said with a wink, taking a swallow of his tea.
“Surely they at least admire the heroes they sing of?” I said. “Or can at least…stomach them? What am I going to do now? I like Tilwen and I don’t wish to disappoint her. But there is no way I can possibly extol the…virtues of that…person.” I spat out the last word. “He doesn’t even come close to being good enough for her! Conceited nitwit.”
“Young love,” said Gandalf shaking his head.
“‘Sing, O bards, of a warrior glad and bold,’” said my irrepressible uncle, “‘of Galendur, whose virtues and beauties were manifold...’ Yes, it has possibilities, what say?”
“Yes, you write it, Bilbo,” I said. “You definitely have the right idea.”
“Look at the bright side,” Gandalf chuckled. “It’s only an ode, not an epic. Nice and short. Even Elves wouldn’t have the patience to sit through anything of great length, not if it’s about that creature.”
Elrond and Celebrían approached just then, arm in arm, and we filled them in on the nature of my current predicament.
“Alas, poor Tilwen,” Lady Celebrían said shaking her golden head, her eyes glistening at the same time. “I’m terribly fond of the girl, but I must say, I think she’s rather young to be committing herself. She has her whole life ahead of her, after all.”
I should say she does, I thought. Lord Elrond smiled sympathetically.
“He is a hero, for all he appears some young fop who sat on the sidelines throughout the War, catching the ladies as they swooned in horror,” he said. “Could you not concentrate on that aspect of him and try to forget what you dislike about him? He’s a bit cocky of course, but he’s young yet and will probably grow out of it. I remember well enough how my own sons were at that age.”
“I suppose I have not much choice,” I said, “since I’ve committed myself to write it. Well, as Gandalf said, at least it will be short, and as you say, he is a hero, and as such, is deserving of some esteem, whether I can abide him or not. Really, I’ve done much harder things. Oh, but wait! I know what I’ll do. I’ll write it about someone I do admire. I’ll leave the spaces for his name blank, and write it all down, and when I’m finished I’ll just go through and write his name in the blanks. That might work.”
“Ahhhh,” Bilbo said snapping his fingers, “maybe you’re onto something. So. Who will you write it about? Aragorn, perhaps?”
“Well, I did think of him but…what about Legolas? He has that kind of—of dash, but without the attitude. Yes…I think maybe it will work. Perhaps you can describe some of his feats in battle for me, Gandalf?”
“Actually I didn’t really see any of them,” Gandalf said. “I can tell you what I’ve heard, but I’ve a feeling some of them are a trifle…exaggerated. There was some wild tale about his taking down a mumak single-handedly, but I don’t take much stock in it.”
“No matter,” I said, feeling much better all of a sudden. “No one will know the difference, I’m sure, except Galendur himself, and he surely won’t deny. Fill me in!”