Part VIII: Unveiling
“Sounds like she’s letting him have it,” Bilbo chuckled as the voices resounded in the front parlor, through the hallway and into our room. “I hope so, anyway!”
I strained my ears to hear. I could hear Tilwen’s voice, all right, but couldn’t make out her words, which was maybe just as well, judging from the tone. Then I heard Galendur’s, evidently trying to reason with her. I smiled remembering how she had run straight to him with a cry of joy and flung herself in his arms when he first walked into the door with me in tow. But now…well, I could go listen at the door, perhaps, but that wouldn’t be seemly.
“Whatever possessed you to go charging out there in the first place?” Bilbo demanded of me. “I still can’t believe you pulled such a thing. Soft, that’s what you are. Can’t bear to see a pretty maid unhappy. But I dare say you’ve only made things worse. He’ll just end up breaking her heart all over again, wait and see.”
“I wasn’t going to do it at first,” I admitted. “It was crazy, I knew. But I felt such a powerful urge, and when that kind of urge won’t go away, then I must. Nothing for it.”
“Hmph. Nothing for it, indeed. Maybe one of these days you’ll learn not to go poking your nose where it doesn’t belong.”
“Hmm, now where have I heard that before?” I teased him.
“You’ll end up like your Auntie Dora, you will. Going about handing out advice to the lovelorn till the end of your days. You’ll see.”
“Aren’t you even a little bit proud of me, Bilbo?” I tried to look sad.
“I’m a lot proud of you, but that’s beside the point.”
Gandalf came in from outside, grinning, and asked how the ankle was. I said it was much better, and asked if he could hear what was going on in the front room.
“I don’t hear anything now,” he said. “Maybe that’s a good sign,” he added with a wink.
I sauntered over closer to the door, then cautiously peered into the hallway. I couldn’t hear anything either. I padded silently over to the door of the salon and pressed my ear to it. Not a sound.
“I think they’ve gone out,” I said to Bilbo and Gandalf, in some disappointment, yet with a feeling of hope too.
“She gave him the gate,” Bilbo said. “Good for her. She’s got more sense than I gave her credit for.” He popped a fist into his palm.
“She’s gone too,” I reminded him.
“Home to her mother, I should hope.”
We went outside and I told of my visit with Galendur in more detail. It was quite late in the afternoon, getting on for suppertime. The sun was low in the sky.
“He rides really well,” I said. “When we were riding home through the street, a dog ran out barking at us and Nightwind shied and nearly threw us, and took off at full gallop. Galendur got him under control quickly. Although not before he cleared a wagon full of apples and a flock of goats crossing the road,” I chuckled.
“I don’t doubt he can ride a horse,” Bilbo said. “But it hardly makes him husband material.”
“Little Lyrien adores him,” I said. “She says he takes her on his back and gives her bouncy rides and tells her funny stories. He loves little children.”
“Baiting the calf to catch the cow, I shouldn’t wonder.”
“He told me about when his mother died. He was just a lad. His father and brothers were away at war and his horse was lame. She was sick with pneumonia and he carried her nearly ten miles to the healer’s, and she died right there in his arms. It was very sad.”
“Just listen to you, lad. You’re as taken with him as that girl is. The fellow’s a natural-born--”
Bilbo broke off and looked at Gandalf, who was looking upward now and didn’t appear to have heard anything we were saying. I looked up too. And sucked in my breath sharply.
Ríannor stood on the balcony above the library, wearing a dress of dark rich red. The color suited her to perfection, but that was not what stopped our breath. There was a faint, soft glow about her against the dim curtain behind her. Her ebony hair had a sheen and ripple that had not been there before. She was looking intently down at us and it seemed that she smiled, almost. I could not have looked away if I forced myself.
“By all the Valar,” I heard Gandalf say. “Did you ever see anything lovelier?”
“She wants us to come in,” I said softly. “I think she has something to show us.”
Gandalf was already standing. I rose too, then extended a hand to help Bilbo up. We entered through the library and into the hallway, then saw her coming down the spiral staircase in the middle. I can swear the crimson velvet of her gown glowed like a rose in the sun as it trailed on the stairs behind her. And yes, she was smiling as though she had some lovely secret she was about to disclose.
“Come into the salon,” she said, for all the world like a hostess ushering her guests into the party room. We followed as adoring subjects after their queen. Giddily, I wondered where the others were. Well, there was Lady Galadriel, already in the front parlor, and she was in white, and all aglow, herself. Evidently she was in on the secret. Then the others entered behind us, Lord Elrond and his wife and mother, who all seemed as mystified as we.
There was something in the middle of the parlor, covered with a white sheet. Something large, sitting on an easel. I heard someone else come into the room also, but did not look around to see who it was. I was less curious about the work that was about to be unveiled than I was about Lady Ríannor’s appearance.
I had suggested a few days ago, to Lady Galadriel, that I thought Sauron was using the memory of Ríannor’s son to hold her back, since once she found the Door she would be free of him. I even speculated that perhaps Sauron was trying to force me to succumb to him through her in some twisted way. Since he could no longer reach me, perhaps he was trying to torment me by keeping her in the shadow. For I loved her in a way that was hard to explain. Not as a lover, although there was perhaps a small element of that in my feelings. Not as a son; she was as unlike my mother as any woman could have been, yet not unlike a son either. It was as a friend, yet something more. I told the Lady all this, and she did not seem surprised.
“Perhaps you are right,” she said, “about Sauron. The mind of evil is something the rest of us will never completely discern. It is an eternal hunger, an insatiable longing for the annihilation of others, and in some strange way, for the destruction of itself. Its favorite prey is the good and beautiful, for to destroy and subvert it is its ultimate revenge on the source of all goodness and beauty. Yes, perhaps Ríannor is his link to you, for once she finds her way into the Light, you will be forever lost to him.”
“What if she does not?” I felt a chill shake me all over. I had thought I was safe here. But those who love are never safe, and the Enemy knows it well.
“Then we must remove her from you in some way,” she said. “Or you from her. We have prepared a place for you, although we had not intended to put you there until you were fully recovered. Still, if she does not find her way out of her inner darkness, we may have no choice but to remove you sooner.”
I thought of what she had said as I stood now in the front parlor awaiting the unveiling of the new work. Had Lady Ríannor finally found her way out…or was this maybe a false dawn?
No one spoke. Then Ríannor and Galadriel each took a corner of the cloth covering the easel, and slowly pulled it upward and then let it fall on the floor. And a collective gasp went up, and the whole room seemed full of light.
Bilbo was the only one who spoke. “My lad,” he said barely above a whisper, “will you look at that. I declare.”
Everyone else was completely speechless. The picture was a mosaic, in a hexagonal shape, about four feet wide and four feet high. There was a head haloed in a flaming white light, and a hand held a phial like to mine, only larger. The background was made of chips in two shades of dark blue and black, obviously representing a night sky, and a white gemstone represented the evening star, with bits of silver and crystal raying around it. Smaller gems were inlaid about to represent other stars. Now I knew what had become of the pottery I had noticed missing. I remembered in particular a vase of a striking shade of brown with tiny flakes of gold and bronze and copper worked into the glaze in a swirling pattern. I could see those flakes in the hair, glittering in the light.
The skin was made of ivory and the garment of lighter blues than the background, the eyes of the same chips as the garment. And the light raying around--I recognized that as chips of the white tower I couldn’t look upon, and I was sure she had painted them with some sort of snowy glaze. It was inlaid now as a pure white fire, and there were tiny bits of gold and scarlet gleaming outside of it. And yes, there was the Evenstar pendant at the throat, a diamond with a filigree of silver. She must have used her own jewelry for this, I thought, barely able to breathe. And I noticed in the background a rose-tree with two golden blooms on it, one a bud, the other fully blown. And worked in gold in beautiful letters at the bottom of the portrait: IORHAEL. I wondered if anyone could hear my heart pounding.
I felt tears start in my eyes but did not notice immediately when they spilled over. Finally I dared to look at Bilbo, who had his arm tightly around my waist; he was trembling and pale, and tears stood in his eyes also. I felt a hand laid on my shoulder for a moment; I thought it was Gandalf, but I saw him standing on the other side of Bilbo, so I glanced to my left and saw it was Galendur. He was staring at the portrait with parted lips, in the most absolute stillness I had ever seen, his hand resting as softly as a bird on my shoulder, Tilwen on his other side, clutching his other hand but looking only at the mosaic. I looked to Gandalf once again and saw him look at Ríannor, then the picture, then at its creator again. I couldn’t tell at which he was looking the hardest, or the longest.
I became aware of very soft music, although no one was playing any; I could not tell from whence it issued or if anyone else was hearing it. It was unlike any I had ever heard before, and seemed to be coming from a great Door somewhere, as if light had a voice, and it was full of wings also, and bells, and drums, and I really think everyone in the room heard it. And amid the Music I heard for just a moment a despairing cry, the howl of someone who has just lost all he had striven so long and hard to gain, the sound of utter defeat. But the cry died away quickly and the Music overpowered it and went out of the house and into the streets, and whether or not any others heard it I never knew, but it filled the house, and the phial in the picture began to shine as though it had caught a ray of sunlight. Ríannor was like a window made of black and white and ruby glass studded with gold and pearls, and I was looking more at her than anything else, and so were the others now, I believe.
She was as the first woman on the first morning of all creation, standing tall in the birthday of Eternity, leading upward.
The wedding was the loveliest I had ever seen—after Sam’s. Tilwen read aloud a short poem of her own composing, which had nothing to do with war yet was entitled “My Hero.” The groom got teary-eyed over it, and he grabbed her and planted a big kiss on her before the priest could pronounce them husband and wife.
A few days before the wedding, Tilwen’s sister Niniel had come over with Lyrien to help out with things and the elfling came running straight at me shouting my name. I noticed something odd with her hair as she threw herself at me in the sunlight shouting, “LOOK, LOOK, LOOK!” I held her back and looked as hard as I could and she grabbed a handful of her own locks and held it right in front of me.
“Your hair is squiggly!” I said and she nodded so hard, her neck seemed in danger of snapping.
“GUESS who did it!” she cried, bouncing up and down so that she stepped on my feet.
“Not your mum, I suppose,” I said and she shook her head emphatically. “Your auntie then?” Another shake. “Your granny?”
“Noooo,” she said pulling a face.
“I give up then. Who?”
Just then Galendur came right up behind her. She turned her head and looked up at him, then yelled at the top of her voice, “MY UNCLE!!! Well, he’s almost my uncle!!”
I stared up at Galendur with lifted eyebrows, and he lifted his eyebrows back at me.
“So how am I for a hairdresser?” he said. “Am I a bit of all right, or what?”
“Well…you certainly have some talents I didn’t know about,” I admitted as Lyrien grabbed his arm and he lifted her up and held her with one arm and rumpled up her squiggles, and she gave him a loud smacking kiss on the cheek.
“When I was a little chap, I used to watch my mother curl her hair when she was getting ready to go out for special,” he explained. “She’d wind locks of it around bits of rag and tie it all up for a few hours, then take it down and there you were. The memory of it stayed with me a long time.”
Bilbo shook his head. “You better hope you haven’t started something,” he said. “You might end up having to curl every lady’s hair on the Island.”
Lyrien squirmed down from her soon-to-be uncle’s arms and came back to me. “I almost forgot, this is for you,” she said handing me something wrapped in a handkerchief. “I made it,” she said with a little giggle, adding modestly, “I hope you like it.”
“Let’s go sit down here,” I motioned for her to come to my long chair. I just had a feeling I didn’t want all the others staring when I opened it. We both sat down apart from the others and I untied the handkerchief. Inside was a small rag-doll…with some of my clipped curls sewn to the head. A face was embroidered on, obviously a child’s work but that of one much older than Lyrien, surely. There were even tiny pointed ears, of like size. And a little suit of clothes, simply done, and yes…foot hair, glued on.
“It’s YOU,” she informed me. “Do you see?”
“You made this all yourself?” I said incredulously.
“My mummy helped me a little,” she admitted. “She sewed the hair on. But I did all the rest. Smell it!”
She shoved it to my nose for me. I could smell fragrant herbs, with which it was obviously stuffed.
“This is the prettiest doll I ever saw,” I said choking up. “Thank you so much.” I gave her a big kiss on each cheek and embraced her tightly.
“Why are your eyes wet?” she asked me. “Are you hurted?”
“Because I love my gift, and because I’ll never have a beautiful child like you,” I said, blinking hard.
Lyrien’s hair was curled for the wedding, but it was her mum who did the job this time. Galendur had to show her how, and it did start quite a trend among the younger set, which did not endear him much to their mothers.
Ríannor’s mosaic was eventually set in a small wall beside the White Tree. There was talk of setting it in the Temple, but I protested that I did not want to be made a deity, it wouldn’t be right somehow. There was quite a ceremony when it was done, with much food and drink and music, and the whole time I felt like going off and hiding somewhere until it was over, yet on the whole we all had a wonderful time even when a youngster asked me if when I died, would I be buried there. Gandalf had come and asked me if I thought he really looked his best in blue, and I told him I thought he would look striking in red. Striking, he said, and looked very thoughtful. And he turned up at the ceremony in a robe of deep red, and yes, he did indeed look very striking, and Ríannor seemed not to want to let him out of her sight.