"Pippin! What's the matter?" cried Merry as a strange spasm seemed to grip his cousin. The young Hobbits were getting ready for bed. Pippin had only begun to unbutton his shirt when he clutched at his hair, his face contorted.
"Merryyyy! help meeee," he moaned, then his knees buckled and he doubled over on the floor, rocking himself back and forth. Merry dropped down beside him, gripping his shoulder.
"Pippin! What is it? What's happening?"
"It's...something! I..." Pippin gnashed his teeth and shut his eyes. "I...it's like something--invading me..."
"You mean like..." Merry made a helpless gesture in the air.
"It came in here..." Pippin pointed with a quivering finger to his chest-- "and it's...gone into my head...it wants...something...uhhhhh...."
"I'm going to get Gandalf," gasped Merry jumping to his feet.
"No Merry, don't leave me!" wailed Pippin, then suddenly went limp on the floor. Merry stood for a horrified moment, then stooped down once more over his cousin. The agonized expression was gone and Pippin's face was blank, then a most astonishing change came over it.
"Pippin? Are you all right?"
Pippin appeared now to be much more than all right. He smiled almost beatifically. "Ohhhhh," he breathed. "Ohhhh...ohhhh...ohhhhh..."
His eyes closed and now he looked to be having the most wonderful dream imaginable, surrounded by mountains of fine food and drink and candies and pipe-weed and comely maidens and delicious music and who knew what else. Merry could only think that his cousin was passing into the next world, and he sprang up and dashed from the room, shouting for Gandalf.
The Wizard came in with him to find Pippin asleep on the floor, still appearing to be in an utterly blissful dream. He lifted the young Hobbit and laid him on the bed, shaking his white head.
"What has he been into this time?" he demanded.
"I--I don't know, honestly," Merry stammered. "One moment he looked like he was being--twisted, then suddenly it went away and now..."
Gandalf laid a hand on either side of Pippin's face. "His skin feels normal. I think maybe he had some sort of--of after-effect, episode, flashback, something from that damned palantir. But I cannot imagine what is affecting him now. Look at that smile."
"You don't think he's going to..." Merry looked close to tears.
"No. I think he'll be all right. He certainly looks like he's enjoying himself, yes? It would be a shame to wake him out of it, and I doubt he would love us for it. But I'll stay here until morning."
All next day Pippin went about with a silly grin on his face. He could not remember what his lovely dream had been about; he could only remember having it. Yet when questioned about his attack the night before, he gave them only a blank stare.
“I think it is ready,” said the King as he stood looking at the clay figures, after a long thoughtful gaze that misted his grey eyes. The sculptor thought once more what a fine subject for a statue he would have made.
“Is it?” he said. “I cannot help but feel that it is not right and at this point it never will be.”
“But I think it is,” the King said looking at the sculptor with indubitable sincerity. “The features are not exactly like. But the spirit shines out of them, just the same. I can feel them looking back at me as if they know me, as though they might speak to me. I feel almost an urge to bow to them, and to order the entire city to do so. I’ve seen that quality in your work before, as I told you, but I really think you have outdone yourself. This is wonderful work, and no amount of riches could possibly recompense you. I hardly know what else to say.”
“I must confess something,” the sculptor said after a long moment. “Yesterday I decided to try a technique I learned long ago, but have never used before, of penetrating the mind of one who knew the subjects very well, to extract a clear and precise vision of the originals. But it caused such torment that I had to stop it after a few moments. There is a counter-probe, if you will, that will put the subject into a dream so beautiful that he will not remember the suffering afterwards. But I cannot put anyone to that kind of torture, even if I can give them such bliss afterward that they will not remember it. Indeed, I am not so sure they would forget if the suffering was too prolonged, rather like an exceptionally hard birthing.”
“So that’s what…” The King put a hand to his bearded chin, frowning.
“Forgive me,” the sculptor said bowing his head. “If you really think this is ready for the marble…”
“I do.” The King gave him the saddest smile he had ever seen. “Do not worry about young Pippin; I assure you he has absolutely no memory of it. And think not badly of yourself. You have done a wonderful work. I think to do any more would be to diminish it--not that I am any expert on art, but I know what my heart tells me. The marble block will be delivered in a day or two. Wait until you see it—I think you are in for a pleasant surprise.”
He was indeed. The marble was of a sort found only in a certain part of the world, and was extremely costly and very rarely used. Even Annúnlanthir’s father had never used it but once, for the monument of a great king. It was of a moonlit white with an almost translucent quality a little like onyx or moonstone, a subtle rose-gold flame deep inside, and a sheen of palest blue-violet that eluded the eye, then appeared once more when one least expected it. At times it seemed to shimmer in the dark with a gold-silver radiance, as though a star were trying to work its way out.
Annúnlanthir stared in stunned silence as the block was born by twelve strong men and two powerful draught-horses into his studio. His heart twisted. Like his father before him, he always did his own stone-cutting. But how could he render his vision into this wondrous marble?
“No other stone is good enough,” the King said. “For that matter, neither is this. But it is the closest any could come.”
“I still believe my work is hardly worthy,” the sculptor said, rather lamely. The Queen, along with little Mikala, was looking at the clay work with soft eyes.
“You can feel proud and satisfied, I should think,” she said. “After all, a monument is just that. It is not the originals. One can hardly expect it to be so, but a tribute only.”
“I think it’s the prettiest thing I ever saw,” Mikala spoke up. “Don’t change anything!” She put out a hand to touch the figures, then jerked it back, shocked at her own temerity. The Queen laughed gently.
“When it is put into marble, then you may touch it,” she said laying a hand momentarily on the girl’s shoulder. The caress made her positively glow with delight.
It was almost three days before Annúnlanthir could bring himself to begin cutting the stone, but once he had begun, it was not so monumental a task as he had imagined. It was almost as if the stone were helping him along, aware of its privilege in having been chosen to immortalize the little heroes. It was encouraging to the sculptor. He hardly touched any food and drank only water, feeling that bodily nourishment would somehow diminish the purity of his work. He felt something akin to happiness as he worked day after day, night after night, week after week, a feeling he had not felt in so long that he had almost forgotten what it was.
He was interrupted only to be informed that the old one had passed in the night, and had gone to join “his dear lads.” Merry and Pippin had been with him, sitting by his bedside talking with him far into the evening and holding his hands, reminiscing, listening to him talk about what all they would do when he reached the Other Side. He went out with a smile on his face, they reported tearfully. Whatever monkeyshines you young scamps are about right now, you better not leave me out of it or you’ll catch it flying, were his last words. There was a funeral of course, and his body was sent to Rivendell, at his request. And then as always, life must go on….
Yet when Annúnlanthir finally laid the chisel aside and viewed the finished product, dissatisfaction and disappointment overtook him again. Yes, doubtless, to the eyes of many, it was a beautiful work of art. Perhaps the best thing he had ever done, aside from the statues of his sons, and he felt he had not entirely done them justice either, but they at least looked like his sons. With a heavy heart he summoned the King and Queen to view the monument. It was getting on for dusk when they appeared, along with the little maidservant, whose mouth dropped open in a silent wide O, her eyes widening to their limits.
“I hardly know what to say,” whispered the Queen. Her eyes filled with tears and looked even more beautiful than when dry.
The King swallowed twice. “It is…wonderful. I am at a loss for words also. This is beyond anything I could ever have expected, even from you.”
“Look,” Mikala said, “it’s…glowing.” She pointed at the marble work, and indeed, it was suffused with a faint radiance in the setting sun. “I’ve never seen a statue glow before. How does it do that?”
“It is a special property of this stone,” the sculptor explained kindly. He felt the weight that lay on his heart lift slightly. Perhaps it was more than just a property of the marble, after all.
“There are chips left?” Mikala said. “Um…can you make--jewelry of it?”
“Jewelry?” The Queen raised her eyebrows. The maiden blushed.
“N-not for me,” she stammered. “I want it as a gift for my mother, to console her for the loss of my father in the War? I know it won’t really make up for it, but still…”
“I will make her the loveliest necklace in all the land,” Annúnlanthir said smiling at her, in spite of the sudden tightness in his throat, and the King and Queen smiled also. “And although I doubt I can make it truly worthy of her and her husband and her daughter, I will certainly do my best.”
“Let me know what you need, and I will see that you have it,” the Queen told him. “Our little heroes are not the only ones who gave their lives for the rest of us, after all.”
It was the night before the unveiling . The sky was clear, the stars brilliant in the autumnal chill. Annúnlanthir felt restless. He went to the stables, saddled his horse, and went riding out on the plain, as he often did at night. He slowed his horse to a walk, taking deep breaths, trying to account for the melancholy that was seeping back into his being. Why could he not shake off this feeling of failure? It was approaching despair. Oh, he knew what some of it was. The monument was only part of it. He could not deny it: he had fallen in love with the Queen. He had fought against it, knowing nothing could ever come of it. But before him he could only see yawning blackness, and he felt a sudden craving for complete oblivion. What would it be like? Was there really nothing else, or would he perhaps be engulfed in a sweet dream that would make him forget the torment that was life?
Only one way to find out, he supposed….
He gazed up at the largest star in the sky, trying to fix his mind on it and block out everything else. He had found this technique to be comforting at times when his thoughts were very black, to focus entirely on a star and concentrate as hard as he could, until the star seemed to speak to him with a voice of council and music. This time it required all the mental strength he could muster, to put everything out of his mind except for this blue-white orb an inestimable distance away, and try to become one with it, to put himself inside the star and the star inside himself, until he hardly knew where he left off and the star began.
It was almost working…almost. And then, just as his concentration was about to break, he heard it. Something indeed was speaking to him.
Go back. Now.
He turned his horse back to the city and spurred him on, scarcely aware of how cold the night air was. He rode as fast as he could, stabled his horse and began the usual grooming, telling himself that whatever had compelled him to come back, his steed was still entitled to the best of care.
This done, he turned back to his quarters, pulling his cloak around him. As he came in sight of the veranda, he could see a light burning in the window. He had not left a lamp burning—he never did, since he could see his way in without it from the torches that burned at night around the ramparts of the city.
Someone was in the room.