Annúnlanthir had no weapon with him save for a small knife he always carried. Something told him it would not be necessary; still, cautiously he peered into the window. He told himself no thieves were likely to make off with his work, as well guarded as the palace was, and as heavy as was the monument itself….
There appeared to be a child sitting in the big chair, holding a lamp that burned fragrant oil. Its face was turned from him so all he could see was its curly brown hair and one arm in a white sleeve.
He drew his key from his pocket in puzzlement. There were no children about the palace and if there had been, they would surely have been in bed. It was not one of the Halflings either; how would they have got in and what would they be doing here? He fitted the key in the lock and turned it.
His visitor turned without the slightest sign of alarm and he saw it was no child, though by no means old either. Its large blue eyes, which seemed to have been made especially for laughter and merriment, were fairly brimming with mirth and delight as he halted.
“Hullo!” it spoke in a voice that might have done his heart good to hear under other circumstances, but it did not rise from the chair. “You're late--but no matter. I am proud to meet you at last.”
It was not holding a lamp after all, yet it was swimming in radiance. Its white shirt and breeches emanated the same light that issued from its skin, yet there was neither lamp nor candle to be seen anywhere.
As if he had been dipped in starlight.
Annúnlanthir looked at its feet.
“I’d no idea I was so beautiful,” it said and it seemed about to burst into loud laughter. The sculptor sat on the edge of the bed. “I can only offer my thanks.”
“Indeed,” Annúnlanthir found himself smiling, much to his surprise. “Yet…it doesn’t really look like you, yes? Although I was not so far off as I supposed.”
“Oh but it looks so much better!” his visitor exclaimed, the radiance increasing twofold. “Sam is even more delighted. He was fretting over how awful he would look and I could not seem to persuade him otherwise. He has never been pleased with the way he looks. But now he is convinced.”
“And why didn’t Sam come with you?” The sculptor lifted his eyebrows.
“He is shy. I think he was afraid he would get your name wrong. ‘It’s too much of a mouthful for the likes of me, begging your pardon, master,’—-for the afterlife of me, I never can get him to stop calling me ‘master’ somehow. ‘I can’t get past the idea of anybody doing a statue of the likes of me anyways,’ he said. ‘I think my old Gaffer wouldn’t approve. Statues and such. That’s not for us.’ That’s Sam for you.”
The sculptor was surprised to hear himself laugh out loud.
“Why didn’t you appear to me sooner?” he cried a moment later. “I could have captured your exact likeness if you had come before the cutting. It is too late now.”
“Because I was certain you could improve on me,” said the Spirit with a laugh that must have been quite infectious in life. “And so you have. I can hardly wait for the unveiling.”
“But I didn’t want to ‘improve’ on you.” The sculptor thought how silly this must sound. “I wanted to capture you just as you were, and I agonized over it for weeks. Besides, if I may be so bold as to say so, you scarcely need improvement.”
“I am sorry,” the Spirit said and the radiance diminished ever so slightly as it looked down at its clasped hands. “But the thing is…I think I was afraid that if I appeared to you before the cutting, your vision wouldn’t be true. Maybe you’d be too caught up in capturing our exact images to accomplish … What exactly were you trying to accomplish?” The blue eyes looked up once more with a self-reproachful beauty.
“I think I wished little more than to give comfort to those who had known and loved you best, and to capture your true essence,” said Annúnlanthir. “I knew it could not truly make up for their loss, but whatever I could possibly do to lighten their sorrow, I was willing. I have never known such good company. In this, I think I have failed.”
“You think?” The Spirit drew up its feet and blinked at the sculptor. “Do you think it would really have made such a difference if you had captured us exactly?”
“I always feel it would have. I suppose I am thinking of my own sons. I asked myself if someone who had never seen them and did not know them had carved their likenesses, but did not really recreate them exactly as they were, would it have satisfied me?”
“And would it? Would it make such a difference if the sculptor captured them exactly, if he did not infuse the soul of them and himself into the work? Would it not have been better for him to give his own vision to them?”
“Yes, of course. But…”
“But you would also have wanted them rendered as they truly looked.”
“Exactly.” The sculptor gazed at the shining figure, wondering if he could be dreaming. “Am I the first you have appeared to?”
The Spirit’s face creased again into merriment. “You are.”
“I am flattered.” The sculptor could hardly help but smile back.
“I met your wife,” the Spirit said. “A wonderful lady. I am quite in love with her.”
“Really?” Annúnlanthir stood upright suddenly.
“Not to worry,” the Spirit held up one hand as though to ward off a blow and he could see that it lacked a finger. “She is like a second mother to me. She is proud of your work and thinks it the very best you have ever done—even better than the statues of your sons, so she says. You can imagine what that does for my ego…such as it is.”
The sculptor sat down again, his head reeling.
“She is very, very happy, you know. But of course it would be impossible to impart that to you. Your sons are here also. I have been reunited with my parents, who drowned on the same day when I was a child, and also my dear old ‘uncle’ Bilbo, and Sam is with his mother. Yes, of course it’s sad for those left behind. Even if they believe they will be reunited with us again, still I can understand their feelings. Because, you see, long ago, when I was a boy, I was very ill once, and I saw this place. Well, only a pale shadow of it really, but to me, it was…well. I saw a dazzling light, like the sun but much brighter, and yet it did not hurt my eyes. I wanted nothing so much as to go to it. And as I approached it, I saw them. My mother and father. They stood smiling at me with their arms outstretched and I tried to run to them. I was surrounded by such love. I wanted to fly straight to their arms and just rest there. I heard music the like of which even you never heard before, and there were so many flowers, trees, fragrances I never knew existed, and an unspeakable brightness. I felt I could dance and sing and fly forever. But then….”
“They told you you must go back.”
“Yes. They said I had a mission to accomplish and I must fulfill it before I could join them, then I would return once it was done. I so did not want to go back! I fought and kicked and screamed and cried not to. But, go back I did, and there were Bilbo and Sam, weeping for joy to see I had returned. They had their hands full, for I made no secret of the fact that I was not happy to be back. My poor old uncle, and dear sweet Sam—he was just a little lad then, but already far fonder of me than ever I deserved. I was horrid to them, to the point that Bilbo finally told me if I did not behave myself, I would go to the place where bad Hobbits were sent, where all the mushrooms were flavored like castor oil and would give me a dreadful stomach-ache. People speak of me now as if I were too good for this earth, but I could be a very naughty boy! Of course I felt pretty badly about the way I treated them. But it is of no consequence now. If the subject comes up at all, we laugh about it.”
The sculptor said nothing. He looked down at his hands, which were dangling between his knees, aware once more of the fragrance that filled the room. It was like something he had smelled before, and yet not. Like some sweet herb or leaf crushed and wetted as with rain or dew, then warmed in powerful sunlight.
“I like what you did with our feet,” the Spirit said. The sculptor caught himself laughing again. “It cannot be easy to sculpt foot hair. I dare say many mortals think we Hobbits have ugly feet, and ought to wear shoes. Did anyone advise you to put shoes on us?”
“Not a one,” Annúnlanthir smiled. “Of course, no one outside the Fellowship was allowed to see the work with the exception of a servant or two, but no one seems to have noticed the feet. I suppose that says something for my work. But still…”
“I understand,” the Spirit said, propping its chin on its clasped hands. “I know what it is to feel that you have failed at what you set out to do. I suppose no one but you will ever know the real story, unless you tell them, and I hope you find a way to do so. But, as you know, I was supposed to toss the Ring back into the fire and destroy it? I did not. Something happened…it took full possession of me, and I could not let it go. But for the creature they called Gollum, it would not have been destroyed at all, and the unthinkable would have happened.” He held up his right hand once more to show the missing finger. “I claimed it for my own. After that whole excruciating trek up there with my faithful Samwise, I could not do what I had set out to do. I suppose, had I survived, I would have spent much time agonizing over my failure and all, but I know now that would have foolish. Because I had done what I could, and it is useless to berate oneself over what one can’t. Do you see what I mean?”
“I think so,” said the sculptor. “So, you are saying I should be content with knowing I did what I could, and not torment myself over what I could not?”
The Spirit nodded. “Exactly. You were true to your vision, and in my estimate, you accomplished what you set out to do. Could you not be at peace with yourself knowing that?”
“Perhaps.” Annúnlanthir was thoughtful. “Time will tell. But you—could you not tell me more of what happened? Or appear to the others? It might be a tremendous comfort if they knew you were in a place where you are happy and safe. Far more so than a hunk of chiseled rock, I should think.”
“They will see me,” said the Spirit with a sly secret glee. “I suppose someday a book will be written about us, although not for a very long time yet. And I imagine they will change our story so that we do not die, after all. How they will accomplish our rescue, I’ve no clue. Of course, in that instance, you would not be in it at all, my friend.”
“Ah!” said the sculptor. “And you would wish this? To have them change the true story so that you and your companion survived the cataclysm?”
“Well…” the Spirit looked up with a charmingly thoughtful air, laying a finger to its chin. “It would be nice to think that readers would become so fond of us they could not bear to have us die. And yes, I like to think they would have Sam go back home and marry his sweetheart and raise up a dozen children and become greatly esteemed of his people. I could accept that much deviation from the facts. But I wish them to tell the truth about me and the Ring, and not simply have me chuck it in and be the big hero and come marching home in a blaze of glory and so forth. I would have them tell it as it really happened.”
“I’ve a feeling they would not like that any more than having you die,” the sculptor said shaking his head. “Nor would they love me for telling it. But did you not say you hoped I would improve on you?”
“Art is one thing, deliberate lies are another.” The Spirit shrugged. “Many people prefer a lie, I suppose. You are not one of those, and that gives your art its greatness. It may not always show things exactly as they were, but it reaches the core of the truth and does not flinch from it. That is all I want for myself. To be the subject of great art and not of lies.” It drew up its knees and wrapped its arms around them in a childlike manner. “I am in the middle of pleading Sméagol’s case, you know. After all, he did save Middle-Earth, although such was not his intent, but he has suffered much for a very long time, and I would hate to think of him condemned to eat castor-oil flavored mushrooms for all eternity. They are still deliberating what to do with him.”
Annúnlanthir chuckled again. “Well, I wish you luck.” He glanced downward. “Your feet are not ugly at all. They are far comelier than any smooth, dainty fairy feet that never took a step on anyone else’s behalf. It would be a shame to hide them.”
“Thank you,” the Spirit said modestly. “I am so looking forward to the unveiling. I think I said that already. I should leave, before I grow tiresome.”
“So am I. I feel better about my work now. But…I’m afraid I have fallen in love with the Queen.” The sculptor sighed, not really knowing why he had disclosed this, unless he thought maybe the Spirit could council him on the matter.
“That is fatally easy to do.” Compassionate eyes looked up at him. “I know.”
“Do you?” Annúnlanthir looked out the window. Some of the darkness seemed to be creeping back in.
“Go to your daughters,” the Spirit said gently. “I promise you will be happy. And try to forgive your father if you can. He is far unhappier than you. He has shunned the light much too long.”
“Happy. I have nearly forgotten what happiness is. So…will I see my sons someday too?”
The Spirit stood up and held out its left hand. Annúnlanthir took it hesitantly, as Legolas had done, and was surprised to find that it felt exactly like living flesh only much warmer.
“I cannot predict that far yet, but--I think so,” the Spirit said. “It was wonderful chatting with you. I feel honored that they allowed me the privilege, Annúnlanthir…did I say it right?”
“Precisely.” The sculptor’s large hand closed over the Spirit’s tiny one, very gently although he knew he could have squeezed it hard without hurting it at all. “The honor is all mine. And…do not feel unworthy of your friend. I think we deserve our friends. We may not always deserve our spouses, our parents, our children or siblings, but the love of our friends is not such a blind love. Perhaps it is the truest vision of all. We are none of us perfect, but I have heard it said that our friends are a reflection of ourselves.” It seemed absurd to be giving council to one who had passed to the Other Side, but the sculptor felt compelled to do so somehow. “So, please feel free to drop in again any time. And tell Sam I don’t care if he gets my name wrong…Frodo.”
With a smile of blinding brilliance, the Spirit vanished. But the fragrance remained, and before long it began to steep into Annúnlanthir’s senses, until peace found him and he floated in it as if in a warm bath full of lilies and light.
In the morning, Annúnlanthir told Merry and Pippin of his visitor, thinking it might comfort them. Somewhat to his dismay, Pippin just looked hurt and stricken.
“Why didn’t he appear to us?” he asked. “We’re his cousins and all. He didn’t even know you.”
“And it’s too late to change the statues,” Merry said. “Why did he wait so long to appear to you?”
The sculptor relayed as much of their conversation to them as he could remember, leaving out only the part about Gollum and the Ring. The Spirit had overestimated him, he thought, in his refusal to flinch from the truth, but he could find no way to tell it just now. But, was it really necessary for them to know?
“Can you not find some consolation knowing they are happy now and watching over you?” he asked them.
“Well…maybe,” Merry said dubiously, swallowing hard. “Maybe--sometime. I don’t know.”
“You are lucky to have known him,” the sculptor said. “He is a delightful fellow.”
“I know,” Pippin said, tears springing to his eyes. “I just wish…that maybe we had taken better care of him…or something.”
“You did what you could, I’m sure. And he knows it well.”
The Queen had brought the sculptor a royal robe to wear to the unveiling. It was of midnight blue velvet lined with scarlet silk, embroidered with gold and pearls around the edges and sleeves, very intricate and gorgeous, and he knew it for her work without being told. The oppressive ache the Queen’s presence pressed on his heart was much lessened. As he bathed and dressed he looked at the clay models and could have sworn he saw a soft shine about them, an air of sweet merriment and fun.
The veiled monument was set up before the White Tree. The musicians were playing softly. The royal pair wore their crowns and dark rich clothing, and the entire Fellowship was turned out as well, following the King and Queen in silence. The sculptor saw Mikala and her mother and sister all wearing the jewelry he had made them from the marble chips. Mikala’s mother looked at him with a gentle smile as she rested her hands on her daughters’ shoulders. She was a solid, plain-looking servant woman, but the marble stones imparted a candlelight glow that made her face truly beautiful. Mikala looked happy and excited, and from time to time she looked down at her new bracelet and stroked it with a plump forefinger. Annúnlanthir had made much more jewelry with the chips, and members of the Fellowship had gone about selling it, and the proceeds had gone to build a new wing to the city orphanage and provide much needed facilities to it. It was Mikala's idea, and the sculptor had let everyone know it.
There was also the father of the Queen, Lord Elrond, along with his twin sons; Annúnlanthir had met them on one or two occasions before. There was also the King of Rohan, Eomer, Eowyn’s brother, with his fiancée and many of their entourage. There were a good many other Elves, some of which the sculptor had met and some which he had not.
Legolas looked at him with a tightlipped smile. The Hobbits stood by, nervously taking their hands in and out of their pockets and fidgeting with their brooches. Faramir and Eowyn nodded toward him and he took a deep breath.
At the stroke of noon the music stopped and some poetry was recited, a prayer said. Finally it was time for the unveiling. Annúnlanthir felt a strange warmth at his back although the sun was shining straight up in the sky and it was a cool day. Bells rang in the tower. The veil was pulled away, slowly at first, then with a quick jerk it was tossed aside.
A loud collective gasp went up from the Fellowship. Annúnlanthir looked toward them, and saw the Hobbits stagger a bit, caught by Gimli who stood behind them. Legolas’s eyes widened to their limit. Gandalf stared in unabashed amazement. The King and Queen looked like statues themselves.
Annúnlanthir heard a cry to the left of him. It came from Mikala.
“Why did you do that?” she squealed and her mother shushed her. Murmurs ensued from the crowd. The entire courtyard was buzzing.
“HOW did you do that?” Merry gasped. “You’d never seen them!”
The sculptor, who had not seen the monument in all the excitement, looked toward it then, and was struck totally dumb.
“Why did you change it?” Mikala demanded, and her mother spoke her name sharply. The sculptor could only stare as the murmurs grew ever louder.
“It’s them exactly,” Pippin marveled. “Why, it—it looks—it looks more like them than THEY did. They must have appeared to you long before last night, too? And you didn’t tell us?”
“Stars,” Legolas said softly. “It is a miracle.”
“Aye, that it is,” Gimli agreed, showing signs of getting royally choked up. Annúnlanthir felt the heat at his back grow even warmer. The King was visibly tearing, and soon, so was the Queen.
“How did you do it?” Faramir asked him. “For yes, it is the exact image, down to the positioning of their hands, the features, the expressions.... Their very spirit shines out of the marble as though someone had poured it in and set it alight. I fully expect them to speak. Yet you never saw them in life.”
“Well, he is an Elf, to be sure,” Eowyn said smiling. “Everyone knows they have powers beyond those of us ordinary mortals.”
“Ordinary?” Annúnlanthir said. “It was no Elf who slew the Witch-King of Angmar.”
“I thought they were prettier like they were before,” whispered Mikala. Her little sister sniffled, then giggled.
Annúnlanthir scarcely heard any more. He could not take his eyes off the creation before him. But it is not my work, he thought. So how came it to be?
It IS your work, he heard and was not sure if the voice had come from within him or from outside. No one could have accomplished it but you. So what if you had a bit of help from the Divine? We all need that, surely?
He had to smile then, for he knew very well to whom that voice belonged. He felt the warmth positively shivering along his back. And there was the Fragrance again, like a spring night in the forest. Only warmer.
Yes sir, it’s wonderful, said another voice, which he knew also, even though he had never heard it before. I just wish my dad could see it. He’d have a thing or two to say for sure.
Indeed, thought Annúnlanthir with a tightness in his throat.
“Wonderful, Father,” said yet another voice, and the sculptor started, turning to see his daughter Orolindë smiling at him, no sadness in her eyes at all. “I cannot tell you how proud I am!”
And behind her stood a tall figure with dark burnished hair and a truly commanding presence…no, it could not be….
“Yes, it is miraculous indeed…my son.”
The monument was not the only miracle unveiled that day……..