“I hope I have not worn you out beyond endurance,” said the Spirit as it lay crosswise in the sculptor's chair, feet waving carelessly in the air. “I promise you, this is the last of it. Absolutely. I will inflict no tedious epilogues on you, and I will spare you any profound meditations of mine on the nature of duty and sacrifice and what not. It’s well that you are an Elf; I would not think of keeping any poor mortal awake all hours of the night writing down my story.”
Annúnlanthir chuckled and laid down the pen. “Well, I did volunteer, after all,” he said.
“If I were among the living,” the Spirit said with mock solemnity, “I would tell you, never volunteer for anything!”
The sculptor laughed out loud. The laughter came from deep inside and issued like a gust of sea-breeze. He put out the lamp, since it was unnecessary now.
“The Other Side must surely be a brighter place for your presence, Elf-friend,” he said, “and I fear Middle-Earth is a darker one for your absence.”
The Spirit sat up, its light glowing with almost the brilliance of mid-day. “I’m so glad I didn’t make you miss your boat. You are greatly looking forward to your journey?”
“Very much so. And I am at peace. Although I will miss everyone I leave behind sorely, I am sure.” Annúnlanthir straightened up the manuscript and tucked it carefully away in the drawer of his writing-desk and locked it. Then he turned to look at the Spirit once more, and asked what had been on his mind for the past few days: “Um…do you remember…death? How it felt, or anything?”
“Yes,” the Spirit replied without hesitation, as if it had been expecting that question all along. “I could forget, if I choose. We have the option of choosing to forget certain things immediately, or of letting the bad memories fade with time, like scars. I’ve chosen to let them fade. I think that’s the better way. And the bad memories have no more power over me now.”
“I think that’s wonderful of you,” the sculptor said with fond admiration. “There are things you went through that I should think anyone would want to forget as soon as possible.”
“I couldn’t have told you my story if I had, however,” said the Spirit thoughtfully, but with a merry twinkle at the same time.
“But you can do so now?”
“Yes. But I think I shall not, because in forgetting I think the good memories would lose much of their beauty and savor, and the colors of the Other Side would be less bright. I did advise Sam to forget, but he insisted that he would choose as I did. If either or both of us had decided to forget, we would have had to get to know each other all over again. Although, I think we would still have been drawn to each other, just the same.”
“I think so too,” Annúnlanthir said with a wide smile.
The Fragrance filling the room was like to that of a wheatfield after a summer rain, mingled with the cidery scent of trees that whisper to each other of the coming of autumn.
The horses were ready. The goodbyes had been said already, but just as Annúnlanthir started to mount his steed, he heard quick footsteps on the paving-stones. He turned and saw Mikala running toward the party with a large basket, from which a most pleasant and familiar scent issued.
“Here is something else for your journey,” she said breathlessly. She had already given him a farewell gift from herself: a drawing she had made of him and his daughter standing together. He had it rolled in a sheet of thin leather. “I know these won’t keep as well as lembas bread,” she said with a little smile, despite the redness of her eyes, “but my mother and I wanted you to have some little extra, um, sustenance along the way. There are five dozen of her famous tarts in there, fresh from the oven. Enough for everyone to have an equal portion.”
At that, Merry and Pippin had to get down from their ponies and embrace her for the dozenth time that day. She had become such a great favorite with them that they’d had an elven cloak like their own made for her. She had been thrilled beyond words to receive such a gift.
Gandalf said with a twinkle, “I’ve a feeling they won’t last long enough to worry about whether or not they’ll keep. And when it comes to equal portions, I have very serious doubts about that.” He grinned both fondly and sadly in the direction of the hobbits.
Orolindë hugged her grandfather once more. He was not yet worthy to go, he had said. He would stay until his own work was done. Someday he would carve the monument of the King himself, and of the same stone from which the Ringbearers’ memorial was chiseled. Then, and only then, would he rejoin his son and granddaughters.
He and Gandalf had become quite good friends in the space of the month.
Annúnlanthir kissed Mikala’s forehead for the last time, then looked toward the Queen. And he felt only the respect and liking he would for any beautiful and admirable woman who was his friend or sister, as well as contentment in the knowledge of her happiness. He did gaze long at her at the last, as though memorizing the essence of her being, as she stood with the King, who held Annúnlanthir’s manuscript in one arm, the other encircling her waist. The sculptor became aware of a pale-gold radiance enveloping the two of them in a shimmering bond that sealed their fate while bestowing untold blessing.
And his heart cracked a little as he saw the back of Lord Elrond’s head as he looked at his daughter one last time before mounting his horse. It was as the stillness that comes immediately after a great storm.
“What have you there?” Arwen asked her husband long after everyone else had gone about their business. She nodded toward the sheaf of parchment he held.
“I suppose we shall soon find out,” Aragorn said with a wistful smile, clutching the bundle protectively against a sudden gust of cold wind. “After supper, that is. This should be most interesting.”
He was surprised to feel a sudden urge to cradle the manuscript to him as though it were a newborn child.
And they turned back toward the Hall of Kings, which had a rose-gold glow in the late autumn sunlight, and the two shining figures atop the marble pedestal out front of the White Tree smiled with mysterious delight as the royal couple walked arm in arm up the palace steps.