“Is something wrong, Elanor?” the Princess Lúthien asked. “You look a bit…sad.”
“I’m missing my brothers and sisters,” the hobbit-lass replied with a deep sigh. “I do hope the little ‘un will get itself born soon, so’s we can go home at last…not that I haven’t enjoyed myself here.”
They sat in Elanor’s chamber, which had a view of the gardens outside, and a large terrace on which stood many potted evergreens. It was wintertime, and starting to snow. Which only increased Elanor’s homesickness.
“Oh, I’ll just hate it when you go!” the Princess exclaimed reaching a fair hand to caress Elanor’s honey-colored curls. “You should bring your whole family to live here. Won’t your dad consider it?”
“I don’t think my mum’d go for it,” Elanor said. “She never would of come in the first place if she’d ‘a known she was…expectin’…again.”
“I think it’s exciting that a hobbit-child is going to be born here, right in this very palace,” Lúthien said. “They must be sooo tiny. I’d like one for my very own!”
Elanor laughed a little, “You’ve already a baby sister, y’know.”
“Of course I have, and she’s a love, but it’s not the same. And you’ve…how many brothers and sisters now?”
“Eleven. Bless us, I can’t even remember a time when there wasn’t a new babe about the place. Seems all I’ve done my whole life long is look after babies, changing nappies, feeding, washing their clothes, amusin’ ‘em so Mum could get supper… I scarcely had a moment to myself. When Sam-dad said we was comin’ here, just the three of us, I was fair dancin’ for joy. And look at me now. Ain’t I the fool, though?”
“Nay, you’re a dear, and I won’t know what to do with myself when you’re gone,” Lúthien said. She was seventeen, and so tall, Elanor appeared barely higher than baby Elwing next to her. Even after seven months, the hobbit-lass was still in awe of her. She was stunningly beautiful, with her glossy dark hair rippling far past her waist, her pale skin and dark-blue eyes and perfect cheekbones and full red lips, and so quick and graceful, it was hard to keep up with her. She was a trifle spoiled, but incorrigibly good-hearted, and fun to be with as well, with a spirit of daring and adventure that Elanor had rarely encountered before, and it had called out one of her own. At times the Princess seemed to regard the hobbit-lass as one of her many dolls come to life. She loved animals even more than dolls, and had dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, and horses all her own. She would go out into the forest and try to charm birds out of trees, and run with the wild deer on her father’s preserve. It was the Elf in her, he said a bit wistfully.
They had wonderful times all over the City, for her parents let her go her way, and they had met many interesting people and seen fascinating sights far and near. Elanor learned how to shoot, and had dancing and singing and drawing lessons, and also learned some Elvish, not that she ever expected to use it. She had gotten quite an education. Lúthien had even gotten a tattoo, depicting a tiny crescent moon and star, just above her left elbow, and had managed to persuade Elanor to get one also, of a little elanor blossom, on her upper arm.
And she’d had shoes made for Elanor, since the hobbit-lass was self-conscious of her feet, particularly after some urchins made fun of them. The Princess had set her mastiff on them, which sent them scrambling and shrieking, and then she’d taken Elanor straight to her own favorite shoemaker and had three pairs made for her. One of soft white leather embroidered with black and gold, laced up to her ankles, for best, with even little two-inch heels to them to make her look taller. And a little pair of stout brown boots for everyday wear, and another of sturdy black ones trimmed with fur, for wintertime. And several lovely frocks and fine underthings and stockings and nightgowns and coat and fur cape and muff, and trinkets some new and some that had belonged to the Princess herself.
Yet now Elanor felt she’d give anything to see her brothers and sisters again. Particularly now that the season of Yule was coming up very soon.
She tried to picture it in her mind. The candle making. Hundreds of beeswax and tallow candles, all hung up by the wicks in the washroom. Going out into the woods with wheelbarrows to gather holly and greenery, seeing who could find the biggest pine cones, snowball fights sure to erupt, Mum complaining that they’d brought back half the forest and where would they put it all? And the snow-hobbits they built in the yard, each one representing a Gamgee child, with sprigs of holly tucked in and scarves draped over. And then supper, roast goose with chestnut stuffing, fresh hot onion-rolls and butter, green peas and baked potatoes and plum pudding sprinkled with cream and sugar and ignited with brandy….
“I’ll miss that the most,” Elanor spoke aloud, forgetting she was not alone. “The plum-pudding, and the sweets, and…”
“Are you speaking of Yuletide?” Lúthien said. “We have a big party on the night of Yule, and there’s a big dinner, and dancing, and the little ones have presents. Is that what you do in the Shire?”
“We don’t have dancing, but we’ve games, like blindman’s bluff, and such,” Elanor said. “And we tell stories. About ghosts and such. Or funny things that happened in Yules past, and…”
“I’m not supposed to tell you this,” Lúthien lowered her voice, “but…guess who’s coming to our party?”
“Elboron?” Elanor said with a naughty twinkle in her hazel eyes, referring to Lord Faramir’s son.
“Oh, he always comes,” Lúthien said pinking a little and looking lovelier than ever. “It’s someone your father knows, but you haven’t met yet. Two someones.”
“Not…Gimli and Legolas?” Elanor said. Lúthien’s eyes fairly popped.
“The very ones!” she exclaimed. “You won’t tell anyone I told you?”
“Not a soul,” Elanor said, wishing she could feel more excited. “But why are you not supposed to tell me?”
“Because Ada and Nana wanted it to be a surprise,” the Princess explained. “But I thought it might cheer you to know it, so I went ahead and told.”
Elanor had to smile then.
She glanced absently at the drawings and paintings that hung all about the room--her own work. Some were pinned to the walls, some stood on easels or articles of furniture. They were mostly scenes from the countryside, and some houses and other buildings, and a few people. She could still remember how proud her dad had looked as he viewed them.
“You are so good to me,” she said turning her eyes back to the Princess. “You’ve most spoilt me to death, and it’s terrible ungrateful of me to be unhappy. But I do so miss my brothers and sisters--specially Frodo-lad, and Rosie-posie…Rosie-lass, I mean. She don’t like to be called Rosie-posie any more. And Merry-lad and Pippin-lad, except they’re such dreadful scamps, they’d have the whole City in an uproar if they was here. And Goldilocks--although she can talk the horns off a goat, Mum says. And…”
“You should have brought them all here,” Lúthien said. “We could send out an invitation …but it’s an awfully long way, isn’t it?”
“Frightfully. They’d never be here in time for Yule. It’s only a week away.”
Elanor sat down hard on her bed with another sigh.
“Listen!” the Princess said sitting up in her chair a little straighter. “There’s music playing in the grand hall! Come, let’s dance.”
She held out her hands to Elanor. Her gaiety was usually infectious, but not this time.
“I don’t feel like it,” Elanor said. “You dance, maybe it will cheer me.”
So the Princess whirled about, in her crimson velvet frock and her golden embroidered slippers and jingly bracelets, and she did a little comic step, leaping up onto the chair, with a graceful flutter of her arms in imitation of a bird, then leaping off, flapping wildly in feigned dismay as she failed to take flight, then landed in a crumpled heap on the floor, sprawling out with a silly expression as the music ended, then scrambling up again and taking a little bow. It drew a giggle from the hobbit-lass.
“May I have this one, my pretty dove?” the Princess asked as the musicians began playing another, slower tune, extending a hand languidly to Elanor, who smiled and rose to take it.
Legolas and Gimli arrived two nights before Yuletide. Lord Faramir and his eldest son Elboron had arrived earlier that day—the rest of the family would be there tomorrow. The Queen’s brothers Elladan and Elrohir sat with Legolas and Gimli in the big room near the huge fireplace that nearly took up the entire west wall, while Lord Faramir sat with the King and his servant Beregond, Beregond’s son Bergil with his wife and their four little lads, as servants brought trays of goodies and flagons of ale and flowing bowls all about. Sam and Rosie sat with the King and Queen, Lúthien and Elanor close by, directly across from Elboron and his father. Loud talk and music and laughter abounded. Garlands of holly and evergreen festooned the room and candles stood about here and there with a merry flicker throughout the evening.
Elanor’s spirits began to rise a little, especially when her dad told of how he had stepped on a mousetrap in the pantry in the dark one morning, only to find the trap contained a lively guest, and as the mouse started squealing Sam was wide awake doing the finest high kicks in the dark, managing to kick a couple of pans off the stove and almost everything off the table, and the dog started beating on the door wanting out because he must have thought something very large and in charge was eating Sam up and he wanted no part of it. Then Rosie had come in with a candle to see what in the name of all that was righteous was going on, and she bellowed with laughter to see her husband dancing around the kitchen in his unmentionables with the mousetrap still stuck to his toe, its previous occupant having escaped and fled. The whole room was now howling, even the smallest ones who had not really understood all Sam was saying were giggling, and Lúthien looked a little sad saying, “Poor mouse!” and Elanor laughed a little and then agreed. After a good deal of ale he was persuaded to tell the story again for Bergil’s little sons, doing his high kicks for them, and soon they were rolling about the floor fairly screaming. Rosie did not look too pleased then. She patted her swollen belly as if trying to quiet its occupant.
After the smallest ones were hustled off to bed, Gimli proposed a game often played by Dwarves at Yuletide.
“’Tis called Flap-dragon,” he said. “You fill a flaming bowl with raisins, and you snatch the raisins out of the bowl and toss them high and catch them in your mouth. ‘Tis best to have the lights low, so’s to see the blue and purple flames all the better. Who’s got such a bowl and raisins?”
The cook grinned knowingly and said they had raisins in abundance, although they were for the Yule puddings.
“But we can spare a few, more’n likely,” he said with a wink, and lumbered out to fetch them, while the other guests laughed uncertainly. Rosie said it was the foolishest thing she ever heard; she’d just like to see any of her own young ‘uns trying it, with a warning look at Elanor.
“She’ll try most anything once, that lass,” she said.
“Well, I don’t think I shall try this,” Elanor defended herself, feeling her tattoo tickling her arm under her silk sleeve. “I don’t wish to burn my nice frock, nor my pretty lace mitts.”
“Well, just never let our Merry-lad and Pippin-lad hear of it,” Rosie said. “You KNOW what them two’ll do.”
“There’s a lucky raisin, that has a golden ball attached,” Gimli said. “Whoever gets that one, gets his wish granted. Or her wish, if it so be.”
“Mayhap I’ll try it then,” Lúthien said with a soft glance in Elboron’s direction, which the lad affected not to see.
“I think not,” her mother said. “’Tis not very ladylike for a Princess, I should say. This one is better left to the menfolk. And…” she looked meaningly at her daughter, “I dare say you’ll get your wish without it, my lass, in due time.”
Lúthien pinked prettily. Elanor stifled a giggle.
Cook managed to wedge a small coin into a large raisin, which he tossed into the brandy-filled bowl with all the others and set aflame. Everyone gasped, then waited for someone to make the first move. And Gimli stepped forward, and began to chant:
Here he comes with flaming bowl,
Don't he mean to take his toll,
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
Take care you don't take too much,
Be not greedy in your clutch,
Flip! Flap! Dragon!
With his blue and lapping tongue
Many of you will be stung,
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
For he snaps at all that comes
Snatching at his feast of plums,
Flip! Flap! Dragon!
Elanor held her breath, watching to see if he would really do it. The Dwarf looked at all the others with twinkling eyes, then calmly reached into the flaming bowl and snatched a raisin, tossed it high into the air and caught it in his mouth. His face grew very red and his cheeks bulged, his eyes tearing up, and he made grunting sounds in his throat and spun about a time or two, while Legolas calmly rose to fetch him a glass of cool cider from a tray. But Gimli waved it disdainfully away, and swallowed the raisin, coughing a little, but managing to keep it down. All cheered and applauded, including Elanor.
“There now!” Gimli said looking most proud of himself. “That wasn’t so bad now, was it!”
“Did you get the lucky raisin?” inquired Elladan, looking greatly amused.
“Nay, I didn’t,” the Dwarf said. “But maybe next time! Now. Who’ll be next? Is there an Elf who’s willing to try what a mere Dwarf did without a second thought? Or what of a King?”
He winked at Aragorn, who grinned but made no move.
“Or a hobbit?” Gimli turned to look at Sam.
“Nay,” Sam said with a smile. “I got all I could wish for already. Well…save for one thing. And beggin’ your pardon, Master Gimli, but I don’t think there’s enough burnin’ raisins or gold coins in the whole wide world to make it come true.”
Lúthien looked questioningly at Elanor, who just shook her head and looked downward.
Legolas said he would try it. And he just as calmly plucked the burning raisin, tossed it high in the air and caught it in his mouth, and the others could distinctly hear it hiss, yet Legolas swallowed it with a minimal amount of effort.
“Tasty,” he said nodding his approval. “But no gold coin. This is not my lucky night.”
The twins, not to be outdone, had their turn, and Cook even offered to try, but lost his nerve before he could put his fingers in the bowl, and backed off sheepishly as the others laughed and teased him. Then Elboron stepped up and announced he would try. He glanced at his father with a questioning look, as though asking permission, and Lord Faramir smiled.
“Try your luck, my lad, if you must,” he said with a grin. “But I dare say you won’t try it twice.”
“At least I’ll try once,” Elboron said with a daring wink at his father.
Suddenly Lúthien ran to Elboron before he could reach the bowl and whispered something in his ear. The boy’s grey eyes widened, then he turned a little so Elanor could no longer see his face, and went to the bowl. After a long hesitation, he quickly reached into the flames, snatched out his fingers again with a yelp and put them in his mouth, amid laughter from the others and a sound of dismay from one of the ladies. Then he licked all the fingers of his other hand, and after another hesitation thrust it into the bowl, this time not coming up empty-fingered. He flung the raisin high into the air and caught it in his mouth, then quickly spit it out once more and grabbed for the glass of cider. With a little exclamation Lúthien bent and picked up the raisin from the floor.
“The coin!” she cried holding it up for all to see. “The lucky raisin!”
Then she smiled adoringly at Elboron, who looked in abashment at all the others, who were cheering once more.
“What did you wish for?” his father asked.
“I…I think I’m not supposed to tell,” the boy stammered, raising his dark eyebrows at Gimli.
“Nay, you can tell us, laddie,” the Dwarf said. “Or shall we guess?” He glanced meaningly at Lúthien.
“I wish…” Elboron looked at Lúthien also, and then…he looked over at Elanor. “I wish…although I don’t think it’s likely to come true…” He stopped, looking a bit foolish.
“Tell her,” Lúthien said in a loud whisper.
“I wish for Elanor’s brothers and sisters to be here at Mettarë,” he finally said in a rush.
Everyone was quiet all of a sudden. Lúthien sprang up and kissed Elboron impulsively on the cheek.
Elanor knew not which way to look. Then she looked to her parents, who were still sitting next to the King and Queen. Faramir looked at his son with some displeasure and puzzlement.
Elboron looked to Lúthien, asking with his eyes for her to get him out of the embarrassing predicament she had put him in.
“But my dear lad,” the Queen said, “they would never get here in time for Yuletide; ‘tis day after tomorrow, after all. Perhaps they could come down next month? We can send out an escort and bring them all up…and then they might get to see their new little brother or sister, who’s due by then. What say you to that, my love?” she asked her husband.
“Why, I would dearly love to see all the Gamgee children again,” Lord Aragorn said. “Let it be done then, if the Gamgees are willing. We will send the escort at Mettarë.”
Lúthien gave a cry of joy and pulled Elanor to her feet, and both girls danced about the room as a musician began playing a lively tune on his fiddle.
And later in the evening, Elboron got another kiss…full on the lips this time.
All the following morning, as they went for a walk in the snow after breakfast, Lúthien seemed in a daze, and Elanor found it hard communicating with her.
“I thought surely he would propose last night,” the Princess sighed. “I was so certain I saw a spark of love in his eyes. I hope he doesn’t mean to make me pine away with longing for all eternity! What if he loves another, and was only trifling with me? Or he became disillusioned, and decided I was only a spoilt princess with a pretty face and naught else, and he could do better? Or maybe he found out about my tattoo…”
“Mayhap he don’t think he’s old enough yet,” Elanor suggested. “Or mayhap he’s waitin’ for just the right moment. Surely he don’t wish to propose in front of one and all?”
“Oh, but of course you’re right,” Lúthien said with an ecstatic smile, stooping down to embrace Elanor and kiss her forehead. “My comforting little friend! What would I ever do without you?”
Elboron had gone on The Hunt, along with his father and Beregond and Legolas and Gimli and the twins. They hoped to bring back a boar, so as to grace the Yule table with its head tomorrow.
“We should have gone with them,” the Princess murmured as they resumed their walk. “It would have been just magnificent!”
“But you don’t like to kill critters,” Elanor reminded her.
“Oh, I wouldn’t bring my bow,” Lúthien said. “I would just…be there. For inspiration, you know.”
Elanor laughed. “You already have a boar anyway. Why do you need another’n? There won’t be so many folks at the party, will they?”
“Oh, there will be a great many. And if there is aught left over, we give it to the poor. I hope Radagast will come. I did tell you that he sometimes dresses in a red robe and mask and passes out gifts to the little ones at Yule?”
“Aye, you did. Is he coming this year?”
“I don’t know. He doesn’t tell when he is coming. When he doesn’t, Cook plays the part…for all he’s so fat.”
Elanor laughed, then sobered. “In the Shire,” she said, “at Yule, folks carry gifts to the poor at night and leave them on their doorstoop. They collect toys that children have outgrown and go about with a wheelbarrow full and leave them. Sam-dad says Mister Bilbo used to do that, and Mister Frodo would go with him when he came to live with him. That’s what started it all. But in our family, our toys were never in any shape to give away, ‘cos they got passed down and played with so much. I al’ays wished I had more to give.”
She stood thoughtfully in the snow, looking out to the snow-capped mountains in the distance. Then back at the Palace.
“Wait!” she cried. “I do have aught to give!”
And impulsively she turned back and broke into a run, the Princess following after her at a trot. Elanor raced through the garden, nearly slipping and falling, but not stopping, and tore over the terrace back to the room she had been given, Lúthien still close behind her. The hobbit-lass then stopped, breathlessly, looking around her room at all the paintings and drawings that littered the little room.
“I can give these!” she said. “We can use my, what’s it called again? To put them into.”
“Your portfolio,” the Princess said. “But do you really want to give them away?”
“Well…I have plenty, and I can al’ays make more. But…d’ye suppose folks will like ‘em?”
“I’m sure they would. I wish I had something to give also! But it’s late to go out and buy things, and I don’t know what shops would be open today.”
“There’s your dolls,” Elanor reminded her. “You don’t play with them now, do you?”
“Oh, but…” Lúthien sat down in dismay, still in her fur-trimmed coat and luxuriant cloak and muff. “I’ve had them so long and everything, and…”
“And Elwing’s too little for them now,” Elanor said. “And you have so many, surely…”
The Princess studied her for a long moment.
“Oh,” she said at last, “you’re right--again! I should give them away. I AM a spoilt princess, and Elboron is perfectly justified in not wishing to commit himself! Come and help me gather them up, dearest! Oh, this will be fun…”
“What about lads’ toys?” Elanor said. “Mayhap Eldarion would give some of his old toys?”
Eldarion, Lúthien’s elder brother, had joined the army the previous year. He hoped to be home on the day of Yule, but had yet to show.
“He’d be hopping mad if we took his things without asking,” Lúthien said thoughtfully. “But I’ve plenty of boy-dolls and man-dolls. Some dressed as soldiers, and pirates, and sailors and such. I’m sure lads would like those, wouldn’t you think?”
And they dashed into Lúthien’s luxurious suite of rooms, two of which were entirely devoted to the dolls. Her collection was astonishing. There were wooden dolls, rag dolls, wax dolls, porcelain dolls, some enormous, some tiny, from every nation in Middle-earth, and even from Harad and other foreign lands. Some were ugly, with fierce little faces and pot bellies; Eldarion called them orc-dolls. And there were baby-dolls and mother-dolls and father-dolls and grandparent-dolls and princess-dolls and witch-dolls and every other kind of doll you could imagine, standing on shelves, some stowed away in boxes, drawers, and chests, some of the best ones decorating Lúthien’s bed-chamber and study. Elanor wondered how she could concentrate with all those eyes a looking at her.
“We’ll have to take one of the wagons--maybe two,” Lúthien said. “Or what about a sleigh? If it snows much more, we may need to.”
“Let’s do!” Elanor exclaimed. “Oh, it’s been so long since I’ve been on a sleigh-ride! I can’t wait for night-fall!”
It took a great deal of doing to choose the dolls and find bags to put them in, and slip out without anyone seeing them and wondering what they were up to. Lúthien did worry momentarily that Elboron might come back from the Hunt and wonder where she had gotten off to, and fear that she’d given him the slip or met with an accident.
“What if he goes home without telling me?” she fretted, at one point. “Perhaps we should leave him a note, telling him I will return…but would that be too forward?”
“There’s no need to worry,” Elanor assured her. “And he will be most proud of you, when he finds out what we’ve been about?”
“What if he falls for you instead?” Lúthien gasped. “It was your idea, after all. I love you dearly, but I could never bear that!”
“Don’t be so silly,” Elanor laughed. “How could he possibly fall for me? I don’t even come up to…his belt-buckle. And you are the beautifulest lass in all of Middle-earth. He could never be such a fool as to prefer me to you. Why, if he ever saw my feet, he’d fall right over on the spot, for sure.”
“Aye, I’m being a silly,” Lúthien laughed also. “Likely you’ve a sweetheart of your own, just awaiting you in the Shire. Or dozens of suitors.”
“Only Toby Gawkroger, and he’s so tiresome, al’ays talkin’ of his dad, and what all he’s a goin’ to do when they go into business together,” Elanor said shaking her head in exasperation. “Forever goin’ on ‘bout how rich he’s goin’ to get. Just like old Mister Bilbo, only he won’t have to go on any daffy adventures to make his fortune, he says.”
“Why, I’d think you’d have more than just him,” Lúthien said. “You’re so very pretty and smart, and your father is so famous.”
“Not many fellows ‘ud want a sweetheart with so many brothers and sisters,” Elanor sighed. “I may end up an old maid, doomed to watch after everyone’s young ‘uns but my own.”
“You’ll do no such thing,” the Princess assured her as they hustled the last of the bags out. Fortunately everyone was so busy inside, the girls managed to complete their task without anyone taking much notice of them. “I just know you’ll find someone worthy of you, and you’ll both be someone very important someday. And then when will I ever see you again?”
The rest of Elboron’s family arrived in the afternoon: his mother the Lady Éowyn, his fifteen-year-old sister Finduilas, and his little brothers Theoden and Eorl, aged eight and six. Finduilas, a tall, thin, leggy lass with long yellow hair like her mother’s, was let in on the plan, and she said, in her blunt way, that she thought it was daft, but she’d help them out if they wanted. She said they might even use their draught-horse, since he was of stronger stock, and they all went skating later on, so no one should suspect their plot. None of them even noticed when the hunters returned, singing, with a good-sized boar tied to the pole the twins carried on their shoulders.
Instead of leaving the toys on the doorsteps, where they might get stolen, Lúthien suggested bringing them indoors. “We’ll get to see their faces then,” she said. She seemed more excited about the activity than she did about Elboron’s return. Elanor felt herself getting more and more excited as well. And a little frightened. Lúthien had brought her mastiff, Mumak, along, just in case they needed some protection, as well as her sword and shield…there were a few ruffians running about loose in the city, she said. But Elanor did not think they need worry on that account; they would not likely approach the girls with that huge dog there. She could easily have ridden him like a pony, she thought. Yet once she had seen little Elwing asleep with her silvery head upon his enormous flank as though he were one of her stuffed toys.
“What if someone comes looking for us?” Finduilas asked. Elanor had been thinking the same thing.
“I left a note for Ada telling him what we were doing,” Lúthien said as she slapped the reins down on the big horse, and Mumak started to follow. “He’s told me more than once that I ought to give away some of my dolls. Well, tonight I’m doing just that.”
“Here is our first stop,” she said as they paused at the sixth level, in front of a small house with rather poorly lighted windows. “I know the folk who live here. They are Master Hildor the locksmith, his wife and three little ones, two girls and a boy. I think the youngest is about three… Findi, will you mind the horse while Elanor and I go in? We will have no trouble with him, I’m sure, although he likes to drink rather more than what is good for him, or so I’ve heard tell.”
As it happened, Master Hildor was out, and his wife and children were sitting down to a rather dismal supper. Elanor had a feeling the mother was not too pleased with the gifts, but the children, particularly the older girl, who was about six, fairly went wild over the dolls. The boy was given a soldier-doll, at which he gawked so hard, Elanor had trouble to restrain a giggle. At the same time she thought they might have done better to bring food.
“You are invited to our Yule-party tomorrow,” Lúthien said to the mother. “It’s about five in the afternoon.”
“We’ve naught to wear to no party,” the woman said stiffly.
“There’s no need to dress up,” the Princess assured her. “Just come for a bite of something good, and there’ll be sweets for the little ones. We would love to see you there.”
The mother shrugged.
“Oh, and here is something for you,” Elanor spoke up, handing her a rolled-up drawing. It was of the Temple, done in crayon. The woman stared at it in astonishment, then at Elanor.
“Thank you, child,” she said at last, some of the hardness dissolving from her eyes.
It was quite late when the girls finally decided it was time to turn back, even though they still had plenty of dolls left and had scarcely covered a third of the City. They could give out the rest tomorrow or day after, Lúthien said.
Their parents made quite a fuss over them after hearing of their exploit, and ordered them into a hot bath immediately. Elanor took her bath in a different room than the others, feeling self-conscious of her hobbit-body. Her mum came in, with big towels and a tankard of hot cider, saying she’d never heard of such goings-on, what under the sun, moon and stars had gotten into her?
“I was just in-introducin’ a Shire-custom here,” Elanor explained as her mother scrubbed at her back with a rough sponge. “The folks liked my paintin’s a lot,” she giggled.
“I don’t care what you thought you was doin’, li’l missy,” Rosie said. “I don’t want to hear of you ever doin’ such a thing again, you hear me?”
“But we’ve still lots of dolls left, Mum.”
“Let someone else do it then. You’re just a young ‘un, you’ll catch your death, you will, runnin’ about in dead of night amongst who knows what kind of riff-raff! Can’t hardly wait till we’re back home agin and livin’ like normal folks, ‘stead of royal ‘uns that takes queer notions into their heads and puts ‘em in yourn too. First it’s boots, then it’s lucky raisins, and now this…and what’s this mark on your arm, pray tell?”
“Oh…it’s…special ink, Mummy. I accident’ly dripped some on my arm one day when I was drawin’, and it took the shape of a flower before I could think. The Princess said it would come off by an’ by, and…Mum, are you all right?”
Rosie was clutching at her belly with that grimace with which Elanor was all too familiar by now…as the pungent liquid splattered down between her feet on the tiled floor beneath.
Yet the baby wasn’t due for another month!
Elanor scrambled out of the tub, snatched a towel and hastily wrapped it around herself, then burst out of the bath-chamber dripping wet and barefoot, calling for help.
It was Lady Éowyn who delivered the baby, which was even tinier than Lúthien had anticipated, the size of a kitten, she said later. It frightened her to look at it, she said. It frightened Elanor even more, to think she might have been the cause of its premature birth. She sat silently in an adjoining chamber with her dad and Lúthien, not caring that she had forgotten to put on any shoes, while the King and Lady Éowyn worked with Rosie behind the closed door, carrying bowls of water and towels and vials of liquid and powders and steaming pans of water with dried leaves floating on them. Elboron hung helplessly, pacing up and down the hall, then saying as how his youngest brother was born sooner than he was supposed to be and he’d turned out fine, and little Elwing’s nurse came to attend to the tiny newborn, feeding it with drops of warm goat’s milk. Finally Elanor could no longer sit still and she got up and went to the nurse and asked if she could hold her little brother for a bit. The nurse very carefully put the wee one into her arms, into which it fitted quite well, all wrapped up in a soft blanket that looked little bigger than a pocket-handkerchief, Elboron noted. He offered to finish with delivering the dolls, but his father said no, it was past midnight, tomorrow perhaps.
Lúthien just gazed at Elanor holding the baby. And Elboron stood gazing at Lúthien.
Elanor tried to think of a lullaby, but could not recall any that seemed appropriate at the moment. And so she ended up making up one of her own.
Welcome little brother of mine
Welcome to the lovely world
So many wondrous things you’ll find here
Like rainbow banners unfurled.
You’ll have golden leaves for jumpin’ in
when autumn’s splendour doth unfold
Berries to pick in the springing of the year
Snowfolk to build in the winter’s cold
Waters to wade in when the sun burns your face
Games to play with friends so dear
Late in the night when the stars do shine
Fireworks to see and scary tales to hear.
Welcome little brother of mine
Sleepin’ in my arms in this warm bright room
Although you be no bigger than a kitten now
Soon you’ll grow just like a rose in bloom....
She made many more verses, not caring if they were good or not. Some were downright silly. Yet by and by, the little one was sleeping peacefully in her arms, its wee head in the palm of her hand, its breathing grew regular, save for an occasional hiccup. And it seemed the whole house was filled with soft singing and the light of countless candles, as though the spirits of Lúthien’s dolls had all gathered in the gentlest possible anticipation of the dawn and wishes fulfilled.