I have a confession to make. I did not say “When balrogs go ice-skating” or whatever I told you I said. That’s just what I wished I’d said. What I actually said was “I’m afraid not” in my most icy withering tones. Whether or not he stayed withered, I don’t know, for he seems to have disappeared.
Lady Galadriel threw a fit when she found out what happened. She wasn’t there that night; she was in the City on some official business—did I tell you she is to be crowned Queen? And it turns out she has met the great one before on more than one occasion and was, ahem, slightly less than enchanted with him. Lady Galadriel in a fit is truly something to see. I almost expected her to bring down thunder and lightning all around her! Truly she is every inch a queen. Dûndeloth told us Rûdharanion would never have dared take such a patronising attitude toward us if she had been there, for he is terrified of her. Sam, I’m just awful, but when he told us about that I positively could not stop laughing!
“Why’s he terrified of her?” Bilbo asked, when I finally showed signs of calming down. “What’d she do to him? Did he ogle her daughter once too often and so she put ass’s ears and a pig’s tail on him? I'd have given half my fortune to see that.”
“I don’t know precisely,” Dûndeloth chuckled. “Perhaps he heard some wild stories about her and supposed them true. Then again, maybe it’s her very presence. That gaze of hers can be quite intimidating if one has dark corners that fear the brightness.”
Yes, I remember that well. Yet somehow, for all my own dark corners, I have never found her intimidating. On the contrary, the greater my darkness becomes, the more I seek her light. And why should Rûdharanion fear it? He is flawed, certainly, but evil?
“Well, for someone who delights to sing the praises of heroes and their brave deeds and so on, he’s not the bravest of souls himself, is he?” Bilbo sniffed. “I should have delivered a good swift kick to his shins. Or some other part of his anatomy. I think I would have, if Gandalf hadn’t whisked him out.”
“You would probably have broken a few toes, uncle,” I said smiling, giving him a little nudge with my elbow. “I think that’s why Gandalf saw fit to usher him out so quickly. He feared you’d end up doing far more damage to yourself than to him.”
When Lord Elrond informed me that Dûndeloth wished to meet me, you may imagine I was feeling some trepidation. Dûndeloth had told Lord Elrond that Rûdharanion had spoken of his meeting with me to some colleagues, saying that I was “impertinent” and had let my “success” go to my head. Sam, if you could only have seen the look on Bilbo’s face! “Priceless” doesn’t even begin to describe it. Dûndeloth said that was when he decided he must meet me.
“Does he wish to write an epic about me also?” I asked Lord Elrond. “I sincerely hope not. The last thing I wish to be is a bone of contention between two rival poets!”
“He did not say,” Elrond said, “but I think not, or he would have told me immediately. When he wrote his great work of the battle with Sauron’s forces, he did not ask me for my side of it. Yet somehow I found myself telling him of my struggle with Isildur at Mt. Doom. I told him all, of my failure to make the King yield up the Ring, and asked if he would put that in his epic. He said not unless I insisted upon it, and I asked him not to change the facts. If you’ve ever read Rûdharanion’s version of the story, you may remember he had Isildur fall nobly in battle rather than ignominiously slain by orcs—among other discrepancies. There was even some romance about an Elf-maiden who supposedly was betrothed to Sauron but fell in love with Isildur, and died protecting him on the battle-field. And he left out the part about Mt. Doom completely.”
“Yes, I noted that when I was reading it,” I said, “and found it disturbing. But I supposed that whoever commissioned him to write it insisted upon it, or something.”
“That may well be, but he prided himself on writing a version of the story that, as he put it, ‘would not offend the gentler sensibilities of the more civilized folk of the present age.’ Dûndeloth was never one to tamper with the truth, and he took great exception to Rûdharanion’s version, even while praising the lyricism of his verse, and Rûdharanion accused him of lacking ‘sensitivity’ or some such nonsense. I think Dûndeloth would have declined the commission rather than change the facts to suit someone else. Therefore, I believe he has absolutely no designs and truly wishes to meet you for your own sake, and not for his own selfish glorification.”
“Please tell him,” I said smiling, “that I would be delighted to meet him, and so would Bilbo.”
Dûndeloth is not so tall as Rûdharanion, but every bit as imposing, and he uses his imposingness in a far less intrusive way. His eyes are dark and remote until they focus on you, and then they are seemingly not far above you at all, but on your level without being so, as the stars, distant and yet somehow inviting you into their glory. His attitude toward the Ladies—of all classes—would fairly bring tears to your eyes. Only a dolt like Rûdharanion would ever accuse him of lacking sensitivity!
But Dûndeloth says very little more of him to us, and nothing disparaging. Within an hour we feel as though we had known him a long time.
“So tell me,” he says to Bilbo at one point, with twinkling eyes, “has this nephew of yours no faults at all?”
For Bilbo has been blathering on about me at length—sometimes I think he just loves to watch me squirm—and perhaps Dûndeloth is beginning to have doubts…or perhaps he just thoroughly enjoys our connection and wishes to be part of it.
“Well,” Bilbo wrinkles his forehead, seeming not at all surprised by the question, “apart from stubbornness, which is a Baggins trait and therefore is not entirely his fault, and I might say it even worked to his advantage on the Quest…well…” he wrinkles his brow even more, until I think his face will disappear entirely— “…sometimes he falls asleep in the sun, and must be moved into the shade. I can’t seem to break him of that, and he burns so easily. But apart from that, no—he has no faults.”
Dûndeloth laughs heartily, as do the others, and I chuckle almost gratefully. Then Dûndeloth looks to me and says, “And what about your uncle, Iorhael? Is he nearly faultless, as well?”
“Well, apart from stubbornness…” I refrain from looking straight at Bilbo, who looks abashed at the moment, “…which is a Baggins trait and so on, …well, often when he has finished looking at a map, he does not fold it the same way that he unfolded it. It’s hard to describe exactly, but it can be a bit…distracting. Apart from that…no, he has no faults either.”
More laughter, except from Bilbo, who looks at me in puzzlement. There is much more conversation, some recitation, some tasty delights that Tilwen brings on a tray, until Gandalf notes that Bilbo seems to be getting sleepy. So Dûndeloth takes his leave, saying how honored he is to have met us, and when he comes to Tilwen he tells her that her wedding poem touched him deeply, and I can see that he means it.
I think all the Ladies are reluctant to let him out of their sight!
Much later, as we are getting ready to retire for the night, Bilbo asks me, “Do I really do that?”
“Do what, uncle mine?” I am feeling light-headed and just a bit silly, as though I’d had too much to drink, although I have had only one glass. I loosen my cravat and fling it toward the back of a chair with a dramatic motion, and end up hurling it into the fountain instead, and stumble when I go to retrieve it.
(Perhaps that wine was a little stronger than I thought.)
“That with the maps,” Bilbo says with a glance toward my desk, on which lies one of the parchments in question.
Now I’ve done it. I’ll hear about this for days on end.
“No, uncle, you don’t,” I say. “I was having you on. I assure you, that you have never folded a map incorrectly in your whole life. And even if you did do so, I would live with it somehow. Surely I have more important things to do with my time than worry over how someone folds a map?”
“Now you surely don’t think you can pull your old uncle’s leg?” He shakes a bony finger at me. Yes, I’m in for it now. “If something I do bothers you, my lad, then out with it! Don’t humor me along like some old mother hen.”
I sigh as I unbutton my shirt. Actually, I think the really irksome thing to me is Bilbo’s whole preoccupation with maps. Where could he possibly go from here? Except…Perhaps, deep down there is the feeling that he is unconsciously getting ready to leave this world…and what will I do then?
“I just didn’t want to tell your real faults in front of him,” I say, truthfully enough. “Even though I suppose you wouldn’t have hesitated to tell mine, if he had pressed you hard enough.”
“Hah! What real faults?” he says, drawing his white eyebrows almost together over his nose.
“Well…for instance…you’re hot-headed,” I say, sitting down hard on a chair, knocking a few papers to the floor as I gesture toward my desk with one hand. “You, you fly into rages. You snore. You slip off without telling anyone. You do things other people don’t do…just because others don’t do them. You…you exaggerate, when you tell your stories, you embroider, you, you listen in on things that aren’t your business, you eavesdrop….”
Maybe I did drink more than one glass.
“Well, you—“ he points a finger at me—“you’re vain, that’s what you are. You’ve always got your nose to that dratted mirror these days. ‘Modest and unassuming,’ hah! You’re about as, as modest and unassuming as that blasted rackety pea-fowl out there in the garden, you are. He’s going to end up in the middle of somebody’s dinner-table one of these fine days, wait and see!”
I glance at the floor. It’s true I’ve been looking into the mirror a good deal lately, but I don’t think it’s vanity. I think it’s more an attempt to become reacquainted with myself. To try and reconcile the being I was when I first came here with the image that looks back at me now, to search for any signs of accusations, for the being trapped deep inside, for the light I’m told illuminates me but which I never can see myself, for the door to open to allow that light to escape until the reflection and I change places and my own light and the Great Light are one.
“Well,” I say, “at least, I’ll never allow myself to become a preening fop like you. You may not have whole rooms full of clothes any more, but deep down, you’re still the dandy you always were, and always will be.” I turn and stare at my uncle in mock derision, which fazes him not in the slightest.
“Piffle,” he says. “Let me tell you something, my charming lad, I wasn’t so bad to look at in my younger days, either. Never so pretty as you, perhaps, but I turned a few heads in my day. You needn’t think you got all the looks in the family.”
“Well, even if I did, they wouldn’t do me much good here,” I say. Ah, I shouldn’t have said that, but it’s out now. My head feels strangely clear of a sudden. “I wouldn’t call myself vain. I’m not amiss for a hobbit, I suppose, but by Elf standards, I can’t be so much to look at.”
“Hah! You can hold your own with any of ’em,” my uncle says warmly. “Your head just doesn’t come so high up as theirs, is all.”
“True. It doesn’t.” I hope I don’t sound sad. Strange, how much depends on height.
“But you stand taller than all of ’em put together,” he says taking my incomplete hand.
“If someone would just tell that to the Ladies,” I say softly. Yes, I’ve had more than one glass. My tongue would not be so loose otherwise.
Lord Elrond has told me that my ability to father children could be restored if I wished it. He said it would be a long and painful process, the details of which I will spare you, but I think I would have it done if there were any point to it.
But Sam, it was rather stupid of Sauron to neuter me, for if he hadn’t, I would surely have married, and would probably not have gone on the Quest, and the Ring would likely not have been destroyed, and he would have won. Why did he think he could protect himself by ruining my line?
Bilbo caresses my hand, saying nothing. Sometimes I think he knows more than he’s letting on. Sometimes I think he didn’t marry for the very same reason I didn’t. He told me it was because of a broken heart, but I think there’s more to it.
“But do you know what?” I say with a bit of a smile after a moment. “Little Lyrien offered to marry me the other day. She said she didn’t care if she was taller than I when she grew up, she’d rather marry me than anybody else on the Island. She said she’d do it right now if her mummy would let her. I hadn’t the heart to tell her that by the time she was old enough to marry, I wouldn’t be around any more…although I think her parents have explained to her about mortality.”
“She’ll have to knock ’em off her with a stick one of these days,” Bilbo chuckles softly. “That one’s got a pair of eyes that could melt diamonds.”
I nod emphatically, then bend down to pick something off the floor. It’s one of Bilbo’s maps, that I knocked off the desk. He takes it and looks at it for a moment, then holds it out to me.
“Do me a favor and chuck it into the fireplace, my boy,” he says a little sadly. “What in blazes do I need with a map now anyway? I’m quite content right here with you, and even if I weren’t, where could I possibly go? Except…”
“Now Bilbo dear,” I say, “you should know by now that I’m no good at chucking things into the fire. Here, let me fold it for you…just watch and I’ll show you the right way.”
I fold it carefully, almost tenderly, and lay it in the drawer where his other papers are kept. Then I kiss him on the head and lay my cheek against his white curls for a moment, then extend my hand to help him up from his chair.
"I've another fault," I confess as I help him out of his clothes and into his nightshirt. "Sometimes I tell people I said things I really didn't. I embroider a bit, too. But I guess that's your fault; I get it from you."
"Of course you did," he agrees. "You're a Baggins, after all."
"We don't tamper with the truth though, do we?" I say. "Not deep down, I mean. We don't destroy the true, fundamental essence of it."
"Of course not. We Bagginses may be liars, but we're not damned liars."
Sam, it seems to me the glass is glowing rose colored tonight and it is imparting a feeling of great joy...I may be wrong but I think Elanor will be getting a little brother soon?