Our journey was uneventful, yet wonderful and terrible too. It was lovely to get to see so much more of the Island. We stopped but a few times, and I wished we could have stopped more.
There is much loveliness along the way: meadows full of poppies, daisies, buttercups, cornflowers, niphredil, anemones, wild lilies, and other flowers whose names I don’t know. And deep fragrant forests in which we see a mother deer with twin fawns, and hear much echoing bird-song, birds of which I’ve never seen the like before, of amazing colors and size. And high mountain paths with breath-taking valleys dotted with cottages and farm-houses and flocks of sheep and silver streams and cataracts. And rock formations of breath-taking variety and loftiness, inhabited by great eagles, which I point out in childish delight. I think there must be a nest atop one of those cliffs. I forget my dread for a while and feel quite merry, and soon Galendur and I begin exchanging stories of devilment we had gotten into as lads, which provoke much laughter, although at one point Tilwen says, “You’d better not ever let Mother hear that one!” I express the opinion that Galendur deserved to have Rûdharanion’s poetry inflicted on him as a boy. He retorts that perhaps we should make Dínlad listen to a few hours’ worth as punishment for snooping and tattling. Then he and I speculate on what should be done with Rûdharanion. Til is talking with Lady Elwing once more, probably telling her that she suspects, wrongly, that there is more in our leather bottles than just plain water.
“I suggest we get you drunk and lock the two of you in a room for a day or two,” I say. I am being completely silly, but the thing is, I feel that if I can keep Galendur in a jolly mood, perhaps he’ll be less hard on Rûdharanion. “See which of you lasts the longest.”
Only recently, I had gone into a tavern with him, where, after a few truly hearty mugs of ale, he started expostulating on his mother-in-law and her fiery locks and sharp tongue, and he actually asked the maid what color hair she preferred for a mate! I'm sure my face was redder than Donnoviel's hair. Then he said (much more loudly than necessary) that women who were too easy were atrociously boring, and that kind used to be all over him like bees to a hive, he couldn’t shake them off no matter how outrageous he became—give him a feisty redhead any day. Then he told another maid that I was a notorious lady-killer and she had better have a care. I was uncertain whether to bounce my tankard off his head or order another drink. He’s a dear when he’s sober, but when he’s had one too many, I swear, I could just string him up!
“I’m sure it wouldn’t be myself,” he says, in response to my suggestion, “unless, perhaps we gagged and bound him. There’s an idea. I say we take turn and about. We lock you up with him afterward and let you disgust him to death.”
“Ha! There’d be naught left of him after your turn was up,” I retort.
The sun is getting more and more westerly, and Dûndeloth says we should be there in another hour or so. We pass a beautiful and very high waterfall, and cross a wide river, and I feel the dread returning, and I grow quiet. I would like to ask if we might stop for a while. And as if he heard what I am thinking, Dûndeloth suggests we stop for a bite to eat before continuing! But I am unable to eat much, and I hope the others don’t notice. I hope I’m not about to be sick. We stretch out for a little nap—we are in a lovely glade, peaceful and shady. I can hear Dûndeloth talking to Lady Elwing—about his son, I think. Galendur and Tilwen have gone off “for a little walk”, being tired of riding.
I light my pipe and think of Dûndeloth’s wife and baby daughter, murdered by orcs in some nearly-forgotten small war, and I wonder. His son might have had a little sister now.
“I pity the orcs,” he told me recently, greatly to my astonishment, when I timidly brought up the matter to him as we were discussing one of his epics in our lesson. “They were made to be evil, damaged beyond recall.”
“But the Dark Lord,” I said, “did he take those Elves by force? They were drawn to him, yes?”
“They were,” he said, “but I believe there is something in all of us that is drawn to the darkness. And I believe many of them were deceived. They were discontent, wanting more power than they possessed or had a right to, and it was promised them.”
I thought of Boromir, drawn to the darkness, seduced, deceived, fallen. He had the chance to redeem himself in battle, however. Had the orcs no chance of redemption? And if they did, would any take it? Not likely, I thought, trying to picture an orc trying to insinuate himself into the good graces of Men or Elves, and meeting only with revulsion and distrust.
“I am sure,” I said, “that if any of them truly longed for goodness, and redemption, and to recover their lost beauty and glory, it would have somehow been offered them. I think, somehow, they fell in love with evil.”
“Perhaps,” he said, looking thoughtfully at me, “it is much harder, nearly impossible, when one has fallen from a very great height, to ascend to it once more. One has broken too many vital parts, and may be too crushed in spirit, and so one may even come to love that which enslaves one. One becomes enamoured and addicted to the unthinkable and exquisite pleasures of evil, of which the unfallen can have very little concept.”
I asked no more on the subject; I knew much more about that than I wished. How could I tell him of the ecstasy that had loomed before me, as I stood at the Crack of Doom? But how could he possibly pity orcs? It was one thing to pity the likes of Gollum, or a shriveled and corrupted Man, but that which had once been an Elf, which cannot fall through weakness, but from an utter wish to turn from the Light and seek his true home and kingdom in the abyss?
When I’ve finished my pipe I lie on my back and gaze up at the sky, trying to think only of the present moment, and soon my eyelids grow heavy. And I am lying in a boat with Sting held to my heart. The boat drifts down a stream of whispering, and I think the voices are saying I am dead, but I cannot open my mouth to protest. He is Mad Baggins’ boy, the one as went into the West, he had cancer and none wanted to know, says one. Another says, He ruint the Shire, let’s chop him up. Changed things, he did. Another says, Leave him be. He disgusts me. Let the river straighten him out. And the river bears me out to the sea, but Sting begins to glow, and I am met by orcs who lift my boat and take me to, to…I reach for Sting but they have taken it…their eyes and teeth are oozing black blood…their fingers half rotted…one has a whip, which is growing from his stomach…a tower looms ahead, it has eyes and teeth, it laughs and growls, it moves, it has no shadow….
how they swarm around me
with their vulture faces
they have taken all
my clothing, my armor
and all that I was
dear friend, where are you
will you come find me
before they do their worst?*
Then a voice is softly calling my name, and I am lying in the arms of Dûndeloth, with Lady Elwing bending anxiously over me, smoothing back my hair, they speak words of softness as parents whose child has awakened in the night, and ask me if I wish to turn back. I say no. I wonder if they know more than they’re telling. Dûndeloth knows something of the Tower, but not the details. I am wondering now if I should ask him to write my story in verse. Perhaps I should ask him, if only to distract him from Lady Elwing for a while…but no, that is a selfish reason, a horrid reason, I shan’t do it. Can’t believe I even thought of that. How is it that luminous eyes, full lips, perfect cheekbones, and cascading hair can put wicked thoughts into a fellow’s head, where once they were pure, just because a third party has hove into sight?
Galendur and Tilwen return, hand in hand, asking if I am all right, and I say cheekily that I’m fine, and even chuckle a bit, and accuse Galendur of slipping something into my pipe-weed to give me nightmares. Not to be outdone, he says it was Tilwen who did so, in order to get the chance to cuddle me, and she stares at him open-mouthed for a second and then hits him, and he laughs. The others laugh also, giving each other a “young folks these days” look. Til is holding a small bunch of wild flowers and she gives me one, kissing my forehead. I kiss her hand and smile. The flower is an anemone, of a lavender-blue color. She gives Lady Elwing a white lily, then we go to round up the horses and set off on the last leg of our journey.
The horses are a beautiful sight, their coats gleaming in the late afternoon sunlight as they crop the grass. They stand about, in proximity to one another in the glade. Tilwen’s grey pony stands next to Maegfán while Nightwind and Dûndeloth’s chestnut gelding stand side by side also, face to face with the females. The males seem to stand as equals, the coal-black stallion in an attitude of affection and respect toward the brown horse, thinking naught the less of him for his smaller size and less impressive speed and power. The pony seems to look up to the white palfrey as she might a mother. And is it my imagination, but does the chestnut gelding look at the snowy mare with a wistful and longing admiration, while she regards him with the sort of affection and tenderness she might bestow on a colt of her own or a younger brother, but no more than that?
At last we are in sight of the Tower. It is late in the day, but still bright. The days last long here.
And there it is before us, the sight I had anticipated all day and all the previous night and day with such loathing and clutching icy dread. Higher than I supposed, built of a plain white stone, overgrown with moss and ivy and a vine with a deep purple flower over which a white butterfly flutters, even so late in the day. There are several windows, pointed at the top, and in one of them I can see a pair of white doves. And far beyond the blue waves roll gently upon the snowy sand and dash passionately against the looming white and grey cliffs, a bank of silvery and pale gold and rosy clouds above.
And I see not a reminder of the day when I had come face to face with pure undiluted evil and learned what it was to be utterly alone and helpless, but simply what is before me: a light-house, alive with wings and history and growth, into which a lost soul has ascended, alone and faltering, seeking the Light.
*Poem "In the Tower" can be read in its entirety here.