Once more, I have a confession to make. Lady Elwing did tell me about the light turning sea-green and the air full of tears. But I just threw in the part about all the birds weeping together.
I honestly don’t know what comes over me sometimes.
But you still love me, yes?
Well, anyway, the light-house: It is nearly as bright as the sun. As Rûdharanion stands in the doorway of the tower, I can see him clearly although he is nearly 100 feet away. He is a sight to see, his hair looking as though it hasn’t been combed in days, his clothes as though he hasn’t changed them in a week, and he is still clutching that bundle of papers on which he is composing a travesty of our great adventure. I will never know what brought him down; I think Lady Elwing entranced him somehow. We await with bated breath (I always wanted to use that expression!) But trust Galendur to break the silence.
“Should we come out now?” he whispers.
“No,” I whisper back, “not until we are called.”
“Silly bugger. Looks like he’s about to walk into a pit of bears. He’ll piss himself when he gets an eyeful of us.”
“No,” I say absently, once more looking up in wonder at the beacon, “he knows we are here. She would not lead him into a trap, and spring us on him unknowing. She isn’t like that.”
“No, she is not,” Tilwen emphatically agrees, looking up dreamily at the light.
“So what made that come on?” Galendur asks, looking at me as though he expects me to be all-knowing.
“I think it’s a sign,” I say. “But of what, I don’t know. I will ask Lady Elwing.”
“Well…is he just going to stand there all night like a constipated troll waiting for the gate to open?” Galendur whispers impatiently after a moment. I shush him and giggle. Dûndeloth steps forward, walks purposefully toward the wretched poet standing in the doorway, then extends a hand to him.
“It’s shadowy where you are,” I hear him say softly. “Come into the light, brother.”
“I cannot, not yet,” Rûdharanion replies, barely audibly. “I am not worthy.”
Galendur gives a snort and I look warningly at him.
“You most certainly are not,” Tilwen whispers between clenched teeth. I put a finger to my lips.
“I may be wrong,” I whisper to her. “Perhaps he’s writing something else.”
“I think not,” she says.
“Dangle the Lady in front of him,” Galendur mutters to Dûndeloth. “The blighter’ll find his self-worth in a gnat's eye-blink.”
“You have come this far, why not come the rest of the way?” Dûndeloth says. “Why not take what is offered?”
“Why have you come?” Rûdharanion says in return, suddenly clutching his manuscript closer. “Have you come to crow over me, rejoice in my downfall, jeer at my efforts, then offer a hand to pull me up when you have kicked me as far into the dust as you may, and expect me to grovel my thanks? Is that why you are here?”
I stand dumbfounded. Of what does this remind me?
“Why would I do so?” Dûndeloth says in surprisingly cheerful tones. “In fact, I came out this way to visit my son, and thought I would drop by to say hullo to a fellow poet. Long have I wished to visit this famous tower, which was once inhabited by this lovely Lady who accompanies us, as you surely know. But if you do not wish to offer me your hospitality, then I must continue on my way along with my companions, and content myself with having come in time to witness the lighting of the tower, which according to legend, has stood darkened for five centuries. The Ring-bearer is here also, along with two of his friends. Pity that you must shun them, for we have found them delightful company. You are most welcome to come with us. But if you would not, then I must bid you good-night. I’m certain you have comfortable quarters here.”
Rûdharanion looks pitiably confused. I wonder if I should come forward, but perhaps I should wait until I am summoned, as directed.
Lady Elwing comes to stand by Dûndeloth’s side. Rûdharanion gasps, no doubt at her beauty, seeing it so magnified in the silvery light that casts glints of bronze and umber in the rippling masses of her dark hair.
“Rûdharanion,” she says gently, “what brought you thither? Knew you that this was my tower?”
“Aye, I did,” he says with sudden humility, “and I beg your pardon. I thought you would not mind. I have found peace here, as I have found in no other abode. If I seemed gruff, it was at having that peace disrupted, and I do beg your pardon, my Lady.”
“What a bloody liar,” whispers Galendur. I lay a quick finger to my lips. We are sitting on the ground now, he in the middle. I hear an owl call out, and a soft cry from a distant night-bird in answer. And not so far away, I can see the great white wings of an ibis as it rises from the cove, and I am reminded of the night we arrived on the Island. Fireflies gather in the trees behind us. The clouds linger westward, tinged with scarlet and purple and gold, like fiery foam and lace, and stars are pricking out in the cobalt sky above in pulsing radiance.
“If indeed you have found peace,” Lady Elwing says in her caressing voice, “although I do admit to doubting your words, then I wish you to abide here for as long as is needful. You have been invited, as you can see, to step into the Light and be free and turn from error and falseness and dark strivings. If you refuse, the light will go out once more and the darkness will be twice as deep. But it is your choice.”
“So she put the light on?” gasps Tilwen.
“She must have invoked the Star-Kindler,” I say in delight. “How wonderful!”
“Let’s see him eat humble-pie now,” Galendur says. “I liked him better as an arrogant bastard.”
“I do not understand you, my Lady,” Rûdharanion stammers. “I admit, perhaps I have blundered, and have made some bad choices recently. Yet I have ever striven toward the Light, and shunned the paths of destruction. I have only ever wished to enlighten, to bring beauty and virtue into a world that showed every sign of falling into decay. I ever wanted to sing the glory of the heroes of all time, to inspire and instruct and uplift, and celebrate the downfall of evil and ignorance and decadence everywhere. I have often been misunderstood and reviled for this, yet never did I turn from my chosen path. And now…it seems it has all been for nothing. Yet I have come here and have striven to redeem myself the only way I know how.”
“Pardon me while I lose my supper,” Galendur says under his breath. Tilwen giggles. But I sit up a little straighter.
“Galendur,” I say, “you were right about something. My story must be told. And yes, there is but one who can do it.”
And then I jump up to my feet, and walk straight out toward Rûdharanion before the others can say a word to stop me or ask me what in Arda I think I am doing.
I was not summoned, of course. I am not following orders. But something has jerked me up and propelled me out here, of that I am certain.
“Good evening, Rûdharanion,” I say with grave politeness as I pause to stand before him. "A star shines upon our meeting." I glance up at the beacon.
The odd thing is, he does not look startled at my appearance. Guilty, yes. Guilty and defensive, hugging the manuscript to him as though fearing I will leap forward and tear it from him, even though I make not the slightest move to do so.
“Iorhael,” he says after a long moment, when he has ascertained that I am not going to try to rob him of his precious bundle. Guiltily, I do not look at Dûndeloth, or Lady Elwing either. “I…I was not expecting you.”
“You are writing my story?” I decide it best to get right to the point. He blanches a little in the effulgent light.
“How do you know this?” he says barely above a whisper.
“I guessed,” I say, “and correctly, as I can see. And yet you do not know it, and have not my approval. So, you will write your own version of it and try to pass it off as truth?”
Just then his eyes grow wider, and I hear a footstep right behind me. It isn’t heavy enough to be Galendur’s. I smile a little without turning.
“I have but one thing to say to you,” Tilwen says, coming to stand beside me, but looking only at Rûdharanion, “and that is, if you are writing Iorhael’s story, you had better get it right. If you dare to make a mockery of what he went through to overthrow the Shadow and bring peace and beauty and order and, and majesty to the land again, you will have me to reckon with, as well as my mother, and the Lady Galadriel too. You will never know a moment’s peace in your precious tower, I can promise you that!”
“You heard what the lady said,” Galendur says, and I start this time. “And I wouldn’t take her lightly, my friend. She’ll end up feeding you to the sharks if you put a bee in her hat. I’m married to her, after all, and I should bloody well know she’s not one you want to trifle with.” He winks, whether at me or at Til, I’m not sure.
But Rûdharanion’s reaction is not at all what I would expect. He stares wide-eyed at Galendur.
“I know you,” he says, almost dropping his manuscript.
“Do you now?” Galendur folds his arms, cocking one eyebrow in that way he has, which I imagine can be rather intimidating to an unwary opponent.
“Well...I don’t know you exactly, but, well, I’ve watched you spar many a time at the Sporting Center,” Rûdharanion says in positive delight. “I did a good bit of it myself, long ago—very long ago. And you are the finest I have seen, here or in Middle-earth. You’ve a style and energy and passion of which I’ve yet to see the equal anywhere. I had no idea you and Iorhael knew each other?”
I look to Tilwen, who looks considerably taken aback, then to Dûndeloth, who is smiling enigmatically, and Lady Elwing, whose expression I cannot read, then to Galendur, who seems not to know what to make of this turn of events. As for Rûdharanion, I might take his words for fulsome flattery and trickery had I not so thoroughly agreed with them. But, Rûdharanion a lover of sport?
“Why shouldn’t we know each other?” Galendur says a moment later. “Am I such a reprobate that the Savior of Middle-earth wouldn’t dirty his hands with the likes of me? Tut tut. We’re quite a team, he and I. I keep him from floating too high up into the rafters, and in turn he pulls me up out of the muck from time to time. Quite an arrangement really. He’s the mainsail and I’m the yacht.” He wiggles his eyebrows at me, who am trying hard to keep from bursting into loud laughter. But Rûdharanion does not even notice.
“I see,” he says, although I doubt he sees at all. “Yes, I can understand how that could benefit the two of you. Of course.”
“And Til, my lady here, is the captain,” Galendur finishes, reaching to take Tilwen’s hand. Rûdharanion makes a little chuckle, although it sounds slightly forced. Tilwen does not look amused. “So. Used to spar, did you?”
“I did, once,” Rûdharanion admits. “Long ago. But somewhere along the way, I suppose I acquired the notion that it was something I had risen above, and gone on to higher and nobler pursuits. But I still greatly enjoy watching. Sometimes I think it a metaphor for life itself…in some strange way. The, the striving, you know. Grace under pressure, that sort of thing. You seemed somehow the embodiment of all that, in the arena and all.”
“I see,” Galendur says. “Well then. I tell you what, old chap. You have insulted my lady, and although she is well able to take care of herself in some respects, I can scarcely in all conscience let it pass, now can I? Therefore, I would challenge you to a match, to be executed in the arena, before any who care to watch. I will give you the time you need to prepare, and even see to it that you have the proper instruction, if need be. How does this sound?”
Tilwen and I look at each other in wonder. Dûndeloth looks thoroughly delighted. Rûdharanion looks dismayed. I wonder if he has been lying once more, and has never sparred in his life. But more likely, he is merely taken aback by being challenged to a match rather than a duel to the death.
“I want you prepared, and I want you to play to win,” Galendur tells him, when no answer seems forthcoming. “No nonsense with letting me kick your arse all over the entire Island, in order to keep everyone happy. If you’ve any backbone, you’ll give it your all, do you hear me?”
“I hear you,” Rûdharanion says. “And I will answer your challenge.”
“I’ll still trounce you, you know. But I don’t want you making it easy for me,” Galendur says. “As for the matter of the story, I will butt out, and leave all that between you and Baggins here. It’s his affair and none of mine. But my better half may not see it that way, and I won’t be held responsible for any damage she inflicts on your new-found peace, if you don’t arrange it to her satisfaction.”
He takes Tilwen's hand and they withdraw into the shadows. Rûdharanion looks down at me, a plea in his eyes. I look at the bundle in his arm, which he seems nearly to have forgotten, then I look up at him steadily. I can hear a nightingale singing not far away, and the insistent susurration of the tide, and the sighing of doves within the tower as they put their families to rest. He waits for a word from me, for my forgiveness and consent, for my promise of help to him, and I must admit, the thought of offering it has occurred to me. I have thought it a way of drawing him into the Light, of ensuring his salvation, of leading him to the Door. But now…now I know it is not the way. Someone must write it, yes. But if I allow him to do so, it will be for the wrong reason. Even if he agrees to tell the truth. No. He is not the one to do it. At least, not now.
And so I look up at him, a little sorrowfully, willing my thoughts to reach him. And he looks down at me just as sorrowfully, and I know they have. His eyes are closets of infinite sadness.
And he takes the sheaf of parchment and holds it out to me, his eyes bidding me do with it what I will, and I take it, and cradle it gently to myself whispering, “Thank you.”