My plan was simple enough; it was putting it into execution that was the tricky part. I would tell Lady C. of Salmë, since the Lady has been through a similar experience, perhaps she could give her council and understanding and become her friend. Then perhaps, seeing as how her great-grandmother now knew the Right People, Aredhel would be nicer to her, and the niceness would perhaps become habitual, until it became incorporated into her being. Yes, it was a shot in the dark. But if Aredhel did straighten herself out, she might either graciously break it off with Rûdharanion so he could be free to find someone worthy, or else she might come to sincerely care for him for his own sake.
Yes, simple enough. But how to broach the subject to the Lady?
I had never spoken to her of what happened to her, although Lord E. had urged me to do so. But the mere thought of it fairly turned me inside out, and I never could bring myself. I have told Lord E. he might tell her what I had told him regarding what happened to me in the Tower, if he thought it would help her in any way, but if he did so, I do not know of it. I suppose I could ask him. But I just didn’t want to dwell on the subject.
But it was not what happened to me that was holding me back. I could have dealt with that for Salmë’s sake. It was what happened to the Lady. I love her dearly, as you know, and would not for anything in the world dredge up any horrible memories for her.
I discussed the matter with Bilbo, and he said why not ask Lord Elrond instead. And I said, yes, of course…well, I think I would have thought of it myself, eventually. But yes, I did ask Lord E. and he said he would discuss the matter with Lady C.
And he did. And...
Oh, I suppose you are wondering how I got home after my falling-out with Rûdharanion. Well, I had walked a block or two when I heard quick footsteps behind me. I looked over my shoulder and there he was.
“I told the others I would take you home,” he said, “and I will.”
“There is no need,” I told him curtly. “I know the way, and it is not so far. And I seriously doubt there are any dangers that may beset me.”
“Just the same, I will not have them think I do not accept responsibility. I will see you home.”
“Very well then.” I supposed I should let him take me home, at that. The hobbit-prince walking alone through the City was sure to attract plenty of attention, which I didn’t want. We returned to the Temple where he had stabled his horse, onto which he lifted me without handling me roughly, then he climbed up behind me.
“I am sure you meant well,” he said stiffly after a minute or two as we rode along.
“I assure you I did,” I said just as stiffly.
“You simply do not see the side of her that I see,” he said.
“Yes, I suppose that’s true,” I said, deciding the best course was to humor him along, although I knew I wasn’t fooling him any. He isn’t quite the dolt I took him for once.
At least, not all the time.
“You see only the worst that’s in her,” he said. “So often we look only for the blemishes, and fail to see what is utterly breathtaking, beautiful beyond words.”
I decided it was useless to point out that when you see a large blood-stain on the snow, it is unlikely you will be much moved by the pristine beauty of the untouched panorama beyond the blotch.
“I suppose you’re right,” I said. And decided maybe I was on the right track, after all, by mindlessly agreeing.
“She is only an innocent young thing, and will outgrow her rough edges with time,” he insisted, and I was glad he could not see me smile. I thought, She’s had 500 and some-odd years to outgrow her rough edges, so it’s unlikely she’s going to do so anytime soon, and he might have to wait an age for her to grow up. If he has that much patience, I don’t know whether to commend him or knock him upside of the head.
“I’m sure she will,” is what I said. Privately I thought she needed a little suffering to smooth the edges down, but how much suffering was she likely to do? Probably the most pain she would ever endure here would be the ruin of her best gown by a wine spill. “I was much too hard on her.”
I thought of all the elflings I knew who had been born on the Island, and those who would be born, and had to wonder how it would be for them, never to have known the suffering of those who had lived in Middle-earth. Would they grow up having the same greatness of character as their elders? Surely their parents must be grateful to have them here where they would know no greater pain than the loss of a pet or the breaking of a bone. All good parents, I’m sure, wish for their children to have things better than they did, and do their best to make sure the passage of their offspring is as smooth as possible. And I imagine Salmë may have tried a little too hard to ensure that Aredhel had a much easier maidenhood than she’d had. Who would want a young girl to go through what Salmë had, after all? Yet, as a result, Aredhel was now Aredhel, and Salmë was Salmë.
“Perhaps you think Aredhel has had it too easy,” Rûdharanion said. I started at his evident reading of my thoughts. “But she told me herself that she once had a great love, and a maiden she had considered to be her bosom friend stole him away from her, not six weeks away from her wedding. Imagine the humiliation, the betrayal, losing both lover and friend at one swoop! It has been nearly one hundred years before she could bring herself to open her heart once more. That I am the one who should have healed it…well, it is beyond my comprehension.”
“Well, I wish you both the best,” I said, thankful that we were in sight of the house.
“Somehow I don’t feel I have convinced you,” he said as he helped me down from the horse. “But perhaps you will see. What shall I tell the ladies? Are you still not coming to dinner?”
“I will come, if you wish it,” I said.
“I do wish it. I will come for you at five in the evening.”
“I will be ready. May Bilbo come too?”
“Yes. I will send word to the ladies to lay an extra place.”
Bilbo was delighted with the whole situation, and spruced himself up as best as he could. And yes, Sam, we did NOT wear shoes. And when we were seated in the front parlor of their simple but elegant small home, we did not tuck our feet up discreetly, as Aredhel seemed to expect or wish us to, although we were not so crass as to wave them about either; we merely sat as we would anywhere else, with our feet dangling freely in front us.
Aredhel, probably aware that she had made a less than dazzling impression on me that morning, had evidently decided to play the Charming Hostess to the highest degree, so that I might have been taken in once more had I not witnessed her exhibition that morning. I saw an enormous bouquet in the middle of the dining table. We had brought a basket of golden mushrooms, explaining that they were not for cooking, but must be eaten raw in order to enjoy the full flavor. Aredhel sampled one, cooed with delight, and asked me where in the world these could be found. I told her of the fairy-ring, and she raised her eyebrows, and said, “How adorable!” Salmë laughed and looked at her warmly, and Rûdharanion glowed all over, then he remembered himself and cast a “There, you see?” look in my direction. I offered to send more if they wished, and Aredhel said, “Oh, you are sooo SWEET!” and to Bilbo’s enormous amusement she planted a big smacking kiss on top of my head, picked up the basket and swept dramatically into the kitchen and came out bearing a tray with five glasses of wine. Ugh, I had just washed my hair! Salmë offered to serve the wine, but Aredhel said, “Oh, I wouldn’t HEAR of it, dearest. You simply MUST let me have the honors this time. You do FAR too much as it is for your spoiled darling, you know.”
Then she sang for us, accompanying herself on the lute, a roundelay all about sweet spring-time and singing birds and tender blossoms and Young Love, and Rûdharanion was entranced, and Salmë listened with wistful affection. Nothing was wrong with Aredhel’s voice or her playing, yet I thought her performance had all the warmth of an icicle on a January night, and I hoped and prayed that my plan would work.
The food was delicious. The ladies plied us with questions about how much we liked living on the Island, and so forth. I told some stories about my exploits with Galendur on the beach, about how I met him and how we became friends, of playing games with the children, of the Epic and of Bilbo’s Delight, and then…yes, I invited them to the Royal Palace for dinner, hoping hard that Lady G. wouldn’t swat me for asking them without permission, then reminding myself that I was a Prince and of course she wouldn’t mind, and would see to it that Bilbo’s Delight was served in abundance and Gandalf/Olórin would treat us to a regal fireworks display. I thought Aredhel looked a little worried then.
Let her worry.
Rûdharanion looked surprised and flattered that I had extended this invitation, and Salmë looked touched, and I told her that the royal family very much wanted to meet her. I didn’t dare look at Bilbo, but I knew well enough he would back me up.
“But really we’ve naught to wear, that is fine enough to be presented in the Court,” Aredhel fretted. She was tricked out rather grandly, I thought, much more so than necessary for a dinner.
“What you are wearing now would be plenty fine enough,” I said.
“This?” She glanced down at herself in dumbfounded astonishment. Bilbo smothered a grin.
“Of course, dear,” said her great-grandmother. “I should think anything you own would be suitable for the Palace.”
“Indeed it would,” Rûdharanion agreed. “In the meanest rags, you would still outshine every lady in sight.”
Aredhel looked sufficiently mollified. “Very well, I will come…if you truly think we would not be out of place,” she lowered her eyelashes with maidenly modesty in my direction.
“If I am not out of place there, you certainly would not be,” I said as gallantly as possible. I felt like telling her she might try wearing a little less jewelry, but decided it was not my place to do so. Conversely I would have liked to tell Salmë she might attire herself a little less somberly. How ravishing she would be if she would break out of those shadowy gowns and put on something of a rich color, with a gem or two that would enhance her as a dewdrop enhances a rose….But that was not for me to say either. Surely the Ladies would see to all that.
As Bilbo and I were getting ready to turn in for the night, I asked him what he thought, and he said he thought Rûdharanion and Aredhel deserved each other. Now there was a perfect match if ever there was one! he gloated. Didn’t I agree? I smiled a little sadly. Well, I might have thought the same thing once. And yes, he thought Salmë was very lovely and gracious, and a terrible shame that her great-granddaughter had turned out as she had.
“I’m glad I didn’t have that effect on you when I was raising you,” he said as he fumbled with the buttons of his night-shirt. “I’m so thankful that you turned out as you did, and did me so proud. I count it as my one big accomplishment. It’s not everyone who raises up a savior, now is it? Yes, when my time comes, I can go out proud and happy that I was able to bring that about, even though I’m still not sure how I did it. There, my lad, you needn’t look so. I’m not planning on going out any time soon. Certainly not before we’ve moved into that new home of ours and gotten settled. I intend to plague this Island with my presence for at least a year or so yet.”
“I hope you plague it much longer than that, Uncle,” I said softly.
Well, anyway, the upshot of my plan is, it worked, in part. I do not know what passed between Lady C. and Salmë, and it’s not my business, but I do know that they quickly became friends, and Lady E. and Lady G. took her to their hearts as well, and over the weeks, during which Bilbo and I made preparations for moving, and finally did move, there came a slow transformation. Salmë took on a glow such as I had hoped she would, and yet I was not quite prepared for the extent of it. She was presented at the Palace in a gown of deep gold velvet overlaid with a pale cream color, and a gold necklace set with dark gems, and Lady G. made her one of her ladies in waiting.
Aredhel was not so beloved of the staff, particularly Donnoviel (who had been made one of the housekeepers). She couldn’t bear Aredhel, labeling her “a little schemer,” and Tilwen agreed strongly for once with her mother, saying she could think of a far less polite word. She still detests Rûdharanion, says he’s “a fraud” and she can’t imagine what Galendur and I can possibly see in him, and concurs with Bilbo that he and Aredhel deserve each other. Yet she admitted that she felt a little sorry for him, and hoped he might come to see the “light of day”. It wasn’t always nice to see people get what was coming to them, after all.
Aredhel was rather nicer to her great-grandmother, and it did not seem an act. I don’t know if it was that she was moved by the transformation, or if she had decided that Salmë’s past was not a reflection on herself or a threat to her reputation or a shadow that would diminish her after all, or if the Ladies had been counseling her as well, or if they had done a sufficient job of petting her so that she did not feel left out, or if she felt she could let down her guard since she was now in the presence of Royalty, or if she was aware of how the “help” felt about her. Whatever it was, it was nice not to have to force myself to be civil to her!
But not long after we had moved out, did Rûdharanion ride over to the cottage, to my surprise—he had never come there alone before—and asked if he could have an “audience” with me.
“Curse me and my fickle heart,” he said as I escorted him out on the terrace, and Bilbo discreetly withdrew into the house…no doubt to eavesdrop on every word. “I cannot believe what I…well, I just cannot believe it! How could this have happened?”
“How could what have happened?” I said as I poured tea for us both and set out fruit and cakes.
“I just cannot believe it of myself,” he sighed. “I mean…here I thought I adored Aredhel with all my heart and soul. I owe you a tremendous apology, my friend. I think you were right. She is…or, she was then…well, when I see the change that has been wrought in her recently, however….Well, anyway, the thing is…ahem…you were right about Salmë, you were so, so right. I was not so impressed with her at first, admittedly. I thought her a bit wispy, lacking her great-granddaughter’s spirit, you know? But I’m sure you must have seen the way Salmë has come to life, taken on such a new rich luster, like a gem that had once appeared dim and faded but has been polished and raised to the light so that one sees new dimensions of glory that had not seemed possible. Those eyes!”
“Indeed I have,” I smiled to myself. So Rûdharanion had fallen in love with Salmë after all? Perhaps I should not be so surprised, however. I might have done as much myself but for the Lady Elwing, who is in between Lúthien and Arwen, and never will any elleth equal her. And now there is my dream-maiden, whose name I do not know yet; in my mind I call her Marilla, for “pearl”…although to be sure, there was another Pearl once, who--but never mind that. Rûdharanion is not the only fickle one, obviously!
“I can scarcely marry Aredhel now,” he fretted. “But how will I ever tell her? How can I jilt her as her former lover jilted her? The very thought of breaking her young heart fills me with absolute horror. I would rather face an army of orcs than to do this! What will I do now? For she, too, has changed, and I think she truly is coming to care for me. I can see it in her eyes. There is a new light in them, a new gentleness and beauty. It is a wondrous and tender thing to see, like the budding of a young tree after the chill of winter is past. But I can think of her now only as a lovely girl who touched my heart once, but was only a passing fancy, a flame that blazed up splendidly but now has diminished, while Salmë is an eternal fire that will never be quenched.”
“Then you had better make it known to her,” I said, “for you have competition. A friend of Dûndeloth’s seems much taken with her. I have no idea how she feels about him yet, but he seems a most worthy fellow.”
“I should have known,” Rûdharanion sighed. “Of course she would have other suitors, it only stands to reason! Yes, certainly, I should make my feelings known to her. But what would that do to Aredhel?”
“I think she would get over it quickly enough,” I said, thinking that one cannot break a heart that does not exist…and yet, perhaps he was right and maybe she did have one after all…But I still did not believe she seriously cared for Rûdharanion. She would find someone else quickly enough…after which I had a feeling she would revert to her former ways.
“Perhaps you could…” He looked at me with lifted eyebrows, and I shook my head.
“I’ll not act as go-between,” I said firmly. “This is your affair, and you must conduct it yourself as you see fit.”
“Of course, of course,” he said, after a moment when I thought he was going to be really miffed. “Forgive me, my friend, I should not have even suggested such a thing. I am truly trying not to be such a horse’s arse as I have been. But two-thousand-year-old habits die hard, you understand.”
I laughed heartily. I was sure I knew from whom he’d gotten that description of himself. It takes a horse’s arse to know one, after all!