I have been sitting beside the smallest waterfall—there is a wide flat rectangular stone beside it, with a huge fern growing over it, and it’s long enough to lie full length on. There are several different types of ferns springing along the walls and a vine that puts out large violet-blue flowers attractive to some truly amazing butterflies and humming-birds. And there are jasmines and honeysuckles, orchids and frangipani, large tall lilies in white and gold and dark pink and orange, hibiscus and lotus, abounding in incredible lushness all around. Sometimes I just slip off and sit on this stone taking it all in. The colors are so rich, the sounds so clear and musical, the fragrances so delicate and varied, really there is nothing I’d rather do than just sit here and be happy. And it’s all mine!
But finally I got up to start preparing supper, when I was jarred by the call of the peacock—for he has followed us to the cottage. He makes himself useful as well as ornamental by announcing visitors. We have no gate, but there is an archway wrought of metal over the road leading to the cove and it is understood that no one may pass through it without an invitation.
The visitor was a youth I recognized as Perion, who works about the place for Salmë, and frequently carries messages for her and Aredhel. This time the message was from Aredhel. I blinked at it, then remembered myself and asked Perion if he would like some refreshment. He looked happy and flattered and followed me to the cottage, where I brought out cold lemonade and slices of melon and bowls of mushrooms and orange sections and asked him how the ladies were doing.
“Well,” he said with his mouth half full, “Mistress Salmë seems very happy. She has three fellows following her about like pups. She went to the races with one of them, and an art exhibit with another. She attended a party last night and said she had a most wonderful time, she’d almost forgotten what it was to dress up and dance and flirt and be merry and carefree. But Mistress Aredhel, I’m not sure about her. She seems troubled in her mind of late. This morning she was quite snappish and nothing seemed to suit her, and she even took Mistress Salmë to task about ‘her wild and reckless behavior’ last night. It’s my guess that she is having trouble with that fellow she’s betrothed to. I heard her say he still can’t keep his eyes off the ladies and is making her look a fool. And do you know, my Lord…well, I see a lot, being about the place so much, and...I’m absolutely sure I’ve seen him cast longing glances at Mistress Salmë when he thought Mistress Aredhel wasn’t looking. But I think she must have seen. Now do you think that’s a proper thing for him to do? I wouldn’t say so. But you won’t tell them I told you all this, will you, my Lord? Mistress Aredhel would have my head, and other parts as well, although what use they’d be to her is more than I can guess.”
So Rûdharanion had not broken it off with Aredhel yet?
“Not a word,” I said grinning, without looking at Bilbo. Then I settled back in my chair to read the note.
“She requests ‘an audience’ with me,” I said after I finished, then handed it to Bilbo, who took it eagerly. “Sounds as though she’s picking up Rûdharanion’s turns of phrase, at least. She wants me to meet her at Gandalf’s—says it wouldn’t be ‘proper’ for her to come out here alone. Wonder what she could possibly want with me?”
“This should be interesting,” Bilbo said with twinkling eyes. “So, are you going to meet her?”
“I suppose so.” Turning to Perion, I said, “Please tell her I will meet her there in about an hour.”
“Yes, my Lord,” he said with a little bow. I sent the talkative youngster on his way with a bag of oranges. Bilbo and I washed and changed into clothing more suitable for visiting in the City, and set off in our pony cart, taking a bit of food with us to eat on the way and speculating about what Aredhel could possibly want to discuss with me.
“This should be very interesting indeed,” Bilbo said again as I took the reins. “Hmm. I’m guessing she and Rûdharanion had a falling-out and she wants you to straighten things out between them.”
“Well, you know well enough how he feels about Salmë,” I said. “You were listening in the whole time, after all. Weren’t you, now?”
“Pretty hard not to,” he said innocently. “That fellow always talks as though he’s on a stage. Paces and struts about, and gestures as though he’s trying to get his point across to a deaf person. You’d think he was a player at least.”
“He did try acting at one time or another,” I said, “but it didn’t go off so well. According to Seragon, he was one of the worst, and no one in the company could abide him, for he wouldn’t take a small part, saying it would put his reputation ‘on the line.’ So finally he was cast out. But I think he misses it, and ought to give it another try, now that he has changed a good bit since then.”
Bilbo chuckled. “Well, it’s good to hear that Mistress Salmë is enjoying herself. I’m not surprised she got so popular in such a short time. But I’m also not surprised that Mistress Aredhel has gotten her pretty little nose out of joint over it. That young lady has got some notions in her head, and no mistake. Do you suppose she’s going to ask you to talk some sense into her erring granny?”
“If she is,” I said grimly, “then the only sense I’m going to talk into her is to tell her to keep right on as she is. I’d say she is more than entitled to it, after all she’s been through.”
“Absolutely,” Bilbo agreed emphatically.
It was good to see the house again, although it seemed so much quieter now that all but Gandalf had moved out. I wondered if he weren’t just a bit lonely there now. He was very glad to see us, as he ushered us in to where Miss Aredhel was seated in the main salon. I noted she had taken care to sit in the sunniest window, where the light could do its most flattering work on the rich brown waves of her hair.
Gandalf and Bilbo said they would take themselves out to the garden to have a smoke and talk over old times. I chuckled at that, but Miss Aredhel did not look amused. “No eavesdropping,” I mouthed at Bilbo, who smiled sweetly and took his leave. I took a chair across from the young elleth, who sat with her hands clasped tightly in her lap.
“Let’s get one thing out of the way,” she said after the formalities were done. “I know you are not fond of me. I tell you this from the beginning so we needn’t hedge around on that score.” When no denial was forthcoming, she continued, “I suppose you are wondering why I’ve sent for you?”
“Well,” I said, “the thought has crossed my mind, yes.”
“The thing is,” she said leaning forward a little, “have you spoken with Rûdharanion lately?”
“Not since the other day at Temple.”
“He has been behaving strangely, and so has Salmë. She has been making quite an exhibition of herself. You would think our positions were reversed, at least. She has been carrying on in a way that I simply don’t know how to describe. There are no words. I am rendered utterly speechless at her behavior! I mean, I scarcely know what to say—I am dumbstruck. I simply don’t know which way to look anymore, and…are you laughing at me?”
“No, my lady,” I said, hastily straightening my expression into meek sobriety. “Yes, I’ve heard that she has been making rather merry lately, and that she has become quite sought after. The last I heard, there were at least three suitors for her hand.”
“There, I KNEW it would get about!” she exclaimed in woe. “WHAT can she be THINKING? You would think she would have me to consider, at least!”
She actually wrung her hands. I have never seen anyone do that before. It fascinated me.
“But my lady, you are betrothed, are you not?” I said after a moment. “You will be wed soon, and she will not have to watch every step to see that she doesn’t make a bad reflection on you, yes?”
“I don’t know how they do things where you come from,” she pouted. “I have heard the customs are very different there. So maybe you don’t understand. But over here, it’s different. People think in a very different manner than you are accustomed, I’m sure. Perhaps it was a mistake to expect you to understand, but…well, Rûdharanion says you are wise and compassionate and understanding. He thinks the world of you. You see…you won’t tell anyone, will you? But he, too, cannot keep his eyes off Salmë either. Tell me they are not carrying on behind my back! And WHY do I get the feeling that you are behind it somehow? What have you been telling him about me?”
“Why would you think I am behind it?” I said without answering her last question. “I simply introduced her to Lady Celebrian and the Queen. Whatever transformation has been wrought in her was their doing, I’m sure. Not that I am at all displeased. I am overjoyed to see it. And if I helped in any way to bring it about, then I am doubly delighted. But I had naught to do with how Rûdharanion feels about her. And of course they are not carrying on behind your back! Salmë would never do that to you. I take it he has not broken it off with you?”
“Of course not,” she sounded insulted at the very idea. “You hardly expected that, did you?”
“I really know not what to expect, at this point,” I said, taking refuge in vagueness. “But I tell you what: why don’t you break it off with him? That way, you won’t have to risk the embarrassment of having him jilt you for a much older lady. You are not really so enamored of him, now are you?”
“Why…what makes you think I do not love him with all my heart and soul?” she gasped, but the words fell dead before her.
“Does it never occur to you,” I tried not to smile, “that if you marry him, you will be bound to him for all the ages? You are not mortal, like me. You could not leave him, he would not die, and you could not take a lover. There would be no one for you but him, now and forever. Is that what you truly want? When the thrill of being the wife of a famous poet wears off, what will be for you then? For it will wear off, you know.”
She was silent. Yes, evidently it had not occurred to her.
Then she spoke again, softly. “I do not think often of love any more. I had a great love once, and he betrayed me. I gave him my heart and my soul, and he tossed it away like, like bad food. He betrayed me…like…like a dog.”
I supposed it would have been unkind to point out that dogs are not noted for being betrayers, but rather the reverse.
“So you are done with love now?” I said more gently. “In that instance, you should either give yourself more time to get over him, or else be done with the idea of marriage as well. Better to wait an age for the right one, rather than marry the wrong one in haste, for fear of being passed over.”
Her ruddy lips quivered for a moment. “Is that why you have not married?”
I winced. “You didn’t call me over to discuss that, did you?”
“So let’s not, then.” I looked down at a rug. And then I smiled to myself, remembering the fountain in my former bedroom, and a certain bright fish.
“Meaning it’s none of my business, I suppose,” she said loftily. “Very well. But how will it look for Rûdharanion to be marrying my great-grandmother, of all people? How could I ever hope to hold my head up again? Can you not see? Yes, I know you don’t care for me, but…”
“Somehow I do not think she would wed him,” I said, massively tired of her all of a sudden. “But even if she did, it would hurt only your vanity, not your heart. Why do you begrudge your great-grandmother happiness? Has she not suffered enough in her lifetime?”
“What do you know about it?” She paled a little. I suppose it had not occurred to her that I knew Salmë’s “secret.” “What has she told you?”
“Very little. Rûdharanion has told me—“
“He promised he would tell no one!” she exclaimed in utter horror, standing dramatically upright, clenching both fists. I swallowed. Ulp—I was supposed to say nothing about it. Ah, I had done it now! She appeared about to clutch at her hair, then stopped short of demolishing its shining smooth perfection. “Oh—how could he! He will end up scandalizing us all!”
“My lady, please, calm yourself,” I said, standing also. “He told only me, and I have told no one else. I am fond of her, as you know, and I would never do anything to cause her pain. I introduced her to the Lady Celebrian because she has been through something similar, and I thought perhaps she could understand and help, at the very least be a friend to her. Perhaps if you could wrench your mind off yourself for a few moments, you just might see a few things you never would look at before!”
“The Lady Celebrian?” Aredhel stood stock still, then sat down again staring at me in shock. “But…but she seems…so pure, so untouched, so immaculate, so…”
“I hope you are not seriously disillusioned,” I said with heavy sarcasm. “The Lady has been through unthinkable horrors at the hands of orcs. That is why she came to the Island. Like myself, she could not be healed in Middle-earth. You didn’t know of this?”
“No, I did not. Do you mean to tell me…”
“Yes, I mean to tell you,” I said. “I suppose your great-grandmother has not discussed it with you, wishing you to be happy, rather than have you know what she went through? That was a mistake, I think, serving only to make you selfish and cold, but I like to think she meant well. Have you truly never spared a thought for what she endured at the hands of those soldiers? Or have you only considered the shame of it, how it casts a shadow over you, how it could supposedly stain your own ‘purity’? Do you think of everything in terms of how it affects you, and you alone?”
“This is most unfair of you,” she said, her lips beginning to quiver again. “You have no right to say these, these things. You know naught of it. How can you possible slander me in this manner? Do you think you can get by with it because you are a Prince? You weren’t born one, after all. You were made one, and you have no right…oh…after all people have done for you here…”
I sat unmoved by the tears that began to brim her eyes. She searched her person for a handkerchief; when she failed to produce one, I coolly tossed her mine. She took it and dabbed daintily at her eyes. I said nothing, continuing to stare her down. She sniffled, then blew her nose as discreetly as possible.
“You are talking of things you know naught of,” she repeated, then seemed not to know what else to say.
“Perhaps I know more than you think,” I said, and went cold inside. “Why did you call me here? If you have summoned me here to accuse me of doing things that made your great-grandmother happy, and expect me to apologize for it, I’m afraid I shall have to disappoint you. The same if you expect me to tell Rûdharanion to stop gazing at Salmë. If you cannot tell him yourself, how could you expect me to? Why have you brought me here?”
“I’m not sure myself, any more,” she said softly. “What do you mean, you know more than I think? You cannot possibly know. What my great-grandmother has been through, and all. So you needn’t get all holy with me about it; you know naught of it, even less than I do.”
She folded her arms and looked at me in piteous defiance. I felt myself shrink up in my chair.
“I do know what it is,” I said, “to be taken captive, to be stripped naked and bound and beaten and touched…there…and be stared at, and mocked and threatened, and…and if it felt like that, when they did not go in, then I have an inkling of what she must have felt. I…I also know what it is to be invaded in the spirit, taken against my will, helpless to stop it…it is not the same thing, I suppose. But yes, I know something of it…”
I hated myself for the weakness I was displaying, trembling all over, near falling from my chair, tears brimming my eyes. I had never told anyone of what had happened to me in these terms except for Lord Elrond. Aredhel was the last one I would ever have wished to tell. What could possibly have come over me? I drew my knees up to my chest, curling myself up into a ball, in the way I had done long ago, when the hideous phantoms invaded me, and pressed my hands to my face, willing them to leave me. I heard Aredhel’s voice asking me what was happening, was I all right….
Then I heard swift footsteps, a small table falling as she knocked it over in her haste, a vase falling off it and shattering. I held my arms over my head and willed myself not to be sick. Then I remembered my pendant and clutched it, and some of the shaking subsided, as I felt arms wrapping around me, voices calling my name. Sam, I heard myself whisper, then Bilbo held me closer. I heard Gandalf urge me to tell the Dark Lord to let me be, and I did so, silently. Then I was lifted from the chair and carried to a couch where I was gently placed, and my uncle’s arms holding me tightly, rocking me, as I held onto him sniffling a little. Then Gandalf lifted me again and laid me down and covered me with a throw, and Bilbo took my hand and pressed it to his cheek.
“What in the name of all the Valar have you been saying to him?” Gandalf demanded of Aredhel. She shook her head, and actually raked one hand distractedly through her hair!
“I’m all right,” I whispered after a moment, seeing Bilbo looking so terrified. “I’m all right, Uncle, truly. I took a bad spell, but it has passed. Here, I can sit up now.”
“No no no no you don’t, my lad,” he said tremulously, pressing a hand to my chest. “We’ll have Lord Elrond up here and…where is he now?” He looked pleadingly up at Gandalf, who looked at Aredhel, who looked so guilty, I felt sorry for her.
“You know the way to the Palace?” he said to her. She nodded. “Run down and fetch Lord Elrond and tell him the Prince is ill, my lass. Go now!”
I expected her to protest, but she nodded once more, and flurried out without a word. Bilbo bent and kissed my forehead and cheek.
“I don’t need Lord Elrond,” I insisted after she had gone. “I’m all right, truly. And it wasn’t her fault, it was my own. I spoke of things that were better left alone; I don’t know what came over me.”
“Just the same,” Gandalf said, “it won’t do her a bit of harm to get her mind off herself and think of someone else for a change. To think she’s actually going to ride through the streets with her hair all messed up? Do her a world of good, I’m sure!”
I laughed a little: “Maybe so. But…I could do with a smoke now.”
“Well, she’s not coming back here,” Bilbo declared, “not if I have anything to do with it. That was one royal scare you put into us, my dear lad. I just aged fifty years in one minute. Meaning at the moment, I'm pushing two hundred.”
I took his hand and kissed it. “I’m sorry, uncle dearest. I’ll never do it again. May I take my pipe now?”
“A dozen pipes if you want them, my boy.”
Lord E. got there sooner than I expected, and I thought he might be annoyed to see me sitting up smiling, getting him here on a wild-goose chase, so I tried to droop a little, which of course didn't fool him for a minute, but he looked vastly relieved to see that I was not in such a bad way. He did make me a tea and it made me feel better, then I looked around to see if Aredhel had returned. She had, and Salmë with her. Aredhel had been crying, and her arm was around her great-grandmother’s waist.
Her hair looked a total wreck.