It is amazing how fast word gets around here. Within an hour or so we had a houseful. The Ladies all came, even the Queen, and Tilwen and Galendur and Donnoviel after them, then Niniel and Seragon with little Lyrien, and Leandros and Lalaith with Marílen and Dínlad. Then Dûndeloth, with a couple of his friends, and one of Salmë’s admirers, and young Perion, along with his two sisters and a friend or two, the Priest from the Temple, Galendur’s father, and many others I had met or had yet to meet.
And Rûdharanion straggled in eventually, and after making sure I was all right, he slipped off to another part of the house with Aredhel, and I had a feeling they were not going there for any serious spooning. I will not soon forget the way she looked with her hair disheveled, her eyes and nose reddened, and her white gown torn at one sleeve and a patch or two of dirt on the skirt. As I looked at her thus, a word went through my mind, and that word was: Beautiful.
Lyrien and Marílen expressed disappointment that the fairy-ring was gone from around the bath-house, but I told them it had reappeared in a glade near the cottage, and I told them to come down and see it sometime. They had brought me bouquets of flowers, since they’d had no time to make anything for me.
“I’ve a new kitten,” Lyrien informed me as we snuggled down in a long chair on the terrace. “But my mum wouldn’t let me bring her. She has eyes of the purest gold. Her name is Beauty.”
“I’m glad you have a kitten, sweetheart, and I would love to see her,” I said. Then I told the girls I was still trying to come up with a name for the cottage, and asked them if they had any ideas. Marílen suggested shyly, “How about…umm...The House of Joy and Delight?” Lyrien bounced up and down, squealing, “Yes, yes, oh YES!!!” Marílen, looking perfectly happy, promised to ask her daddy to make me a sign for it. When Galendur heard of the name, he said to me with a wicked grin, “Ahhh, I could say something very, very naughty, but I’ll be polite and refrain this time.” I was mystified, and Bilbo had to explain to me later that the name sounded like that of a House of Ill Repute, and I thought I’d burst a blood-vessel from laughing. Really I don’t know why Bilbo doesn’t like Galendur more than he does, they think so similarly at times!
And even so, he is much pleased with the name, and so it stands. Leave it to Bilbo!
Salmë apologized to me for anything her great-granddaughter might have said to upset me, then introduced to me to Alcandor, one of her favorite dance-partners, she said. He looked quite a dashing fellow, even a bit of a dandy, but obviously smitten with Salmë. She had told me she was greatly fond of dancing in her youth before all the terrible things started happening, and I got the impression, from other things she told me, that she must have been very gay and fun-loving then, and liked to keep fellows on a string, and be admired and fancied…rather like Aredhel, save that she also had a heart of gold and was very generous and sympathetic and loyal, so that she had a circle of female friends in spite of her popularity. Now it seemed that butterfly-girl had been reborn. I teased her that she must be a hobbitess born into an elleth’s body, and she laughed and said she’d heard that I was an Elf in a hobbit’s body, and yes, I’ve heard that one, too.
I really think she will play the harp again. Lady C. plays for her sometimes, and I see her listen with glittering eyes, and it seems she almost stops breathing. The Lady taught me back when I was convalescing, but I play mostly just for myself, out by the falls where the notes mingle with the song of the waters and the calling of the birds.
I was glad no one seemed put-out that I wasn’t so ill as they’d heard. Only Galendur pretended to be, telling me I was “a little faker” and had staged this whole show just for attention, and everyone had fallen for it like the pack of suckers they were. I said, “Well, you fell for it too, yes?” and, ever quick with a riposte, he replied, “Not a bit of it. I only came to watch everyone else make fools of themselves. And for the eats and drinks, of course.” Lyrien and Marílen, who had glued themselves to my sides, giggled uproariously, and Tilwen said to me, “Pay no mind to him. He thinks he’s funny,” then she laughed too. He tickled Lyrien under the chin and lightly pinched Marílen’s cheek, and she bit his hand and then laughed, and we all followed suit, and he said, “You must admit, for a chap who isn’t funny, I’ve quite a talent for fooling the others into thinking I am.”
“Well, I’m certainly glad That Creature took herself off,” Tilwen declared after Gandalf and Ríannor brought us more goodies. “And she’d better be glad of it too, for if she were still here, I’d give her a piece of my mind she wouldn’t forget in a hurry. It’s a pity, for I really like Salmë. She has the whole palace in an uproar. You wouldn’t guess it, but she’s really funny, and has a good many stories to tell. Even my mother adores her, and that’s saying a lot. And of course Little Miss Priss just can’t stand it. She goes about like so…”
And Til made such uncannily accurate imitations of Aredhel’s petulant attitudes that the rest of us nearly fell to the floor laughing. But before I could wonder much about Aredhel and Rûdharanion, Dínlad came out, saying he had something for me. As he presented a cloth bag, the girls shrank back as though expecting something icky to come out, like bugs or snakes, and I took it and felt something hard inside. After reassuring them there was nothing alive in it, I reached in and drew out a little wooden sailboat.
“You made this?” I said in astonishment. Dínlad nodded sheepishly. Even the girls looked wondering, although he had made them some furniture for their little Bag End. After I had presented him with the horn, he had confessed to me later that he had put a dead mouse inside the little hobbit-hole to scare the girls and that was why Tashi had dug into it. I suggested he make some furniture for it, and with some help from his dad he had made two little beds, a tiny book-case, a long table and two benches. He had helped Leandros to make the book-case for our cottage, as well, and obviously he had inherited his father’s skill in wood-working. But I hadn’t known he could carve so well. He’d even named the boat for his mother; I could see “Lalaith” nicely painted on the hull.
“That’s because she made the sails,” he explained.
“Look,” Lyrien said in wonder, “she’s big enough for Frodo-doll and Sam-doll to fit in together. Do you see?”
Aredhel didn’t come back to the party, nor did Rûdharanion. I didn’t see either of them for several days afterward, but I had been informed that the betrothal was off. I went to Rûdharanion’s house, but he wasn’t in, and his housekeeper didn’t know where he had gone. She seemed very worried about him. I said maybe he’d gone back to the tower, and she said “Perhaps so,” looking sad that he would have gone off there without telling her. I think she fancies him. Sad for her if she does, since he likes them high-spirited, and that description does not fit her, I think. I didn’t go to the tower, for it's too far away, and if he is there, then surely he wants to be alone for a while. He’ll come down when he is ready.
Salmë came down to the cove the other day, and I took her to see my seat by the falls, and played my harp for her there, and sang one of my hymns, which goes thusly:
White are the stars that course the vast heavens
Purple the firmament that cradles their delight
Silver the fulling moon, gold the lamp of morning
Fair the Evenstar that illumines our twilight.
Fairer still the Children who grace this verdant islet
Gracious the Beings that heal us of our blight
Glorious the One who spreads it all before us
Blessing our path with peace and eternal Light.
When I had sung it through, she asked for it a second time, and I sang it again, and the water seemed to glimmer before us, and the falls seemed quieter somehow. And she took the small harp from me and began softly plucking the strings, and she sang the entire song through, her fingers seeming to move on their own. Her voice filled all the mist that lay on the water and silvered the leaves on the trees above, and her light pervaded the cove as though a piece of the moon had strayed into it and made its home there.
And the peacock spread his fan for her as we dreamily ambled back to the cottage in the twilight!
Lady Elwing informed me that she was going to try something very drastic, something she never supposed she would do, and she did not wish to do it, but she was certain it would work: she would give Aredhel one of her great-grandmother’s dreams. She had gone to the Pool of Dreams, invoked Irmo and brought back a phial of water which she would slip it into Aredhel’s drink tonight. It was a long shot, but she was certain it would work, and perhaps then Aredhel would know exactly what Salmë had gone through, and would come away with a new perspective. She asked me what I thought of this plan, and I said it did indeed sound very drastic, and I didn’t like it either, but I gave it my approval, wondering privately why she asked me for it. I asked her where the Pool of Dreams was, and she said it was in Aman. I wondered how she had gotten there.
She had flown there, of course!
I asked Ríannor for a bit of clay, and she gave me a generous lump, without asking what I wanted it for, and told me where I could find more if I needed it. I took it home and borrowed a wheel from a local potter, then I fashioned a large candle-holder and asked him to fire it for me. I hadn’t worked in clay since Ríannor showed me how, instructing me also in the art of making mosaics, but I thought I did a pretty good job. I inlaid chips of the cobalt-blue vase Aredhel had broken, and bits of mother-of-pearl, and some beautiful little polished iridescent stones from the stream that runs down from our spring-house, forming a silver-white star-burst design. I worked long at it, until I felt it was as beautiful as I could possibly make it, and Bilbo said it looked nearly as good as anything Ríannor had done (he being one of her most ardent admirers now), and asked me what I intended to do with it. I told him he would see.
When it was finished, I wrapped it in a cloth and took it to the Temple, and when I didn’t see Aredhel there, I gave it to Salmë asking her to deliver it to her. Later that same day, Aredhel, evidently without worrying about propriety, came down to the cottage, and didn’t even seem alarmed when the peacock called, to thank me.
“I did not expect a gift from you,” she said as I escorted her to the terrace. “It is truly beautiful. I didn’t know you could do such things.”
“Nor did I,” I said. “I surprised myself.”
“I completely did not expect it,” she repeated, seeming at a loss for words. “You...you don't...fancy me, do you?”
I shook my head, looked sheepishly downward. “It's just that I was a bit harsh with you that day, so I wanted to make up for it.”
I think I blushed. I should have known she would get that idea, but the thought hadn't even crossed my mind when I was about it.
“You are…most unexpected,” she said after a small pause.
“I know,” I grinned, looking up. “That’s why I did not fit in back in the Shire, I suppose. Unexpectedness is not considered a virtue there. But I fear it runs in my family.” I winked at Bilbo, then went in to bring out some refreshment.
“This is a very lovely place,” she said looking out toward the cove, as I set down glasses of cold juice and a plate of small cakes and berries and cream before her and Bilbo on the table. “An air of peace and quiet joy pervades it all. I haven’t seen it before. It seems to suit you exactly.”
“I would live nowhere else,” I agreed as I watched a flamingo rise from the water and stretch its coral-colored wings in flight above the falls, over which a rainbow shimmered in the afternoon light. “Already I feel as though I’ve always lived here.”
“I took your advice,” she said, with a hint of a smile, “and broke it off with Rûdharanion. I haven’t heard from him since.”
“I know. How did he take it?”
“He seemed relieved. I know he wanted to break it off too, but didn’t wish to hurt me.”
“Yes. He has his faults, but his heart is kind.”
“I am relieved also…but a little sad,” she sighed as she picked at one of the cakes. “I’m rather tired of my life as it is, and wish to be married. But not to him. I don’t know what I shall do now.”
“You will find someone else soon, I’m sure. And so will he…I hope.”
“I had a really terrible dream the other night,” she said shuddering. “I...but no, I’ll not tell of it, it may upset you. I don't wish to think of it either, and I don't know why I brought it up at all. Well, I suppose I should stop fretting about Salmë. I still don’t know what to make of the way she is carrying on, but no one else seems to mind it, so I suppose I should just keep quiet and let things take their course. I’m sure she’ll decide on one of her suitors sooner or later, and settle down and act like an adult again.”
“Don’t hold your breath,” I said with a cheeky grin.
“I just hope it isn’t that Alcandor fellow,” she said wrinkling her nose. “He looks a total philanderer to me. I don’t like him at all, and I hope she has much better sense.”
Yet he will be your husband someday, and both of you will be very happy, I heard someone say inside my head.
And from the look on her face, I think she heard it too….