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21
Secondhand Smoke


Dear Sam,

All naughty joking aside, I think “The House of Joy and Delight” is an excellent name for our cottage. Certainly we get plenty of company, and so often the house and the cove about us are filled with light and laughter. Salmë is a frequent visitor, slipping away from the Palace from time to time to relax and enjoy herself with us. Not that she doesn’t like it there, but I don’t think she ever really wanted to move in, and only let Aredhel talk her into it. She loves to wade into the water and float on her back, her hair drifting like sea-weed, gazing upward at the endless blueness above.

Sometimes one of her admirers comes with her. Alcandor, she confided, has been pressing her to marry him, and she’s tried to tell him she is not ready yet, and he is not taking it well. Then there is Imlach, a fine sculptor but a little too sure of himself for my liking, and naughty Perion has done some amusing take-offs on him a time or two. Imlach has this disconcerting habit of moving his hands as he talks, as though molding invisible lumps of clay. There is Valandil, who loves both sports and dancing, is just as snappy a dresser as Alcandor, and is capable of carrying on an intelligent conversation. Oh yes, and Rûdharanion, who did finally come back after a couple of weeks or so, without any explanation of where he’s been or what he was about. Bilbo and I have been betting on which she’ll choose. I think it will be Valandil, while he’s certain Alcandor will be the lucky one, despite what Perion says. I tried to find out from the lad in a not too obvious way if Alcandor is showing any interest in Aredhel, but apparently not…yet.

Meanwhile Aredhel has confided to me that she is sick and tired of white, and Perion informed me that she has sold much of her old jewelry, and bought new. I nearly fell on my backside the other day when she and Salmë appeared in Temple together in identical golden gowns with crimson overlay and carnelian necklaces! One wore golden roses in her hair and the other wore red, and a breath-taking picture they made, indeed.

Perion has made friends with Dínlad, although Perion is a bit older, and they come out here swimming or boating or fishing, and Galendur and I took them to see the caverns behind the falls. Often the little girls come as well, and we end up with quite a crowd. A general atmosphere of love and hilarity and peace hovers over all as the day draws to an end and the sinking sun splashes the low-lying clouds with scarlet and gold, and the hues of the aurora stain the northern sky with beams and patches and ropes of gaudy brilliance. I can hardly begin to describe the feeling it imparts.

Especially when occasionally I will glance aside and see a pair of lovely eyes twinkling at me in the dusk...or see that silver-white dolphin leap luminously through the waves in the twilight, and I know I am in for some very delightful dreams....

But never mind that! I would tell of what happened today. Galendur and I were on the cove fishing for trout. Lady C. wrote me out an entire book of recipes before we moved into our cottage, and there are a couple for trout that simply must be tasted to be believed. I’ll read them to you later, Sam. Not that we caught anything, for neither of us could shut up long enough for any fish to get near. Gandalf and Bilbo sat out on the terrace, smoking their pipes and talking...about us, I’m sure. I looked to them and smiled sweetly in such a way as to tell them they’d better say nice things about us if they expected to get any trout, then suddenly I dropped my pole, being seized with a terrible pain in my left shoulder. I clutched at it and groaned while Galendur asked me what in the name of all the Valar was going on.

“Let’s go to Seragon’s,” I said after a moment when the spasm passed. “They need us.”

Galendur asked no more. He rowed us to the shore and picked me up and carried me up the path, while Gandalf and Bilbo stood asking what was happening. Galendur explained to them that we had to go to Seragon’s, and he’d take me on Nightwind. Gandalf and Bilbo could follow with the pony, but we had to get there quickly.

The pain subsided as we galloped down the road. I told Galendur it didn’t feel so much like a stab wound as if the arm had been suddenly yanked out of the socket. He didn’t ask me why we must go to Seragon’s, and I couldn’t have told him why.

As we dismounted, Marílen ran to us, crying, and threw herself into my arms, pleading with me not to be angry with her.

“What happened?” I said breathlessly. The pain, oddly enough, was gone from my shoulder now.

“Lyrien fell out of the tree,” she sobbed, pointing to the offending growth. “Tashi chased her kitty up into it, and she couldn’t get down again, so Lyrien climbed up to rescue her. But I tried to stop him. Truly. I didn’t even bring him here, he just followed me, and—“

“Is she hurt badly?” Galendur interrupted her. I wondered if I looked as pale as he did.

“I—I don’t know,” she wept. “Her daddy took her inside. I—”

We brushed past her and stormed into the house without even knocking. And I saw something I devoutly hope never to see again.

I honestly do not see how people survive parenthood, if what they feel is worse than what I felt that moment when I saw Seragon in a big chair holding his little daughter in his arms, his dark head bent over her lovely coppery locks, murmuring to her while she cried, then looked up at us with the most poignant naked anguish as we charged in. I really felt so badly about the times Galendur and I had laughed about him behind his back, and I even had an absurd idea that I had helped bring about Lyrien's fall by doing so, I resolved never to do so again, never!

“She fell out of a tree,” Seragon said, although we knew it already. “My father has gone for the healer. I hope and pray that he is in. I think her arm is broken or dislocated. There, little sweet one, your mummy is making you some tea to ease the pain. You will be all right.”

We went to her and she looked at us with love and pain mingled, saying, “I hurted myself a LOT!” and cried more.

I swallowed hard, and said to Seragon, “Your healer is not in. He is attending to a boy with a broken foot. I will summon Lord Elrond, who is at Gan—Olórin’s house now.”

Seragon didn’t even ask me how I knew this. Galendur said, “I’ll go get him on the double,” and flurried out before I could tell him there was no need, I had already summoned him with my mind and he was coming. I went to Lyrien, kissed her forehead and stroked her hair, feeling as helpless as it was possible to feel. Very gently I suggested to Seragon that he lay her on her bed, it might be less painful for her that way. Evidently he trusted my word on that, for he stood up carefully and took her into her bedroom and tenderly laid her down after I pulled the coverlet away. Then he sat on one side of the bed while I sat on the other, holding her hand in mine and stroking it.

“Iorhael, are you hurted too?” she asked through tears.

“No, precious, I’m all right,” I said. Yes, I know—“precious,” not such a good word, but it slipped out, and I see no reason to retract it.

“Why are you crying?” she pointed out. I hadn’t realized that I was.

“Because I can’t bear to see you hurt,” I said, wiping my face with my sleeve.

“Where is Beauty?” she asked sniffling. “Is she still up in the tree?”

“I don’t know, sweetheart.” I glanced out her window. I could see Marílen out in the yard, sitting on a garden bench, forlorn, dejected, evidently too afraid and guilty to come into the house. But just now I did not feel like going out and bringing her in. “I suppose she is. But I think she will be all right.”

Niniel came in with a steaming cup, her face pale against her auburn hair.

“Here you are, darlingest,” she said as Seragon reluctantly rose to let her have his place. “Drink this all down now, and it will make you feel much better.”

Lyrien took the wooden cup by one handle while her mum held the other, took a tiny sip, then jerked away from it, nearly spilling it.

“It’s HOT!” she wailed, and burst out afresh. “I don’t like to drink hot stuff!”

“But Sweetie, you must drink it hot, or it won’t work,” Niniel said.

“I remember this brew,” I spoke up. “Lord Elrond gave it to me on the ship when I was so sick. I know by the smell. And it made me feel much better when I drank it all.”

“But it’s hot,” Lyrien protested tearfully, and I pulled out my handkerchief and wiped her nose. “I don’t like to drink hot stuff.”

“Perhaps we should let it cool down a tiny bit,” I said to Niniel. “Look at that steam.”

“Sweetie,” Niniel said, tears brimming her eyes too, “would you like to sit on mummy’s lap and drink it?”

“I don’t want to drink it,” Lyrien whimpered.

“But it will make your arm stop hurting as much,” Seragon said.

I sat down again and put an arm around her. “What if I drink a little bit first?” I said. “I know it works, because I had some when I was sick and my shoulder hurt so badly too.”

“Your shoulder hurted too?” Lyrien looked up at me, and I realized I had never told her about my shoulder, at least not in detail. It’s not the sort of thing you tell to children, after all.

“Yes. I got stabbed through the shoulder by somebody who wanted my Ring,” I said cautiously. “It hurt very, very badly, and never stopped hurting until I came here. And on the ship, it hurt the most. That was when Lord Elrond gave me this same tea to stop it, and it did, for a long while, until I could be healed. Couldn’t you please drink this for me, because I can’t bear to see you hurting the way I was hurting, Precious?” I felt tears brimming up again and I didn’t try to stop them from overflowing. Maybe if she saw them, then she would drink the tea.

“It’s hot,” she said but I could see she was weakening. I held the cup for her.

“Pretend you’re me,” I said. “You’ve done that before, yes? Now you could pretend you’re me again and drink it the way I drank it on the ship. I’ll be Sam and you can be me. Let me hold it for you like so, and you drink, all right?”

“Sam hated to see you hurted, didn’t he,” she said very softly. I think the steam from the tea was already starting to help her. I deliberately held the cup so she could breath it in.

“He did, very much,” I said. And then she took a sip, and then another. “Drink it all down for me, please.”

She drank it slowly. “It’s still hot,” she said halfway through.

“But you’re me now, and I like to drink hot stuff,” I said. She drank the rest, with rather loud sips. “Does it feel better now?”

“Yes, a little,” she said, sniffling, and I gave her my handkerchief.

“Blow,” I said, and she blew. I wiped the tears off her cheeks. “It will feel a lot better in a bit.”

Niniel smiled just a little. “Good girl,” she said.

“Mummy,” Lyrien said, still sniffling, “can you see where Beauty is? Is she in the tree?”

“I can’t see her, Sweetie, but I’m sure she’ll be all right,” Niniel said. “No one has ever found a cat skeleton stuck in a tree yet. And put your knees down, darling, you’re showing your drawers.”

“But she’s only a baby kitten,” Lyrien said, putting her knees down. “She’ll be scared.”

I could hear a tiny sound of mewing coming from the tree, now that I was listening. It did sound scared. But Seragon’s father, Quellemel, came in just then.

“He’s not in,” he said. “His wife said he was attending to some youngster who has a bad habit of kicking things with his bare feet. So what now?”

I felt a chill run over me. “Lord Elrond is coming,” I said. “I’ve summoned him.”

“Lord Elrond?” Quellemel raised an eyebrow. He looks very like his son, but is far different in personality. Rather eccentric, but in a different way. I'm told he actually has a tree house. “Why…but he lives in the Palace now, does he not? It’s a rather long ride.”

“He’s not there now, he’s at Gan—Olórin’s house,” I said. Have I mentioned Dûndeloth lives at Gandalf’s house now? He occupies the second story. Most of Lord Elrond’s books are still in the library. I think he doesn’t really want to live at the Palace either, but Lady C. was afraid her mother would be lonely there, so they have moved in, along with Lady E. So I suggested that Dûndeloth move in with Gandalf, where he would have much more space than in that very small flat near the College. So Lord Elrond has plenty of excuse to spend much time there with his two old friends.

“Here he comes now,” Seragon said, at the sound of hooves outside. Two sets of them, in fact. Lord E. came first. Lyrien looked a bit frightened. But then Galendur came up behind him, holding something close to his chest.

“Here’s the pussy,” he said, depositing it into Lyrien’s lap. “How’s the arm now, Squinkles?”

“Better,” Lyrien said, hugging her kitten to her breast with one hand and smiling up at her uncle through tears. “Thank you soooo much! I hope you didn’t have to climb very high?”

“Only to the top,” he said. Lyrien gasped. It was a very high tree. “The closer I got to her, the higher she climbed. I turned up my charm until it smoked, sang her sweet love songs, recited poetry, told her she was the prettiest pussy I ever saw and I would buy her the softest cushion in all the world if she would only come to me, but she wouldn’t let me near her until I started doing mouse imitations. Then I had her.”

“Really?” Lyrien looked at him open-mouthed. I bent over double, my shoulders jerking.

“Truly. And it bloody nearly gave me a nose-bleed up there,” he continued. “I’m not one of your dratted tree-Elves, mind you. So don’t go telling your Auntie Tilwen, what? She’d paddle my bottom.”

“She wouldn’t!” Lyrien said, then giggled.

“Oh but she would. So if I were you, I should train that kitty of yours not to climb so high. And I would stay out of trees that are higher than this house. Somebody should paddle your bottie for giving us all such a scare, Princess. We won’t be able to sleep again for weeks.”

“You are a very naughty cat,” Lyrien told Beauty, in the way she has, one finger pointed and one eye shut tight. I’ve seen her do that once before, when she was telling Dínlad off thus: “You think you know everything--but you don’t!” The kitten purred as though she had just been told she was the sweetest creature in the world, her gold eyes fixed warmly on her mistress’s face, completely oblivious to how much in my bad books she was at the moment.

Lord Elrond attended to Lyrien, telling us her shoulder was dislocated and he would have to put it back in place. He sent me and Galendur out of the house, for which I was profoundly grateful. String me up for a coward, but I do not think for one minute that I could have born to stay and watch him do what he must! I thought he might have sent Seragon and Quellemel out also, but he did not. Well, of course she needed her daddy and her grandpa there. And they would not have left her.

As I stood, my knees buckled and I would have fallen to the floor if I hadn’t sat down on the edge of the bed again. I felt so weak and dizzy, I had to put my head on my knees until the spinning went away. I heard Lyrien ask me what was the matter, then I felt someone lifting me. It was Galendur, of course. He took me to the stable and set me down on a couple of feedbags and said he’d be back in a shake. I lay back until the dizziness passed, then saw him leading Nightwind in.

“All right, old chap?” he asked me anxiously, brushing my hair off my forehead.

“Yes, I think so,” I said. “I used up a good bit of strength summoning Lord Elrond. When you’re mortal, it takes a great deal out of you. Seeing Lyrien hurt didn’t help matters either. But I’ll be all right after I rest a bit.”

“Well, you stay put, and don’t you dare get up until I say,” he said, “or I’ll have Nightwind kick you right through the wall.”

“Will you bite my head off if I light my pipe?” My nerves felt like overwound fiddle strings.

“So long as you don’t set the damned stable on fire. I don’t know what it is with you hobbits and that bloody weed. I tried it once, and it tastes like cow-flop to me.”

“You know the taste of cow-flop then?” I said as I filled my pipe.

“I was in the army, was I not?” he said with a wink. Then he stood up and began grooming Nightwind. It was a beautiful sight, and it calmed me to watch him. It's always very lovely to watch anyone care for an animal of any sort.

But then I thought of Lyrien’s parents and shuddered. I thought of all the people I knew who had children, small or grown. Of Lord Elrond, who would never see his daughter again, separated from his sons for who knew how long. Of Lady G., what it must have done to her, what happened to her daughter. Lady E. losing one son to death and another in war, long ages before she would see him again. Salmë losing son and granddaughter in the same year, Dûndeloth his newborn daughter, in such a horrible manner. The list goes on forever. How did they bear it? How did they live with the memories? Did they ever regret having children, what with all they went through? This is something I will never know firsthand, of course. Should I be glad that I will never know the pain of losing a child, or seeing it suffer and not be able to help it, of watching it make the wrong choices, and being unable to set it right? Of being separated from it and having no hope of seeing it again in this life? I can still see Seragon’s face as he held his little daughter in his arms. Should I be grateful that I will never know that kind of anguish in its fullness, but only secondhand?

I tell myself I should be thankful that I have been spared that kind of misery, relegated as I am to the fringe of life. Of course, if all felt as I did then, there would be no little Lyriens, no Elanors, no anyone. I suppose we’ve little choice but to procreate, reproduce, perpetuate the human race, but would we, if we could know beforehand what it might cost us? And what would it be like here, without any little children? I remember watching Seragon at a sparring match, with Lyrien on his lap. You wouldn’t think of him as a lover of sport, but he is, as is she. He looked perfectly happy, with his little daughter in his lap, cheering, one arm around his neck, both putting out such a beautiful light, and I asked myself, does the sparring-match make him so happy? No. It’s Lyrien sitting in his lap that makes him happy. I know this, because it gives me that feeling when she snuggles up to me and kisses my cheek, sings to me, brings me some little gift made by her hands. It is beyond wonderful. But do I feel it to the same extent as her actual father does? And if it’s worse for him, seeing her hurt, than it is for me, then how can he bear it?

Galendur finished grooming his steed, patted his neck and spoke softly to him, then came and sat down beside me, saying, “All right now, Baggins?”

“Much better, thank you,” I said tipping the ashes out of my pipe and stomping on them to make sure they were all out.

“Are you, truly?” he said and I nodded and smiled.

“I’m all right,” I assured him truthfully. “I’m much sturdier than I look, or I would have been gone long ago.”

After a long moment, he asked me, “Have you sighted your little cliff-diver lately?”

I chuckled, then wondered if I should tell him of the dreams. And then I did so. I just couldn't hold back any more. “It is the same girl. I saw her face in the dream before I saw her on the cliff, and now I know she is real, and somehow I am destined to meet her someday.”

“Strange thing,” he said. “Who…or what…do you suppose she is? And why does she shy off?”

“I think she’s one of the sea-folk, that Lady Celebrían spoke of,” I said. “Umm…please do me one small favor? Never speak of her to Bilbo.”

“Not a word. But why…?”

“Because I think if he knew of her, he would leave,” I said seriously. “He would feel as though she were holding off because of him, and he would go…just to be out of the way. I think she would come if I called her to me. But I can’t do that, because if she did come, he would leave. And I don’t want that. I can wait.”

He gave me another long look, his steel-blue orbs, as Bilbo used to call them, warm and soft, then he reached out and patted my knee.

“Not a word,” he repeated. Then we both started up, at the sound of hooves and wheels.

“Bilbo and Gandalf are here,” I said smiling. We jumped to our feet and ran out to the cart. I told them what happened, and that they must not go in until Lord E. came out to tell us we could. And he came out just as I was telling them.

“She’s all right now,” he said. “I entranced her so she will not remember the pain of having her shoulder put back. And she has an internal injury that her healer is too young and inexperienced to have recognized, so you did right to call me, Frodo. But the injury will require her to rest a while. But, thanks to the two of you, she will pull through.”

“I’d say that was Baggins’s doing,” Galendur said laying a hand on my shoulder.

“But who got him here?” Elrond said smiling softly. I nodded.

“May we go see her now?” I asked. “Is she awake?”

“She is,” Lord Elrond said, “but whether or not you may see her, depends on her parents.”

Galendur and I went in, Bilbo and Gandalf lingering outside talking with Lord E. I heard Marílen in the kitchen with Niniel.

“She’s a little caution, isn’t she,” Galendur whispered to me as we slipped through the front parlor. “She and that little pussycat of hers. She’s made pussycats out of us all, what?”

“No,” I said. “She’s the pussycat; we are merely her devoted slaves.”

“Of course. Didn’t I say that?” he said. I laughed softly. Then I saw Seragon standing outside Lyrien’s bedroom door, and felt so badly for him, I wanted to put an arm about him, and so I did. He rubbed my shoulder absently. He seemed to have aged ten years since I saw him last.

But then we all pricked up our ears as we heard a soft voice from the other side of the door singing:

La la la la
You’re a bad pussycat
La la la la
You don’t wear a hat
La la la la
I should paddle your bottie
La la la la
’Cause you’ve been very naughty
La la la la
You’re a bad pussy cat
La la la la…..

I grinned at Galendur and Seragon. “Shall we go in?”



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