Please forgive my long silence. I hope you did not worry.
I suppose I had this idea that nothing bad could happen on the Island. I was so wrong!
The play is to be performed in three weeks. Rehearsals have been going well and I have been pleased with the performances overall…especially Dínlad’s. I’m told he even looks like me—or like me when I was a lad, although I rather doubt it! Yet I was worried as well. The boy had never experienced loss, so how would he do with the fall of Gandalf in the mines? How could he and the others convincingly convey grief they had never felt?
Weel, I got my answer.
Dínlad and Marílen had a cousin, Amras, son of Leandros’s sister Mirimë. I don’t know how old he was, since Elves do not keep up with their birthdays as we do, but I would estimate that he was roughly the equivalent of a youth in his middle or late ’tweens. Probably between eighty and ninety. I met him just once at the celebration at the Palace, and his niece, Fëariel, was one of my dance-partners—she is a little older than Marílen. Amras’s father was slain in battle before the family came to the Island, so Amras has been here since he was small.
Amras was an adventuresome lad, reckless and impulsive, and I’m sure he must have caused his mother a great deal of worry. Mirimë doted on him immensely, he was so different from his older brother, who insisted on order and got upset if one of his children left a cupboard door open or came down with a crooked parting in their hair. He loved to swim and dive in the sea, climb mountains and cliffs, gallop on his horse at break-neck speed, spar and wrestle and tame animals when he could. Altogether an energetic, cheerful, and intrepid youth, and I would have liked to know him better.
It was when he was coming to visit us that he met his fate, for it seemed he wanted to know me better as well. I think he was getting bored in his village—he was apprenticed to a blacksmith, who was rather strict and exacting—and decided to come down and visit his cousins on his own. He left a note for his mother and went on his way without saying goodbye, no doubt fearing she would stop him from going, and took his horse at dawn and set out.
There is a river that runs almost halfway through the Island, swift and deep at all times, and especially so this time of year, after a hard rain. If Amras had taken the path through the valley through which the river runs, he would surely have been all right. For that matter, this road would have gotten him to Leandros’ sooner, but instead, he took one that winds over the mountainside, narrow, rocky, and treacherous. Perhaps he wanted to see the view from up there, which surely must be breath-taking. But more likely the reason was simply that he hated to do things the same way all the time, according to Leandros. A shepherdess saw what happened and told us about it. She said the horse must have lost his footing on some loose stones and slipped, falling down the steep mountainside, and he and his master both fell into the surging current, where the boy was dashed to death on the rapids, and no doubt the poor beast met with the same fate. She would never forget the sight, she told us, shuddering and weeping; she could only think of her own sons.
Needless to say, the entire Island was catapulted into mourning. It is hard to grasp the enormity of the grief. If it had happened in the Shire, of course, it would have been a great tragedy for those who knew the boy, but eventually things would have gone back to the way they were and life would go on. But this was an immortal in the Blessed Realm, and a young one at that; such a thing was not supposed to happen. And that wicked conscience of mine has risen to berate me again. I imagined folks talking amongst themselves, telling each other in hushed tones if that…Halfling…had not come here the lad would still be alive. What was he doing here anyway, he was no Elf. Savior indeed! This is what comes of allowing mortals into the Undying Lands. They bring death and destruction with them everywhere they go. Now what would become of the Island?
“What will happen now?” I said to Bilbo as I cleared the supper table. “No one can even remember the last time there was a death here. And surely this has thrown everything out of kilter. I doubt anyone will even wish to see the play now. What will become of the Island’s tranquillity? Things will never be the same. And I will never feel so welcome here now. I feel that I must stay here at the cove for the rest of my life and never venture out again….”
I sat down at the table, leaning my head on my hands. Bilbo stood and patted my back.
“There now, my lad, you are taking far too much to yourself,” he said, his voice shaking a little. “It sounds to me like you are blaming yourself for the lad’s death, which of course is nonsense. You had naught to do with it. He was not even on his way to see you, but to see Dínlad. We live far out of his way.”
“But he wanted to know me, Leandros said,” I said through my hands.
“Even so, it was not your doing. He shouldn’t have taken that mountain path, that was sheer foolishness. ’Twasn’t your fault if he didn’t show half the sense he was born with.”
“I guess I’m thinking of what I was worrying about, of Dínlad not knowing enough of grief to convey it convincingly,” I sighed. “Just the other day I was thinking of it. And then this happened. It just seems…too coincidental.”
“And that’s exactly what it is—coincidence,” my uncle said putting an arm around my shoulders. “You had naught to do with it, and you know it. It was a sad, sad thing, but none of your doing. You didn’t even know the boy. Now come on and let’s go sit on the terrace and watch the sun go down and have a smoke, what say?”
We went out, leaving the dishes in the tub. We smoked our pipes in silence for a bit, and before long we heard the sound of hooves and the bell from the archway ringing, and the peacock awoke and gave a raucous cry. We looked around and saw Shadowfax faintly glowing in the dusk. Of course Gandalf needed no invitation to come through our gate, and he knew it well.
“I grew worried about you,” he said as he dismounted. I went to him and we embraced, all three of us. I stood holding him for a long moment, my face buried in his bosom. He patted my back and stroked my hair. Then we all went to the terrace and I offered him a drink and he said, “Just fresh water.” I drew him a full glass and sat down close to him and we talked well into the evening.
“When will his burial be?” I asked.
“Day after tomorrow. The funeral won’t be held in the Temple, but in the little church in his village. His mother doesn’t wish to be surrounded by a huge crowd, poor soul. And she would have him buried out back of it. For of course there are no graveyards here.”
I rose and went down the steps and poked around the garden in silence. Gandalf spoke my name in worried tones. I picked a flower or two and stood twirling them between my fingers, then returned to the terrace.
“So what will become of the Island now?” I asked. “It will never be the same again, surely.”
“I suppose things will be different for a while,” Gandalf said thoughtfully. “But as for anything ‘becoming’ of it…Elves have different ideas about death than mortals, certainly. It’s hard for mortals, of course, but your lives are so short, you are not faced with waiting all through the ages to rejoin those who go before you. Yet such is the virtue of the Island, it will know healing as well, although it will take a long time.”
“What can I do?” I said. “I feel I must do something. But what? I scarcely think Amras’s family would want aught to do with me now. Not that they would blame me exactly—it is as Bilbo said, the boy’s own doing that brought about his fate. But I cannot help but think that if I weren’t here, it wouldn’t have happened. Dínlad talked so much to him of the play, and they grew close....”
“It will come to you in time, what you can do,” Gandalf said gently. “I cannot tell you; you must listen and you will hear. But not if you persist in berating yourself. Only if you are still and receptive to the Music that is meant for you will you hear it. So I would advise you to do as you would in the Shire for those who suffer bereavement. Give what comfort you can and offer what you are able. Then you will be guided in due time.”
He stayed the night with us in the guest-room, but I could not sleep. Late in the night I rose, dressed, took my glass and went out on the beach. I wandered toward my praying-place, but could not make my knees bend for the longest, so I walked up and down the shore, listening to the rush and roar of the surf, and the faint calling of night-birds from the cove. I could see the light from the Beacon, but it seemed fainter than usual. What would happen to it?
I looked to the white cliffs jutting over the shore, and the tiny “island” just off them—no one lived on it, I had come to find; it was just rock and trees, its only inhabitants being birds and insects, I supposed. But I had sighted Marilla there, just once, sitting above the water in the late evening—she was glowing or I would have missed her. I wondered if she would be gone too. I could take no comfort even in the thought of her at the moment.
Sighing, I picked up a stick and began idly drawing in the sand with it, thinking of Gandalf’s words. I must listen, he said. I must be still and receptive to the music and it would come to me, what I must do. I looked down at what I had written in the sand, and found myself reading it aloud, wondering if I should copy it on paper before the surf could wash it away.
Still as an islet choked in tangled mists
I stand and breathe wet questions at the moon:
What now? Why must it be?
I have come such a great way;
must I turn back now?
When one falls
must we all?
Are all roads one?
I am dashed against harsh riddles
I have lost my skiff
I am adrift.
Do all rivers meet the sea?
What comes next? When will I know?
do not let my Light die.
I fear the dim and shifty road
as I fear the upwardness
and the downwardness
and the staying and the listening
and the going out and coming in
the windows and the stairs
the burying and the caring
and crooked partings
and doing a thing
the same way twice.
I dread all paths and openings
and closings and beginnings.
I would sew all souls to the ground
but fear to lose my eyes
when my light is drowned
and would prick my finger surely
and no one would thank me
for bleeding on their skin
as I grope in vain
to stitch a straight seam.
What do I say?
Where is my bundle?
Why is the sand so cold?
And I found myself rising, and my feet moving toward the praying-place as the vast indifferent sea breathed outward once more, ever closer to the fragments of my soul that I had scratched on the snowy sand.