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26
Marble Halls


Dear Sam,

The funeral is tomorrow.

I was so silly last night, worrying over whether or not I would be welcome on the Island anymore. Just as Bilbo and I rose and washed and dressed, we heard the bell and the peacock, and there was Talmar, our dairy-Elf, with our weekly supply of milk, butter, cream and cheese, and he also had a basket of rolls, warm from the oven and smelling delicious, along with a roasted duck. His wife sent them over, he said. As always, I sent him on his way with a basket of oranges and golden mushrooms, a jar of honey, another of raisins, and a couple bottles of wine. He tried to refuse, but I was having none of that. It was an even more than usually beautiful morning.

Then when we had just finished our breakfast, Galendur came over. I embraced him and he dropped to one knee and held me a long moment. I shed a couple of tears into his shirt and he let me get over them before releasing me. I think he kissed my shoulder. I invited him to have some rolls—there actually were a few left, and he took one, and exchanged a few remarks with Gandalf, much more somber than usual. Then he asked me if we were going to the funeral.

“I was going to take our pony-cart,” I said, “and Gan—Olórin will lead the way. I don’t think my pony should have to pull the three of us.”

“It’s a long way out for your pony at all,” Galendur said, “so I thought I’d offer to take you on Nightwind. Bilbo can ride with Olórin on Shadowfax, and Til can load the supplies on her pony. That way we can take the shorter route. How’s that?”

I said I thought it a good plan, and we quickly packed a change or two of clothing and rode out toward Galendur’s house, which is about half a mile from ours. The house is a little larger than ours, with vases of flowers and many candles, and some very colorful tapestries on the walls, brighter than you usually see in Elven homes. And some unusual lamps also with shades made of colored glass made into patterns. There is an atmosphere of simple love that lingers over it that you can almost smell, like a rain-washed meadow. I smelled something else also, something familiar. Tilwen embraced me and Bilbo and kissed us on the cheek, looking sad. Gandalf kissed her hand, and we went into the sitting-room which afforded a nice view of the garden, which boasted a small fountain and some statuary.

I wondered if Galendur knew Amras well, and if I should speak of the boy at all. And then Galendur said, “I’m glad you are here, Baggins. It’s a comfort to have you.”

I was taken aback. I certainly was not expecting to hear that.

“Yes,” Tilwen agreed, coming in from the kitchen to where we all sat facing the windows. She patted my shoulder. “I feel so badly for them all, though. Especially his poor mother. First she lost her husband, now her youngest son. I think her daughter will have her move in with them, but I doubt she’d want to, with two children in the house already.”

“At least they’re girls,” Galendur said. “Less nerve-wracking than boys, I should think.”

“My mother may differ with you there,” Tilwen smiled. “Still, Mirimë shouldn’t have to be alone in that house. Amras was such a lovely boy. So fearless and so in love with his surroundings. A pity he was so careless and reckless though.”

I felt that there was more in those words than met the ear. As though she were directing them at Galendur, who shared some of the same characteristics. I devoutly hoped he would take the hint.

“Isn’t Donnoviel going with us?” I said to Tilwen.

“No, she went with Niniel,” she said. “But Niniel and Seragon and Lyrien are staying with Seragon’s parents, and my mother and his mother don’t like each other much, so she’ll stay with us at Firnhil’s. But they took their carriage, and Mother doesn’t like to ride horseback for long distances, so she went with them. Oh, oh, the bread is about to burn!”

She flurried off to the kitchen and took something out of the oven. And I knew why it smelled familiar. It has been a good long while since I tasted lembas bread. I once thought I should never want to taste it again. But here it was, smelling even better than the rolls.

We had a long way to go to get there--about 30 miles or so. The village is the same one near the light-house, where Dûndeloth’s son Firnhil lives, so we’d be staying overnight with them.

I didn’t speak of my guilty feelings to Galendur, because I had a very good idea what he would say. And I really didn’t feel quite so guilty anymore. I watched him feed his horse for the journey, then he lifted me and put me up on the saddle, patting Nightwind’s neck with a fond smile.

“Is he a horse or isn’t he?” he said. “I should be endowed like he is. Shouldn’t I, old fellow?”

I laughed in relief to hear Galendur sounding so much like himself again, as he swung up into the saddle behind me with one deft motion and we were on our way.

~*~*~

It was nearly nightfall when we reached the village. It was good to see Firnhil and Maianna again. And Dûndeloth had gotten there ahead of us, and with him was Rûdharanion; they had come together. It does my heart a world of good to see that they are now friends. Maybe even Tilwen will unbend and forgive him eventually. It’s a bit much to hope for, but stranger things have happened!

Maianna asked me if I could remember the little poem I had quoted to her at our first meeting. I regretted to say I had forgotten it, but I would write another much better one just for her, and she smiled sadly. She seemed older than I remembered. I was not surprised to find that she and Mirimë were friends. The people in the village all knew each other, it seemed. Mirimë was a weaver by profession, who would go out of her way to help a neighbor in need. How she would get on without her boy, Maianna couldn’t imagine.

“I’m worried about her,” she said. “I feel so helpless, knowing there is nothing I can do for her. Did you ever feel that way? That no matter how much you care for someone, you just don’t have what she really needs? And I can’t help but feel angry with Amras. Whatever possessed him to go up that mountain? Makes me glad mine were all daughters. Well, I’m glad she still at least has Haleth and Mardil, and their children…although Mardil is an awful stick in my opinion, but you needn’t quote me on that. Haleth is a lovely person, if a bit of a worry-wart. And Amras and our youngest granddaughter Laurewen were more than a little sweet on each other. They’ve known each other since they were small. He called her his fairy-princess. I cannot see her caring for anyone else now.”

Once more Galendur and I slept on the terrace, and I watched for the Beacon light but it seemed dim and far away. And then I found myself walking through the Halls of Mandos, which were of black marble, and saw many Elves sitting on long benches lining the walls. I looked about for Amras, but could scarcely remember what he looked like, since it was some months ago when I had met him, and only briefly. I asked some of the Elves if they had seen him, but they shook their heads, their faces expressionless. Then one of them stood up and put the flat of his hand on my chest saying What are you doing here, you are no Elf. Be on your way, we do not want you here. There was a strange buzzing in the hall. I reached in my pocket for my glass, but it was not there. And I said, I have come such a long way. There is no going back. And I saw a lady standing in the doorway weeping so woefully, my heart broke. I said, She wants to come in. I must help her. The lady tore at her hair and cast herself on the floor. And the Elf grabbed me by the front of my shirt saying, You have something we want, Halfling. Give it to me now! You cannot have it, I said, wondering why I could not feel the floor beneath my feet. You are a failure, Hair-foot, said the Elf. Nothing you do is right. Now you want to take over. Everything falls because of you. Liar, I told him. Your words are poison. He laughed, sounding strangely like Saruman. The lady cried piteously for her son. Her tears flowed into me and out of my eyes and the Elf laughed. Pig. You are wetting yourself. I am tired of you. Go away before I call the guards. I turned to see the guards and they were orcs….

“Baggins? All right?” I felt Galendur’s hand take mine. I told him of my dream, sitting up and clutching my blanket around me and remembering how I had fallen asleep against him while we were riding over, and when I awoke I saw he had turned me sideways in the saddle and was cradling me with one arm, and that I had left a patch of drool on the front of his tunic. When I apologized, he just chuckled and said, “I was in the army, remember? I’ve had plenty worse stuff on my clothes.” And now I could see the Beacon’s light as bright and true as I remembered it well over a year ago, and Galendur told me to do as the curmudgeonly Elf said and keep my arse out of those halls; who needed a drooling pig with hairy feet taking over there anyway? I laughed a little, but couldn’t help but think of the mother weeping for her son.

After breakfast Firnhil’s two daughters and their husbands and some of their children, including the bereaved Laurewen, came by. She wept quietly much of the time we were there, and later we rode to the home of Seragon’s parents, where Lyrien ran out to meet us, throwing herself into my arms first.

“I was worried about you,” she informed me breathlessly. I smiled sadly.

“There was no need, darling,” I said. “Your uncle always takes good care of me.”

I grinned up at Galendur and she threw herself at him. He picked her up and gave her a smacking kiss. Seragon followed up, smiling gently, and behind him his father, Quellemel, and Aerin his mother. I could see that yes, indeed there was a tree house, but it was not as I thought. There was a cottage on the ground like any other, and the mallorn grew alongside of it, and from the roof was a ladder leading upward into the branches. The tree-house was hard to see, but it was there. Galendur had told me something of it. Quellemel mostly lives in the tree. No, he is not a native of Lothlorien, just a nutter who fancies trees, and he and his wife are not always on the best of terms, so he often retires to the shelter of the mallorn. He reminds me a little of Tom Bombadill, only much more cantankerous, grumbling a great deal about all the people Aerin brings into the house; how is a fellow supposed to have any peace with so many chatter-boxes jabbering about recipes and clothes and children and weddings and yes, husbands, day in and day out? But when Lyrien is there, he turns into a bowl of custard. And Aerin would never stand for having tubs of water-lilies about, tripping up her visitors and making a mess all over her nice clean floor. Their daughter Eilinel still lives at home. Eilinel is very unlike her brother, with an air of pert and merry mischief about her under normal circumstances. She and Tilwen have been close friends since childhood, before Donnoviel tired of provincial village life and moved into the more intellectually stimulating City so her daughters could have “the advantages.”

“How it is,” Tilwen said to me once, “that Aerin should have been Seragon’s mother and our mother should have been mine and Niniel’s, I’ll never know. You’d think it would have been the other way around, wouldn’t you? It’s just one of the Great Mysteries of Life, I suppose.”

Lyrien wanted to show us something she made for Mirimë, and ran inside to fetch it. It was a baby-doll, to make her feel better, she said. I held it and looked at it in wonder. Although it must have been hastily made, the stitches were well put in, and it wore a long white gown trimmed with lace, and the eyes were closed, with long eyelashes embroidered carefully on the pink cheeks, the tiny mouth one little pink line. The hair was a very recognizable shade of copper, and I had a feeling she had clipped bits from her own doll to make it. It even wore a nappy and bootees. And it looked as though she were already attached to it, and would have a hard time parting with it. It had a kind of sweet weight in my arms almost like a real infant.

“My mum and Auntie Tilwen helped,” she admitted, “because there wasn’t much time.”

“You are already the best doll-maker on the Island,” I said softly, “and certainly the sweetest.”

We went indoors for tea and Quellemel told us about what deaths he could remember on the Island. He could recall a ship that didn’t come back; he could not have told us how long ago that was. Actually it happened before he came here; he had heard about it from others. And there was a fisher who had become a meal for sharks one day when he and his mates ventured much too far out to sea and were making a little too merry, so that he fell overboard. There was a ballad about it; mothers often sang it to their sons as a warning. He offered to sing it for us but Aerin gave him a sharp look and so he didn’t. Eilinel edged up close to Tilwen and me, whispering that she had heard from one of her mother's friends that Mirimë wished to die of grief. I felt my heart flop over.

“I don’t know what I’ll do if she does,” Eilinel whispered, with big round eyes. “I never heard of such a thing; did you?”

I dreaded going to Mirimë’s, but we eventually headed there, and Leandros, Lalaith, Dínlad and Marílen were all there, along with Leandros’ and Mirimë’s older brother and father and mother, Mirimë’s daughter Haleth and older son Mardil, with their spouses and children. Haleth’s daughter Fëariel waved to me, but was not her usual smiling self. I was surprised that Amras was not laid out in the church, but rather in a small cave behind a waterfall, with a large rock sealing the entrance to keep animals out. There he would remain until the burial later in the day. Mirimë had a white-faced unnatural calmness about her that made me uneasy. What if she did die of grief?

Everyone got to talking and I slipped away on the pretext of having to go where everyone must, which for that matter I did. After I emerged from the privy, however, I remained outside, where I could see the sea-shore, as well as a cliff from which I could hear what sounded like a waterfall. Was that where Amras was laid out? I went over to investigate, without knowing why. Yes, I could see there was a waterfall, and an opening beneath, with a large boulder blocking it. A chill ran over me, but I did not run back. I just stood still, looking toward it for I knew not how long until I heard a step behind me and started. It was Laurewen.

“Is that where he is now?” I asked. She nodded.

“They’re going to put him in the ground,” she said sniffling. “In the hard, cold earth. I’ll simply go mad.”

I reached over and touched her hand. It was trembling.

“He was my own beloved,” she said as her tears began to flow once more. I offered her my handkerchief.

“I know. I am so sorry for your loss,” I said as she took it.

“It’s just not fair,” she said in muffled tones behind the handkerchief. “How can I face all the ages of the world without him? It’s so unfair!”

That was when I was thankful for my mortality. My heart broke for this young girl, bereft for all the ages. And I heard the roar of the surf along with the noise of the falls, and felt the sun on my back. And found myself a bit entranced, as the strangest feeling came over me.

“I don’t suppose you can move that stone?” I heard myself asking the weeping maiden. She shook her blonde head, looking down at me in puzzlement through her tears. “Of course not. It would take at least three big folk to do it, I’m sure. But…wait here. I know it sounds daft, but…I just have a feeling. I must see him, somehow.”

She stared at me for a long moment, then said, “I’ll go. You may stay.” And she turned and ran back.

There really are some advantages to being a prince. It’s so much easier to get people to do what you want.

I couldn’t have told anyone why I wanted so badly to see the boy. Just half an hour ago I was feeling that it would have been the last thing I wanted. But now I felt such an urgent need, that if they didn’t come and move the stone, I would find a way to move it myself.

Laurewen returned, along with her father, Firnhil and Dûndeloth and Rûdharanion, and Mardil and Leandros, Bilbo and Gandalf following behind. And some of the ladies, including Mirimë with Lyrien’s baby-doll cradled in one arm, after them. I wished they had stayed behind but didn’t think I could bring myself to ask them to go back. I requested to Firnhil and Dûndeloth to move the stone away. Laurewen said she wished them to do it as well; she hated the thought of him having to be sealed up before he must be laid way for all eternity. Dûndeloth, Firnhil, and Mardil all went over, and to the detriment of their clothing, waded into the water and began straining at the boulder. My heart pounded so that I could hardly hear anything else, as I prayed silently.

It had happened before, had it not?

The Elves managed to budge the stone, and Gandalf went over with a large stick and worked it into the crack they made and pried the boulder away. I felt Laurewen’s cold hand clutching mine tightly. I broke away and ran to the opening, and without looking at anyone else I squeezed myself through the crack until I was inside the cave, scarcely noticing how I scraped my leg on the stone; then I took my glass from my pocket and lit it, telling the others to stay back.

The body lay on a large flat slab, covered with a white cloth. I felt a momentary dizziness, but finally found the courage to pull the cloth away. The body was dressed in white, the hands folded on the breast as expected, the face nearly as white as the clothing. There was a bandage around the head, and I remembered someone saying that a piece of the skull had pierced his brain, causing immediate death.

It has happened before, I reminded myself. I heard Bilbo speak my name, and Gandalf shushed him. The others were silent. And I went to the boy and took his icy hand in mine, shuddering at the clammy coldness, but I drew a deep breath, closed my eyes and began to speak. And soon I heard myself speaking words in a language I did not know. They came as music from water, as smoke from fire, as butterflies from a field, with no effort at all, as though another were merely using my voice to utter them. I heard myself say, “Come back,” and “Release him, send him back,” but those were the only words I understood.

How long I stood there with his hand in mine, speaking unintelligible words, I never knew. But by and by I felt compelled to open my eyes, and that was when I heard a soft groan. And felt the cold fingers stir ever so slightly. And saw the eyelids twitch and a faint tinge of color creep into the lips.

And I lost all consciousness.




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