Yes, of course I’m all right!
I woke in a bed, which was Amras’, as it turned out. I had the baby-doll tucked under one arm, and Lyrien lay beside me fast asleep, curled on her side facing me, her hand holding mine; Marílen lay on my other side sleeping with one arm thrown over me, and Bilbo was sitting up sleeping in a chair beside the bed, his head drooping to one side.
Then I remembered Amras, wondering if what had happened in the cave had been only a dream. I sat up, groggily, then slumped back down again as dizziness overcame me. How long had I been out? It was still daylight. Where was everyone? I tried to sit up once more. My head spun again, but this time I managed to stay sitting up. Then Lyrien awoke.
“Iorhael!” she squeaked. “Are you all right?”
“Hullo, Poppet,” I said smiling and reaching for her hand once more. I was under the covers, but the girls lay on top of them. Lyrien reached over me and shook her cousin’s arm.
“Marílen! He’s awake!” she called. Marílen propped herself on one elbow. I hugged both girls at the same time, and knew by their giggles and squeals and hugs that I had not dreamt what happened after all. I bounced a little on the bed and so did they. Then Bilbo awoke. I invited him to join us, and he did. The girls hugged him also. Then Dínlad came into the room, his horn slung around his neck—he is as attached to it as I am to my glass, which sat on the bed-table. He came rather shyly and sat on the edge of the bed and reached his hand to me, and I took it and then I embraced him too, horn and all. Fëariel and her older sister Linwë came running in, their mother Haleth standing in the doorway smiling, all smiling, and Galendur and Tilwen and Eilinel and Donnoviel, Quellemel and Aerin and the rest. And soon enough there was Gandalf, squeezing past them and he came and sat down on the edge of the bed and admonished the children with mock sternness to stop bouncing before they made me sick, and they immediately stopped, for which I was glad because I was feeling a little giddy with all the rocking. I leaned against Bilbo with Lyrien almost in my lap, and I picked up the baby lest it get crushed and held it protectively to my stomach.
“How are you feeling?” Gandalf asked me as Marílen put an arm around his shoulders and leaned her dark head against him.
“A little weak, but aside from that…wonderful,” I said. “How long have I been here? How is Amras?”
“Less than an hour, I should say,” Gandalf said in answer to my first question, giving Marílen a little one-armed hug. “As for Amras, he’s in a good deal of pain, but he’s alive. He is being taken to the Palace until he can recover completely. As you may have heard, he had not only a fractured skull, but his left arm was shattered and several ribs broken, one hip dislocated, and one leg fractured in two places. Fortunately his neck was not broken, although it’s a wonder. Mirimë had to go with her son, otherwise she would be here to thank you. She asked me to convey her thanks, and will do so in person as soon as she can be spared.”
I shuddered. Yes, of course Amras would be in a lot of pain, and I somehow doubted his thoughts of me were complimentary just now. I remembered when I myself had been sent back, and I had been far from happy about it, to which Bilbo…and yes you, Sam…can well attest. I just hope Amras will be a little nicer to everyone than I was!
“Can you really raise the dead now?” Fëariel asked me. “Can you call back my grandfather?”
“I’m sorry, dear one,” I said, “but it is not something I can do at will. One can only do so at the calling of the Valar.”
“Oh,” Lyrien said in some disappointment, “one of Beauty’s little new baby kittens died the other day. I hoped you could call it back.”
I kissed her cheek. “Sorry, Sweetheart. I don’t think anyone could call kittens back, anyway. But you still love me, don’t you?”
“YES,” she said giving me a big squeeze. “EVERYbody does--everybody who isn’t stupid, that is.”
“You must be hungry, my lad,” Bilbo said. “It must be getting on for two o’clock. Is there aught left from luncheon, Mistress Haleth?”
“I’m afraid there isn’t much,” Haleth said, “but I can send someone to market.”
“I’ll go,” Linwë said. “I like to haggle. I’m getting really good at it.”
“I want to go too,” piped up Fëariel, jumping off the bed and smoothing down her dress. “As soon as I fix my hair a bit. I must look a fright!”
“Yes, you do,” said Dínlad giving one of her golden curls a tweak. She hit his hand.
Marílen stood up also. “I’ll come with you,” she offered shyly, “although I don’t know where the markets are. But I can carry stuff.”
“I would like to go too,” Lyrien said, “but I must stay with Iorhael to make sure he’s all right.” I laughed. So did the other adults.
“Is there anything in particular you would like to have?” Haleth asked me.
“My tastes are plain enough,” I said. “Bread, meat, fruit, vegetables, mushrooms…and fish. If they have any of that green melon with the red insides, I would like that very much.”
“I’ll carry the melon,” Marílen declared.
“Get lots and lots of mushrooms,” Lyrien said. “The golden kind if they have them. And blueberries. And cream. And, and strawberries, and…crab legs….”
“I’m going too,” Dínlad said sticking his chest out with a strong hint of his former cockiness. “You girls need a male around to see to things.”
“Oh, by all means,” Linwë said rolling her eyes. “We’ll just let you carry the heavy stuff, since you’re sooo smart, Mister Perfect. But if you start blowing that horn of yours, I’ll smack you silly!”
The four cousins departed with baskets, chattering and giggling, after Fëariel had put her rippling locks back in order and was assured by her mum that her dress was fine, the color was not too dark for her, and her sister threatened to leave her behind if she didn’t stop primping and come along. Lyrien whispered to me, “Marílen says Fëariel has her hair squiggled EVERY SINGLE DAY. Not just for special.”
I chuckled. “Well, she’s at that age,” I said, wondering how long “that age” lasted for ellyth.
I was feeling much stronger by nightfall, but do you think I was allowed to get up? Not a bit of it. I had to stay in bed the rest of the day, and much of the next. But I was waited on hand and foot, and the elflings were delightful company. I heard bells ringing joyously from the town square in the late afternoon. Laurewen came in the evening, wearing a gown of pale blue instead of black, and yes, she was weeping, but for happiness this time. She told me Mirimë had said she and Amras could get married now. His mother had thought he was too young, and wanted him to wait another fifteen or twenty years, but now she had given her consent, and they would marry as soon as he had recovered sufficiently.
“I owe you an apology,” she confessed, sitting in the chair beside the bed and hanging her head a little. “I knew you weren’t really to blame for what happened to Amras, you had naught to do with it, and it was his own fault for being so rash and silly as to take that treacherous mountain path. But at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel that if you hadn’t come to the Island, it wouldn’t have happened. It was sooo wrong of me to think that way, and I must sincerely beg your pardon for it.”
“Well, I would never have known if you had not told me,” I said, even as I thought it was not exactly true. “But I do pardon it, and thank you for telling me.”
“Of course I can scarcely say that I’m so wonderful, myself,” she said, her eyes brimming once more. “I mean, there I was, my great-grandfather had written the Epic, and here I was all puffed up about that and everything, going around boring everyone to death about it, when I hadn’t done a thing to boast of. It was his doing and none of mine, why should I have thought I was so special? And then, and then that what’s-his-name goes and makes a play of it, and Dínlad stars in it, and Amras gets all excited and starts going to see him more often…and then he does something really stupid and gets himself killed, and I end up blaming you! And in the end it’s you who calls him back. I’m just so, so overwhelmed, I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me and not think too badly of me, Iorhael. And I should very much like to have you perform the wedding ceremony, if you don’t mind.”
“I would be overjoyed to do so,” I said, thinking I would like to see her sometime when her eyes were not all red and puffy.
It was wonderful to see Mardil being kinder to his wife and children, and I hoped it would last. Also Quellemel and Aerin seemed much more cordial with each other. I dare say Quellemel hadn’t slept in the tree-house the previous night, judging from the little smirk he wore all morning! And he hummed a rather naughty little tavern song from time to time and his wife didn’t even look annoyed.
Even Donnoviel and Aerin managed to speak civilly to each other…and I was informed that Donnoviel even slept at their house instead of Firnhil’s, which was rather full. If one of them showed any signs of snarkiness to the other, all I had to do was pull a little distressed face and they straightened out quickly enough. I doubt they’ll ever exactly be bosom friends, but you never know!
I was allowed to see Amras a few days later. Lord Elrond had dosed him to relieve his pain, and he lay in a chamber in the Palace designated as a sick-room, heavily bandaged and splinted up. I came to find that yes, indeed, he had not been happy at being sent back, at the first, but since Laurewen had been coming to see him and his mother had given her consent to their marriage, he had gotten resigned rather quickly, and now, he said grinning, he felt he could forgive me. I told him I knew what it was to be sent back, and that if I had known at the time what I was being spared for, I would probably have put up even more of a fight than I had then, but it had been for the best after all, and so perhaps it could be for him. I hope I didn’t sound too preachy, but I probably did.
The play was postponed for six weeks, so that Amras could heal sufficiently to attend. Fortunately Elves heal much more quickly than mortals; otherwise we may have had to wait for nearly six months.
In the meantime I was able to take advantage of my princely status to get some things done. The Queen made me Inspector for the Orphans’ Home, which is on the edge of the City. It is a large enough building, yet still a bit crowded, and I mused over the idea of adding another wing to it. And the children were sufficiently fed, clothed, sheltered, and educated, and certainly not mistreated. But what did they lack? Individual attention, for one. They were all dressed the same, in grey uniforms; surely a little color wouldn’t hurt? And I told the Matron I wanted new uniforms for them, one in blue and one in red, to be worn on alternating days.
“I think you don’t quite understand,” she said condescendingly, “coming as you do from a different place. But there are so many of the children, it would never do to have them prancing about in gaudy colors. With such a large group, one must have order at all times, and the uniforms help to bring that about. We cannot have them thinking of their clothes at all times; one must keep their minds focused on Higher Things.”
“I am not suggesting gaudy colors,” I said looking up at her unwaveringly--I have been told far too often about the effect my steady gaze has to be unaware of it--and reminded myself, at the same time, to have patience. “I am suggesting soft shades of blue and red which I scarcely think likely to bring about disorder. Yes, I understand that a bit of regimentation is necessary for a large group. However, Middle-earth armies have traditionally incorporated color into their gear, and managed still to establish discipline among their ranks. And I am hardly suggesting a lot of flashy insignia, which would be an unnecessary expense. And I shall admonish the children to maintain proper order, so it will not be a hardship for you. Another thing: I have noticed that the girls all wear the same plain white dress for Temple. I shall have new frocks made for them, in colors of their choosing, trimmed with ribbons and lace. Nothing too fancy, but nice. Every girl should have at least one pretty dress. And is there someone who could curl their hair on Temple days?”
I can swear her face paled a little. Then flushed.
“Really, your Highness,” she said, “pardon me if I seem disrespectful, but I think you are taking this just a little far. How can young ladies possibly keep their minds attuned to the Divine if they are thinking of their clothing and their curly locks? Yes, I have noticed that curled hair seems to have become fashionable since you arrived, but it has never met with my approval. I cannot believe you are so intent on cultivating vanity and foolishness amongst the youth of this realm—and in Temple of all places? Young girls have enough notions in their heads without encouragement from outsiders. Whatever are you thinking?”
“All right, forget the curls,” I said. Of course I knew the idea of the hair was a stretch, but I thought perhaps if I overdid it a little, then backed down under the pretext of offering a compromise, she might be more amenable to the plan for the clothing. “It was just an idea. But I wish them to have the red and blue uniforms, with one pretty frock for Temple for the girls. I will see it done, and it will require no effort at all from you.”
“Very well then,” she said stiffly, “but if utter chaos is the result, it will be on your head, not mine!”
I am sure she glared at my back when it was turned to her, but I merely grinned. I told my plans at the Palace, and Lady C. and Lady E. were delighted, and said they would be pleased to take the girls to be measured for the dresses and pick out fabrics and the pattern. Then I remembered mine and Bilbo’s birthday was coming up, and I asked whether or not the children had toys. They did—old things that other elflings had outgrown and given away, some of them scarcely fit to be seen, although many seemed much attached to them. I decided they should have new toys made especially for them, and I called an assembly and asked them to write down their names and describe a toy they would like to have, and I would try to see to it that they got what they wanted, and I took the requests to various toy-makers. Three weeks later, I saw the orphan-girls coming to Temple and taking their designated place, all in lovely colorful dresses, smiling and giggling, all agog at how the Ladies had taken them to have the dresses made, and the Matron looked sourly in their direction and then at me, as if to say, Well, I hope you are happy now! I smiled as sweetly as I could at her.
I arranged trips to the Art Museum for the orphans as well, and to the Sporting Center, and the Library, and the Palace too. They had such trips already, but only once a year, and I thought they should go at least four times a year, and to the Sporting Center once a week. I was certain I could get up some volunteers who could chaperone them there (not to hint Galendur!), blithely shrugging off the Matron’s muttered grumble that I would have them visiting the Tavern before long. And yes, they will see the play, and they can hardly wait.
And as it happens, the first performance of the play is scheduled for our birthday!
Well, the first performance is over! I am so relieved! It went down wonderfully. Of course the Orphans attended it—I had ordered a special place for them to sit, near the stage, and many brought the toys they had received that morning, and they applauded the loudest of anyone. I could hardly believe how wonderful Dínlad’s performance was. And Perion was much better than I expected; he was amazingly convincing. He even had the Shire accent down perfectly, just as I had taught him. Lady C. said of Inzilbêth, “Why, she’s more like Mother than Mother herself,” in all seriousness, with wide and worshipful eyes. I would love to know what the Queen would have said to that, but I’m not telling her what her daughter said!
But I think Inzilbêth wants to adopt Dínlad and Perion. And Edrahil and Dairuin, who played Merry and Pippin. And me. Even the Matron came up afterward and told me, rather grudgingly, that it was “a fine affair.” Coming from her, that is very high praise!
In case you may be wondering, there was no Ring at all. I felt that even an imitation ring might not be a good idea, even here, and so merely suggested it by having the characters look down at a cupped hand and imagining what they saw there, and I was amazed at how convincingly they did so.
I was profoundly thankful that my part was so small, so that I didn’t have to do much singing, and that they managed Bilbo’s disappearing act so cleverly, sending up a puff of smoke as the trap-door underneath the box on which I stood fell too and I was deposited on a pile of pillows below. I was glad Bilbo’s song of departure was so short and simple:
I wish to see the Misty Mountains high and cold
To breathe sweet peace beneath the Elven light
To walk the beech-woods as in days of old
And with the wings of longing take my flight….
(Psst--I wrote this song myself, and Bilbo approved it. I thought Rûdharanion's version just didn't sound like my Uncle.) Bilbo said he couldn’t keep his eyes dry the whole time I was up there. Gandalf said he couldn’t either. To be truthful, I had rather a hard time of it myself!
And I was proud of the way everyone applauded Rûdharanion as he came up minus his bushy beard and grey wig and took a modest bow. And I was truly taken aback when Salmë and Aredhel both threw flowers to him! He made a little speech, at everyone’s urging.
“I can scarcely tell you all how pleased I am with my--our drama’s reception, and how honored I am to have been entrusted to the penning of it. I feel that my life’s striving has culminated in this work, and I am fairly overwhelmed by the immensity of its magnitude, the staggering significance of the tale itself and its ultimate meaning for us all. I am proud and honored to claim the friendship of its central figure, who saw fit to look beyond my manifold shortcomings and foresee what I was capable of accomplishing, and help to nurture it to its final culmination. I can scarcely express the extremity of the awe and wonder I feel at the enormity of his undertaking in order to cast down the Enemy at his pinnacle, the monumental devotion at the foundation of this unassuming small being, that he should have laid his humble life on the line for the well-being of such unworthy creatures as you and I. I am equally pleased to have the esteem of the Author of the great Work on which mine is based, and am equally grateful to him for allowing me to adapt his mighty Epic into the production you have witnessed tonight. I would also like to thank all the actors of the esteemed Company who…”
“As big of a windbag as ever,” Galendur whispered to me, “but really he’s a bit of all right, what say?” I giggled.
After the children were taken home…well, the boys were allowed to stay up a little longer than usual, and we were taking them to dinner with us, and they were in fine form…I saw something that fairly knocked me on my backside: Aredhel, wearing that pink dress, draping one hand over the arm of Alcandor--I had not noticed that it was he who sat beside her during the performance--and smiling right into his face, and after that…no, it couldn’t be, it just couldn’t…Salmë taking the arm of Rûdharanion and beaming up at him…and the radiance was unmistakable!
Sam…perhaps it’s too soon to say yet…but I do believe I’ve lost our bet!