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33
At Long Last

Part II: Heart's Desire


~~~


1. At Long Last


Dear Sam,

I saw Bilbo last night. I don’t think it was a dream. There he was sitting on the edge of my bed. He was all alight, and looked as he might have appeared in his young adulthood, but he was recognizable as my uncle as Olórin is recognizable as Gandalf. He didn’t touch or kiss me; there was no need. I felt embraced by his mere presence, which enveloped me in love so profound that it was like being borne up in the arms of the Creator himself. He did not speak, but my heart heard him clearly. Take the next step, Frodo-lad, you know what it is. Don’t be afraid to follow your heart to the highest pinnacle. If I hear any nonsense out of you about how it’s too soon, I’ll come back and fill your bed full of sand-burrs.

Now I’m propped here in bed with Frodo-doll, Sam-doll, and Bilbo-doll on the pillow next to mine, their arms around each other…yes, of course I had to bring them all to the Palace, even though I knew how silly I would look taking dolls to bed at my age. I’ve just read Lyrien’s speech from Bilbo’s funeral for the umptieth time—she and Marílen made me a copy on pretty parchment and decorated it with flowers and leaves and butterflies and one tiny dragon at the top. And there are drawings they made of each other, and me and Bilbo, their parents, Tashi the dog and Beauty the cat, and several others. I copied the speech out myself so that I could take it out and read it whenever I wished without spoiling the dear girls’ copy with too much handling, and I nearly have it memorized. Shall I read it to you once more, or have you heard enough?

They are finally letting me go home.

No, of course they have not been holding me against my will! I could have gone home any time I pleased…and could leave right now but for the fact that I’ve too much stuff to carry and no ride. Tomorrow they will take me home, however. It’s just that there has been so much going on, what with the Orphans’ home and all…and I’ve enjoyed my work as counselor there, even though much of what the children tell me is so wrenching. Lady Celebrían is a little put-out with her mother for giving me this job. What was she thinking, she said. I was so fresh from my own loss and now I must hear of others? Dear Lady C—I will miss her so much when I go!

On the plus side, Rûdharanion seems to have started a trend for adopting orphans, for nearly two dozen have been taken in by families since he and Salmë adopted the three little lads. I would like to think these families are taking the children because they really want them and not merely because a great poet did so, and I have delegated people to going out and making sure the orphans are happy and well cared for in their new homes. As of yet, I’ve heard of no serious problems.

Also, the Matron—remember her?—is warming up to me. I think it happened when I first told her I was orphaned at an early age myself, and her eyebrows nearly touched her hair-line, and she said that she was an orphan also. Her parents drowned in a terrible flood…and we got to talking. Her name is Nessima, by the way. She has lovely blue-green eyes and an angular coltish beauty I had not noticed before. She has read a good deal, including the Epic, which she is now reading for the third time—it is really most thrilling, she said. Although she’s had to read it in bits, for it’s hard for her to get hold of a copy and she hasn’t time to copy it out herself. She really loves that Faramir, she told me with a little giggle—imagine that! And she has never been married, but once had a sweetheart who seduced and then jilted her because her past was “too tragic” he said. And she had a bosom friend who was mortal, and died long ago in her arms. I really think I’ve become her counselor as well!

She is more than resigned to the red and blue uniforms now…which of course didn’t solve all the children’s problems, not that I ever supposed they would, but they were a start. There are actually fewer discipline problems now than before, she has admitted. She will probably think the uniforms were her own idea before long.

I have observed how the children are educated, and noted how little play-time they have. Seems they only really have any once a week, save for the one hour per day devoted to physical education. I decided they should have some time every day, and have designated the hours between school-time and supper for supervised play. I expected Nessima to protest—but she has been very cooperative indeed!

I shall see to it that she gets her own copy of the Epic, if I have to make it myself.

I will miss seeing Perion also. He has his room across the hallway from my suite, and they assigned him to me during my stay, even when I insisted I didn’t need a page and would prefer to regard him only as a friend. But he has been excellent company. Knowing how I like to take my meals outside, he brings them out to me on a large patio that is accessible from my suite; it boasts a magnificent garden and a fountain, a round table, some cushioned chairs and two hammocks. It affords a splendid view of the City and the surrounding mountains. And it really does me good just to sit there and listen to the chatty youngster rattle on and on about Palace life, telling me amusing stories about the courtiers’ doings, pompous and over-dressed officials the Queen must deal with, and so on. He misses his Ladies, but admits it’s more interesting here. And it won’t be very long until the second part of the Epic is ready to be performed, will it? Rûdharanion has it nearly finished; it just needs a bit of polishing up. Perion can hardly wait. I’m glad I won’t have to play Bilbo in this one!

~*~*~

Dearest Sam, I’m home, as I’m sure you know already…and I hope you don’t get tired of hearing me tell you what it meant to me to SEE you—and Elanor—tonight! I remember well what a lovely infant she was, and now it’s as you said, she is more beautiful still, and looks bright and sweet and devoted to you already. I can see what a great comfort she is and I can stop worrying now. I apologize for dropping out as I did—I don’t know if it was the excitement of seeing the two of you, or the drawing out of energy it took from me to be able to do so…or it may have been the wine. Or a combination of all. I just blanked out all of a sudden, and woke to find Galendur carrying me toward the cottage. He is in the guest-room now and I hope he is asleep and cannot hear me.

Whether or not I’ll ever be able to see you again so, remains to be seen. If it’s not to be, then the memory of that one time will tide me over until you come, I am sure. I will never forget the pure joy in your face, if I live to be a thousand.

~*~*~

Dear Sam…

Where to begin? I woke late in the morning and Galendur was still here. He had fixed breakfast and was keeping my portion warm for me. I did mention he had been seeing to the upkeep of the cottage? Tilwen has been looking after my pony as well. She loves ponies. And she will be a mother soon! I think it will be a boy.

Galendur had cleaned up the place while I was sleeping in, sweeping up the dead flowers and putting the ones that were still good into a large vase. After a while he said he had pupils to teach and must be going, and that if I had a hard time in the house alone tonight, I was to come to his place—he and Til have a guest-room decorated especially for me. I thanked him and told him I might well avail myself of his kindly offer.

“Drop over later in the day if you like,” he said as he was leaving. “Til will probably be home from her mum’s then, even if I’m not. I should imagine that in her condition, she can only take so much of Donnoviel now. She’d be glad of your company, after listening to the Mysteries of the Universe over breakfast all morning.”

“Perhaps I will,” I said as I walked with him to the archway. “Thank you for staying with me last night. That was most decent of you.”

“Decent. But of course. Remind me to show you my Decency medal from the War sometime,” he said with a wink. I laughed uproariously and embraced him.

I sat for a while on the terrace long after he had gone, remembering that day as if it were yesterday…the butterfly that hovered over us as Bilbo called me his prince…how Gandalf came along afterward and found me weeping over the body, and he took me on his lap and I did not protest at all, and he wept with me…but no, I don’t wish to speak of that any more. I felt an uncommon urge to take my boat and go rowing, although I thought I’d never want to go rowing alone, but finally I got up, threw on some clothes, combed my hair, washed my face and hands, and went for my boat.

And that was when I heard singing of a sort I’d heard before. I paddled out toward the mouth of the pool where it empties into the sea, drawn by the sound of that sweet small undeniable voice….

And I rowed into the surf, all silver and emerald flecked with diamonds in the mid-morning sunlight, grey and white cliff-stones jutting all about, mottled with foamy spray and gull-droppings and grey-green lichens, a promontory overhanging on which I used to sometimes lie and stretch out my hand, waiting for Flossy the whale to come along and squirt it as she sometimes does…it is only my incomplete right hand she squirts, never the left one, strange to say. Galendur teased me once that it was her way of kissing it better.

(Perhaps it is too small and low to really be a promontory, but I wanted to use that word!)

And there she was. It will be hard to stop thinking of her as Marilla.

Pearl-pure she, divine and wild
a sea-blossom dropped from a chrysoprase cloud
child of the Aurora and the philandering waves
laughter and small bright wisdom
mingled ’neath the undisciplined ripples
of her honeyed locks,
perfume and mithril woven
in the cadences of her voice
eyes the tinge of blue heart’s-ease
that bloomed in my childhood garden
mostly fittingly.
No reflection does she cast
upon the envious waters
yet my eyes hold naught but her,
and her, and her again
as though they were an ocean-bed
and she the Sea itself
overflowing with her until
she covers every inch of me
soaking me with her might
and restless treasure….

~*~*~

“Anemone,” I said, “these are two of my dearest friends, Galendur and Tilwen. They have been very anxious to meet you.”

I had told her earlier, that she would have to resign herself to being stared and gawked at, that she was the first of her kind that anyone on the Island had ever seen, most likely, and many or most would not know how to react, and might behave in a manner that might seem rude to her—a completely unnecessary warning. She just grinned happily saying in her pretty accent, “No matter. I think I shall enjoy seeing people’s reactions. It will be a new thing for me.”

I laughed in relief. “You are a girl after Bilbo’s own heart,” I said.

“And what of yours?”

“Well...I confess I was shy of being stared at, when I first arrived,” I said. “I got used to it eventually, but it took a long time. I still don’t like it much, but I am resigned to it. Perhaps even glad of it now.”

“You were not so shy,” she pointed out, with her cheeky little grin, “when you stripped yourself nearly naked and leapt into the sea from the ship to swim amongst the dolphins.”

I chuckled in embarrassment. “I was not myself that day. I still don’t know what came over me. It’s not the sort of thing I normally ever did, even as a lad. I think I was bewitched. Perhaps you were the one who influenced me from the waves?”

“Oh no. I did not even know who you were then. When you leapt in, I thought only, Who is that mad child? He will freeze his backsides off, if a shark doesn’t eat him first.”

“But you kept the sharks away?”

“I would have done so, if it had been necessary.”

“And you saved my life. Is that why you took a fancy to me?”

“In part, yes. Our folk sometimes protect sea-farers, it is true, but I’d no chance to do so. I became interested in you, but lost sight of you soon. Then after a season, you showed again, and my interest was revived. You were shining and holy and full of wishing and knowing. A sea-star you were, belonging to the heavens. I knew only that I had to find my way to you, or be forever lost.”

I worried, I confess, about her clothing—the skimpy pale-green dress that barely covered her knees and left her arms almost all bare was fine when she was alone with me, but it would hardly do for visiting in the City. I wondered how to go about getting her some new things that would be more suitable for receiving visitors as well. Of course I don’t wish to turn her into something she is not and wasn’t meant to be. But despite what she said, I don’t want people saying nasty things behind our backs…might there be a few Elven versions of Lobelia lurking about?

But how silly I was to worry! For when I went down to meet her to introduce her to Galendur and Tilwen…I meet her at a certain spot by the pool, pick a flower and toss it in and there she is standing before me…she appeared this time in a dainty gown of silver-blue, almost ankle-length, with filmy sleeves that floated back from her elbows leaving only her forearms bare. Her huge violet eyes twinkled with mischief and gaiety, probably laughing at me for being such a worry-wart, and I grinned back and plucked a purple orchid and tucked it into her amber locks, explaining that nothing was lovelier than a girl with flowers in her hair. If she thought that was silly, she didn’t say so, but took my hand and we wended back to the cottage-road. Her feet were bare also…but so were my own, so I supposed it scarcely mattered for her to show hers, especially considering how much prettier than my great shaggy clod-hoppers they were!

Sam, forgive me if I sound totally besotted! The mere way her hand feels in mine, her tiny soft cool fingers, so fragile and helpless…well, of course they are not, they are far stronger than my own, but one would never guess it! I had to stop and kiss them from time to time and press her hand to my cheek as we rode along in the pony-cart. I can scarcely believe how beautiful she is, it's all I can do to wrench my eyes from her face, keep my fingers from playing in her hair, refrain from watching her every movement. The way she turns her head sometimes, and smiles impishly over her shoulder at me, reaching up carelessly to put back a lock of hair...the way she leans her head on my shoulder, how light and soft she feels in my arms...her fingers locking behind my neck as her eyes look up into mine, the slenderness of her waist, her perfect little shoulders peeping above the neckline of her gown....I had thought I was happy before. Well, that was mere joy of anticipation; I had no idea what happiness truly was. I think I’ve discovered something even better than the Other Side....or, at least, I’ve no more wish to go there until I am too old and feeble and pain-wracked to be of any more use here. And I thought I had been in love before. Now I know it was only the merest introduction, what a single rosebud is to a lush paradise. Now I am living the reality…and it is terrifying and intoxicating and delicious and purifying and dangerous…. I want to give her everything and take everything from her. I want to teach her and learn from her. Worship her and be worshipped by her. And so on and on.

I can imagine what was going through Tilwen’s mind as I introduced my little sea-lady. She is real, after all. Galendur wasn’t just telling ridiculous stories. How happy Iorhael looks…but WHAT is she? And mightn’t she be dangerous? And Galendur, rendered once more speechless. Casting about in his mind for some gallantly silly remark to make, and drawing a total blank. But as usual, I underestimated him. He rose to the occasion rather quickly, in fact.

“You want to watch out for this one, my lady,” he said to Anemone with mock gravity. “He may look small and harmless, but he’s got tricks up his sleeve and no mistaking. Do you know he actually toppled a dark bugger’s tower almost single-handed? There was some fol-de-rol about him tossing a ring into a volcano, but you know there had to have been more to it than that. He even suckered them into making him a prince here. If—ow!”

“Pay him no mind,” Tilwen said to Anemone, who was looking at him in silky innocence and veiled amusement. “He thinks he’s funny. We are overjoyed that you and Iorhael have met at last. He is very dear to us, and I hope you will be very happy together. And you both must come and see us often.”

Anemone smiled a warm and accepting smile, her tiny hands cradling the porcelain cup before her. “This is what is called tea, yes?” she said.

“Do you mean to tell me,” Til said, “that Iorhael has not introduced you to tea yet?”

“We haven’t gotten that far in her education,” I said, wondering how I could have been so remiss. Well, I really didn’t think a sea-maid would care about tea much, and would wonder why the rest of us seemed so keen on it! Then I saw loud laughter in Tilwen’s green eyes. Yes, she was having me on.

“Shocking,” she said lowering her eyebrows at me. “Positively scandalous.”

“We’ve barely gotten to second breakfast yet,” I explained.

“And I dare say,” Galendur said, “that he hasn’t explained a dratted thing to you about sparring yet, let alone horse-racing and yachting and such. What can you see in the blighter?”

“But he has explained about something far more interesting,” Anemone said with a naughty twinkle, then cast down her eyelids in mock demureness. Til gasped. I thought, oh no…well, of course I would never kick her on the ankle, but…perhaps I should fake a fit of coughing, or...

“And that would be…?” Galendur looked at her with raised eyebrows, and just a hint of horror.

And she looked him full in the face without batting an eyelash, and said, “Weddings.”



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