Well, I won’t have to make a copy of the Epic for Nessima. I simply put in a request to the Queen. I didn’t suppose it would come through very quickly, seeing as how she must get plenty of requests per day, but the Lady is not above playing favorites, I suspect. Within three days, Nessima had acquired her copy, bound in soft black leather tooled in gold, with lovely illustrations on the frontispiece. Seems the Queen has her scribes and copyists and book-binders quite busy nowadays.
Nessima came down to the cottage by herself to thank me, to my surprise, instead of waiting for me to come out to the Orphanage. Anemone and I were sitting on the terrace indulging in afternoon tea—which was actually a delightful orange drink, mixed with a squeeze of lemon, lime, grape, and pineapple juice and just a bit of honey, along with the famous golden mushrooms. I asked her if they would continue to grow after we were wed, and she said, “Alas, no. I will no longer have the power to raise them. But—” she looked up at me with soft blue eyes twinkling—“perhaps I can offer you something much better.”
She was wearing the little green dress when the peacock screeched his announcement of Nessima’s arrival. The bird is massively infatuated with Anemone, spreading his fan whenever she hoves into his sight, letting her pet and feed him and rubbing his head against her hand like a pussycat. She considers him adorable and once said she wished she had a dress or cloak embroidered with his feathers. I may have to put in another request to the Queen soon…and hope she can have it done in time for the wedding.
I jumped to answer the summons, glancing at my beloved and I almost told her not to do that thing she had done with Galendur’s brothers…then decided it was unnecessary. Yet when I returned to the terrace with our guest, I saw that Anemone was wearing the ankle-length blue dress once more.
I had not seen much of Galendur’s two older brothers, and neither had he, which suited both of us fine. I did not see them at his wedding, for the plain and simple reason that they had not come. They had been outraged that he would stoop to marrying a kitchen-maid, of all things. Everyone knew serving-wenches were for amusing oneself with, not for marrying, unless one happened to be of the servant-class oneself! Galendur told me he overheard them making nasty insinuations just before the wedding that they could expect their baby brother to produce an heir very quickly—very quickly indeed, they chuckled with winks and lifted eyebrows…witty bastards that they were. Maldor, the eldest, even expressed outrage that Galendur had “profaned” the Temple by having the wedding performed in it…seemed he just lived to embarrass the family. After nearly a year went by and no “heir” was forthcoming, they showed some willingness to unbend and try to make peace. But then Galendur actually had the audacity to appear in the play, and Maldor was outraged all over again.
I had met the brothers a time or two. I could scarcely tell them apart at first, but there are about three or four years’ difference between them. I couldn’t help but wonder if they were born with supercilious smirks on their faces, for I seldom saw them wear any other expression. They are dark-haired where Galendur is fair. I think I prefer Maldor, if I must choose one or the other. He is a sanctimonious prig, but less malicious than Ortherion, who fancies himself a wit and a commentator on the state of elvendom, which according to him, is deplorably fallen “these days”. To be sure, many of his targets are at least somewhat deserving of his barbs, the inhabitants of the Brazen Parrot being amongst his favorites. But he takes far too much enjoyment in ridiculing them, and his jokes are unnecessarily cruel at all times, his victims much too easy. I’ve a feeling he was a bit of a bully in his youth. And as for his opinion of the serving classes…well, so often his anecdotes begin along the lines of “We had a kitchen-boy once, who was so abysmally stupid, it simply beggars description. Once when my wife and I were having one of our modest dinner parties…” I remember Bilbo faking an attack of the vapors when we had both had all we could take of Ortherion for one night!
I think I can at least partly understand their attitude toward their youngest brother. He is obviously their father’s favorite, and probably was their mother’s as well, the fair-haired one, the hero, the champion, who went his own way and dared to rebel, the idol of young lads, sought after by ellyth, and now, to top it all off, the special friend of the Prince. Ortherion himself referred to him as “the flower of the family,” and told me last year, during the party at the Palace, “He’s changed a great deal in the past couple of years since he married, somehow. Perhaps there’s hope for him after all. I don’t know how to account for it, myself, but I suppose the truth will come out sooner or later, as it is often—ahem—known to do.”
Well, I couldn’t help but wonder what Galendur would have said to hearing himself described as a flower! As for the ‘ahem’ I suppose Ortherion thought a mere hobbit too stupid and naïve to catch on to what he was insinuating. Tilwen told me they didn’t even bother to make sure she was not about when they told Galendur how they felt about his betrothal to her. He, of course, minced no words telling them which part of his anatomy they could salute if they disapproved his choice of a mate!
Maldor has two daughters, both married, and one son, who does uncannily resemble Galendur—which may be a nice joke on Maldor, but can’t be very easy for the boy. Ortherion has a young daughter I’m told is his especial treasure, the only thing he has going for him, I suppose, but I’m guessing she’ll turn out atrociously spoilt.
Well, anyway! It happened yesterday that Anemone and I were visiting with Galendur and Tilwen, with the intention of staying to dinner, when without warning, Maldor and Ortherion both showed up. I am thrilled beyond measure that Anemone and Tilwen have hit it off so quickly, and that Tilwen has shown Anemone how to arrange her hair in the latest fashion, and has explained certain feminine matters to her of which I know very little. Friendship is a new concept to her, and it took some doing to describe it to her. But like love, it must be experienced in its fullness in order to be truly comprehended.
“She’s darling,” Tilwen told me after their first meeting. “She’s such an exquisite little poppet, I’d like to pick her up and carry her around--although probably she wouldn’t like it! And she's so wise and clever, I never know what to expect from her. I’ll admit I had misgivings when Galendur first told me of her. And I’ll admit it’s a little scary to see you this happy, although it’s exactly what we've always wanted for you. It’s rather like watching you stand on a precipice almost to the stars, as high as you can go, but such a long, long way to fall…do you see what I mean?”
“Yes,” I said. “It feels that way to me sometimes too. I just try not to look down…as much as possible.”
We were all four of us sitting on the back porch, Tilwen going inside to stir the roast or check on the rolls from time to time, then coming back, all of us discussing what it would be like once Anemone and I were wed…for of course, as I’ve already told you, she will become mortal then and her powers will leave her. I had not realized that the sea-folk were immortal before meeting her. I assumed they had life-spans the same as Men and hobbits and dwarves, perhaps longer, but that sooner or later, they died. Yes, I know I’ve said in my poetry that I’ve wished I could impart the Gift to my beloved friends here so that we might all meet on the Other Side without having to wait until the End of Days…but now that I am actually about to impart it to one of them, I’m wondering if it makes me something of a murderer! Yes, of course that’s absurd. It’s not as if I am forcing Anemone to make the Choice of Lúthien or anything. Immortality has no more charms for her, she says, and since I seem so convinced that the Other Side exists, she would go there with me when my time comes. And we cannot continue to cohabit like beasts on the Island, after all, and I want others to accept her as my wife, not as some temptress who has bewitched me and will ultimately bring about my downfall.
This we were discussing when the brothers drove up. Galendur stood up as he heard the horses’ hooves on the road that leads to the house. The rest of us took no particular notice at first, until we heard him say, “Damn and double damn. It’s the Twin Trolls. They made good on their threat.”
Tilwen muttered a word I'd never heard her use before, then sprang to her feet and reached a hand to Anemone saying, “Come in with me for a moment.” Anemone glanced at me questioningly and I nodded, and she went indoors with Tilwen. I heard some whispering but could not discern any words, then a rather wicked giggle or two.
“What threat?” I said to Galendur. I had to think for a moment what the brothers’ names were, it had been so long since I had heard them.
“Sorry, old chap,” he said. “You see, I ran into Maldor recently, and he said that he and Ortherion might drop by one of these days. Said he’d really like to make peace in the family, heal the rift and all that bloody rot. Well, it may be somewhat true of Maldor. But as for Ortherion, if he’s coming, then it's my guess he’s heard about the sea-lady and merely wants to satisfy his curiosity. But I didn’t think either of them would really lower themselves to come over, and I had more or less forgotten about it. Well, I suppose I shall simply tell them I have company and we haven’t enough room for all. Which is true enough.”
Actually it wasn’t quite true, for it looked to me as if the brothers had not brought their wives or children along. I thought perhaps Anemone and I could slip out the back unnoticed. But there was something in me that didn’t want to just run off and leave Galendur and Tilwen—especially Tilwen—to the Twin Trolls’ dubious mercies. Maybe they’d just offer their greetings and then go off quickly if they saw we were there….
But deep down I knew they weren’t the sort to do any such thing.
“Hullo, little brother!” I heard one of them call out—Ortherion, I supposed. He was the hearty one. He waved an arm cheerfully high in the air. Maldor made a more dignified little salute. “Where’s your stable-boy, I say?”
“I gave him the week off,” Galendur said, not hearty at all. “So you saw fit to come out after all, did you?”
“Maldor warned you we would, didn’t he?” Ortherion obviously wasn’t the sort who was easily rebuffed. He dismounted, and led his steed over to where his baby brother stood, Maldor soon following suit. “We were visiting with Father in town, and decided to drop by. The ladies and Elisiel are with my mother-in-law, and it was getting entirely too female in there, if you know what I mean. A regular hen-house. We had to flee for our lives. Erm…looks as though you have company already, what?”
“How very observant of you,” Galendur said, and I thought I could have chilled my melons on his words. “We weren’t expecting you, so we haven’t supper for all, I’m afraid.”
“Ah well, we didn’t intend to stay long anyway,” Ortherion said with a little chuckle—at what, I’ve no idea. “Thought we’d just drop in and see how you two were coming along. Or should I say three? According to Father, you’ll be producing an heir very soon, am I right?”
“You are,” Galendur said, adding under his breath, for my ears, “for once.”
“That is wonderful news,” Maldor said, glancing sidelong at me. “I’m surprised you don’t seem so happy about it as one might have expected.”
“Oh, I assure you we are more than happy about it,” Galendur said, “as I dare say you were when you came to find that the heir was not on its way so quickly after our wedding as you had hoped—er, supposed.”
Maldor had the grace to flush a little. “Bygones…” he said, then glanced to his brother in confusion to see how he should react to something he didn’t expect. But Ortherion noticed me and saw a chance at a diversion.
“And how are you doing, Ring-bearer?” he said. “Been a while since we met last, what? Rumor has it that you’ve some happy news also?”
“And please allow me to offer my condolences on the passing of your uncle,” Maldor said, recovering himself. I must admit he has much better manners than his brother, at least.
Just then the ladies emerged from the house, and came to stand at the porch-rail. I can remember the way both Maldor’s and Ortherion’s eyes popped at the sight of my diminutive bride-to-be. I fully intend to announce our betrothal in the Temple soon, but thought it would be better to let word get around first. It might cause quite an uproar if I were to simply spring her on the congregation all at once.
Galendur took the horses and led them to the stable without a word. Tilwen, instead of walking over to the steps, swung herself over the porch-rail and landed neatly on the grass below, then sedately walked over to her brothers-in-law, holding out one hand. I had to smile a little then as I went to stand beside Anemone.
“Greetings,” Til said in an exaggerated lady-of-the-manor tone that tickled me to the core, “and welcome to our humble abode. Won’t you come and have a seat and a cool drink. You must surely be exhausted after such a long and arduous journey. I apologize for my woefully bedraggled appearance, but I was not expecting more company.”
She looked fresh and lovely actually, in an attractive shade of leaf-green, but it was the sort of dress she wore for everyday and not for special. And she had neglected to take off her apron, and showed no signs of doing so.
“Truly,” Ortherion said, as he and his brother followed Tilwen up the steps and into the house. “I would have thought since you were entertaining royalty, you might have dressed to the nines, my dear. But it’s no matter, I’m sure. Dressing up can be a tedious business, and why put oneself out unnecessarily? You look perfectly adorable, as ever. But aren’t you going to introduce us to the future Princess?”
I knew already that neither of them took my being a Prince seriously, and regarded it as something of a joke.
“This is Bryseluthea, Iorhael’s betrothed,” Tilwen said as she seated the brothers in two chairs and Anemone and myself on the sofa directly across from them. “But on dry land, she is better known as Anemone. These are Galendur’s brothers Maldor and Ortherion.”
“I’m Ortherion,” the middle brother said, Til having introduced him as Maldor and Maldor as Ortherion. “Delighted to make your acquaintance, little lady. It’s not every day that one meets one of the sea-folk. Of course, I never fully believed the report that you had a fish-tail. It would be abominably difficult to transport oneself on dry land thus encumbered, after all, I should think. And the human-like appendages with which you have been gifted are far more attractive, I’m sure. No scales upon them, I see, but no hair either.”
If I had been bigger I would have landed my fist in his belly, and as it was I was seriously contemplating planting my heel right down on his instep, which I would probably have done had we both been standing. I saw Tilwen flush furiously, and Maldor cleared his throat in embarrassment. But Anemone merely looked up guilelessly and smiled right in Ortherion’s face, and I halted.
“I only wear the fish-tail for special occasions,” she said very sweetly, “such as when I am meeting someone important.”
Tilwen turned very quickly, her shoulders shaking violently. Maldor put a hand quickly over his mouth, and Ortherion seemed a trifle discomfited. A completely new experience for him, I haven’t a doubt!
“There now, brother, you deserved that,” Maldor chuckled. “Don’t mind him, folks; he had a bit too much to drink at luncheon, and is behaving like an thorough-going oaf. Which is to say, exactly like himself, only more so.”
Galendur came in just then. Judging from his grin, I dare say he had heard everything. I thought Ortherion might have the decency to apologize, but he tightened his lips and said nothing.
Tilwen went to get a bottle of wine, and the golden mushrooms we had brought over, which she had put in a bowl. She offered them to the brothers, and Maldor took one, but Ortherion said, “Just wine, thank you,” and she poured some for him, saying pertly, “Your loss. They are outrageously delicious. And before long, they will no longer be available for sampling. So perhaps you would do better not to taste them; that way you won't miss them.”
She set the bowl on the round low table in the middle of the room.
“She is right, they are very tasty,” Maldor said, taking another. “I’ve never tried any like these before.”
“I have never been a fancier of fungi,” Ortherion said a little sullenly. “Keep fungus from among us, that’s what I always say. But each to his own, of course. Those who wish to feed upon toad-stools are certainly free to do so.”
I think he did not realize we had brought them over, and supposed that Tilwen had supplied them. Surely even he wasn’t that rude. I was casting about in my mind for a tactful way of leaving; I don’t know how much longer I could have put up with the likes of Ortherion. And I don’t know if I could have faked a fit of the vapors as convincingly as my uncle.
Til looked as though she’d like to force-feed him a toad-stool or two.
He then started telling about a dinner-party he and his wife had given recently…to which Galendur and Tilwen had not been invited, obviously. The most boring affair he had ever hosted, he said; we were all lucky to have missed it. Really he had to wonder about all these people his wife was taking up with lately. Some had actually taken in refugee children right off the streets, and why we didn’t all catch leprosy from these urchins was anyone’s guess. He supposed he was just going to have to lay down the law to her. They did have their daughter to think of, after all. And this was the Fourth Age? Give him the Third Age any day, monsters and all….
Maldor had to agree somewhat. Charity was well and good, but there were surely ways of exercising it that didn’t involve coming into contact with undesirables. Morality just wasn’t what it used to be, which was what came of letting the races mingle and intermarry. And as for the servants, there was just no keeping them in their place any more....
“Never underestimate a servant!” I heard myself speak up, able to hold back no longer...there, I said it! Finally!!
But it didn’t seem to register with anyone. For I saw something out of the corner of my eye that stopped my mind right in its tracks, so to speak.
Anemone’s gown had changed color.
Or had it?
She was wearing the blue dress when we came over, of that I was certain. It was her dress for visiting. But it did not look blue any more. It was a gold-green color now.
I told myself I was imagining things; she must have worn it over, and I hadn’t noticed. Or had she changed it when Tilwen pulled her into the house? No…I was absolutely sure she was still wearing the blue dress when she came back out. If she had been wearing a different one I would have noticed. Why would she bring another over anyway? Then I glanced upward through my eyelashes and saw that Ortherion had seen too. He was staring, hard, his wine-glass raised halfway to his lips, and if he had been a child he would have rubbed his eyes, I’m sure. I then glanced at Maldor, but he had reached down to pick up some object he had dropped on the floor. Then he too looked toward Anemone and did a double take. He looked to Ortherion, who looked to him…then both looked to Galendur, who seemed to have noticed nothing. Then they looked back at Anemone…who was once more wearing the blue dress.
I tried hard to pretend I had seen nothing amiss. Then I glanced at her face, and saw she was looking much too innocent, and I tried not to grin.
Then Ortherion evidently decided he had best get his bearings, clearing his throat.
“You’ll never guess whom I ran into the other day,” he said, in Galendur’s general direction.
“No, I suppose I never will,” Galendur said. Ortherion waited for him to say “Whom?” but he did not. He waited for a moment, then Maldor filled in the silence, saying “Whom?”
“Remember that fellow who supposedly died?” Ortherion said. His voice seemed a trifle shaky. “Peligar? The one whose mind snapped after he caught his wife with…whatever his name was. Well, he was no more bloody dead than I am. And I asked him if he and his wife were--”
He stopped short and his eyes popped once more. I glanced down once more out of the corner of my eye, and yes, Anemone’s gown was a silvery rose pink.
Ortherion’s glass slipped and the dark wine dribbled down the front of his spanking clean shirt and tunic. He didn’t even seem to notice.
Maldor rubbed his eyes. Then the two brothers looked to each other again. And back at Anemone. Her dress was blue.
Well, I thought they would leave then, surely! But then Tilwen ran into the kitchen and came back with a napkin, which she handed to Ortherion. He stared at it stupidly, as if expecting it to change color also. But even when it remained white, he still didn’t seem to know what to do with it.
“I believe you are supposed to wipe your clothing with it,” Galendur pointed out to him. “Something wrong?”
Ortherion mechanically scrubbed at his shirt-front with it, then looked at it in horror as if it were bloody. He looked at Anemone and then at his brother and then back at her, but her dress remained blue.
“What in blazes is the matter with you?” Galendur demanded of him. I don’t think he had ever looked at Anemone’s dress at all. “Are you sick?”
“Perhaps the wine doesn’t agree with him,” Til suggested quietly. Was it terribly priggish of me to feel a little sorry for him?
“I may…have had a bit too much,” Ortherion admitted, finally. “I can’t think what I started out to say.”
“Peligar,” Maldor suggested.
“Who?” Ortherion said, staring at the napkin again.
“Never mind,” Maldor said. “Perhaps we should be going.”
“Perhaps so,” Ortherion said, looking balefully at Anemone.
“We are glad you could drop over for a while,” Tilwen said, the picture of graciousness. “I’m so sorry you could not stay for supper. Which reminds me, I had better check on the roast.”
She flurried toward the kitchen. Maldor rose.
“Come, brother,” he said reaching a hand down to Ortherion. “Our wives will be wondering what happened to us, and may send out a search party sooner or later.”
Small danger of that, I thought, but far be it from me to try to detain them.
Anemone stood up also.
“You must come over and see us sometime,” she said, and her dress was a pale shimmering gold. “We would be delighted to have you.”
I think Galendur noticed her dress then, from the look on his face. Maldor looked slightly furious.
Poor Ortherion looked near to fainting. Galendur said he would go bring out the horses. Maldor took Ortherion by the shoulders and forcibly hustled him from the room.
I doubt either of them got a wink of sleep that night!
“You did fine,” I said to Anemone late that evening as we stood on the beach looking out on the jeweled waves, the mass of stars above, and the Beacon with its steady beam far off. I felt like giggling all over again, remembering how she had so neatly wiped the sneer off Ortherion’s face. Then I sobered. “The thing is, however, I feel badly for Galendur now. Those are his brothers, after all. I am supposed to be a peace-maker, and I did precious little peace-making today. I don’t like to think of him estranged from his own brothers. If only there were some way I could turn them toward the Light.”
“You take being a savior seriously,” she said taking my incomplete hand and running a finger over the stump, which she then pressed to her lips, “and that is a good thing. But even you cannot save all, you know. However, there is one thing you can do, my Love: continue to be a brother to him yourself. He lives in the Light because of you.”