This afternoon Til came to tell me that Maldor had come over that morning, and he apologized not only for Ortherion’s behavior, but his own as well. He got on quite a roll, apologizing for his attitude toward Tilwen, for his refusal to come to the wedding, for not allowing his wife and son to have anything to do with them, for barely speaking to his youngest brother and sister-in-law ever since the wedding. What brought on this fit of penitence, Tilwen wasn’t sure.
“He said Ortherion was hung-over,” she told us as I brought out the tea-tray to the terrace table. “I had a good mind to march right over and give it to him hot and heavy while he was suffering, but I knew I’d never get past his door. And it might be bad for the baby anyway. But ohhh, when I think of the way he acted, I could just…if he EVER has the nerve to show his face at our door again, I will take Galendur’s sword and make mince-meat out of him! Believe it or not, I’ve seen him much worse, but not in front of you. Brrr! But after that little thing with the dress yesterday, I doubt he’ll be coming around any more. That was simply wonderful, along with what Anemone said about the fish-tail. I’m still giggling over that. And to think that lovely daughter of his, Elisiel, once had the nerve to accuse me of ‘disgracing’ Galendur by ‘roping’ him into marriage with me! Did you ever?”
“Well, I suppose we know who the real disgrace is now, don’t we?” I said. Actually I had been pitying Ortherion a little, but the pity dissipated quickly at the thought of the shame and mortification he had caused Tilwen, whom I loved as a sister and he should have done likewise. How he could be so petty and stupid, I could not imagine.
“I should say so,” she said. “Oh, I threw all kinds of fits, when she said that! You should be glad you weren’t there to see. Galendur went on the rampage. He went storming over there, and I don’t know what all he said, but I can imagine. I was worried, fearing there would be a blood feud right within the family and it would be my doing, and I should have kept my mouth shut, but I’ve certainly never been good at that, as you well know! But Elisiel came over and apologized, and I think she was sincere. Ortherion said he was the one who ordered her to, saying she had ‘spoken out of turn’--as if he ever does anything else--but I think it was his wife. Raina has her faults too, but basically she’s a decent person. I like her much better than that ice-princess Maldor married. They should trade wives. Maldor has improved somewhat over the past couple of years. He’s still too holy for his own good, but not nearly as much as he used to be. Maybe there’s some hope for him, at least. He said he wouldn’t have come over yesterday, feeling that he was not welcome, but Ortherion insisted upon coming, and Maldor decided he had better come along to try and keep him in line, Ortherion being ‘a little the worse for drink.’ Which is putting it much too politely.”
“Neither he nor Galendur are very good at holding their liquor, are they,” I said with a little smile, remembering our first encounter. “Perhaps it’s their mortal blood.”
“Whatever it is, they’re both simply abysmal at it,” Tilwen declared. “But I hope it doesn’t keep you two from coming to visit any more. Galendur told Maldor he must apologize to me as well, and he did so. Quite nicely, I must say.”
“Good for them both,” Anemone said. I nodded emphatically, and she patted my hand. “There now,” she said, “you see? Perhaps he is turning to the Light, at least.”
“If so, it was more your doing than mine, I’m sure,” I said grinning. “But as long as he is, it scarcely matters whose doing it was.”
“I suppose it’s as my mother said,” Tilwen admitted. “She was not keen to have me wed Galendur, either. She told me when you marry someone, you don’t just marry him, you marry his family as well. Much as I hate to admit it, I believe she’s right. Not that I regret marrying him or anything. I’d have wed him if Sauron himself were his brother.”
“At least Anemone hasn’t that to worry about,” I said, “since I’ve no family now, myself. Although I know Bilbo would have adored her.”
“How can you say you have no family?” Anemone chided me. “The entire Island is your family, my Prince. They would do anything for you.”
“Absolutely,” Til agreed. Then suddenly she sat very still, laying a hand to her slightly bulging belly. A soft radiance began to infuse her, then quickly spread until she was all alight with joy, and it was as if a grey cloud had moved away from the sun. Anemone looked at her in wonder.
“It’s moving!” Tilwen said. She took my hand and then Anemone’s, and pressed them to her abdomen. “Niniel said I would feel it move any day now. Can you feel it?”
I felt my face fairly crack open with delight as I felt the slight flutter. Tilwen stood and had Anemone press her ear to her belly. At the same time I felt a catch in my throat as I remembered my mother doing that with me when I was small, listening to the movement of the little sister who was to be, and yet was not.
But Ortherion was long forgotten in the glory of the afternoon.
“Beyond the Towers” is coming up! Rehearsals will begin in a week.
I have been put in charge of casting this time, and am delighted to announce that Dûndeloth will play Faramir. Inzilbêth will play Éowyn this time. She is thrilled, after having read the complete Epic, to get the chance to really do something big. Speaking wise words, singing lovely songs and giving wondrous gifts is all well and good, but slaying the Lord of the Nazgûl is quite another matter. Well, whatever her shortcomings as a person may be, she is a very fine actress without a doubt. And somehow I like her better now than I did last year.
Gollum is the one I was most worried about casting. Who could possibly play him? Six lads read for it, and they were all wrong. My heart sank as I heard their attempts. What if the part were not cast well? It could ruin the whole play. I thought perhaps Dairuin, who plays Pippin, could double for him. He is quite an actor himself. Still, it is a lot to lay on a young boy.
Selin the director intimated to me that he would try to find some others, and was about to call for the ones who wished to read for another part, when a small voice piped up asking if he could read for Gollum. And there came forth the strangest-looking elfling I had ever seen.
He appeared about Dínlad’s age, but not so tall. His stringy pale hair hung lank about a triangular thin face out of which a pair of huge pale eyes stared with an uncannily knowing light. His appearance was altogether untidy and unhealthy, his arms and legs almost starved-looking in his ragged grey shirt and breeches. And yet there was something vaguely familiar about him, on which I could not put my finger.
I asked him his name and he said “Ninniach.” My eyes must have popped. The name means “rainbow” of course, and could scarcely have been less fitting. There was precious little color to him. He had the look of a street-urchin who slept in barrels and had made thieving a science by necessity. But obviously he could read or he wouldn’t have been there.
I nodded to my assistant, who was holding a script, and he handed it to Ninniach. And he got the croaky voice so right it was frightening. Where could he have ever encountered Gollum? Yet when he was finished reading the part, he handed the script back to the assistant, who stood there staring open-mouthed, as did everyone else in the room. And he shrank shyly away, hands behind his back, and no longer appeared dirty and shifty, but just a harmless and innocent little lad once more.
“Have you always lived on the Island, Ninniach?” I asked him, trying not to sound too rattled.
“I have,” he said, without looking me straight in the eye. He looked down at his fingernails, which appeared to have been nibbled down to nubs.
“Here in the City?” I persisted, gently, but I was determined to find out something about him.
“No,” he said softly, shrugging his scrawny shoulders. “I live in the woods, in a hut with my mother.”
“What about your father?” I asked.
“I never knew him,” he said almost inaudibly, then looked up at me. “Is that all right?”
“Of course,” I said. “So…your mother taught you to read, I take it?”
“Did she come with you?”
He shook his head.
“You have come a long way here alone then.”
“Ninniach…if we give you this part, you will have to work hard, you know that?”
“I’m not afraid of work,” he said almost defiantly, while I wondered how much work he could have done, with those bones.
“Were you ever in a play before?”
“You will have to work with many people. Are you accustomed to being with many people at once?”
“No. But I think I can do it.”
“You read the part extremely well, Ninniach. You were amazing, to say the least. And you truly have not done this sort of thing before?”
I was silent a moment, looking up at him—yes, he was taller than I, but I dare say I weighed much more. Strange how he avoided my eyes.
“You know you will have to perform in front of a great many people, don’t you? That prospect does not frighten you?”
Shrug. “I think I can do it.”
“You have read the entire story, I take it.” It sounded stupid even as I spoke, but I had to know.
“Yes, I have,” he said. I was baffled, to say the least.
“How long can you stay today, Ninniach?”
“As long as you need me,” he said with another shrug.
“Dínlad and Perion, who play Frodo and Sam, will be here after a while. Can you stay and read some with them?”
“I can. Have I the part?” He looked me in the eye, a harmless little lad once more.
“I doubt anyone but you could play it, Ninniach,” I said and managed a smile this time. And he smiled back, very fleetingly.
And now we have a Gollum. I hope he won’t give me nightmares!
I said as much to Anemone, when I returned home in the evening. She looked at me with grave sweetness and said he most certainly would not; she would protect me, and I laughed. She had fixed supper for me, and listened intently as I told her of the day’s doings at the table.
I have been teaching her to read—perhaps I mentioned that before. She has caught on with uncanny quickness. By the end of the first day she had learnt the entire alphabet by heart. After three days she was reading quite fluently. And after a week and a half she could write a neat and clear hand, and had copied out three pages with no mistakes. There was no doubt in my mind of her intelligence from the first day I met her, but even so she surprised me. Naturally enough, we work with the Epic. We read it back and forth to each other, day after day, evening after evening, and discuss the meanings and significance underlying it all, and I am often floored by her insights. I can hardly wait to introduce her to the more intellectual circles; she will give them something to talk about, I'm sure!
And now rehearsals have begun.
Rûdharanion will play Gandalf once more…although he says he wishes he could play Gríma “Wormtongue”; it would be great fun to play a villainous role. But one of the actors in the Company is playing Gríma and he wouldn’t stand for anyone taking it from him.
And it’s Ninniach who is going to steal the show, as they say. He had all his lines memorized in the space of a week. No one seems to know anything of him. I have tried to find out where he lives, but he continues to be evasive, and no one else can get anything out of him either. I considered following him home, but he has a way of disappearing after rehearsals are over, before anyone even notices he is gone. I bring extra food for him every day, for it shocks me to see him so bony.
When I first proposed taking food to him, Anemone raised her eyebrows saying, “But Gollum is supposed to be very scrawny, is he not?”
“Yes,” I said, “but I had rather see him look less the part than watch him go hungry. I think he will play the part so well, none will care if he is not all skin and bones.”
Anemone smiled most radiantly, and said she would fix the food while I did whatever else I must do. I smiled back to see her acting so like a wife already. I hoped Ninniach would open up more when I brought the basket to him, and I could find out something more about him. But he merely thanked me and said he would bring it back next day. The other lads don’t seem to know what to make of Ninniach. Especially Perion. He says Ninniach makes him nervous.
“Why does he keep his hands behind his back all the time?” he asked me once.
“I suppose it is just a habit,” I said. “I’ve seen his hands, and there’s nothing amiss with them…aside from the fact that he bites his nails. I used to bite mine also.”
“I don’t care about his nails,” Dínlad said, “but why does he keep disappearing on us? That’s what gets ME. One minute he’s there and then, poof! he’s gone. You’d think he really DID have a magic ring or something.”
“I must admit that is strange to me also,” I said. Anemone rides with me to rehearsals sometimes. Once I said to Ninniach I wished to introduce him to a little lady who would be my wife. He said he would like to meet her, but must excuse himself for a moment. I supposed he was going to the privy, so I went into the stands where Anemone was sitting and asked her if she would like to meet our “Gollum.” She eagerly said yes, and accompanied me backstage. I called for Ninniach, but he did not answer. I looked around, asked other actors about him; no one knew anything. To all appearances, he was gone.
“I suppose he changed his mind,” I said to her, and she looked a little disappointed.
“Perhaps he is shy and frightened about meeting one of the sea-folk,” she said.
“Perhaps so, but he did say he wished to meet you, and he sounded as though he meant it,” I fretted.
The next day it was the same. He apologized for disappearing, explaining that he took spells sometimes in which he forgot things, and one of those times must have come upon him. And he must have had another such spell, for once more when I brought Anemone backstage, he was gone.
Yet he never forgot a line.
I explained about his “spells” to the lads. To be truthful, I had started to worry about whether Dínlad were capable of projecting the sort of pity toward Gollum that the play called for. I tried to squelch such a concern, remembering what had happened last year when I had feared he was incapable of conveying grief over the death of Gandalf. I can hardly help but wonder if Amras’s death were not so accidental after all, and was brought about for the very purpose of teaching Dínlad the meaning of grief, and that the Powers had every intention of bringing Amras back once that purpose was fulfilled. But what would it take to teach Dínlad the meaning of pity toward a wretched and unfortunate, and yet evil creature? If he could not feel and project that, the whole meaning of the story might be lost.
I discussed this with Anemone too, and she said I was worrying unnecessarily, as always.
“It seems to me that the Powers are backing this production,” she said. “And could it be that your Ninniach has been sent by them as well? You talk a good bit about faith, my dearest; perhaps it is time that you showed a bit more of it yourself.”
“But he has the lads all unsettled,” I said. “That cannot be a good thing…can it?”
“A bit of unsettling did good for Aredhel, did it not?”
“Yes, but she is an adult.” But even as I spoke, I thought perhaps she was right. Maybe the lads did need some unsettling. Perhaps it would do them good…but would their mothers see it that way?
“I think perhaps,” Anemone said, “that this Ninniach is completely throwing himself into the part, in order to awaken the others into the Truth. They must be made to understand that this is not simply a play; it is the Truth. Not that you can make them understand, at their age. But perhaps in some strange way, Ninniach can make them understand, if only in an unconscious manner. The Powers work in strange and wondrous ways, yes? So perhaps it is up to us to do what we can and let them do what we cannot.”
“Thank you,” I said chuckling. “I was forgetting. I suppose a Ninniach spell came upon me. Well, I must think what to do about his costume. The real Gollum went nearly naked, but that will not do for the stage. He must be more covered.”
“Give me the pen,” Anemone said. “I have an idea.”
She took pen and paper and began to sketch. Soon she came up with a drawing depicting a Gollum who looked so much like the original that I gasped, wearing a pair of ratty short breeches and a tattered garment draped over his upper torso that appeared to be woven of reeds or some such.
“Sea-weed,” she said, “or, river-weed, if you like. I dare say I can contrive something of the sort.”
“I should put you in charge of costume design,” I said grinning, “except you would have the ladies’ gowns changing color all the time, I fear, which would be greatly unsettling for the poor audience.”
She laughed her beautiful shimmery laugh, leaning over to kiss my cheek. “Perhaps they need unsettling also,” she said.
One day after a long afternoon of rehearsals, I felt in need of a smoke, so I went off by myself to fill my pipe, and almost bumped into an elleth who stood near the doorway. I started at the sight of her, not only because I was not expecting her, but because of her strange appearance. She was small for an elf, very thin, and drably dressed in an ankle-length gown without a particle of ornamentation, her pale hair hanging straight down on either side of her face, which was oddly plain itself, and rather sad and hungry-looking.
“Oh, I beg your pardon,” I stammered as I reached out to try to prevent her from falling.
“No matter,” she said gently, setting herself upright with no difficulty. “You are Prince Iorhael, I know that? My son has spoken much of you.”
“Then you are…” I looked up at her again. Her eyes were dark and enormous, a bit hollow looking, her cheeks sunken, her lips thin and pale.
“Ninniach’s mother, yes,” she said with a little wistful smile. “My name is Silivren.”
“I am honored to meet you,” I said, wishing I could tell her that her son had spoken of her often also, but in reality he had mentioned her but once. “But I am afraid Ninniach is not here today; we have not scheduled any of his scenes for rehearsal.”
“I know,” Silivren said. “I came merely because I wished to thank you for the food you gave him, and I fear he has not been polite enough to thank you so much as he should. You are very kind. He may not say so, but Ninniach thinks the world of you.”
“He is a very gifted lad,” I said, feeling even more puzzled. “His ability to play the part is nothing short of uncanny. And I think because of that, the other boys are doing better also. Ah, but where are my manners? Would you like to come take some lunch with me? There is a place just down the street here where I go to have a bite sometimes. We can talk more about Ninniach there, and I will treat you.”
“Thank you, I would like that,” she said, and we walked in the direction of the little tavern known as The Flamingo’s Roost. I ordered hot meals for both of us, thinking she looked as though she could badly use one, as much as Ninniach. And I thought perhaps she would tell me a little more about him.
“I have tried to draw him into conversation,” I said as we waited for our order, “but he seems shy, and reluctant to disclose much about himself. I think he must have a hard life of it, and may be feeling shame over things that are not his doing. And he plays the part of Sméagol so well, I must wonder how he can possibly know what he went through on account of…the Ring.”
“He was ever an odd lad,” Silivren admitted with eyes downcast. “He is given to strange fancies, and I have heard it to say he is not right in the head. But he would hurt no one. I think perhaps he can see what others cannot, or will not. It is a little frightening to me. To have him ponder the nature of that which should be left alone, yet has come to the surface. I am hoping, that after the play, he will leave off wondering about such things, and become more as other boys.”
“I believe he is as capable of living in the Light as anyone,” I said, “and will do so, and be happy. And I will do all in my power to help him into it.”
“You are betrothed,” she said after a long pause. “Your little bride is very lucky to get you. I hope she will prove worthy of you.”
I felt myself blush. “I feel like the lucky one,” I said with a wide smile. I would have liked to ask her about her husband, but felt it was none of my business. If she wished to tell me of him, she would, I was sure. “And I can only hope to be worthy of her.”
After our orders came, I tried to find out in a not too obvious way from whence she had come, but she was evasive, and would only say “somewhere near Mirkwood.” Her husband was killed by orcs while she was pregnant and she had barely escaped with her life. What she had gone through must have made an impression on her unborn child, she said, for she was given to bad spells and intervals she could not remember. She hardly even remembered coming here. She did remember the birth of her son on board the ship, and that she had named him Ninniach because he was as a rainbow after a terrible storm. I asked her about her occupation and she said she was a spinner.
“A spinner of flax, and of wondrous dreams,” she said with that wistful smile, and really was beautiful then. “Of rainbows, and sunlight, and caverns full of gems. And songs, and parties, and giants. And small princes who shine with the light of the stars.”
I went home that evening in a daze.
The first performance is in a week and a half….
And I think I know who Ninniach is.