Yes. I think I know who Ninniach is. And Silivren too. That little “spinner” speech of hers was quite a dead give-away, what?
And I think she wants me to know, but does not wish to make it too easy for me. I’m just amazed and embarrassed that it took me so long to figure it out. The waif who was far too thin for the Blessed Realm…surely a spinner can make a sufficient living here, and neighbors would help. And still no one seems to know anything about him.
I took my time going home. I didn’t know what I would say to her. I decided I wouldn’t let on yet that I knew. Maybe I can’t fool her. But still, I think I shan’t let on yet. I want to see how she will reveal herself…for I know she will. I did say I thought she would continue to surprise me, didn’t I? Little did I know!
She is a far finer actress than Inzilbêth ever dreamt of being, certainly.
I felt so foolish, stunned, light-headed, flabbergasted, kerflummoxed and…erm…unsettled, I truly didn’t know what to think. I went over the reasons she had done this. And could come up with but one. She wouldn’t prank anyone without good reason, as with Galendur’s brothers. And I doubt she was putting me to any sort of test; there is no need. And if she were, I have passed it, I am certain. No. There is but one reason she is doing it: to save the play. It is as she said: the play is the Truth. The book is not enough; there are too few copies yet. They will circulate slowly. And truly, there is no one else who could play the part, and she knew it. She must save the play, and thereby the Island, keep the Light burning. Not lightly did the Lord of the Waters choose a mate for me.
I worked this out in my mind as I drove along without seeing what was around me, and still the sky seemed darker than usual. I took a road not traveled much, for I did a silly thing recently: I had the cart painted gold, with black enameled wheels and black and green stenciling, and an emerald-green velvet cushion on the seat, and a tooled black leather harness made with gems and gold silk tassels on it, wishing to please Anemone. It attracts much attention in the City now. Sometimes children run after us, and we hear their excited voices:
Look! It’s the Prince and Princess!
Why are they in a PONY CART??
Because they’re small, silly!
Are they married yet?
Did you ever see ANYTHING so cute?
I’m sure my face must get quite red, but Anemone enjoys the attention, blowing kisses to the onlookers which sometimes turn into flowers as they fly through the air. Why I didn’t just get a second cart and have that one done up fine, and use the plain one for everyday, I don’t know.
Well, really I have not known her very long; why should I have expected to know her better than I do? And perhaps she was right about people needing to be unsettled. When you have a jug of cider, you must shake it before pouring in order to get the full flavor, less too much settling render it insipid. Just so, perhaps the Island needs unsettling also, less it fall asleep and the Thief break in…as well he could do, if the guardians of the realm become complacent and soft and, well…settled. Didn’t I say something of that sort myself, long ago, about the Shire needing an earthquake or invasion of dragons to awaken it? Perhaps the same holds true of the Island. But it is one thing to speak of the necessity of being unsettled, and quite another to actually be so. Why is it so often that that which is good and necessary for us, is often so uncomfortable?
Finally I reached home, and did not see her about. I put the pony in his stall and groomed and fed him, petted him and talked to him for a while, reluctant to go inside even though I was getting hungry. And then I heard a soft music, coming from the falls…a different sort than the usual. It sounded like tinkling harp-strings and fairy-bells and a soft drumming, along with a gentle shimmering sound as though the water were laughing, and I could see a light dazzling through the trees and bushes in that direction, turning the leaves to emerald and topaz dotted with the sapphire and ruby and amethyst and pearl of the flowers.
The peacock didn’t even proclaim my arrival.
I ambled over to the falls, careful not to make any noise, and then stood transfixed at what I saw.
The water was alight as though a fragment of sunshine were trapped within the cliff walls, and a rainbow shivered over the highest fall and the bridge. The music seemed to be coming from within the caverns, softly rhythmic and yet it seemed the voice of the caves itself. And I saw her dancing on the ledges of the cliff. At first I thought she was unclothed, then I could see she was clad in a short simple garment that seemed composed of ice crystals and grains of white sand, throwing out a million colors as the light touched it at every movement. She whirled and capered on each ledge, rising to the tips of her toes, arms reaching as high as possible, gold head tilted to the sky, then hopped down to the next one lower and danced and skipped on it, then tripped up light as a squirrel to the stone arch above the highest fall. Then she did a spectacular leap and caught a thick vine I could see dangling from a tree on another cliff—it looked too far away for her to catch it, but catch it she did, and she swung herself around and around in ecstatic circles, her legs straight out, her tiny toes pointed, her hair fanning out in the brightness, until she looked like a great gold and silver bird soaring and swooping in the radiant greenness, the vine almost invisible in her hands. She might have been one of Gandalf’s fireworks, sprinkling tiny stars in her wake, all fire and ice and laughter and cloud-hair and jewels and poetry, brushing the rainbow with each arc, until I expected it to tangle itself in her hair…and so maybe it did. How could I possibly connect this elemental creature, my wise, mischievous and enchanting water-lady, with the dingy little woods-urchin who seemed to understand the secrets of obsession and all-consuming need that crushes love and beauty and conscience into the dust? What could she possibly know of such?
I heard a slight movement beside me and glanced up to see the peacock in the tree watching her also. Then I saw her release the vine and turn an unbelievable flip in mid-air, landing as lightly and delicately as a bird on her perfect little feet on the stone arch above. Then she turned, looked down and smiled, then bent her knees with her arms outstretched and dove off, glittering, over the rainbow and the bridge, until she disappeared into the pool below, and I smiled as I saw the luminous little fish darting with incredible grace in the scintillating waters with their clean perfume and deathless patterns. Then I reached over and plucked the nearest flower and dropped it in, and there she was standing before me on the stone seat, her soft little arms around my neck, pressing her lips to mine in the snowy fire all around us.
To be quite honest, I am still considerably rattled. How well do I really know her?
She has told me plainly that she knows of me only what I wish her to know. She asked me nothing of past loves, and I told her very little. She does not seem interested in the subject. No nonsense about did I ever think of So-and-so, what went wrong, and so on. No jealousy of any of my friends on the Island, male or female. No foolishness about keeping me guessing as to what she wants or what is bothering her; she tells me right out and we settle it then and there without any hysterics or accusations.
She has told me much about herself. She has eight children, and gave me their names rendered into my own tongue: Darkfin, Ebbtide, Moonrise, and Northlight, her sons, and her daughters Fairwind, Embergold, Nightingale and Gloryfall. The name of her mate, whom she left several years ago, she did not reveal. He fell into evil long ago, taking Darkfin their eldest son with him. This she told me with no excess of grief or shame, but in the tone of one merely stating a fact. Sometimes the sea-folk did fall to evil, the same as land-folk. But contrary to legend, they did not turn into hideous monsters, rather they became even more beautiful to behold, and that was far more dangerous than ugliness.
“The sea has regions just as the land,” she told me, “and my father is ruler of our dominion. If we have kings, then he is one, I suppose.”
“Then you are already a princess,” I said in wonder. “Did your father fall to evil too?”
“No, but my mate was from another region, and he succumbed to the Dark One,” she said. “I should have left him then, but I did not, until long after my youngest, Northlight, was born.”
“How long ago was this?” We were sitting beneath the overhang close to the place where we had first met, looking out to sea. The aurora was just visible in the evening sky.
“Not so very long ago,” she said. “Just before the downfall of Sauron. There was another of his kind, who had succumbed to the one you call Morgoth, and was drawing many of our people unto him. My mate tried to force me to join with him, but I refused, taking all my children who would go with me, and we fled, where the Lord of the Waters hid us amongst the dolphins.”
“So you have not always taken the form of a dolphin?”
“No. Not until recently. I take the form when traveling, for my mate and his kind cannot molest the sea-creatures. My other children are scattered about. But I cannot go back to my region, for my former mate may find us out and make a great deal of trouble there. This was why the Lord Ulmo chose me as your mate. He said you had toppled Sauron, and I had resisted the Dark One, and he would reward us both. But he knew he had to let me save your life in order to get me interested in you, and I suppose it was he who compelled you to jump. As I told you before, I had no idea who you were then. I thought you were some daft child who had taken a notion to leap into the water. I did not even find you attractive; you were pale and scrawny and hollow-eyed with pink marks all over you, and those feet! But even so, I was intrigued by you. It was afterwards that the Lord of the Waters told me who you were, for I was curious then, and I followed your ship to the Island. And he told me you were ill and must be healed, and had your old relation to look after. So I must wait and watch, he said, then if I were still willing we could be wed, after I went back into the sea for a while to farewell my kin. He told me if we should be wed that I would lose my powers, that I would know what it was to suffer, grow old, and die, and that my own people would not know me. He would hide nothing from me; if I made the choice, there was no going back. And he could not and would not make you care for me; that was up to me to bring it about. You liked my pearl, I saw that.” She smiled.
“The pearl was your pass-key into my dreams, I take it,” I said. Her hand felt cool in mine; strange that it was never sweaty. “You invaded me, and made yourself right at home. Didn’t you?”
“You could have thrown it away, and then I could not have come in any more,” she said pressing my fingers to her lips. “And I think you knew that, did you not?”
I had to laugh a little: “Yes. And nothing could have induced me to throw it away.”
“Ha! I knew it,” she laughed also. “So I took advantage, did I?”
“I’ve no complaints,” I said, closing my eyes, thinking there was an understatement for the books. “And I know Lord Ulmo would allow no dangerous creatures on the Island. So…were you truly in my dreams or…”
“Your dreams were my dreams,” she said softly. “We shared them. The Lord Irmo gifted them to us. Only mine were in my own point of view, rather than yours. Now we are living the reality, and will come to live it even more.”
“Yes. So…how did you learn of my history? Did he tell you?”
“Well…I spread myself thin,” she explained. “I can thin myself until I can float as a low cloud in the air, but without being seen. And I watched, and bided my time. No, I did not spy on you—that is not allowed, and I would not do it anyway. But I saw you, and I learned of you what you wanted me to learn. It is hard to explain exactly. I saw the people of the Island come to love you, and the things you brought about. And I wondered. Such things were new to me. I became educated in the ways of people of the land. Some of my own people have scorned me for this. They brought out all the old stories of sea-folk who became entangled with land-folk, and none of them ended happily, they said. But I cared not, I only wished to know more. There was no turning back. Rather like when you came to the Island. Before you came here, you did not know how it would be. You only knew you must come or die, and then you fell in love—with the Island, and would not turn back. That is how it was with me also. I could not unlearn you. There was no going back.”
“And you were willing to give up all…for me.” I still could not take this in. All this before she even knew me, or even started to find me attractive. I knew she was extraordinary even among her kind; still, I surely did not deserve this. Could I make her happy? What if I could not? I who knew so little of the ways of love, and could not give her children, how could she possibly want me? What if she grew bored or homesick, and began to long for her old life and her children?
Ah, there I go again, worrying. Faith, I reminded myself. Even as the special virtue of the Island had done its work on me, so it would for her also, surely. I shouldn’t wonder if she does have a dark side, after all she’s been through. We all have one, I’ve come to find the hard way, and I am willing to take the dark along with the light, even as she is.
But Sam, is it terrible of me to be glad she will no longer have her powers when we are wed? Or is it completely unreasonable to feel that her personal charm and beauty and intelligence are plenty enough for me? And that I can give her the same pleasure she gives me, by way of compensation?
I do not really want to marry Ninniach, after all!
The performance is in three days. I am both anticipating and dreading the dress-rehearsal, in which all the players will perform in costume as if they were before an audience. Last year it was a grueling business, and I was terrified that the play would not go well, until one of the actors told me that if the dress-rehearsal went badly, that meant the play would go down splendidly. I had never heard such a thing, but I supposed he knew what he was talking about. And it did go down splendidly, no doubt about that.
But what about this year, with everyone so…unsettled?
I’m waiting to see what sort of costume Ninniach will come up with. I am really glad I am not in charge of that department. I suppose there’s a part of me that knows his costume will be perfect and that is the whole problem. Will it bring back buried memories from the grave, and will they be putrid and horrible beyond imagining? And if so, can I keep my bearings?
And does Anemone have any idea what she is really doing to me?
I shall not tell her…yet. I am still waiting to see when she plans to reveal herself in all this…for I am sure she will. I think she knows I am onto her. And I think she wants to have it over with…or does she? Perhaps she is reveling in this little game…then again, maybe not. Perhaps she does not like deceiving me. And what if she is too successful? Will she change her mind about surrendering her powers then? Will the taste of success prove sweeter to her than love?
I have not seen Silivren since that day. I still bring the food to Ninniach. Whether he eats it or not I do not know. He is still thin, though less so than before. Well and good, I think. After the play I can see more to him, and…good gracious, she is playing the part so well, I sometimes forget she is doing so at all!
The elleth who is doing costumes and makeup for the hobbits, Irilien, doesn’t seem very happy about Ninniach’s costume. She is having a hard enough time getting the boys to allow their hair to be curled. I showed her Anemone’s drawing a few weeks ago, and she said she could manage it. But now that the time is drawing nearer, she is fretting about it. I tell her to go ahead with the hobbits’ costumes; I will see to the boy. Ninniach says he can manage his own, looking at me in a rather surly manner.
“I don’t want her fussing over me,” he says. And suddenly I know why he seems familiar.
He reminds me of Dínlad, in some very odd way. He is shorter, fair where Dínlad is dark and not nearly so handsome--not that he is ugly, although he can make himself so during rehearsals--and yet there is a strange similarity in his features somehow. I wonder why I didn’t see it before. And WHY has Anemone chosen to do this? Is she even aware she is doing it?
But now everyone is getting into their costumes. I help some of them, but I don’t see Ninniach among them. Dairuin, who plays Pippin, is fretting about his scarf; why is he the only one wearing one? He is certain he heard some of the actors in the Company making fun of it. Edrahil, who plays Merry, confides to me that he is afraid he will forget his lines, and what if he can’t stop laughing about Treebeard’s costume? Perion groans to me that Irilien wants to “stuff” him to make him look stouter, and it makes him itch. It seems to him Sam would have lost some weight along the way, what with all these pots and pans and stuff to carry. Why can’t Dínlad carry some of them? Dínlad tells me he “doesn’t like Ninniach’s attitude.” Wearily I tell him he isn’t supposed to “like” it; he is supposed to understand and show compassion. And should he really be wearing blue? he asks. His mum said once that blue wasn’t his color. But Irilien wants to bring out the blue in his eyes. I didn’t think the color of his eyes was important, but Irilien did not ask for my opinion in the matter. I tell him he looks well in it, and so he does, but he doesn’t seem to believe me. Can it be that our Dínlad is starting to acquire a bit of “temperament”? Eru forbid! Perion grumbles that he does NOT like spiders, and WHY does there have to be a GIANT one?? Even if the audience can’t see it?? Edrahil asks him, what does he want, a giant cricket? and Dairuin starts to snicker until he sees my expression. The actor playing Saruman is grousing about how he doesn’t think it right that Gandalf should also be wearing white robes. Yes, perhaps that’s how it really happened, or so we say, he didn’t see it first-hand, but…why couldn’t Gandalf wear green robes, or red, or something? Surely it could be, if I said so.
“I don’t say so,” I tell him with my look that means business, that I use with the young actors at need, and to my utter surprise he quails back and says no more. And so on and on. Why does everyone seem to be in such a bad humor? I fix, explain, reassure, advise, admonish, instruct, adjust, then look around for Ninniach. Where has he gone?
And why should he remind me of Dínlad?
Perhaps I should just come out and tell Anemone that whatever she thinks she is doing, I do not think it is the right thing.
And then Ninniach comes out, in full costume. And I nearly faint.