I was wrong. He is not Anemone. But if not, then who is he??
I knew as soon as I saw him as Gollum. "Unsettled" doesn't even begin to describe my feelings. In an instant Dinlad and Perion were at my side, telling Ninniach to get away from me. And I had to tell them, no, I was all right, he just gave me a turn, rigged out as he was, I was all right. And I managed to smile at Ninniach and tell him his costume was perfect, or as Seragon might have described it, "brilliantly conceived". The rehearsal was about to begin. I was directing the first few scenes, and must collect my wits and keep them about me.
I scarcely watched the parts my lads weren’t in, for thinking of them. Edrahil and Dairuin with their incorrigible scampishness and boisterous humor. Perion with his volubility and interest in everything around him, especially the people. And Dínlad, moody, intelligent, thoughtful, still occasionally cocky, quick to make a splash when he can, a natural leader yet willing to follow the lead of those he respects. He is my favorite, if the truth be known, although I wouldn’t say so to just anyone! All of them normal as daylight, full of life, healthy, joyous, buoyant, everything people want their sons to be. The way I would have wanted a son of my own to be, for that matter.
And then there is Ninniach. Perhaps there is a Ninniach in every society. The odd one, the strange one, banished into the shadows, mistrusted, misunderstood, often mistreated, always alone. Maybe he is the part of us we all try to pretend does not exist, but deep down we know he is there, just waiting to emerge from the hidden places when we least expect it. Our fallen, dangerous, unsettling side, which may yet in some unbidden way bring out our inner brightness and beauty and color as well, if we but listen to the higher part of ourselves in dealing with it thereby learning to conquer our fear and distaste.
Our director reminded us that we would have another rehearsal tomorrow, and dismissed everyone. And Ninniach, as always, disappeared before I could find him to tell him both what I liked about his performance and what needed work. Well, there was very little that was lacking. His performance was marvelous, to say the least. He would have everyone on the edge of their seats.
But who was he???
I told Dínlad I was very pleased with his work, which was the truth. The boy had done brilliantly, and the shaking-up Ninniach’s Gollum must have given him seemed the transforming element. I decided I should not worry too much. Whoever Ninniach was, it was obvious that the Powers were backing the play, just as Anemone said.
Dínlad grinned shyly and glanced down, having retrieved his horn from the actor playing Boromir (who had really died beautifully, I must say), then said, “Who is he, anyway?”
“Ninniach?” I said. “Well…I suppose we will all find out, sooner or later.” And devoutly hoped it was true.
“I am a little sorry for him,” Dínlad admitted. “I don’t know why exactly. I guess it’s because he is so…I don’t know. I didn’t want him to touch me. He’s creepy, if you know what I mean. But I still wanted to protect him, or, or something. I don’t know how to explain it.”
“I could see that,” I said, laying a hand on his shoulder for a moment, “and I was very proud of you. If you can just keep that up, I think the play will go down brilliantly.”
When I reached home, Anemone had supper ready for me, and she asked me how the dress-rehearsal had gone, and seemed a bit troubled. I told her what a turn Ninniach had given me when he appeared in costume, and she tightened her lips and paled a little, then asked if I were all right. I said I was fine, and the rehearsal had gone well for the most part. I was a little worried that Shelob’s eyes would scare the elflings in the audience (that being all they would see of her), and wondered if I should come on stage before hand and issue a warning. All through supper I gave her what I hoped were amusing accounts of the actors’ behavior during the day, wondering if she had witnessed any. Maybe she was Ninniach. Then again…I remembered all too well the shrinking horror that had nearly overcome me as Ninniach/Gollum had approached, how I cringed back from his touch, his very aspect. That could not possibly be Anemone, I thought. Perhaps he really was simply Ninniach, who had come from out of nowhere, known to no one, with an uncanny knowledge of the Shadow, acquired from who knew where. Still, the more I thought of it, that just seemed very unlikely.
And why shouldn’t she have a Gollum inside of her, even as I did?
But if he is she, and she will no longer have her powers after we are wed…then who will play Gollum next year?
I almost came right out and asked her then and there, but something held me back. I think I was afraid the play wouldn’t go off as well if I knew too much too soon!
My nervousness must have showed the morning of the performance. I could hardly eat breakfast. Since I was assistant director, I had to be there much earlier in the day. Anemone, as she helped me dress and brushed the suit of clothes I would change into for the performance, said that was all right, she would ride with Galendur and Tilwen.
So they are in on the secret, I thought. Wonderful.
If there is a secret.
The performance was wonderful, just wonderful. Well, a horse did its business on the stage in one scene, but I dare say no one noticed, or cared, although I was afraid someone would step in it and make a mess…but these were consummate actors we were dealing with, and I needn’t have worried on that score! Gandalf’s reappearance was so astounding and dramatic as he materialized in his dazzling white robes, everyone gasped and cheered, and Rûdharanion confided afterward to me, “I was SO afraid I couldn’t pull that off! But it was most wondrous…just like a rebirth, of sorts. Now I KNOW I can go on living.” Dûndeloth’s Faramir had young ellyth sighing in their seats; one lass said to me later, “He was so handsome and rugged and sensitive. I just died.” Inzilbêth was a bit miffed that she had so little to do, and I had to keep reassuring her that her big moment would come next year. “Naught is ever as we think it will be, is it?” she remarked to me, and I hardly knew what to say to that, except “I suppose not.” Shelob’s eyes went over wonderfully, causing shrieks from some quarters. I hoped they wouldn’t give my orphans nightmares! Nessima had been very concerned as to that, and I advised her to warn them in advance. My boys did magnificently; I had tears in my eyes, I was so proud of them. And Perion’s big moment, his fight with Shelob, brought down the house. He had to come back on stage afterward and take another bow. And his grief over the fallen Dínlad was so convincing, everyone was in tears, and he told me later he had to go off by himself for a while; the scene nearly “did him in,” as he put it. Still, he was in fine form enough at the end of the performance.
But it was Ninniach who really carried the play, just as I suspected he would. I could have sworn he was the real Gollum. In fact Gandalf told me later, “He’s more Gollum than Gollum was. I’m almost glad Bilbo didn’t see him. He might have gone into arrest.” (But I’ve a feeling he could see him!) And when he took his bow, rather modestly, the crowd went wild, and he seemed a little abashed at the loudness of the cheering. I thought he might reveal himself then, but he just stood, smiling a little shyly, then he had to take another bow. I could hardly see the audience over the torches that burned in the footlights. But I could certainly hear them.
Rûdharanion was cheered almost as loudly, and as he was taking his bow as author, he motioned for Dûndeloth to come stand with him, taking his hand and raising it high above their heads. And then he glanced aside and saw me, standing in the wings and clapping him, and he motioned for me to come also. I hesitated, but the director gave me a little push, and I had no choice but to go and stand with them.
And dear Sam…the cheering was louder than ever. I could hardly believe it. Rûdharanion and Dûndeloth took me between them, and the stands went wild. They stood and shouted themselves hoarse. Some threw flowers. Some shouted my name. Some stamped and whistled. I glanced aside and saw my boys fairly dancing, then they whistled on their fingers. I saw Ninniach, grinning and clapping too, then skipping around like Gollum, which was rather unnerving, then he laughed, and joined the lads again. Salmë came running up on the stage, in a gold gown, and handed her husband a huge bouquet of red roses and kissed him before all, and the crowd roared once more. I felt so proud of Rûdharanion, I embraced him then and there.
I even saw Tilwen cheering then.
And I saw Anemone.
There she was, close to the front, with Tilwen and Galendur, just as she said she would be. I glanced back over my shoulder…and there was Ninniach still there, clapping.
And Anemone broke away and came running up to the stage. I felt so dizzy, I could hardly move, barely hearing someone ask if I were all right. In spite of everything I could hardly help but notice the cloak she was wearing, which was of peacock-blue velvet, embroidered with tail-feathers around the edges, and a fan-tail design on the long collar in back. Great Valar, I thought foolishly, everyone will be wanting one of those! Underneath she wore a gown of white embroidered in gold, ankle length, and gold silken slippers. She carried a bouquet of white roses, which she handed to me and then kissed me on the lips, just as Salmë had done with Rûdharanion. And the crowd cheered once more, for her it seemed. I held her hand and clutched the bouquet with my free one, and glanced back at Ninniach once more, and he was smiling a big face-splitting grin then, and Anemone looked back at him also and smiled. Then Lyrien and Marílen came running up onto the stage, hugging me hard, and they handed me more flowers, squealing, giggling, crying, dancing, pelting me with questions and cries of “It was wonderful!” and when Lyrien caught sight of Perion, she ran and grabbed his arm screaming, “You were goooooooooooddddd!!!” (Do I see those two together in years to come...many years to come?) Galendur and Tilwen both kissed and embraced me, to my embarrassment. I lost sight of Anemone as more and more shrieking elflings came scrambling forward, and Dûndeloth’s son Firnhil and daughter-in-law Maianna came rushing forward to meet him, filling his arms with golden roses. Then I glanced back and saw her standing with Ninniach, holding him by both hands, talking earnestly with him, although in all the uproar I couldn't hear a word. A more grotesque contrast I had never seen. So she knew him?
And as the final curtain fell and the elflings were compelled to go back to their parents, I saw Anemone embrace Ninniach and kiss him on both cheeks. Then she looked at me, motioning me to come. And he no longer looked like Gollum, but simply like the boy Ninniach. And as she drew us both away from the others, he looked less and less a boy, although he became but little taller. His hair grew paler and more shining, almost silvery, his face more fleshed-out and smooth and fair, sharp-featured almost to the point of iciness, his eyes less huge and hollow and of a more vivid blue.
“Iorhael,” Anemone said softly, taking his hand once more and presenting him to me face to face, “this is my son, Northlight.”