All right. Tell me how I am supposed to feel. If you can.
Outraged? Confused? Befuddled? Betrayed? Bewildered? Wounded? Disgusted? Kerflummoxed? Infuriated?
All the above? Most of them? Or just a few of them? And if so, which few?
What I feel is vast joy and relief.
I won’t have to marry Ninniach, after all. Except, perhaps, in the sense that, as Donnoviel had expressed it, one does not simply marry a person, but that person’s family as well.
I think I can live with that.
This is one of those rare instances where it feels beyond wonderful to be wrong.
Northlight’s story in a nutshell: Not long after Anemone's eldest son Darkfin fell to the Enemy’s clutches, Northlight followed. He tried to resist, at first. But he was always drawn, as so many are, to those who follow the Shadow, and had both feared and admired his arrogant, forceful, and murkily charismatic brother…not surprisingly, far more than his more ordinary brethren Moonrise and Ebbtide. Northlight was more imaginative, more curious about the world above the waves…rather like his mother. So eventually Darkfin succeeded in drawing him into the wicked one’s realm, promising him the knowledge he craved, powers of his own, the chance to shine with his own light. But soon Northlight became horrified at the brutality he witnessed, the plots he heard, the appalling ambitions and intrigues he perceived, and he repented, and tried to go back. There was a skirmish, during which their father was killed—Anemone insisted she had not known her former mate was dead when she met me, and I believe her, and, shame to say, felt glad of it when she told me. Northlight managed to escape, but he knew his brother and his cohorts would catch up to him sooner or later, and try to pin the murder of their father on him, and they would be believed although he knew it was Darkfin who was responsible. So Northlight appealed to the Lord of the Seas, begging forgiveness and asking to be allowed to return to his own realm. Ulmo said he would grant him permission only if there were someone who would make intercession for him, and then he would have to perform a task to prove his worthiness to return to his own people. The intercessor, of course, was his mother...who was a particular favorite of the Sea-Lord’s. And the task was decided upon. If he failed at it, he must go back into the sea, and would not be granted protection. The idea of having him play Gollum was Anemone’s.
“You thought I was he, didn’t you?” she asked me the next morning, over breakfast. Northlight didn’t sit at the table with us, but leaned against the rail, looking around. After a while he left the terrace and strolled around the grounds.
“At first I did,” I said, “but the morning of the dress-rehearsal, I knew he was not. I don’t know why exactly. I just did. But I was not absolutely sure…and…”
“I am sorry, my love,” she said as she stirred her half-cold tea. “I had to let you think as you did until the task was completed. Even encourage you to do so. I was sworn to secrecy. I never wished to deceive you, but my son’s life was at stake, and perhaps the lives of my daughters also. When I first met you, I knew not that Northlight had followed his brother. You will find that strange, I’m sure, that I know not what goes on with my own children. But the sea is so vast, and we have so many, and they grow up soon and scatter quickly. We have a means of communication from great distances, and sometimes we can know what goes on with them, but only if they choose to tell us. I hear from the others once in a while. But I lost touch with Northlight not long after I left my former mate. When I called to him, he did not answer. At least, not truthfully, and if one does not answer truthfully then I cannot hear him.”
“So you did teach him to read, then?” I said, thinking if she did, then he had obviously inherited her quick mind.
“No, silly,” she said smiling, “you did. He was there, all the while you were teaching me, but you could not see him. But do not worry—he was never with you alone except when he was visible; I would not allow it otherwise. I told him if he tried to spy on you, you would know of it and he would be banished from the Island. I knew it was in his head to do so, and so I ensured that if he did attempt it, you would know he was there. You did not sense his presence with you at any time?”
“No, I did not,” I said truthfully, feeling a little giddy.
“Good.” Her relief was visible.
“But I wish the others to know,” I said seriously, “after the last performance. I would not deceive the rest of the Island. As you yourself said, they are my family.”
“They will know,” she assured me. “And then Northlight must go back into the Sea, although he may visit from time to time…if you still wish to wed me.”
“I wish it,” I said. Call me a fool if you will, but I meant it with all my heart. And sad to say, I was glad Northlight would not be staying with us…or even near us. Not that I dislike him—he did save the Light, after all, I’m sure--but, well…to tell the truth, he does make me uneasy. It will take a while to get the image of his Gollum out of my head. “Will he play Gollum next year?” I asked. That was one of the things that had been worrying me when I had thought he was she.
“He will, if you wish it,” she said. “Silivren did not lie to you about one other thing: Northlight does think the world of you. In the beginning, he did not, to be sure. Not because of anything you had done, but because of your mortality, and the fact that in a sense you would be taking me away from him. But he is not without a heart, or he would not have repented. You fed him, you were more concerned with his welfare than with how the play would go off, and he knew not what to think of that. And he watched you…not invisibly, to be sure. But he learned you, as I did. He had supposed land-folk were greedy and self-serving. I had to talk with him a great deal. One day he said to me, of you, ‘He makes me want to protect him, to keep the Dark One away from him. I don’t know why. It worries me.’”
I started to laugh, but the laughter did not get past my lips. I remembered what I had said to Anemone once, about how compassion was a foreign concept to those who had never known what it was to suffer. How much did Northlight understand of it now? And more importantly—to me at least—would she learn of suffering when she became mortal? The concept of it had been explained to her, of course, but actually experiencing it was a whole different matter.
“One more thing,” I said after a moment, “I noticed that he reminded me of Dínlad at times…in a very strange way. Others spoke of it as well. Did you see it?”
“That was my idea also,” she said glancing downward modestly, then up at me again in great earnest. “I thought…perhaps he should remind an audience of what you might have been, or might become, had you succumbed to the fatal lure of the Ring. That you and he should represent the dark and bright sides of one coin, and if the audience could grasp this concept, they would be shaken into an awareness of the duality of all things, and of their own fallibility. Perhaps, then they would not be lulled into a false security and would be less likely to let down their guard and open the way for intruders.”
“You are brilliant,” I said after a long moment, shaking my head a little. “Perhaps you should be directing plays, yourself.” And I grinned thinking of her behavior the previous night, when several ladies complimented her on her peacock cloak.
“Alas, it will no longer exist, after I am wed,” she’d told them gaily, “but this dress, at least, will still be mine. It is a gift from the Lady Galadriel. She had it made from one of her old gowns, imagine that!”
And she threw back the cloak and held out her arms to show the filmy sleeves of the snow-white gown, lined with fine lace and stitched with tiny pearls, the fabulously embroidered bodice, all displaying just enough and not too much of her pretty shoulders. How many ladies would be proud of the fact that someone had made an old dress over for them…even if that someone happened to be Queen of the Island? I decided I should have a dozen peacock cloaks made for her, if she wanted them. She is my Princess without a doubt!
I asked Galendur, later on, how I should be feeling, after I told him all, Anemone having gone back into the sea for the day—for as I may have mentioned before, she must spend several hours in the sea each day, or she will start to wither like a plant that does not get sufficient water. He rubbed his chin with one hand, then narrowed his eyes at me. Yes, he must surely have thought me slightly preposterous for asking him such a thing, and I already felt foolish, and started to tell him never mind, when he spoke up.
“Donnoviel was here earlier today,” he said, then paused, no doubt waiting for me to ask him to explain his mother-in-law’s connection with the subject at hand. But I merely lifted my eyebrows as I picked up a shovel to muck out the pony’s stall. We were cleaning his stable. He keeps the stable nearly as nice as Tilwen keeps the house, and even allows me to help out. Well, he helps me with my grape-harvest and other things at times; it’s only fitting that I should return the favor when I can. “She was at Tilwen all morning. I wasn’t here, but Til told me all about it. Donnoviel told her some cock-and-bull story having to do with some mortal girl who supposedly hanged herself on my account some umpty-seven years ago. I believe she got it from Ortherion, certainly a most reliable source if ever there was one, but she didn’t mention that, of course. ‘I think you need to straighten him out immediately,’ she told Til, ‘now that you have the baby to consider.’ And here I thought she was finally starting to like me. Seems every other sentence that comes out of her mouth any more ends in ‘now that you have the baby to consider.’ And if any girl was ever fool enough to hang herself on my account, I certainly didn’t know of it. So. How do you think that made me feel? Outraged? Wounded? Put-out? Murderous?”
“A little of all of those, I should think,” I said shrugging. “Maybe more than a little?”
“Precisely. And I felt them in spades. You see now?”
“Mm…I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I don’t.”
“Well, all right, another example. What did you feel the very first day you met me?”
“You really don’t want to know,” I said, and chuckled. So did he.
“You’re right, I probably don’t,” he said, and came over and put an arm around my shoulders, lowering his voice as if about to disclose some secret. “The point is, my dear Baggins, is that you should feel precisely what you are feeling. Nothing more, nothing less. What’s the use of bothering over what you should be feeling? Whatever you happen to be feeling, is what you should be feeling, so feel it and be bloody done with it. Got that?”
“I’m feeling a little confused now,” I admitted, leaning on my shovel, “but I think I see what you mean. But what about...what if you are feeling guilty about something that isn't really your fault?”
“Then stop feeling it. It's that simple.”
Don't I wish, I thought. Then I shrugged. “Yes, of course,” I said. “You're absolutely right.”
“Just ask yourself,” he said, “if it makes sense to be feeling what you do, and if it doesn't, then don't feel it. Yes, you're not such a simple sort of chap as I, so maybe you don't think and feel simply. Which, to some extent, is all right. Some of us should be simple, and others, like yourself, a bit more complicated. Makes things more interesting and balanced-out. The thing to do is just try not to make things more complicated for yourself than they should be. So if you're feeling guilty when you shouldn't be, don't do it. And if you're feeling happy over a turn of events that worked in your favor, then feel happy. Mull things over in your mind and backtrack. Should I feel happy or unhappy about this, why, or why not? Why did it happen, what did I have to do with it, what does it mean, and what will come of it? And so on and so forth. Then feel what you should about it. What's so bloody hard about that?”
I smiled to myself. “I suppose you're right, this time. I'm just the sort who has always felt that the way that seems easiest is usually the wrong way. And feeling happy seemed just too easy this time. But you're right. In this instance, I should feel happy, and so I will.”
“Jolly good,” he said, slapping me up the back of my head—a gesture only he could possibly get by with. “Now…do you think you might call Anemone to help me cook up some bizarre scheme for getting my mother-in-law and brother back? Because I really feel like stoving their heads in at the moment. Perhaps we could have Northlight knock on Ortherion’s door and turn into Gollum right before his very eyes. Of course, we would hide in the bushes and watch. I’d absolutely have to see his face.”
“Northlight wouldn’t go for it,” I said, automatically smoothing down my hair. “He’s not at all like his mother, save for his intelligence. He’s entirely too serious. Truly, Seragon is a court jester by comparison.”
“Is he now? He should spend more time in our company. If anyone could take the starch out of him, it would be you and I, I should think.”
I laughed: “Well, he must go back to the sea soon anyway. He won’t have much time for fun and games, I’m afraid.”
And so must she, I thought. I dreaded the very idea of it. When would she return, and how would I ever get through her absence? I couldn’t think of it just now.
“So how do you like the idea of being a stepfather?” Galendur asked me as we sat down to rest a little later, and I took out my pipe and he took out a bunch of grapes.
“I’m not sure yet,” I said thoughtfully. “I suppose I’ll get used to it. Northlight won’t be around much, after all. Actually, it’s the thought of having his brother Darkfin as a stepson that should give me pause, but I suppose he’s no longer regarded as a member of the family. And Northlight has seen to it that Darkfin and his sort will never pose a threat to the Island.”
“So. Not exactly your average, run-of-the-mill hobbit-type family, I take it?”
“Hardly,” I laughed ruefully, “other than the sheer size of it. I came near being a stepfather once before, back in the Shire. I don’t know if I ever mentioned that to you before. There were but two children, boy and girl. They were small, and good youngsters most of the time, and I was fond enough of them. But their mother, Buttercup Briarwood—she was something else again. We could scarcely have been more mismatched.”
“Really? How so? Was she such a frump as all that? Or prickly, like her name?”
“No, she was rather pretty actually. And a nice lass and a good housekeeper and a decent mother to her children. But…ungallant as it sounds, she just could not stop talking. I could never get a word in edgewise. It would have ended up driving me mad, surely.”
“But absolutely. Particularly if she were one of those maddening creatures who can keep going for hours on end without actually saying a damned word. Preserve us from those infernally gabby types. And of course you couldn’t have married a Buttercup anyway, it would have been the very ruin of you. You shouldn’t even have thought of marrying a Buttercup. Just imagine it. You should have your ears boxed for even considering it. I thought better things of you. Now an Anemone is a whole different matter. I could always see you with an Anemone. And yours is no common garden flower by a long stretch.”
“Well, a hobbit who is unable to father children really hadn’t much choice in the matter, and may have to settle for marrying a widow who needs a male to help raise her children. But it would have been even more unthinkable to have had a family, what with the Thing that was entrusted to me. I shudder to think what might have happened to them. I suppose it’s just as well Buttercup was such a chatter-box. Her fatal flaw may well have saved her life, and the children’s as well. She ended up marrying Willy Hornblower, a good, sensible, uncomplicated sort of fellow. A bit shy, contrary to what his name may suggest, so her chatter might actually have been good for him. Rather like a continually flowing stream to a mill-wheel. Much better for her than I would have been, I’m sure.”
“Hornblower,” Galendur mused. “Sounds like someone Dínlad should be related to, what?”
“Would it make you feel any better,” I suggested as we ambled back to the house later on to wash up for supper, “if I told you Ortherion is merely jealous because no girl in her right mind would ever hang herself on HIS account?”
“Unless she were married to him, perhaps,” Galendur said rolling his eyes. I frowned.
“I suppose it wouldn’t help at all,” I said, “if I said Donnoviel is only concerned about her daughter and grandchild-to-be, and someday you will understand being a parent yourself, but even so she was entirely out of line and I cannot blame you in the slightest for how you are feeling about her at the moment?”
“Keep going,” he said. “I dare say it will help eventually.”
“Would it make you feel better,” I said grinning to myself, “if I told you Tilwen and the coming child are very lucky to have you as husband and father, as you are to have them?”
“It may,” he said and he was grinning a little too. “Point taken. I’m already starting to feel like a parent, actually, and perhaps I do understand, in part. And while my past may have been less checkered than it’s commonly reputed to be, it’s scarcely a virgin page either, and I suppose it will insist on rising to bite me on the backside from time to time, for as long as I keep going, even after I’ve left my wild and woolly ways behind and become as staid and wise and ethereal as any good Elf is expected to be.”
“Thanks be to Eru,” I said softly, “that I won’t live long enough to see that.” Then thought maybe I shouldn’t have reminded him of my mortality thusly.
“Well, go on,” he said after a sober moment. “I’ll wait until you get to the part where you say how much you love me and are very, very lucky to have me as a friend and so on and on. You do love me, don’t you?”
“What’s not to love?” I grinned. Really, what?
“Well, of course,” he said snapping his fingers. “Bloody stupid question. All right then. So what is my most endearing trait?”
“Your modesty, of course.”
“Well. But of course.”
“And what is mine, then?” My stomach was hurting a little from suppressed laughter and joy.
“Your impeccable taste in friends,” he replied without batting an eye. I nodded. He really has yet to disappoint me.
“Yes, I’ve certainly that, if naught else,” I had to admit. “So…do you still feel like stoving heads in now?”
“Not so much as I did,” he said as we entered the house, where I could hear Tilwen in the kitchen, and smell a delicious supper cooking. “I should have known sooner or later, that you would talk me out of it. I suppose I should count myself lucky to have you also.”
“You certainly should,” I said as I ducked safely out of his reach, on the other side of the table, where I could actually feel my eyes twinkling “…now that you have the baby to consider!”