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39
Darkness


Dear Sam,

Why is it so much easier to talk of faith than it is to have it?

I know the answer, of course, but I had to ask.

She has gone into the Sea to farewell her kin, and I know not when she will return. If only I could know, I could bear the waiting, perhaps….

We spent some time debating whether Northlight should go with her. I wanted him to go, to protect her; I feared for her safety. She wished him to stay to keep me company and to assure me of her return. She said the Lord of the Seas would keep her from harm. He had chosen her as my bride, after all; certainly he would ensure that she would be safe. Yes, it did occur to me that if Northlight stayed with me, that made it all the more likely that she would come back, and I had a secret fear that she would change her mind. Lord Ulmo would not force her to wed me, even after she had promised herself. She could change her mind if she wished, and what if she did?

The possibility was unthinkable, so I would not allow myself to think of it. I would prepare the house for her, just as if there were no possible doubt in my mind.

And Northlight would stay here. He would not live in the house with me, of course, for sea-folk do not live in houses; they have no concept of sleeping in a bed, or eating at a table, and so forth. But he could help me fix up the house for his mother, although it was hard for me to believe he even wanted to stay with me at all, and was only doing so because his mother wished it, and perhaps it was part of his trial.

So here I am with my future stepson on my hands, scarcely knowing what to do with him, or myself.

I sat on the shore long after she had gone, unwilling to go into the house, although it was well after dark. I knelt before my praying rock for I knew not how long, leaning my head down on my arms in absolute stillness. I don’t know how many times I prayed.

(I’m sorry to do this to you, Sam. I know it must be distressing, but I know not what else to do. I cannot lie to you, nor keep things from you now. I wish I could, but I’m sure it would worry you more if I just kept silent until her return. And I am certain she will come back. So please bear with me! And pray for me if you can.)

Northlight had gone into the sea, and I was there all alone in the night. I had given her my Evenstar and she had taken it as a pledge that she would return. We have scheduled our wedding not to coincide with the birth of Tilwen’s child. She is about six months along now....

I wondered, recently, if I should be put-out that Anemone has usurped me as a story-teller. The children seem to want to hear her tales more than mine now. But I do not mind at all; in fact I am as enthralled as they. How can we not be, when she told of how her older sisters saved a merchant-vessel from capture by pirates?

“My sister Fairwind, for whom my eldest daughter is named, brought along a great whale which was her friend, and he caused a huge wave to wash up and knock the pirate-captain right off the deck,” she said, lowering her voice a little as she perched demurely upon a large flat rock on the beach, a circle of elflings about her, myself among them, grinning. The others gasped. “It is said that he ate the captain whole, but I think it is not true, for that is not whale behavior. I think the pirate merely sank beneath the waves and was lost, although, to be sure, he may have become a shark’s lunch. He had a crossbow which he was aiming at the main deck of the merchant-ship. Of course, the wave tossed that vessel around considerably, and some of the crew were thrown overboard also, but my sisters rescued most of them. But alas, Fairwind took a harpoon through her heart for her trouble, and she too was lost beyond recall, and the whale mourned her until he, too, died of grief. And poor Lightning rescued the cabin-boy, who was very pretty, she said, but he sailed away on the vessel and she never saw him again. I wonder if she still thinks of him. She used to make up songs about him sometimes.”

“Were you there?” one of the smallest girls asked wide-eyed.

“Ah, no,” she said smiling, “I was but a small babe then. But they told me all about it. Whether or not they were exaggerating a bit, I know not, but I think they told the truth, on the whole.”

“Do ladies always fall in love with men when they rescue them?” an older girl asked.

“Not always…but they are in grave danger of doing so,” Anemone said, looking to me with an enigmatic half-smile. “And that is the only time they do fall in love—when they save a life. And if the love is not returned, then sometimes they die of grief, but sometimes they are allowed to forget, if they do other heroic deeds.”

“How many sisters have you?” Lyrien spoke up. I had been worried about her, for she seemed sad when Anemone and I had announced our betrothal. But I think she is starting to take to her.

“I’m not sure—twelve, I think,” Anemone said. Lyrien and Marílen stared at each other with wide-open eyes and mouths. Twelve! I chuckled to myself. “And I am the youngest. So I had to miss out on many of their adventures. But I got to save Iorhael, so I needed no other.”

“How many brothers?” Marílen asked.

“Seven,” Anemone said. More wide eyes and mouths. Of course, three children is considered a large family by Elf standards. “But some of them, I have never met. They went off before I was even born. You see, Elf-children take about a hundred years to grow up, but it is different with the sea-folk. They mature in about ten or twelve years. I first became a mother when I was eleven.”

General consternation, which I might have shared had I not already known this.

Fëariel asked, “Do sea-ladies lay eggs like fishes?” Her sister Linwë jabbed her in the side with her elbow, and she yelped in pain and indignation and jabbed her back. A couple of others giggled. Anemone smiled.

“No. We give birth in the same manner as whales and dolphins do,” she explained. I tensed. Such matters are not freely discussed among Elf-kind with their young, but the prudishness of land-folk is not shared by those of the sea, who take such things in their stride. I had explained this to her once, but perhaps it had not sunk in. “But it takes a sea-babe only about three or four months to grow inside its mother. So a sea-lady may have as many as four children in one year. Although they do not usually have more than two. And they have but one at a time, but every once in a while, they may have two. I had two at one time, myself. Nightingale and Gloryfall were born one right after the other. That is a very rare thing. They were made much over when they were small, for no other reason than being twins.”

She laughed a little. I smiled to myself. She had not forgotten, after all, and had provided a much subtler diversion than I would have.

“How old are you then?” Dínlad asked. Perion kicked him on the leg, but he just kicked back.

“I do not know exactly,” Anemone smiled at him, “but I think I am between 35 and 40 years of age. My youngest son, Northlight, is about 18. He is young, but not a child. After one reaches full maturity, age is of no consequence to us. One is neither old nor young; one just is.

“I’m just 51 myself,” Linwë said proudly. I lifted my eyebrows. She appeared the age of a hobbit-lass of about 20. “You don’t look much older than I.”

“How old do you think I am?” I spoke up grinning.

“I don’t know,” Linwë said squinting at me a little. “About two hundred?”

I laughed. “You are about 145 years off,” I said. “I will be 55 this year.”

Fëariel gasped. “You look MUCH older than that!” she squealed. “Even if you are so teeny.”

Linwë jabbed at her again, but her sister jumped out of the way this time. I laughed. So did the others.

“How old will you be,” Lyrien asked Anemone, “when you become mortal?”

Anemone knit her brows, thinking this over. “I do not know,” she said. “I will be reborn…on the day of my wedding.”

Lyrien shook her bright head slowly. “That’s simply astonishing,” she said. I chuckled.

“What do sea-folk wear?” another girl asked. “Just…nothing?”

I tensed once more, feeling glad no parents were about. Anemone smiled kindly at her.

“Do they just go naked?” another asked. Some of the others giggled nervously.

“They appear clothed when they go on land,” Anemone said diplomatically, “although very few of them ever do. And land-folk cannot see them in the sea unless they appear as a fish or dolphin. When Iorhael first saw me on land, I was wearing a green dress…or appeared to be.” I cleared my throat.

“When you become mortal,” Lyrien said, “will you still have your dresses?”

“No. I will have to have them made for me.”

“Like the Queen made for you?”

“Yes. Like that one. She is going to make my wedding-gown for me herself.”

Exclamations of wonder and delight all around. I heaved a blissful sigh.

“She said,” Anemone continued, in the tone of one imparting a great secret, “that she would make me one just like her own wedding-gown, only simpler, since one that splendid would not suit me being so small. She said she doesn’t still have hers, for it was made about six thousand years or so ago, and no dress can hold up that long. But her husband had a replica of it made for her about 600 years ago as a special gift, and she showed it to me, and said she would make a similar one if I wished, and I do wish even though it is not in the current style.”

“It must be wonderful to be a princess,” Marílen sighed. “I wish I could be one.”

“You are one,” I whispered to her. “Just ask your daddy.” She blushed and giggled.

I reminded myself of what she had said about the wedding-gown, and that the Queen was now working on it, as I sat beside my praying-rock. She will come back, I told myself. I know it. I know it.

But how can I go into the City now? The others will think she has deserted me. How can I look them in the eye?

The sea was calm now. I had my light in my pocket, but did not think of taking it out. By and by I lifted my head from the rock, looking blindly out. Clouds obscured the stars; it would rain, I was sure, perhaps even storm. I do not like to be out in a storm, but still I stayed where I was. I could not see the Beacon. My hand strayed to my throat almost instinctively, but the pendant was not there, and I felt much as I did just after the Ring was destroyed and I did not yet have the Evenstar to replace it. What would I do without it now?

She promised to come back.

The Lord of the Seas chose her for me. He will protect her.

I will be reborn…on the day of my wedding.

So will I, surely. If it happens.

But what if she decided she did not want to lose her powers, after all? What if she decided she did not want to know what it was to feel pain, or weakness, or death? What if her people succeeded in dissuading her…which some of them would surely try to do?

I just must not consider the possibility. I must not.

But how can I bear her absence? What will I do?

I laid my head down on the rock again, groaning. I gripped at my hair with one hand, hoping the pain would help me to forget the other kind.

It began to rain. A soft rain, but a cold one. I should go inside, I thought numbly, it will rain harder, perhaps there will be lightning. But I made no motion to rise. I sat there in the rain, looking out to sea, leaning my head on my hands.

And then I felt arms lifting me up.

They might have been my mother’s, lifting me from my crib, and I put up no resistance. I felt the warmth of a cloak being wrapped around me; I hadn’t realized I was cold before. Then the arms holding me close for a long moment, then lifting me and carrying me along without a word. I expected to be put up on a horse, but was not. I felt rather glad of that, even though it was a surprise. But finally I did have to ask where Nightwind was. And Galendur explained that it would have taken too long to bring him out and put him back in again, and all that, and so he had come out on foot to look for me. He offered to gallop like a horse if I liked, and I think it frightened him a little when that did not draw so much as a smile from me. But he did break into a run when it started to rain much harder of a sudden, and thunder rumbled loudly, putting the hood of the cloak over my head.

~*~*~

I hated the thought that Tilwen was drawing a bath for me in her condition, and offered to heat the water myself, but Galendur said something like “hogwash” and started to help me off with my clothes. Curtly I told him I could undress myself, and he took it good-naturedly and even turned his back while I stripped myself in the kitchen beside the stove, on which a kettle was whistling, then wrapped the blanket he brought in around me and said he could look now. He poured boiling water from the kettle into a tea-pot and let it steep a while, hung my clothes up over the backs of chairs, then poured a cup for me. He rubbed my shoulder a little through the blanket as I sipped the tea.

It is a terrible thing when your closest friends cannot comfort you.

Judging from his expression I would have said that all this was almost as hard for him as it was for me. Probably he was imagining the worst also. What would become of me if she did not return? The answer was unthinkable for him, but he had been trained to imagine the unthinkable.

Tilwen tapped on the door and said the bath was ready. Galendur made a motion to lift me, but I flounced away and walked ahead of him to the bathing-room where a steaming tub awaited me. He glanced aside until I was in the water with my knees drawn up. I don’t know why I was being so ridiculous; I was trim and muscular thanks to all the hard work I had done on my land, and had nothing he didn’t have himself, only in a larger size, ahem--but that was exactly the point. The water was certainly hot, which would have been delightful under different circumstances… except it was my guess that dear Til had ordered him to stay in here with me to make sure I didn’t do something truly desperate.

The way I was feeling just then, she may have been right to do so. Maybe.

“I don’t suppose,” he said after a long moment, “that we could take Northlight fishing with us? That might not be such a good idea, what?”

“I’m not sure,” I hedged.

“We might end up hooking some close relative of his, perhaps?” I really think he was trying to get me to smile.

But I could only shrug. “Perhaps it would be better to take him to the Sporting Center,” I suggested. I thought of going hunting, but I never go hunting myself, actually. I don’t like to kill things. Not, of course, that I am necessarily adverse to sharing the kills of others. What hobbit doesn’t enjoy a good rabbit stew, or squirrel with dumplings?

“Good idea,” Galendur said. “And we could go sailing, and give him a taste of moving above water instead of below it. Although he may not see the point. Then again, maybe he’s always wondered what it would be like to be a flying-fish.”

That did draw a grin from me. “This is awfully good of you,” I said humbly, after a moment.

“Pish-posh,” he said, looking relieved. “It’s the least I can do, after what you did for us. Would I be here now, with all of this, but for you?”

“Piffle,” I said, meaning to sound like Bilbo. “As persuasive as you can be? You and Til would have kissed and made up eventually, even if I hadn’t done anything, I’m sure.”

“Perhaps, but there’s much more to it than just that,” he said. “And we all know what it is, so need we go into it all? Are you ready to come out now, or are your fingers not pruny enough yet?”

“I’ve nothing to put on,” I remembered.

“I’ll get you one of my old shirts,” he said, rising to pick up a towel. I dried myself and wrapped up in the blanket while he brought me the shirt. Tilwen brought me a cup of hot soup after tucking me up in the “Round Room,” and sat beside me while I drank it down. It was spicy and delicious. Her cooking skills really are the top of the line.

After I handed her the empty cup, she set it down on the bed-table and took my hand and held it in both hers.

“Iorhael,” she said softly, “you know what Lady Elwing said that day? That we would all have our heart’s desire within two years? You can see it is coming to pass, for all three of us. Galendur and I are having a child, and you have…her. So she WILL come back, I know it. You came here to be rewarded, and you will be. There’s no reason to disbelieve that.”

I nodded, tightening my lips even as my throat tightened. Tears welled in her eyes.

“So you must have faith that it will come about, and she will return,” she said, then turned the lamp low. “I miss her too, already. Where is your light?”

“Here,” Galendur said, bringing it forth and setting it on the bed-table. I looked gratefully at him.

“May I touch?” I asked her, indicating her swollen belly. She smiled through the tears, and placed my hand on it.

“It will surely be a boy, just as you said,” she told me. “I doubt a girl would kick and squirm around so hard. Sometimes it feels as though he’s turning somersaults and handsprings in there.”

“Whichever it is,” I said, tears rising in my own eyes, “it will be a very lucky child, to have you as its mother...and Galendur as its father.”

And she put my glass in my hand, then put out the lamp, bending to kiss my cheek as I closed my eyes, and I felt her tears fall on my face. Then I felt another kiss on my forehead, and I knew it was not from her.



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