I don’t know what I would have done without Northlight. I had decided, as you know, to do the house over for her, just as if I had no doubt whatsoever of her return. I suppose I cheated a bit. I was sure she would return, even if she did not wish to marry, and if she did change her mind, she would tell me, and not leave me to wonder. And I thought, if she did change her mind, then saw what I had done with the house for her, she would see the true extent of my love and stay.
What I saw was the extent of the Islanders’ love for me.
I had planned to work on the house with help only from Northlight, and some from Galendur and Leandros here and there, possibly even Gandalf. I wished for a new bed, and Leandros and his guild carved a wonderful bedstead out of a wood called mahogany, which is of a rich dark reddish-brown color and intriguing grain. They made a four-poster, with the posts reaching almost to the ceiling, a mermaid holding a shell carved into the center of the highly polished head-board. And they are making a wardrobe and shelves and chairs to match. Lady Celebrían made the most gorgeous coverlet, silvery-blue satin with a patchwork design of starbursts in iridescent white and rose and pale green, embroidered in gold. The amount of work that went into it still leaves me gasping.
And one whole wall of the “bridal chamber” has been tiled and painted—Ríannor’s work—with a sea-scape that shows an artistic rendering of the beach as seen from my terrace, at dusk with the Evenstar glowing over calm waves, white cliffs rising to one side, trees and flowering bushes on the other, flamingoes and ibises and gulls here and there, shells lying on the white sand, the sky streaked with colored clouds. On the other walls she has painted pictures of me and Anemone—one of them showing me standing on the beach holding my glowing phial, another of her dancing on the large flat stone, still another of the two of us sitting beneath a blooming tree with butterflies all around, the peacock perched in a tree nearby.
And there is a large eastern window of colored glass, which looks like the sky at dawn. It is in just the right place to catch the sunrise.
And then there is the bathhouse. It was quite plain, which suited me and Bilbo fine, but I wanted something much better for my bride, seeing how much she was giving up for me. We put down new floor-tiles in a rose-colored marble, similar to the bath-house at Gandalf’s home, and put in a sunken tub of the same sort—before that, we had simply two ordinary bath-tubs of tin, although we did have piped-in water from a warm spring. The new tub is big enough for two…and I hesitate to tell you how the water will fill it!
A friend of Dûndeloth's had brought in a little bronze statue, depicting a nude chubby lad just out of toddlerhood standing in--ahem!--a certain attitude, and he told us it had come from the fountain at his home, but recently he had married and his wife wished him to remove it.
“If you’d rather not have him, I understand completely,” he told us grinning. “He’s been there for nearly a hundred years and I’m fond of him, and would prefer to have him at the home of someone I know, rather than sell him off to strangers. My bride rather likes him, herself, but fears what her mother would think, and also she is afraid that when we come to have children, he might encourage them to…misbehave…in the fountain. But if you don’t wish to have him here, I can easily dispose of him elsewhere.”
Well, I won’t say but that I didn’t have qualms, but then I thought to myself that Bilbo would have been delighted with him…and Anemone, being a lady after his own heart, would be likewise. So, he stays!
And I can’t say but what it doesn’t give me a little wicked thrill to imagine the look on Lobelia’s face, if she had ever seen it!
There are other, slightly more decorous little marble statues set about, and the windows paned in pearly white glass, bordered with mother-of-pearl and hung with crystal beads. And shelves full of fragrant soaps and oils and lotions and perfumes and towels and sponges and pretty ornaments, candles, basins and what not. I’ll be smelling like a rose before long!
And the kitchen is being redone as well, and ….well, we didn’t really need a fountain, admittedly. But I really wanted one for her. And yes, Northlight and I were going to be the ones to build it, with a bit of help installing the pipes and so forth, but so many of our friends pitched in, hauling in the stone…which is of the same rosy marble as the bath-house, with four white alabaster globes rising from ornate bronze mountings, and in the middle a bronze swan with outstretched wings, four little jets all around him, spurting merrily up at him. All around the fountain I paved with the beautiful stones the children had brought me or that I had found myself, many in iridescent colors, some of smooth amber, some marbled black and white, others glittery and quartz-like. The children helped with this, with great enthusiasm, so in the end there was little for me to do but oversee it all. And no one would take any pay other than a little physical sustenance. Tilwen, even in the condition she was in, came to help with the cooking, along with her mother and sister, and Lalaith, and Lady Elwing.
Of course we had to take a little time off now and then from all the remodeling, and have some fun. Galendur and Seragon and Leandros and I took Northlight to the sporting center, as planned, and he seemed to enjoy it overall, particularly the races. He couldn’t quite understand the point of the sparring-matches; why did we do this sort of thing for sport? And why did people bet money on who would win? And why did they do things that caused them to get hurt? Well! I had my work cut out for me, explaining all these things. And he does like sailing, as it turns out.
But he loves to watch dancing above all else. Sometimes I take him into the City where they have dancing on a stage. This is something that was new to me when I first came to the Island, also. I never knew that people danced on a stage. But they do, and it is amazing to see. It puzzles him that we are not allowed to go and join the dancers. But I don’t think I would ever wish to dance for the entertainment of others...at least, not without a pint of ale under my belt!
I think he would go to the dance-theater every night if he had his way, but I am always too tired after a long day’s work, so we go once a week. He dresses in the same manner as I. The first time we went into the City, he appeared in an outfit identical to my own, in the same colors. He even had a pipe in his pocket, although he does not smoke. I was a little discomfited and embarrassed, thinking how odd it would look to go dressed exactly the same, as if we were twins. Would people think it my idea of a joke? I didn’t know how to tell him this, however, so I shrugged it off and told him he looked fine. Let others stare and chuckle if they liked!
Once Seragon went with us and asked Northlight what was his opinion of the “underlying meaning” of the Dance. Northlight looked puzzled, then he said he thought the dance was people’s way of becoming music in human form. I grinned up at Galendur as if to say, That’s my lad!--much in the manner of Bilbo, I’m sure.
“That is simply astonishing,” Seragon said (now I know where Lyrien picked up that word, which has become her favorite lately), looking at Northlight in total awe, then to me as though he supposed I had put that notion into his head. “I myself had supposed the Dance to be the inwardness of Creation made outward, the body’s way of breaking and cooling down the searing Light of Truth into the colors of Understanding. Which should be the purpose of all art. But your interpretation is not incongruous with my own. Don’t you think so, Iorhael?”
“Naturally,” I said grinning. “It’s the reconciliation of Soul and Body, and the marriage thereof. The true high mating of Passion and Spirit.”
(Seragon can really get me going sometimes!)
And Galendur said softly, glancing up at the ceiling, “I liked seeing the ladies flaunting their ankles and moving their bottoms all over the place, myself.” Tilwen slapped him on the shoulder in mock indignation and giggled, looking at us with her pay-him-no-mind look. Seragon looked to me and Northlight with a grin of indulgent exasperation, as one shrugging off the tom-foolery of an irrepressible younger brother, and I laughed perhaps more loudly than propriety and the remark warranted, but Northlight looked entirely mystified. Galendur told me not to worry, we’ll plant the seeds of humor in him yet!
And I’ve taught him to play chess. Most of the time he wins, for I am usually too tired in the evenings now to concentrate on it. I nearly fall asleep over the game sometimes, and then he leads me to the long chair, covers me with the throw, then goes off into the sea for the night.
And at least once, I can swear I heard him say, “Rest now, Ada,” as he settled a blanket over me.
Dear, dear, dear Sam,
Is it really possible to die of happiness?
And is it necessary to tell you what happened before?
I have often spent the night at Galendur’s, as I told you before. But this night…well, it had been over three months, and still no Anemone.
What if she didn’t come back? Yes, I had asked myself this more than once before, and I supposed I would simply cast myself into the sea…but what would that do to my friends? After all they had done for me, helping me to make the house beautiful for her, refusing pay, throwing themselves into it so enthusiastically, doing their best possible work? And Lyrien, the day she stood with me on the beach looking out on the sea, and made a little confession to me.
“I hoped, at first, that she wouldn’t come back,” she whispered, holding my hand. “Do you forgive me?”
I had explained to her long before that had I been immortal, I would have gladly waited as long as it took for her to grow up…and I meant it with all my heart, although it occurred to me later that it might have felt a little queer, as though I were marrying my niece. But it had also been explained to her that by the time she was old enough to marry, I would be gone.
I told her there was nothing to forgive, that I knew what it was to love someone who could never be mine. And I assured her that I loved her no less than I loved Anemone, only in a different way, which was absolutely true, and hoped that, being a child, she would be consoled by it.
“I tell you what,” I said, laying my arm about her waist. “How would you like to be in the wedding? As a little maiden of honor to the bride?”
“A maiden of honor? What is that?”
“Rather like a lady-in-waiting to the Princess. You would stand near the bride, and wear a beautiful gown made just for you, and carry flowers. Do you think you would like that?”
“A gown made just for me?” The beautiful dark eyes widened. “Could Marílen be one too?”
“Well, we could hardly do without Marílen, could we?” I smiled. How sweet could one child be? “I think Anemone would rather have someone small as her bridesmaids, rather than ladies taller than she. So the two of you would be just right. It will be like marrying all of you.”
She clasped dramatically at her heart with both hands. “OH! How astonishing! Can we wear white gowns also? And lily wreaths?”
“Well…I think perhaps the bride should be the only one in a white gown,” I said smiling with immense relief. “But suppose I let you choose the color, and have it made in a style similar to the bride’s?”
I had not discussed this with Anemone at all, and was sure that the bride usually takes care of such matters. But she was not here, and I had a feeling she would not mind my seeing to it at all.
“Oh, I can’t believe it,” Lyrien cried, all aglow. “Which color should I choose?”
I chuckled a little. “Well, that is up to you. Blue would be lovely, I think. Perhaps you should discuss it with Marílen? You need not decide all at once.”
“Who will make the dresses? The Queen?” She was fairly dancing with delight.
“Well, she is rather busy, I’m afraid. But I’m sure she knows some ladies who could make the gowns. Or your mum could make yours, if she has time.”
“I’ll go tell her now!” And she kissed me on the cheek quickly and loudly, and darted off through the sand, with me smiling a little sadly after her.
So, how could I possibly make away with myself, when it would break so many hearts?
Then I remembered the erasing treatment Lord Elrond had explained to me when I first came here. Could I still have myself erased? Forget all that had come before? Forget her, but make friends with the others all over again?
And I thought of this as I stood on the shore with my light in my hands. Galendur would come after me sooner or later, if I didn’t go back to the house. I knew he was really starting to worry about me again. Perhaps I should go back now and explain about the erasing procedure to him. Surely he’d rather have me do that, than have me cast myself into the waves, or live on broken-hearted and empty….
I knew the true taste of despair that night. I only thought I had known it before.
I thought, if she should come back tonight, could I feel joy in seeing her, now that I know what despair truly is? I remembered what Tilwen had said, about seeing me standing on a precipice, and how I had told her I felt that way too, but tried not to look down.
Now I was looking down.
I could not even see the bottom. It was enshrouded in fog, grey and shapeless as forgotten dreams and thwarted faith. The Powers had played me false. Perhaps this was the Dark Lord’s ultimate revenge, after all. What was the cruelest thing he could possibly do to me? Now I knew. And the Powers would let him, and laugh at my battered form lying under the fog. Perhaps my vision of the Other Side had only been a nasty trick, as well, and there was none, and it had all been a dream, and there was nothing, nothing….
I looked up at the Evenstar, which seemed to mock me also. And the glass. A light for me…when all other lights went out?
I made one last desperate attempt, willing the glass to light. And it began to glow, and that’s when I heard the singing, and looked down to see the fog was dispersing….
And there she was.
So, could I feel joy in seeing her, now that I had walked through the fog of despair?
She was there, all alight, the Evenstar pendant hanging at her bosom…and I remember her words as clear as the phial’s light itself: So, Frodo, are you just going to sit there playing with a perfume-bottle all night, or are you going to stand up and kiss your betrothed?
And I dropped the phial, and sprang up, and yes, I think I shouted her name, and grabbed her hands, and danced as I never thought to dance before, we danced all over the sand, and sparks jumped from her feet….And then Northlight appeared, and she took his hands and they danced also, then we all took hands, and skipped and leaped all over the beach, and it was as daylight although it was the middle of the night…And she laughed in pure shrill joy, and came at me in a run, and leaped right over my head, arms outstretched, and she appeared as a great bird, with wings of light and rainbows, then landed in the sand and skidded on her bottom, and I heard Northlight laugh then, wonder of wonders….and then I tried to do the same, and leap over her head, but she had to duck or I would have knocked her over, and I flopped onto my backside as well, and she pulled me to my feet and we embraced and kissed with unbelievable heat and length and I heard music the like of which I never heard before, even on the Other Side….
In the morning Anemone and I sat together on the terrace, taking our breakfast, which Northlight had prepared for us. Truly I had forgotten how beautiful she was, and now she seemed even more so. I had showed her all, and she had gazed in such wonder as I never though to see in her, touching all the new things, utterly speechless. She trailed her fingers through the fountain’s waters, bent to feel the smooth stones in the paving below, her other hand clasped firmly in my own. She looked at the flowers that had been planted in the garden, bordered with shells…for I’d found a use for all the sea-shells with which the cottage abounded, and at the gazebo I’d had built. Why we needed a gazebo I’ve no idea, but there is one in the park in the City, near the White Tree, and she seemed to like it very much, so I wished a smaller one for her. It had carvings at the top under the roof in the shape of the peacock’s tale, made by Leandros and Dínlad, and inlay of mother-of-pearl, made by myself and Northlight, with some help from Ríannor, so that it appeared to be surrounded by little white peacocks with spread fans.
And then I showed her the bridal chamber. How wonderful it feels to say “bridal chamber” in connection with myself for a change!
She nearly screamed when she saw the bed, with the satin coverlet and filmy curtains, looked to me and then to it again, until her eye fell on the, ahem, rather busty mermaid carved into the headboard.
“Reminds me of one of my aunts,” she said in her old cheeky fashion, and I had to sit down on the floor for laughing. And finally I showed her the bath-house.
And SHE was the one who had to sit down when she saw that little bronze boy!
“It is so wonderful you had such faith in me,” she told me as we wended back to the terrace. “I was so worried about you! I would have turned back many times, but I knew I did not finish my task, bad things would befall my people, and perhaps the Island as well. But now I see I need not have fretted—you have kept yourself so busy making all this lovely for me…you must excuse me if I am utterly overwhelmed. It feels so strange to be…adored. It is not something I have ever known before.”
Before I could answer, the peacock let out a raucous shriek. I jumped to my feet, wondering who could possibly be interrupting at a time like this…and saw the head of Seragon’s horse through the trees. I hopped from the terrace steps in time to see Lyrien scramble down from the horse before her daddy could even dismount and lift her down. She tumbled into the dust but sprang right up again, and I knew what had come to pass even before she ran screaming at us, Seragon following, grinning from one ear to the next.
And I embraced her wildly and so did Anemone, as Lyrien babbled her news, from which I could distinguish only the word “cousin”, then she squealed, “Come on, come on, QUICK!!!” Laughingly I told her I didn’t think her daddy’s horse could accommodate us all and she should go ahead of us, and we would follow in the cart. Looking around, I saw that Northlight had already gone to the stable to hitch the pony. He drove us, and Anemone sat between him and myself, her arms around us both. It was the most beautiful drive I could ever remember.
As we drove up to the front gate, we found it standing wide open, and Galendur appeared in the doorway. Anemone and I jumped from the cart before it even stopped and ran to him and he embraced us both at once, tears of joy streaming over his face, and I think they were on my own as well. He said he would see to the pony and told us to go ahead in, and I led the others to the bedroom where I could hear ladies' voices along with Lyrien’s. Obviously she had told all Anemone was back, since Niniel and Donnoviel looked delighted but not surprised to see us all together, and they brushed past us, beaming, and stood in the doorway with Lyrien in front of them, giggling.
Tilwen lay on her back in the big bed, her dampish red-gold hair in braids, looking both totally spent and utterly radiant, as only a new mother can look. The little one lay on its stomach with its tiny head on her bosom, one little fist loosely clasping her forefinger, its eyes tight shut, all wrapped in a little soft white blanket.
And Til smiled at us with the sweetest and purest love and pride imaginable, saying, “Meet little Iorhael!”