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41
Purity


Dear Sam,

I’ve something to disclose that’s rather embarrassing. Nothing world-shattering, I suppose. But I don’t wish to deceive you any more; I did far too much of that in the Shire. Perhaps you’ll even laugh at it, which will be a good thing.

As I’ve told you already, we’ve been getting showered with gifts, one of which was a beautiful gleaming white pony for Anemone, Gandalf’s contribution. Anemone nearly fell over when she saw the creature, and after a few minutes of debating back and forth as to what to name her, she decided on White Gem, no doubt suggested by her pendant. White Gem seems to be getting on with my brown pony, who is less imaginatively named Toby (Bilbo’s suggestion, after our favorite weed). Pity he’s a gelding; they might have produced some beautiful offspring. Anyway, the name White Gem reminded me of my first love. I told Anemone of her as we fed the ponies.

Gem was about twice my age, twenty-one or twenty-two, while I was a mere lad of eleven. I never actually met her; I simply adored her from afar, and heard others calling her Gem, or Gemma. Her hair was dark, almost black, but her eyes were rather like Anemone’s, her face heart shaped, her figure slender and graceful. Sometimes I made a point of ambling past the market-stalls where I knew she’d stop on shopping-days, affecting a huge interest in fish, or turnips, or whatever it was she was buying, while the vendors looked at me with a touch of suspicion.

Although I was a cheeky little devil at times, I was shy when it came to speaking to her, and the only word I ever recall saying to her was “Hullo” when she said it to me once, making me the happiest lad in town. But one day I decided to find out where she lived, and followed her home, from a great distance, ducking behind a tree when she glanced back over her shoulder, or turning my back so she shouldn’t see my face, kicking at pebbles ever so nonchalantly, and quivering inside when I saw her go indoors. I felt pretty pleased with myself, and whistled all the way home, although I did have to wonder why she had no garden. But that gave me the idea to pick some flowers for her, and so I picked some from my mother’s garden—I wasn’t allowed to pick flowers from it without permission, but I was naughty and picked them anyway, and took them to where I had seen Gem go in. I rehearsed over and over in my mind the words I would speak to her…but, you guessed it, I lost my nerve when I got there, and ended up merely laying the flowers on the doorstep. Then I climbed up into a tree nearby, and waited for her to come out and find the bouquet.

That’s when I found out it wasn’t her home after all, but the home of her great-aunt, the notorious Lavender Goodbody.

“’Lavender’ is a sweet name,” I said as I groomed Toby and fed him, “but…let’s just say she didn’t exactly live up to it. I’d heard rumors that she rode on her broom-stick, and I could almost believe it. She certainly was handy enough with it. It was reputed that her hole was the tidiest in town, and woe to anyone who dared to cross her threshold without wiping their feet, or brushing the dust off their clothing, and she was allergic to flowers of almost any sort. So when she opened the door and saw my bouquet, I literally fell out of the tree. She said a few words I won’t repeat and kicked the bouquet off her doorstep almost to her front-gate, screaming imprecations on whomever had left those vile objects to stir up her catarrh. Yes, she was a little cracked too, I’d heard, and I dare say it was somewhat true, which made her all the more frightening! Probably she thought the flowers had been left by some practical joker. Well, I sprang up and fled, for she had her broom in both hands, and I could just see her jumping astride of it and flying after me, turning me into who knows what! At one point I glanced behind me and saw her beating my poor artistically gathered bouquet with the broom as though it were a rat.”

Anemone giggled. “So did she catch you?”

“In a way, yes. She went about asking neighbors if they’d seen anyone lay flowers on her door-step, and I suppose one of them had seen me walking to her smial carrying something with a handkerchief draped over it…and yes, I had taken just such a precaution. She came to my home and stood outside the gate screaming for my parents to come out—she couldn’t come through because of the garden, which was giving her fits. She told my mother I was a hideous boy and would come to some perfectly horrible end, then took herself off, with her eyes and nose running like a fountain, sneezing loudly enough to waken a hibernating bear. Of course I had to tell my mother all. I thought I would die of embarrassment, and figured I would get a licking for pinching her flowers. But she just said Gemma was a lovely lass and how she could possibly be related to that old harpy was a wonder on earth. I asked was she really a witch and she said of course not, she was only a poor old half-mad creature and we should just let her be and not believe all we heard. But it was a while before I could rest peacefully in my bed at night.”

“Did Gem ever find out about it?” Anemone asked me as she combed her new pony’s snowy mane.

“I don’t know. If she did, she said naught to me. But of course, I was only a small boy. My father said with twinkling eyes that I should stick with lasses my own age, but I didn’t find them appealing. They giggled and told secrets all the time, and played games I considered silly and stupid, and when there were more than two together, they would hold their noses and wave their hands if a lad came near, then scream with laughter after he left. Gem, on the other hand, was mysterious and aloof, or so she seemed. A distant princess, who didn’t walk, she floated, while white flowers sprang from her foot-prints.”

“What happened to her?” Anemone looked genuinely interested, like a child listening to a bed-time story.

“I don’t know. After the incident with Miss Lavender, I started avoiding Gemma, fearing there might be more to her than met the eye. Then after my parents died and I had to go live with relatives far away, I never saw her again. I suppose she married a likely youth and gave him a family. There really are not many other choices for a hobbitess of the Shire.”

“Well, I’m sure there quickly came a time when the lasses stopped holding their noses when you approached,” Anemone said impishly, and I laughed. As we walked back to the house later on, on an impulse I glanced over my shoulder and saw little white flowers spring up where her feet had trod…anemones, of course!

Which brings us back to the subject of Bonny Hill…remember her? Dear Sam…believe it or not, Bonny and I never went all the way.

We came close, it’s true. I’ll not give details, suffice it to say that we came very close, and I think we would have ended up going all the way soon if that boy had not come along, so I can hardly lay claim to a virtue I did not possess.

Why didn’t we? Well…in the beginning I was just plain scared. Afraid she would laugh about my inexperience and tell it all over town. Afraid I would impregnate her and have to marry her, for of course Bilbo would have made me do it. And she really was not my type; it was fairy-like girls like Gemma who took my fancy and kept it for their own.

And most of all, I was afraid of disappointing Bilbo, making him regret having taken me in. Strange to say, Bonny did not press me. I suppose my reluctance came as a great shock to her, considering how easy boys generally are, and presented a challenge; then again maybe she really did like me, and was willing to help me get past what she saw as my “jitters.” And I think she would have succeeded eventually. In fact, I really believe it would have happened, when that older lad came between us.

So…well, I didn’t lie exactly, save for telling Galendur I saw her six times—it was more like four. But I never actually said we went the whole route; I merely let him assume we did. And yes, it’s true that I had a bad feeling about going out to meet her, because Bilbo had told me to steer clear of her and I had not obeyed.

And so it was on the night when I first met Anemone, and was compelled to admit that I was still a virgin. She was puzzled that I had seen fit to tell her this at all, and later she told me, in all solemnity, that so was she, for all she had borne eight children. She had been ‘revirginated’ when she first saw me leap from the ship and saved me. The incident had made a new creation of her and there was no going back.

And on the following morning I was a virgin no longer, regretting only that I could not make her feel as she had made me feel. For just as the sea-folk cannot feel intense physical pain, neither can they feel great pleasure. But that will change when she becomes mortal on our wedding-day. Especially since someone was kind enough to gift us with a book entitled The Arts of Conjugal Love. Needless to say, I’ve been studying it quite diligently…and cannot believe how much I have to learn!

And yes, I did tell Galendur the truth today. Not so surprisingly, he told me I was ridiculous and disgusting, but he loved me anyway, then looked at me with what I can only describe as compassion, although I think it was mainly for Bonny.

“Poor silly cow,” he said a moment later. “What she missed out on, eh?”

I responded with what felt like a very pale smile. “What I missed out on too! But I suppose it was for the best.”

Tilwen came out with Little Iorhael, and asked us to mind him while she started supper. She had already fed, bathed and changed him, so he ought to be all right, she told us with a wink. I had to grin as I watched his daddy holding him and glowing all over. He had confessed to me that fatherhood had felt to him the way the sea felt to me the very first time I plunged into it, unprepared for how cold it really was. So it was with him. It had knocked him for a loop, he said. I wonder if there is a book available entitled The Arts of Parenting? I’d better ask around.

Perhaps I could use it myself.

A while later Tilwen and Anemone came out very softly from the kitchen, no doubt to make sure we weren’t doing anything outrageous with the baby, like tossing him back and forth to each other across the yard, or force-feeding him grog and teaching him bawdy sailor ballads. Or breathing too hard on him. They looked vastly relieved to see us innocently sitting with his little basket between us, his tiny left hand gripping my finger and his right one gripping Galendur’s, while I made a bunny of my free hand with my forefinger and middle finger sticking up for ears and made it hop all over my namesake’s little stomach. After reassuring themselves that this foolery would not give him any horrid childhood diseases or warp his little character for life, the ladies cooed and gooed all over him, commenting on his myriad infant charms and speculating on which parent he would come to resemble most, then fluttered back into the house, where we could hear them giggling in the kitchen…about us, no doubt. And as if he had read my mind, Galendur said they were probably laughing at us, and I laughed uproariously…at what, I don’t know, but it felt wonderful, and he laughed also, and the ladies flurried out again to make sure we didn’t drop the little one on his head while we were bellowing like mooses.

What I had missed out on, indeed!

By the way, I should really have said Gem was my second love…my first, of course, being my mother.

~*~*~

Speaking of parenthood….

“He is getting landish,” Anemone said as she watched her son one evening, where we were sitting on the terrace after supper. Northlight was patching a small hole in the roof of the spring-house.

“Landish?” I said, and had an idea what she meant even as I spoke.

“It happens sometimes when sea-folk spend too much time on land,” she explained. “That’s why we are warned against getting too curious about the world above the waves. If we are among land-folk too much, often we get a ‘feeling’ for them, and an attachment to the land, and the sea begins to lose its charms for us. And either we become discontented and fall into bad ways, or else we end up not leaving the land, and we wither away and die eventually unless we turn back to the sea. I feared that would happen with Northlight, but there seemed no other way to redeem him. I think it is what happened with Darkfin—he is another who had curiosity of the land, went there and became landish, until we did not know him anymore. I’m thinking Northlight will not wish to go back to the sea.”

“Perhaps he can just stay with us?” I said. “I’ve gotten very fond of him, and don’t wish him to go back. I know he cannot stay in the house, and would not want to even if he could, but perhaps he can keep close by…” I was about to suggest in the caverns, but thought better of it. Northlight may have played Gollum, but perhaps living in a cave would be a bit much….

“Yes, I can see you have taken strongly to each other, and I am glad of that,” she said. “But this means he will not be content with his own people any more. When I was farewelling my kin, some naturally thought I had lost my mind, but others wanted to go back with me to where I had been when I told them of my doings and the people I had met, and most especially, you. I wasn’t sure what to tell them. And they told me I had become ‘landish’ for want of a better word.”

“What if Northlight were to meet a lady on the Island?” I said. “He can be any size he wishes, yes?”

“He could stay then,” she said, “and he would become landish as I have, but he would still die…and his mate would live on.”

“I see,” I said, recalling a conversation I had with him while Anemone was away. We were on the beach, where a bunch of elflings were playing, and I had asked him if any lady had caught his eye here, and he pointed out Marílen saying, “That one.”

“Marílen? She’s but a little child.” I was shocked, admittedly.

“She will grow, will she not?” Northlight drew his silvery eyebrows together.

“Yes, but very slowly,” I said. “I don’t know how old she is, but it will be 60 to 80 years before she is of an age to marry. She can’t be past 20 yet. Your mother never explained this to you?”

“The subject never came up,” Northlight said crestfallen.

“And there is no guarantee that she will be willing, when she does come of age,” I said more kindly. “I am sorry. I’m sure she is the most beautiful child on the Island, and has a sweet and gentle way with her. But I think you would do well to look to those who are of age.”

Northlight sighed: “I do not see them so much. It is the young ones who interest me. They have such wonder and simplicity and delicate mystery to them. Like butterflies.”

“You love the Dance,” I reminded him. “Do none of the actual dancers take your liking?”

“I love to watch,” he said, “but I would scarcely dare to approach them. Sometimes I fear it would take the mystery from them, to know too much about them.”

One day I took him into the City and we strolled about the streets, watching some of the street performers. We stayed there well into the evening, took dinner in the Flamingo’s Roost, where I had met his mother in the guise of Silivren, and after we had finished, we went out and resumed our ramble. And it was there we saw…the Egg-Girl.

I had not seen her since the day I came home from the Palace after Bilbo died. The girl who danced blind-folded amongst the eggs without moving a single one, as a male Elf played on a three-stringed fiddle. I had supposed him to be her father, but he is actually a much older brother. Guilin is his name. They were once prisoners of Sauron, their parents murdered by his orcs. They live in a small flat in the City and I have seen to it that they have adequate creature comforts without them knowing who provided them. Raven, I call the girl—I heard what her real name was, but it’s a bit too jaw-breaking for me, so I named her for the color of her hair, and she seems to like it. She can hear but not speak—she has not spoken a word since she saw her parents murdered, although I am hoping that time and some counseling will remedy that. Yet she managed to cleverly use her handicap as a means of escape, for many supposed her deaf as well, and she often pretended to be so, that she might hear plans undetected.

I introduced her to Northlight, gave her a gold piece and told her he would love to watch her dance. She was clad, as always, in a short dress of bright colors, with gold bracelets on her arms and ankles, and her feet were bare, her iridescent black hair braided in front with beads worked into it and drawn back away from her face, emphasizing her wide bright eyes. The bracelets jingled when she danced, her pretty bare feet skipping and leaping so nimbly between the eggs, as always not missing a one, her arms waving gracefully out to her sides, then over her head, then twirling herself about on one set of toes, then springing high into the air with one foot straight out in front of her and the other straight out in back, toes pointed, fingers spread outward like bird wings…and it really did look as though she should crush an egg when she landed, but no. Northlight watched in the most perfect stillness, unable to take his eyes from her.

And I can swear he grew an inch, even as he watched.

And then he asked me if he might give her some money, I said certainly, and he gave her several coins from the little purse of money I had given him in payment for the work he had done on the house, and solemnly thanked her, and she favored him with a most radiant smile. I thought, I really must invite her and Guilin to the house when Anemone returns; I would love to see her and Anemone dance together.

But Raven is not yet grown either. I’m sure it will be twenty to thirty years before she is of a marriageable age. Can Northlight wait so long?

Still, his eye has been caught!

~*~*~

“We decided on blue,” Lyrien told me this morning. “For our gowns, I mean. Since you and Anemone both have blue eyes.”

“But which color blue should they be?” Marílen asked me seriously, as I suppressed a smile at the importance with which Lyrien pronounced the word “gowns.” “Morning-sky blue like yours, or a darker purply-blue like Anemone’s?”

“Whichever you like best,” I said.

“Your blue is my favorite,” Lyrien said, “but Marílen likes Anemone’s blue best. Can we wear gowns of two different blues?”

“If it’s all right with Anemone, it’s all right with me,” I said smiling, feeling thankful that my bride-to-be was not of a persnickety sort who insisted on everything being just exactly so and would throw a fit if anything were the least bit out of order. Since she has never either had nor witnessed a wedding, she doesn’t even know what is right or not, she only knows what she likes, and would therefore be unlikely to make a huge fuss about gowns being two different shades.

Today we had quite a houseful…save that no one was actually in the house. Tilwen sat in a swing on the terrace with Niniel and Lalaith and Laurewen and Seragon’s sister Eilinel, who had come down with Laurewen and Amras and her parents to see the baby and visit with her old friend. They all sat around Little Iorhael in a little circle of feminine worshipfulness. Donnoviel sat in the gazebo with Perion’s mother and Seragon’s mother Aerin and Mirimë, while Anemone sat at the terrace table with Lyrien and Marílen and Perion’s younger sister Curíleth, who is somewhere between Marílen and Dínlad in age. Anemone was drawing several styles for the little bridesmaids to choose from. They made excited comments from time to time, then sprang up to go check up on the baby, exclaiming over him:

His little fingies are so soffffttt!!

Wouldn't it be nice if he could always stay little?

He pokes out his lips when he's asleep like he's dreaming about kissing somebody! Isn't that adorable?

He burped!

The rest of us, I, Perion and Dinlad, along with Edrahil and Dairuin, Amras, Galendur, Seragon and his father Quellemel, Leandros, Northlight, and Perion’s older sister Gildorien, who is interested in neither fashions nor babies, were pitching horse-shoes near the spring-house. Eventually Amras’s sister Haleth arrived with her daughters Linwë and Fëariel, and Linwë joined us immediately while Fëariel went to see what Anemone and the little girls were up to. But the elflings don’t necessarily like her, because she puts on such airs. She used to be nice, they said, but lately she has become, in Curíleth’s words, “impossible”, her favorite expression being You’re just too young to understand, along with Really I’ve risen above such things! They tolerated her with cool politeness as she leaned her elbows on the table watching with interest and making comments and suggestions, but I suppose the girls’ lack of cordiality reminded her that she was too old for paper-dolls after all; really she had risen above such things, and she flounced over to the other side where Tilwen and the others sat with Little Iorhael, told him all about how sweet he was and tickled him under the chin, until it suddenly became obvious that he needed a change VERY badly, whereupon she rapidly decided it was time to turn elsewhere. She skipped over to where we fellows were engaged in our game, glancing in the direction of the gazebo where her grandmother and the other older ladies sat chattering and making lace and embroidering and so forth. Perion and Gildorien and Linwë looked surprised and not altogether pleased to see her, and I gave her a smile and asked her if she would like to join us. She glanced timidly at Gildorien…who can run like a deer and swim like a fish and climb like a mountain-goat, and is reputed to be almost as much of a crack shot with a bow and arrow as Legolas…and then evidently remembered that she was too feminine for such pursuits, and said ever so demurely that she would just watch. But horse-shoes is not exactly a spectator-sport, and I could see she was getting bored before long. She looked again to the gazebo, but who wanted to sit with a bunch of old biddies?

Alas, poor Fëariel, with nowhere to turn! I was host, and ought to see to her. But what to do?

The peacock saved me from the need to make a decision, and I ran to the gate, as a great silver stallion with a rider in red appeared, along with an ebony-haired lady in dark green mounted on a white palfrey, a lovely little filly skipping along between the two horses. In a twinkling nearly everyone had gathered at the gate, all shouting and jabbering at once, as Gandalf dismounted and assisted his lady, while the little girls pounced on Silverdance, and I smiled to myself, knowing what news he came to impart even before he took Ríannor by the hand and asked Anemone if perhaps she could design a wedding-gown for his bride as well? High time, I should say!

And Anemone said, her eyes glittering with what might have been happy tears, “I already have.”



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