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43
Raven


Dear Sam,

Well! It seems weddings are contagious here. Myself, then Gandalf, and now Guilin, brother of Raven the Egg-Dancer, wants to wed.

And now he faces the perplexing problem of what to do with his sister, since his bride-to-be does not seem so keen to have her about. Her name is Seldirima, and she is the daughter of the proprietor of the City’s most prominent hostelry. And before Guilin can wed her, of course he must take a “real” job and become “respectable”—of course it won’t do to have such rag-tags about the place. And Seldirima thinks Raven should go live at the orphanage.

I’ve sometimes thought the same. To be sure, it would be a shame to do away with one of the City’s most well-known and prominent figures in such a manner. But she is still a child, after all—well, not really, Sauron and his agents stole her childhood long ago—but she really ought to be with girls her age, well sheltered and educated and taught a respectable living. And there is plenty of room at the Home now that so many of the children have been adopted. And who knows, some kind soul might take a notion to adopt her as well, and give her a real home. Perhaps even Gandalf and Ríannor--who is the logical choice for a mother, surely, being a Dark Elf and former prisoner of Sauron herself, although she does not remember it.

Guilin and Raven come out to the cove from time to time, and I’ve heard much of their former lives. Their parents were of an aristocratic class of Dark Elves, and Guilin, growing bored with all that nobility involved, ran off as a youth and led a vagrant existence, which involved a good deal of thieving and trickery. He became quite clever at it, until he grew into something of a legend, with his rakish exploits and hair-raising adventures, and a string of broken hearts behind him. He’d been a circus performer, a pirate, an actor, a pick-pocket, a gambler, and a peddler of very dubious remedies, which included “love potions” among other things, and he picked up many languages. He was 300 and some-odd years old when his baby sister was born, and he went back home to see her and quickly grew fond of her, so that he came around from time to time to visit. How she managed to find him after their parents were slain by orcs, he never knew, for she was mute after that. But he started taking her about with him, and she proved quite clever herself, and so they lived by their wits until they were captured by Sauron’s minions.

They were imprisoned for several weeks. Raven pretended to be deaf as well as mute, and a sleepwalker also, so that she was able to listen in on several plots without being suspected (so many orcs being notoriously stupid as it were!), or distract the guards so that her brother could steal coins and odds and ends from them both to help them survive and effect their escape. Guilin had learnt the trick of “throwing” his voice, and it was a deep baritone which he could make sound very low and rumbly when he liked. One day he instructed his sister to move her lips as he muttered some imprecations pretending to be Sauron speaking through her, thus terrifying the guards so that Guilin and several other prisoners could disarm and kill them, then disguise themselves in their clothing and escape, taking Raven with them in a burlap sack and telling those of Sauron’s underlings they encountered that she was a “witch-child” who was wanted by the Dark Lord. Eventually they met with a cavalry regiment which stormed the prison and rescued the rest of the captives, and so the two had been allowed to come to the Island.

They could have had a very comfortable life of it if they wished. But they liked their free and easy way of living and enjoyed performing and being an attraction. I had thought of suggesting to the Queen that she take in the girl as a young maid-servant, but Raven and Guilin frowned quite severely when I mentioned the idea to them. That was shortly after I had first met them.

Still, my stodgier part felt that the life of a circus-performer or street-urchin was hardly desirable for a young girl. And she should have counseling, which could perhaps restore her ability to speak. I blamed Guilin, feeling that he was using his sister to his own advantage. He dearly loved his legendary status, and was not going to give it up so easily. Being a prince I could perhaps have compelled him to do so, but I hate compelling people unnecessarily and would do so only if he were posing an obvious threat to Raven’s health and safety. But she appeared quite healthy and on the Island she was safe from harm, and she seemed to like her life as it was.

But now Guilin wants to marry a respectable hostler’s daughter! Whatever has come over him? I have met Seldirima and I must say, I am not impressed. She seems the capricious sort who always wants something very badly when she cannot get it easily and will do anything to acquire it, but grows bored with it very quickly once it is in her possession. Now she has it in her head that she wants Guilin. Understandable enough; he is a colorful figure in the City, with his fly-away raven locks, motley garb and roguish wit; he has had many interesting adventures and is both a hero and a rascal. Other fellows must seem tame and bland by comparison. Raven is simply his pretty little dancing doll, to her way of thinking, and he can dispose of her easily enough. Seldirima is definitely NOT the sort who wants any competition. Raven has to go. Not that he can’t visit her or anything, she reasoned. He can do so whenever he likes, and she will be well cared for, much more so than she is now, surely. BUT Seldirima wants him to herself, she has assured him. He is entitled to a life of his own, isn’t he?

It is Seldirima who wants the attention now. Sound familiar?

Ah, yes. Here we go again. On the one hand, perhaps it could be a good thing. Raven can finally have the relatively normal life she should have now…but on the other hand, won’t she feel terribly betrayed? Her brother is all the family she has. Guilin is behaving most irresponsibly, and I believe he has lost his wits! This is the last thing I can picture him doing. That Seldirima has bewitched him. The only thing I can think of to do now is beg him not to rush into this; maybe he will come to his senses eventually….

It is plain as plain that Northlight still has eyes for Raven. A striking couple they would make, she with her vivid dark beauty and he with his mysterious fine-drawn silvery fairness…but she is still too young, although she has the beginnings of a womanly figure. I would estimate that she is roughly the equivalent of the age I was when I first went to live with Bilbo. But I can see why Northlight is so taken with her.

And I have a somewhat selfish reason for hoping he continues to be so, and that is simply that I don’t wish him to go back into the Sea, and Raven might be a means of keeping him close by. I have hoped that he would become "landish" enough to live in the house, although for obvious reasons I can hardly expect him to do that once his mother and I are wed. But there are rooms over the stable in which he could make his home. They need fixing up, but I would be more than happy to have them made livable for him. But he still prefers the Sea.

Yet he has been asking me to teach him to write poetry. Of course I was taken aback; how does one teach someone to write poetry? But I tried to impart the lessons that I had learned from Dûndeloth. The other day he came up with this:

Your solitary Dance
doth all my mind entrance
your eyes are big and bright
and starry as the Night;
your skin is gold and fair
and midnight blue your hair
your pretty feet and legs
do not break any eggs.
My Mother soon will marry
one whose feet are hairy
and I would marry too
but I would wed with you
although you are too young
and cannot use your tongue.
How long must I tarry
till you and I might marry
and be my loving Bride
by the swelling of the tide?

I was sure he had not meant it to be humorous, so I refrained from laughing when he showed the poem to me. I suggested that he reword cannot use your tongue but didn’t know how to explain why. He changed it to and silent is your tongue and I told him that sounded much better. He said Raven could not read but he would read it to her, if I thought her brother wouldn’t mind.

It has gotten to where he is starting to enjoy the sparring-matches, especially when Galendur is one of the contestants. The other night we went along with Anemone and Tilwen, Donnoviel having care of the little one—thank heaven for grandmothers! Northlight goes barefoot as I do; it hardly seems reasonable to try to persuade him to wear shoes when I do not. He doesn’t seem to notice the looks others give him, and I try to ignore them, or else just look up with a proud smile. Well, there we were at the match, cheering our hero on, until the end of the first bout when I felt something at my ankle. I looked down and saw that Northlight had hooked his own foot about mine, seeming unaware that he was doing so. Later as I went to congratulate Galendur on his performance, I glanced back and saw Northlight laughing uproariously at something his mother had said…Northlight laughing! Even Galendur had not had much luck getting him to really laugh aloud, a small chuckle at most. When I asked him what was so funny, he said he couldn’t remember now; it just tickled him for some reason.

After we returned home and he turned to go back to the Sea, he first caught and embraced me tightly, and kissed my forehead saying, “Goodnight, Ada,” and I pressed my head to his shoulder and heard myself murmur, “My son,” choking up a little.

Yes, he is that dear to me. What will I do if he does not come back?

Our wedding is three weeks away now. Raven and Guilin and Anemone sit together on a blanket on the sand, with a basket of golden mushrooms among them, watching Northlight and me playing in the waves. Guilin is talking to Anemone, probably of Seldirima. (She doesn’t like the beach, it seems. Strictly a city girl.) Northlight and I, wearing naught but old breeches, take turns diving from a low shelf of rock. I glance from time to time to see if Raven is watching Northlight. She is, so I get a brilliant idea: I will swim out too far, and pretend the undertow has taken me, so that he will have to rescue me and she will be impressed with his heroism. But I underestimate the distance, and the undertow does take me, and I thrash about frantically in its grip, until I feel someone clutching at my hair and pulling me above the water. It is Northlight, of course, and I cough and sputter, and I can see Anemone standing in the water, looking greatly alarmed, and I curse my stupidity at frightening her so, and Northlight lifts me up and carries me to the shore and sets me gently down on the blanket, where Anemone frantically asks me if I am all right, pushing my sodden hair back from my face. Northlight wraps the blanket around me and they rub at me with it. When I can get my bearings I take a mushroom and try to joke that I had done it on purpose, but no one believes me.

I still have to marvel at the speed with which Northlight reached me. And at the radiance with which Raven now looks at him.

Later Guilin, who seems bored and obviously wants to return to the City and his lady, asks us if Raven might stay with us for the night. I say yes, although I wonder if that is a wise thing to do, and if he might start taking advantage. And shamefully, I wonder if she can be trusted. The guest-room is full of wedding-gifts, many of which are quite valuable. Then evidently Guilin reads my mind and tells me I am a benefactor to Raven and she will not take any of my things. Northlight seems thrilled.

And I get my wish to watch Raven and Anemone dance together. In lieu of eggs, I scatter the remainder of the golden mushrooms on the sand. Raven is in her usual multi-colored beaded outfit and Anemone is in a short white gown with an iridescent sheen to it. Guilin plays a very gay tune on his fiddle while I play a little drum someone made for me, and Northlight plays a little flute made with several reeds bound together, that someone gave me some time ago and I taught him to play. The girls take hands and whirl and leap high, their hair flying and fanning out all about them; they clap and kick and curtsey, and wave their arms gracefully, their faces glowing, and at one point Anemone makes an ecstatic and unbelievably high leap and lands with exquisite lightness on the sand with sparks jumping from her feet. Neither of them have harmed or even moved a single mushroom.

Raven spies something in the sand where Anemone’s feet touched after the music ends and runs to pick it up, then jerks her hand back with a little cry and puts her fingers in her mouth. Northlight picks up the object, dipping it into the water to cool it. It is a little glass formation that looks like a roll of icy lace. Guilin examines it and says he has seen such in the desert where lightning has struck in the sand, and he looks at Anemone in awe and amazement while I try not to grin too smugly. Northlight hands it to Raven who tries to give it to Anemone, who tells her she may have it if she likes. But Raven clearly wants to give it to Anemone, who takes it and kisses her cheek. Northlight finds another such formation and holds it to the sunlight, which fills it with colored sparkles. This he gives to Raven, who shyly kisses his cheek and then giggles. The sparks from the glass paint her face and eyes with shivering rainbow lights.

And he recites his poem to her after Guilin leaves.



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