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44
The Best Gifts


Dear Sam,

Well! Guilin is in for a big surprise tomorrow. Of course Northlight’s verse was a proposal. And Raven has accepted him!

Yes, they haven’t known each other very long, it’s true. But they will have many years to get to know each other.

“I suppose Guilin will have to teach him Raven’s hand-talk,” I said to Anemone as I watched Northlight and Raven walking together on the beach in the late afternoon, feeling a little as though we were quite an old couple already.

“Not necessary,” she smiled as she helped me gather up the scattered mushrooms. “He can hear her thoughts…when they are for him.”

“Well, I suppose we will need to fix up the stable-rooms soon after all,” I said grinning also as I bit into a mushroom. Better enjoy them while we still can, I thought. “What do you suppose Guilin will say to it? Will he go for it?”

“Perhaps he’ll be all too happy to have her off his hands,” Anemone said, frowning a little.

“It will be a long while yet,” I pointed out. “What, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five years? And can Northlight wait so long?”

“He is a serious and determined fellow,” she said, “and very patient. I think he can wait.”

“Good thing he didn’t choose Marílen, after all,” I said. “But what to do with Raven, in the meantime? I seriously do not think she would live at the Orphanage. She would be as a wild creature among domesticated animals. I cannot imagine that she would fit in, even though there are many children who lost their parents as violently as she lost hers. Can you picture her in a uniform, standing in line with other girls, obeying commands, studying her lessons? And of course she wouldn’t be allowed to dance. And then, there’s the small problem of her muteness.”

“I know just the place for her,” Anemone said as we walked back to the cottage with the blanket and the basket. “Talmar’s mother. Her girl is going away soon with her husband to the village and she’ll need someone to help her about the house. There is plenty of room there and the work would not be hard. And Tamsin is very kind, and her son’s dairy is close by, and Emleth her granddaughter is not much older than Raven and could be a friend for her. And it is not far from here, so Northlight could go see her whenever he wished. Or she could come here, if it is all right with you.”

“Of course it is all right,” I said, “and yes, it sounds a good idea, if Tamsin will have her. Do you think she will go for it? I suppose we’ll have to discuss it with her brother, when he comes back tomorrow.”

Then my eye fell on a little burlap bag I hadn’t noticed before, that I had absently picked up while talking with Anemone. Inside was a colorful small dress and some girls’ underthings, and a little night-gown. Hmm! So he had planned this. Bringing a change of clothes for his sister, fully intending to leave her with us for the night. Very good, Guilin!

As we were preparing supper, Northlight and Raven came back to the cottage, hand in hand. I smiled to myself as I watched them, odd pair that they undoubtedly were. Northlight’s wintry beauty had softened over the months that his mother had been away. His face had more color and flesh so that his sharp features looked a little less frozen, his eyes a less icy blue, like water under a spring thaw, and his silvery hair had the look of a white cloud in an overcast but promising sky, fuller and less thin, floating freely. Now it seemed that summer had come to him as well, and there was a new sweetness and freshness about his face as he looked at Raven, his smile far more ready and more from the center of him. He had made himself just a little taller than she, who still stood less than five feet tall, and something told me she would not grow much more than that. And he seemed content to be small, unaware of the importance of height or of what others thought of him. His childlike innocence in that respect never ceased to fill me with wonder.

We took supper, as usual, on the terrace, steaming mushroom soup and hot buttered rolls, fresh vegetables from the garden and goat’s milk. Raven kept glancing about, until I realized that she was looking for Guilin. He had not so much as said goodbye to her when he left. Anemone told her he had gone for the evening but would be back tomorrow, and she would spend the night in our guest-room. Raven looked at me, then at Northlight, then at Anemone with stunned eyes, and I thought of a few choice things to say to Guilin when he returned tomorrow…if, indeed, he did return.

Then Anemone gently asked Raven if she would like to see the bath-house. Raven nodded, and I thought to myself that she could do with a bath, at that, then wondered how she would react to a certain little bronze boy. Anemone picked up the little burlap back and they went out back of the house. Then I suggested to Northlight that we have a look at the stable-rooms.

There were two rooms, a very small one and a larger one, more habitable than I thought. Mostly they just needed cleaning and furnishing, and the partition between them needed some patching up, or else we could knock it out altogether. And the stairs leading to the side-door outside were badly dilapidated; I would consult Leandros about them tomorrow if I got time. I remember having to board the rooms up because elf-children would try to get up in them to play, and I was afraid they would step through those stairs and hurt themselves and I would be responsible. But yes, the rooms would not require so much work as all that, and we could move Bilbo’s bed in as soon as the stairs were fixed. And we could probably find some good second-hand furniture in the City, or have some made. Northlight’s taste in furnishings was simple enough, and he would not require any of what my Aunt Dora used to call “fancy fixings.” He probably wouldn’t spend much time indoors anyway.

Then as we climbed down the loft-hole, I said, “Come with me. I want to show you something.” We crossed the bridge over the falls, and I led him up the pathway until we came to a clearing between forest and beach, grassy and wild.

“Look at this,” I said. “It’s just the place to build a house, wouldn’t you say? When you and Raven come to wed, we can have a home built for you right here. It’s as if it were waiting just for you. You can see the Beacon from here at night, and the cottage in the daytime. And it’s private without being out in the middle of nowhere, and the ground about the place is fertile enough to grow a garden. What do you think?”

Northlight was silent for a moment, gazing at the spot. Then he said softly, “Close your eyes, Ada.”

I lifted my eyebrows, and he repeated his request, and I closed my eyes. I heard a soft shimmering sound with a note of music in it. And then he said, “Look now.”

I opened my eyes, and he had to catch me as I nearly fell over. Before us stood a small house of simple yet luxuriant beauty, made of white stone with arching windows and a red tiled roof, a little porch of patterned stone in shades of grey, black, white, and gold, a splendid garden out front. Birds cast rich and fluty notes all about, and fruit-trees stood in blossom here and there.

Perhaps his taste wasn't so simple as I thought.

I stood gaping for a long moment, until Northlight told me to close my eyes. I closed them and when I opened them once more, the vision was gone.

“So…what do you think?” he asked me with a little smile.

“I think I will love being your Ada,” I said.

On our way back to the house, we decided to knock out the partition. Northlight said he would rather just have the one big room, as two small ones. He liked lots of space. He said we could probably do it ourselves, without any help, and we could perhaps use the wood from the partition to fix the stairs.

Anemone and Raven sat out on the terrace swing, Raven all sweet and clean, her hair washed and combed out. I could see that Anemone had enjoyed herself with styling it, making her one long braid in front and I could distinctly see a couple of small peacock feathers worked into it at the end. She wore but one bracelet on each wrist. Anemone was smiling but her eyes looked troubled. Northlight smiled in pure delight.

We took the instruments out and played and sang as the sun started to sink into the waves. I played the harp and Northlight the flute, and Anemone and I sang while Raven listened raptly and the peacock perched in his favorite tree nearby.

White are the stars that course the vast heavens
Purple the firmament that cradles their delight
Silver the fulling moon, gold the lamp of morning
Fair the Evenstar that illumines our twilight.

Fairer still the Children who grace this verdant islet
Gracious the Beings that heal us of our blight
Glorious the One who spreads it all before us
Blessing our path with peace and eternal Light.

Holy the night where the Light of Truth is shining
Happy are those who abide in its embrace
Make of us a family, dispelling all divisions
Uniting us in love and the abundance of thy Grace.*

Raven spelled out the words with her hands as we sang, and Northlight missed a few notes on his flute for watching her.

Later as she walked with Northlight down to the sea, I asked Anemone how Raven had reacted to the bronze boy, and she said the look on the girl's face was priceless, her eyes and mouth popping wide open, and I laughed, but Anemone looked troubled still. And then she said to me very low, “Frodo—she has scars. On her back. Did you know?”

I sat down heavily. “No, I did not,” was all I could say for a moment. “I suppose I should have known. But one would not guess it from her manner.”

“Should I not have told you?” she enquired. I was surprised.

“No, you did right to tell me,” I said. “But…I don’t want Northlight to know. At least, not now. She must have some treatment to erase the scars. As mine were erased.”

“Yes,” she said, turning her head around to see if her son had gone back into the sea. He had. Raven stood on the shore, one hand raised, her back to us. The water was luminous at her feet.

“I will stay with her tonight,” Anemone said. “Yes. It will be my first time to sleep in a bed. This should be interesting.”

I looked straight at her in the dusk, then trailed my fingertips down her cheek.

“When was the last time I told you I love you?” I said.

~*~*~

Late that night, I could not sleep, and could not even concentrate on The Book. Finally I slid out of bed, took my light, and padded over to the door of the guest-room. It was rather cluttered, and earlier I had thought to take some of the things down in the cellar, but what with one thing and another, I didn’t get around to it. But I didn’t see the gifts, for looking at the sleepers. The golden head lying on one pillow and the black one on the other, the hands clasped together in between, just peeping above the edge of the coverlet.

By far the best gifts of all.

On an impulse I went back to my room, opened a drawer and took out a little glass phial I had almost forgotten was there. Marílen had found it and given it to me long ago, saying if I ever broke my glass I could put the water in this one. I took it outside and stood on the terrace where I could see the Beacon and the Evening Star, then unstoppered my phial and very carefully poured a few drops of the water into the other. Then I fitted the stopper very firmly into it and spoke the words to light it, and behold, a soft flicker grew in the center, then brightened into a silvery glow!

"Thank you," I whispered to both the Beacon and the sky, then went back indoors. I took the new light into the guest-room and placed it in Raven's hand, the one that was not holding Anemone's, blew out the candle, and took my own light into my room and slid back into bed.

*Click here to hear a musical setting.



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