Do I sense that you are a trifle shocked?
I can hardly say as I blame you. Until day before yesterday I had no more notion of adopting Raven than I had of flying to the moon, and I dare say neither did Anemone. I suppose neither of us expected to end up falling in love with the girl almost overnight and wanting her as part of our family, and I begin to wonder if she might have bewitched us all three. Certainly there is something faery-like about her dance, and according to Guilin, it did frighten some folk in Middle-earth, who didn’t want them coming around. But no evil magic is allowed on the Island, so I doubt we’ve that to fear from her.
And imagine it—three different races in one family! Did anyone ever hear of such a thing?
But anyway, Guilin.
“Let’s get this straight,” he said, after I made my announcement, Northlight sitting gravely beside me at my feet—I was seated on a stone, my back to the sea, Guilin sitting on the sand before us. Instead of his usual gaudy ensemble he wore dark-colored leggings and a suede doublet with a touch of gold embroidery over a white shirt, black leather boots that looked new, and a leather belt worked in gold with a gemmed dagger with a curved blade thrust through it, more for dash than anything else, I suspected. All quite expensive looking, and small wonder he was in debt.
The peacock was perched in a small tree nearby. Seems he has to be in on everything that goes on about the cove any more!
“Yes?” I prompted Guilin, for he seemed to have forgotten momentarily just what it was he wanted to get straight. Surely the feeling of being totally kerflummoxed was new to him.
“You want to adopt my sister,” he said in a dazed tone. “You’re about to be married, and you’ll want a youngster about the place? I would have thought you’d want your privacy.”
“Let me tell you our plan,” I said. “It isn’t definite, of course. But this is what we have in mind for now, although it could be subject to change. We will draw up the papers for the adoption immediately, with your consent. After Anemone and I are wed, we will make the adoption final. Then Raven will stay at the home of the spinner Tamsin, for whom Anemone works and has what might almost be considered a partnership, and help her about the place, and be paid for it, if Tamsin is agreeable to it—admittedly, we have not discussed it with her yet. Of course I will introduce you to her if you like, and you may meet her former maid-servant, who can attest to the kindness of her character. Raven will stay there for a period not exceeding three months, and come here on weekends, during which you may come visit her, and take her into the City if you wish, and she may still dance, although any earnings she makes from that are her own. After that period, which may be shorter if we deem it so, or if she is not happy with Tamsin for any reason, she will come and live with us until she comes of an age to marry. Then if they both still wish it, she and Northlight shall be wed, and they shall inherit equally any property of ours after we quit this earth. In the meantime she shall be educated and receive treatment for her scars, both the outward and inward ones, from those know best how to do it. She will help Anemone about the house. A close friend of ours had a child recently, and Raven will go there at least once a week to help out with the baby, since it’s my guess she has had little, if any, experience with children, and if she is to be married, she should learn something about raising them, since Anemone and I will not be having any of our own. She will attend the Temple with us at least once a week, and be taught right from wrong, and receive instruction in the ways of the Divine. If she has interests other than dancing, we will help her develop them, and she may have friends of her own age. In short, Raven will have a simple and ordinary and upright life of it, and you shall always be welcome in the bosom of our family, and be no less her brother than you are now. So, how does this sound to you?”
“Straight enough, on the face of it,” Guilin said putting a hand to his chin, and I could see a couple of flashy rings on it. I had a strong feeling he was no stranger to the gaming tables of The Brazen Parrot, and was not above laying out his sister’s earnings to his own use. I’ve sometimes thought I should have that place closed down, but decided perhaps it served a purpose, rather like a trash-receptacle. Better to have the contents all concentrated in one place as to have them strewn about every-which-way. That may well be why others tolerate it as they do, come to think of it. “But I have to wonder. Just why do you want to adopt her? What could you possibly gain from it?”
“We love her, that’s why,” I said in surprise. “It never occurred to me to wonder what ‘gain’ I could get from it, but rather what she could get. What I’m hoping is that she’ll gain back some of the childhood that was stolen from her, which will lead to a happy maturity and marriage with my stepson.” I laid an affectionate hand on Northlight’s shoulder.
“You do realize,” Guilin pointed out, “that if you were to adopt her…Northlight would be marrying his sister?”
“Yes, I thought of that,” I said. “But if they are no blood relation, then it is not amiss, surely? Our King did as much. He married his sister also.”
“Well, I have not even consented to the marriage yet, you know,” Guilin said glancing at Northlight and then looking to me. “They haven’t even known each other for very long, have they? And they are not of the same kind. I’ve never held much with marrying out of one’s kind. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve naught against any particular race, except perhaps orcs—well, no ‘perhaps’ about it--I just think people are much better off with their own sort. Why complicate it more than it has to be already? Can you imagine me marrying a dwarf?”
I could see that Northlight was alarmed and dismayed. He looked up at me, reaching up a hand to my wrist. I gripped his shoulder reassuringly.
“If we were still in Middle-earth,” I said, “I could better see your point, but if I felt that way here, I would be destined for a lonely life, seeing as how there are none other of my kind on the Island. And I think you’ve seen for yourself that Northlight is capable of caring for your sister with all his being. You were here yesterday when he saved me from drowning. And he may not look like much to you, but he helped me to fix up the house for Anemone, and I saw him lift rocks that I could barely budge and carry them as if they were mere bricks. So there is no question of his being hard-working and faithful.”
“All well and good,” Guilin said, “but there is the simple fact that he would be alone with my sister for periods of time. She is not of an age to marry, and will not be for some time now. And I know myself how strong the lure of the flesh can be. So how could I possibly trust him with her for all that time? Oh, you may say he loves her and respects her and so forth, but one can only hold out for so long. I’m sure we both know this all too well. Mind you, this has naught to do with him specifically; I would feel the same toward any male who took an interest in my sister.”
I surprised myself by laughing a little. “You may lay your fears to rest. Sea-folk are incapable of lust. He will not even be tempted to approach her in that manner until the wedding.”
“What?” I almost laughed again at the expression on Guilin’s face, but dismay replaced the urge. What if he refused consent on the grounds that there was something unnatural about Northlight? “Do you mean to tell me…that he can’t…”
“I can,” Northlight spoke up. I remembered having to explain certain things to him, like why males and females must not see each other naked, telling him that males are inflamed by the sight of female bodies and this could easily lead to babies being born out of wedlock, and to rape, and other bad things. Then I had to explain what was meant by ‘inflamed’—he had no clue. It was quite an eye-opener, I must say. One day I came upon him thumbing through my conjugal arts book, looking totally baffled, and he couldn't understand why I was so embarrassed about his finding it.
“Our folk are more like beasts than land-folk in our mating habits,” he explained to Guilin. “I suppose you cannot understand that. We mate purely for reproductive and not pleasurable purposes, and after the young are conceived, we have done with it until long after the child is born. And we do not marry—that is a landish custom, which I do not entirely understand yet, but am coming to more and more, and we may leave our mates if we find them unsuitable, as my mother left my father when he fell to evil ways. I am hoping that when Raven and I are wed, I will become as land-folk and will know the pleasures of which I’ve been told. But until then, I know only the joy of being in your sister’s presence. It is all of the head and not of the body, if you can possibly understand that. I can scarcely explain it myself, for I have not experienced it before this.”
“Then you…are not human,” Guilin came out of his shock long enough to make this statement.
“No, I am not quite,” Northlight said earnestly, “but I would be. Long have I watched the ways of humans, particularly that of my Ada, and what I have seen of him and his friends make me wish to be like them. I did not trust him at the first, it’s true, even if the Lord of the Seas did choose my mother for his bride. I felt as you do now about me and your sister. But I have long since learned him, and would wish no other mate for her now. As for myself, I no longer have an affinity for my own kind, at least not as I did before. I have become what my mother calls ‘landish,’ which is perhaps another word for ‘human.’ Perhaps you might take the time to learn me as well, and then you could decide if I am a suitable mate for your sister?”
How proud of him I felt at that moment! But Guilin continued to frown.
“This adoption business,” he said after a moment. “How does my sister feel about it?”
“We have not spoken of it to her yet,” I said. “I wished to discuss it with you first.”
“She is not a country-girl,” he pointed out. “She likes the City. She likes to see lots of people passing by, all the hustling and bustling, the places to see, things to do. She’ll get bored stiff out here and run away, I’ll warrant you. She’s like a cat—if she doesn’t like a place, she won’t stay in it, no matter how much you pet her. And…” he looked piercingly at Northlight—“she doesn’t like the water.”
“We won’t be living in the water,” Northlight said smilingly.
“I think she will like it fine out here, with Northlight about,” I said. “And, if she doesn’t like a place, she certainly won’t stay in the Orphanage. Where would she go from there? She would never fit in. Please, take your time to consider it. Take all the time you need. Think of what it could mean for her. A home with two parents, education, wholesome work to do, religious instruction, friends, perhaps a pet or two if she wants one, pleasant diversions, a chance to heal and recover from dark memories that must be haunting her still. What will become of her the way she is living now? And how would she feel being consigned to an orphan’s-home, knowing you and your bride don’t want her about?”
“You just have to make me out a thorough scoundrel, do you?” he said. “It’s not as if the Home is on the bloody moon, is it? It’s practically next door. I can go see her any time I like. And Seldirima is just a young thing, and it’s only natural that she should want me to herself for a while. Stop making her out to be some selfish little brat—she’s naught of the sort. You should see her with her little niece and nephew sometime—she makes over them like you wouldn’t believe. She’ll make a splendid little mother. Maybe my sister will grow on her after a spell, and then she can come stay with us. Maybe after we have our first child, she can come help out. And I’m entitled to a life of my own, what? I looked after my sister for years. I saved her life more than once. I carried her in a sack when we were escaping that horrid rat-hole, and…and I went in her place. She’d be dead now but for me. She’s not afraid of me—have you ever seen any sign that she is afraid of me? If anything, I spoil her. Anything she wants, I get it for her.”
“I never meant to imply she was afraid of you,” I said, a little bewildered by this turn. “On the contrary, she adores you. That’s the whole point. I—”
“They were going to beat her,” he said, and I don’t think he even heard me. His voice was trembling and his eyes glittered wildly. “And I said, Beat me instead, and they did. I have the scars still, if you don’t believe me. If you want to see them, just say the word. From my shoulders to the backs of my knees. They laid on the leather hard, I thought they’d never stop. And then they beat her anyway. They stripped her bloody naked, and made me watch. They didn’t beat her as hard as they beat me, but beat her they did, and then they were going to…you know…take her. And I said, Take me instead. And…”
I thought I would be sick, and I glanced at Northlight, who looked deathly pale.
“They took you,” I said very softly.
“Three of them,” Guilin said barely above a whisper. “Three Uruks. But they didn’t take her.”
Tears welled in his eyes and he swiped at them absently with his sleeve. I got up, my knees feeling wobbly, and knelt beside him, laying a hand on his arm.
“Both of you need treatment,” I told him gently, “and I can get it for you. Your scars can be erased, and you can be healed within also. Didn’t you know this? You must let me put you in contact with Lord Elrond. I can even summon Estë the Healer; I have a connection to the Powers. She treated me, and I know she can do much for you and Raven. I—”
“I know something of it,” he said very softly. “But…”
“You knew, and did nothing?” I was shocked.
“Well, there were certain things…that I didn’t want anyone to know,” he stammered. “You know what things, now. I didn’t even mean to tell you, it just…came out. I...well…”
“There’s no shame in it,” I said caressing his arm. “Although yes, I do understand your feelings more than I wish I did. It was done to you, and you were trying to protect her. You are entitled to healing, and so is she. You may do as you like for yourself, but I absolutely insist on it for her. It shall be done. If you care for her as you insist you do, and I believe you now, you will not require me to order it in spite of you.”
“Very well then,” he said. “You’re the Prince. There’s something, in fact…I have heard that one can have one’s memory erased totally?”
“Yes,” I said. “It was done for Gan—Olórin’s lady, in fact. It was offered me also, but I refused it. I do not recommend it.”
“Why did you refuse it?” Guilin looked at me incredulously.
“I didn’t want to give Sauron the victory over me,” I said. “And I did not want to lose my wonderful memories. However, I would have had it done if Anemone had not come back from the Sea, and let him win. So I do have a breaking point, and can hardly boast.”
“Well, I have no memories worth keeping,” he said. “And a good many that need tossing. And so does my sister. I’ve naught else to live for. There's no call for tricksters here. I’m not religious like you. As a musician I’m no better than most. I can hardly hold my head up amongst respectable folk. I’ve no burning interests, no purpose in life but survival. I don’t even really want to marry Seldirima now, I don’t know what came over me. She was just a means of escape, I think. I’ll break it off with her soon. But this erasing process…I want it for my sister too. She saw and experienced things that would turn you inside out. No child should ever have to live with such memories. I want her to forget all. As soon as possible. I…”
“That will be up to her,” I said, “and I don’t think she wants it.”
“Even if I tell you I would consent to the adoption if you have it done?” He raised his eyebrows to me.
“Even so,” I said fixing my steady gaze on him. “I will never allow it against her will. I cannot stop you from trying to persuade her, but I would ask you not to. She is betrothed, and seems happy. Would you take that away from her?”
Northlight looked very pale—more than usual. Then he spoke up once more.
“Let it be done,” he said, “if it will truly help her. If she forgets me…I will be content to be just her brother. And maybe….”
I went back over to him, and laid an arm across his shoulders.
“No, Northlight,” I said. “I will not allow your happiness to be destroyed, when you have so newly found it.”
I looked at Guilin, who was staring at Northlight in wonder.
“But…if it would make her happy…after all she’s been through…” Northlight began, tears starting in his eyes also, and I pressed his shoulder.
“YOU will make her happy,” I said. “And so will your mother and I, and our friends. And her brother.”
The peacock gave an excited flutter, and I heard cart-wheels far up the road.
“They’re back,” I said smiling, and Northlight and I both stood up. I could see the cart, which Anemone drove now—they had dropped Tilwen off at her home. Raven, wearing a new red dress, stood up, waving to us, and Anemone laughingly pulled at her arm to make her sit. I could see bags at their feet. Guilin stayed where he was, watching us.
“All right,” he said hoarsely after a long moment, looking the very image of despair. “All right. You win. You may have her.”