So I’m to be a father! Now I have a strong inkling of how it feels to be able to say that…and this is only the beginning.
To continue: As the cart drove along, I went to Guilin and put an arm about his shoulders.
“You will be no less her brother than you ever were,” I assured him once more. “Please take dinner with us tonight, and stay overnight. We have room. And please do not be hasty with this erasure thing. Go for the treatment along with her, and see if it works for you before making any decisions that may be irrevocable. Raven still needs you. Please do not take her brother away from her. You did not survive as long as you did by being a coward. So please try to endure the crush of memory a little longer for her sake, and I think the burden will lessen quickly with the treatment if you would receive it.”
The peacock called as the cart drew closer, and Northlight ran to help Raven down and lift the bags out of the back and carry them for her. Guilin stayed where he was, not even looking at the cart. I saw the radiance die from Raven’s face, and saw Anemone whisper something to her—Comfort him, I believe. She had told Raven of the adoption plan on the way home, I found later.
Raven ran to her brother and threw her arms around him, kneeling before him. He pressed his face to her shoulder and she bent her head over his, tenderly stroking his hair. Tears streamed over her cheeks and her hair fell over him like black water in the afternoon sunlight.
I went to stand beside Anemone and motioned Northlight to come away, and asked him to take the cart to the stable. Hesitantly he piled the bags back into the cart and mounted it and drove through the gate. In a whisper I told Anemone what had passed between Guilin and myself. She looked delighted that he had given consent but distressed over the horrors that had befallen him and his sister.
“Poor fellow,” she said. “I don’t wonder he would be erased. But what would that do to her?”
“That’s what I said to him,” I said, marveling once more at how human she had become. How was it she was able to feel compassion now, when she still knew so little of physical pain? “I hope we can dissuade him for her sake.”
“And she will not choose it for herself, will she?” Anemone looked worried for Northlight’s sake.
“I think not,” I said. “I devoutly hope not. Although what I went through was pretty trifling compared to what she endured, I’m certain.”
I looked over at the two of them and saw her talking to him with her hands, and he talked with his also. His back was to me now so I could not see his face, and could only see the top of her head. But as I walked with Anemone slowly toward the gate, I saw Raven make the sign that I knew meant “I love you” and he made it back to her, then she embraced him again and laid her head on his chest and he pressed his cheek on the top of her head.
Then she stood up and extended a hand to him to stand also, and I motioned for them to come to the house. Hand in hand they came after us, marks of tears still on their faces. Then she seemed to remember her new dress and her smile returned, and she placed herself in front of her brother and held her skirt out in a pretty gesture and then signed to him. The red gown was just below knee length as befitting a girl of her age, the neckline and sleeves embroidered in black, and there was a narrow sash of black velvet. She wore little black slippers also, and I wondered if it were her first time ever to wear shoes on the Island.
“We found a marvelous shop,” Anemone explained to us, “where they sold used clothing, mostly children’s. We bought her three dresses there, beside the one she’s wearing. They’re a bit fine for everyday wear and tear, but they weren’t too expensive really, and so we bought them for her. One of them needs some taking in, and Tilwen said she or her mother could do it so we wouldn’t have to pay a dress-maker. We did order some plain everyday clothes and underthings for her. But Donnoviel will make her wedding-dress, for there isn’t time for the dress-maker to do so. We had her fitted for it on the way home. Come on back to the house and we will show you the other things we bought. At least one of them will just surprise you to death.”
Raven took Guilin’s hand once more and did a little skipping step, urging him forward. He gave her a little sad smile and went along, with Anemone and myself following. Northlight had piled the bags on the terrace table and chairs. Raven snatched one of them and pulled out the other dresses one by one and held them in front of herself to show us. There was one in pure white that would be suitable for Temple, with just a touch of gold embroidery, and one of blue velvet, and another in the shade of pink that had become fashionable after Aredhel had made her dramatic appearance in it at the Palace almost two years ago. Then she took out a little trinket-box of intricately carved ivory, with bronze hinges and clasp and showed it to her brother with shining eyes.
“Tilwen insisted on buying her that,” Anemone explained to Guilin. Raven opened the box to show a little string of polished coral beads, which she took out and put on, looking back at Anemone with a grateful smile.
“That from you, I take it,” I said to Anemone, smiling also. Raven laid it against her throat, with a look to her brother that seemed to ask him to fasten the clasp for her. Northlight sprang up as if to do this, but hesitated and decided to let Guilin do it. He did so, then she took out a little silver knife with an ivory handle that was obviously the work of the same carver who made the box. This she presented to Guilin. He smiled sadly once more and kissed her hand. Then she took out a pouch of very soft brown leather with a gold silk draw-string, holding it out to me. I kissed her cheek and thanked her, saying how much nicer it was than my old one, and proceeded to transfer the contents thereof into the new one, without letting her see my look of regret for the old, sweet-smelling, twice-mended pouch that had served me so long…absurdly hoping it had not heard me say the new one was nicer.
And then…she grinned conspiratorially at all of us, and picked up another bag, reached in and pulled out something oh so slowly…something oval-shaped, about two feet in length and one and a half feet in width, and on it was painted a young black-haired girl in a colorful short dress and many bracelets…dancing among eggs. Everyone gawked.
“Obviously our Raven was an inspiration to some sidewalk-artist,” Anemone said rather unnecessarily. “The shop-keeper wouldn’t even take our money, he just gave it to us.”
With a little shy giggle, Raven presented the painting to Northlight, who took it and held it to himself with a look I can hardly describe. I think he would have kissed her right on the lips if her brother had not been present; as it was he kissed her hands and then her cheek.
“That will be all the decoration he will ever need for the stable-rooms, I’m sure,” I said, although at the same time I thought it probably wouldn’t be, not if Anemone and Raven had aught to do with it.
Anemone took the things indoors and hung the new clothes on hangers. Then she and I went inside to start supper, leaving Raven, Guilin and Northlight to discuss their plans on the terrace. From the larder I fetched a generous meat-pie that Talmar’s wife had sent over and put that in the oven, along with onion bread-rolls sprinkled with garlic and poppy-seeds, made by Anemone. They were from the recipe-book compiled for us by Lady Celebrían.
Then we went to see how Leandros and his friend had done with the stable, and saw that the stairs were all fixed. I wished I had asked them to stay for supper, but they had left before I realized it. I supposed they didn’t want to interrupt Guilin and me. They had also white-washed the walls, which were rather dingy, and it was nearly dry now. Anemone and Raven took two brooms and began sweeping out the interior while Guilin, Northlight, and I went to get Bilbo’s bed and move it up the stairs. I felt a great qualm about moving Bilbo’s desk and chair and wardrobe…but well, somebody ought to get some use out of them. And at least they would still be about the place, and wouldn’t fall to strangers. We brought up the rug and curtains that had been in what was now the bridal-chamber, along with the book-case and lamps and some shelves for what-nots, along with a good many of the what-nots themselves. In the space of little more than an hour, Northlight had his own little abode, very cozy and neat. A carved screen hid the bed nicely from obvious view. Raven picked some flowers and put them in the vases.
The new picture hung precisely in the middle of the wall.
The meat-pie got only a little burnt.
Over supper Anemone told us they did indeed see some ladies wearing her designs. She was thrilled, herself, but of course with Tilwen it was an entirely different matter. In fact, one of them, the fair-haired one, was the very same one she had spoken to that day. This one and another were standing looking into a shop-window, talking, and so Tilwen whispered to Anemone and Raven her plan. She took Little Iorhael and went into the shop, while the darker-haired elleth pointed the baby out to her companion and twittered over his darlingness, and Anemone and Raven slipped up nearby at the next shop-window and made a production of admiring the things therein—which, as it happened, were men’s hats of the sort worn by the more foppish set.
Then they moved further over to a book-shop and peered through the window, and the two elleth began speaking to each other in low tones, glancing toward Raven and Anemone.
“Anira...that’s the girl who dances on eggs,” the fair-haired one said. “I’ve never seen her in broad daylight before. Ugh, what a sight! I’m glad they moved on; I wouldn’t want people to see her near me, and I wouldn’t want to have to smell her either. I wonder who that little girl is with her. She’s dressed rather fine. Does her mother know she’s with that ragamuffin?”
“Keep your voice down, Lissë,” whispered Anira. “I’m sure I don’t know.”
“She won’t hear us. I’ve heard she’s a deaf-mute,” Lissë said. “Who cares anyway, she’s just a street-rat.”
“How can she dance if she can’t hear the music?” Anira pointed out.
“Perhaps the fellow who plays that thing just follows her movements,” said Lissë.
“She doesn’t look dirty now. Although, that dress.”
“Well, maybe she finally got a bath. Maybe that little girl’s mother threw her in the tub or something. I certainly wouldn’t want a child of mine near an urchin like that, though. No telling what she might catch from her, or learn from her. Just keep a good grip on your purse.”
“Shhh!” Anira whispered in some alarm. “That’s not a little girl. That’s the Princess!”
“What?” Lissë gave a startled squeak, then peered over at the two, absurdly clapping a hand over her mouth as if to push all her words back in. “It IS! Does the Prince know she’s with that…creature?”
“Why are you asking me?” Anira whispered. “How am I supposed to know all that goes on with them? I never even met them.”
“Someone should tell him,” Lissë said without answering.
“Well, you may, if you wish,” said her friend. “I’m sure I don’t care.”
“But people may talk,” the blonde fretted.
“So what? They are so cute and adorable together, especially in that quaint little pony-cart. So pastoral. I wonder if they will keep sheep. Wouldn’t they be darling with little lambs frisking about? And can you imagine the children they will have? I just hope they don’t have hair on their feet, though. He really should wear shoes. He has a nice face, but those feet.”
“She’s rather charming too, in a tiny way,” admitted Lissë. “But WHAT is she? Does she have gills?”
“Why don’t you ask her?” Anira giggled.
“I wouldn’t dare,” said Lissë primly. “So what are we going to do?”
“Why should we do anything? Do you want to go inside?”
“No. That one that went in, with the baby--I’ve seen her before. She said something about my gown once. Said a friend of hers designed one just like it, or something like that. She didn’t seem to believe me when I said I designed it myself. She had red hair, you know, and that kind can be…awfully temperamental. I don’t think anyone is wearing necklaces like those anyway. Not any OUR age, at least. They’ve naught but old people’s jewelry here. She must be buying something for her grandmother.”
“I’ve seen her before too. Her husband is…ohhhhhhhhh. I wonder if he has a brother. I would think he could have done much better than her. In fact, I think he and the Prince are friends.”
“Then she must know the Princess,” Lissë said in consternation. “We’d better go before she comes out again!”
She turned to go, when her friend gave a little shriek. “WHAT is that on the back of your...”
“What?” Lissë made an absurd try at looking down at herself over her shoulder, at the risk of putting her neck out of joint.
“It looks like…a map,” Anira said incredulously. “It’s all up and down the back of your gown. It IS a map! Of the Island!”
“You’re teasing me, right? There is not a map on the back of my gown.”
“Here, turn your back to the window and look over your shoulder. You can see the reflection in the window-glass. There’s Avellonë right there.” She jabbed at the middle of her friend’s back with a forefinger.
“Ow,” squeaked Lissë. “Don’t poke so hard. Is there really a map? I think you’re having me on. I don’t want to look.”
“I’m not having you on. And if you don’t want to look, then don’t. But there IS a map on the back of your gown. Come to think of it, I don’t recall seeing it there before. And look…there’s something on your bottom…it looks like a pirate-flag, of all things!”
“Look at YOURS!” cried Lissë, backing off in horror.
“What about mine?”
“There’s…writing…all over it. It looks like a poem of some sort.”
“Really?? What does it say?”
“Um…I don’t think I’d better tell you. It doesn’t look very nice. What does ‘yo ho’ mean? And what is a ‘saucy wench’? And… ‘She soon started jiggin’, untanglin’ me riggin’…whatever in the world?”
“Let me look.” Anira, braver than her friend, turned her back to the shop-window, then screamed. “There IS writing back there!”
Tilwen came out to find the two girls standing back to back, trying hard to look as if nothing was wrong.
“Wait until we show your daddy what we bought for your grandmummy,” she chirped ever so sweetly to Little Iorhael as she emerged from the door. “And for me. Maybe he’ll stop thinking I’m not pretty enough for him any more. Oh—why, hullo! Erm…something wrong?” Her voice dripped with concern for the two young ellyth standing back to back. Lissë looked ready to burst into tears, but Anira made a gallant attempt at a joke.
“We are comparing heights,” she said, as several people passed by, giving them very strange looks. “Which of us is taller?”
“Why, you are,” Tilwen stammered. “But…” Suddenly she gave a huge gasp of fright as she looked at the shop window. Lissë turned to look, displaying her back to the street, then abruptly turning her back to her friend once more with a tiny screech.
“Oh, wasn’t I silly,” Til said with a little laugh. “I thought I saw something scary in the window. Must have been that beastly little boy of the shop-keeper’s pulling faces. Well, I must be going. My little sweetling will be screaming for his dinner soon. Nice gowns, by the way.”
And she went off in search of Anemone and Raven, and went into the shop into which they had slipped when the two girls started noticing strange things going on with their clothing. Giggling very softly, they stood in the doorway listening for the reactions of the two young ellyth.
“What are we going to do now, Anira?” Lissë whimpered.
“I don’t know. We can’t stay like this all day long. Maybe we could just kind of walk home back to back…”
“We can’t do that! We’d look absolutely ridiculous! We’d never hear the end of it!”
“How do you think we look NOW?”
“Who could have done this to us? There must be some, some evil magic afoot. Do you suppose it was…her?”
“That one with the baby?”
“It might have been the Princess. But no, she’s gone. So is the dancer.”
“It must have been one of them. Or the one with the baby. Don’t stand so close, I don’t want those vile words to rub off on MY gown.”
“Well, I don’t exactly want your skull-and-crossbones rubbing off on ME either! Come along, Lissë, we must go. We can’t just stay here. People are staring at us.”
“I bet it was the dancer. How else could she dance without hearing music, she must use magic.”
“Well, she’s gone now. And we’re stuck…wait, we ARE stuck. My bottom is stuck to yours!”
“It was that red-haired one, I KNOW it was! This is her way of getting us back for….”
“Yes. She acted MUCH too innocent. She had something to do with it.”
“She put a wicked spell on us. What are we going to do now? Maybe we should call her back and ask her to take it off. Maybe we could threaten to tell her husband…something about her.”
“I don’t know her name.”
“Neither do I! We’re DOOMED!”
A male voice spoke up, “Hullo, ladies. Something wrong?”
“Sir,” the voice of Anira spoke, “this must look very strange and silly to you, but it seems someone has played a wicked trick on us. We are stuck back to back. I don’t suppose you know aught of undoing spells?”
“I am sorry, my ladies, but I fear not. I am not versed in the magical arts. Is it possible someone stuck some glue to the cloth of your gowns?”
“I think there was a red-haired witch who just passed by…did you happen to see her?” Lissë said. “She was carrying a baby. No telling what she’s going to do with it, poor little infant.”
“I don’t seriously think there are any witches on the Island, my dear. It wouldn’t be allowed,” the male voice pointed out.
“Well, SOMEthing stuck us together and….wait. We’re free!”
Lissë’s voice asked very timidly, “Do you see anything…strange…on the back of my gown?”
“No, I cannot see anything that shouldn’t be there. Nothing amiss with it at all.”
“What about mine?” Anira said, and Lissë squeaked in horror remembering the nature of the song. But the male voice affirmed that there was nothing on the back of her gown that looked out of the ordinary.
“Nice dresses, by the way, my ladies,” he said. “A very attractive design.”
“Oh…thank you,” Lissë said almost tearfully. Anemone waited for her to take credit, but this time, evidently she did not see fit to do so.
And so she decided to be merciful and not cover the backs of their gowns with large black and white diamonds after all.