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48
An Enchanted Circle


Dear Sam,

Well, my conscience is acting up—again! For I am taking Raven from her brother. It is the best thing for her, of course. But it will never be the same. She will still be in close contact with him, but she won’t be living nearby, and who will show him affection and tenderness now, who will run to him joyfully when he returns home, whom will he tell of the day’s doings in the evening? I seriously doubt he will marry Seldirima, in fact I know he will not. I don’t fool myself that he has any overwhelming passion for her; she is, even as he told me, merely an attempt at escape.

But now he will be free to have a life of his own, which he surely wants, and can find someone more suitable with whom to spend it. And he can get the healing he needs, and find honest work, and free himself from his own inner darkness. So I am doing him a favor after all, and should rest easy.

I’ll just keep telling myself that.

To continue: I think it would have been a good idea for Anemone to have waited until after supper to tell that story. I don’t know what must have gone through Guilin’s mind when I spewed red wine all over my bread-rolls, but the account did draw a good chuckle from him, at least. Raven fell off her chair, literally, and Northlight hastened to help her up. She came up still giggling, her eyes glistening with tears, and she clutched at him, and kissed his cheek, and giggled some more.

“Nana, you are wicked, wicked, wicked,” Northlight said shaking his head, his eyes full of twinkles, his own cheeks flushed with mirth. “Who would ever think it, to look at you? But they got what they deserved. They had no right to say such things of Raven, or of you. Or Tilwen. I like Galendur very much, but I think he was the lucky one.”

“They are both lucky, and so is their son,” I said a little more soberly as I rubbed at my chin with my napkin, then looked about the table at the others. “And so am I.”

“I’ve a strong feeling those poor girls will remain behind closed doors for a good while to come,” Guilin remarked with a tight-lipped grin.

“Well, if you think they are embarrassed now,” Northlight said, “just imagine how they’ll feel after they find out that my mother has adopted the little ‘ragamuffin’. Hah! Street-rat, indeed!”

We all laughed, Raven the hardest of all.

“Perhaps it would be charming to have some little lambs frisking about, at that,” said my irrepressible bride-to-be as she refilled our glasses. “Wouldn’t you think?”

“Not unless watching a hobbit sneeze, wheeze, wipe his eyes and nose and scratch himself all over is your idea of charming,” I said. “I am allergic to sheep, remember? This is scarcely the right terrain for them anyway.”

“Oh yes, I was forgetting,” Anemone said. “Well that I am a spinner of flax and not of wool! Speaking of which, what say we go and see Tamsin after supper?”

Guilin and Raven took Guilin’s horse while Anemone led the way on White Gem, whom she often calls Gemma now—who else but Anemone would ever name her pony after a former love of her betrothed?-- while Northlight and I cleared the table and piled the dishes into the wash-tub. Then we went to put the stable-room into better order as Northlight talked of what it would be like to sleep in a bed, and I tried to think what must have gone through Guilin’s mind at the supper-table. Watching us in our family togetherness, laughing and chattering, connected by rainbow ties of love and mirth and magic. Perhaps the joy we imparted to each other was as a fierce ache to him, forever apart from it, as though he never truly could find a place in our enchanted circle, feeling too besmirched and poisoned and weighted to allow himself to step inside, however much we tried to draw him into it.

I know that feeling all too well.

It was nearly nightfall when the others returned, reporting that Tamsin would be happy to take Raven for the time decided upon, perhaps even longer if they proved well suited to each other. Her granddaughter Emleth had been there with her. She sometimes rides with her father when he makes his deliveries, and has done so ever since she was small. She is shy and bright, grey-eyed and rosy-cheeked, wears her brown hair in two long braids, and smiles slowly but frequently. Exactly the sort of girl you would want as your daughter’s friend.

So that’s all set.

I said we would go tomorrow to have the papers drawn up. Guilin said he hoped we knew what we were letting ourselves in for. For one thing, his sister had sticky fingers.

“It’s my own fault, of course,” he said, putting his arm around her as she looked to us and then up at him with distressed eyes. “I taught her all she knows. But I would let you all know before you found out the hard way.”

“None of us are perfect either,” I said without batting a lash. “I used to steal mushrooms from a local farmer when I was a lad. Northlight and I both succumbed to the Dark Lord, if only for a moment. And I’ve done murder, also.”

“You WHAT?” Guilin looked as though he had been kicked in the stomach, then chuckled sheepishly. “You’re pulling my leg, right?”

“Well, on Mount Doom I told Sméagol—Gollum—that if he touched me again, he would fall into the fire,” I explained blandly, with a glance at Northlight. “And he wrested the Ring away from me—and so he fell in. So I caused his death, even if it were inadvertent.”

“That’s hardly the same as murder,” Guilin pointed out as Raven stared round-eyed in awe at me and Northlight.

“And as for Anemone,” I said with a glance at her, “you KNOW what she’s capable of. Compared to all that, a little filching is rather small potatoes, wouldn’t you say? And I am certain Raven can be trained out of any bad habits she still possesses.”

We had music in the evening, and Raven danced to one of the hymns. I couldn’t bring myself to explain to her that one does not dance to hymns, and found myself thinking: well, but why shouldn’t one? Because Northlight’s thoughts as he watched her were perhaps less than holy? Yet his expression was that of someone who is looking at the most beautiful thing one could possibly imagine. Such a look surely has something of the Divine about it.

The Beacon shone even brighter than usual that night, and I saw Guilin looking at it in wonder as a night-bird cried out in the distance and the music of the falls echoed very softly in the forest. I thought perhaps this was the first time he had seen the Light…or, at least, the first time he had really seen it.

And Raven ran into the house, then returned with her own star-glass to show him. She signed to him on her hands, and I think she meant for him to keep it in his room when he went to bed that night. He took it, looked to it and then to her, then to the Beacon, then to the Evening Star…and then to me. And smiled, with closed lips, but with unforced sweetness and gentleness and freshening beauty, upon us both.

~*~*~

“Who wants to bathe first?” I announced early next morning. “We are going to the Palace.”

Raven put on her new blue velvet dress. I would not have thought blue would have suited her dark coloring, but that shade was simply perfect, bringing out the sheen on her hair, and she was breathtaking, and none of us could take our eyes from her. Guilin fretted that he had nothing fit to wear, and I assured him the new suit of clothing he had sported the day before would be fine. I wore my best suit, and Northlight wore an identical one—well that the colors I prefer become him also! Anemone wore the white gown made for her by the Queen—it was her first chance to wear it since the play. She did her hair in a rather elaborate style Tilwen had showed her and was now fashionable, with several braids with beads and ribbons worked into it, and cascading curls behind. I prefer it hanging freely as when I first met her, but I indulge her in her fondness for getting herself up fancy on special occasions. Of course Raven would have her hair done the same way and so Anemone had worked rags into it the night before to curl it.

I could see that Raven really wished to ride in the cart with Northlight, but I asked her to ride with her brother, saying that four people to the cart was a tight squeeze, but in truth, I wanted her to maintain her connection with Guilin as much as possible.

Northlight had met the Queen, but had never been to the Palace. As it loomed closer, he gazed in awe and a bit of nervousness as I instructed him where to go. The turrets gleamed bright gold in the morning sunlight above the pure sparkling whiteness of the building itself.

“We wish an audience with the Queen,” I told the gate-keeper in my most formal tones, and he grinned knowingly at me.

“What if I told you she’s not in the mood for an audience?” he said.

“Then tell her I’ll jolly her out of it,” I replied with a wink to Northlight, who looked puzzled and a little shocked to hear me presuming to joke with the royal staff. The gate-keeper chuckled.

“Very well then,” he said as he opened the gate for us, “go on with you, Ring-bearer. But if Her Highness pitches a fit and turns you all into barnyard-fowl, don’t come crying to me. Wait, what about those two behind you, on the horse?”

“They are a couple of ragamuffins we picked up off the streets,” I said. “You may admit them also. Trust me—you do not want to cross my betrothed. She has tricks up her sleeve you don’t wish to find out about.”

I glanced sidelong at Anemone, who favored him with the sweetest smile imaginable, hands folded daintily in her lap.

“All right, if you’re going to resort to threats,” the gate-keeper said with mock weariness as he waved us through. “Go on in with you, before I become frightened, or something.”

Actually the Lady Galadriel was in quite a cheery mood, and seemed delighted to see us. So did Lord Elrond and Lady Celebrian, and all were both shocked and delighted to hear that we were going to adopt Raven. The Queen had her own lawyers in to draw up the papers, and Guilin hesitated a long moment before signing the consent-form, but he did, then smiled at his sister with profound sadness.

Then she showed Raven and Guilin to their suites herself, the ones where they would stay until the wedding. Raven looked delighted to see hers.

“It’s the very same one I had when I stayed here,” I said in wonder. It had been almost a year since I had seen it. I remembered the bed well enough, which had a head-board in the shape of two swans with crossed necks. The bed was high even for a big person, and I had needed a little stool to get up into it, and even so I’d had to make a little jump to get in. And I’d forgotten about the height a time or two when nature called during the night, and ended up with a few bruises. But Raven is taller than I, and the little stool should be sufficient for her.

She stared at the room in total awe as I set the bags with her things in it. Unknown to her, I had brought my dolls along for her, and when her back was turned I set them on her pillow. I had already told her that if the Palace was too overwhelming for her, there was another place she could stay, the same house where I had stayed during my healing. Olórin the great Maia lived there, I said, along with the poet Dûndeloth, and Lord Elrond was one of their closest friends and would be quite happy to take on her treatment there, I was sure.

Then she signed to her brother, who said to us, “She wants to know if she can see the Beacon from here.” And so I led her out the door into the garden, and pointed northwest.

“You can see it on a clear night quite brightly,” I said. “I had forgotten how splendid the view is up here.”

Guilin’s suite was right next to hers. It was similarly decorated, and had a doorway where he could enter the garden without passing through her rooms.

“Do you want me to stay with you?” Anemone asked her. “Or, perhaps Northlight could stay in Guilin’s room.”

Lord Elrond cleared his throat. “Actually,” he said, “I would rather the rest of you did not stay here, and would visit but once a week. I would prefer they have as few distractions as possible when we begin their treatment. Choose a day to visit, and come together. I think that will be best.”

Northlight looked crestfallen, but said nothing. Then Perion appeared. Lady C. said he would attend to Guilin, and an elleth just a little older than Perion came up shyly behind her. Lady C. introduced her as Nieriel, and she would be Raven’s hand-maiden for the duration of her stay. Raven looked taken aback at the thought of someone attending on her. When Nieriel dropped her a little curtsey, Raven smiled radiantly and curtseyed back. Perion suppressed a snicker and I had to turn my back abruptly.

After the servants were dismissed, we all sat down in the garden to discuss the healing. Lord Elrond explained gently to Raven that his mother would administer her treatment, since it would involve a good bit of touching of her bare skin. Lady Elwing had healed his wife when she first came to the Island, he said; she was a priestess and had a great love of all wounded creatures and would be very gentle and careful with her. Elrond would treat Guilin himself, and he asked if that sounded agreeable to all, and they nodded, both awe-stricken at meeting these great personages they had only heard about before. I wondered if Lady Elwing would take Raven on a “boat ride” like the one I took my first day on the Island, and if it would not prove too frightening for her.

Lord Elrond said he could find some work for Guilin to do so that he could earn his keep. There was a group of court-musicians and he might join them, if he liked. And he could help with the gardening, or in the kitchen, or the stables.

“Our rules are short and simple,” he explained. “If you wish to leave the Palace, please let someone know, and be back before midnight. You may have the run of this level, but do not wander about the Palace alone, for you may get lost. If you wish to see it all, I will arrange a tour for you. You may not bring outsiders here without permission. Do not enter the throne-room without leave, nor disrupt any counsel except in a case of dire emergency. If you have any problems, tell your attendants. We attend Temple once a week. If you do not wish to attend, you may wait outside until the service is over, but you may not remain in the Palace during that time, for no one will be about. Do not take a horse without telling the stable-lad. If you have a food preference, tell the cook. We take supper in the dining-hall, but you may take it in your rooms if you prefer. The library is just below your rooms. If you wish to take a book to your rooms, please write down the title on the register-book, which you will find beside the door, and return the book when you are finished. Do not go up to the observatory alone—if you wish to see it, let me know and I will take you up there. If you wish to poke fun at the courtiers, do so where they cannot see you. That is all I can think of at the moment, and I hope your stay will be immensely profitable to you both.”

We spent the rest of the day in the Palace, touring, talking, eating, listening to music, talking more, watching a little comedy that some actors got up for us, listening to a tale or two from a bard, and Guilin and Raven treated the court to an exhibition of the egg-dance, and Anemone participated also. The ladies laughed uproariously when we told them of the gown incident, especially the Queen. She said she had a good mind to adopt us all, herself—we would keep the place jumping, certainly, and then she said she would like to see some of Anemone’s designs.

We ended up staying overnight, Anemone in Raven’s room, and Northlight and I slept in a room together next to the library. He said this was certainly fine, and I joked that I hoped it didn’t spoil him for his new rooms. After he had gone to sleep, I found myself too wound up to do so, so I put on my clothes—I was in my underwear, since I had not expected to stay the night and so had not brought a night-shirt—and wandered over to the library…where I met Lord Elrond.

“Good evening, Frodo,” he said, as I started at the sight of him. He sat at a table with a book in front of him, but he did not seem very intent on it. “Are you having trouble sleeping?”

“Yes, somewhat,” I admitted. “There was quite a bit of excitement today.” I found the chair that had been made especially for me during my stay, and sat down across from him at the table. He studied me intently.

“What can you tell me of Guilin?” he said softly.

“Well…I would prefer to have him tell you what he has told me,” I hedged. “I would not betray his confidence. I can but tell you he has been through horrors even I could only imagine. Although some of them come closer to my own experiences than I like to think. He talked of having himself erased, like the Lady Ríannor. But I am hoping he will decide against it, for Raven’s sake. But for her, I think I would recommend it for him. He has been through a great deal…a very great deal.”

“And you truly wish to adopt this little elf-maiden,” he marveled. “Your desire for children is that strong.”

“Well…even if I had my ability to father children restored, as you once told me it could be,” I said, “then our children would be small, like us, and whom would they marry? I would not condemn them to lives of lonely singlehood. Otherwise, I would have had it done, however painful and unpleasant it sounds.”

“I see,” he said. “It has been over three and a half years since you came to the Island. You have come a great way since then. And now your reward is coming full circle, and I can see you are blessed and at peace. Anemone is an enchanting little lady...in more ways than one. Raven is delightful, and Northlight is a treasure. You have your heart’s desire, even as my mother predicted.”

“Yes, and I hope Sam knows it,” I said. And I wished I could impart it to Lord Elrond. I wanted to ask him if he were blessed and at peace also.

And I had a little revelation, there and then. I wondered if I should tell him.

I wanted so badly to make him happy. So very, very badly. It was the only drop in my own joy, at the moment, to know I could do nothing much for him…so perhaps I should tell him my revelation.

“Yes, Frodo?” he said. “Is there something you wish to tell me?”

Tell him, I could almost hear a voice telling me. If I could only be sure the voice came from outside of me, and was not my own wishful thinking...

“Lord Elrond,” I began, and yes, the words were not my own, it was only using my voice, as it did on the ship when I said he would see his daughter again, and I felt a strong twinge of terror thinking, What if I am wrong? But I had to tell him. I had to. Please let me be right, please.... “Lady Celebrían will bear you a child within the next two years. I cannot say whether it will be a son or a daughter…but there will be a child. This much I know.”



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