Raven and Northlight are home at last! As wonderful as it has been to have our privacy as newlyweds, it is more wonderful still to have our family all together now. Hard to believe we have been married all of four months!
It has been three months since Hathol made his last appearance. I do not like to take Raven from her brother, but I think she needs to be at home with her parents now. And it is six weeks until the school session begins, and I want her to have a good long carefree holiday before it starts. Perion will take Northlight’s place at the Palace.
We have fixed up my former bedroom for Raven with some things Lady C. gave us—white lace curtains, white coverlet, a pretty flowered rug, and some shelves on which to set the pretty things people have given her. As a finishing touch I placed the chalice I saw her take from the bag the first night she was with us upon her chest of drawers. But I don’t think she likes it half so well as her little doll-family from Lyrien!
Her scars are nearly gone. Guilin says his own are beginning to fade—he first noticed a change a few days after Hathol’s last visit. He will stay at the Palace until his healing is complete, and then they will decide what he should do and where he should go.
As we drive through the gateway, Emleth, Lyrien, and Marílen are waiting with baskets of flowers and baked goodies for her. They all squeal and run to meet her as she bounds out of the cart before we come to a full stop. Chattering all together, they grab her hands and lead her to the terrace, across which a wide banner is strung: WELCOME HOME RAVEN & NORTHLIGHT! In her new bedroom they help her take out her things and set them around, babbling: “Who gave you THAT?” “Look, we should put this here, no, over there…” “Raven, it’s so JOLLY to have you here!” I thought she might be disappointed by the plainness of the dresses we had made for her, but the two embroidered aprons Emleth and Tamsin made enhance them beautifully. I wonder what she will think of the room also, it being such a far cry from her splendid palace chamber, but I think its simplicity suits her far better.
And Northlight says it is wonderful to be back in his stable-room. Although he does miss the stone dog!
At lunch-time Raven looks about at us and makes a sign to indicate that she is the only one in the family who doesn't have blue eyes. Northlight shakes his head no, that is not so. There is her brother, he says in his serious way, and she lights up then at us all and signals to me to pass her the strawberries and cream. My heart nearly bursts as I watch the two of them re-acquaint themselves with the cottage and grounds, and I truly wonder if I could love them any more if they were the children of my own body….
Now the girls are playing on the beach, and Anemone has gone to join the four of them. Northlight, Guilin, and I sit together, watching them and discussing college. Northlight plans to attend this session. He and Guilin have grown quite close, not surprisingly, for all they are so different. Guilin told me recently that he could think of no one he would rather have as a brother-in-law than Northlight!
Northlight is trying to persuade Guilin to enroll in the college with him. He did go for some time when he was a lad, he said, but couldn’t fix himself to it. He just isn’t the academic sort.... As they discuss, I light my pipe and watch the girls. Their long hair, gold, brown, copper, black-brown, and blue-black, some braided and some not, dazzling in the light, against the silky blue and green and silver of the sea. Raven points out something to the little girls, which turns out to be a crab, and they squeal and back off, and Emleth laughs. Anemone picks up the crab and speaks gently to it, but I cannot hear what she says.
Then suddenly, the crab speaks! I can hear its tiny voice distinctly: Please don’t eat my legs! Anemone drops it with a startled squeak and the girls scream. Anemone laughs and shakes a finger at Northlight, and we laugh uproariously. Emleth asks what is happening. Lyrien explains, “It was Northlight! HE made the crab talk!” and Emleth giggles nervously. Marílen says, “MY brother can’t do that,” and there is more laughter. Raven looks proud and radiant. Anemone picks up the crab once more and wades out and sets it down in the water. The sunlight makes rippling fire of her hip-length hair as it brushes the waves. I wonder if it is possible to die of happiness….
Where has the time gone? Now it is one week until the next school session begins, and I hope I can persuade Raven to attend classes at the Orphanage. Northlight taught her to read a little at the Palace. She did not take very well to it, but she can write her letters and spell a bit. Even so, I am wondering how I will get her over her fear of the Orphanage….
“I have an idea,” Northlight said when I confided all this to him. “Before we take her there, let’s go to the college and take a tour of it. Perhaps if she sees where I am going to school, she won’t be so afraid of her school.”
The college affords a view of the sea and the harbor. It is about four stories high, with rounded windows and plenty of shade, a fountain out in front, stone benches and flower-beds and some fine statuary.
A couple of professors stand beside the fountain, and they wave cheerfully to us as we drive up. Northlight helps Raven out of the cart as I stop to let them off and then drive off to find a place to tie the ponies. Raven takes his arm with a smile. I have explained to Northlight that it is considered unseemly here for lovers to hold hands in public, and the proper way is for the male to hold his arm out at a slight angle and the female lays her hand over his forearm with her wrist underneath.
“Why is this so?” he asked me in puzzlement.
“I do not know, truly,” I said, thinking, really, why? “But when we go to live in a certain country, we must abide by the customs of that country, instead of expecting it to adapt itself to ours.”
“But you do not wear the style of clothing worn here,” he pointed out.
“Yes, that is a concession the Island has made to me,” I said. “Sometimes a country makes concessions to those who come to live there, if those people are willing to adapt themselves to its customs otherwise. And sometimes they even end up adopting your customs as their own. You may have noticed that your mother wears her skirts almost to her ankles, instead of just below the knee as she did when she first came to the Island. She hates to wear a long gown, but realized that some compromise had to be made. And now, if you’ve noticed, many young ladies here have taken to wearing their gowns ankle length. She has set a trend. Of course, the older ones are not too happy about that, I’m sure.”
“Why so?” he asked.
“Older folk do not take well to new things,” I said. “But sooner or later, new things become old, and then the elders sometimes accept them.”
“I like new things,” Northlight said earnestly, and I chuckled. “Don’t you?”
“Sometimes, depending on what they are. It would be frightfully dull if there were no new things. Yet sometimes they can be a bit unnerving. Where I come from, folks do not take well to change.”
“Same here. I did not think I would like change, when I first came here. But the more I stayed, the more I got used to the newness. Now it seems like oldness, and I do not wish to go back to my former ways. Especially now that I have Raven…and you, and my friends. Being landish is a wondrous thing. One finds much that is new and beautiful and exciting, and once that happens, there is no going back.”
Dûndeloth greets us as we enter the college. He asks Northlight if he will be playing Gollum again this year. Northlight says yes.
“It will be easier this time,” he says. “I will not have to play Ninniach playing Gollum, at least. I will be playing but one character now. That is far less confusing.”
Dûndeloth chuckles. “So what do you plan to study, Northlight?”
Northlight looks puzzled. “Why, whatever the other students study,” he says. “You mean, I have choices?”
“Of course.” Dûndeloth lifts his eyebrows. “What is it you wish to be?”
“I don’t know exactly. I am content with what I do now—taking care of my ada’s land, helping him with his fruit-harvest, tending the ponies and the garden and so forth. Now that I am a princeling, however, I suppose I should learn something of it. I should take courses in ruling, and commanding, and so forth.”
I suppress a smile, and hope Dûndeloth will refrain from grinning…and so he does.
“Perhaps you could be an ambassador,” he suggests. “The sea-folk are not represented in the councils at Aman. I doubt they are represented anywhere?”
“No sir, they are not,” Northlight says. “Do you really think I could be one? I have naught to do with my own people now. I have seen none, apart from my mother, since I have been living on the land.”
While Northlight and Dûndeloth speak with an academic advisor, Anemone, Raven, and I slip about the hallway, peering into doorways at the classrooms. They are large and airy, with high ceilings and tall windows, and black marble floors. There are frescoes on some of the walls, some depicting the Valar, some battle-scenes, others representing the awakening of the Firstborn, ships sailing into the harbor, and…the forging of the Great Rings.
“Why, look!” Anemone says, running up to one. “Isn’t that Olórin there?” I blink at the picture that represents the Maiar sent to Middle-earth, and recognize Gandalf among them.
“Yes, that’s he,” I say in admiring delight. “Strange how he is still recognizable, even in that guise. I wonder if he has seen this painting.”
Raven makes signs. I have learned much of her hand-language by now, so Anemone and Northlight do not always have to translate.
“No, they have not depicted the toppling of Sauron’s tower here yet, dear one,” I say. “But I dare say they will, before long.”
“Look at this,” Anemone says, beckoning to us from another room. We go to where she stands, and yes, there is a scaffold before an unfinished mural in which I can recognize the Tower with the Flaming Eye atop, and Mt. Doom erupting, and the cataclysm at hand. And two little figures huddled together on the outcropping, sketchy they are, but it takes little cudgeling of the brain to figure whom they are meant to represent. And in the stormy distance I can see the outlines of eagles’ wings.
Raven holds her hands to her heart. Anemone looks up at the unfinished work in wide-eyed wonder. Out of the corner of my eye I can see Northlight coming up behind us, but I do not turn my head. Three years ago, I could not have looked upon this work. Now I am transfixed. This is why I am here, standing beside my wife and son and daughter, inside the enchanted circle that surrounds us, looking up at the representation of the Land of Darkness here in the Land of Light. That black tower with the burning eye, now given way to the white tower from which the Beacon now radiates across the Sea. I feel Anemone’s hand slide about my waist, and Northlight’s hand on my shoulder. Raven points to the little figures and looks questioningly at me, and Northlight nods to her, taking her hand. She smiles in that way she has, that can light an entire room.
“I only hope,” I say finally, “that Dínlad and Perion can handle that scene together. And yes…you too, Northlight. But as for myself...no, there is no going back.”
Nessima looks surprised to see us, although I have already told her I wish to enroll Raven in the school at the Orphanage. Raven is pale and trembling. Northlight holds to her hand firmly and Anemone keeps an arm about her waist.
“I can bring her in the morning,” I say, “and go about my duties, then come and get her after school and take her home. May we look about the place?”
“I will go with you,” Nessima says. Once more she is in the severe dark dress she normally wears, her hair in its accustomed tight braid. Raven has to look far up to make eye-contact with her, she is so tall.
“First I will show you where I work,” I say to Raven. We enter a study where my desk sits facing the door, and there is a book-case behind it, and a good many drawers full of files and documents. On the other side are some comfortable chairs, a round rug and a little table on which lie some toys and books.
“This is where people come to discuss with me when they wish to adopt a child,” I explain. “Or if they wish to talk about the child they have adopted and any problems or questions they might have. I also counsel the orphans here. It is right above the laundry, where they do all the washing. The laundresses are often quite noisy, and if they start talking too loud when I am in counsel, I can take this—” I pick up a large staff and rap it on the floor rather hard. “—and then they know to quieten down.”
I hope that will make Raven smile, but she just looks tight-lipped at the staff.
“Of course I never use it on anyone,” I assure her. “Come, let us go look at some of the other rooms.”
I lead her into the library, then the dining-hall. I show them the sewing-room, in which several girls sit about stitching on bed-linens, clothing, and other items. They look at us curiously, and some of them smile at me, as I introduce my family with fatuous pride. The smallest comes eagerly forward to show me her work. It is a nightgown, and some of the older ones look embarrassed, but I smile and tell her that her skill is remarkable in one of her age, which it is, then I kiss her forehead and she skips back to her seat, beaming. Raven looks a trifle less tense.
I take them upstairs to show them the girls’ dormitory. I knock upon the door of one of the rooms. No one answers, so I open the door. There are eight beds, four on one side and four on the other. I had new snowy dimity coverlets made for them recently, the old ones being a bit worn and dingy, and filmy white curtains hang at the windows where once there were none. And soft little rugs lie beside each bed, where once the floor was bare. Flanking the doors are shelves on which the girls can keep their things, and I can see dolls and books and shells and pretty boxes and other keep-sakes sitting about. Each girl owns one shelf, and is responsible for keeping it neat and clean.
At the end of the room is a wide doorway leading into a little study with a long table and bookcases flanking a small fireplace. Two large windows afford a lovely view of the forest, and the Beacon can be seen from them at night. Raven gasps and points to a painting above the mantel-piece, and Anemone smiles. It is a copy of Ríannor’s mosaic, made by one of the older orphans. I had forgotten the picture was there.
Then I take them downstairs to view the school-rooms. They are, of course, far different and less impressive than the ones at the college, but, in my opinion, more appealing in their simplicity. There are maps and drawings by the pupils pinned to the walls, and chalk-boards washed clean, and interesting objects on shelves: curved glasses for magnifying leaves and things, odd-looking rock-formations, clay models of birds and animals, instruments of measurement.
All this is totally new to Raven. She picks up the things and examines them, and I show her how to use some of them. I take one of the magnifying-glasses and show her how a butterfly’s wing looks under it, and the tips of her fingers, a hair from her head, the iris of my eye. I take a ruler and measure each of our heights. Nessima shows us how to use the more complicated instruments. Her manner seems softer and less abrupt now. We hear giggles in the hallway, and Nessima goes and shoos a couple of little ones out, telling them to go back to the play-room, the Prince is busy now and will see them later. But I think it is the Princess they are most eager to see! Anemone pokes her head out the door and wiggles her fingers at them, and they fairly light up the hall-way.
Then we follow Nessima out to the play-yard. Boys and girls play together, and one of the laundresses is hanging out sheets on a line. When a ball comes bouncing her way, she catches it. When a boy comes to claim it, she playfully pretends to throw it to him, and he growls at her with mock fierceness, whereupon she throws it gently past him, and he turns and runs after it.
I see Nessima watching it all, and remember something I told Guilin recently.
“I spoke to Nessima,” I said to him, “as you wished. She thanks you for your interest, but says she is content as she is, and has no wish to marry. She is wedded to her work, and the orphans are her children. She truly does love them, in her strict, strait-laced and sober way, it’s true, but love them she does. She would not stay with them if she did not.”
She has the look now of someone who is exactly where she should be, and can imagine no other place. I think I must have that look myself.
Raven is calm and smiling as we take our leave, and I feel a welling of gladness and love and gratitude. But then she grows more serious, and signs so rapidly I cannot follow. Anemone and Northlight look to each other, to the school, to Raven, then to me.
“She says,” Northlight tells me, “that she is not afraid of the Orphans’ Home any longer. She says she was foolish to be so frightened, and she loves you for helping to make it nice and pretty for the orphans and giving them counsel. She says the school-rooms look very interesting. But, she does not wish to attend school here, for now she does not belong. She would go to school with Emleth and the others now because, she says, she is not an orphan any more.”