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57
Lovers' Day

First published Feb. 13, 2007


~~~


Dear Sam,

Guilin has had a multitude of ideas, some good, some deplorable…and believe it or not, one of the most ridiculous has caught on.

He calls it “Lovers’ Day.” Did you ever hear anything sillier?

It is exactly as it sounds: we set aside a day in which True Love is honored, and people buy romantic gifts for their sweethearts and spouses and send them flowers. I told him how absurd that was—after all, I don’t need a special day to give Anemone a love-token; I bestow one on her any time I feel like it! Guilin just laughed at my stodginess, and said it would be a prime way to drum up a good deal of business.

What’s truly exasperating and a little sad is that Anemone and Northlight and Raven all think it’s a splendid idea. And they are conspiring to help him.

I think I’ve told you before, Sam: there is a bean that grows on the Island, which can be roasted and ground and sweetened to make a delightful drink, and used in sweets it is maddeningly delicious. It is called “chocolate” and I really think you should look into getting it imported into the Shire. It grows in warm countries, according to Lord Elrond, and not just on the Island. Perhaps you could speak to Aragorn about it. Anyway, Guilin had the big idea to pack candies made of this chocolate into pretty boxes to give to one’s beloved.

“Why boxes?” I said as we all sat about the kitchen-table discussing his plan. “People most generally sell sweets in little bags. Boxes are far more expensive to make.”

“Not if they are of paste-board,” Guilin said. Paste-board is a kind of hard paper, which is folded into boxes used by merchants to pack and store their goods. They are much more lightweight than wooden crates, cheaper to make and do not require the use of nails. Sometimes it is even used for book-covers. “And Leandros’s brother Rinnion makes it, right? So there we are. What we’ll need for them is a symbol…a symbol of True Love. Now what will that be?”

“A flower?” I said unenthusiastically.

“A heart,” Anemone said. “True Love is centered in the heart, yes? What could be more fitting?”

“A heart?” I exclaimed. “Have you ever SEEN a heart? A human heart?”

“No,” she admitted. “I have no idea how they look. But—have YOU seen one?”

“No, but I saw pig hearts during hog-butchering season when I was a lad. The human heart is similarly shaped. Rather like a strawberry. I saw a drawing in one of Lord Elrond’s books. It looks something like this….” I found a pencil in a drawer and a scrap of paper, and began to sketch a diagram of a heart. It probably wasn’t exactly accurate, but it was close enough. “See, there are four ‘chambers’ to the heart, and here are some of the veins and arteries, the big vein called the aorta, and the pulmonary artery, and…”

I went on quite a roll, showing off my anatomical knowledge, but I don’t know if anyone were impressed except Northlight.

“It's quite interesting,” Anemone said, “but it isn’t very pretty. Especially with those pipes coming out—they remind me of squid tentacles. Ugh! How can a squid be a symbol of True Love? Perhaps your idea is better. Which flower, then?”

“Why, the anemone, of course,” I grinned. Guilin laughed.

“Not that we are biased or anything,” he said. Anemone giggled. Raven picked up the drawing and looked thoughtfully at it.

“What about the eye?” Northlight suggested. “Love is seen in the eyes. Or the lips? One kisses with the lips. We could draw a pair of lips on the box. That should be easy.”

“Or what about a butterfly?” Anemone said.

“Butterflies are emblematic of the Soul,” I said. “Perhaps...”

“A circle?” Anemone said. “Like a wedding-ri—no, on second thought, maybe not a good idea.”

“A clam-shell perhaps?” Northlight suggested. “With a pearl in it?”

“A strawberry,” I said, wondering at the same time how long it would be before I could eat strawberries without thinking of pig hearts.

Raven jumped up and went into the other room, then returned with a pair of scissors from Anemone’s mending-basket. She cut out my drawing, then folded it in half, took the scissors and began cutting again, a shape rounded at one end, tapering to a point at the other. Then she unfolded the shape, and there it was.

“A morning-glory leaf?” I said squinting. “Is a leaf a good symbol of love? I suppose it could be, but…”

Raven shook her head, and pointed to my drawing of the heart.

“This is a heart?” I said. “But sweet one, it isn’t quite shaped like this. It’s…”

Anemone reached over and took the bit of paper. “Yes,” she said. “This is it.”

“But…it isn’t like a heart,” I stammered. “The heart is not symmetrical. This shape is very pretty, but…”

“Looks rather like someone’s bottom to me,” Guilin said taking it and holding it upside down. Northlight giggled and Raven pouted.

“Silly,” Anemone chided us, taking it, “it’s TWO hearts, don’t you see? Two hearts joined in the middle, beating as one. What could be more fitting?”

Raven nodded, beaming. Northlight grinned proudly at her. She took the double-heart shape and the pencil, and very carefully wrote the word LOVE on it, and then shyly she gave it to Northlight. He looked at it and then leaned over and kissed her cheek. Anemone looked dotingly at them, then at me. I picked up the paper and cut out another double-heart, and drew a couple of flowers on it and the word LOVE, and handed it to Anemone. Raven and Northlight giggled.

“Folks, I believe we have our symbol,” Guilin said with a wink.

His next big idea was to have the box in the double-heart shape. I said I would ask Rinnion, who runs the Island’s paper-mill, if he could contrive such a thing, and hoped hard that he wouldn’t laugh his head off at me. In the meantime, Anemone and Raven made up dozens of sweets, candied cherries, strawberries, oranges and nuts dipped in melted chocolate, and golden mushrooms also, and wrapped them in bits of thin paper, and those we didn’t eat they stored in the spring-house. And the next day Guilin and I went off to the paper-mill.

And Rinnion had a double-heart box made up for us, and did not laugh—at least not in our presence, and we took it home and Anemone covered it with a piece of red velvet she had left over from a dress, and it looked very pretty, and she managed to make a rose out of red satin that she had left from the sash. Add a touch of lace, and we had our first sweet-box. We packed about three dozen of the chocolate candies in it. Northlight commented that one could hardly tell from the looks of them what was inside them, so that one didn’t quite know what one was going to get.

“Life is rather like that, isn’t it?” he remarked.

Guilin took the box to the confectioner’s shop and asked him what he thought of the idea. Haldan the confectioner frowned a little, but his wife came in just at that moment, and when we told her of our plan, she clasped her hands together exclaiming, “How delightful!”

And Haldan smiled sheepishly, and ordered a huge supply of the boxes made in three different sizes, and a good many of our female friends, as well as Haldan’s wife and three daughters, went to work decorating them and packing the chocolates. I hoped the Queen would not laugh too hard at our idea…but when we requested the audience with her, both she and Lady C. were thoroughly delighted, and Lovers’ Day was made official. Anemone and Haldan’s wife fell to work decorating the shop-window with red and white streamers and double-heart shapes and roses, as well as the boxes of chocolates. Needless to say, the big boxes sold the most, the middle-sized ones going soon after. The confectioner was going wild ordering more and more of them. And it looked as though the little boxes might not get sold.

“There was a young lad in today,” Haldan told me, a couple of days before the big day, “who bought SIX boxes. He bought the middle-sized ones, for the big ones were too expensive, and the little ones weren’t ‘fine’ enough. Six boxes? I asked him if he had that many sweethearts, or if he was spoiling the one he had. And he told me, yes, they were for six different lasses. I told him he was headed for trouble, and he just blushed and laughed. Fancy that!”

I laughed: “Did he by any chance have tawny hair neatly combed, greenish-hazel eyes, a slightly cleft chin, and very nice clothes?”

“Well, I didn’t really notice the color of his eyes,” the confectioner said, “but yes, that description fits, I should say. So you know him?”

“Yes,” I said. “That would be Perion, the Queen’s page. You are right…he may well be headed for big trouble. Guilin may have to answer for it.”

I laughed as I remembered my most recent meeting with Perion, as he stood in front of the mirror back stage after rehearsal, carefully combing down his hair. I noted his outfit especially, consisting of green silk breeches and tunic over a snowy shirt with ruffled sleeves and a gold-colored cravat with a pearl pin stuck through it.

“You are quite the dandy these days, my lad,” I remarked, grinning.

Perion nervously adjusted the cravat, then asked me if it looked all right. I said he looked magnificent, and asked him if he were meeting anyone special.

Dínlad walked in just then. “Ah, he likes ALL girls,” he said. Perion blushed.

“Is this true?” I asked him, folding my arms in mock sternness.

“Well…somewhat,” he admitted. “I only started noticing them this year…but they all look so pretty all of a sudden. I can’t seem to take my eyes from them. Their hair! And their eyes, their lips, the way they move….Do you ever have that feeling?”

Dínlad snorted. I said, “Well, I used to…but I have eyes for only one girl now. But Perion, aren’t you a bit young to be noticing girls yet?”

“Am I?” he said anxiously, turning away from the mirror to look at me. Dínlad snickered.

“Yes, you are,” he said. “By the way, did I tell you, you look ridiculous?”

“Ha! Miriel didn’t think so,” Perion said, running a hand over the top of his head, although his hair was perfectly smooth already. “Curíleth said she asked about me. And Sulien, and Kithwen, and Fëariel—”

Dínlad made a rude noise. “Girls. You can have ‘em!” he scoffed. “Always giggling. Always whispering secrets. Always tattling. They give me a pain in the you-know-what.”

“So they do me,” Perion said, nervously fishing out his comb from his pocket again, “but only if they’re my sisters.”

I laughed. So did Dínlad.

“Not to sound stuffy,” I said, “but really, Perion, you have all the time in the world to start liking the lasses. You don’t have so much time to be a youngster.”

“But it’s FUN to like them,” Perion protested. “Being a youngster is HUGELY overrated.”

I have to admit the lad had a point!

As the big day drew ever nearer, there was the question of what to get for Anemone. Surely she was sick of the sweets, and she had all the flowers in our garden she could ever want. She doesn’t care much for jewelry, other than her pendant and her wedding-pearls, and has plenty of perfume, that people gave her as wedding-gifts, in beautiful bottles. In fact, with such a house full, she hardly needed any more things. I cudgeled my brains, and finally asked Northlight for advice.

“I’m making a book of my poems for Raven,” he said. “I’m going to make the binders of paste-board and have them covered with velvet, and I think Nana can help me. I know my poems aren’t nearly as good as yours, but Raven likes them, and—”

“What a wonderful idea, Northlight!” I said. “Just the thing. I shall do the same with my poems. But we’d better have someone else cover the books, or our ladies are sure to find out about them.”

Lady C. said she would be glad to help. So the books were made, and Raven’s was covered with crimson velvet with a double-heart embroidered in gold, along with a beaded gold silk book-marker, Anemone’s with blue, embroidered in silver, with a silver book-marker. Lady C. even made some lovely illustrations for both, and charged us nothing.

And that left Guilin with the question of what to get for Nessima. And he told me he had a fiendishly clever idea and we would find out about it on the day he gave her his gift…that is, if it were finished in time.

~*~*~

Guilin gave Dínlad back his horn, the day before Lovers’ Day, thanking him for the “loan” of it. He’d had it cleaned and polished, and said it had served its purpose and helped him blow out his bad feelings and scared off the demons that haunted him, and now he thought it rightfully belonged to Dínlad, and the boy looked surprised and more than a little delighted to get it back.

I’m not sure how his mother felt about it.

Guilin gave Anemone back her pendant as well; it, too, had fulfilled its purpose. And she was glad to have it back, but I was even more so. Sometimes I had been afraid he would lose it.

He was selling a good deal of the hair-rinse, as well as perfume and fragrant soaps and powders. It was all going like wild-fire, he said. Just as well this was only once a year, or he'd never keep up with all the orders and manage his studies at the same time....

His gift for Nessima was not completed yet, and he fretted a good deal about it, but he sent over a big box of sweets and a beautiful vase he bought from Ríannor, with some red roses and ferns and white lilies in it. He sent them anonymously, but I doubt she had any trouble figuring who her mystery suitor was. She said nothing to me about it, and I thought that was a good sign.

Haldan had about four dozen of the small boxes left over and he despaired of their selling, so I bought them all, saying I knew just where to send them. He raised his eyebrows, as if to intimate that I was even greater of a lover than Perion, but I mischievously refrained from telling him what I would do with them. I put in a note with the name of each child in the Orphans’ Home—there were just enough boxes, with a few left over, which I gave to Lyrien and Marílen and Emleth.

Lyrien told me she almost FAINTED when she read the note I had enclosed within: To the sweetest and loveliest Lyrien ever created, thank you for my healing, and for being you. Love and blessings evermore, your own Iorhael.

~*~*~

Beauty danced to the carol of your name
as we signed Love's treaty
on the terrace of morning.
Our beings, embroidered
with flowers, swans and lightning
became flags in a strange
and many-towered Citadel
where every window
laughed at frowning battlements
and night was just another name
for Immortality.

“Now that wasn’t such a bad idea, was it,” Anemone said as we sat together on the beach late into the night. I laid down the velvet-covered book of poems I had been reading to her. The colors of the aurora were unusually bright. The pale-green streak that looked like a geyser of water shooting upward through clouds and pools of fiery orange and magenta and purple, patches of pale blue and gold floating across like great silent birds, streaks of crimson undulating and zigzagging over all like fantastical serpents. How it all drifted and oozed and swirled about in entrancingly changeful dreamy patterns over mountain and crag and wave and forest…until it seemed that it looked as though my own life on the Island was magically reflected there, with the eternal stars dangling overhead, and the Sea surging beneath.

“Not bad at all,” I admitted, glancing over my shoulder toward the cottage. Raven and Northlight were sitting in the swing on the terrace. Guilin was out who knew where. The mysterious gift he had ordered for Nessima was still not completed. But he would give it to her on the night of the play, and perhaps that would be more fitting anyway.

The four of us had put on our best clothes, gone into the City for the evening and taken in dinner at the Palace, then to the dance-theater to see a performance, along with Lord E. and Lady C., Gandalf and Riannor, Ladies G. and E., Tilwen and Galendur. We also saw Rûdharanion and Salmë, and Seragon and Niniel, Leandros and Lalaith, and many other people we knew. The theater was giving The Tale of Beren and Lúthien that night, and Aelinalqua, one of the most famous dancers on the Island, was performing. A female narrator stood alone at the edge of the stage all in filmy white, reciting lines of the story as the dancers acted them out in graceful pantomime.

The leaves were long, the grass was green,
The hemlock-umbels tall and fair,
And in the glade a light was seen
Of stars in shadow shimmering.
Tinúviel was dancing there
To music of a pipe unseen,
And light of stars was in her hair,
And in her raiment glimmering….

Dancers in the background held up silk flags painted to represent backdrops, and music was played on drums, flutes, harps, and bells by musicians in colorful sprite-like costumes cavorting here and there on the stage—one was even lowered from a swing-like apparatus from the ceiling shaped like a crescent moon. She was supposed to represent a star, I think, all luminous in very pale blue, and she shook a little set of bells from time to time, and I hoped the ropes wouldn’t break because she was VERY high up.

And there was a fiddler in a long scarlet cloak and black and white tunic who looked VERY familiar. He raced and darted across the stage from time to time, dropped to one knee and fiddled a very sinister-sounding tune when Morgoth appeared, dressed almost identically. And he did much the same when Carcharoth the werewolf made his appearance in a hairy suit, and everyone screamed. Raven made excited gestures to us each time the fiddler appeared. And he stood directly behind Morgoth and played, as Lúthien danced for him to distract his attention, a very sensuous-sounding melody along with the drums and bells.

When the lovers laid down at last, white-wigged, and died, and little wood-sprites came out to mourn…there was not a dry eye in the house. Especially when two spirit-like beings glided in and raised them to their feet, and helped them onto a contraption that looked to be a swan-boat, presumably to carry them to the Other Side where they would be united in love for eternity. Anemone looked at me then with a world of meaning in her glance.

And guess who we saw as we were leaving?

Nessima looked stunning in dark blue, her hair pulled from her face and hanging unbraided down her back, as Guilin came from backstage, dressed in normal garb, to meet us. She smiled a little sheepishly when she saw us. Guilin was grinning from one ear to the other. When Anemone asked him why he had not told us he was going to be in the show, he said he wished to surprise us. Nessima said she had never been to the dance-theater before, and the performance was amazing. Northlight told her he suspected Raven would dance the role of Lúthien someday, and be even better than Aelinalqua. Guilin said we might meet her if we would stick around long enough, although he also intimated to us that we might have a long wait indeed, for this lady very much liked to take her time. And he agreed that Raven would be just as good someday, if not better. Nessima looked at Northlight a little sharply, as though she were unaccustomed to hearing youths brag about their sweethearts to her. I suppressed a laugh. Then her remarkable eyes softened, and Guilin looked at her and she at him, and he smiled that gentle little smile at her, and my heart leaped for joy within me.

“Do you suspect,” Anemone said, as we sat on the beach, “that this ‘Lovers’ Day’ business made Nessima feel keenly having no lover or husband, and Guilin plotted the whole thing with that in mind?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact I do,” I said, surprised. “He’s still quite the trickster, you know. I think we have greatly underestimated him. This was an elaborate scheme, and I think it’s working.”

“I’ve no complaints,” Anemone said with her cheeky grin as she nuzzled against my shoulder. “I’m sure he made a great many people very happy today, along with himself. I rather wish I’d been the one to think of it.”

We fell silent, and just sat looking out on the peaceful sea with the colors of the sky gently dancing on the ripples. Yes, it had been a wonderful day, and I was glad to be back home, sitting on the beach with my bride watching the aurora and holding her in my arms. Ah, what a year it has been, so much love and joy abounding, who would have thought it would bring so much?

But why was she looking wistful, even sad, just now?

Surely she was not thinking of her lost children?



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