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59
Sacrifice


Dear Sam,

Well. Once more I must ask your forgiveness. Can you possibly give it this time?

Surely, as a husband and father, you will understand. And I hope with all my heart you will still come when the time is right. If not, then I must content myself with the hope of meeting you in the next world.

Anemone is well aware that I talk to you in the evenings, but I don’t think she realized that the star-glass was the means by which I do so. Otherwise, I must wonder whether or not she would have allowed me to do what I did, after I found her weeping for her children on the beach and realized the full implications of what she had given up for me. Would she have done it, if she had known it would come to this? If she had known, by becoming mortal, she would have mortal feelings? She had been told she would, of course, but there was no way she could have known just what those feelings would cost her, and there was no balm that could heal this hurt.

And how can I be happy if she is not?

As I dribbled the luminous water into the sea, I still had a few ounces of hope left…but when nothing happened, I knew then what I must do. It was not enough; the glass could have been refilled, after all. The sea wanted it also. A partial sacrifice was none at all.

I crouched there on the rock where I had first met my bride face to face, holding the glass over the water, while she bent over me asking what I was doing. I silently willed myself to let it drop…erm, sound familiar? As my fingers clutched it stubbornly, and then, Anemone, realizing what I was about to do, cried out, “No!” Startled, I let it fall, and then the water began to fill with light and a soft voice of singing, as I felt as though I had dropped my heart into it, irretrievably.

As the light spread through the waters, we watched silently for I know not how long, then I stood, took her hand and said, “Let’s go back now. It will take a while for the Light to reach them. Perhaps all night.”

We went back to the cottage. Raven was in bed. Northlight’s window was alight; probably he was studying. Guilin had been here earlier. He had been the one to tuck his sister in. She still likes to be tucked in at night, and Anemone and I take turns doing it.

“It’s so good of you,” he had told us, “to do that for her, without telling her she’s too big for it or anything. Sometimes I wonder how many times she cried herself to sleep at night because I wasn’t there.” He turned abruptly from us and looked to the window as if there were something very interesting out there.

Anemone and I did not celebrate our love that night; we merely lay down in bed and I held her against me, her back to my front, and I stroked her hair.

“What if it does not work?” she asked me, finally.

“It will work,” I said, trying not to let her hear tears in my voice.

“Raven’s glass,” she said, sitting up a bit. “You—”

“No,” I said. “I will not take it from her. She is still afraid of the dark. It will not work anyway.”

“You could try. She would not mind. She would want you to. Then you could give it back to her.”

“I will try it,” I said.

“The Queen would give you another, surely,” she said, “if you explained, and asked her.”

“I will,” I said, knowing even as I spoke it would not work, even if the Lady did give me another. The new one would not have the same power.

Anemone took my hand and kissed it, back and palm, caressing the fingers. I thought of the poem she had written into her book.

“I didn’t know you could write poetry too,” I said to her after reading it the first time.

“Nor did I,” she said blushing quite prettily.

“Add that to all your other talents,” I said with a smile.

“It’s not so good as that, surely,” she giggled.

“It’s wonderful,” I said. “I think my own may become a little more…daring, after reading this. Which would be all right, except then I could not show them to anyone else.”

Because of you
I shall learn to die
as I have learned to live,
my Love;
there is no going back
now or ever.

After she had fallen asleep in my arms, I found myself unable to do so, and before long I rose, slipped on my dressing-gown, and went out. It was cloudy, but the waves were still glowing, and I could hear the music more clearly now, faint and mysterious, strangely alluring, and somehow familiar. I then recalled hearing it ever so faintly in my dreams, back in Middle-earth. Why, I wondered, did the Sea require this sacrifice?

I went down to my praying-rock, and knelt there, wordlessly, for a long time, looking out on the waves that glimmered as though the moon were submerged in them. How will I do without you now? Is it even possible that I can? For four years our connection has so comforted and sustained me, and done more toward my healing than anything else, I know. Yes, dearest Sam, you need never think you failed me. You did the most, after all.

…All you have done
and will do lays a foundation
of might and gladness, sows
fields of health and color
for those about you, and those
to come. All the joy
that is mine now was bought by you
and I wear it as a favored child
in jeweled abandon. Never think
that I do not return your love;
sometimes I wish I had two hearts,
one scarcely seems enough
to contain the bursting cataract
that springs therein….*

How many times have I tried to leave you behind? I thought the last parting would be the bitterest…but it was nothing to this one. Can I ever be happy again?

I know the answer. I will be, because I must. The sacrifice I made will be useless if it costs me all my own happiness. If I cannot be happy if she is not, how can I expect her to be if I am not? The healing virtue of the Island, and the hope I have of our final meeting will see me through. But the knowledge that your pain will heal and lessen is scant comfort when it is at its worst, as is the knowledge that it will ultimately give you strength, teach you compassion for others, and build your character. At that moment, pain is all you know, and all you can think of is relief for it.

I had only the relief of tears then. And I was vastly thankful for that.

~*~*~

In the morning it did bring a smile to my face to see my Anemone surrounded by her lost ones, embracing her, dancing about with her in the yard, while Northlight and Raven looked on smiling. Raven came to stand beside me, asking me with her hands what happened, and I explained, hoping I did not choke up too much as I did so. And she broke away and dashed into the house, and returned with her phial, pressing it into my hand when I tried to refuse, saying she did not need it now and wanted me to have it, and she kissed my cheek and I smiled a little and kissed hers.

We took a holiday, and packed up a lunch and went to the beach, and some of our friends came down, perhaps sensing something was afoot, and Guilin came also. They must have wondered why I did not join in so enthusiastically, and I could see that Anemone was worried about me even in her joy. She came up to me and asked if I were all right twice, and put her arms around me very gently, and I smiled and told her I soon would be.

The hair of sea-folk comes in three colors—honey-gold like Anemone’s, silver-white with that faint tinge of blue like Northlight’s, and midnight-black. Ebbtide and Embergold are the only ones with the gold hair, and Moonrise and Darkfin (who of course was not among them, and none spoke of him) have the black; the rest have hair of Northlight’s color: Fairwind the eldest daughter, and the twins Nightingale and Gloryfall. All have blue eyes, in shades ranging from palest icy green-blue to soft violet like Anemone’s. Embergold, who shockingly resembles her mother, brought along her little son and daughter, Onyx and Sandrose. It was the first I had ever seen of sea-children, of course. They had never been on land before, and they dashed about like puppies filled with wonder at their strange new surroundings, shouting to their mother, “What is this? Look at THAT!” Anemone’s black-haired sister Lightning, the one who had loved a cabin-boy, was there also. I wondered if Lightning had recovered from her broken heart, after all these years. Yet she seemed happy to be with her sister.

After luncheon I found myself feeling a little better, and was even showing the others how to play horse-shoes. The children and Moonrise and Ebbtide took to it quickly. The twins preferred cliff-diving, and they kept teasing their mother, who still loves it herself, but I’ve had to forbid her from diving from such lofty heights anymore, fearing she would dive too deeply or hit her head on a rock. But she seemed happy enough just to watch her daughters at it. Later, after our friends had gone, the girls all danced together, save for Lightning, who sat with her sister watching, Onyx and Sandrose on their laps. I tried to take it in that Anemone is a grandmother, then asked Raven if she would like to join the dancers, but she shook her head and sat with me, her arm wrapped tightly around me. I think she was in considerable awe, although she did express her delight that one of the sisters had a bird-name also. Northlight played the music for their dance on his pipes, while his brothers looked on with interest. The dancers all wore short gowns that seemed made of sea-water—just as Anemone had worn when I first met her—which shimmered in the late sunlight, first silver, then pale-green, then blue, then gold and back to silver again, and they spun and leaped high, their hair fanning out like white and gold flames. Then Anemone and Lightning would dance together, and they begged Raven to join them, and after a moment, she did so, Onyx and Sandrose with them, Raven catching their hands at times.

And Ebbtide and Moonrise finally had to get in on it too. They made Northlight come with them, and the three brothers danced, while their sisters sang a song in words I did not understand, clapping their hands in a wild entrancing rhythm.

After the sun began to sink into the waves, we all drifted back to the cottage, and I slipped away from them after a while and went back to the beach and sat for a while. Remembering the light Raven had given me, I took it out, and tried to light it. It glowed faintly, but as I talked to it, the light remained as it was, without turning to that warm candle-light gold, and I could not feel your comforting presence. I sat looking at it in despair too deep even for tears, until I heard a step behind me. It was Raven. She came and asked with her hands if she could sit with me, and I said, Please do. She said she was worried about me.

I will not draw orcs any more, she signed to me. I don’t want to now.

I am glad of that, I told her, also with my hands. She loves it when I talk to her that way, although it is unnecessary. But if you ever feel the need to draw them, then draw them at home and show them to me.

I would not do that, she said. I would not remind you of what they did to you. I drew one the other day, and put it in the stove. I think I will not dream of them any more now.

I smiled faintly, although it pierced me to the heart to think she was still innocent enough to believe one’s demons could be so easily done away with. She was wearing one of her simple dresses with an embroidered apron over it, her hair pulled back in front and braided, her feet bare. She looked like a sweet little country-lass, and I thought of what Guilin had said about her once. She is a city-girl, he’d said. She does still like the City, even more now, I think. But she likes it better still out here, she says.

So I have a very big family now, she said with a little twinkle in her eye, smoothing down her apron unconsciously. Will they stay always?

No, only for a time. They will visit for a few days, then go back into the sea. It is their home. They will come back from time to time to visit, like relatives—which they are.

I’m glad of that. Is that wicked of me? I like it best with just us.

I’m glad of it too, I said with a chuckle. Having them around all the time would get tiring, I should think.

Yes. Did the light work, Ada? Nana was worried about you.

Yes, sweetheart, it worked. I hoped I was convincing, but the tears that welled up betrayed me quickly.

Why are you sad, Ada?

Because I lost my best friend last night, I said. No use keeping it from her. I told her all. She sprang up once more and ran to the house, and I was amazed at the speed with which she could run. Soon she came back with something in her hands. It was the handkerchiefs Emleth had made for her, about a dozen in all. She handed one of them to me.

Thank you, I said wiping my eyes, yet smiling a little to think she had thought I would have need of all the other handkerchiefs as well. Perhaps I would, at that. And she put them in my lap.

Emleth made them for me, she said.

I know. I am glad you have her. She is a good friend to you. And I am so thankful you will never have to part from her, I thought.

I love you, Ada, she signed to me. I wish I could make you as happy as Sam does.

You make me very happy, beautiful one, I said. Anyone would be, to have a daughter as sweet and brave as you. And I will be happy later, but I must be sad now.

What do you tell him? she asked.

Everything. All the things I do in the day, and the things that happen to me, and people I know, and things I think and feel, and I sing to him and read my poems.

Can he hear you?

Yes, I think so.

Can you hear him?

Sometimes. I know some of his doings. I see them in dreams, and can see how his children look, the things they do. I think it is a gift from the Lord of Dreams, to be able to see some of what goes on with him. Perhaps I will still have them.

You will have more of them, Ada. I shall pray for it. You said the Creator could hear me even though I cannot speak.

Of course He can. And I thank you, dearheart.

You made Nana very happy today. I have never seen her look so happy. So the Lord of Dreams will make you happy too, since you gave up your friend to give her joy.

I feel better now, I said, taking her hand in mine and kissing it. Thank you for coming out here.

You gave everyone joy, she said. You did not mind it that Nana had Northlight, and that he was Ninniach and you were good to him even when you did not know who he was. You did not mind that I could not talk and took things sometimes. And you were a friend to Guilin even when he was bad. Because of you, Nana and Northlight are happy, and so are Tilwen and Galendur, and Rûdharanion and Salmë, and Dûndeloth, and Dínlad and Marílen and Lyrien and Perion, and many, many others. And Guilin will be happy too, and Nessima, I know it. I hope Findëmaxa will be too, because I know she is not. She acts as though she is, but I know she isn’t. She acts like it too much. She is afraid of something.

I hope she will be too.

I thought of my most recent meeting with the artist. I had met her unexpectedly coming toward the Orphan’s Home a few days ago, and at first she acted as though she had met me by chance, but then she asked if she could speak to me. I led her into the counseling room, smiling behind her back, and asked one of the maids to bring us tea.

“What is this?” Findëmaxa asked me, picking up a furry white blanket that lay on the couch.

“It was mine once,” I explained. “Sometimes the orphans like to wrap up in it when they talk to me, even though it never gets cold here. It seems to comfort them.”

“May I?” she asked timidly.

“Of course,” I said smiling.

She put it about her shoulders, admitting that it was comforting, somehow. Then she confessed that she had lied to me, looking very fearful though afraid I would hit her.

“My mother still lives, but not my father,” she said. “My father died when I was yet a baby. I don’t know why I told you he was living still.”

“How did he die?” I asked. I had an idea what the answer would be before she told me.

“He was murdered,” she said just above a whisper.

“You seem ashamed of it,” I said. “Surely it was no fault of yours?”

“Well…my mother used to tell me it was,” she said fidgeting with the blanket. “She said I cried so, he went out in the night to get away from the noise, and that was when the orcs killed him. I know it wasn’t true, but I believed it then. And she used to tell me, when I was naughty, that the orcs would get me if I did not behave myself. I grew up in terror of them, although I never actually saw one. I found out later that he was not killed by orcs, but by men, and that he had gotten into a fight with them. She told me it was orcs both to frighten me into being good, and because she was ashamed of the way he died, fighting with mortal men, that he was an Elf and superior to them and yet he could not fight them off. I came here, even though I have never seen an orc, because I was so afraid. My mother would not come because she was ashamed. She said I was born before she wed my father, and so she was not worthy to come. And…well, I do not want her to come, either.”

“I see,” I said. “Perhaps if you could find a way to forgive her, you might overcome your fear and shame. I know it would be very difficult, but—”

“Forgive her?” Findëmaxa dropped the blanket into her lap and looked at her untouched cup of tea.

“I know it would be hard,” I said. “She should never have tried to terrify you into being good. It was very wrong of her. I—”

“Did your parents never do that with you?” she asked, looking surprised.

“No, never,” I said. “When I was very bad, I got a strapping from my father, and if I were only somewhat naughty, I was not allowed to do something I dearly wanted to do. But my parents never tried to frighten me into good behavior. I do not know if other hobbit-children are treated so or not. But I would never do it with one of mine, any more than I would severely beat one. I was horrified to find that abuse of children is common among Men. It is rare among hobbits, and virtually unknown among Elves, as far as I know. Aragorn, our king, said he thought it may be the reason Men are at war so often. Harsh treatment in childhood makes them grow up angry and bitter and quarrelsome, and it leads to entire nations at war.”

I realized I had strayed from the subject, but she was listening with interest.

“I never thought of my mother’s treatment as harsh,” she said. “I thought all parents did as much. But perhaps you are right, and I have been holding ill feelings toward her because of this. But how can I forgive her, as you suggest?”

“I dare say her parents did as much to her when she was growing up,” I said. “And she grew up thinking that was the right way to deal with wayward children, and did not realize it was wrong. And I think perhaps she did not want you to make the mistakes she made, and tried too hard to keep you from it. Can you not take this into consideration, and perhaps it will make it easier for you?”

“Perhaps…but it will still be difficult, especially when she is not here,” Findëmaxa said, her eyes brimming over. “I do love her in spite of all, and sometimes wish she would come to the Island, although I do not know if I could abide in the same house with her. Sometimes I remember when I drew the sort of pictures she did not like, she would take them from me and put them in the fire, saying it was unseemly to draw such. That I must do her proud, and keep my work maidenly at all times. And now…I feel as though I, too, could draw orcs. Yet I don’t want to. I don’t know what I want really. But I thank you for listening to me, at least. I think it has helped.”

She loved your gift, I said to Raven. She said it helped her to see the Light in soft colors, instead of in blinding brightness. It is less frightening that way.

Raven pointed out the Beacon to me, noting that it looked unusually bright. I said perhaps it was taking light from the Sea tonight, since it had been full of light. She released my hand and slowly stood, looking toward the Light. She stood like that for a minute or two, and I sat looking up at her in wonder. She seemed to be filling with its light, herself.

After a moment, she reached her hand down to me, and helped me stand.

“Talk to it, Ada. You do not need your glass now. Talk to the Light, and Sam will hear you.”

It was a full moment before I realized she had spoken with her voice, and not with her hands….

***

*Exerpted from "Answers"



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