Raven was right. She told me she did not mean to speak, someone else was using her voice…which sounded oddly husky, as well it might, not having been used for even she wasn’t sure how many years.
“I know the feeling,” I said. “I have had such instances also, of others using my voice to speak, or at least that is how it felt. If you felt such a thing, perhaps you spoke rightly. Sam will hear me.”
Tears of happiness stood in my eyes and in hers also.
“Must I use my voice and not my hands now?” she said. “I am not used to speaking. It…it frightens me a little.”
“Suppose you use your voice at home for a while,” I suggested as we sat back down together, our arms about each other’s waists. “Try to get used to it. Then when you feel confident enough, perhaps you will come to speak to others. Do you want to go back to the house now?”
“Not yet,” she whispered, glancing over her shoulder. “I am shy of them. Is it all right if I tell you things first?”
“Of course, dear one. What would you tell me?” I felt a chill of apprehension. “Do you remember…when you first lost your voice?” I said very gently.
“Yes,” she said barely above a whisper, and shivered. “I remember my mother talking of Valinor. She wanted to go. She talked a great deal about it, and said that someday we would go there, and everything would be wonderful, and the bad times would be gone and we would be very happy. I wanted to go also. But my father was a Dark-Elf, and he had never seen Valinor, and I think he did not want to go, although he told us that some day he would take us. He was a noble and had many servants and they respected him and liked working for him. Most were men, I did not know many Elves who were not relatives. Guilin was away when I was born. He was always off somewhere, he did not like to be long in one place, I guess you know that. But when I was very small, he stayed a long time. He said I was very adorable and he stayed because he loved me even though I was such a dreadful little piece of mischief, and would only go away for short periods.
“Then the wars started happening. One day I was in the stable with Branion, the stable-boy. He was feeding the horses. I was standing on a rail. And I said ‘Watch.’ And I started to dance. He laughed at me, and said I was a show-off, yet his eyes were shining as he watched me. My mother did not like it that I was friends with him, she said I was too free with the servants. But I liked him, because he was not always telling me to mind my manners and be a little lady. I sang a song I had heard my brother sing, and Branion said I should be ashamed, but he laughed, and then we heard a noise. I could not tell what it was. But Branion looked frightened. He said it sounded like invaders. We ran off outside and he put me in a barrel. I asked him to hide too. But he said he would get his sword and fight them. He had a sword and he liked to show me how he could use it. He was always talking about how he wanted to go away and fight, like his brother, and now was his chance. He told me not to make any noise. And I didn’t. I hoped he could hold them off.
“I was so scared, I was crying, but I tried not to make any noise. I could hear them getting closer…I heard them….” She was shaking violently. I put my arms around her.
“Are you sure you wish to tell me this?” I said.
“I couldn’t see anything. There was a crack in the barrel and I could have seen a little bit, but I didn’t look. I didn’t want to see. I heard screams, I heard beasts making horrible noises, I heard…them. I heard arrows hissing, words in a language I did not understand. I smelled smoke. I smelled a stink that was worse than anything I ever smelled before. I curled up in the barrel to make myself as small as possible. It went on for a long time. I opened my eyes and tried to see out the crack and I could see people moving, but not enough to tell what was happening. Then finally it was quiet. But I did not come out. I waited for Branion to come and tell me it was all right to come out, but he did not come. It grew dark, and still I did not come out. I fell asleep, there in the barrel. And I heard screaming in my dreams but still I slept. And in the morning when it grew light again, I waited for Branion and he did not come. Finally I stood up in the barrel. I had wet myself but did not know it yet. And I got out, and I saw…bodies…everywhere…”
I was shaking as much as she. “Did you see…them?”
I saw my mother’s head. Without her body.
I did not see him.
I saw him. His own sword stuck through the middle of him. Sixteen, he was. I saw servants, many people. And parts of people. I saw a very ugly creature among them, cut almost in half, his teeth were pointed and his eyes were bloody…
“An orc.” My teeth were chattering.
I do not remember much after that. I remember Guilin finding me. But I could not speak then. I was locked. No words could come, not even to tell him what happened. I think he knew. He must have heard about the raid. He said he would go and avenge them, and he took me to a place he said was an orphanage. He said I must stay here for a while and after he had avenged them, he would come back for me. But I did not want to stay. The house was so crowded and sad, and the matrons looked cross and tired, and the children looked so thin and dirty and hungry. And I began to tremble and cry and cling to him so hard, he said I did not have to stay, and took me away with him. And we left and did not come back, ever again.
“Where did you go? Do you remember?”
“I do not know. He had a horse, and we rode about, and camped on the ground. Sometimes he shot a bird or rabbit and cooked it, or caught a fish. And then we would go into a town, stop at an inn and get a bath and he would have some ale. And he taught me to read and write a little, so that I could write down things instead of saying them. And then he came up with a way of saying things with the hands. I was better at that than with writing things. It took a long time, but I learned it. He never tried to make me use my voice, never once.”
“That is amazing,” I said a little inanely.
“And he taught me lots of tricks,” she said, not looking me quite in the face. “How to distract vendors and look pitiful while he took things and hid them under his cloak. How to give him signals while he played cards, to let him know what cards other players had. I remember one time…we went to a tavern, and got a room. And a woman kept looking at him and smiling, and…did he tell you of this?”
“I think so,” I said.
He had told me how a buxom wench kept giving him bold glances, and so after Raven was asleep he slipped downstairs to meet the woman in her room, where she had a drink waiting for him…a powerful dram indeed, for the next thing he remembered was waking with a throbbing head and not a stitch on, and the woman, his clothes and his money all gone. Still he managed to think of his sister, and he glanced around for something to put on, finding only an apron that had belonged to the woman…either she had forgotten it or had left it as a joke. Then he looked at the bed-linens and took one of the sheets and some pillow-slips, and wrapped them around himself for a gown, and tied the apron over them, and found a cloth on a small table and used that to make himself a kerchief, after doing his hair in two long braids. On a thought he took a pillow and tied it in the middle and stuffed it down the front of his “gown” for a bosom. And thus disguised he was able to make his way back to his room looking only moderately ridiculous. Raven carried a packet of needles and thread, since on their travels they were very apt to tear their clothing. Her skills at needle-work did not extend much past simple mending, but she was able to help him stitch up the sheet so his “gown” would not fall off. The whole outfit looked pretty miserable, but he gritted his teeth and worked on it until it would look reasonably presentable at least in the tavern common-room, where most customers would be too drunk to be judgmental.
As he went down, someone slapped him heartily on the backside. His first impulse was to plant his fist squarely in the middle of the slapper’s face, but then remembering he was supposed to be a woman, he turned and saw that his admirer was, as it turned out, a pirate! Seems they were closer to the coast than they supposed.
And the first thing he knew he had arranged a tryst in the pirate's room. He told Raven of his plan, and she giggled and went outside and climbed into the window of the room he indicated, where she found a couple of bags and proceeded to go through them while Guilin flirted with the victim and kept him distracted. She found a purse of gold pieces and took several, some copper bangles which she appropriated for herself, then found some clothes and stuffed them into a bag she had brought, and slipped out the window with her plunder as she heard Guilin and the pirate approaching. And Guilin used the same tricks on the unfortunate corsair as the female thief had used on him, and after the fellow passed out drunk, Guilin found quite a few interesting items, such as a ruby ring, a pearl-handled cutlass with amazing carvings on blade and hilt, and what was obviously a shrunken head, which he did not take. Then he met Raven outside and they went into an alley where he put on the clothes she had taken. When he inspected himself in the mirror, he decided he looked most dashing, and thought he might have gone off to sea if he hadn’t had his sister to look after!
He had told me this story to amuse me, but I couldn’t help but feel a little sad that his sister had been compelled to get this sort of education. She stopped and hung her head during the telling of it, then looked up at me with a guilty expression.
“We were bad, weren’t we?” she said.
“The past is the past,” I said, rather lamely. But it seemed to make her feel better.
“After that,” she said, “I began asking him if we could go to Valinor. But he was too bad to go yet, and they would not be likely to let us in. And he wanted to see the world. I think he was certain it would be dull in Valinor, and he wanted to go about and see all before we settled down. So for years we wandered, and sometimes had to run for our lives, when people caught us stealing, and we had to hide out, and disguise ourselves. He had me pretend to be a boy, because he thought I would be safer so. I rather liked being a lad, but sometimes I wanted to be a lass again, and nearly forgot how. Finally we met some people along our way, and stayed with them for almost two years. We covered our ears with our hair and pretended to be mortal, because often people feared Elves, thinking we had magical powers. They traveled in wagons, and camped out in the wild, and liked to dance, and play games, and sing, and sometimes they stole things too. There was a lad who could do a dance with eggs, and he showed me how. They gave us some of their clothes to wear, very colorful, with a lot of jewelry and glass beads and things. One of the women had a palantir, and she would tell fortunes. She said Guilin and I would go on a long journey. Guilin just laughed and told me she probably said the same thing to everyone. But I knew she meant Valinor. And I started dreaming of the Sea. I knew that somewhere beyond the Sea, there was peace and beauty, and forgetfulness of all bad things, and we could leave our wicked ways behind us, and I could be unlocked. But I could not make him see it.
“And they told stories. One was about a magic ring that had once belonged to the Necromancer, and how the King Isildur took it from him, then was slain and the Ring was lost, and found by a creature called Gollum, and then by the hobbit Bilbo, who was out on an adventure, then he took it away with him and it was never seen again. And Guilin listened with great interest, and asked them where this hobbit had gone. But they could not tell him, they said they didn’t think the story was true anyway, and there were no such things as hobbits, and so on. I wondered if there was really such a thing as a hobbit. And Guilin said he would like to see this Ring. He said it as a joke at first. But he began to get serious after a while. Then someone let it slip that the hobbit lived in Rivendell, where there were Elves. And he spoke of going there. I did not care so much about the Ring. But I wanted to see the hobbit, and Rivendell, and other Elves, maybe they would persuade Guilin to take me to Valinor. They did not know the way, but one day Guilin woke me up early in the morning and said come away with him, we were going to Rivendell. And we slipped off without saying goodbye. Did Guilin tell you any of this?”
“He did say something to me once, of wanting to find the Ring,” I said. “But I did not think he was serious.”
“He was not, at first, I think,” she said. “But he kept talking about it until he began to frighten me. And we went along, asking people along the way, which way to Rivendell. Most would look at us as though we were mad. But we traveled for a long time, until we finally met some Elves. They pointed us in the direction, then said they were going to Valinor. And I wanted to go with them! Guilin told them to take me with them, and he would join me eventually, but I would not go without him. He said in Valinor I could be a lass again, and he told me many things, but I would not go unless he came with me. He tried to slip away once and leave me with them, but I knew what he was about and watched him, and began to follow him. He was very angry, but he did not take me back to them.
“And then some marauders attacked us, and stole our horse, and we lost our map, and got turned around, and lost, and we never did get to Rivendell. I was very angry, and tried to run away, and then I got separated from him and he had to find me. It was very frightening, but he did find me. And he said he would forget about Rivendell and the Ring, and we would go to Valinor. He would have to get another horse, and that would take some doing. We were in Mirkwood. There was no horse to be found, and we got hopelessly lost in the woods. We began seeing nazguls on wings, and I was terrified, and began having bad dreams, and I would walk in my sleep, and Guilin would have to find me, and we grew more and more lost. Finally we found our way out of the woods, but did not know where we were, and there were orcs patrolling the rivers and valleys, and one day they caught me when I was sleepwalking, and they captured Guilin when he tried to rescue me. And they took us prisoner, along with some soldiers…”
“Did they take you to Mordor?” I shuddered.
“No, not that far. I think it was somewhere in the south of Rhovanion. But it was a dreadful place, barren and dreary, I could see no trees or horses, only some very ugly animals Guilin said were wargs. I was so frightened, I do not remember how we got there. We were the only Elves….”
I devoutly wished I did not have to listen to what came next. I hoped something or someone would come to interrupt her narrative. But she continued, with her hands when her voice failed her. Most of it I knew already from Guilin. It did not take the orcs long to discover that Guilin and Raven were Elves. And singled them out.
“Did you see what they did to your brother?” I found myself asking her.
“No,” she shook her head, “I closed my eyes; then they said if I closed my eyes they would do the same to me, so I opened them, but I veiled them. I could do that, veil my eyes so I could not see what was happening before them. And I did not see. Then I pretended to faint—Guilin taught me how to faint, and make it look real, a trick to distract people. But my hands were tied to the rack from which I was hanging, and I think I fainted in reality, because after a while I found myself lying down on a pallet on the floor and Guilin with me, his arm around me. He was unconscious or asleep, and someone had put a shirt on me—one of the soldiers. I was cut and bleeding, and the shirt stuck to me, but Guilin had no shirt on at all. He was covered with a ragged sheet to his waist and he lay on his side. There was a man standing over us, and he had a small flask in his hand. He looked down at me as I looked up at him, and he put the flask to my lips saying it would ease my pain and help me forget for a while. He said it was flower juice. I did not know flower juice had such a virtue.”
“Opium, I dare say,” I murmured.
“I drank some, then looked around to see my brother. And the man said he had already given him some and he would sleep for a while. He said he was a healer. He was with the soldiers. I saw he could read my thoughts if I let him, and I told him to give most to Guilin, for he was hurt the worst. And he put some balm on my wounds. He said he was sorry he must look upon me bare, but there was no one else to see to me. ‘’Tis demons they are, demons,’ I heard him say as he put the medicine on me. He told me he had a little daughter like me, so I think he was younger than he appeared. I said I wanted to help take care of my brother. And he said, ‘You are beautiful.’ Although I knew I looked a fright.
“His name was…Hathol.”
I felt as though the surf were inside my head. I heard Raven asking me if I were all right. And if I didn’t want to hear any more.
“I think Hathol was right,” I murmured.
“I said he was beautiful too,” she said with a hint of a smile. “Although he had a big crooked nose and a scar on his forehead, a couple of teeth missing, and a stubble of grey beard and very bushy eyebrows. But when I said he was beautiful, I meant it. And he said his wife married him for his looks. I knew he meant it for a joke, but it made me cry. I remember Guilin had said something about how ugly he was, a few days before. And he gave Guilin some more of the flower juice, and I saw he had a bandage between his legs, like a nappy, and that was all he had on. Hathol changed the bandage and did not mind, and sometimes I changed it too. Hathol would hide me when orcs came into the room, there was a panel in one wall where he put me and covered me with a bag. And Guilin could make a rat noise that frightened some of the orcs, and once I slipped up on one of them and stole a knife. I think it was two weeks before Guilin was on his feet again. It was well for us we were Elves, it would have taken much longer for a mortal to heal. One of the soldiers found Guilin’s clothes for him, and mine also.”
“What became of Hathol?” I found myself asking, wondering why Guilin had not remembered his healer’s name. Obviously he did, in some distant closet of his mind. I suppose maybe he had locked his memories of the prison away, Hathol along with them, and had never named his “visitor” to his sister for that reason.
“I do not know. I hope he escaped, and found his wife and daughter again. Some of the prisoners were killed. But I do not know, to this day, what became of him. And it was then, as we started on our way on foot, that Sauron’s tower was toppled and the War was ended, and we were taken to a place where we could rest and heal. But I wanted to meet you, before going to Valinor. And Sam. Guilin said he would never be worthy, and would never forgive himself for not taking me when he had the chance. How could I ever forgive him, he said. But I did forgive him, for he got the worst of it after all, and he took my place.”
True enough, I thought, fuming, but there would have been no need for him to take her place if he had taken her to Valinor when he had the chance. Still, who was I to judge him? I should know better than anyone what sort of hold that abominable object could have.
“There were some soldiers who were going to attend the coronation of the new King,” she continued. “Guilin asked them to take us, and they did. As you know, we did not get to meet you, they said you were recovering and could have no visitors, and there were so many others who wanted to meet you too. But I sent you something. Do you know what it was?”
“I’m sorry, dearest, but…” Then I remembered. “Would it happen to be…a painted egg?”
“Yes,” she said with her smile. “It was of alabaster. I painted your name on it in gold, with swirls and stars and moons all around. Do you have it still? I think not.”
“Forgive me,” I stammered, “but I had so many things people gave me, I could not possibly bring them all with me. Sam has it. I hope it provided him a bit of comfort. How did you manage to get an alabaster egg?”
“Well…” she hedged, and I wished I had not asked. “I stole it,” she said casting down her eyes once more. I chuckled, although of course I shouldn’t have. Then the chuckle died as I saw tears slip from beneath her eyelashes, and she began to tremble once more.
And I heard a step and turned to look up. It was Northlight. I do not know how long he had been standing there, silvery-blue and beautiful in the night. It is unlike him to eavesdrop, yet I think he had heard much, if not all.
Carry her, I mouthed to him. And he stepped over and lifted her into his arms as though she were all hollow, and began to walk down the beach in the light of the moon and the Beacon. I watched them retreat, glowing, until they disappeared around the bend of a cliff, and I do not think I could have moved if a warg had charged me.
I must have dozed off after a while, because I started at hearing Northlight’s voice, as he stooped down saying, “Do you want me to carry you now, Ada?”
I gave him my hand to help me up, and embraced him, saying, “No no, that is good enough.” And we all sat down together, myself wedged between my two sweet ones, reminded of how Galendur and Tilwen had looked after me in Anemone’s absence, sitting in the twilight with me between them as if I were their child, and once Til laid a hand on her bulging belly and remarked that when Anemone returned she and I and Northlight would be a family just as Tilwen and Galendur and their child would be. How did she know that Little Iorhael would be born the night Anemone returned?
And as if I had conjured her by thinking of her, Anemone emerged from the shadows.
“They have gone back into the sea for the night,” she said caressing my hair. “I only thought I loved you before. I cannot take it in that you did this for me. Although it should not have come as such a great surprise. But how can I possibly thank you?”
“I have already thanked him,” Raven said, and Anemone jumped. And I told what had passed.
“Do you think he hears?” Anemone asked me.
“I think so,” I said. “In fact, I saw him. That must have been when I dozed off. He was standing before me, speaking to me. I could feel his hand touching my face. It was not like a dream; it felt real.”
And we all sat looking out at the Light, and I heard the first few strains of music which began as a faint murmur and grew in sweetness as slowly as the awakening of morning, layer upon layer of effervescent sound, voices playing off each other as subtly as only the voices of water can be, and the silken voice of air mingled in along with the crackling voice of fire and the thrumming voice of earth, a rich dark bell-tone from the utmost depths of the Sea, the ethereal harp-notes of the stars, as many notes as there were stars, infinitely far yet infinitely near.
Until a sound of clopping hooves brought it all to an abrupt end, and we all turned to see Guilin pull up on his horse.
“What ho!” he exclaimed with a snappy salute. “So…what did I miss?”