Well! What can I say that won’t sound completely silly?
All I could do when she put the glass into my hand was gawk at it for several moments. Finally she spoke.
“You didn’t drop it in with the stopper in it, did you?”
“No. I dropped the stopper in after the bottle.” I uncorked it and dipped a finger into it, then tasted the water. “Not salty.”
“He sent it back,” she said. “The Lord of the Seas. He put you to the test and you passed it, and he has rewarded you thus.”
“Yes,” I nodded, in a daze.
“I always was a favorite of his,” she said roguishly.
“I don’t wonder,” I said looking dotingly up at her. She laughed. A more joyous sound I have never heard.
We put on our clothes and wended our way back to the house and fell into bed, after setting the star-glass in the western window. I suppose it remains to be seen what new properties it has been given. But at the moment, I am more than content with the virtues it possessed in the beginning!
In the morning, as I read through Anemone’s new poem the third time, I heard giggles coming from the kitchen and smiled to myself as I closed the book, swung my feet over the bedside and began getting dressed.
I met Guilin on my way to the privy and had to laugh at his expression as he stood in the hallway gawking at the bevy of small creatures gathered in the kitchen with their mother. Of course he knew who they were, but he’d had yet to see them for himself. He looked positively fearful about going into the kitchen, an expression that sat most oddly on him, to be sure.
“How many of them are there?” he whispered to me.
Before I could answer, little Onyx appeared in the doorway of the hall, looking up at the incredibly tall fellow standing beside me, and his tiny mouth fell wide open. He stood about a foot tall, give or take an inch or two, dressed in a brief white shirt and breeches that stopped just short of his knees, and his wee feet were bare. His jet-black hair fell in short waves about his forehead, neck, and sharply pointed little ears. In a moment, his sister Sandrose appeared behind him, peeking timidly around the edge of the doorway. She was about half a head taller than he, her hair the color of Northlight’s and very long, and she wore a simple frock the dusty blue of her eyes.
“Good morning, children,” I said smiling at them, thinking how wonderful it was to have little ones about the place who were actually the size of hobbit-children. They suffered me to kiss them for good-morning, although such was still a new concept to them.
Sam, can you believe it? Already I am a grandfather!
“Who is that?” Onyx whispered to me, pointing upward. I gently moved his hand down.
“This is Raven’s brother, Guilin,” I said. Guilin seemed at a total loss for words…something I would never have thought to see. “Where is Raven? I don’t see her in the kitchen.”
Two girls appeared in the doorway, seeming grown-up versions of Sandrose, and exactly like each other, their bright-blue eyes full of merry curiosity.
“Who is THAT?” one of them whispered to the other.
“I don’t know,” the other whispered back, “but he’s most fair, in his huge, dark, wicked way. Better not let Fairwind see him.” She glanced back fearfully over her shoulder.
I could hardly suppress my laughter. “Guilin,” I said, “these are my… grandchildren, Onyx and Sandrose, and these are Nightingale and Gloryfall. I’m sorry, I still can’t tell the two of you apart.”
The twins giggled, Sandrose smiled shyly, and Onyx just stared. I bent to pick him up, then thought better of it. I think he doesn’t like it much. I contented myself with caressing Sandrose's abundant hair.
Guilin got his bearings then. “Charmed,” he said with a little bow of his head, and much to my surprise, gave them his gentle smile, perhaps moved by their resemblance to Northlight. I was touched, but the twins seemed not to know what to make of it. They looked to each other to see what their reaction should be, then smiled with adorable friendliness up at him, taking each other’s hands, one of them smoothing back a lock of hair.
“I am Nightingale,” the one on the left said, “and this is Gloryfall….”
“I am Gloryfall,” her sister said at the same time, “and this is—” And they looked at each other and cracked up giggling. So did Sandrose, although she probably had no clue what was so funny. Onyx just continued to stare. Then another came up whom I would have thought to be Anemone, but she had that slightly transparent quality that Anemone no longer possesses since becoming mortal.
“This is Embergold,” I said, wondering where the brothers were. Then I thought it likely they were with Northlight outside. “She is the mother of these two little ones. Embergold, this is Raven’s brother Guilin.”
“Is he your son also?” she asked as the children edged up to her sides. “Or have you made of him your father?”
“No,” I laughed, “he is only my friend. It's an unusual situation, admittedly.”
“I am feeling more and more like the Tower of Avellonë by the minute,” he said grinning.
Embergold looked quizzically at me. For all she is so like to Anemone in appearance, she has a serious and dignified questioning manner that is an almost comical contrast to her mother’s cheeky gaiety. Something tells me she has a very hard time seeing the point of a joke.
“What is this Tower?” she inquired with raised eyebrows, running a hand over Sandrose’s silvery hair. “A sort of mountain?”
“No, a tall narrow building—like a light-house,” I explained. She nodded.
“Ah, I see,” she said softly, in the tone of one who has discerned a great mystery and approved it somehow. “You feel that you resemble this tower in contrast to the rest of us,” she said to Guilin. “We have made ourselves small to accommodate ourselves to our Mother and her new mate, whom we are to regard as our father, and do so with gladness. I am most pleased to meet his friend.”
She does have lovely manners. Guilin looked taken aback.
“Likewise, I’m sure,” he said. “And I am astonished by your resemblance to your mother, whom I hold in the highest esteem.”
Embergold nodded seriously. “I am the only one in the family who resembles her,” she said, “and therefore am the most beautiful one, although I cannot see myself.”
Guilin and I were both astounded at this bold statement, which was uttered not as a boast but merely in the tone of one stating a fact. To my further amazement, the twins nodded in agreement.
“I know how I look,” Nightingale said happily, “for I look like Gloryfall. Everyone says so.”
“And I know how I look also,” Gloryfall said. “Fairwind looks somewhat like us, but I think her even prettier.”
“You want to watch for her,” Nightingale confided to Guilin. “She may come to fancy you. She has been mated three times. She is most fickle and adventuresome.”
“Have you a mate already?” Gloryfall asked with charming boldness.
“Not at the moment,” he grinned, “but I’ve my eye on a fine lady, and shall probably speak my mind to her soon.”
“And she is one of the Tall Folk?” Embergold said.
“Yes, very tall,” Guilin said. “A queen among her kind.”
“A QUEEN?” the twins chorused, their pretty mouths dropping wide open. Sandrose clapped her hands to her cheeks. Guilin laughed.
“That is a figure of speech,” he explained. “It means only that she is, well, tall, and dignified, with a commanding presence and imperious manner that sets her apart from others of her sort. So where is Fairwind now?”
“Oh, she is on the terrace, with our brethren,” Nightingale said airily with a little flip of her hand. “She much prefers the company of males.”
“Most definitely,” her twin agreed. “I find it most intriguing that Northlight is to mate your sister,” she said fluttering her eyelashes at Guilin. “The ways of fancyment are as a vast and disturbing mystery to us.”
I could see Guilin was enjoying himself immensely, surrounded by such small glorious femininity. For that matter, so was I.
“To be quite truthful, my dear,” he said, “they are to me as well. Although I have experienced the pangs of…fancyment…more than once, and expect to do so in the future, I have yet to gain full understanding of that all-encompassing emotion.”
“Raven is more beautiful than all of us, I think,” Nightingale said. “I am pleased to have a black-haired sister. Only Moonrise is black-haired, but he is a brother. Well, there was the one that was once our brother also, but we do not speak his name now.”
“Do you see the black-haired female in the kitchen with our mother?” Gloryfall whispered to Guilin. “She is our aunt Lightning. She had a fracture of the heart. Do you know what that is?”
“All too well,” Guilin said. “So she has been in love?”
“She fancied a cabin-lad,” Embergold explained, “and saved his life. But he never knew of it, and he sailed away, and she never saw him again. That is how her heart came to be fractured. I do not understand that either, myself. I understand that it often causes one to feel something known as sorrow, of which I have yet to feel.”
“I would say count yourself lucky,” I said, “were it not for the fact that one must know it in order to know joy in its true fullness also.”
“That is what our mother said,” Nightingale said. “She says one must become landish to know it.”
“I have heard it said,” Gloryfall said, “that when one has a fracture of the heart, one’s eyes leak, and one’s nose also, and one makes funny noises, sometimes very loudly, like the little one your friends have. His heart must be very badly fractured.”
“One looks very ugly,” Nightingale said, “if one is not a little one.”
“One does,” I said soberly, “some more than others. But little ones do not cry because of fractured hearts, but more because of empty tummies, or hurting teeth, or wet nappies. Speaking of which, I must go and take care of some urgent business, or I shall be experiencing leakage elsewhere.”
The twins looked very wise.
“Ah, yes,” Nightingale said. “Mother told us of the functions of the body. She says they can be most irksome. And sometimes disgusting, like pirate-bilge.”
“Or spit, or vomit,” Gloryfall said as I hastened away. “Or rotten fish, or gull-droppings. Or….”
When I came back from the privy, the hallway was clear, although I could still hear voices in the kitchen. I almost bumped into Guilin coming from the guest-room, fully dressed now.
“By the way,” I told him as we made ready to go to breakfast, “that was a wonderful thing you did for Anemone. I think we were all a little too sleepy and ecstatic last night to thank you properly. But it was a fine thing, and I do thank you.”
“After what she did for me, it was small payment indeed,” he said. I wondered what he meant, until I remembered a certain wheel-barrow, and a horn.
“She wished no payment…other than your recovery,” I said.
“Perhaps not, but still I would do whatever I can for her, in my own way. You were given a priceless little pearl of a lady.” His eyes were soft on me as he touched my shoulder. “And no one was ever more deserving.”
I was trying to think of a reply when I heard a muffled sound from Raven’s room. I had supposed she was on the terrace with Northlight. I glanced at Guilin, who looked as surprised as I. Without hesitation I turned and tapped on her door. No answer.
“Raven?” I called. I heard a sob, and was most alarmed. After a moment, I turned the knob of the door very softly. I could see her lying on her side in her bed still, her back to me, clutching an old stuffed bunny that she’d had since a few years before coming to the Island. “Raven? Dearest, what is wrong?” I sat on the edge of the bed, caressing her hair. Guilin came in behind me, and I could hear the twins whispering in the hallway.
“She weeps,” one of them told the other with great concern. “Has she a fractured heart?”
I motioned to Guilin to close the door. He did so, softly, then came over to the other side of his sister’s bed, and stroked her cheek.
“What is it, love?” he said in the gentlest tone I had ever heard. I felt my heart constrict nearly to bursting, remembering her disclosures last night, thinking of that terrified child hiding in the barrel. Guilin looked at me, stricken. “Do you want me to carry you?” he asked her, taking her hand in both his.
No answer. Then I heard a soft tap on the door, and it creaked open. It was Anemone. The twins must have summoned her.
“What is wrong?” she whispered, squeezing up beside me. Raven finally turned on her back and slowly sat up, sniffling. She tried to stop crying, succeeding only in bursting into tears all over again. I looked helplessly at Guilin, who looked equally helpless, but Anemone took the girl in her arms and rocked her softly. I looked back and saw Northlight peeking anxiously around the crack in the door, and I went and asked him to take the others outside and stay out there until summoned.
Raven made a sign. Was she not going to use her voice at all?
“No, you do not have to go to school today,” Anemone said. “You may take a little holiday, and we will give you your lessons so you don’t fall too far behind.”
“Tell you what,” Guilin said, “would you like to go with me on my route today? That sometimes makes you feel better, doesn’t it?”
“I…I do not want anyone to see me,” she said against Anemone’s shoulder.
“We can take the less busy roads,” Guilin said. “And you needn’t go into the houses with me.”
“If you do not wish to see or speak to anyone,” Anemone said, “you may stay in your room until you are ready to come out, and I will allow no one to disturb you. Or you may go to your secret place in the woods, and I will distract the others so they do not see you go. Whichever you prefer.”
“I…I will go with my brother,” Raven said finally, glancing up at Guilin, who looked relieved.
“All right,” Anemone said. “Let's get you dressed, then. What would you like to wear?”
Guilin and I left the room as Anemone helped Raven choose a dress, closing the door behind us.
“What gives?” he said shakily. “I thought she was going to be all right. And now…”
“She revealed a great deal yesterday,” I pointed out. “It took its toll. We must just let her give expression to her feelings from time to time. It may never go away completely, but she is a courageous lass, and it will not dominate her.”
“I hope you are right,” Guilin said with a catch in his voice.
I could see Northlight in the kitchen. He looked guilty at not having gone out to the terrace as I had directed him, but I nodded to him, and he came to us. I explained him that Raven would go riding with her brother; maybe he would like to go with them also? At least he didn’t have a class today. He said he would go.
Raven was still weeping a little as she and Anemone came out. She wore her plainest dress without the pretty apron, her hair in two braids. Northlight put his arms around her, and they went out back while Guilin went to get his horse. Then the twins appeared, each bearing a bunch of flowers.
“These are for Raven,” Nightingale said. “My bird-sister.”
“Thank you, sweet one,” I said. “I will put them in water and set them in her room for her.”
“But we wished to give them to her,” said Gloryfall. “They smell pretty—yes?” She held her bouquet out to me. I sniffed, and tried not to sneeze.
“Look at this,” Nightingale said and a flock of luminous butterflies burst from her flowers, then disappeared. “Don’t you think that might cheer her?”
“You may give them to her, when she returns,” I said when I had recovered myself sufficiently. “But she does not wish to see anyone just now. She will be all right after a while…especially after she receives your gifts.”
“Will you sit between us?” Gloryfall pleaded as we went out to the terrace.
“I would be most honored,” I said smiling. What darling girls!
I would have enjoyed myself immensely if I had not had to worry about Raven, for my new-found stepchildren are most delightful. Fairwind, the eldest, is the romantic one…and I suppose Shire-folk would be shocked over her past, and I’ll admit I was myself at some of the things her brothers and sisters told me about her, with her sitting right there all the while. She asked after Guilin, and the twins giggled as Anemone explained about Nessima.
“I am profoundly curious as to fancyment,” Fairwind admitted, “and of landishness. I am one of those who have always longed to know of the things and people of the Land, like Northlight and Mother. She read to us some of the words you drew for her, and it has greatly aroused my interest.”
I lifted my eyebrows to Anemone, who smiled a bit sheepishly. Yes, I have written a few poems recently for her…which were strictly for her, if you know what I mean. And she had read them to her children?? Seems she still has a bit of seaishness clinging to her!
“I would give much to have a male draw such words about me,” Fairwind sighed, “although I cannot read. If the Sea-Lord would only find a hero for ME to wed!”
“Perhaps,” said Ebbtide, “he fears you would not stay with him for more than a year.”
“Oh no,” Anemone said, “it is not like that for land-folk. They mate for life, like the larger beasts.”
Moonrise said to Fairwind, “Perhaps in about a hundred years, there will be another hero for you.”
“I enjoy seeing you and Mother press your mouths together,” Nightingale said to me, “although I do not yet understand why this is done.”
“When I have a male-child,” Fairwind said, glancing toward the peacock, who had flown up to his favorite tree by the terrace, as usual to get in on anything going on...especially when what is going on happens to be a meal, “I think I shall name him Peacock. That is the most wondrous of birds. His tail seems made of sea-waves and jewels.”
“Did Mother tell you,” Embergold said to me, “that WE saved Middle-earth also?” Embergold is still with her mate, although he did not come with her.
“She told me once,” I said, “that you all took out a fleet of ships from a distant continent, full of men who wished to find new lands to conquer and try to force their evil ways upon the people. She said they were sent by the Dark One in order to aid Sauron, and that you all fought them off and set the sharks on them.”
Anemone smiled in glowing sweet pride upon her brood.
“She says you all are what we in Middle-earth would call Rangers,” I said. “Rangers of the Sea. You protect the islands and coasts and merchant-ships from marauders and pirates and such. And this is why you have been allowed to come to the Blessed Realm. And others of you are herders of fish or whales or dolphins, or trainers of sharks to be as the guard-dogs of the sea.”
“I only hope,” Embergold said, “that my young will grow up to do me proud also, and will keep other evil ones away from the peaceful lands.” She smiled gently upon her little ones.
“I hope it will not be necessary for them to do so,” I said, somewhat shocked. Embergold raised puzzled eyebrows.
“So do I,” Anemone said. Lightning nodded.
“I am a herder of whales now,” she said. “I carry a spear no longer. I have not been a warrioress for many years.”
“But you took the form of a whale,” Fairwind reminded her aunt, “when we defeated the fleet, and you caused a mighty wave that capsized some of the ships. It was truly a sight to see.”
Lightning modestly cast down her eyes, which are very like her sister’s, and I tried to picture her as a whale. She is shy and gentle, with the jet-black hair and a flower-like face. A dove, perhaps, or a doe…but a whale?
“Mother said,” Gloryfall informed me, obviously a lass far more interested in love than war, “that when she has pains of the body, you soothe them, and you even took them to yourself once. And you put up with her when she feels cross, and help her comb her hair, and think up ways to make her work easier.”
“She says this is what land-folk do when they truly fancy their mates,” Nightingale said dreamily.
“She gave up much to be with me,” I said, reaching over to lay a hand over hers, where she sat on the other side of Nightingale, and she looked the least bit shy, which was odd indeed. “I would be a poor sort of mate if I did not do all I could to make life as pleasant for her as possible. Besides, I greatly enjoy doing so. I would far rather have one who is imperfect and mortal like myself and needs some looking after and comforting, than someone who is invincible and needs no particular care.”
“Amazing,” Moonrise said. “And Northlight is changed…he is like himself, yet something more. He says because of you, he has discovered things in himself he never knew were there. He has always wished to be a discoverer of things unknown, and the greatest discovery of all, he says, is the depths and heights and true magic of one’s own being.”
Raven seemed in better spirits when she returned, later in the afternoon. Guilin said it had done her good to be out on the road…and they had not gotten into any trouble, he assured me. She was delighted with the flowers the twins presented to her, and she even put on one of her embroidered aprons. The twins were intrigued by her braids, and wished to put their own hair into “tails” as well. Anemone helped them to do so, working flowers into their hair and Raven's.
“We are all twins now,” Gloryfall said, as she and Nightingale looked to each other to see the results, “although Raven looks not at all like us.”
And who do you suppose came over? Findëmaxa!
The art-teacher had grown concerned when Raven did not come to school, and had come down to see about her. And Raven spoke to her softly—I did not hear what she said, but Findëmaxa’s face was something to see, even more so when the little bevy of sea-folk descended on her gazing in open curiosity. And she gave Raven a drawing-lesson to make up for the one she had missed at school. They went down to the beach for it, away from the throng…which mysteriously disappeared when I went into the house to change into more casual clothing. But when I came back to the terrace and looked out at Raven and Findëmaxa, I counted ten glass butterflies fluttering about them in the late sunlight, particularly over Raven’s sketches, and grinned to myself before going back to help Anemone start supper.
Later on, Raven came and showed us what she had drawn, which was no less than a portrait of Findëmaxa herself. And Findëmaxa had drawn a portrait of Raven…which I must say was very lovely and expressive, and we invited her to stay to supper, and she accepted, confessing that she and Raven had done more conversing than drawing. But the others were most delighted with the drawings, and wished to have their portraits drawn as well. And Findëmaxa suggested that, rather than having her draw them one by one, that they all group together and she would draw them all. They exclaimed in delight, and the twins would be in front, striking some rather exaggerated poses until Findëmaxa gently suggested a more relaxed position. Northlight and his brothers stood behind the sisters and the little ones in front, and then they called for Raven to join them…and then me and Anemone. And Findëmaxa said yes, we must be in on it also, and there was a laughing scramble to decide who must sit where.
And she drew us all, and to our surprise each of our faces looked different, even the twins. Then nothing for it, she must paint it in water-colors, and when it was finished Anemone said it was the most beautiful work she had ever done, and so it was. And we had her paint individual portraits of us, and when our visitors got a look at them, it was not long before they were clamoring to have theirs drawn as well, both individual and family-portraits. So now Findëmaxa is much in demand all over the Island.
And it’s my guess that the Queen herself will soon be commissioning a portrait of the Royal Family at the Palace, especially seeing as how there will be a new little member before long.
“I’d no idea I could draw portraits like that,” Findëmaxa said as I walked her to the Flamingo’s Roost for our luncheon. “It was quite a revelation. I feel like burning all my old works now. They seem...utterly false. Yes. They are all lies, and deserve the flame.”
“Don’t think too badly of them,” I said. “Perhaps they merely represent a stage of your development from which you have moved on to the sort of art you were meant to do—at least for a time.”
“Yes,” she said, and blushed a little. “Erm….do you think perhaps…that your lady could advise me as to some new clothes? I am quite tired of my old ones, and now that I have a bit more money coming in...”
“I am sure she would be delighted,” I said with a face-splitting grin.
“And…and a little flask of that hair-formula I’ve heard tell of, I should like to try….”
“Look in your purse,” I said with a wink.